Disclosure: Basic Travel Couple, LLC has partnered with CardRatings for our coverage of credit card products. Basic Travel Couple, LLC and CardRatings may receive a commission from card issuers. Opinions, reviews, analyses & recommendations are the author’s alone, and have not been reviewed, endorsed or approved by any of these entities.
Japan or the “Land of the Rising Sun” is a country that needs no introduction. Nevertheless, if you’re looking for fresh sushi, delicious ramen, breathtaking scenery, traditional temples, and modern technology all in the same place then look no further! Getting around Japan is easy with the sophisticated railways and trains that reach most cities throughout the country. If you are in a hurry, the Shinkansen or “Bullet Train” can reach speeds up to 200 miles per hour! Regardless of your preference, Japan is a diverse country that has a lot to offer and most tourists who visit end up on a tight schedule. I hope that this Sample Japan Itinerary is helpful and provides you with a great overview of some of Japan’s top things to do and see!
What you need to know about arriving in Japan
Be ready for a culture shock. There is no place that I have visited in the world that compares to this beautiful country. Whether you’re flying into Narita (NRT) or Haneda (HND), be sure to stop and take a photo in front of the “Welcome to Japan” signs.
After a long flight, going through customs and grabbing your bags you’ll most likely be tired and eager to get out of the airport. Before you head into the city and start exploring there a few things to consider doing at the airport to save you time down-the-road.
- Pick up your Japan Rail Pass If you’re going to be in Japan for an extended period of time and plan on traveling from Tokyo to other major cities this pass can save you some major money. This Japan Rail pass is ONLY available for pre-purchase outside of Japan. After purchasing, the voucher will be mailed to your home address. Don’t forget it! You will need to exchange the voucher at any of the JR East Travel Service Centers or travel planning help desks found outside of the security.
- Exchange money Even though we are big fans of using our Schwab Checking account to withdraw money fee-free from any ATM worldwide, I always exchange a few hundred dollars to be safe. Sometimes ATM’s are difficult to find and I’d rather be proactive to save my precious travel time.
- Pick up an IC Card These are VERY important. The IC card is a reloadable card that you can use to pay for public transportation (Trains and Busses), vending machines, shops including 7-11, and many restaurants. There are many versions of these cards; the most popular being Suica and Pasmo. We used our Suica card all over the country from Tokyo all the way down to Hiroshima. If you have an iPhone 8 or later, you have the option to use the Suica App instead of the traditional card. (Need to write an article about the app)
- Arrange transport to your hotel Now I am usually a big proponent of saving money and using public transportation to get from point A to Point B BUT after a long flight, the last thing that I want to do is navigate the subways. Especially, when you’re pushing your beautiful fiance in a wheelchair! We purchased bus tickets for about $30 per person right after exiting security and departed about 20 minutes later. It was a nice clean ride that included wifi and comfortable seats. Easy Peasy!
Japan Sample 11 Day Itinerary
Day 1 – “Welcome to Japan”
Check into Hotel – We started our trip out by staying at the beautiful Hilton Odaiba which is considered South Tokyo and is close to Haneda Airport. We arrived late in the evening and decided to explore the hotel and get a good night’s sleep for the day ahead. There are plenty of neat things to see and do around this hotel which is why we chose it. Check out the view from our hotel room balcony!
Day 2 – “Rise and Shine” Tokyo!
Go-Kart Tour of Tokyo
I believe that there is no better way to start off a trip to Japan then to grab a go-kart and cruise around the city
throwing bananas in an effort to secure first place. There are multiple locations to choose from and it makes sense to pick the one that is clustered near other sights you want to see. Be sure to check out our full write up on the Mario Kart Go Kart experience in Japan before booking!
Most of the popular Go-Kart tours drive around Tokyo Tower, which is the second tallest man-made structure in Japan. You can visit the observation decks from 9:00-23:00. Admission to the main deck is 1200 Yen and both decks will cost 2800 Yen.
One of the most famous sights in Tokyo is this famous crossing! Thousands of people cross over from side to side all day long. This popular destination has been featured in popular movies like Fast and the Furious Tokyo drift as well as various music videos and travel guides. A Basic ProTip is to go up to the second floor of the Starbucks overlooking the intersection and grab a seat in front of the huge glass windows. Plus there’s nothing better than cooling down from that Japan sun with a cold Starbucks Speciality Drink!
While visiting Shibuya, don’t forget to snap a picture with Hachiko! This dog statue commemorates when this pup visited Shibuya Station for ten years looking for his owner who passed away before saying goodbye. 🙁
To be honest, it never crossed my mind that I’d ever actually enjoy feeding hedgehogs. Well, they got me! They are cute and cuddly and want all the food! We visited the Hedgehog Home and Cafe which is about a 2-minute walk from Shibuya Station.
This is definitely a unique shrine to visit that is quite isolated from the fast-paced Tokyo atmosphere. There are multiple giant Torii Gates that you can gaze at and get your Instagram photos underneath. It takes about 10 minutes to walk from one side to the other where you’ll find a garden, unique art, and an offering hall.
End the day with a walk down Takeshita Street
This street is crazy fun! All sorts of interesting shops and restaurants on both sides all the way down. It’s a nice way to wind down the day and grab a unique snack!
Day 3 – “Digital Art and Fish” Odaiba & Shinjuku
Now that may combo might surprise you, however, when it comes to Japan clustering activities that are close in proximity are key!
MORI TeamLab Borderless Digital Art Museum
This place is fantastic and VERY close to the Hilton Odaiba! It is a Digital Art Museum that comprises of 10,000 square meters, 520 computers, and 470 projectors. You could easily spend half a day here exploring all of the different rooms and interactive art. TeamLab also has a Tea House that you can visit to grab a cold or hot beverage which also included a digital art experience. The hours of operation are 10:00-19:00 on weekdays and 10:00-21:00 on weekends.
Eating fresh seafood in Japan
Toyosu Market is a new market that was created to replace the aging Tsukiji Market. This is where the famous Tuna Auctions take place daily from 530-630AM. Now, we didn’t go there to see Tuna being sold, we went to eat! The famous Daiwa Sushi restaurant moved with the market to Toyosu in order to continue serving the freshest Sushi. We waited for 15-20 minutes outside in a line to get into this place. There was no set menu and the Sushi Chef made us 6-7 plates over the course of 30-45 minutes. It was the BEST sushi I’ve ever had and an around authentic Japanese experience. We spent around $40 per person for that meal which included a saki and Miso Soup.
After lunch, we relocated to Shinjuku which is North Tokyo to knock out some sights up there and sleep in our first capsule hotel!
A really interesting tour through the history of Japan and the Samurai warriors that once ruled the country. There are many artifacts on display including different samurai swords, weapons, and armor. We even had the opportunity to try on some of the gear for a photo! If you’re in the market for your very own custom made samurai sword, this is the place to go.
Attending this Robot Restaurant has been a comedy of errors for us! We had attempted a few times but found it was sold out or didn’t work with our schedule. From talking to our friends who visited, it’s definitely another unique experience you’ll only find in Tokyo! The Tokyo Robot Restaurant show takes place in the afternoon and evening. If you decide to check it out, please let us know what you think!
Pachinko is the Japan version of slot machines like you’d find in Las Vegas! The experience is completely different though and defies all logic. You can gamble some yen, shoot some monsters, and collect these silver balls that can be redeemed for money. Full disclosure, I still don’t entirely understand how these games work but you’ve got to at least walk into one of these parlors and see it for yourself!
Day 4 “Breakfast with Godzilla” Shinjuku & Osaka
Godzilla in Tokyo
A trip to Japan isn’t complete without taking a selfie with Godzilla! You’ll find this jolly green giant in Shinjuku directly next to Gracery. Head into the hotel and go up to the 8th floor. Here you’ll find the Bonjour Cafe where you can grab a bite to eat and find access to the outdoor patio next to Godzilla’s Head! Lisa and I really enjoyed their breakfast buffet and high-speed Wifi.
Shinkansen to Osaka
After breakfast with Godzilla, we made our way to the Tokyo Station to hop on our very first Shinkansen! It was easy getting our tickets for the Shinkansen which were included with our JR Pass. We just had to stop by the JR Office in Tokyo Station to get our tickets and then we were on our way. Since we were celebrating our birthdays, we decided to splurge and buy access to the Green Cars which include nicer seats, more room to spread around, and a hot towel refresher service.
Relax at the Conrad
Arriving in Osaka, the first and only thing we wanted to do was get rid of the backpacks that we had been lugging around all day! We took about ½ of a step into the Conrad Osaka before Robert ran over to us and grabbed our bags. The next time we saw our Osprey backpacks were in our beautiful hotel room. If you’re visiting Osaka or Kyoto, Hilton Conrad in Osaka is the place to stay! Incredible service, modern, and multiple delicious restaurants to choose from. We used Hilton Conrad Osaka as our home base for three nights while we explored western Japan.
Dinner on Dotonbori Street
This street is full of all sorts of unique restaurants and shops! Osaka is known for their food and you’ll be able to find all of the delicacies there like the okonomiyaki (Japanese Pancake), takoyaki (Fried Octopus Balls), Fugu (Blowfish), Kushikatsu (Skewered meat that’s deep-fried), Yakiniku (barbecued beef). I’m a big fan of the Ichiran Ramen chain which you can also find down on Dotonbori. This is the place where you order from a machine, receive a ticket, sit in a booth and slide the ticket under a draped cloth, and a few minutes later it appears!
Day 5 “Don’t get eaten by the deer” Nara
Nara Day Trip from Osaka
Nara is a fun place to visit that certainly is home to some VERY friendly Japanese deer. It’s apparent as soon as you exit the train station how much these deer have an impact on the community. Directly outside of the station, you’ll find a fun photo booth machine that makes for a nice souvenir. It will take you about two minutes of walking towards the temples before you encounter swarms of deer. Buy some deer food from a vendor and make some new friends!
Todai-ji Temple & Big buddha
A trip to Nara is not complete without a visit to the Todai-ji Temple. It is one of Japan’s most famous temples and is home to a 15-meter tall buddha. In addition, you’ll find beautiful vegetation and nature trails surrounding the main hall, which held the record for the world’s largest wooden building.
Stop by the Kofuku-ji Temple to see the five-storied Pagoda!
The best way to end your day trip to Nara is to see the famous mochi snack being created. Mochi is a sticky rice cake that is delicious and found throughout Japan. However, at Nakatanidou they are known for their yomogi mochi. The yomogi mochi is a green rice cake filled with red bean paste and dusted with a sweet flour. It’s definitely exciting watching the chefs create mochi, they really go at it so quickly! You can stop by from 10:00-19:00 and be sure to bring some yen as it is cash only.
Day 6 “Bamboo and Monkeys” Arashiyama
Arashiyama Bamboo Grove “Bamboo Forest” is a top destination in Japan. People come from all over the world to walk through these serene bamboo groves and connect with nature. They are located in Northwest Kyoto about an hour train ride from Osaka. Due to the popularity, these groves are often overrun with tourists. I’d recommend getting there very early (5 am) or close to sunset for some #metime and to shoot some great photos!
This temple is a must-see if you head over to the Arashiyama district for a day trip! A beautiful garden path leads throughout and around the grounds of the temple. It’s a place to shoot some photos and also a secret entrance to the Bamboo Forest!
Arashiyama Monkey Park or Iwatayama Monkey Park is definitely a unique place to visit. From the bamboo forest, it’s about a 15-minute walk that eventually takes you over the Tsutenkyo Bridge. Once you cross, follow the signs down to the right and begin your journey up the stairs. The entry fee is 550 Yen and it takes about 30 minutes to reach the top. Along the way, you’ll find fun facts about the Japanese Macaques Monkeys that live there. You’re rewarded at the top is an opportunity to feed the monkeys peanuts and bananas!
Day 7 “Tea for days” Kyoto
Tea Ceremony in Kyoto
One of our favorite experiences in Japan was being a guest at a Traditional Japanese Tea Ceremony. It was interesting learning the history of Japanese tea ceremonies and the steps to take to serve it. Of course, the tea tasted delicious! In order to get the full experience, we had the option to wear traditional Japanese Kimonos while going through the ceremony. For an additional fee, you can rent the Japanese Kimonos for the remainder of the day to wear around Kyoto. We did this and it made for some great photos!
Fushimi Inari Shrine
The Fushimi Inari Shrine is home to thousands of orange torii gates and is one of the most popular tourist destinations in Japan! There is no admission cost and you can walk freely throughout the trails. The best advice for great photos or fewer tourists is to get here very early in the morning. Another option if it’s crowded is to take the trails up towards the top which many people don’t bother doing to in order to shoot some photos! This area is open to the public 24 hours a day so if you have the time you could go for sunrise and sundown to get different perspectives.
Search for a Geisha in the Gion District
A Geisha is a professional entertainer that sings, dances, and provides a traditional Japanese experience for their guests. Geisha are easy to identify due to their distinct clothing and makeup. Tourists who visit Japan often swing through the Gion District in hopes of catching a glimpse of a Geisha in town. Only Japanese residents can access the services of a Geisha which is supposedly very expensive!
A Delicious treat at the Maccha House
Stop into this VERY popular shop for a green tea flavored dessert! When we arrived, the line to get in was extended down the street. Luckily, you can skip the line if you place an order “to go”. After walking around Kyoto all day long in our Kimonos, this was the exact treat we needed!
Restaurant with one menu?
Laughably; this restaurant either has no name or we couldn’t find the name but it was delicious! The workers will tell you and point at the sign which displays “only one menu”. We learned that they offer one item and it’s jam-packed with an assortment of flavors. Both the storefront and the menu are pictured below so be on the lookout!
The most Unique Starbucks
One popular chain that you’ll spot throughout Japan is Starbucks. Tourists often flock from one to another in search of caffeine and free wifi. The location in Kyoto offers a creative storefront that blends in with the surrounding historic architecture in Kyoto. Whether you hate or love the chain, this is certainly one of the most unique Starbucks that you’ll find in the entire world!
Sushi Train in Osaka
After a long day exploring Kyoto, we headed back to our home base in Osaka and decided to take a ride on the Sushi Train for dinner! This restaurant is located near Osaka Station in the Grand Front Osaka on the 7th Floor. It typically has a line, however, it moves really fast! Some of the most delicious sushi I’ve ever had with a ton of different varieties to choose from. It was really fun watching the plates go by and deciding which ones to grab off of the conveyor belt. There’s not an English version of the name for this place but it’s pretty easy to find once you’re on the 7th floor. We really enjoyed the shrimp tempura!
Day 8 “Travel to Hiroshima”
Shinkansen to Hiroshima
If you’re going to ride on the Shinkansen, you’ve got to eat out of one! You’ll find these “Bento” boxes at the popup stands in the train stations serving a “home-packed meal”. They typically contain, rice, veggies, protein, noodles, and a sweet dessert.
Getting around Hiroshima
If you’re visiting Japan as a tourist, you most likely will be purchasing a JR Pass to save money on trains to get around the country. One thing that we learned while exploring Hiroshima was that the JR Pass actually gave us free access to the sightseeing bus that visits all of the top sights. In addition, the pass provides you free access to the Ferries that head over to Miyajima Island.
Most people’s first stop on their Hiroshima itinerary is the Castle. Most of the other sites are south so it makes sense to begin here and work your way down. The Hiroshima castle was very neat and interesting to explore. Throughout the castle, you’ll find tales from the origin of creating it to the various lords who lived there. If you climb up to the top, you’ll be greeted with a fantastic viewpoint of Hiroshima. You can also try on some Samurai gear for Instagram!
Hiroshima Peace Memorial
Often referred to as the A-Bomb Dome, it is the sight of an industrial promotion hall that was left standing following the destruction of the Atomic Bomb. In 1996, the dome was registered on the UNESCO World Heritage Site as a memorial to surviving a destructive force. This is definitely a sad and somber sight to see 🙁
Hiroshima Peace Memorial Museum
The Hiroshima Peace Memorial Museum is a very graphic and emotional depiction of life after the Atomic Bomb. It takes a few hours to make your way through the narrated tour using a headset. The stories that you’ll hear will provide a whole different perspective on the devastation that took place there.
Attend a Japanese Baseball Game
If you find yourself in Hiroshima when the Toyo Carp are playing at home in the MAZDA Zoom-Zoom Stadium I’d highly suggest heading down to check out a game! You can find the schedule and ticket information here: https://www.carp.co.jp/en/
Miyajima Island is known to be one of the most scenic places to visit in Japan. There’s hiking, beaches, the Miyajima Brewery, and an awesome Torii gate that looks like it’s floating on top of the water!
You can either use your JR Pass to take a free Ferri down to the Island from Hiroshima or pay to ride the speedboat that departs near the Peace Memorial Park.
Day 9 “Hot springs and Mt. Fuji”
Stay at a Japanese Ryokan
A Ryokan is a traditional Japanese Inn that offers a unique hotel experience. These special hotels are found in very scenic areas throughout Japan and offer a reprieve from city life. You’ll get to wear a Japanese yukata (summer kimono) and explore the natural hot springs. It is said that bathing in these hot springs brings many therapeutic benefits. We chose a Ryokan near Mt Fuji for the #views!
Hike Mt Fuji
You can reach the summit and back in the same day if you leave early! If you’re in good shape, it should take about 5 hours up and 3 hours down. Bring plenty of snacks and water. There are huts that you’ll pass on the mountain which offer food and toilets. The most popular trail to take up and down is the Yoshida Trail which you can reach via the Fuji Subaru Line 5th Station. It’s important to note that you can only hike this trail from July 1st to September 10th.
Hakone is a very popular scenic destination which offers great views of Mt. Fuji and Lake Ashinoko. Most people visit Hakone in order to shoot a photo with the Giant Orange Torii Gate that is based on a platform on the water. You’ll also find plenty of shops and restaurants in Hakone.
Take a ride on the Hakone Pirate Ship to get from one side of the lake to the other! This a great opportunity to shoot photos of the Giant Torii Gate from the water.
Take a ride on the Hakone Ropeway to get some great aerial views!
Day 11 – “Do you even Sumo Wrestle?”
A trip to Japan is not complete without some Sumo Wrestling Action. We enjoyed a traditional Sumo lunch called Chanko and then Dave got in the ring! Check out the full review here and find information on how to book you own Sumo Wrestling Match.
Not far from the Sumo Wrestling lunch location you’ll find the Tokyo Skytree which is the world’s tallest tower! Be amazed by the 360-degree views at the top and be sure to get your very own sky tree photo frame.
At the base of the Skytree, you’ll find the Kirby Cafe. This unique restaurant offers Kirby inspired dishes that will certainly pique your tastebuds. If you’d like to dine here, making a reservation ahead of time is required as they are usually booked out a few days in advance.
The Senso-ji Temple is Tokyo’s oldest temple and a top tourist destination. It’s free to enter and you’ll find plenty of shops for souvenirs directly outside.
If you want to experience something really unique be sure to take a stroll down Akihabara Street. Anime and Manga shops along with some interesting cosplay will be found up and down this street. A handful of restaurants here will even serve you food dressed up in Cosplay!
Planning your own Japan trip? Check out some of our other Japan Blog Articles!
- How I booked a $41,890.68 trip to Japan for $656.66!
- How we saved $3,487 on Hotels in Japan
- The Day I wrestled a Sumo Wrestler in Japan
- Step-By-Step Booking ANA Flights on Virgin Atlantic on Points
- Basic Guide to International Driving Permit
Disclosure: Basic Travel Couple, LLC has partnered with CardRatings for our coverage of credit card products. Basic Travel Couple, LLC and CardRatings may receive a commission from card issuers.Opinions, reviews, analyses & recommendations are the author’s alone, and have not been reviewed, endorsed or approved by any of these entities.