So you only have ten days to spend this amazing country? Here’s what you do! Follow this tried and true itinerary that will take you to Tokyo, Kyoto, Osaka, and Hiroshima. You’ll never want to leave.
If you have more time to spend in Japan, add a few days to Tokyo and Kyoto, or check out another place like Nara or Nagoya. I highly suggest purchasing the Japan Rail Pass (must be done before entering the country), which gives you unlimited access to all JR trains (including the bullet train) throughout Japan for 7, 14, or 21 days.
Here’s the full run down (with a few tweaks) of an amazing trip two friends and I took in late July, 2015:
Day 1: Friday – Tokyo
-Take an evening flight into Tokyo (We flew in to Handeda Airport, which is much more convenient than Narita).
-Take public transportation (bus or train) into the Shinjuku area. We stayed in an Airbnb off of nearby Shin-Okubo Station in Tokyo’s Korea Town.
Day 2: Saturday – Tokyo
-Take the train to Akihabara
- Play at Yodobashi Camera, a gigantic electronics market, directly in front of the central exit of Akihabara station.
- Walk along Chuo Dori, the main street with many little alleyways full of toy and electronic stores. Stay left from the west exit, you’ll see all the action.
- Shop or browse at Mandarake, eight stories of collectibles toys, and anime magazines. Walk along Chuo Dori until you see “Game Taito Station,” a tall building with a giant red and white space invader. Directly across the street from Taito, walk one block down a little alleyway. Mandarake will be on your right.
- Have a snack or drink at a maid café, which are everywhere in Akihabara. We chose Maidreamin on Chuo Dori.
*This blog post was a great resource for us in Akihabara. Click for better directions and more things to do.*
–Shinjuku for sushi dinner. Our Japanese friend ordered two or three pieces at a time with hot sake and beer. FYI: Many restaurants, bars, and cafes charge seating fees of around 500 yen per person.
-Drinks in Golden Gai, a very small, very funky area in Shinjuku lined with micro-bars (2-10 seats). Walk from the east exit of Shinjuku station. The bars open after 9pm.
Day 3: Sunday – Tokyo
-Walk to Shibuya. Check out the farmers market at UNU on the way and have lunch at one of the food trucks.
– Walk through Shibuya and into Harajuku.
- Head to Yoyogi Park. On a Sunday, you may see the famous “Harajuku girls” meeting around here. You will definitely see groups of rockabilly dancers with greased hair and leather jackets dancing all day.
- Browse the Sunday flea market across the street (over a bridge) from the park. It has antiques, performances, clothing and food vendors from throughout Asia.
- Go shopping – you’ll find unique things to buy at all price ranges.
– Dinner and drinks in Shibuya.
Day 4: Monday – Osaka and Kyoto
– Take a small bag and leave your big pack in a locker at Tokyo Station. Get on a very early JR Shinkansen train to Osaka. It’ll take about 4 hours.
- Visit Osaka Castle, a quick walk from the train station. Learn about the war of Osaka, see the view of the city from the top, and walk through the beautiful park around it.
- Head into the city for some shopping and food.
– Get back on the JR Shinkansen train to Kyoto by 5:45pm – it only takes 20 minutes! Other trains can take up to 1.5 hours.
– Get off at Kyoto Station, transfer, and take the JR San-In line to Hanazono station (about ten minutes). Then walk 10 minutes to Shunkoin Temple Guesthouse. You must arrive by 6:30pm. Shunkoin is a Zen Buddhist sub-temple within the Myoshinji temple complex, the biggest in Kyoto. The peaceful guesthouse has private bathrooms, a shared kitchen, and bikes to use. It is a bit pricier than regular guesthouses, but worth every penny.
– Take a bike, find dinner, and see the city at night.
Day 5: Tuesday – Kyoto
-Start the day with the zen yoga class at Shunkoin Temple. Afterwards, take a walk and explore the complex.
-Take a five-minute bike ride to Ryoanji temple. Walk around the pond through the many gardens. Kinkaku-ji, the Golden Pavilion, is nearby as well.
-Eat lunch at the Wonder Café on the North edge of the Myoshinji temple complex. It’s famous for its eclectic décor, and you can order drinks, coffee, and food.
-Leave your bike and take the JR San-In line to the JR Nara line. Get off at Inari Station to reach the incredible red gates of the Fushimi Inari Taisha shrine. Make sure you have two hours to follow the red gates all the way up the mountain.
-Spend one more blissful night at Shunkoin. You won’t want to leave.
Day 6: Wednesday – Hiroshima
-Wake up and take a JR train to Hiroshima. There are a few direct trains, but you may have to transfer at Osaka. It’ll take about 2.5 hours. Once there, we took a streetcar from the train station to our BnB near the A-Bomb dome.
– See the memorials.
- Start at the A-Bomb Dome, a building that was 160 meters from the hypocenter of the blast and has been preserved as it was after the bombing.
- Walk through the Hiroshima Peace Memorial Park, which has memorials to Koreans lost in the blast, children, and more.
- Visit the Hiroshima Peace Memorial Museum. It’s very humbling, informative, and peaceful.
-If you’re there July – August and have some extra time, take a 40-minute train ride to Mizushiri Beach on Hiroshima Bay. It’s very convenient, although maybe not the most beautiful. Take the Kure Line six stops (from Hiroshima Station) to Mizushiri Station. The beach is right across the street.
Day 7: Thursday – Tokyo
– Get on the Shinkansen back to Tokyo (about 4.5 hours – you’ll transfer at Shin-Osaka). Stay in Shimokitazawa.
– Take it easy after all that running around. Shimokitazawa is a vibrant, young area lined with international restaurants, thrift shopping, and bars. Spend the day exploring.
Day 8: Friday – Tokyo
– Take the train to Sensoji Temple in Asakusa. Make sure to get your fortune!
– Take a 20-minute walk to Sky Tree tower, the tallest in Japan. Read more here about getting to the top.
– Continue walking to Ueno Park (or take the train to Ueno Station). Shinobazu Pond, on the Southwest side of the park, is a breathtaking sea of lotus flowers. You’ll also find temples, shrines, museums, performances, and zoos in this huge park.
– Spend the night partying in Roppongi, known for its nightlife and a popular area for foreigners.
Day 9: Saturday – Tokyo
– Start out at the Imperial Palace (very close to Tokyo Station), which my Japanese friend calls the “Buckingham Palace of Japan.” Stroll through the East Gardens.
-Walk through Ginza, an upscale shopping area. The huge Uniqlo flagship store is here, and the Muji flagship in Yurakucho is a short walk away too.
-Get to Club Air in Shibuya around midnight for dinner and cocktails on the ground level. Then head downstairs where there are two levels of dance floors, lounges, and bars. Party until the trains start running at 5:00am! UPDATE: Club Air has closed since we were in Tokyo, which is very sad. That means you’ll have to find another cool club to go to, which I’m sure you can do.
Day 10: Sunday
-Get an afternoon flight so you can sleep in. Time to go home.
By Evy Bround