Japan has one of the most fascinating cultures. With traditions dating back thousands of years, a wild fashion sense and a dominating technological development; I was excited to experience it all. This guide takes you through the sites to see in Tokyo, Hakone, Kyoto and Osaka.
DAY 1 – 4 TOKYO, JAPAN
Tokyo is one of my favorite cities! Each train stop on the Yamanote Line will bring you to a completely different world. I would suggest breaking up each day into certain sections of the city you are wanting to see. I enjoyed just getting off at a station and getting lost in the wonderful madness of each stop.
- Shibuya Area. Stay in an Airbnb located near Shibuya Crossing
- Shibuya is one of Tokyo’s most iconic areas of the city and is filled with bars, malls, restaurants, karaoke bars, and a hell of a lot of neon. It’s also home to the world’s busiest intersection, which tells you a bit about how buzzing Shibuya can be.
- Meiji Jingu Shrine
- YoYogi park in Harajuku
- Tsukiji Fish Market (Ginza Station) (you want to go early in the AM)
- Shopping district
- Imperial Palace
- Tokyo Tower or Tokyo Skytree (Oshiage Station)
- Akihabara (Akihabara Station or Suehirocho Station)
- Akihabara the center of the city’s otaku culture and home to lots of amusement arcades and cheap tech shops. This is also where you go if you want to experience a maid café.
- Upmarket hipster area
- Shinjuku (Shinjuku-sanchome Station)
- Shinjuku Gyoen National Garden (CLOSED MONDAYS)
- Insane entertainment district
- Golden Gai
- Area with tiny little bars
- Robot Cafe (a total tourist trap but worth it)
DAY 5 HAKONE, JAPAN
My one regret of this trip was not staying longer in Hakone. I was able to see everything we wanted, but I wish we had one more day to hike or explore more. We stayed in a Traditional Japanese Hotel and booked a private Onsen; which is a hot spring bath.
- Mount View Hakone
- Keep in mind this is a traditional Japanese Style Ryokan. A Ryokan is more than just a place to sleep, a ryokan gives you the opportunity to experience the traditional Japanese lifestyle. I wanted to experience at least one on the trip and this was totally the place to do it. I personally think one night was enough of sleeping on the ground with a little pillow that felt like it was full of beans, but hey all part of the experience!
- Hakone Loop: a journey around the area that takes you on five types of transport: bus, train, pirate boat, ropeway and cable car. Buy the Hakone Free pass.
- Mt. Fuji
- Mishima Skywalk – this is a MUST
- Hakone Open Air Museum
- Onsen in hotel (ask if you would like to do a private one)
DAY 6 – 8 KYOTO, JAPAN
Kyoto was one of my highlights of the trip. From the Temples, to hikes, to high tea, it offers a little bit of everything. My main tip would be to RENT ELECTRIC BIKES! It is such a blast riding bikes through the city and you are able to cover a lot of ground!
- The hotel I stayed in is no longer there, near Yasaka Shrine which is in a busier area. Lots of restaurants and shops steps from your door. I personally liked the Western side of Kyoto the best, but it is less busy. Check out TripAdvisor for lots of great hotels in any area of Kyoto!
- Western Kyoto
- Togetsukyo Bridge
- Bamboo Groves (go at dusk or EARLY am – less people)
- Monkey Park Iwatayama
- Riding bikes by the river
- High Tea (there are a lot of high tea and yoga/meditation retreats)
- Hike through the Mountains
- Northern Kyoto
- Kinkaku-ji (Golden Temple)
- Eastern Kyoto
- Kiyomizu-dera (great for sunset)
- Higashiyama District
- Southern Kyoto
- Fushimi Inari Shrine
- Central Kyoto
- Nishiki Market
- Ninen-zaka and Sannen-zaka
- Gion Corner – Gieshas
- Yasaka Shrine
DAY 9 – 10 OSAKA, JAPAN
Osaka is completely different from Tokyo. I really enjoyed it. I think the highlight for me was the Aquarium, I did not have time to see Disneyland or Universal.
- Umeda Sky Building
- Osaka Castle
- Kuromon Ichiba Market
- Namba Area
- Universal Studios or Aquarium
- Tempozan Giant Ferris Wheel
- Dōtonbori Area in Osaka and try Okonomiyaki – also known as Japanese pizza
Japan Rail Pass:
- Purchase the Japan Rail Pass a few months BEFORE entering Japan. Of course map out your destinations and see if the Japan Rail line is worth purchasing. With this itinerary it was definitely worth it! I ended up activating the rail pass on the second day of being in Tokyo that way it was valid for the remaining 7 days and traveling from Tokyo to other cities. The stations where you activate the JR pass are easy to find and the tellers are very friendly and helpful. If you are unsure of when you would like to activate the pass ask one of the clerks working. Double check the hours and opening days of the JR station office, I activated mine on a Saturday because I found out they were closed on Sundays. This website explains the Japan Rail Pass System. I also printed out maps and mapped out the lines I would be using on Japan Guide.
- Rent a Pocket Wifi. I purchased a pocked wifi from Ninja Wifi. It was super easy to pick up from the Tokyo airport and drop off at the Osaka airport. I was charged a one time fee and that was it!
- Make sure you have cash. I was surprised how many places were CASH ONLY, which was fine but I wanted to use my VentureOne travel card to get points! So warn your banks you are traveling and be prepared to use cash.
Essentials to Pack
- Comfortable walking shoes
- Selfie Stick
Miscellaneous Things to Know
- Public transportation is ALWAYS on time. If the train says it will be there at 6:01 it will be there at 6:01
- Transit can be confusing so just go in with an open mind and have fun with it. It will get frustrating at times but it is all part of the adventure
- Toilets in Japan: Within 2 minutes of checking into the first Airbnb I had to Google “How to flush a Japanese Toilet.” They have so many features, including heated seats, noise canceling features, and special cleaning wipes. I wanted to bring one home!
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Mel loves to hear and connect with other travelers across the globe, feel free to contact her with any questions or travel tips!