Travel. It leaves you speechless then turns you into a storyteller” ~ Ibn Battua.
Why spend 2 weeks in Japan?
If you’ve read my article explaining the reasons to visit Japan, you may have been inspired to make it happen! For first-timers, 2 weeks in Japan is the perfect introduction to this beautiful country’s unique history, culture and stunning landscapes. There aren’t many destinations in the world that have managed to blend past and present so seamlessly as Japan. Sometimes it can feel as though you’re living in the ancient past and the distant future at the same time, you’ll soon find out why!
Spending 2 weeks in Japan allows you to get a taste for much of the country (and maybe leave you wanting more). My first-timers guide below focuses on Japan’s “Golden Route”: Major cities such as Tokyo, Kyoto, Osaka and Hiroshima, as well as day trips to experience the beauty of Mt Fuji and the ancient traditions of Nara and Miyajima. Don’t worry, I’ve included the tiny details about the best way to travel to each destination, as well as how to get around once you’re there so you can be confident on your journey across Japan.
So, why should you trust me? I’m a geek who loves researching a destination to death before I visit! My preference is to be organised and aware of what to expect when travelling and I’m passionate about sharing my findings with you so you can make the most of your trip, too. For you book lovers, I created this itinerary with these Japan travel books so take a look.
Finally, at the conclusion of this itinerary make sure you download your FREE Japanese Phrases for Tourists PDF to take along with you to Japan!
Heads up: First published in 2017, this 2 Weeks in Japan itinerary has recently been updated to include information for travel in 2019!
Here’s some highlights of what you can expect to experience during your visit:
This 2 weeks in Japan itinerary and guide will cover:
Exploring Japan on your own has never been easier
If you’re planning a trip to Japan you may be overwhelmed on where to start and wondering how you’ll get around (isn’t there a language barrier?!) so I’ll reveal the tips and tricks I used for my own 2 weeks in Japan itinerary. Below you’ll find ideas for day trips, my hotel recommendations and what you could expect to see in a day at each destination. Hopefully it will inspire you for your own trip and get your itinerary planning off to a good start!
This is a lengthy post so grab yourself a cuppa and get comfortable ☕
How to best spend 2 weeks in Japan on a mid-range budget?
To really be an Invisible Tourist on any trip, staying in a centrally located hotel is of utmost importance if you want to maximise your travel experience. In Japan it means you’ll spend less time getting around and more time exploring UNESCO World Heritage Sites (7 in this itinerary), wandering the vibrant streets and enjoying the culinary delights that make Japan world-famous.
The hotels I’ve recommended below are mid-range, in the heart of the city centres and only a few moments walk to Metro stations.
Also, make use of Shinkansen – Japanese Bullet Trains. They are the most efficient way to get around Japan. I’ll discuss these in more detail at the conclusion of this itinerary.
Quick links to useful resources
Here’s a quick summary of resources you may find useful for your trip to Japan.
One last thing before we dive into the 2 weeks in Japan itinerary! To help you overcome the language barrier in Japan, I’ve created a FREE PDF Cheat Sheet of useful Japanese phrases you’ll need on a daily basis. Go take a look ⬇️
Are you ready? Let’s do this!
Complete 2 Weeks in Japan Itinerary for First-Time Visitors
Day 0: TRANSIT
Fly to Tokyo overnight and get excited about where you’ll be waking up tomorrow!
Days 1 – 5: TOKYO
A little word of advice: Don’t underestimate the sheer size of Tokyo. It will be one of the largest cities you ever visit, with many attractions spaced out in different neighbourhoods. It’s good to know what you want to see before you go so you can plan ahead accordingly. This will help you to not feel rushed during your visit and you’ll enjoy every minute!
How to get to Tokyo from Narita Airport
Narita Airport to Tokyo via Narita Express, approx. 1 hour.
Cost: Adult Narita Express Ticket JPY 3,020 ea
Where to stay in Tokyo
I highly recommend staying at Dormy Inn Premium, Shibuya ドーミーイン PREMIUM 渋谷神宮前.
Need some more information on Tokyo hotels? Check out:
Where to eat in Tokyo
Han No Daidokoro, Kirin City, Crepes in Harajuku, Maid Café in Akihabara, Golden Gai in Shinjuku
Things to do in Tokyo
- Spend your first day discovering Shibuya 渋谷 by crossing “The Scramble” (world’s busiest street crossing – some 3,000 people use it at any one time). Wander through the quirky shops on Takeshita-dori, Harajuku 原宿.
- Explore Shinjuku 新宿 Station (busiest station in the world) then escape to Shinjuku Gyoen for some tranquility in the busy city.
- Discover Senso-ji Temple at Asakusa 浅草 then visit Akihabara 秋葉原 Electric Town for anime and electronics. Start your night off at the amazing Robot Restaurant ロボットレストラン (read my experience here).
- Take the trip up Tokyo Skytree 東京スカイツリー then spend the afternoon strolling Tokyo Imperial Palace 皇居 gardens.
- Wander the streets in Ginza 銀座 and admire the designer shops and funky architecture.
Buy tickets in advance to save time
More things to do in Tokyo
- Tokyo Tower, an icon of the city. Did you know its orange and white frame is modelled loosely on the Eiffel Tower? You can also buy tickets in advance to skip the line at the Tokyo Tower Observation Deck!
- Tsukiji Fish Market, the largest wholesale fish market in the world! Once attracting over 40,000 visitors per day, the Inner Market that hosted the tuna auction and wholesale produce has been closed off to tourists since October 2018. However, you can still visit the Tsukiji Outer Market in Toyoso. You can find out more about how to be a conscious consumer of bluefin tuna and other seafood during your visit.
OPTIONAL: Day Trip from TOKYO to HAKONE
The easiest way to see all the sights is to do the Hakone Round Course with the Hakone Free Pass. It includes a combination of train, cable car, ropeway, boat and bus to see lakes, hot springs, active volcanos, art galleries and gardens. Highlights are the Picasso Museum, Open Air Museum and Mount Fuji (if she decides to peep out from behind the clouds!)
For pricing and more information on the Hakone Free Pass click here!
Getting there: Tokyo Shinjuku to Hakone-Yumoto stations via Odakyu Express, approx 75mins.
Cost: Adult JPY 2,280 ea (including Limited Express surcharge).
TIP: Sit on the right side of the Odakyu Express from Tokyo to get the best view of Mount Fuji as you speed past.
DAYS 6 – 10: KYOTO
With over 1600 temples and shrines, dear old Kyoto deserves more than just one day of your time! There is so much more to see in Japan’s old capital than the ever-popular Fushimi Inari Taisha, Kinkaku-ji (Golden Pavilion) and Kyomizu-Dera. Get ready to experience a different side of Kyoto by uncovering some hidden gems over 4 days.
Getting from Tokyo to Kyoto
2 hours 20 minutes from Tokyo Shinagawa station on Nozomi shinkansen
Cost: Adult Nozomi ticket JPY 13,910 ea
Where to stay in Kyoto
Where to eat in Kyoto
Manzara-Tei on Pontocho and any restaurant in Gion ぎおん alleyways (Geisha district).
Things to do in Kyoto
- Explore downtown Kyoto 京都 and walk along the Sanjo Ohashi Bridge 三条大橋.
- Start at Arashiyama 嵐山 Bamboo Grove then walk to Gio-ji Temple & Moss Gardens 祇王寺, Adashino Nembutsu-ji 化野念仏寺, then finish the day at famous Kinkaku-ji Temple 金閣寺 (Golden Pavilion), a UNESCO World Heritage site. The Golden Pavilion is perhaps Kyoto’s biggest drawcard.
Begin the day at stunning Daigo-ji 醍醐寺 temple & gardens followed by Nanzen-ji 南禅寺 gardens. Nanzen-ji features a massive working aqueduct that dates back to the mid-19th century. Spend the afternoon strolling the Philosopher’s Path north to Ginkaku-ji 銀閣寺 (Silver Pavilion). The Silver Pavilion is said to be the little brother of Kinkaku-ji (Golden Pavilion) and in my opinion had the more exquisite gardens! After that big walk you may want to take a taxi back to your hotel (around 20mins, approx. 2,400 JPY from memory).
- Maruyama Park 円山公園 in the morning, wander the backstreets of Gion ぎおん ensuring you stop by Sannen-zaka & Ninnen-zaka streets for some stunning hand-crafted souvenirs on your way to Kiyomizu-Dera 清水寺 (UNESCO World Heritage site). Spend the afternoon at Fushimi Inari Shrine 伏見稲荷大社 (Thousand Torii Gate), a UNESCO World Heritage site you’re sure to recognise.
TIP: Fushimi Inari literally sits on the side of a mountain. Be prepared for loads of walking because the sign at the start is NOT to scale!
BONUS: Check out “Gear”, an incredible non-verbal performance exclusive to Kyoto. The characters really come to life and tell a story through music, magic tricks, various choreography routines and colourful lighting. It’s very enjoyable!
Buy tickets in advance to save time
You can also find more activities such as kimono rental and traditional tea ceremonies in Kyoto to book in advance here.
DAYS 10 – 12: HIROSHIMA
In my opinion, no visit to Japan is complete without a visit to Hiroshima. Being a history nerd, I was so interested to see how Hiroshima recovered after the fateful blast in August 1945. To be completely honest, if the Atomic Bomb Dome wasn’t sitting centre stage as a reminder of the past, you would never guess the atrocity that happened here over seventy years ago.
Getting from Kyoto to Hiroshima
1 hour 40 minutes from Kyoto Station on Nozomi shinkansen
Cost: Adult Nozomi ticket JPY 11,410 ea
Where to stay in Hiroshima
Royal RIHGA Hotel, Hiroshima リーガロイヤルホテル広島宴会. This is a gorgeous hotel in the heart of the city, making it perfect for exploring all Hiroshima’s attractions on foot. You definitely get more bang-for-your-buck here compared to other city hotels throughout Japan, it’s a very beautiful hotel.
Not to mention the gorgeous view I was spoilt with overlooking Hiroshima Castle! ?
TIP: If you happen to book a stay at the Royal RIHGA Hotel, request a corner room if possible as you’ll be treated to a 180° view over the city, which is quite breathtaking:
Where to eat in Hiroshima
Restaurants along the Hon-dori. Try the local okinomiyaki (savoury pancake)!
Things to do in Hiroshima
- Eat, explore and shop on the Hondori. You’ll also find wonderful little souvenirs to remember your visit.
- Reflect at the A-Bomb Dome 原爆ドーム (UNESCO World Heritage site), be amazed by thousands of colourful paper cranes at the Children’s Peace Monument and find Jizoson. The atomic bomb struck Jizoson and left it with a nuclear shadow, incredible and eerie.
- You’ll also see the Peace Arch on your way to the Hiroshima Peace Memorial Museum 広島平和記念資料館. Artefacts that survived the blast are on display in the museum, including ceramics that were fused together due to the extreme heat from the explosion. It’s difficult to get your head around but the Museum does a great job of helping you gain a better understanding about nuclear bombs and their consequences. Finally, the Peace Flame located by the Peach Arch will burn until the last nuclear weapon on Earth is destroyed.
OPTIONAL: Day trip from HIROSHIMA to MIYAJIMA (Itsukushima Shrine)
Itsukushima Shrine 厳島神社 is a UNESCO World Heritage site. The present shrine dates back to the mid-13th century and is one of Japan’s National Treasures.
Getting there: Ferry from Hiroshima Peace Park to Miyajima island, approx 45mins.
Cost: Adult roundtrip JPY 3,600.
TIP: Check the tide information before your trip to find out whether the Grand Torii Gate will be in high or low tide during your visit. At high tide, it appears to float on the water and makes for stunning photos. In low tide, you can walk right beneath it and appreciate the bright vermillion colour up close.
I’ve written a detailed guide for your Hiroshima to Miyajima day trip here! Take a look for more photos, information about the upcoming restoration work from June 2019 – August 2020 and what NOT to do to help make the most of your visit.
DAYS 12 – 14: OSAKA
Known as Japan’s foodie capital, you can literally eat and shop until you drop in Osaka! Prepare for all your senses to be delighted in this city, from the aromas of sizzling takoyaki to the dizzying sounds of Pachinko parlours and bright neon signs assaulting your eyes. Osaka was a merchant city rather than samurai so be sure to stand on the RIGHT of escalators instead of left (like the rest of the country)!
Getting from Hiroshima to Osaka
1h30 from Hiroshima on Nozomi shinkansen
Cost: Adult Nozomi ticket JPY 10,440 ea
Where to stay in Osaka
Cross Hotel Osaka クロスホテル大阪. Just steps away from Dotonbori Arcade, restaurants and a few minutes walk to Namba station. As a business hotel it means there are many power points for charging devices which is handy.
Where to eat in Osaka
Showa Taishu Horumon Beef BBQ, try Osaka’s famous takoyaki (octopus balls)!
Things to do in Osaka
- See the famous Glico Man over the river from Dotonbori 道頓堀, keep an eye out out for artistic drain covers (pictured below), be amazed at all the shops and how meticulously the products are arranged.
- Spend the day at Osaka Castle Museum 大阪城, check out the 360 degree view from the observation deck and wander the beautiful grounds.
OPTIONAL: Day trip from OSAKA to NARA
Nara 奈良 was Japan’s first permanent capital in 710 AD so it holds a great historical significance. The city was heavily influenced by Buddhism and many structures reflect this.
Getting there: Yamatoji train from JR Osaka station to JR Nara station, approx 45mins.
Cost: Adult one way JPY 800 ea.
MUST SEE: Todai-ji Temple 東大寺, a UNESCO World Heritage site and the largest wooden structure in the world. Be amazed by the giant bronze Buddha and see if you’re small enough to fit through the pillar with a hole the size of Buddha’s nostril for good luck! ~ Yoshikien Gardens are breathtaking ~ Nigatsu-do for views over Nara ~ Kasuga-Taisha Shrine 春日大社 for 3,000 stone lanterns ~ Kofuku-ji 興福寺, family temple of the Fujiwara clan.
READ MORE: 3 Days in Osaka Itinerary: Complete Guide + Nara Day Trip
READ MORE: 6 Unique Experiences in Takayama Old Town (By a Local)
Day 14: OSAKA to TOKYO
Once you arrive back in Tokyo from Osaka, you can spend the day revisiting a favourite neighbourhood, exploring a new one or taking a day trip from Tokyo. I have some exciting suggestions below so read on!
Getting back to Tokyo from Osaka
2 hours 30 minutes from Osaka on Nozomi shinkansen
Cost: Adult Nozomi ticket JPY 14,450 ea
Where to stay in Tokyo
Different neighbourhood, this time Ginza 銀座 for 1 night. I can recommend the hotel (Mercure Hotel Ginza メルキュールホテル銀座東京) but be aware that this ritzy neighbourhood feels strikingly similar to most New York City neighbourhoods. You don’t really feel like you’re walking the streets of Japan.
Day trips from Tokyo
Here’s some ideas for how to spend your last day in Tokyo:
- Nikko 2.5 hours from Tokyo
This stunning UNESCO World Heritage site is home to many temples and shrines (pictured below) nestled within nature’s finest scenery. You can easily get there with this popular day trip to Nikko.
- Kawaguchiko (Fuji Five Lakes) 2 hours from Tokyo
Lavender fields and reflective lakes paired with a backdrop of Mt Fuji means you really can’t go wrong!
- Kamakura 50 minutes from Tokyo
With many temples and shrines, Kamakura is popular for its famous Buddha and easy hikes nearby.
- Tokyo Disneyland & DisneySea 25 minutes from Tokyo
If you’re into all things Disney, these theme parks are the obvious choice for you. Don’t forget to book your Disney tickets in advance!
- Fujiyama Snow Resort 2 hours from Tokyo
Why not try your hand at skiing in Japan’s powder! Best of all, there are ski runs for all levels and Mt Fuji will be watching over you throughout the day. You can take this Snow Town Yeti tour that includes a coach roundtrip from Shinjuku.
Day 15: TRANSIT
Spend half day in Tokyo before heading to airport for your night flight home. I’m sure you’ll be sad to leave Japan!
Getting there: Tokyo to Narita Airport via Narita Express, approx. 1 hour.
Cost: JPY 3,020
Day 16: Home
Arrive home on Sunday.
Bonus: Day 17
Head back to work on Monday wanting to do it all again!!
Things to keep in mind during your two weeks in Japan
Contrary to popular belief, you DO NOT need to buy a JR Railpass before you visit Japan.
Flights to Tokyo
If possible, book a red-eye (overnight) flight. Most international flights will land at Tokyo Narita Airport. Get a good sleep and you’ll wake up the next morning in Japan saying “こんにちは” (konnichiwa) ready for a full day of action! Choosing night flights means maximising every waking moment having a blast exploring.
Do I need a JR Railpass? Here’s how to catch the Shinkansen (Bullet Trains) in Japan
If you have calculated how many shinkansen trips you’ll be using on your trip, the JR Railpass may be for you. By purchasing this pass, train travel across JR trains in Japan (where your pass is valid) is free. Prices vary depending on whether you purchase a 7 day, 14 day or 21 day pass. I personally didn’t use it for reasons I explain below, but if you think it will benefit you you make sure you purchase a JR Railpass here before you enter Japan (this is important because they aren’t available once you arrive!)
The types of Shinkansen in Japan
So, contrary to popular belief here’s why you may not need to buy a JR Railpass before you visit, especially if you’re travelling with a mid range budget.
There are 3 kinds of Shinkansen in Japan. Here’s some fast facts:
- Nozomi のぞみ and Mizuho みずほ Shinkansen reach speeds of 300km/h
- Hikari ひかり Shinkansen reach speeds of 230km/h
- Kodama こだま Shinkansen stop at all stations.
The Nozomi and Mizuho Shinkansen are the fastest trains but are not covered by the pass. Additionally, Metro tickets in all cities are only a few hundred yen each way (USD 2.70) so I never bothered with the pass.
How much time you can save using Nozomi Shinkansen
Over the duration of this trip you can save 3 hours of time using Nozomi over Hikari trains and save 5 hours of time using Nozomi over Kodama trains. Personally, I prefer to pay as I go and not sacrifice exploration time trying to save a small amount of money.
With only 15 days (including all travel time), every hour counts. My advice would be to weigh up the cost saving vs extra travel time and what that means to you before you consider purchasing a JR Railpass. If you’re worried about lengthy queues to purchase tickets, don’t be.
Purchasing Nozomi Shinkansen tickets
It’s simple to purchase Shinkansen tickets a day or so in advance from the stations, especially not during peak times. I can honestly say doing it this way meant I never had to wait long to purchase tickets and I was ready to go on the day of travel – plan ahead and you’ll be sweet!
Busy Periods and Public Holidays in Japan for 2019
Once you know you’re able to visit Japan, it’s wise to book accommodation and flights well in advance to avoid disappointment during what’s expected to be busy travel periods. 2019 is quite a hectic year for travel in Japan!
- Late March – late April is the popular cherry blossom season so plan in advance when the best time to visit is depending on the locations you wish to view.
- In late April – early May, Golden Week will be a once-off celebration over 10 days to coincide with the accession of the new emperor, Crown Prince Naruhito. His father’s abdication is set for 30th April, the first abdication in over two centuries. The holidays begin on 27th April and will run through to 5th May, so travel in Japan is expected to be incredibly busy during this time.
- Additionally, from 20th September to 2nd November, various cities throughout Japan will play host to the Rugby World Cup. Expect crowds, avoid the main tourist hotspots and snap up your preferred accommodation as soon as possible!
Etiquette in Japan: Good to Know
Did you know there are many do’s and don’ts you should follow in Japan to avoid looking like a tourist? There’s quite a number of differences compared with the Western culture! Not only is practising the correct manners and behaviour polite, it will earn you massive brownie points with the locals and you’ll make the most of your trip. With my guide below, feel confident travelling in Japan knowing you won’t be doing something wrong that you didn’t know about!
Be sure to check out my 28 crucial do’s and don’ts in Japan – how many are you aware of?
Concluding my two weeks in Japan itinerary
…we never felt rushed. Because we were prepared it allowed us to leisurely stroll between many attractions and enjoy taking our time uncovering the wonders that make this incredible country so unique.
The last day in Tokyo isn’t necessary from a sight-seeing perspective but personally I always like to ensure there is a buffer so I won’t miss my flight home. Although highly unlikely in Japan, it’s wise to factor in train delays in case something unforeseen (like an earthquake) were to happen.
You don’t want to be stuck down in Hiroshima or Osaka with no way of getting to Tokyo for your flight that same night. Why stress? Planning this way allows you to spend extra time exploring Japan’s largest city. Go visit a new neighbourhood or revisit one of your favourites before you fly home!
Although it may look like my travel buddy and I crammed a lot into our 2 weeks in Japan, I can honestly say we never felt rushed. Because we were prepared it allowed us to leisurely stroll between many attractions and enjoy taking our time uncovering the wonders that make this incredible country so unique. Travelling The Invisible Tourist way is about being efficient and making the best use of your travel time.
What about the language barrier?
⬇️ Download your FREE Japanese for tourists CHEAT SHEET!
Worried about the language barrier in Japan? Don’t be! Head over to my guide on Japanese for Tourists to download your FREE PDF of 20+ useful phrases, created specifically for visitors to Japan. Simply print out this super handy cheat sheet to take with you, or store it on your phone for offline use when you’re adventuring around Japan!
If you’re worried about the language barrier, there’s no need to be. You’ll find hotel staff speak English and in Tokyo many people do, too. They may just be shy to speak to you in English as the Japanese are perfectionists but are very eager to help.
Kindly greet someone in Japanese first before using English if you can. The further south from Tokyo you venture however, English is less widely spoken and understood. Hand gestures go a long way! In terms of getting around there are signs in English and the Metro is colour coded – very simple to navigate without knowing Japanese.
If you’d like to know how I learnt Japanese for travelling, click here!
So there you have it! I’m a little biased, but I firmly believe visiting these cities in a loop as described here is the best itinerary for Japan. After much research I concluded this was the most efficient way to see all the main sights (and also wander off the beaten path) without being rushed or short on time.
2 weeks in Japan cost
To make things even easier for you, I’ve added up the totals I’ve mentioned in this itinerary to give you an overall 2 weeks in Japan cost. This total is travelling with a mid range budget.
By all means, don’t take this as absolute gospel, my preferences may differ to yours in terms of using the JR Pass (and the exchange rate may alter a little) but feel free to use it as a ballpark figure. You can aways spend more or less than this!
2 weeks in Japan cost for two adults
Let’s get your 2 weeks in Japan itinerary started now!
What are you waiting for? Take the next step and get your Japan itinerary planning started by searching for hotels in Tokyo here. If you’re after more inspiration, I have many more travel guides and itineraries here in my full Japan archive. From finding hidden gems, detailed city guides, best time to visit for cherry blossoms and more, I have your Japan trip covered!
Are you thinking of heading to Japan? What are your thoughts on this itinerary or do you have any questions about it? I’d LOVE to hear if you use this itinerary on your visit! If you found this helpful please share it with your friends or come and join me on Facebook, Pinterest, Instagram and Bloglovin’ for more Japan inspiration!
Until next time,
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