Travel. It leaves you speechless then turns you into a storyteller” – Ibn Buttuta.
If you’ve read my post about why you need 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. Here’s some highlights of what you can expect to experience during your visit:
But what’s the next step? 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 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 should I best spend 2 weeks in Japan on a mid-range budget?
For 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.
Ready? Let’s do this!
Day 0: TRANSIT
Fly to Tokyo overnight and get excited about where you’ll be waking up tomorrow!
Days 1 – 5: TOKYO
Getting there: Narita Airport to Tokyo via Narita Express, approx. 1 hour.
Cost: Adult Narita Express Ticket JPY 3,020 ea
Where to stay? Dormy Inn Premium, Shibuya ドーミーイン PREMIUM 渋谷神宮前
Where to eat? Han No Daidokoro, Kirin City, Crepes in Harajuku, Maid Café in Akihabara, Golden Gai in Shinjuku
What to do?
- 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.
Those reds 😍 Another memorable shot for me at #Sensōji in #Asakusa, Tokyo 🏮 Did you know the temple was destroyed in the firebombing of Tokyo during WWII? 😞 I’m so happy it was rebuilt after the war and this beautiful piece of history can be enjoyed by everyone 🇯🇵 Have you been to Sensōji? Let me know what you thought! 🌏 #traveltheworld #theinvisibletouristway ~
OPTIONAL: Day trip to HAKONE
The easiest way to see all the sights is to do the Hakone Round Course with the Hakone Free Pass (Cost: Adult JPY 5,140 ea). 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!) More info here.
Getting there: Tokyo Shinjuku to Hakone-Yumoto stations via Odakyu Express, approx 1h25.
Cost: Adult JPY 2,080 ea.
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
Getting there: 2h20 from Tokyo Shinagawa station on Nozomi shinkansen
Cost: Adult Nozomi ticket JPY 13,910 ea
Where to stay? Kyoto Hana Hotel, Gion 京都 花ホテル [公式]
Where to eat? Manzara-Tei on Pontocho and any restaurant in Gion ぎおん alleyways (Geisha district).
What to do?
- 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.
- 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 on your way to Kyomizu-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: This shrine literally sits on the side of a mountain. Be prepared for loads of walking because the sign at the start is NOT to scale!
- 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).
- 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!
- NOTE: For my in-depth Kyoto itinerary with more information than above, you can find it here!
DAYS 10 – 12 HIROSHIMA
Getting there: 1h40 from Kyoto on Nozomi shinkansen
Cost: Adult Nozomi ticket JPY 11,410 ea
Where to stay? Royal RIGHA Hotel, Hiroshima リーガロイヤルホテル広島宴会
Where to eat? Restaurants along the Hondori. Try the local okinomiyaki (savoury pancake)!
What to do?
- 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 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 & Peace Flame on your way to the Hiroshima Peace Memorial Museum 広島平和記念資料館. The Peace Flame 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 here 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.
DAYS 12-14: OSAKA
Getting there: 1h30 from Hiroshima on Nozomi shinkansen
Cost: Adult Nozomi ticket JPY 10,440 ea
Where to stay? Cross Hotel Osaka クロスホテル大阪
Where to eat? Showa Taishu Horumon Beef BBQ, try Osaka’s famous takoyaki (octopus balls)!
What to do?
- 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.
Day 14: OSAKA to TOKYO
Getting there: 2h30 from Osaka on Nozomi shinkansen
Cost: Adult Nozomi ticket JPY 14,450 ea
Where to stay? 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 15: TRANSIT
Spend half day in Tokyo before heading to airport for your night flight home. Check out a new neighbourhood or revisit one of your favourites!
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
Contrary to popular belief, you DO NOT need to buy a JR Railpass before you visit Japan.
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.
JR Railpass and Shinkansen (Bullet Trains):
Contrary to popular belief, you DO NOT need to buy a JR Railpass before you visit, especially if you’re travelling with a mid range budget. There are 3 types of Shinkansen in Japan. Here’s some fast facts:
- Nozomi のぞみ 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 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 (AUD 3.40) so I never bothered with the pass. 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.
TIP: You can buy shinkansen tickets a few days in advance. When buying from the ticket offices at train stations it’s useful to have pre-printed information in Japanese to give to the sales clerk. This is easy with a little help from Google Translate. If you know the time, add that in too. That way nothing will be lost in translation!
…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 this trip, 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?
If you’re worried about the language barrier, don’t 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 very simple to navigate without knowing Japanese.
If you’d like to know how I leant Japanese for travelling, you can find out here in my blog post.
In hindsight, what would you change?
I’d not bother with Ginza on my first few days in Tokyo. I should have spent that time doing a day trip to Nikko instead and explored Ginza in detail on my last day in Tokyo before my flight home. If you could predict clouds, I’d visit Hakone on a different day so I could have seen Mount Fuji. She was so evasive during my visit!
So there you have it, your ultimate itinerary for spending 2 weeks in Japan!
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 on Facebook or Pinterest and head on over to Instagram for more Japan inspiration!
Until next time,
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