“One must travel outside of Tokyo to truly experience the ‘old Japan’ and more importantly feel these aspects of Japanese culture.” ~ Apolo Ohno.

Why plan a Japan 3 week itinerary?

Whether you’ve visited before and can’t wait to explore further, or you’re curious about planning a trip to Japan for the first time… The question isn’t why create a 3 weeks in Japan itinerary, but why not?

Through my various trips to this country over the past decade, I’ve discovered there are so many wonderful destinations beyond the major cities, and I’ll be the first person to convince you dedicating extra time to see them will never be a bad idea.

Japan 3 Week Itinerary: Amazing Sights & Culture Off the Beaten Track | The Invisible Tourist

It’s no surprise every Japan travel guide claims the Land of the Rising Sun is one of contrasts. I’m always blabbering about the ways past and present have been blended together seamlessly on my Japan travel blog. The fast-paced modernity of major cities will excite you, yet you don’t have to venture far to enjoy the laid back atmosphere of small towns that time forgot!

As an invisible tourist, I’m one of those people who enjoys researching a destination in-depth before visiting. Consider me your Japan trip planner – I love knowing what to expect by being organised and knowledgeable beforehand whilst leaving a little flexibility to be spontaneous once I’m there.

Not experiencing all the faces of Japan is a missed opportunity, so I’m passionate about sharing my findings to help you have an unforgettable trip, too.

While my popular 2 weeks Japan itinerary shines a spotlight on locations around Japan’s Golden Route, in recent years it’s become evident some are now well-worn with tourist love. My sample honeymoon Japan 10 day itinerary is a great alternative (even if not for a honeymoon!)

To help you explore off the beaten track without omitting popular experiences, I’ve combined the Old Golden Route with my personal adventures dotted along the “New” Golden Route to create this Japan 3 week itinerary.

Thinking of adding Kyushu to your trip? My detailed 7 day Kyushu itinerary covers sights overlooked by foreign tourists, utilising train and rental car, with the option to extend to 10 days. 

Here are some highlights for how to best spend 21 days in Japan from my personal experiences on the ground:

Japan 3 Week Itinerary Highlights: Overview | The Invisible Tourist
JAPAN 3 WEEK ITINERARY HIGHLIGHTS: 1) Tokyo’s newest attraction in Shibuya ~2) Snow monkeys of Nagano ~ 3) Incredible Matsumoto Castle ~ 4) Off the beaten track in Takayama ~ 5) Japan’s other geisha city, Kanazawa ~ 6) Geisha of Kyoto ~ 7) Meaningful attractions in Hiroshima & Miyajima ~ 8) Kurashiki, the Venice of Japan ~ 9) Bright lights of Osaka ~ 10) Sacred deer of Nara

If you’re interested in exploring the contrasts of Japan in 3 weeks efficiently without feeling rushed, read on for more! 

This post contains affiliate links, at no extra cost to you. I may receive a small commission if you click through and make a purchase. 

Japan 3 Week Itinerary Map | The Invisible Tourist
Japan 3 week itinerary map
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Planning a Japan trip on your own has never been easier

Why should you trust me? I created this comprehensive guide using these Japan travel books and knowledge from my own tried-and-tested itineraries travelling Japan regularly over the past decade. The itinerary covers many of these beautiful and unique places to visit in Japan.

I pride myself on sharing itineraries I have personally planned and undertaken, and I know will allow you to explore at an enjoyable, relaxed pace. Some itineraries cram too much in without taking travel time into consideration, making it overwhelming and exhausting for you! You won’t find that here on The Invisible Tourist. 

Navigating Japan independently is much easier than you think, too! Much of the signage at train stations and roads are also in English and it’s easy enough to use the GPS in your phone to help get you from A to B. 

Also, there’s no need to feel intimidated by a language barrier with a few of these Japanese phrases for tourists under your belt, you’ll be good to go in no time. Make sure you download my free PDF cheat sheet to read offline once you’re there!

Japanese for travelers pdf

 

How to spend 3 weeks in Japan on a mid-range budget

In order to make the most of your time and avoid contributing to overtourism issues, it’s essential to stay in a centrally located hotel or ryokan (traditional inn) when planning your Japan 3-week itinerary. Forget wasting time traipsing back and forth to your accommodation each day when you stay in the heart of the action!

The accommodation options I mention throughout this itinerary are priced for a mid-range budget (no hostels or 5-star hotels). As with all my itineraries, they are ones I have personally stayed in and can recommend (or I provide alternatives if not), are close to transport, eateries and all the main attractions.

The Japan Rail Pass is available to save some money, but there are limitations and prices increased by 77% in October 2023. Alternatively, we can now purchase individual shinkansen tickets in advance here, more on this further down the page.

TIP: If you’re hoping to visit during the cherry blossom season, my detailed guide to spring in Japan is packed with tips for more places to go, alternatives to popular spots, what to pack and how to avoid the huge crowds!

Nozomi Shinkansen

 

Are you ready to create your best itinerary for Japan? Warning: Get yourself comfy and grab a cuppa because this is a monster-sized Japan travel itinerary. Ok, let’s do this!

Japan itinerary 21 days: Day-by-day guide

DAYS 1-5: TOKYO

There aren’t many cities that have captivated me as much as Tokyo 東京, it really took hold of me and I’d be surprised if it doesn’t for you, too! Even though I have visited on several occasions now, each time I am equally as excited to be there as the first.

At random intervals throughout my stays I literally need to pinch myself to remind me I’m not living in a dream! 

Believe me when I say Japan’s capital will be one of the largest cities you will ever visit in your life. It’s like a city of cities, each of the Tokyo neighbourhoods has their own unique personality and charm.

So… Are you feeling butterflies of excitement swirling in your stomach yet? Let’s jump into exploring the best of the city as well as some lesser-known gems!

Shinjuku at Night, Tokyo

How to get to Tokyo from Narita Airport

Getting there: Narita Airport to Tokyo (Shibuya) via Narita Express, approx. 1 hour.
Cost: Adult Narita Express Ticket JPY 3,020 ea

A popular option is also the Narita Airport Limousine Bus. At almost half the cost of Narita Express, you’re able to book tickets in advance! Alternatively, if you’re bound for Ueno the Tokyo Skyliner will get you there directly. For more information and prices, click here to reserve your Narita Airport Limousine tickets or Tokyo Skyliner tickets in advance.

How to get to Tokyo from Haneda Airport

Getting there: Haneda Airport to Tokyo (Hamamatsucho) via Tokyo Monorail, 15 minutes.
Cost: Adult JPY 500 ea

Your IC/Suica Card will cover the cost of the monorail, too! It’s easy to pre-purchase your Suica card before your trip so you’re ready to roll on arrival in Tokyo. I have been flying into Haneda more regularly in recent months and the monorail is my favourite way to get to the city.

Where to eat in Tokyo

My personal favourite places to eat in Tokyo are Han No Daidokoro (incredible wagyu beef BBQ) in Shibuya and Kirin City izakaya in Shibuya. For the popular experiences head to Santa Monica Crepes in Harajuku, Maidreamin’ in Akihabara, around the Golden Gai and Omoide Yokocho in Shinjuku.

TIP: Prefer some less-touristy places? I’ve also detailed a few hidden cafes and quirky eateries in my guide to Tokyo’s hidden gems. There are some interesting “only in Japan” experiences I enjoyed thoroughly that most tourists miss on their first trip to Tokyo, so take a look to find out where they are.

I’ve also taken this Shibuya ramen tour where I was able to try 6 mini bowls with a local ramen expert, and highly recommend it!

If you’re after a quick bite, I love and recommend Japanese kombini (convenience stores) or street food. My guide to Japanese snacks details the popular and traditional morsels to try, plus exactly where to find them!

TIP: Wondering what local food tours are right for you? I’ve personally undertaken multiple in Japan and reviewed them in my guide to the best food tours in Tokyo to help you choose.

Devour amazing local eats on this Shibuya bar hopping tour

Things to do in Tokyo

For more details and things to do than I’ve listed here, check out my full 6 days in Tokyo itinerary, itinerary to discover Tokyo’s hidden gems and detailed Tokyo neighbourhood guide:

  • Spend day one getting your bearings in Shibuya 渋谷. Literally translating to “Bitter Valley”, the Shibuya “Scramble” crossing is the lowest point in this neighbourhood. It’s the world’s busiest street crossing – some 3,000 people use it at any one time. Then, head over to the origin of the Japanese lucky cats at Gotoku-ji Temple in Setagaya. From there, head back to Shibuya to spend the afternoon at the brand new Shibuya Sky rooftop observation deck for a bird’s eye view across Tokyo – I’ve been twice and this is a MUST-SEE!
  • Although quite touristy, wander through the quirky shops on Takeshita-dori, Harajuku 原宿. To escape the crowds afterwards, explore the tranquil grounds of Meiji Jingu 根津神社, Tokyo’s major Shinto shrine dedicated to Emperor Meiji and his wife. That afternoon, head to Ueno Park 上野公園 and discover the hidden vermilion torii gates at nearby Nezu Shrine 根津神社.

TIP: Read my comprehensive guide to things to do in Shibuya during the day and night for detailed info on what I’ve summarised here!

  • Try not to get lost exploring Shinjuku 新宿 Train Station – with over 200 exits it’s the busiest station in the world! Find Godzilla (he’s on one of the most iconic streets in Tokyo) and do some shopping in the bustling streets, then retreat to Shinjuku Gyoen for some tranquility away from the throngs of people.
  • Explore the grounds of Senso-ji Temple and Asakusa-jinja at Asakusa 浅草. Afterwards, for anime and gaming related everything visit Akihabara 秋葉原 Electric Town. Don’t miss 1,300 year old Kanda Shrine if you’re an anime fan, maybe meet a geisha and learn some traditional arts from her (read my review here). Start your night off at the amazing Robot Restaurant ロボットレストラン (closed until further notice). 
  • On a clear day, make the trip up the Tokyo SkyTree 東京スカイツリー for more amazing views across Tokyo. That afternoon, spend your time leisurely strolling the Tokyo Imperial Palace 皇居 gardens.
  • Now to the one you’ve been waiting for! Start your morning off by spending a few hours being blown away by teamLab Planets. Don’t miss Odaiba‘s お台場 Statue of Liberty and Rainbow Bridge along Tokyo Bay nearby. Afterwards, make your way to Hamarikyu Gardens in Minato 港区 and enjoy a traditional cup of matcha tea in the lakeside teahouse. Then, take some time to reflect at Zojo-ji Temple – old meets new here with traditional wooden structures set against a modern Tokyo Tower backdrop. Later that afternoon, spot the funky architecture wandering the streets of Ginza 銀座 and admire the designer shops.

Playing With Reflections at Shibuya Sky, Tokyo

Zojo-ji Temple, Tokyo

Tokyo attractions for a Japan 3 week itinerary
TOKYO ATTRACTIONS: 1) Lesser-known Nezu Shrine, Ueno ~ 2) Lantern detail at Meiji Shrine, Harajuku ~ 3) Tokyo from above at Shibuya Sky ~ 4) Electronics and anime at Akihabara ~ 5) Takeshita Street, Harajuku ~ 6) Find Godzilla in Shinjuku ~ 7) Lucky cats at Gotoku-ji Temple ~ 8) Stunning Senso-ji, Asakusa ~ 9) Incredible Hamarikyu Gardens, Minato ~ 10) Breathtaking teamLab Borderless, Odaiba

Day trips from Tokyo

You honestly need an extra week to undertake the best day trips from Tokyo (which I actually ended up doing)! I suggest choosing one or two that best suit your interest for now, as there will be ample opportunity to experience all different facets of this amazing country throughout this Japan 3 weeks itinerary. 

NOTE: Below is the rundown of some popular and off the beaten path spots, but I highly recommend reading my full guide to 14 lesser-known day trips from Tokyo to help you decide.

Hakone

Hakone 箱根 is probably one of the most popular Tokyo day trips due to its fast and easy access to Mount Fuji. The Hakone Round Course includes a combination of cable car, train, bus, ropeway and boat to see stunning lakes, art galleries, active volcanoes and gardens. It’s a fun day out! Click here for info and prices for the Hakone Free Pass that covers all the day’s transport.

Kamakura 

Beautiful Kamakura 鎌倉 boasts the title of one of Japan’s ancient capitals, dating back over a thousand years. There is a very spiritual aura here, with one of Japan’s top 3 daibutsu (giant Buddha), Shinto shrines (Japan’s native ancient religion), breathtaking gardens and even caves featuring gods carved into the walls centuries ago for worshippers. The street food is also amazing! As I love experiencing cities like this with a local, I undertook this Kamakura local guided tour and highly recommend it! Read my full Kamakura day trip review here.

Hakone & Kamakura Day Trips from Tokyo Highlights | The Invisible Tourist
HAKONE & KAMAKURA: 1 & 2) Hakone ~ 3 ,4 ,5) Kamakura

Fuji Five Lakes

Want to visit one of the most beautiful landmarks in Japan? For places to see Mt Fuji, Fuji Five Lakes 富士五湖 will allow you an abundance of chances provided the weather is on your side. As you may have heard, Fuji-san is incredibly shy! Your chances are higher in the cooler months and in the mornings before cloud cover rolls in.

If you would like to pack a few spots around the Fuji Five Lakes into a single day, a guided bus tour may be for you. Highway bus is actually the quickest way to reach Fuji Five Lakes from Tokyo.

I’ve taken a tour of Lake Kawaguchiko, Fujiyoshida Sengen Shrine, Oshino Hakkai and finished the day off at Gotemba Premium Outlets.  The tour is very convenient if you’re short on time and is very well organised! Read my full review about why I believe it’s the best Tokyo to Mt Fuji day trip or click here to book a Fuji Five Lakes full day trip.

Fuji Five Lakes Highlights
FUJI FIVE LAKES: 6) Mt Fuji at Lake Kawagichiko ~ 7) Ema at Fujiyoshida Sengen Shrine ~ 8) Sacred clear ponds of Oshino Hakkai ~ 9) Gotemba Premium Outlets

Nikko & Edo Wonderland

I had HIGH expectations for Nikko, and let me tell you, they were FAR exceeded! Do you love the intricate details of Japanese temples and shrines? The UNESCO World Heritage area of Nikko 日光 is steeped in history and is another exceptional day trip from Tokyo. Don’t miss the incredible Tokugawa Shrine (Nezu Shrine in Ueno is modelled off this) and enjoy the surrounding natural scenery. My guide to a Nikko day trip from Tokyo has some overlooked spots and honest tips to help plan an unforgettable visit!

While you’re in the area, pop in to nearby Edo Wonderland Nikko Edomura 江戸ワンダーランド 日光江戸村. As the name suggests, it’s an Edo-era themed village with attractions, games, activities and traditional cultural performances throughout the day. The Oiran Procession is a must-see! Click here to purchase a Nikko Pass to cover travel from Tokyo to Nikko and for discounted entry into Edo Wonderland and Tobu World Square.

If you love miniature landmarks, pop into Tobu World Square to see 102 famous destinations from across the globe at 1:25 scale, complete with 140,000 miniature figurines. The Nikko Pass also allows discounted entry. It’s truly an underrated spot, I love fangirling over the attention to detail! Read my full guide to visiting Tobu World Square for tips.

Toshogu Shrine, Nikko Japan in Summer

European Landmarks at Tobu World Square, Nikko

Kawagoe

This is one of my personal favourites, I’ve visited in spring and summer and it’s still a lesser-known destination to Western tourists. Just an hour outside Tokyo, Kawagoe 川越 is an incredibly preserved town that boomed during the Edo Period, earning it the nickname “Little Edo”.

Popular things to eat in Kawagoe are purple sweet potato chips, purple ice cream and nostalgic candies along Penny Candy Lane. Hikawa Shrine is an unmissable attraction here and is gorgeous at sundown. Read my full guide to a Kawagoe day trip from Tokyo here and click here to purchase a Seibu Railway Kawagoe Pass to cover travel from Tokyo to Kawagoe.

Edo Wonderland, Nikko & Kawagoe
NIKKO & KAWAGOE: 10) Shrines of Nikko ~ 11) Edo Wonderland ~ 12, 13, 14) The real “Little Edo” of Kawagoe
 

Day 6: NAGANO

How to get from Tokyo to Nagano

80-100 mins on Hokuriku Shinkansen.
Cost: Approx 8740 JPY (book individual tickets here) or covered by the Japan Rail Pass.

What a contrast laid-back Nagano 長野 is to the hustle and bustle of Tokyo! My first impression of this pretty city was, did it really host the Winter Olympic Games in 1998? Despite holding this world-class event, Nagano has an intimate small town feel and is a lovely introduction to life in the Japanese Alps.

Most cities in Japan evolved and grew from being castle, harbour or temple towns. Situated at the heart of Nagano lies the impressive Zenko-ji Temple, founded in the 7th century. While you’re in town don’t miss the chance to sneak up into the forest to visit the world-famous snow monkeys, too!

Where to eat in Nagano

Your best bet is to explore along Chuo-dori and Zenkoji Omotesando, the main lengthy street that leads up to Zenko-ji Temple. It’s packed with restaurants and cafes, many of which specialise in soba buckwheat noodles. You may even catch a noodle-making demonstration in the window at Daimaru!

Nagano is also known for delicious shinshu apples. Even the famous snow monkeys love these, more on this below. I recommend literally anything shinshu apple, such as ice cream, juices, chocolates. I’m very confident in saying it will be the nicest apple flavour you ever try in your life! Shinshu apple Kit Kats from Nagano are some of my favourite Japanese snacks.

Things to do in Nagano

For more details and things to do than I’ve listed here, check out my full 2 days in Nagano itinerary.

Zenko-ji Temple 善光寺 and grounds

You can’t visit Nagano without spending time at the sacred temple the city was built around. During the 7th century, it’s believed a hibitsu (secret buddha) was first brought to Japan from India via the Korean Peninsula. The hibitsu was housed at Zenko-ji and is forbidden to be shown to anyone including the chief priest, although a replica is shown to the public every 6 years.

Zenko-ji is one of Japan’s oldest and few remaining pilgrimage sites. There is quite a lot to see here so I suggest setting aside a few hours to explore the temple and grounds: 

  • From Chuo-dori, you’ll approach the first of two gates to the temple complex. The wooden Niomon Gate shelters the temple’s Nio guardians. Miniature sandals are left by worshippers who made the pilgrimage to Zenko-ji. 
  • On entering the grounds, you’ll notice six Rokojizo lined up to your right. They each have a halo and wear red bibs, and are thought to have given up their enlightenment to help others. These statues are replicas of the originals that were melted down to assist war efforts during WWII.
  • To the left is Daikanjin Abbey, residence of the chief priest. With lovely lotus flowers and turtles in the pond at the front of the building, it looks like a peaceful place to call home.
  • The Sanmon Gate is located just before Zenko-ji’s main hall. It’s a designated Important Cultural Property of Japan. If you look closely at the golden Japanese calligraphy of the gate’s name, it’s said there are 5 hidden birds in the image.
  • Finally, admire the interior of Zenko-ji’s main hall (cost 500 JPY). It was rebuilt in 1707 and houses many precious Buddhist artefacts. No photos are permitted inside, but it is definitely worthwhile seeing. Beneath the main hall is a dark underground passage where you can attempt to find the “Key to paradise of Amida Buddha” attached to a wall. It’s pitch black and I was too chicken to go down but feel free to give it a shot! Within the hall are wooden statues of importance including Binzuru (Buddha’s follower) who is rumoured to cure your ailments.
  • If you’re an early bird, the morning prayer ritual at sunrise is an unforgettable experience. English-speaking volunteer guides are available to help you understand the significance of events during the service. Afterwards, I was lucky enough to be blessed by the chief priest. I’m not religious personally but it was a special and rare moment!

TIP: At the temple’s main hall, see if you can find a huge scar in the wood beneath the suspended bell. It was dislodged and fell during the 1847 Nagano earthquake.

TIP: Can you spot the most Japanese thing in the courtyard? It’s a temple-shaped vending machine filled with omamori (lucky charms!)

Nagano attractions for a Japan 3 week itinerary
NAGANO ATTRACTIONS: 1) Sanmon Gate to Zenko-ji ~ 2) Dailaknjin Abbey ~ 3) Lovely Chuo-dori ~ 4) Sandals left by worshippers ~ 5) Zenko-ji illuminated at night

Jigokudani Snow Monkey Park 地獄谷野猿公苑

Getting there: From JR Nagano Station, take the Shiga Kogen Express bus, 55mins (the timetable is seasonal so check first). From the final Snow Monkey bus stop, the park is 30mins walk on a well-marked path.
Cost: Adults Snow Monkey Park entry 800 JPY ea

The monkeys are there year-round – seriously! You don’t have to wait specifically to see them in winter. I was so fortunate to visit during the summer months and spent about 1.5 hours watching the monkeys play and jump about. I have some tips for visiting so you can make the most of your experience, though! Read my full guide to what no one tells you about visiting Jigokudani Snow Monkey park in summer here.

Other things to do in Nagano city

  • Try some interesting ice cream flavours and shop for souvenirs along Nakamise-dori, the shopping street leading up to Zenko-ji temple (after the Niomon Gate and before the Sanmon Gate).
  • Learn the interesting tale behind the famed “running ox” you see pictured around the city (hint: if you can find the sitting golden ox statue, the story will be revealed).
  • Shop along the sleepy Gondo Covered Shopping Arcade. Head here in the evening for karaoke or for a bite to eat, as the place comes alive at night!
  • Visit the 1998 Winter Olympic Venues if they interest you.

Day 7: MATSUMOTO

How to get from Nagano to Matsumoto

50 mins on JR Shinano Limited Express train.
Cost: Approx 3100 JPY (book individual tickets here) or covered by the Japan Rail Pass.

Although Nagano is considered the gateway to the Japanese Alps, Matsumoto 松本 has a few cards up its sleeve for those who enjoy art, culture and exploring off the beaten track. There is more to this castle town than meets the eye!

Canals lined with traditional wooden buildings radiate Kyoto vibes, while old whitewashed stone warehouses have been converted into restaurants, eateries and specialty stores against a mountainous backdrop. I was pleasantly surprised by what Mastumoto has to offer and I hope you will be, too.

Visit Matsumoto Castle during your Japan 3 week itinerary

Where to eat in Matsumoto

I don’t have any specific places to recommend here, so follow your nose. Just like Nagano, Matsumoto is famous for soba buckwheat noodles, eaten hot or cold. Wasabi is also popular here – try wasabi ice cream if you dare!

Things to do in Matsumoto

  • Did you even visit Matsumoto if you didn’t experience Matsumoto Castle 松本城? I’m not sure why but photos tend to flatten the 16th century castle’s exterior a lot and don’t do it any justice. Intricate details adorning it are so much more obvious and beautiful up close! I do recommend exploring the castle interior, evidence of fire and other historical events are still visible today. Several artefacts are on display serving as a reminder of what the castle has endured throughout the centuries. The staircases are so ridiculously steep that as a short person, I had to shuffle down on my backside. It really made me wonder how ninjas managed to hurl themselves up and down in a hurry!
  • Take a stroll along Nawate-dori 縄手通りrunning beside the Metoba River. There are lots of small shops and cafes along this street, also known as Frog Street. It’s obvious as this narrow laneway is lined with hundreds of kitschy frog ornaments and has a huge frog sculpture at its entrance, thought to guard local businesses. 
  • Make a wish at Yohashira Shrine 四柱神社. As the shrine is dedicated to four Shinto deities (which is rare in Japan) it’s been thought to have special wish-granting properties since the Meiji Period.
  • Head to Nakamachi-dori 中町通り to see the old kura storehouses now converted into eateries and shop at the specialty stores. The whitewashed stone buildings feature contrasting dark-grey geometric patterns, making them a pretty sight. Maybe even pick up some temari balls – these are old-school embroidered toys for kids and a symbol of Matsumoto. The store Watashi no Heya is AMAZING for hand-crafted souvenirs!
  • Matsumoto is known for its numerous natural spring water fountains throughout the city streets. Geometric Genchi Well 源智の井戸 is a historical spot to try this refreshing water, it’s been popular here since the Edo Period.
  • Jorin-ji Temple 浄林寺 is a real hidden gem. Also known as Kasamori Inari Shrine, the main hall was closed during my visit but I was able to walk the grounds, admire the gorgeous little Japanese koi pond and walk beneath the vermilion torii gates. It’s like a very miniature version of Fushimi Inari Taisha in Kyoto.
  • If you’re familiar with the polka-dotted artworks on Naoshima Island and beyond by Yayoi Kusama, you may be excited to learn Matsumoto is her hometown. Find more of her work at the Matsumoto City Museum of Art 松本市美術館.
  • Housing the world’s largest private collection of woodblock prints, Ukiyo-e Woodblock Museum 日本浮世絵博物館 is not to be missed if you’re a Hokusai fan! There are over 100,000 prints, books and painting screens, collected over several generations.

Matsumoto attractions for a Japan 3 week itinerary
MATSUMOTO ATTRACTIONS : 1) Old “kura” along Nawate-dori ~2) Matsumoto Castle grounds ~ 3) Inside Matsumoto Castle ~ 4) Make a wish at Yohashira Shrine ~ 5) Edo-era Genchi Well

DAYS 8-9: TAKAYAMA

How to get from Matsumoto to Takayama

2.5 hours on highway bus.
Cost: 3250 JPY ea

Next up on our Japan 3 week itinerary is Takayama 高山. The moment I learnt Takayama’s Old Town was famous for Hida beef and some of the country’s best sake, I knew I had to visit. Now I’ve spent some time exploring the nooks and crannies of this city, there’s no way I was going to leave this gem off my itinerary! 

Of course, there’s so much more to Takayama than consuming your body weight in mouthwatering Hida beef and delectable sake. It’s famed for one of Japan’s top 3 summer matsuri (festivals). With its dark brown wooden buildings lining the narrow streets, beautiful hillside temples and tree-lined canals, Takayama quickly became my favourite alternative city to Kyoto – without the crowds. Let’s dig into what makes this alpine city so great to spend a few nights.

Old Town, Takayama in Japan off the beaten path

Where to eat in Takayama

There are dozens of Hida beef eateries throughout Takayama, and I highly suggest dining at one! They aren’t the cheapest of places but we’re talking about world-class wagyu here. Grill your own at Karakuri near Takayama Station, it’s pretty decent, has a great local atmosphere and a tonne of Daruma dolls on display at the bar inside.

Things to do in Takayama

Where do I begin? There is so much to see and do in Takayama, you’ll have a busy two days here. For more details and things to do than I’ve listed here, check out my full 2 days in Takayama itinerary.

  • Enjoy breakfast one morning at Miyagawa Morning Market 宮川朝市 running along the Miyagawa River. Pick up hot taiyaki, and enjoy a decorated espresso from an edible cookie cup at the KOMA Coffee stand! There is plenty of street food, fresh produce, handicrafts, souvenirs and fabrics to be found.
  • Visit Sakurayama Hachimangu Shrine 桜山八幡宮, the oldest in Takayama and surrounded by dense trees. It’s believed the origins date back to the 4th century! It’s a relatively small shrine but is quite beautiful and tranquil. Let me know if you find the “Madman Stone” hiding here!
  • Definitely visit Takayama Yatai Kaikan 高山屋台会館 if your trip doesn’t coincide with the summer matsuri festival. Gosh, the floats really have to be seen to be believed, they’re absolutely stunning and seem so much taller in real life! 
  • Don’t forget to pop by the 1:10 scale model of the UNESCO World Heritage site of Nikko at Sakurayama Nikkokan 桜山日光館. It’s included in the entry cost to Yatai Kaikan and is incredible, I spent an age here gawking at the intricately hand-painted models of the miniature shrine replicas.
  • Takayama is famous for its pure sake so don’t leave without enjoying sake tasting at one of the breweries. As I explain in my Kyoto bar hopping guide to spot places that sell sake, keep an eye out for sugidama (leafy cedar balls) hanging at the storefront. I was able to sample 12 sakes for 300 JPY – yes seriously! NOTE: This system is based on goodwill, so please don’t be an annoying tourist by making a scene and ruining this experience for everyone.
  • Stop by the famous Nakabashi Bridge 中橋大橋, a symbol of Takayama. In traditional style, this vermilion bridge is surrounded by cherry trees during spring and is the gateway into the Old Town preserved district also known as Sanmachi Suji 三町筋. 
  • Check out Takayama Jinya (cost: 440 JPY) if you’re interested in seeing an Edo Period government house. Built in traditional style it features tatami mats and sliding wooden doors throughout the former offices and conference rooms.
  • Embark on the Higashiyama Walking Course 東山遊歩道 in the city’s east. It explores a dozen hillside temples overlooking the town below in the Teramachi area. I honestly ran out of time to visit all temples along the way, but I made sure I visited the one I wanted to see most, Hokke-ji. Founded in 1553, it has ties to the former Takayama Castle and features a gorgeous pond with an arched stone bridge. 
  • Hunt down the Takayama Matsuri float storage sheds scattered throughout the city. The summer festival is ranked as one of Japan’s top 3 and dates back to the 16th century. Each shed has a descriptive sign out front about the float stored inside.

Hokke-ji Temple is one of the most beautiful Takayama hidden gems

Takayama attractions for a Japan 3 week itinerary
TAKAYAMA HIGHLIGHTS: 1) Sakurayama Hachimangu Shrine ~ 2) Amazing details of Sakurayama Nikkokan models ~ 3) Enjoy sake tasting in the Sanmachi Suji preserved district ~ 4) Marvel at the huge matsuri floats of Yatai Kaikan ~ 5) Coffee in a cookie cup at Miyagawa Morning Market (video below) ~ 6) Stunning view from Nakabashi Bridge ~ 7) Quiet canals running parallel to the Hillside Temple Walk ~ 8) Dine out at eateries near Takayama Station

The below video is a completely unique experience to Takayama! Put your hand up if you would try this espresso coffee in a cookie cup? Koma Coffee is so good it’s approved by my fellow Aussies, haha:

 

TIP: Something I haven’t seen listed in other Takayama travel guides is the Karakuri Museum. This is a thoroughly enjoyable cultural experience! Make sure to watch the impressive marionette performance (cost: 600 JPY, no photography or video permitted) as the wooden dolls swing from trapezes, write calligraphy and move on their own across the stage. It’s crazy to think how old this tradition is, the marionettes are almost like old-world robots! The museum has over 300 masks and other interesting theatre artefacts on display, too.

Day trips from Takayama

Hida no Sato

If you’d prefer to skip the crowds at the more popular Shirakawa-go, Hida no Sato 飛騨の里 is the perfect alternative! This somewhat hidden gem is located just 15 mins from the city centre by bus and features the same gassho-zukuri wooden farmhouses as its famous sibling.

Learn all about life in the Hida mountains during the Edo Period with demonstrations, traditional Japanese games and enjoy foliage that reflects the beauty of each season. I’ve covered more in my detailed guide to Hida no Sato Folk Village here and explain how you can have the Shirakawa-go experience without the crowds!

Gero Onsen

Do you want to *quite literally* soak up the local culture in Japan? Just an hour from Takayama is Gero Onsen, a relaxing hot spring town nestled within the Japanese Alps. 

Often flying beneath the radar of foreign tourists to Japan, it’s the perfect place to escape the city, relax in the natural hot springs and enjoy the best of omotenashi (Japanese hospitality) in a traditional ryokan. Read my full guide to visiting Gero Onsen.

Shirakawa-go

This dreamy location is the one I’m sure you’ve seen splashed across tourist brochures and websites for visiting Japan in winter. There’s something so alluring about watching abundant snowfall blanketing these angular wooden farmhouses that time almost forgot — some are more than 250 years old.

Shirakawa-go 白川郷 is a very popular tourist destination in both summer and winter. If you plan on visiting, I kindly suggest avoid contributing to overtourism issues by opting to visit on your own or as part of a small tour rather than a massive coach of 50 people. This will ease the tourist burden on locals and is a more personal experience for you!

Hydrangeas at Hida No Sato in Summer

DAYS 10-11: KANAZAWA

How to get from Takayama to Kanazawa

2 hours on Limited Express train, change at Toyama.
Cost: 6500 JPY.

We’re halfway through this 21 day Japan itinerary! With traditional wooden townhouses and beautifully preserved neighbourhoods, Kanazawa 金沢 is usually dubbed as the “Little Kyoto” of Japan. It’s high on my list of places you should visit in Japan off the beaten path!

Home to 99% of Japan’s gold leaf production, Kanazawa is famed for anything to do with this shiny treasure – including ice cream! The 20 kgs of gold leaf adorning Kinkaku-ji’s (Golden Pavilion) famous exterior in Kyoto was sourced from this town steeped in samurai and geisha culture.

Higashi Chaya District, Kanazawa

Visit Kenrokuen, Kanazawa in during your 21 days in Japan

Where to eat in Kanazawa

As Kanazawa is relatively close to the coast it’s known for fresh seafood. Stop by the Omicho Fish Market for tasty sushi and other fresh seafood. There are a bunch of eateries surrounding Kanazawa’s own “Scramble” crossing, too. 

Remember how I mentioned Kanazawa is the home of Japan’s gold leaf production? Be sure to sample some gold leaf ice cream if you have a sweet tooth.

Tru gold leaf ince cream during your 3 weeks in Japan

Things to do in Kanazawa

Unlike some other cities in this 3 week Japan itinerary, the main attractions in Kanazawa are quite spread out. You may wish to take a bus or taxi from one side of town to the other to spare your feet. The Hokutetsu buses run every 15mins in a loop around the city, stopping off at the popular attractions. Have some spare change ready as your IC card and JR Pass are not valid on these buses. More info here

For more details and things to do than I’ve listed here, check out my full 2 days in Kanazawa itinerary.

Moving onto the Kanazawa attractions:

  • Start off the morning at Kanazawa Castle grounds, then make your way to Kenroku-en. These exquisite gardens are Kanazawa’s star attraction and it would almost be a crime to not see them. Once you’re there it’s obvious why Kenroku-en is considered the most beautiful garden in all of Japan! 
  • If you enjoy seafood, head to the fresh Omicho Fish Market to grab a bite to eat.
  • Admire the grand Tsuzumi-mon Gate combining old and new architectural styles to create this interesting entrance to Kanazawa Station.
  • Head to Katamachi for a modern shopping area with Kanazawa’s “Scramble” crossing, high end shops, restaurants and bars.
  • Imagine geishas hurrying through the streets of the famed Higashi-chaya district. This area will remind you much of Kyoto with it’s incredibly preserved traditional wooden buildings! In this area there are lots of lovely specialty stores specialising in ceramics, why not pick up some gold-leaf souvenirs?
  • Wander the backstreets of Nagamachi Samurai neighbourhood and don’t miss Nomura Clan Samurai Residence. As the name suggests, this was the family home of powerful ruling samurais for three centuries. Take a peek into the opulence of their rooms and gorgeous gardens out back!
  • Spend some time getting gloriously lost around the Kazuemachi Nishi Chaya and Nagamachi areas to step back in time at the old teahouses where geishas once entertained.
Kanazawa attractions for a Japan 3 week itinerary
KANAZAWA HIGHLIGHTS: 1) Kanazawa Castle grounds ~ 2) Breathtaking gardens of Nomura Clan Samurai Residence ~ 3) Omoichi Market for fresh seafood ~ 4) Huge Tsuzumi-mon Gate ~ 5) Walled backstreets of the Nagamachi district

TIP: A highlight of my visit to Kanazawa was Myouru-ji Temple 妙立寺. Nicknamed the “Ninja Temple”, this fascinating structure was never actually associated with ninjas but named so for dozens of secret passages, trick doors and underground escape tunnels found within. It’s believed the temple was created for a paranoid lord who was worried about his temple coming under attack! Myouru-ji is a brilliant example of the high level of carpentry craftsmanship in Japan.

NOTE: The 1 hour tour of the Ninja Temple is only conducted in Japanese, but an English guidebook is available to translate the narration. Pre-school aged children and photography/video are not permitted. Arrive 10mins early.
Cost: Adults 1000 JPY. Bookings are essential and the temple only accepts cash. Ask your hotel to reserve a tour for you, otherwise you can reserve at the temple itself for when a timeslot is available, more info here

Myouru-ji Temple (Ninja Temple)

DAYS 12-15: KYOTO

How to get from Kanazawa to Kyoto

2 hours on JR Thunderbird Limited Express train.
Cost: Approx 7000 JPY (book individual tickets here) or covered by the Japan Rail Pass.

Literally translating to East Capital, Kyoto 京都 has so much to offer I’m perpetually puzzled by the sheer number of tourists who choose to only spend one day there. With over 1600 temples, shrines, some of the most beautiful cultural experiences in Japan and breathtaking scenery, it’s incredibly worthwhile dedicating more time when spending three weeks in Japan! 

Are you ready to experience a different side of Kyoto? 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. Sure, we’ll still visit these must-see attractions (in a way to avoid crowds) but also use our extra time to uncover some incredible off-the-beaten-path gems most rushing tourists skip.

Kyoto Tea Ceremony, Ninenzaka, Japan | The Invisible Tourist

Where to eat in Kyoto

Pretty much any izakaya like Manzara-Tei in Pontocho Alley as well as restaurants in Gion alleyways (Geisha district). The famous Nishiki Market is a must for seafood lovers. 

As Kyoto at night can seem a little mysterious, the best way to find where to eat is by taking the advice of a local. During my recent visit, I took this Kyoto night tour and was introduced to hidden bars in the Pontocho area. Thanks to my local guide, I even got to sample a rare “rose sake” on the pub crawl that I never would have found by myself! Read more in my bar hopping in Kyoto at night review.

It’s also possible to do a cooking class combined with a tea ceremony in Kyoto (some you are able to dress up in a traditional kimono, too!). Read what to expect at my ramen cooking class or click here for all combined traditional Kyoto cooking classes and tea ceremonies.

Ine Mankai

 

Things to do in Kyoto

For more details and things to do than I’ve listed here, check out my full 4 days in Kyoto itinerary and my guide to uncovering Kyoto’s hidden gems day-trippers never get the chance to:

  • Get your bearings on your first afternoon by exploring downtown Kyoto and walk along the Sanjo Ohashi Bridge 三条大橋. There is something truly special about exploring Gion and Shimbashi at sundown and if you get the chance near Kyoto station, don’t forget to look up at the Kyoto Tower. Otherwise, nightfall is the perfect time to visit Yasaka Shrine 八坂神社 –– less crowds and the chance to spot maiko (geisha in training) running errands along nearby Shijo-dori.
  • The next morning, start early at Arashiyama 嵐山 Bamboo Grove then walk to Gio-ji Temple & Moss Gardens 祇王寺. Learn the thoughtful meaning behind Adashino Nembutsu-ji 化野念仏寺 and complete the day at famous Kinkaku-ji Temple 金閣寺 (Golden Pavilion) after the crowds have left. The Golden Pavilion is a UNESCO World Heritage site and understandably one of the city’s biggest drawcards – photos can’t do the gleaming gold exterior justice!
  • On your third day, start early at Sannen-zaka & Ninnen-zaka streets for some stunning hand-crafted souvenirs on your way to Kiyomizu-Dera 清水寺 (UNESCO World Heritage site). This is best to do early to beat the hordes of day-tripping crowds. Don’t forget to stop by Jinshu-jinja 地主神社 located within Kiyomizu-dera – it’s easy to walk past. From here discover the nearby Yasaka Koshin-do 八坂庚申堂, known as Kyoto’s colourful “pom pom” temple then make your way over to Kennin-ji 建仁寺 to enjoy the exquisite ceiling artwork in the main hall. End your day at Kodai-ji 高台寺 by admiring the “Dragon’s Back” bridge and the crowd-free bamboo groves along Nene no Michi (Nene’s Path) back through Maruyama Park 円山公園into Gion.
  • Begin day four at Fushimi Inari Taisha 伏見稲荷大社 on this hidden hike then down to Daigo-ji 醍醐寺 temple & gardens in the city’s southern outskirts. From here, the zen and landscaped gardens of Tofuku-ji 東福寺 are not to be missed on the way to Nanzen-ji 南禅寺. Featuring a huge working aqueduct that dates back to the mid-19th century, it’s an amazing sight. Spend the afternoon strolling the Philosopher’s Path (perfect during cherry blossom season!) north to Ginkaku-ji 銀閣寺 (Silver Pavilion). As the little brother of Kinkaku-ji (Golden Pavilion), it has the more exquisite gardens in my opinion! 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: From 1 April 2024, the local government will be closing some streets in Gion in response to tourists’ harassment of geisha. It is a few select private streets, not the entire neighbourhood.

Kyoto attractions for a Japan 3 week itinerary
KYOTO ATTRACTIONS: 1) Arashiyama Bamboo Grove ~ 2) View from Sanjo Ohashi Bridge ~ 3) Daigo-ji Temple ~ 4) Kinkaku-ji Temple ~ 5) Fushimi Inari Shrine ~ 6) Backstreets of Gion ~ 7) Gio-ji Moss Gardens ~ 8) Kiyomizu-Dera

Day trips from Kyoto

If you prefer to switch out one of the suggested days I’ve mentioned above, these are a few fascinating day trips from Kyoto to consider:

Uji

Amazing city with over 1,000 years of history located between Kyoto and Nara. It’s home to the impressive Byōdō-in Temple (take a look at it on the back of your 10 yen coin!) and famous for green tea cultivation. Read my full Uji day trip itinerary, or experience a tea ceremony and discover this beautiful ancient area on an Uji Matcha & Byōdō-in Temple walking tour with a local guide.

Kobe

Get your fix of Kobe beef right here in this intriguing seaside city, once flattened by the 1923 Great Kanto Earthquake. You couldn’t tell today.

Mt Koya (Koyasan)

Explore the amazing temples and shrines in one of Japan’s most spiritual locations with this Mt Koya day tour from Kyoto.

Byodo-in Temple, Uji

DAYS 16-17: HIROSHIMA & MIYAJIMA

How to get from Kyoto to Hiroshima

2 hours on JR Sanyo line Nozomi shinkansen.
Cost: Approx 7000 JPY (book individual tickets here) or Kodama train covered by the Japan Rail Pass.

In my opinion everyone should visit Hiroshima once in their lifetime if they have the chance, so it’s a must for a Japan 3 week itinerary. Like a phoenix rising from the ashes of that fateful day in 1945, the present Hiroshima is a beautiful, inspiring city of hope and resilience. There are reminders of this tragedy dotted throughout the city, some more obvious than others.

Having visited three times now, I aim to help you discover Hiroshima beyond the Atomic Bomb Dome and gain a better understanding of the meanings behind some things hiding in plain sight (and not found in guide books). 

Fun things to do in Hiroshima: Miyajima Day Trip

 

View from Rihga Royal Hotel, Hiroshima

Where to eat in Hiroshima

The Hon-dori covered shopping arcade is packed with restaurants and cafés. Hiroshima’s local specialty is okinomiyaki (savoury pancake). Head to Okonomimura to try it, a four-storey building filled only with with okonomiyaki eateries! 

Right here in Hiroshima, I also enjoyed sampling Japan’s famous soufflé pancakes (and I didn’t have to wait in line). Find out where and how I did it in my guide to things to do in Hiroshima.

Want to discover more of the hidden eateries and drinking spots? For an authentic Japanese experience, you can take a Hiroshima bar hopping tour with a small group led by a local who grew up in the city. Learn more about Japanese food, culture and even make some new friends along the way!

 

Things to do in Hiroshima

For more details and things to do than I’ve listed here, check out my full city guide to Hiroshima attractions:

  • Witness the haunting A-Bomb Dome 原爆ドーム, a UNESCO World Heritage site and symbol of hope. From here, walk on over to the Children’s Peace Monument to be amazed by thousands of colourful paper cranes left by well-wishers. 
  • Don’t miss the Jizoson hiding in plain sight — the atomic bomb struck directly above this statue and left it with an eerie nuclear shadow still visible today.
  • Make sure you visit the Hiroshima Peace Memorial Museum 広島平和記念資料館. Artefacts that survived the blast are displayed including ceramics that were fused together due to the explosion’s extreme heat. It’s quite eye-opening but the Museum does a great job of helping you gain a better understanding about the consequences of nuclear bombs.
  • Pass by the Peace Arch that represents a shelter for the fallen victims. The Peace Flame located by the Peach Arch will burn until the last nuclear weapon on Earth is destroyed. 
  • Don’t miss the special Hibakujumoku Phoenix Trees 被爆樹木. These trees were blasted by the atomic bomb but managed to bloom again months later, making them a symbol of hope and resilience. Despite the hollowed trees wearing blackened scars from the blast as a reminder of what they endured, they are still going strong today.
  • Learn why the symbolism of water is so significant to many monuments in the city at National Peace Memorial Hall for the Atomic Bomb Victims. It’s truly one of the most moving places to visit in Hiroshima. Listen to first-hand accounts of survivors and examine a huge soil sample of the city dating from 400 years until after the Peace Memorial Park was created in 1954. Seeing huge pieces of blacked debris wedged beneath the soil is very sobering.

Atomic Bomb Dome (A-Bomb Dome)

Hiroshima attractions for a Japan 3 week itinerary
HIROSHIMA HIGHLIGHTS: 1) Don’t miss Hiroshima Peace Memorial Museum ~ 2) Moving tribute at the National Peace Memorial Hall for the Atomic Bomb Victims ~ 3) Peace Arch at sundown ~ 4) Sadako Sasaki atop the Children’s Peace Monument ~ 5) Jizoson and the nuclear shadow ~ 6) Bright lights of Hon-dori shopping arcade

Day trip from HIROSHIMA to MIYAJIMA (Itsukushima Shrine)

Catch a ferry over to Miyajima Island, one of the most photographed things Japan is famous for. Its crown jewel is the UNESCO World Heritage site of Itsukushima Shrine 厳島神社, including its iconic vermilion grand torii gate floating in the bay. As one of Japan’s designated National Treasures, the present shrine dates back to the mid-13th century and is surrounded by sacred deer who roam freely.

As you’ll find out, there is much more to Miyajima Island beyond itsukushima Shrine! Check my detailed guide for planning a Hiroshima to Miyajima day trip here. It includes ferry comparison with and without the JR Pass, tips for visiting, and information about restoration work from June 2019 – August 2020. Also learn what NOT to do to help make the most of your visit!

Getting there: Although not covered by the JR Pass I suggest using the Aquanet Ferry from Hiroshima Peace Park to Miyajima island (find out why in my detailed article mentioned above), approx 45mins. Check the tide information before your trip so you know what to expect during high and low tides.
Cost: Adult roundtrip JPY 3,600 (although other options are covered by the JR Pass).

NOTE: If you do make the trip over to the sacred island, this Miyajima cultural highlights walking tour with a local guide will teach you the difference between Japanese Shinto religion and Buddhism, and provide you with more in-depth knowledge of popular and lesser-known temples and shrines most tourists miss!

Miyajima Day Trip Highlights
MIYAJIMA HIGHLIGHTS: 1: Miyajima Natural Botanic Garden ~ 2 & 6: Grand Torii Gate ~ 3: Coins left for good luck between barnacles on the Grand Torii Gate ~ 4: Sacred deer roaming freely on the island ~ 5: Pagoda ~ 7: Tōrō (stone lanterns) lining a walkway ~ 8: Itsukushima Shrine

Day 18: KURASHIKI

How to get from Hiroshima to Kurashiki

1.5 hours on JR Sanyo line Nozomi shinkansen to Okayama, then 15 mins to Kurashiki on local train. 
Cost: Approx 7320 JPY (book individual tickets here) or Sakura train covered by the Japan Rail Pass.

You won’t find this one on other Japan itineraries! Welcome to Kurashiki, “The Venice of Japan”, a hidden side of the country unseen by many foreign tourists. If you love cultural experiences and exploring off the beaten path, this incredibly preserved Edo-era town is waiting for you. Combined with its rich history, Kurashiki is a picturesque place to explore and break up the journey between Hiroshima and Osaka. 

On arriving in Kurashiki, you’ll quickly understand why it has earned the nickname it has. During the Edo Period, the whitewashed kominka (traditional warehouse buildings) were storehouses for rice distribution to Edo (now Tokyo), and it became a wealthy town. Today, these warehouses have been converted into art galleries, cafes, shops and quirky museums just begging to be explored.

 

Kurashiki is an underrated destination to include on a Japan 3 week itinerary

Where to eat in Kurashiki

There are a handful of eateries along Honmachi-dori, as well as some scattered around the canal area. My suggestion would be to just walk around and see what you’re in the mood for! I enjoyed dinner at Kurou No Tojo, a local izakaya with an amazing selection of craft beers. I also had a quick snack of award-winning potato croquettes at Gold Medal Croquette. Delicious!

Things to do in Kurashiki

For more details and things to do than I’ve listed here, check out my full guide to visiting Kurashiki Bikan Historical Quarter:

  • Don’t miss the Ohara Museum of Art if you’re an art lover. It’s not just any ordinary Western art museum, it houses a super-impressive private collection of works by the likes of Picasso, Monet, Cezanne and more. How it came to be in this small Japanese town barely anyone has heard of is an amazing story, so I’ll leave you to take a look at my detailed Kurashiki guide to find out!
  • Enjoy a super-touristy but fun boat ride along the canals. Your “gondolier” will narrate points of interest along the way. Ensure you purchase your ticket first (500 JPY ea) and select a timeslot that suits you.
  • Check out some shops in Kurashiki Ivy Square – the area is literally covered in ivy during the warmer months.
  • Help support the small businesses by purchasing some bizan pottery, Kurashiki is famed for it.
  • Spend some time visiting the quirky museums! There are dedicated museums for piggy banks, toys, cartoon characters, even an archaeological museum housing objects from the Seto Inland Sea during the Palaeolithic age (20,000 BC)!
  • Hunt down kitschy denim souvenirs on Denim Street, the birthplace of jeans in Japan.
  • Admire the view over the city from the hillside Achi Shrine.
  • Relax in the stunning traditional Japanese gardens of Shinkei-en.

Ohara Museum of Art, Kurashiki

Kurashiki attractions for a Japan 3 week itinerary
KURASHIKI ATTRACTIONS: 1) Main canal of the Bikan Historical Quarter ~ 2) Take a rickshaw ride ~ 3) Shop on Denim Street ~ 4) One of many fascinating museums ~ 5) Hillside view from Achi Shrine.

DAYS 19-21: OSAKA

How to get from Kurashiki to Osaka

15 mins from Kurashiki to Okayama station on local train, then 45 mins on JR Sanyo Nozomi shinkansen to Shin-Osaka station.
Cost: Approx 6000 JPY (book individual tickets here) or Hikari trains covered by the Japan Rail Pass.

We are coming to the end of our 3 week Japan itinerary, why not go out with a bang in Osaka? Literally eat your way around Japan’s foodie capital and shop ‘til you drop! Prepare for sensory overload along Dotonbori, the heart of all the action.

Bright neon signs will surprise your eyes, aromas of sizzling street food will delight your nose and noisy Pachinko parlours will assault your ears. As the home to another of the country’s best preserved castles, welcome to Osaka!

 

Dotonbori, Osaka | The Invisible Tourist

Where to eat in Osaka

 My personal favourites places and things to eat in Osaka are Showa Taishu Horumon Beef BBQ and Osaka’s famous takoyaki (octopus balls).

There are also loads of cooking classes run by locals in Osaka. Learn how to cook ramen, gyoza, Osaka’s version of okonomiyaki, udon, takayaki and much more! Click here for all cooking classes in Osaka.

Best Osaka Street Food According to Locals: 5 Hidden Spots | The Invisible Tourist

Things to do in Osaka

For more details and things to do than I’ve listed here, check out my full Osaka itinerary:

  • See the famous Glico Man over the river from Dotonbori 道頓堀 and be amazed at the seemingly endless shopping arcades.
  • Learn about the city’s history over the centuries at Osaka Castle Museum 大阪城, check out the 360º view from the observation deck and wander the beautiful grounds.
  • Head to the Shinsekai 新世界 “New World” area for the famous Tsutenkaku Tower and giant fugu (poisonous puffer fish) floating above your head! This pre-war district was created in 1912 and modelled off Paris and New York.
  • Embrace the foodie scene: The Japanese word kuidaore (eat ‘til you drop) is well known in Osaka as you can literally do just that! Some great places to start your foodie adventure are Shinsaibashi-suji Arcade and Kuromon Ichiba. Treat yourself to many of the local specialties or have a local show you what’s best on an Osaka foodie tour.
  • Find Hozen-ji Temple & Yokocho buried in the quiet narrow alleyways with Mizukake Fudo, an Osaka hidden gem covered in moss.
  • Visit the lion’s head at Namba Shrine.
  • View the city from a different perspective at the Kucku Teien Observatory (also known as Umeda Sky Building). The quirky architecture is a modern icon of Osaka and the rooftop is home to the Floating Garden Observatory, 170 metres up.
  • Feel youthful in Amerikamura (America Town). This area became very popular in the 1970’s with local artists, designers and fashionistas. It’s known for selling imported American goods.
  • Don’t forget to look down at the amazingly beautiful manhole covers beneath your feet!

Osaka Castle

Namba Yasaka Shrine Entrance

Day trips from Osaka

My detailed guide to Osaka day trips covers inspiring destinations nearby that aren’t Universal Studios! I’ve also suggested alternatives to popular spots to help you explore a lesser-known Japan. The below side trips from Osaka are some of the favoured by tourists.

Nara

As Japan’s very first permanent capital, Nara 奈良 holds a great historical significance. Many structures reflect the heavy influence of Buddhism on the city during that time, making it a very special destination to visit.

Must-see attractions include Todai-ji Temple 東大寺, a UNESCO World Heritage site and the largest wooden structure in the world, the giant bronze Buddha, stunning gardens and of course, the free-roaming sacred deer! 

TIP: My detailed itinerary for a day trip to Nara from Osaka or Kyoto covers the below locations and more in further detail, plus it includes plenty of travel tips.

Himeji

There have been quite a few opportunities to explore a number of great castles in this Japan 3 week itinerary, although as a national treasure Himeji Castle 姫路城 is one of the best examples. In contrast to Matsumoto’s “Black Crow”, Himeji’s elegant castle is known as the “White Heron” for the way it appears to be soaring above the city from the hilltop. 

Most Japanese castles have been destroyed by war or fire and rebuilt, however Himeji has survived over 400 years of earthquakes and natural disasters to be one of the few original castles in the country. That’s so special!

Day 22: Transit to TOKYO

From Osaka, you can head back up to Tokyo if your return flight home is from there, otherwise you can finish up here. This concludes my 3 week Japan itinerary sample!

Inspiring & Best Day Trips from Osaka to Enrich Your Visit | The Invisible Tourist

Concluding this 21 day itinerary Japan

I know this was a lot to take in for a 3 weeks Japan itinerary, but I wanted to create the most comprehensive Japan off the beaten track itinerary out there so you have the best trip ever! While incorporating the Japan’s Old and New Golden Routes, this alternative itinerary for Japan will have you experiencing the best of both worlds in an efficient way.

While also taking you off the beaten track, following this itinerary for a 3 week trip to Japan means you won’t miss out on the popular experiences the country is famous for. Combining the information provided here and reading in-depth guides featured on my Japan travel blog for each destination, you’ll know how appreciate popular locations without the crowds and enjoy authentic cultural experiences many first-time visitors miss out on. It’s a win-win for you and locals alike!

Now you’re ready to see the best of Japan, would you also like to to learn my strategies for how to “blend in” anywhere around the globe? Find out by reading my #1 Amazon New Release Book!

One final tip! If you know you’ll be referring back to this itinerary a lot, don’t forget to bookmark this page for later and pin the images you’d like to visit over to Pinterest for inspiration. Better yet, buy the ad-free PDF version of this 3 Weeks in Japan itinerary for offline use once you’re in Japan!

What are your thoughts on this 3 weeks in Japan itinerary? I’d LOVE to hear if you use this on your trip so let me know in the comments below if you do! If you found this helpful please share it with your friends or come and join me on Facebook, Pinterest, TikTok and Instagram for more “invisible tourist” inspiration!

Until next time,

The Invisible Tourist

Do you love Japanese sweets, snacks and candies?
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Japan 3 Week Itinerary: Amazing Sights & Culture Off the Beaten Track | The Invisible Tourist

3 Weeks in Japan Itinerary Map: Amazing Sights & Culture Off the Beaten Track | The Invisible Tourist

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50 Comments

  1. This itinerary is amazing! Definitely a great reference for when I plan my first trip this fall! Quick question, what do you personally consider a Day 1 or Day 0? Using this itinerary as an example, I’d like to maximize the amount of days I’m in Tokyo, but if I would be arriving late afternoon/early evening in Narita, I would feel my Day 1 would really start the next day.

    1. Hi Jon, thanks for reading!
      I call Day 0 such because it can really depend on the time your flight arrives. Some arrive at 5am, while others do at 10pm.
      However, if your flight arrived super early and you had a full day ahead, you could use the Day 1 plan for the day you arrive.
      But that wouldn’t make sense for someone arriving later in the day 😊
      I hope that clarifies things!

  2. Alyse! You’re a marvel.
    We’re two Canadians, in our 70’s, long time invisible travellers and hoping to visit Japan for three weeks in November 2024. We’ll take our time, walk in gardens (Kanazawa), hike a bit, visit more sites off the path (Takayama) than on, stay longer in a few special places rather than hit the highlights in a rush.
    What advice do you have for Naoshima? Any recommendations for access? Lodging? Getting around on the island? All suggestions welcome.
    Thanks for The Invisible Tourist. It has made a daunting task seem doable.
    Diane

    1. That’s so kind of you to say Diane, thank you so much!
      Delighted to hear you’re fellow “invisibles” and are heading to Japan later this year 😃
      I’ve not personally visited Naoshima just yet, however I would definitely spend the night to make the most of the adventure, as you are planning to.
      It seems the easiest access is from Okayama, near Kurashiki (on the Tokaido shinkansen line between Osaka and Hiroshima).
      You could hire a car and drive 1.5 hours, or take the train which is about 2.5 hours. Each involve taking a ferry over to the island.
      Once you’re there, you can get around in your car, by the island buses, hire bicycles or make use of taxis. More info on getting around Naoshima here.
      From what I know, Miyanoura Port on the west side has the more frequent ferries, so I would search for accommodation around that area 🙂
      You can search for hotels via the map here.
      I hope that helps and you have an amazing time!

  3. Hi Alyse. Thanks very much for your detailed 21 day Japan itinerary, we’re going to follow it in November this year. The only difference being that we will fly back to Sydney out of Osaka rather than going back to Tokyo. In your view, is it worth getting a JR pass at all or is it better pre-purchasing tickets for each train trip? Thanks. Anne

    1. Hi Anne, thanks so much for following along!
      I’ve just double checked the JR Pass calculator for this itinerary and neither the 2 week or 3 week rail passes pay off, even without the leg back to Tokyo from Osaka at the end.
      I do recommend pre-purchasing tickets before each trip OR you can batch purchase a few or all in advance. You can do this at the JR ticket counter (this is what I usually do), through Klook online in advance here or at a JR shinkansen ticket machine.
      Some people prefer to buy non-reserved seats meaning they can take any shinkansen in the non-reserved section for flexibility, but during busy periods this may mean you won’t get a seat.
      I’ve heard stories of visitors having to stand the entire 3 hour journey from Tokyo to Kyoto during cherry blossom season 😅
      The choice is entirely up to you and your preferred travel style, but I hope that helps with your decision 🙂
      I hope you have an incredible time in Japan!

  4. Hi Alyse, i love your post. I will visit Japan as a family of four with two teenagers, for four weeks from Dec to Jan. Are there any of places you would recommend not to go during winter?

    1. Hi Mollie, thanks for reading!
      No, I would absolutely recommend all these places during winter – you’ll get to see the famous conical supports of the trees in Kanazawa’s Kenroku-en gardens, enjoy the stunning snow-coated streets in Takayama’s old town, and after New Year’s some of the busier cities such as Tokyo, Kyoto and Osaka will have fewer crowds. Enjoy the beauty of all these places during the winter, it’s one of my favourite times to visit Japan!

      1. Thank you for your reply. We will land in Osaka first and end in Tokyo. The new year period accommodations in Tokyo is a lot more expensive than other cities. Any suggestions on where to stay in Tokyo?

  5. We love your 3 week trip and have flights to Japan from the U.S. on May 8.
    We feel we may need some assistance with buying the rail pass and reserving specific train trips and other modes of transit between stops. Are there any travel agencies in Japan that would do that for us? We can book our own accommodations.

    1. Hi Mona, thanks so much!
      Honestly I don’t think you need to go to the expense of getting a travel agent in Japan to book rail passes on your behalf. You can book them in advance here, much like your accommodation so it’s super easy.
      Just pop in your dates and the pass you’re after and the exchange voucher will be mailed to you before your trip.

      Have you heard the latest news?
      If you’re buying individual shinkansen (bullet train) tickets, you’re now also able to book them in advance here!
      This saves having to go and see station staff in-person to book, which is super handy.
      I hope that helps and you have a wonderful time following my itinerary for Japan!

  6. Alyse,
    I just found your blog. We are heading to Tokyo, arriving there on Oct 5 and departing on Oct 21, 2023. Thus, I suspect we might have to explore a possible blend of your two-week and three-week guides. I have to start deep digging into them. I did read that the JR pass is supposed to go up significantly in October 2023. Thank you in advance for your guidance.
    Chris

    1. Hi Chris, that’s very exciting!
      A blend of both would be fantastic if you have the time, just let me know if you have any questions 🙂
      Yes you’re right about the JR Pass, I have shared how you can avoid the price increase until December on my Instagram post and its comments section here.
      If you’re planning to spend about a week in Tokyo as per my itineraries, you can get away with either a 1 week JR pass for 2 weeks, and a 2 week JR pass for 3 weeks (as your first week will be in Tokyo and you may not use the JR lines to get around much. The Metro is better connected).
      I hope that helps!
      Happy planning and thanks so much for reading!

  7. Hello! Thank you for this little guide and the blog in general. I have been referencing it quite a lot. My husband and I are going to Japan next year in October for 3 weeks and while we are putting together our own itinerary I have been concerned with making sure we are good tourists while also being able to see as much as we want to in that time. We plan to stay a week in Tokyo, a week in the Osaka/Kyoto and Nara area with some day trips to some other places and then a 3rd week…somewhere, we are torn between a couple places at this moment. All that is to say we have figured out we will need the full 21 day JR Pass and know that we will still need a Suica card for other trains and buses. My question is the Tokyo Fun Pass. I have at least two things on our itinerary that fall into the list that I can see immediately but I am unsure if the cost would be actually worth while? Thank you!

    1. Hi Gina, thanks so much for reading!
      How exciting about your trip 😃
      If you’re spending a good chunk of time in Tokyo, you may only need a 14 day JR Pass.
      The Tokyo Subway Pass is much better value and the Metro is better connected (like a spider web of lines arounf the city, rather than a big ring like JR Yamanote line).
      I digress!
      For the Tokyo Fun Pass, which two attractions did you have your eye on?
      To figure out if the pass is worth it for you, you’d need to add up the separate costs of individual tickets without the pass vs the cost of the pass.
      I hope that helps!

  8. Hi there! We found your itinerary and booked a three-week trip to Japan! I have a question about the rail pass and if to get it. We plan to follow your guide very closely. In your 2 week guide you talk about pros/cons of the JR Pass and one of the cons is that it actually doesn’t cover the fastest trains? So is it not worth it to buy the pass for this trip? Will we save more time buying tickets to the fastest trains the day before? In Another comment it seems like if we follow your intinerary we could get away with the 14 day pass? thanks for your help and putting together such a comprehensive guide!

    1. Hi Julia, that’s very exciting!

      The JR Pass is a hotly debated topic hehe, but it all comes down to the individuals using it and what they value 🙂
      For this 3 week itinerary, according to this JR Pass calculator the 7, 14 and 21 day passes all pay off.
      Although the JR Pass doesn’t cover the fastest trains, in this instance it may still be worthwhile due to the number of train journeys in this 3 week period, compared to my 2 week itinerary.

      And yes, you’re right! If you’re planning to spend 6-7 days in Tokyo, the 14 day JR Pass will cover you for 2 out of your 3 weeks.
      In Tokyo, you can use a Suica card for train journeys on any line, but the best value is the 72 hour Tokyo Subway Pass. It allows unlimited use of the Metro in that time if you plan to do a lot of train hopping. So you could maybe purchase two 72-hour Tokyo Subway Passes for your first week, then activate the JR Pass on your 8th day for your first bullet train journey 😃

      I hope that all helps and thanks so much for reading!

  9. Trying to decide on optimal fall foliage trip and the conclusion I get is from mid-October thru November. Since the Northern part gets the color first how would you orchestrate such a trip? This would be 3 weeks in total. BTW I find your suggestions and detail very helpful. Japan seems an intimidating place without fully planning your stay. Major train stations and language barrier is my two biggest concerns.

    1. Hi Gary, yes you’re right that it would make sense to do the northern areas first 🙂
      For example, you could spend one night in Tokyo first instead of 6 before heading to Matsumoto/Nagano/Takayama/Kanazawa, and do the Tokyo segment at the end of your itinerary.
      Also if you’re planning to do a day trip from Tokyo to Nikko, you should do so at the beginning of your itinerary as Nikko’s colours change in October.

      I understand the train stations can seem intimidating at first. It is much easier to get around than you think, I promise! Major stations are actually the best because they have the most amount of English and are brilliantly designed with clear signage to keep people moving. Google Maps will be your best friend; take note of the exits it recommends at train stations! But for anything else, I recommend downloading my free Japanese for Tourists Cheat Sheet to help you get by.

      The most useful phrase for getting around is “… des ka?” As an example, “Kyoto eki des ka?” where “Kyoto eki” means Kyoto Station, as “des ka” is a question enquiring if the train will stop at Kyoto Station (you can add “des ka” at the end of any word/sentence to make it a question). That way you should receive an easy yes-or-no type of answer. You’ll find broken English is better understood than you realise, just speak in the simplest terms with the main words and you’ll get your message across 😊

      I hope that all helps and you have a wonderful time in Japan!

      1. Thank you for your response and suggestions. I appreciate your time and effort to make my trip an exceptional one. I am setting up my itinerary and will book as soon as it is confirmed we have the dates set. Take care.

  10. Hi Alyse,
    thank you so much for this detailed itinerary. It really reasonates with my plan-loving heart :). I have a small question: We are planing on going to Japan for 3W from mid September to October. I read that fall it is the Taifun season and last year was pretty tough according to the media. Do you think, this could be a big problem for us? Best wishes, Dylan

    1. Hi Dylan,
      Gotta love a great plan, right? 😃
      Towards the end of September should be fine. To be fair, I’ve visited Japan 3 times during the summer months and thankfully have never encountered a typhoon.
      That’s not to say it can’t happen, but I think you’d have to be VERY unlucky for one to coincide with your trip.
      It personally doesn’t deter me from summer, it’s my favourite time to go!
      I say don’t let that be a reason to not go during that time, however of course it is entirely up to you 🙂
      Thanks for reading!

  11. We are doing a 4 week (29 days in Japan) trip in late May going through most of June. Your itinerary looks great and we are just thinking of adding some additional days to most of the stops. If you were doing 4 weeks would you add an additional stop?

    1. Hi Steven, thanks for reading!
      Sounds like you have a fantastic trip ahead. You could absolutely add an extra stop if you have some additional days 😃

      An option to extending your stay in some of the cities would be to stay even longer in Tokyo and do some of the many day trips from there.

      Another option if you’re able: I can highly recommend staying around Mt Fuji for longer if your visit is in early summer, either around the Fuji Five Lakes or Fujinomiya (or both if time allows!)

      Although summer is one of the worst times to see her visibility-wise, the early mornings and evenings increase your chances as the air cools. My best views of her have been at sunrise during summer, if that kind of thing interests you!

      Sunrise at Fujinomiya

      You can also let me know your interests and I can suggest some other places if you like 🙂
      Thanks again for your comment and happy planning!

      1. Thanks Alyse!
        That is definitely another great option for expanding the itinerary. We are looking forward to the trip.

  12. I love this guide! I’m looking at planning a trip during the Christmas season (anywhere from Dec. 14th-Jan. 8th, 2024). Do you have any advice on changing the itinerary to accommodate the New Year’s celebrations/closures?

    1. Thanks so much, Penny!

      Sounds like you’re planning a fantastic trip. If you’re following this itinerary, it would mean you could be in Kyoto or Hiroshima around New Years during your trip. I can’t be certain but perhaps they would be less crowded than Tokyo…

      My advice would be try to time your major city visits for when locals are heading back into the more rural areas, and the reverse after New Years. This article is a great resource for spending New Years in Japan.

      Locals try to watch the first sunrise on New Year’s Day, and visit their first temple or shrine for the year during Hatsumode (1-3 January). The major temples and shrines will likely be very crowded during these days, so it may be a good idea to visit some lesser-known ones. You could even visit at midnight when temple bells are rung.

      But if you’re wanting to spend New Years in Tokyo specifically, you can simply shift the days of this itinerary for example:

      Day 0: Fly into Tokyo
      Days 1-7: Head straight to Nagano/Matsumoto/Takayama/Kanazawa
      Day 8: Head against the traffic into Tokyo for New Years
      Days 9-14: Tokyo
      Days 15-21: Kyoto, Hiroshima, Kurashiki, Osaka

      Having Tokyo in the middle of the itinerary is still an efficient way to complete this trip and there is no backtracking 🙂

      I hope that helps and you have a wonderful time celebrating in Japan!

  13. Thank you so much for this 3 weeks trip, I plan to go to Japan soon and this is just perfect !
    I just have a question, the cost that you mentioned below is for 2 adults, since I’ll go there alone will it be approximately half of that ? As a student, I won’t spend money everywhere obviously haha.

    1. So glad you love my itinerary and great question, Rayan!

      I think that would depend on the hotels you select. Some hotels have single rooms with just a single bed. They are cheaper than twin or double rooms (but not by a huge amount).

      But sometimes depending on the hotel when travelling solo, the hotel may not have single bed rooms (twin/double/queen/king instead). This is fine though, because these rooms are bigger than the singles!

      For you in terms of transport cost, yes you can assume that would be roughly half of what I’ve stated 😊 Thanks so much for reading and I hope you have an amazing time in Japan!

  14. Hi,
    The 3wk itinerary looks amazing – we are hoping to travel from the south (Kyushu) up to Tokyo over 3wks, and then up to Hokkaido for a week of skiing in January (2023). Would your 3wk itinerary need a lot of tweaking if done in reverse, & in Winter?
    Many thanks,
    Paul

    1. Hi Paul,
      So glad you love my itinerary!

      Sounds like you’re planning an unforgettable adventure, good on you. I believe you would have no issues doing this itinerary in reverse, as each of the cities are very well connected. Staring in Hiroshima from Kyushu and ending in Tokyo to head to Hokkaido would absolutely make sense for you.

      The only thing you may need to consider in winter is allowing a bit of extra time to get around in the alpine cities (Kanazawa, Takayama, Matsumoto, Nagano) in case of delays with transport due to snow. But Japan’s public transport system is well equipped to operate well in all seasons, so I doubt there would be any major issues!

      I hope you have an amazing time and thanks so much for following along 😃

  15. Our trip to Japan got postponed but I can’t wait to plan it again and this is really helpful. We love doing cooking classes while travelling so I definitely keep your tips in mind 🙂

    1. I’m sorry to hear your trip had to be postponed, Paulyne, but happy to hear you found my itinerary helpful for when you get the chance to go! The cooking classes were much more fun than I expected, too! Thanks for your comment 😊

    1. I’m really glad you found this helpful, Ana, and glad to see Japan is now on your wish list. There is really no place like it.
      Thanks for your comment!

  16. Thank you so much for this detailed itinerary. I have been looking for 3 week itineraries and came across your blog. It was all a little overwhelming but your blog helped me see that I could do this. Thanks so much!

    1. Hi Jane, your comment has made my day!
      So happy to hear my itinerary has helped you with planning your own. It’s definitely easier once you can see it can all be broken down like this.
      Thanks so much for reading and best of luck with your future trip planning! If you have any questions I’m always happy to help 😊

  17. Awesome article. I really enjoy your blog, many of your Japan articles are so helpful because I really want to go back.

    Many thanks!

  18. THIS IS THE BEST JAPAN ITINERARY EVER! I’ve been reading through itineraries for Japan for the past few months but loved yours to the core. Detailed, informative, practical, and super helpful! We are planning to visit Japan in April next year if things work out. I’ve bookmarked your post for future reference. Thank you so much.

    1. I’m so glad you think so, Anjali! That’s such a lovely compliment and really happy you’ve saved it for future reference 😊 Best of luck with your trip planning and fingers crossed for next year!

  19. Thank you so much for this itinerary. This helped me a lot planning my trip to Japan for 2021.
    I have a question: did you have any difficulties moving around with your luggages? I will travel with my husband and we are thinking taking 2 big luggages and one hand luggage. Is that too much, or what was your experience and what can you recommend.

    Thank you in advance 🙂

    1. Hi Rip,

      So glad you’ve found my itinerary helpful for planning your trip!
      I personally have never had issues with a larger suitcase during my travels in Japan. I think a bag each and a shared hand luggage between you both is fine!

      You just need to be really efficient in getting your bag on and off the shinkansen as they are very punctual and won’t wait, hehe. I’ll start preparing my luggage one stop before I’m due to depart the train so I’m ready to jump off once it arrives at my station.

      You will need to reserve seats on some shinkansen that can accommodate your luggage or have them forwarded to your next destination, as per new rules for JR Central that were introduced in May 2020. I have more info about this in my article Planning a Trip to Japan? under heading #14: “Use Google Maps & HyperDia to plan your journeys”, beneath sub-heading “Important new rules regarding oversize baggage on bullet trains”.

      I hope that helps, thanks for your comment and happy planning!

  20. Thank you for all the details and a good explanation! I just have 1, maybe an inappropriate question, but how much did you pay for your trip (and spent in Japan)? I am a student, so I’m really curious. But my friend and I just adore the idea of going to Japan.

    1. Hi Isolde, no that’s completely ok to ask! Of course the overall cost for an itinerary like this will vary from person to person and how they prefer to travel (strict budget, mid-range budget or luxury). My blog focuses on travelling with with a mid-range budget, so anywhere from USD 120 – 200 USD per night + spending money.

      Tokyo would be the most pricey with places like Hiroshima providing more bang-for-buck. In this case on average accom would be around USD 3500 for 3 weeks (for 3 star hotels, you could easily do cheaper by staying in hostels or capsule hotels).

      Transport depends on if you purchase the Japan Rail Pass or not. In an itinerary with this many stops it would be worthwhile purchasing the pass. In saying that, if you plan to spend 6 days in Tokyo you could get away with a 14 day JR Pass (approx USD 430) instead of a 21 day pass (approx USD 550). Note that the JR Pass is only valid on JR lines, I have more info about what’s covered and what isn’t in my Tokyo neighbourhood guide here.

      For spending money, I usually allow USD 400 per week as a maximum. This is quite generous and covers incidental things like temple/shrine entry, top up of prepaid IC (metro card), eating out at the occasional nice restaurant, meals from convenience stores, souvenirs etc. I’m quite a splurger when it comes to spending money and even I come back with change, too!

      To add all this together, rough estimate for this itinerary would be:
      • Accom = 3500
      • JR Pass = 430
      • Spending = 1200
      • TOTAL USD = 5130
      • Don’t forget to add your flight (that depends where you’re flying from!)

      As mentioned though, you could totally spend less than this by selecting cheaper accommodation, but I hope this gives you a ballpark idea.

      In case you may have missed it, I also have a 2 week Japan itinerary with costs here! If you were to spend 2 weeks instead, the JR Pass would be reduced to approx USD 270 if purchasing in advance through Klook (7 day pass if you spend 6 days in Tokyo and the rest outside of Tokyo). I hope this helps to give you an idea! Feel free to let me know if you have any other questions and happy planning 🙂

  21. Thank you for a detailed itinerary of these places in Japan. I learned so much from you and hope to visit one day! Keep it up, great post.

    1. So glad to hear that, Ghulam. It’s always a more enjoyable trip with a little research and planning up your sleeve 🙂

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