“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 spend 3 weeks in Japan, but why not?
Through my various trips to this country, 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.
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.
Here are some highlights for how to best spend 21 days in Japan from my personal experiences on the ground:
If you’re interested in exploring the contrasts of Japan in 3 weeks efficiently without feeling rushed, read on for more!
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Planning a Japan trip on your own has never been easier
I created this comprehensive itinerary using these Japan travel books and knowledge from my own tried-and-tested itineraries travelling Japan on multiple trips 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 undertaken and I know will allow you to explore at an enjoyable, relaxed pace. Some itineraries try to 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!
In saying that, if you’d like to delve deeper into learning about Japan’s rich history and culture from a local guide, I’ve recommended small tours from companies I personally love and trust at some destinations below.
These are so much fun and I always learn something insightful from a local’s perspective I wouldn’t have found with my prior research.
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.
Also, don’t be afraid to use the shinkansen (bullet trains). To some, they are expensive but to me personally I prefer to save time when I’m abroad so will always opt for the fastest mode of transport – rather than the cheapest – when getting around.
The Japan Rail Pass is available to save some money, but there are limitations and prices are increasing substantially 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!
Quick links to useful resources
Here’s a quick summary of resources you may find useful for your 3 week trip to Japan.
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!
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 stay in Tokyo
I’ve personally stayed in 8 hotels in greater Tokyo now and I can recommend each for different reasons. My favourite two are in Shibuya:
Need some more information on Tokyo hotels? Check out:
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.
Cooking classes with locals in Tokyo
One of the best Japanese souvenirs is learning to cook authentic dishes from locals. Yes, there are even classes for vegans and vegetarians who may struggle eating out in Tokyo!
Discover more Tokyo foodie spots with a local guide
If you’re a foodie and love exploring hidden spots, you’ll be guaranteed to have the best time on an authentic foodie tour! Escape the crowds and enjoy local specialties with a friendly local guide to show you the ropes and learn more about Japanese culture through food:
Things to do in Tokyo
- 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.
Buy tickets in advance to save time in Tokyo
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 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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
More things to do around Mt Fuji
Prefer to stick to areas around Mt Fuji? Why not try one of these other experiences around the sacred mountain instead:
Day 6: NAGANO
How to get from Tokyo to Nagano
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 stay in Nagano
As Nagano is a temple city, I highly recommend staying in a shukubo 宿坊 (temple lodging). Shukubo are similar to ryokan, although their original purpose was to provide accommodation for monks and pilgrims centuries ago. Today foreign and domestic tourists can enjoy this traditional lodging and exceptional hospitality!
I personally stayed at Shinshu Zenko-ji Yakuoin and enjoyed my time there. It’s in an excellent location, just moments away from the main street of Chuo-dori and the all important Zenko-ji temple. It has an onsen (hot spring), 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!)
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
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.
Where to stay in Matsumoto
If you’re like me and enjoy staying in a central location, look no further than Matsumoto Hotel Kagestu. It’s very clean, tidy and has a selection of both Western and traditional-style rooms, there is something to suit all tastes.
I thoroughly enjoyed my stay here in the heart of the city, it even has some interesting old-school Japanese antiques and books in the lobby. The best part is it’s only 5 mins walk to Matsumoto Castle, Nawate-dori (main shopping street) and an awesome little sake bar is directly opposite.
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.
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.
Where to stay in Takayama
I stayed in a lovely ryokan called Minshiku Iwatakan during my time in Takayama. The hospitality from the family running the place is impeccable and the morning breakfast is an absolute feast! It’s located about 15mins walk from the city centre. There are also onsen (hot springs) for guests as well as the chance to dress in traditional kimono/yukata for the provided meals!
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.
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!
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.
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!
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.
Where to stay in Kanazawa
I’ve stayed at the Kanazawa Garden Hotel directly opposite Kanazawa station. The hotel itself was fantastic however if I’m being honest, it was too far from the main sights for my liking.
If I were to stay again, based on reviews and close proximity to eateries and popular sights, I’d recommend Hotel UAN Kanazawa as a Western option or Ryokan Sumiyoshiya as a traditional accommodation option.
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, or take one of the below cooking classes to incorporate it into delicious cuisine.
Cooking classes with locals in Kanazawa
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.
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.
Book cultural activities in advance to save time in Kanazawa
DAYS 12-15: KYOTO
How to get from Kanazawa to Kyoto
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.
Where to stay in Kyoto
My go-to is the centrally-located Kyoto Hana Hotel, Gion 京都 花ホテル [公式]. Its wonderful location is perfect for exploring surrounding Gion by foot and handy to get across the city from nearby Sanjo station. But my favourite is Kyoto Granbell Hotel in Gion, and was absolutely perfect for my winter visit to Kyoto (psst, it has a free onsen for guests). For my full reviews, see my detailed 4 Days in Kyoto Itinerary.
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.
Discover more Kyoto foodie spots with a local guide
As mentioned earlier, take advantage of local knowledge by taking a foodie tour in Kyoto:
Things to do in Kyoto
- 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!
Optional experiences in Kyoto with a local guide
Gain some in-depth knowledge about Japanese history and culture with a friendly local guide showing you around Kyoto on these small tours:
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:
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. Experience a tea ceremony and discover this beautiful ancient area on an Uji Matcha & Byōdō-in Temple walking tour with a local guide.
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.
DAYS 16-17: HIROSHIMA & MIYAJIMA
How to get from Kyoto to Hiroshima
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 twice 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).
Where to stay in Hiroshima
I adore Royal RIHGA Hotel, Hiroshima リーガロイヤルホテル広島宴会. It’s a gorgeous hotel in the heart of the city, making it perfect for exploring all Hiroshima’s attractions on foot. Not to mention the incredible view I was spoilt with overlooking Hiroshima Castle!
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!
Foodie experiences & cooking classes with locals in Hiroshima
In my opinion, Hiroshima is an underrated foodie destination in Japan! Take home the perfect souvenir by learning to cook these authentic dishes directly from a local, or allow them to show you some hidden spots:
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.
Optional experiences in Hiroshima with a local guide
Gain some in-depth knowledge about Japanese history and culture with a friendly local guide showing you around Hiroshima on these small tours:
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!
Day 18: KURASHIKI
How to get from Hiroshima to Kurashiki
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.
Where to stay in Kurashiki
I stayed at the Court Hotel Kurashiki. It’s a little tired however it’s in the best location, just a few steps away from the entrance to Kurashiki Bikan Historical Quarter. Alternatively you could stay in nearby Okayama and day trip over to Kurashiki.
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.
Traditional Japanese activities in Kurashiki to book in advance
If you enjoy being organised, there are plenty of traditional and creative activities you can enjoy in Kurashiki to learn more about Japanese culture and enrich your visit.
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!
Where to stay in Osaka
Cross Hotel Osaka クロスホテル大阪. is in an awesome location nearby Dotonbori Arcade, restaurants and a few minutes walk to Namba station. As a business hotel it means there are many power points for charging devices which comes in handy. Ask for a room facing Mido-dori (street entrance) for a quiet sleep!
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.
Discover hidden Osaka foodie spots with a local guide
Osaka is world famous for its delicious street food! Why not have a local guide show you the hidden spots to eat these specialties?:
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!
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.
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! Check my full guide to a Nara day trip from Osaka for all the details.
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.
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!
Things to keep in mind about spending 3 weeks in Japan
I must say, congratulations if you have made it this far – you’re almost ready to be an invisible tourist in Japan! Before we finish up, there are a few more things you should know when planning your 21 day Japan itinerary:
Because this article has become so lengthy, click here for my Japan 14 day itinerary to find out my answers these burning questions!
3 weeks in Japan cost
To make things even easier for you, I’ve added up the totals I’ve mentioned in this itinerary to give you an overall 3 weeks in Japan cost. This total is travelling with a mid range budget.
By all means, don’t take this as absolute gospel, my preferences may differ to yours in terms of using the JR Pass (and the exchange rate may alter a little) but feel free to use it as a ballpark figure. You can aways spend more or less than this!
3 weeks in Japan cost for two adults
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,
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