HOW TO PLAN YOUR FIRST TRIP TO JAPAN: TRAVEL GUIDE & ITINERARY

Planning on spending 14 days in Peru? Looking for the perfect Japan 2-week itinerary? You’re in the right place.

Japan is at the top of many travelers’ Asia bucket list, and for good reason. You could easily spend months absorbing the culture here, but if you only have 2 weeks in Japan, you’ll still have plenty of time to experience the best the country has to offer.

From the bustling lights of Tokyo to the World Heritage sites of Kyoto, this 2-week Japan itinerary will take you on a tour of the country’s highlights.

BEST OF JAPAN: 2-WEEK ITINERARY MAP

My suggested 2-week itinerary of Japan starts in Tokyo, then, right after a day trip to Nikko, gradually heads west towards Kyoto and Osaka. Basically, your trip will look like this:

How To Plan Your First Trip To Japan Map Itinerary

BEST OF JAPAN: 2-WEEK ITINERARY

Day 1: Tokyo

Welcome to Narita International airport…let the fun begin! Or not. Flying into Tokyo isn’t terrible, but it isn’t great either. Depending on where you’re coming from, you may also be terribly jet-lagged. If that’s you and you’re on a 2-week schedule, consider an extra day to cool down in Tokyo.

Unless you are super flush with ¥¥¥, your options for getting into Tokyo from Narita airport are basically the train or the airport limousine bus. If you’re lucky to find a hotel where the Airport Limousine bus stops, take it. It will save you the madness of navigating Tokyo’s subway with your long-haul-flight hair and luggage. The seats are comfortable, and you get a chance for a quick nap. Win, win, win.

japan 2 week itinerary 14 days travel

Day 2 – Northern Tokyo (Asakusa, Sensoji, Ueno Park)

Ohayou gozaimasu lovely! Start your day in Asakusa at Kaminarimon Gate, at the entrance to Sensoji Temple. In a city full of temples, Sensoji is the eldest, boasting almost one and a half-millennium of history. As you walk toward the temple buildings, check out the historic Nakamise Dori shopping street, whose souvenir shops and food vendors have been serving temple visitors for centuries. There are various things to do at Sensoji besides visiting the main hall, like buying an Omikuji fortune or burning some incense in order to spiritually cleanse yourself.

After visiting Sensoju, head to Sumida Park. From here you can continue on to the Tokyo Skytree, the tallest tower in Japan. The complex has two observation decks with great views over the city. From here you can walk to Ueno Park, probably one of Japan’s most celebrated parks. It’s absolutely beautiful, full of interesting museums, shrines, temples, as well as the Ueno Zoo.

japanese etiquette and customs

Day 3 – Western Tokyo (Meji, Shibuya, Shinjuku)

Start the day by exploring Meiji Shrine. Take your time to walk around and to check out the history and design of the temple, as this is a great area to simply enjoy nature away from the hustle and bustle of the city center. Leave the shrine through its main gate next to Harajuku Station. Cross the street in front of the station and explore the trendy shops and boutiques of Takeshita Dori Street. This is a great place for people-watching and shopping for wacky Japanese teen fashion.

Head west past the Yoyogi National Stadium and turn south at the first light toward Shibuya. Continue south and turn right after the Parco Department Store down toward the Spain Slope, Tokyu Hands and Center Gai. Here you can check out the famous Shibuya Crossing and Hachiko Statue next to Shibuya Station.

Around 8 or 9 pm you’ll walk to the Tokyo Metropolitan Government Building and head up to the observation deck, where a gorgeous view awaits you. Afterward, I suggest spending the rest of your evening getting smartly drunk with cheap drinks in Shinjuku. Hidden on a narrow grid of its side streets is Golden Gai, perhaps the most unique bar neighborhood in Asia.

Things You Must See and Do in Tokyo

Day 4 – Central Tokyo (Imperial Palace, Ginza, Tokyo Tower)

Rise and shine, I hope you’re not too hungover from last night! You’ll start the day by visiting the Imperial Palace. The Imperial Palace and Gardens is like Central Park, but with multiple palaces and a residing imperial family who live there. It’s also filled with lush, Zen-inducing vegetation and beautiful Japanese architecture.

Exit the Imperial East Gardens via the Otemon Gate and head south past Nijubashi Bridge through the outer grounds to the Sakuradamon Gate. Cross the street and continue walking down the street to Hibiya Park. Pass through the park and continue southwest toward Ginza. The whole Ginza is a shopping paradise with plenty of flagship stores to attract the attention of your wallet. It’s a great place to admire modern buildings of famous brands, see the beautiful window displays, and soak in the extravagance atmosphere. You should stay around until the neon lights and video displays come to life, lighting up the night with a whole new charm.

With a filled stomach, you should be more than ready to get to Tokyo Tower. This is definitely one of Tokyo’s landmarks. 332 m tall, it is one of the highest freestanding steel towers in the world. It has two fully glazed viewing platforms – a double-story platform at 150 m that also contains shops and restaurants and a single-story one at 250 m.

ginza

Day 5 – Southern Tokyo (Fish Market, Odaiba)

Rise and shine little birdies! You’re going to start the day with a sushi breakfast inside a world-famous fish market, the Tsujiki Fish Market. If you want to see the tuna auction, which is free, you’ll need to get there by 4 am (yep, you read that right), while the regular access starts at 9 am. The Tsujiki Fish Market is one huge marketplace and is super busy with turret trucks running around. It’s hectic and crazy, but the food is just delicious!

When you’re done getting freaked out by googly-eyed fishes and seafood, find your way back to the train station and head to Odaiba. Odaiba is like the Atlantic City of Tokyo – plenty of malls, outdoor parks, and recreational beaches. At night, some buildings light up synchronized with blaring pop jingles from its speakers. You will be amazed at the amount of effort put into entertainment!

tokyo tuna market japan 2 week itinerary

More about Tokyo:

A Beginners Guide To Tokyo’s Popular Districts

13 Cool Things You Must See & Do In Tokyo

Tokyo Subway: Your Essential Guide To Tokyo’s Public Transport

Day 6 –  Nikko Day-Trip

You could easily spend several days exploring Nikko National Park, discovering waterfalls, hot springs, and hiking trails. It’s also possible, however, to see Nikko’s UNESCO World Heritage temples and shrines on a day trip from Tokyo. The most beautiful shrine is definitely Toshogu, one of the most elaborately decorated shrines in Japan. You can get to Toshugo by following a path lined by massive, centuries-old cedar trees. Even if you’ve already seen dozens of religious monuments during your trip, Toshogu is still absolutely remarkable.

Nikko can be easily reached from Tokyo by train. You have two options:

  • If you have a JR Pass you can take the JR Tohoku Shinkansen from Tokyo station to Utosonomiya, then transfer to the JR Nikko Line and ride it to the final stop. The total journey time is around 90 minutes (Check Hyperdia to search updated schedules) and prices without the Pass are around ¥2,590 (23 USD) one way.
  • If you don’t have a JR Pass, you can take the Tobu Nikko Line, which runs directly from Asakusa Station in northeast Tokyo. This reserved seating train makes the trip in 1 hour and 45 minutes and the ticket price is ¥1560 (14 USD).

Nikko

Day 7 – Tokyo to Osaka

Today you’ll get to Osaka by Shinkansen, the high-speed railway line, a defining feature of Japanese technology and innovation. The journey takes less than 3 hours. I am by no means a railway fanatic but I have to admit that Japan’s bullet train is pretty great. It also helps that Shinkansen trains look pretty badass.

tokyo-station

Day 8 & 9 – Osaka

Take a stroll around the urban areas of Osaka, until you finally reach the majestic Osaka castle. Osaka Castle is one of the most famous landmarks of Osaka, so famous that you’ve probably already seen a picture of it on many tourism advertising boards promoting the city.

After visiting the Osaka Castle, it’s time to get a glimpse at Osaka’s skyscrapers and urban side, so head to Umeda Sky Building. Famous for its unique architectural design, this 12th tallest building in Osaka is worth a visit if you love tall and modern structures.

Osaka is also the best place to go shopping, because the city, traditionally known for merchants and traders, now boasts bustling shopping districts, such as Amerikamura and Tenjimbashi-suji Shopping Street

HOW TO PLAN YOUR FIRST TRIP TO JAPAN: TRAVEL GUIDE & ITINERARY

Day 10 – Osaka to Kyoto, Golden Pavilion

Traveling from Osaka to Kyoto takes only 30 minutes via the JR Kyoto Line from the JR Osaka station. Spend your first day taking in the beautiful scenery Kyoto has to offer. Kyoto’s going to be your shrine and temple time here in Japan, so take your pick and enjoy! My personal favorite is definitely the Golden Pavilion. Finish your first day by visiting some of the less known back-alley traditional restaurants and nightclubs of Kyoto, for a first day in the city.

Kyoto in one day golden pavillion

Day 11 – Western Kyoto, Arashiyama-Sagano bamboo grove

On the western outskirts of Kyoto, there is a popular tourist district called Arashiyama-Sagano. The big attraction in Arashiyama is its spectacular bamboo grove, one of the most beautiful natural sights in Japan. A walk along the paths that cut through the bamboo groves reveals Sagano in all its beauty. If you want to know more about Western Kyoto check out my post ‘Arashiyama-Sagano: A Walk Through Western Kyoto’. 

arashiyama-sagano bamboo groove

Day 12 – Southern Kyoto, Fushimi-Inari-Taisha

Perhaps the single most impressive sight in all of Kyoto, Fushimi-Inari-Taisha is the head shrine of Inari, located in Fushimi-ku. The shrine sits at the base of a mountain named Inari and includes trails up the mountain to many smaller shrines which span 4 km. It takes approximately 3.5 hours to walk up. If you want to know more about Fushimi Inari check out my post ‘Fushimi Inari Taisha: A Walk Through Southern Kyoto’. 

fushimi inari taisha red torii gates

Day 13 – Nara Day-Trip

Osaka and Kyoto are only a few minutes apart by train, and Nara is only about 45 minutes from either. While there are some neat temples, shrines, castles, and other similar things here in Nara, the real protagonists in this city are definitely deer. The deer here are pretty tame and will probably attack you if you have food, but it’s kinda fun to run from them! Don’t worry, you won’t be stabbed through (most likely!). Places you’ll want to go to in Nara are Todai-ji Temple and Kofuku-ji Temple. More about Nara: The Perfect Day-Trip To Nara

day trip to nara japan

Day 14 – Travel Day

Time to say goodbye to Japan! This is the end of your Japan 2 week itinerary. I hope you had fun! Remember this is only your first trip, though. Now that you’ve gotten all the most popular sights out of the way, your next trip can be filled with strange and unusual places.

BEST TIME TO VISIT JAPAN: SPRING OR FALL?

Spring in Japan is associated with cherry blossoms, that have captivated the hearts of the Japanese people since olden times. The traditional custom of hanami is to visit parks with cherry blossoms and hold sake-drinking parties beneath the cherry trees in full blossom, it’s lovely! Tokyo’s Ueno Park and Nara Park are famous spots for viewing cherry blossoms.

Autumn is also a great time to visit Japan, as there are many temples with gardens where you can enjoy the beautiful autumnal foliage. The greatest charm of sightseeing in Japan is surely the seasonal change.

Anyway, all the seasons have their good points. Sometimes it’s the price, sometimes it’s the festivals, and sometimes it’s the weather. You’ll have to decide what’s most important to you. No matter when you choose though, I’m sure you’ll have a great time!

japanese-bride-nara

HOW TO GET AROUND: PUBLIC TRANSPORT F.A.Q.

Japan Rail Pass: is it worth the money?

There is a lot of debate about whether purchasing a rail pass is the most cost-effective option when traveling by train in Japan. Really, it all comes down to the number of travel days you plan on taking during your trip. For this itinerary, the cheapest option is to purchase point-to-point tickets. If you’re thinking about getting a JR pass, keep in mind that you need to make a reservation from an approved reseller before arriving in Japan and then exchanging it for an actual pass once you arrive.

How to check train schedules & fares in Japan?

If you are looking for the timetables of Shinkansen trains or major limited express trains, you can find them on JR official websites. Otherwise, you can check the timetables on Hyperdia, as it covers all railway lines and domestic flights schedule. This is the best website to help you build your itinerary.

Where / How to buy train tickets in Japan?

You can’t buy individual tickets online, so your only option is to buy them directly at the station. If you’re traveling during peak periods, perhaps it’s best to buy your tickets a few days before your selected departure date. Most stations also have automatic machines where you can quickly buy train tickets yourself. If you have a Japan Rail Pass, there is no need to buy a ticket or reserve your seat in advance, you can immediately board non-reserved cars.

Subway Lines

The subway lines and the JR train lines are the most convenient for moving around central Tokyo, Osaka or Kyoto. They’re spotless, quiet, and nearly always on time.

At all stations, tickets can be purchased from vending machines that accept coins and bills, but sometimes not credit cards. Fares are determined by how far you ride, so you’ll need to select the right fare for your destination. Anyway, a huge variety of day passes is available for the Tokyo, Osaka & Kyoto area, and you should definitely think about buying one. Here are some helpful pdf’s:

Tokyo Subway Map PDF

Osaka Subway Map PDF

Kyoto Subway Map PDF

tokyosubway

HOW MUCH MONEY DO YOU NEED FOR 2 WEEKS IN JAPAN?

Japan has an image of being one of the most expensive countries in the world, and if you’re staying in fancy hotels, eating out, and traveling around a lot, it can be. You can easily spend over $200 USD per day by traveling that way. However, I don’t think a trip to Japan needs to be that expensive.

Buying rail passes, eating relatively cheap food, and visiting a few attractions will cost around $100 USD per day. A 14-day trip would cost at least $1500 USD (plus flight & accommodation).

Transportation $$

Transportation in Japan is so freaking expensive. A train ticket from Osaka to Tokyo can cost around 20,000 JPY, and most of the city metro tickets cost 125-250 JPY for a single journey. In most major cities, you can buy a day pass, which gives you unlimited travel for 24 hours for around 1,000 JPY on select trains.

Activities $

Most temples and museums are free to enter, although some popular attractions cost around 1,250 JPY. The temples in Kyoto can cost up to 620 JPY. Many of the city’s parks are free, so take advantage when you can and spend the day there.

Food $

Surprisingly, I found the food to be inexpensive in Japan. True, I have a sushi addiction, but overall, I found that I was spending far less than I’d anticipated. The fact is, there are many great and cheap places to eat out in Japan! Most restaurant meals cost around 2,000 JPY. Mid-range restaurants can cost around 4,350 JPY. Sushi trains cost between 125-620 JPY per piece. Fast food is around 800 JPY.

japanese-meal

FINAL TIPS

  • There are many different types of accommodations in Japan. If you’re looking for something unique to Japan, try a capsule hotel. For a taste of Japanese culture, temple lodging or a traditional ryokan are the way to go. There are also budget-friendly business hotels, mid-range hotels, and deluxe hotels. Hotel rooms are usually Western-style, maybe a little small, but plenty of amenities are usually provided including slippers, a robe or pajamas, soap, shampoo, combs, and toothbrushes. Almost all hotels have free Wi-Fi available in the rooms.
  • Correct manners are very important among the Japanese. Also as a foreigner in Japan, you should be familiar with at least the most basic rules. Check them out here: Know Before You Go: Japanese Etiquette & Customs.
  • It really helped to have our hotel names and addresses written in Japanese. All our hotel booking confirmations had the Japanese translations, so I would just hand the paper to the cab drivers and they would know where to go.

I hope this Japan 2 week itinerary will help you to make the most of your trip!

Tags: Japan 2 week itinerary; 2 weeks in Japan; Japan for first-timers