I won’t lie, I was very unorganised when I arrived in Japan. By very unorganised I mean I had a flight booked in and out of Tokyo and a 2 week Japan Rail Pass ticket but had not done any research on where I wanted to go or what I wanted to do. Before my trip to Japan, I was travelling in China and I was so busy trying to figure China out that I never got a chance to do any research on Japan.
After a crazy couple of days in Tokyo, I jumped on the Shinkansen to Kyoto where I finally knuckled down to make a plan for my time in Japan. I was planning on meeting some friends at Mt. Fuji towards the end of my two weeks so a trip to Fuji was on my to-do list. I had always wanted to visit Kyoto and Hiroshima so they were definitely to be on my to-do list too! While researching destinations I came across a picture of Shirakawa Go and instantly added it to the list. Looking to get a bit of hiking done and always up for a visit to the mountains I decided that a couple of days in the Japanese Alps was going to feature. This would also allow me to stop and check out Matsumoto and the castle.
The itinerary I created effectively looped me back around towards Tokyo. It makes more sense to stop at Mt. Fuji before going to Kyoto but I was bound by a commitment to be there on a certain date which is why it features later. If you are planning on following this itinerary consider either stopping at Mt. Fuji on your way to Kyoto or doing the itinerary in reverse.
Just a gentle warning for some of you more relaxed travellers, I always like to stay on the go and try to fit in as much as I can when I’m only in a country for a short while. While I hope to get back to Japan one day I knew that that day mightn’t come for some time so I planned a pretty action-packed two weeks. I also wanted to take full advantage of the JR pass. If this itinerary is too busy for you or you would like to spend more time in a certain location you could consider missing one of the locations I visited or spending less time in Tokyo.
Day 1 & 2
Arrive in Tokyo and activate your Japan Rail Pass. Check into your accommodation and spend the rest of your day sightseeing. There are endless amounts of things to do while you’re in Tokyo but here are a few suggestions of some of the top things to do on your visit.
Shibuya Scramble Crossing - check out the busiest street crossing in the world.
Harajuku - Harajuku is renowned for colourful street art and quirky youth fashion
Tsukiji Fish Market - If fish markets are your thing then a visit here is a must.
Zojoji Temple - A Buddhist temple that stands next to the Tokyo Tower
Meiji-Jingu Shrine - is a Shinto shrine that is located in Shibuya
Sensoji Temple - is an ancient Buddhist temple located in Asakusa
Visit traditional Japanese gardens - There are many traditional gardens located in central Tokyo
Robot Restaurant - Theme restaurant featuring a raucous pop-culture show with robotic monsters, dancers & lasers.
Tokyo Skytree - get some breathtaking views in the world’s tallest tower.
A baseball game at the Tokyo Dome - Baseball is probably the most popular and loved sport in Japan.
Drink your way around Golden Gai -For a traditional Japanese experience head to Golden Gai which is made up nearly 300 mini bars and restaurants
Eat your way around Tokyo - Tokyo has more Michelin star restaurants than any other city in the world.
Train to Kyoto
If you’re upset or not ready to leave Tokyo, fear not, you’ll return towards the end of your trip. Today I recommend getting up early, the earlier the better and taking the Shinkansen to Kyoto. Arriving in the morning will allow you to spend the day exploring Kyoto.
You will use Kyoto as your base to visit Osaka and Hiroshima so book to stay in Kyoto for three nights.
Day trip to Hiroshima
Today will be another early start. Catch a morning Shinkansen from Kyoto to Hiroshima. This will take approximately 2 hrs and 40 minutes. Spend the remainder of the morning and early afternoon checking out the Atomic Dome Site, the Hiroshima Castle and the museum. Depending on your interests you may want to spend more time in Hiroshima, or take a train to Himeji and check out the Himeji Castle and enjoy the sunset there. The Himeji Castle was very impressive and is definitely worth stopping off and checking out on your way back but if you’re a history buff or museum lover you may want to spend extra time in Hiroshima.
For me I really enjoyed my the time I had in Hiroshima, it wasn’t much but I felt like I saw the best bits, I mainly wanted to see the Atomic Dome Site, visiting the Hiroshima Castle was a bonus I hadn’t planned on doing, you can get some pretty nice views from the top. To get around Hiroshima quicker you can either use the public tram service or jump in a taxi.
Day in Osaka
Take an early morning Shinkansen to Kyoto. Travel time is approximate 2hrs 15 mins. Spend the day exploring Osaka, make sure you check out Dotonbori and Osaka Castle. Osaka is famous for its food so make sure you sample all of the local delights! Stick around and enjoy an evening meal and witness the city lit up at night before heading back to Kyoto for the night.
A day in Kyoto
Today you will spend another day exploring the beauty of Kyoto. Again today is an action-packed day so I would advise waking early. Click here for today's itinerary
Take a late evening train to Kanazawa. The train takes approximately 3 hours from Kyoto. Check in to your accommodation and get a good night's rest.
A day in Kanazawa
Kanazawa is a city that pleasantly surprised me. Originally my only reason for stopping here was to take a bus to Shirakawa-Go. I only got around to booking the bus to Shirakawa-Go on my way to Kanazawa and just my luck it was full for the following day, which messed up the itinerary I had worked out early in the week. I was pretty bummed out about losing a day but decided to make the most out of my visit to Kanazawa and booked the bus for the day after. Every cloud has a silver lining and in this case, Kanazawa was the silver lining. It didn’t take long for me to realise that Kanazawa was well worth visiting and I highly recommend spending a day here if you are passing through to Shirakawa-Go. I stayed at Neighbours Inn who offered a free bike rental service which was a great way to explore the city. The Kenroku-en (Japanese style gardens) are breathtaking, as is the Kanazawa Castle and its grounds. The 21st Century Museum of Contemporary Art was a cool way to spend a couple of hours and there is lots of amazing food to be had at the Omicho Market.
Day trip to Shirakawa-Go
Read my guide to visiting Shirakawa-Go.
Take the last bus from Shirakawa-Go back to Kanazawa station. From the station take a train to Matsumoto and check into your chosen accommodation.
Castle in the morning, transport to the mountains in the evening.
Wake early and enjoy a morning checking out the Matsumoto Castle. I recommend going in and checking it out from the inside too. In the afternoon you are going to head into the Japanese Alps. To do so you must take the Matsumoto Railway (Kamikochi line) to Shinshimashima Station. At Shinshimashima Station you will find the Alpico Group office. Here you can buy a three-day bus pass for their bus service.
(it is worth noting that the train to Shinshimashima Station and the buses provided by Alpico Group are NOT included in your Japan Rail Pass and must be paid for separately)
The bus will take you directly into the mountains and you can organise with your chosen accommodation to collect you from the bus stop nearest to them. I stayed with the Japanese Hotspring Guesthouse Raicho Hostel. Enjoy the rest of the evening relaxing in your accommodation, most accommodation options will have private onsens for you to enjoy.
Day in the mountains.
Click here to read my guide to Kamikochi
Spend the morning and early afternoon in the mountains before taking the bus back to the Shinshimashima train station. From the Shinshimashima train take a train to Mt Fuji Station. You will have to take four different trains from Shinshimashima to arrive at Fuji Station and this will take you approximately 3 hours and 45 minutes to 4 hours and 15 minutes depending on transfer times.
A day around Mt. Fuji
Depending on the time of the year and depending on your interests you may want to hike Mt. Fuji. This would involve an early start if you want to complete it in a day. I have read about a hut you can stay in but I haven’t personally done the hike so I can’t comment.
I arrived outside of hiking season so instead of climbing the mountain we spent the day exploring Lake Kawaguchiko. We rented bikes and cycled around the lake. As you cycle around the lake you’ll get some great views of Mt. Fuji and plenty of photo opportunities. A highlight of our day was stopping at cafe Mimi for a nice bottle of wine with a killer view.
Tonight you can decide to spend another night at Fujiyoshida or take a train into Tokyo. The journey to Tokyo should take approximately 2 hours and 15 minutes although times may be longer depending on transfers.
A day in Tokyo
Spend the day sightseeing in Tokyo, referring to suggestions earlier in the itinerary,
Leave Japan :(
Fly onwards to your next destination. If you’re lucky you may have a late flight and get to spend some last hours in Tokyo.