1 Week in Japan

Want to visit Japan but don’t think you have enough time? Follow in my footsteps and you’ll be amazed at how much you can see with just 1 week in Japan!

japanmap

Japan is one of my favorite countries I’ve visited, which surprised me! When I lived in Korea, I didn’t even bother going because I thought it would be so similar to Korea. To be honest, I only went because I wanted to go somewhere new in Asia and Japan cost the fewest AAdvantage miles to get to. I am so happy I went! Whether you’re into big cities, culture, food or nature, you will find what you’re looking for in Japan.

This is the exact itinerary I used on my trip and I have included optional changes if you want to tweak your visit to spend more time in a city or visit a different area nearby. I arrived in Japan on a Saturday and departed the following Sunday, for a total of 8 nights.

 

Tokyo-Nagano-Kyoto-Hiroshima-Tokyo

 

Days 1-3: Tokyo

Tokyo is Japan’s capital and one of the most energetic cities I’ve ever been to. There is so much to do and see in Tokyo and each neighborhood is unique and you could easily spend a day in every area.

shinjuku

The bright lights of Shinjuku’s Kabukicho area

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

A must-see in Tokyo is Meiji Shrine, which is a giant temple complex in the middle of a park in the heart of the city. If you’re lucky, you might get to watch a traditional Japanese wedding procession!meijimeijiwedding

We also walked to Shibuya Crossing, which is truly a sight to behold. Known as the ‘Shibuya Scramble’, this is the world’s busiest intersection. When the stop lights turn red, thousands of pedestrians cross the roads from every direction. If you want to see it from a bird’s eye view, find the Starbucks on the second floor of the all glass building on the right of this picture and watch the crossing from above.shibuyaYou can’t leave Tokyo without experiencing the world famous Robot Restaurant in Shinjuku. It’s a bit pricey but the crazy show is worth the yen. Part musical, part dance, part robot, the Robot Restaurant is probably the most uniquely Japanese show you’ll experience. Have the front desk of your hotel call to make reservations or you probably won’t be able to get in. There’s a guy outside with a clipboard and you aren’t allowed inside unless your name is on the list. Also, our tickets did not come with the bento box that some other people got, I think if you want food you have to pay extra. My advice would be to eat before or after as nobody appeared to like the food in the bento box. You can buy small snacks during intermission between acts if you get hungry.

robot

robot2robot3robot5

If you want to really get a feel for how huge Tokyo actually is, head to either Tokyo Tower or Tokyo Skytree. Both towers offer observation decks where you can view the city in every direction. I went to Tokyo Tower, which has the added bonus of having Zojoji Temple right next to it. This was our favorite temple in Tokyo because it had a lot of statues and shrines to photograph.

zojoji

zojoji2zojoji3

Tokyo Tower has 2 observation decks: The Main Observatory and the Special Observatory. You can buy tickets for one or both of them.

tokyotower

We went to the main observatory and the view was spectacular. On a clear day you can see all the way to Mt. Fuji. Unfortunately for us, Typhoon Vongfong was approaching the city when we went so visibility was reduced, but we were still able to see a lot.

tokyotower2

Day 4: Day trip to Nagano (or use Day 4 as an extra day in Tokyo or to take an excursion to Mt. Fuji)

With our JR rail passes, we took a day trip up to Nagano. We were on a mission to see monkeys. After a 90 minute train ride and a 45 minute bus ride, we arrived at the Jigokudani Monkey Park. This was my favorite day in Japan and you can read more about it by clicking here. If you love monkeys like I do, this might be one of your favorite travel experiences ever! The hot springs are home to dozens of wild snow monkeys who like to soak in the spring when the weather is cold.

monkey

Day 5 and 6: Kyoto

No Japan trip is complete without visiting the ancient capital of Kyoto. There are many trains per hour between Kyoto and Tokyo and the journey takes about 2 hours and 20 minutes. We arrived in Kyoto around lunchtime and headed down to the Gion district. Our first stop was Yasaka Shrine, which apparently is a popular place for dressing up in kimonos and being photographed. I felt a bit out of place because I wasn’t wearing one!

kyoto

Later, we saw a geisha show at the theater house called Gion Corner. Gion is the area where the geisha are usually spotted, however they can be elusive and many people leave Kyoto without seeing one. Gion Corner gives you the opportunity to see a traditional Geisha performance, as well as other traditional Japanese ceremonies and cultural skits. The tickets were $25 and you have to line up and wait for the tickets as you cannot book in advance. The show was average. The highlight, of course, was the Geisha dancing, but the rest was a bit anticlimactic. But since we didn’t manage to see a geisha on the street, I was glad we were able to at least see one at Gion Corner.geisha

Kyoto is home to Japan’s most famous shrine called Fushimi Inari. The mountain path is lined with thousands of orange torii gates. It is seriously impressive. The walk is not strenuous and, although there are tons and tons of people there, you will have the opportunity to take some really beautiful pictures.

fushimiinarifushimiinari2

If you didn’t make it to Jigokudani Monkey Park but still want to see monkeys, there is a place in Kyoto called Iwatayama Monkey Park where wild (but extremely tame) monkeys live. We decided to go because apparently we had not seen enough monkeys on this trip. If you go here, please note that it’s a bit of a hike to get to the monkeys. And by a bit of a hike, I mean you have to hike up to the top of a mountain. The hike takes about 30 minutes and it can be quite steep. Once you’re up there, you will be treated to amazing views of the city and lots and lots of monkeys.

kyotoviewmonkeyview

Unlike the monkeys in Nagano, you can pay to feed the monkeys here and they’ll literally eat out of your hand (although you are inside a wooden structure so they won’t attack you for the food). Some of the monkeys here were quite aggressive and would charge at you if you got too close. I much preferred the monkeys in Nagano.

monkeyhandMy favorite part of Kyoto was the Arashiyama bamboo forest. We actually went here twice: once around lunchtime and once at dusk. When we went earlier in the day, I was very disappointed. There were thousands of people walking around, including multiple tour groups. It was not at all peaceful. Then we passed by the entrance on the way back to the train and Husband and I decided to try it again to see if there would be less people. It was so amazing.bambooThere were hardly any people around and you could hear birds and the creaking of the bamboo in the wind. There’s also a few temples located in the forest and we could hear gongs every now and then. We stayed in the forest until it started getting really dark, then stopped at a little glowing shrine on the way out.bambooshrine

Day 7: Hiroshima (or use Day 7 to see more of Kyoto as well as Nara)

By day 7 we were templed out. There are a lot of temples to see in Kyoto, but we wanted a change of pace, so we took the Shinkansen bullet train 100 minutes away for a day trip to Hiroshima. The cool thing about Hiroshima is that, if you have a JR passes, you can ride the bus for free! The bus loop is right outside of Hiroshima Station and you’ll have to exit the station via sliding doors that lead to escalators, which lead to a hotel lobby. It sounds confusing, but if you look for this, you probably won’t spend almost 2 hours of your day trying to find the bus on the wrong side of the station like we did! The bus takes you around to all of the major tourist attractions and you can get on and off as many times as you’d like. We took the bus to Peace Memorial Park stop, which is right in the middle of the A-bomb Dome and the Peace Memorial Park and Museum.

hiroshima

, The only surviving structure after the atomic bomb was dropped on Hiroshima

The Hiroshima Peace Memorial Museum is about a 5 minute walk from the A-bomb Dome. Admission is only 50 yen (About $0.41 US) and it was moving and haunting. You will see destroyed artifacts that used to belong to people in the area, including children’s clothes, bikes, lunchboxes, books etc. There’s a section of a wall that is streaked with black stains from the black acid rain that fell after the blast. There are paper cranes made by Sadako Sasaki, a child made famous by the book Sadako and the Thousand Paper Cranes. Sadako was diagnosed with leukemia from the bomb radiation and she made thousands of paper cranes, hoping that if she made enough she would be granted her wish, which was to survive the cancer.sadakocranes2After the museum, we took a short bus ride to Hiroshima Castle. The original was destroyed by the bomb but the city has created an exact replica of the castle and grounds.castle

 

Optional Hiroshima extra: If you have the time and/or energy, you can take a ferry from Hiroshima to Mayajima Island to see the famous Itsukushima Shrine. When the tide is high it appears to be floating. We didn’t do this because we were tired and still had a long journey back to Kyoto. However, if you wanted to you could also stay the night in Hiroshima and see the shrine lit up in the evening.

Itsukushima Shrine torii gate

Day 8: Kyoto and Tokyo

Before we left Kyoto, we woke up in the morning and walked to Toji Temple, which is only a few blocks away from Kyoto Station. Toji Temple is home to Japan’s tallest pagoda, and also a very nice Japanese garden and temples with ornate shrines inside, which you are not allowed to photograph.

toji

We took the Shinkansen back to Tokyo in time for us to eat at the absolutely fantastic Sushi Bar Yasuda, which I wrote about in detail on my post about food in Japan. Click here to read it. The restaurant was featured in an episode of Anthony Bourdaine’s show Parts Unknown. Tokyo is famous for its amazing sushi restaurants. If you plan to eat at one of the famous restaurants, please make reservations well in advance as some have waiting lists of one month. We were lucky to have gotten in the week we were there, and it was only because someone was sick and had to cancel.

sushi3

 

After dinner, we took the Narita Express train to the airport and slept in a nearby hotel, then departed Japan the next day.

Travel Tips:

  • If you plan to visit more than one city in Japan, buy a JR pass before you go. You cannot get them in Japan.  The passes are good for unlimited rides and you can get them for 1-3 weeks in length. I bought my pass from JTB USA and they arrived quickly. Click here to go to their website.
  • When booking hotels in Japan, check out the site Agoda.com. I compared prices from Agoda to those found on US based travel sites and Agoda was always the cheapest.

 

Have you traveled Japan on a similar itinerary? Would you add anything to this itinerary? What was your favorite part of your Japan travels?

 

photo by:

9 comments

Skip to comment form

    • etrigg on September 25, 2015 at 9:00 am

    Hey, nice post!
    If you like to know where to find upcoming events and things to do while on the go you should check out etrigg. As an example see the Upcoming Events page for Tokyo: etrigg.com/upcoming/tokyo
    The site helps a lot with finding meetups, happy hours, concerts, sports events, seminars, conferences and much more without the need of an app download or browsing around on slow loading sites with a mobile device 🙂

  1. Handy data. Privileged everyone I ran across your website inadvertently, and I am surprised the key reason why the following automobile accident decided not to occurred previous! My spouse and i saved that narra park residences.

    • Lea on February 21, 2016 at 4:53 pm

    This looks great! Thank you!

    • Karin on February 29, 2016 at 5:29 pm

    Where did you stay? Did you stay in one hotel?
    Or did you stay at a hotel in the different places you visited?
    How much was your whole Japan trip?
    I’m looking to go to Japan, but afraid of the language barrier.
    The last time I was there at a 7hr layover, I got lost because no one spoke a lick of English.

    1. Hi Karin!
      We stayed in several places as we moved around the country. The hotel we stayed at in Tokyo was called the Shinjuku Granbell Hotel. I don’t remember where we stayed in Kyoto or near the airport. We spent approx. $2,000 for the week, not including plane tickets (which were less than $100 because we used miles). The language barrier definitely exists, but it’s not too hard getting around the big cities. Pretty much all of the signs are in Japanese and English and a lot of people in the tourist areas, train stations and big hotels will speak English if you need help. Don’t let that stop you from going! Japan is fantastic!

    • Nikhil on March 22, 2016 at 3:46 am

    Hi Katrina,

    Wonderfull post. We have recently booked our flights to Japan for 9 days in October 16 and we will probably check out out a few of the things you have mentioned here. When did you activate the JR Pass? Immediately on arrival or a bit later?

    1. Hey Nikhil! We activated our JR passes 2 days after arriving in Tokyo…we didn’t realize how much of the Tokyo metro we could use with them or we would have done it sooner!

    • sahil jain on April 24, 2016 at 2:02 am

    hey is there any package for 1 week in japan ??? i want to go in golden week !!

      • adrenalynn on May 30, 2016 at 2:36 am

      We just came back from Japan during Golden Week. We didn’t know before buying tickets. It’s not as bad as people say but definitely lots of people everywhere – to a point that some sites that you need to pre-purchase tickets are sold out. Also, it was hard to figure out what buildings are open and when because some are on Golden Week schedule.

      Not sure why you really want Golden Week since it’s also pricey-er. We only managed to check out 1 festival, and it was by chance in Fukuoka.

Comments have been disabled.