The Ultimate Japan Travel Itinerary for First Timers: 2 Weeks in Japan

In this article we aim to uncover the perfect 2 week itinerary for first timers in Japan. We aim to arm you with the right tools and advice to help you explore Japan with confidence.

Join us as we embark on an exploration of this enchanting archipelago, where the old and the new converge to create an unforgettable travel experience.

Planning a Trip to Japan

They say when the old Gods decided to make this world they dipped a coral blade into the ocean and when they pulled it out four perfect drops fell back into the sea. Those four drops became the islands of Japan.

If you are planning a trip to Japan we suggest you start fairly early. This is because you want to be sure you get the best experience whilst you are there and don’t miss anything on your to do list.

As an idea, we booked our trip 9 months before and planning took a few good weeks if not months. The main issue we found was the general lack of content available.

Another thing worth mentioning is that in Japan very few people speak any English. This is important to note, as when you arrive there, chances of “winging it” will be slim. Hence it’s very important you come with your plan ready.

Considering most of you will be travelling from far away, it’s best to consider travel insurance for your Japan trip. Japan’s health insurance system does not cover tourists and other short-term travellers to the country.

Japan Travel Requirements

Before heading off to Japan it’s worth looking whether a visa is required. You can check this on the Japanese Ministry of External Affairs here.

If you are visiting Japan, your passport should be valid for the duration of your stay. No additional period of validity beyond this is required. Check with your travel provider to make sure your passport and other travel documents meet their requirements.

The use or possession of some common prescription and over-the-counter medicines is banned under Japan’s strictly enforced anti-stimulant drugs law.

This includes Vicks inhalers, medicines for allergies and sinus problems, cold and flu medication containing Pseudoephedrine and even some over-the-counter painkillers like those containing codeine.

Foreign nationals have been detained and deported for offences. You should check the status of your medication with the nearest Japanese Embassy or Consulate before you travel.

Travelling To and Around Japan

Japan is accessible either via air or sea. We believe most of you will be coming in by plane either via Osaka or most likely via Tokyo.

We’ve often seen well priced flights from London. If you are looking for suitable flight options, make sure to check out this article with top tips on how to find cheap flights.

Considering the cost to travel to Japan we strongly encourage you consider a 2 week itinerary, unless you live already in Asia where doing ad-hoc Japanese city breaks could be possible.

Once you arrive in Japan, we suggest you consider looking into traveling within the country itself. It would be advisable to download a Japan trip planner app such as Wanderlog to help you map your itinerary.

Once you map out your itinerary it’s best to consider transport options. We used public transport such as metro, trains and bullet trains. We encourage you to do the same however, your circumstances may vary.

We found that the JR Pass was an excellent option to move around the country. It allows you to use any JR trains or buses but more importantly, it gives you access to the famous Japanese bullet trains called Shinkansen.

Book: JR Pass

There are plenty of online calculators to see whether the pass is viable or not however, the calculations will be based on some price ranges. We suggest you do it the old methodical way with a spreadsheet, which is what we did.

To do that, you will need to use the Japan Train Planner App called Jorudan. Select the trains you wish to travel with and note down the prices. Then compare and see if the JR Pass is viable for your trip.

If you plan to follow our 14 day Japan itinerary, the 7 days JR pass is still a viable option if travelling with the Shinkansen where possible.

Best Time to Travel to Japan

Choosing the right time for your trip to Japan is crucial for a truly enchanting experience, as each season unveils a different facet of the country’s beauty. Here’s a brief guide to help you plan the perfect Japanese adventure:

  • Spring (March to May)Cherry Blossom Season: Spring is arguably the most popular time to visit Japan. Cherry blossoms, or sakura, blanket the country in delicate hues of pink, creating a breathtaking spectacle. This period varies annually but usually occurs in late March to early April.
  • Summer (June to August)Festivals and Fireworks: Summer brings vibrant festivals, lively street parades, and spectacular fireworks displays. While it can be hot and humid, especially in July and August, this season offers a lively atmosphere and a chance to partake in traditional summer celebrations.
  • Autumn (September to November)Foliage and Mild Weather: Autumn paints Japan in warm hues of red and gold as the leaves change colour. The weather is generally mild, making it a pleasant time for outdoor activities. Popular spots for autumn foliage include Kyoto and Nikko.
  • Winter (December to February)Snow-Covered Landscapes: Winter in Japan brings a serene beauty, especially in regions like Hokkaido where you can enjoy winter sports. The illuminations in cities like Tokyo and Osaka add a magical touch to the season. Be sure to pack warmly, especially if you plan to explore the northern regions.

Choosing the best time depends on your preferences and the experiences you seek. Consider the unique charm each season brings to tailor your visit to match your ideal Japanese adventure.

We chose to travel in November and enjoy the autumn colours in Japan.

Two Week Japan Travel Itinerary

Map thanks to Wanderlog, a road trip planner on iOS and Android

Our itinerary starts from Tokyo and ends in Osaka with Osaka being a travel base for Western Japan. We chose this because we felt using the Shinkansen was a good way to move fast and we could just leave our luggage in our hotel in Osaka.

We also chose to return to Tokyo for our return flight as the prices were a little bit cheaper and we made use of the JR Pass till the last day in this way. Above is an interactive map of our trip and below we highlight per day some of the cities and top things to consider visiting.

If you plan to do the same itinerary a 7 day JR Pass would be sufficient. We will also assume that 3 of the days from your 14 day itinerary in Japan will be dedicated to flying.

Days 1-3: Tokyo

Tokyo, a city where ancient traditions meet futuristic innovation, creating a dynamic tapestry of experiences for every traveller. As one of the world’s most electrifying metropolises, Tokyo beckons with its skyscrapers, bustling neighbourhoods, and a cultural richness that seamlessly intertwines the old and the new.

  • Tokyo Skytree: Piercing the skyline at 634 meters, the Tokyo Skytree stands as a testament to the city’s modern architectural prowess. Offering panoramic views of Tokyo and beyond, a visit to its observation decks is a breathtaking introduction to the vastness of this urban landscape.
  • Senso-ji Temple in Asakusa: Step into Tokyo’s historic past with a visit to Senso-ji, Tokyo’s oldest temple nestled in the charming Asakusa district. The Thunder Gate, Nakamise Shopping Street, and the iconic Kaminarimon Gate are just a few of the highlights that make this spiritual sanctuary a must-visit cultural landmark.
  • Shibuya Crossing: A symbol of Tokyo’s energetic and bustling urban life, Shibuya Crossing is an iconic pedestrian scramble. Join the tidal wave of humanity as you navigate the crosswalk surrounded by neon lights, giant screens, and the vibrant energy of Shibuya, a district famous for its fashion and entertainment.
  • Meiji Shrine in Shibuya: Find serenity amidst the urban chaos by exploring the Meiji Shrine, nestled in the lush greenery of Yoyogi Park. Dedicated to Emperor Meiji and Empress Shoken, this tranquil Shinto shrine provides a peaceful escape, inviting visitors to partake in traditional rituals and admire the stunning architecture.
  • Akihabara: Akihabara is a treasure trove of anime merchandise, retro video games, and the latest electronics, making it a mecca for those seeking a unique blend of modern subculture and technological innovation in the heart of Tokyo.

Tokyo is a city that never sleeps, and as you explore its vibrant neighbourhoods, you’ll discover a metropolis that effortlessly balances its rich heritage with a forward-thinking spirit.

Where to stay in Tokyo: Hotel Tokyu Stay Ginza

Day 4: Hakone

Nestled in the embrace of nature, Hakone is a tranquil escape just a stone’s throw away from the vibrant pulse of Tokyo.

Renowned for its hot springs, breathtaking landscapes, and cultural treasures, this charming town offers a serene retreat for those seeking relaxation and rejuvenation.

Our top recommendations for this place are:

  • Hakone Open-Air Museum: Immerse yourself in a harmonious blend of art and nature at the Hakone Open-Air Museum. Scattered across beautifully landscaped grounds, this outdoor gallery showcases a diverse collection of sculptures and artworks, inviting visitors to appreciate creativity in the midst of Hakone’s scenic beauty.
  • Hakone Ropeway and Owakudani: Soar above Hakone’s lush valleys on the Hakone Ropeway, granting panoramic views of the surrounding mountains. Ascend to Owakudani, a volcanic valley known for its active sulphur vents and hot springs. Here, you can savour the iconic black eggs, boiled in the natural hot springs and said to add years to your life.
  • Lake Ashi and Hakone Shrine: Discover tranquillity by the shores of Lake Ashi, a pristine crater lake set against the backdrop of Mt. Fuji. Cruise across its serene waters, enjoying stunning views of the iconic volcano. On the lake’s edge, Hakone Shrine stands with its vermillion torii gate, offering a spiritual ambiance amid the picturesque landscape.
  • Stay at a Ryokan: These traditional inns offer a glimpse into Japan’s rich heritage, featuring tatami mat rooms, sliding paper doors, and the soothing ambiance of natural surroundings. Guests can savor kaiseki meals, a multi-course feast showcasing seasonal delicacies, and luxuriate in communal baths adorned with picturesque outdoor settings.

Whether you seek relaxation or adventure, Hakone offers a perfect blend of both, making it an idyllic retreat for those looking to escape the urban bustle.

For us it also revealed the amazing experience of sleeping in a Japanese Ryokan (traditional Japanese inn) with the amazing hospitality that it entails.

Where to stay in Hakone: Mount View Hakone

Days 5-7: Kyoto

Kyoto, the cultural gem of Japan where time seems to stand still, and every cobblestone street whispers tales of ancient elegance. This city, steeped in history, is a living canvas that beautifully preserves Japan’s traditional arts, architecture, and customs. Here is a sneak peak of what Kyoto has to offer:

  • Fushimi Inari Taisha: Begin your Kyoto adventure at the iconic Fushimi Inari Taisha, a shrine famous for its thousands of vibrant red torii gates that form a mesmerizing path up the sacred Mount Inari. The spiritual ambiance, coupled with the stunning forested surroundings, creates an unforgettable experience.
  • Kinkaku-ji (The Golden Pavilion): A testament to Kyoto’s architectural splendour, Kinkaku-ji glistens on the edge of a reflective pond. Covered in gold leaf, this Zen Buddhist temple is a captivating sight, surrounded by meticulously manicured gardens that change with the seasons, providing a tranquil escape.
  • Gion District: Step into the world of traditional Japan in the historic Gion district, renowned for its well-preserved machiya (traditional wooden townhouses) and teahouses. Gion is also famous for its geisha culture, and you might catch a glimpse of these iconic figures gracefully moving through the narrow streets.
  • Kiyomizu-dera: Perched on a hillside, Kiyomizu-dera offers breathtaking views of Kyoto and beyond. The wooden terrace, supported by wooden pillars without a single nail, extends over the hillside, creating an awe-inspiring vista. Visit during cherry blossom season for a magical spectacle.
  • Bamboo forest: A visit to this surreal landscape is a journey into tranquility, where the sheer scale and grace of the bamboo create a meditative atmosphere, making it one of Kyoto’s most captivating and photogenic destinations.
  • Arashiyama Monkey Park: As you ascend to the mountaintop, you’ll encounter a troop of Japanese macaques, freely roaming within a designated area. Surrounded by panoramic views of Kyoto and the Hozugawa River, visitors can observe these playful monkeys up close, witnessing their natural behaviors in a semi-wild environment.

Kyoto, with its blend of cultural richness and natural beauty, invites you to wander through its historic districts, partake in traditional tea ceremonies, and savour the timeless beauty of its temples and gardens.

Each corner of Kyoto tells a story, and as you explore, you’ll find yourself transported to a bygone era, where the essence of Japan’s heritage is lovingly preserved. Kyoto should definitely figure on your Japan itinerary.

Where to stay in Kyoto: Ala Hotel Kyoto

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Day 8: Day Trip to Nara & Osaka

Nara, a city steeped in ancient grace and serenity, where history whispers through the rustling leaves and sacred deer roam freely. As Japan’s first permanent capital, Nara boasts a wealth of cultural treasures that transport visitors to a bygone era.

We suggest you explore Nara throughout the day and in the evening head back to Osaka to the Dotonbori District to experience the city by night.

  • Nara Park: Begin your Nara adventure in the expansive Nara Park, where friendly deer, considered messengers of the gods, freely roam the grounds. You can interact with these gentle creatures, purchase deer crackers to feed them, and witness the harmonious coexistence between nature and tradition.
  • Todai-ji Temple: Dominating the landscape, Todai-ji is home to the awe-inspiring Daibutsu, or Great Buddha – one of the largest bronze statues of Buddha in the world. Enter the Daibutsuden (Great Buddha Hall) to marvel at the colossal statue and experience the spiritual atmosphere within this UNESCO World Heritage site.
  • Kasuga Taisha Shrine: Delve into Nara’s spiritual legacy at Kasuga Taisha, a Shinto shrine known for its enchanting lantern-lined paths. The shrine’s architecture, surrounded by lush forest, creates a mystical ambiance, and you can explore the atmospheric setting of over 3,000 lanterns, both stone and bronze.

Nara, with its tranquil parks, majestic temples, and cultural treasures, invites you to step into a world where the past gracefully meets the present. Wander through ancient pathways, encounter sacred deer, and feel the spiritual energy that permeates every corner of this historic city.

As you explore Nara, you’ll find yourself transported to a time when reverence for nature and tradition laid the foundation for Japan’s rich cultural tapestry.

  • Osaka Dotonbori: As one of Osaka’s most iconic and bustling areas, Dotonbori is a sensory feast that captivates visitors with its lively atmosphere, delectable street food, and eclectic entertainment.

As you wrap up your day finish with a takoyaki in Osaka’s Dotonbori district and why not enjoy a cruise on Dotonbori river.

Day 9: Day Trip to Hiroshima & Miyajima

Hiroshima, known for its resilience after the devastation of World War II, now stands as a testament to peace and renewal. Miyajima Island, just a short ferry ride away, adds a touch of magic with its iconic torii gate and serene landscapes.

Here are our top picks for Hiroshima and Miyajima:

  • Hiroshima Peace Memorial Park: Begin your exploration in Hiroshima at the Peace Memorial Park, a place of reflection and remembrance. The park is home to the iconic Atomic Bomb Dome, a UNESCO World Heritage site that stands as a poignant reminder of the city’s history. You can also explore the Peace Memorial Museum, which offers a moving and informative experience about the events of 1945.
  • Hiroshima Castle: Explore Hiroshima’s historical legacy at Hiroshima Castle, a reconstructed castle that offers a glimpse into the city’s samurai past. The castle grounds are adorned with cherry blossoms in spring, creating a serene backdrop for a leisurely stroll.
  • Miyajima’s Floating Torii Gate: A short ferry ride from Hiroshima takes you to Miyajima Island, famed for its “floating” torii gate at Itsukushima Shrine. Set against the backdrop of Mount Misen, this iconic vermilion gate appears to float during high tide, creating a scene of breathtaking beauty. The island itself is a haven of tranquillity, with wandering deer and picturesque shrines.

Hiroshima and Miyajima Island combine historical significance with natural beauty, providing a profound and captivating travel experience.

Whether you’re contemplating peace in Hiroshima, marvelling at the floating torii gate, or embracing the serenity atop Mount Misen, this duo of destinations promises a journey that is both poignant and picturesque.

Day 10: Day Trip to Himeji & Osaka

Himeji offers a captivating blend of cultural heritage and natural beauty. We suggest you split your day and allocate the morning for Himeji and the afternoon for Osaka’s Shinsekai District to make good use of time:

  • Himeji Castle: Dominating the city skyline, Himeji Castle stands as Japan’s most iconic and well-preserved feudal castle. A UNESCO World Heritage site, this white fortress with its intricate wooden structures and defensive features is a masterpiece of medieval architecture. Take a journey through time as you climb the castle’s steep staircases and enjoy panoramic views of the city.
  • Koko-en Garden: Adjacent to Himeji Castle is the enchanting Koko-en Garden, a series of nine distinct gardens designed in the Edo Period style. Wandering through these meticulously landscaped gardens, you can appreciate the tranquillity of traditional Japanese aesthetics, complete with ponds, teahouses, and vibrant seasonal flora.
  • Osaka Shinsekai District: A vibrant neighbourhood that pulsates with retro charm and modern flair. Initially developed in the early 20th century as a futuristic utopia, Shinsekai (“New World”) has evolved into a lively entertainment area with a unique blend of nostalgia and contemporary excitement. Characterized by its iconic Tsutenkaku Tower, which offers panoramic views of the city.

Himeji invites you to stroll through its castle grounds, savour the tranquillity of traditional gardens, and uncover the layers of history woven into its architectural treasures.

Day 11: Osaka

As the heart of Japan’s Kansai region, Osaka beckons travellers with its vibrant street life, historic landmarks, and a culinary scene that rivals any in the country.

  • Osaka Castle: Embark on a historical odyssey at Osaka Castle, a formidable symbol of Japan’s samurai heritage. Surrounded by lush gardens and moats, the castle’s majestic façade invites you to delve into its storied past and enjoy panoramic views of the city from its observation deck.
  • Shitenno-ji Temple: Immerse yourself in spirituality at Shitenno-ji, Japan’s oldest Buddhist temple. Founded in 593 AD, this serene sanctuary offers a peaceful escape from the urban bustle. Explore the temple grounds, admire traditional architecture, and partake in moments of reflection amidst beautiful gardens.
  • Kuromon Ichiba Market: Satiate your culinary curiosity at Kuromon Ichiba Market, Osaka’s gastronomic paradise. This bustling market boasts a kaleidoscope of fresh produce, seafood, and street snacks. Engage your senses as you sample local delicacies like takoyaki (octopus balls) and okonomiyaki (savoury pancakes).

Osaka, with its friendly locals, historic landmarks, and a gastronomic scene that caters to every palate, promises a dynamic adventure. From the serenity of ancient temples to the electric energy of bustling districts, Osaka invites you to experience the myriad facets of Japanese culture in one captivating city.

Where to stay in Osaka: karaksa hotel grande Shin-Osaka Tower

Practical Tips

When planning such an ambitious trip it’s worth considering a few tips that helped us during our trip. Below we will cover everything from data to useful apps to make your trip more manageable.

Mobile Data in Japan

Japanese sim cards for travellers are fairly easy to acquire and we even found that eSIMs are also very cheap. We used Airalo eSIM for internet. For the above trip for two people we think 20 GB are more than enough.

If your phone doesn’t support eSIMs, you could also consider this Japan pocket Wi-Fi.

Booking Attractions in Japan

When considering booking attractions, we found that Klook is a far better choice than other providers. They are based in Hong Kong and offer a very good selection of tickets and experiences at great prices.

Otherwise there are plenty of organised tours via Travel Agencies that specialise in Japan. The benefit of them is that they take care of everything and you just enjoy the trip.

Useful Applications whilst in Japan

Some useful apps for your Japan trip would be:

  • Klook – Find discounted attraction tickets, tours with unique experiences, and more! Join local day tours to visit spectacular sights and go on delicious food trips
  • Jorudan – A Japanese company headquartered in Shinjuku, Tokyo. It has been involved in the publishing and developing of video games since 1991, and is currently primarily known for operating jorudan.co.jp, a public transport route navigation website.
  • Google Lens & Google Translator – As we mentioned above very few people speak English and sometimes having Google Translate is paramount. Moreover, as the characters are unique to Japan, it’s important to consider Google Lens also even if it’s just to understand the ingredients in your food.
  • Wanderlog – A great app that helps you organise your trips. This is particularly useful if you are planning a group trip and want to be able to collaborate.

Budgeting

If you are wondering “How much does a trip to Japan cost?” then this is the right section for you.

If you are looking to cover most of the itinerary we showcased above, then we would say your 2024 Japan travel budget should be around £5,000. This is our recommendation for 2 people on a 2 meals a day basis including flights and accommodation.

Whilst attractions and food are fairly affordable in Japan, accommodation and flights will make up for the difference.

Final Thoughts

Whether you are planning a family trip to Japan or doing a solo trip, we think Japan is a wonderful country to explore. The convenience and efficiency of their travel network combined with the world class hospitality, will make your trip comfortable and enjoyable.

Whilst English can be a barrier at times in Japan, we think that with great planning you will overcome any challenges. We believe Japan is a destination to be experienced as a whole.

Unlike Europe where you can find “old” architecture, this simply isn’t the case in Japan and so it’s important to enjoy Japan with its temples and palaces but also its neon lights illuminating futuristic skyscrapers and where the latest technological innovations are born.

Ready to book? Below are some recommendations to get your trip started:


  • Accommodation – would recommend booking your accommodation through an aggregator such as Booking.com or Agoda to get the best rates. We also use TripAdvisor to read reviews.

  • Transport – consider Rentalcars.com for car renting or if you rely on public transport, you can use Omio for trains, coaches, ferries, airport transfers and even flights.

  • Activities – a great option is GetYourGuide, Klook or Viator for tours, excursions, experiences and tickets to many tourist attractions.

  • Travel money – we have Starling Bank accounts (UK residents only) with 0% fees on FX and a good Mastercard exchange rate. Revolut is another good option.

  • Internet abroad – with Airalo or Nomad you can access a wide range of eSIMs (digital SIM cards) available for different countries and regions.

  • Luggage storage – if you need to store your bags whilst exploring the destination, you can use Radical Storage to find your closest luggage storage and enjoy your journey until the very end.

As an Amazon Associate and member of various other affiliate programmes, some of the links in this article are affiliate links, meaning at no additional cost to you, we will earn a commission if you click through and make a purchase.


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