If you happen to have more than one week in Japan then you will have the opportunity to venture beyond Japan’s famous cities and discover its natural beauty and rural charm. Beginning in Tokyo, this eleven day itinerary will combine a buzzing city life with idyllic spa experiences, shrines, temples and more.
With hundreds of international flights each day, Tokyo is the best place to begin your Japanese adventure. As soon as you arrive in Tokyo, it’ll be time to start exploring. The first stop on your itinerary should be Senso-ji; the oldest temple in Tokyo. This historical site is an important Buddhist temple that is home to a shrine of the Goddess Kannon. Around the temple grounds is a medium sized market which sells a range of authentic souvenirs and tasty food that is ideal for a quick bite to eat.
If you have a head for heights then Tokyo Skytree is a good option. Located just a short stroll from Senso-ji, Tokyo Skytree is a broadcasting tower that is 634 metres high. The tower boasts an impressive viewing deck and offers fabulous views of the entire city.
Spend the evening relaxing over a filling ramen soup in one of the many eateries of Shinjuku before heading back to your hotel for some well needed rest.
This will be your only full day in Tokyo so use it well. Wake up nice and early and head to the world renowned Tsukiji Fish market – now reopened at a new location as Toyosu Market – where the best catches of the day are supplied to Tokyo’s finest seafood and sushi restaurants. The market itself holds around 900 stalls each selling their freshest cuts of both popular and more exotic specimens.
Perhaps one of the biggest pulls to the market is the Tuna Auction, where restaurant owners shout and barter for the best tuna deals. The auction only permits a limited number of the public inside and the first batch is invited in at 3:30 in the morning. If that sounds too early for you then the market opens to the general public at around 9:00 in the morning. After taking a look into the market, do as the locals do and enjoy a deliciously fresh sushi breakfast at one of the surrounding restaurants. (Important to note that as of September 15, 2018, the auctions will not be open to the public anymore in the old location).
For an insight into samurai history that doesn’t involve crowds of tourists, take a trip to Sengakuji Temple. This temple is the burial site for the 47 Ronin, a significant historical legend in Japan. Visitors are invited to light incense and place them at the gravestones of the samurai as a sign of respect.
Next, it’ll be time to explore the quirky district of Harajuku. If you wish to experience Tokyo’s renowned fashion subcultures then Harajuku is the place. Here you will find a range of weird and wonderful shops selling a variety of quirky outfits and accessories. The area is renowned as Tokyo’s very own trend setting capital with iconic styles such as Lolita and Rockability Boys. With a vibrant café culture too, an afternoon in Harajuku is certainly never boring.
Wherever you find yourself in Tokyo in the evening, you are guaranteed to come across fine cuisine and karaoke bars. A favourite Japanese pastime is to party the night away with friends whilst singing along to your favourite tunes at a karaoke joint in Shibuya.
Alternatively, the elegant Ginza district offers a variety of hip and high end karaoke bars with rooms for all group sizes. Even if you happen to be a little shy, a karaoke bar really is the best way to spend your final evening in Tokyo.
Before enjoying a great Tokyo breakfast, wake up early and watch some sumo wrestlers in training. Sumo wrestling is a hugely popular sport in Japan and if you have the opportunity to experience it, you should certainly take it. Sumo training sessions offer the chance to watch the wrestlers do what they do best. There are around 45 sumo stables in Tokyo where the wrestlers live and train every morning.
The easiest way to view a session is to head to Arashio-beya stable where visitors can witness the training by looking through the large windows located on the street. The practice begins from 7:30 in the morning and usually lasts for around three hours. The windows can get crowded so try to arrive early. The nearest station is Hamacho Station on the Toei Subway Shinjuku Line.
Far in Tokyo’s distance lies the iconic Mount Fuji. Through ancient Japanese art and history, this mountain has been recorded for centuries for its beauty and geographic importance. In order to get closer to this 3776 meter summit, the best option is to depart Shinjuku Station in Tokyo and take the Odakyu Railway train to the beautiful spa town of Hakone. This is the quickest rail option and the journey takes just under 90 minutes and costs 2080 Yen (19 USD).
Upon arriving in Hakone, it’ll be time to unwind from the hustle and bustle of Tokyo. Hakone has plenty of ways to catch a glimpse of Mount Fuji including a cable car, funicular ride or a gentle boat trip across a scenic Lake Ashi. Hakone is also home to the Pola Museum of Art and Hakone Open-Air Museum which is home to a fascinating collection of sculptures. For hiking enthusiasts, Fuji-Hakone-Izu National Park offers picturesque walking trails to get even closer to the renowned dormant volcano.
As the day trippers head back to the city, the evening in Hakone becomes far more relaxed and on a clear evening it is possible to relax beside the lake and see Mount Fuji glimmering beneath the stars. This is also a wonderful time to experience an onsen. An onsen is a traditional hot spring bath that offers relaxation and rejuvenation.
There is an array of onsen in Hakone and visitors can choose from both indoor and outdoor spas. The best option is to choose an outdoor onsen for its beautiful natural backdrop. There are also opportunities for firefly viewing in the evening for a truly romantic experience.
Spend another day in Hakone and venture further afield in the Fuji-Hakone-Izu National Park. Hiking enthusiasts will love this park which provides picturesque walking trails and offers the chance to get even closer to the renowned dormant volcano.
Spend the morning exploring the rest of Hakone before taking a three hour journey to the historic city of Kyoto. Kyoto was once the capital city of Japan and is home to over 1000 temples. This ancient city is one of the only destinations where geisha are still training and working today and visitors flock to Kyoto to get a taste of a more authentic Japanese experience. In spring, the city becomes extremely busy as the cherry trees reach full bloom and provide a magnificent display.
As there are so many things to see and do in Kyoto it is really difficult to know where to begin. One of the most popular temples in the city is Kinkaku-ji, a golden temple set in an idyllic forested location. Nijo Castle and Ginkaku-ji temple are also noteworthy sites. Fushimi Inari-taisha is a Shinto Shrine with a winding outdoor staircase that is covered by hundreds of red gates.
For those who wish to get closer to nature, Arashiyama is a beautiful parkland with an incredible bamboo forest and a monkey park where visitors can get up close with Japan’s beloved Macaque monkeys.
The ancient district of Gion is where geisha still live and operate. Here there are charming boutique shops, nearby temples and charismatic winding pathways. Visitors can find beautiful antiques, delicious authentic dinners and geisha performances at certain times of the year. For a truly unique experience, take part in a geisha dinner which usually consists of an apprentice geisha who will serve delicious food and perform traditional Japanese songs, dances and poetry.
As Kyoto prides itself in preserving ancient art forms, take part in a traditional tea ceremony. Here you will learn all about this beautiful ritual and will receive guidance on how to prepare a matcha tea using ancient methods l. Other activities that visitors can take part in are cooking classes and Buddhist meditation sessions.
From Kyoto it only takes one hour by train to reach the city of Nara. Nara was Japan’s first capital city and is home to eight UNESCO World Heritage Sites. Although it is still a popular destination, Nara boasts a more relaxed ambience than Kyoto and is a perfect day trip or stopover.
Todai-ji Temple is perhaps the city’s most famous site. The temple itself is said to be the home of the Great Buddha and a large statue of Buddha resides here. The statue is worshipped by locals across the country and the temple is known for its spiritual significance in Buddhism. Another important spiritual site in Nara is Kasuga-Taisha Shrine which boasts beautiful gardens and idyllic forested pathways.
Nara also has many gardens and is famed for the large number of deer who wander around the city’s parks and shrines. The deer in Nara are very comfortable with people and will often bow their head in the hope of receiving some food. Nara is a pleasant place to stay and can be explored within a day or two.
After exploring Nara, it’ll be time to leave this ancient city and visit Kobe. The train ride from Nara to Kobe takes between one and a half hours to two hours. Kobe is a large coastal city that is nestled beneath the stunning Mount Rokko. The city is best known for its cosmopolitan ambience with chic places to eat and shop. Visitors can walk along the harbour or venture up to the top of Mount Rokko for views as far as the city of Osaka.
Mount Rokko itself is a charming temple town and really needs an entire day to explore. For those who wish stay in Mount Rokko then it is possible to skip Nara and spend the extra day here.
For foodies, Kobe is brimming with unique experiences. Kobe is home to Japan’s renowned Kobe beef which is one of the tastiest and most expensive cuts of beef in the world. Kobe beef is also difficult to come by outside of Japan and there are a number of restaurants in the city that serve this elite slice of beef. Along with haute cuisine, Kobe also offers brilliant sake tasting experiences.
The train trip back from Kobe to Tokyo takes between three and four hours. There are also daily flights from Kobe Airport to Haneda Airport in Tokyo. Upon arriving back in Tokyo, it’ll be time to conclude your trip with a return flight home.