Though seven days in Japan may seem a little short for a country with so much to see, the nation’s incredible transport system makes travelling from place to place a lot easier . An ideal first time visit to Japan will involve a combination of bright city lights, temples and natural scenery. Our 7 day itinerary offers plenty of fun activities and authentic experiences combined with a little rest and relaxation for the ideal getaway.
With hundreds of international flights each day, Tokyo is the best place to begin your Japanese adventure. Upon arrival in Tokyo, you will want to adjust to the time difference and begin to explore the city’s most famous sites. Senso-ji is the oldest temple in Tokyo and is believed to be the home of an ancient statue of the Goddess Kannon, making it one of the most popular temples in the country. Around the temple grounds is a medium sized market which sells a range of authentic souvenirs and tasty food – 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 with an impressive viewing deck. It is an iconic part of Tokyo’s skyline and offers fabulous views of the entire city, 634 metres above ground level.
This city is brimming with quirky things to do and a great way to spend your first evening in Tokyo is to visit a Maid Café. The cafes involve waitresses dressed in doll-like costumes who serve customers a range of uniquely shaped food and drink. Maid Cafes also offer a range of games and are a fun and slightly strange experience. After this it will be time to head 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 where fishermen bring their best catches of the day to supply 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. In October 2018, the Tsukiji Fish Market relocated to its new location and reopened at the Toyosu Market approximately 2.3 km from the original location.
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 allows a limited number of visitors inside and the first batch are invited inside at 3.30 in the morning so you will need to arrive very early. (Important to note that as of September 15, 2018 the auctions will not be open to the public in the old location).
If that is slightly too early then the market itself opens to the general public at around 9.00 in the morning. Visitors are asked to stay out of the way of business deals and removal carts and avoid flash photography. After taking a look into the market do as the locals do and enjoy a deliciously fresh sushi breakfast or one of the other many breakfast options Tokyo has to offer, in the surrounding restaurants.
After a sushi breakfast, the city is yours to explore. 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 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 to be. 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, 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 jetting off to the next destination, wake up early and watch some sumo wrestlers in training. Sumo training sessions are a fascinating opportunity to see the wrestlers at work. There are around 45 sumo stables in Tokyo where the wrestlers live and train every morning.
For many stables, visitors have to arrange a visit either with the stable directly or an external company, however; this can be tricky and costworthy. The easiest option 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.
Through ancient Japanese art and history, Mount Fuji has been recorded for centuries for its beauty and geographic significance. 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. 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 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. 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.
If you still have some time in Kyoto, then be sure to visit the ancient district of Gion where geisha live and operate. Here there are charming boutique shops, nearby temples and charismatic winding pathways.
After uncovering as much of Kyoto as possible, it will be time for one last sushi breakfast before taking the bullet train back to Tokyo to catch a flight home.