Though seven days in Japan may seem a little short for a country with so much to see, the nation’s incredible public transportation system makes traveling from place to place very convenient. An ideal first time visit to Japan will include 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 every day, Tokyo is the best place to begin your Japanese adventure. Upon arrival in Tokyo, you will probably want to begin exploring the city right away. Head to one of Tokyo’s most famous sites, Senso-ji. 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 that 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 meters 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 waitresses at the restaurants are dressed in doll-like costumes and customers dine on a range of uniquely shaped food and drinks. Maid Cafes also offer a range of games for customers to play. After your memorable dinner, 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 Toyosu 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 popular and exotic fish.
Perhaps one of the biggest pulls to the market is the Tuna Auction, where restaurant owners shout and barter for the best tuna deals. As a visitor, you can experience the auction from the observation deck above.
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’s 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 stemming from it, 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 favorite Japanese pastime is to party the night away with friends while singing along to your favorite 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 at 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.
Mount Fuji has been recorded for centuries in ancient Japanese art and history and is renowned for its beauty and geographic significance. In order to get closer to this 3,776-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 (approximately 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 houses 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 sit 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 making the 3-hour journey to the historic city of Kyoto. Kyoto was once the capital city of Japan and is home to over 1,000 temples. This ancient city is one of the only destinations where geishas 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 unique 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. This is an easy and worthwhile day trip from Kyoto.
If you still have some time in Kyoto, then be sure to visit the ancient district of Gion where geisha live and operate. Here you’ll find charming boutique shops, temples, and winding pathways that will transport you back in time. It’s a great place for an evening stroll and to find some of the best food in the city for dinner.
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.
If you’re flying out at night, you can spend this last day exploring a bit of Osaka. Just 14 minutes by bullet train from Kyoto, Osaka is a great addition to your week in Japan if you have the time. Head over early and grab breakfast before exploring the Osaka Castle and the Osaka Castle Park. Next, visit the oldest Buddhist temple in the city, Shitenno-ji, a 1,400-year-old landmark. For a change of pace, the “New World” at Shinsekai showcases the modern side of Osaka and is a great place to have lunch, people watch, and get in some last-minute shopping before flying home. This colorful area was rebuilt as a futuristic district after World War II and feels more like an amusement park than a real neighborhood. It’s definitely a must-see for your last day in Japan.
Travel time from Osaka to either airport in Tokyo is just about 3 hours, leaving you plenty of time to get a taste of this city before your trip is over.