Only got less than a week to spend in Japan? Not sure how to plan an itinerary or what to see/where to go/what to do during your limited time in the Land of the Rising Sun? Worry not for I’ve got you covered! Here is a suggested itinerary you can use when you visit Japan.
Arrive at Narita International Airport
We got to the airport at around 2 p.m. so obviously, we did not have much time to spend on our first day in Japan. But here are some of the important things you should do once you land at the airport.
- Get a portable wifi
Having internet access while travelling in Japan can be really helpful as you will use Google maps and probably Google translate a lot. Portable or pocket wifi can be rented out from a shop at the airport. For a total of six days (Aug. 28 to Sept. 2), the cost of our portable wifi was ¥7,800 or approximately CAD$104. There were two of us travelling, so we split the cost. Each person paid ¥3,900 or approximately CAD$52. The more people travelling with you and sharing a portable wifi, the lower it would cost.
- Validate your Japan Rail Pass
If you decided to buy a Japan Rail (JR) Pass before your trip to Japan, you may validate your pass at a JR East office located in the airport. If you do so, you can then use the Narita Express or N’EX train to bring you to Tokyo station. Yes, your JR pass can be used not only in shinkansen or bullet trains but in all other types of public transportation including local trains and some ferries as long as they are operated by Japan Rail company. This will help you save money as you won’t have to shell out extra dollars for a train ride to Tokyo station since you can use your JR pass on the N’EX train.
At the same office, we also made seat reservations for our trip to Kyoto and Osaka as we planned on going to Kyoto on Day 2 and Osaka on Day 3. You can make seat reservations in any JR office if you decide not to do it at the airport.
- Get a Suica Card (or a Pasmo card)
Get a Suica card and load it up with money at the JR East office located at the airport. To start off, I put ¥1,000 or approximately CAD$13.33 on my card.
When your card runs out of money, you can add more money into it at any convenience store or train station.
Suica cards can be used when traveling on public transportations including local trains and buses. However, it is not exclusive to public transportations as you can also use it to buy items from vending machines or convenience stores. Any leftover money in your Suica card can be refunded at the airport when you leave Japan.
If you have heard of a Pasmo card, it does the same thing as a Suica card. They are just two different brands, think Visa or Mastercard. I personally chose Suica card because it has a cute penguin on it.
Take the Narita Express from Narita International Airport to Tokyo station
Once you validate your JR pass, you can then head to Tokyo by getting on the Narita Express. This train stops at stations including Shinjuku, Shibuya, and Tokyo. Alternatively, you can also use the Keisei Skyliner from the airport to Tokyo. This is a cheaper option than N’EX but if you already have a JR pass, then just take the N’EX train to make the best use of your JR pass.
Check in to your hotel
Once you arrive at your hotel, check in and head out to explore right away! As for us, since we were on the plane for 10 hours and we got lost looking for our hotel (we walked for about an hour trying to look for our hotel), we decided to take a quick nap and shower then head out for the night.
We stayed at Oak Hostel Zen, located in Taito in Tokyo.
Head to Shibuya
A trip to Tokyo will be incomplete without seeing the Shibuya crossing so we made sure that we do that first! This intersection is considered to be the world’s busiest pedestrian crossing.
Other things you can do in Shibuya is shop and just immerse yourself in the bright lights of Shibuya as it will remind you of New York City’s Times Square.
Return to your hotel
After that, we made our way to our hotel as we had to wake up early to catch our shinkansen to Kyoto the next day. The receptionist at our hotel also said that train service stops at midnight so we had to go home before that as taking cabs in Japan is crazy expensive.
We woke up at around 4 a.m. and headed off to Uguisudani train station to make our way to Tokyo station where we were to catch our shinkansen to Kyoto. But first, we stopped at a restaurant near Uguisudani train station to fill our bellies with food. I ordered gyudon for ¥430 or approximately CAD$5.73.
Ride a shinkansen from Tokyo to Kyoto
We took the Hikari line from Tokyo station to Kyoto station at 6:26 a.m. The train ride was about three hours long. We decided to take a snooze while on board the shinkansen as we were still tired from the day before. The shinkansen was pretty much empty that day.
Hike at Fushimi Inari Shrine
After watching Memoirs of a Geisha and seeing little Chiyo run through the torii gates at Fushimi Inari-taisha, I told myself I have to see that place someday. So for the first item in our itinerary in Kyoto, we headed off to Fushimi Inari-taisha.
To get to Fushimi Inari Shrine from Kyoto station, you have to take the JR Nara line and get off at Inari station.
Entrance to Fushimi Inari-taisha is free and hiking the summit of the mountain and back will take about two to three hours. We only spent a little over an hour there as we did not hike to the top of the mountain since we did not have much time.
After lots of walking and before heading to the train station for our next destination, we indulged in some of Kyoto’s street food. I got a chicken skewer for ¥500 or approximately CAD$6.67. We also bought souvenirs from the numerous shops lined up on the street.
Marvel at the beauty of Kinkaku-ji or Golden Pavilion
Next in the itinerary is to go to Northern Kyoto where you can see Kinkaku-ji or Golden Pavilion. A ticket to enter the premises of Kinkaku-ji will set you back ¥400 or approximately CAD$5.33. The walking path at Kinkaku-ji leads to gardens, statues, coin toss spot, a tea house, and a souvenir shop. We were not able to enter the Golden Pavilion itself as it was closed to the public so we just admired it from the outside. Kinkaku-ji is open from 9 a.m. to 5 p.m. After admiring Kinkaku-ji, we treated ourselves with a mango smoothie from a shop across the street.
If you want to see geishas during your trip to Japan, there is no better place to do that than in Gion. Gion is considered to be Kyoto’s most famous geisha district. We were lucky enough to see a geisha when we were there. There was a cab that stopped at a gate and a geisha came running to the inside of the cab. There were also a lot of locals and tourists wearing yukatas on the street. If you have time and the money, check out an ochaya or teahouse where you will be entertained by a geisha or a maiko (a geisha apprentice). Sadly, we were not able to experience this.
Stay at a ryokan or traditional Japanese inn
It started raining while we were exploring the geisha district of Gion, so we decided to head to our ryokan. Before we left for Japan, David was insistent we stay at a ryokan. I was hesitant because it was expensive to stay in one with an average price tag of ¥20,000 per night per person. David ended up paying for most of it.
We stayed at Kinoe Ryokan. It is located in central Gion and is within walking distance from Yasaka Shrine and Kiyumizu-dera temple.
Experience a kaiseki dinner
One of the best experiences I had in Japan (aside from staying at a ryokan) is having to experience a kaiseki dinner. A kaiseki dinner is a multiple course traditional Japanese dinner. Our room attendant at Kinoe Ryokan brought and served us various dishes from appetizers to dessert. She served us soup, sashimi, rice, and fruits.
Bathe in a public bath
When we woke up in the morning, we decided to experience the public bath at Kinoe Ryokan. There were two public baths at Kinoe Ryokan, one for males and one for females. It was early in the morning around 5 a.m. so I was the only person at the public bath at that time. There were tiny wooden chairs, tiny wooden buckets, and showers, as well as shampoos and conditioners. In addition, there was a small rectangular bathing area.
Get served breakfast
After enjoying a traditional Japanese bath, we decided to take a morning walk in Gion. The streets were empty and the teahouses lined up in the streets of Gion were closed. There were also almost no tourists and locals to be seen. After a quick morning walk, David and I decided to go back to our room.
The same room attendant from the night before served us our breakfast that day. Steaming hot rice, soup with tofu, raw egg, fresh slice of salmon, and nori or dried seaweed were some of the food we were served that morning.
Go to Kiyumizu-dera Temple
After breakfast, we checked out from our ryokan and walked for about 15 minutes to Kiyumizu-dera Temple. We paid ¥400 or approximately CAD$5.33 each to get into Kiyumizu-dera Temple’s premises. This temple was over 1,200 years old. It is a holy place where people can go “to pay their respects to Kannon, a deity of great mercy and compassion.” People can also get their fortunes told here.
Japan’s summer heat plus a lot of walking can be a bit too much so we had some flavoured shaved ice to cool us down. We got this delicious treat at one of the shops for ¥500 or approximately CAD$6.67.
Buy or rent a yukata or kimono
There are a lot of shops lined up just outside of Kiyumizu-dera Temple. David and I bought souvenirs from the shops but one of my biggest purchases was a full set yukata that included an obi and sandals which cost me a total of ¥8,100 or approximately CAD$108. I got myself a pink floral yukata with a pink bow obi.
Have lunch at Kyoto station
Before leaving Kyoto for Osaka, we stopped for lunch at Kyoto station. There was a small restaurant in Kyoto Station where we ordered food through a vending machine and the vending machine dispensed a ticket which we then had to give to the restaurant’s cook.
I ordered cold noodles and katsudon with rice for ¥750 or approximately CAD$10. We also got dessert from Manneken Belgian Waffle.
Ride a shinkansen from Kyoto to Osaka
After lunch, we took a shinkansen from Kyoto to Osaka. It was a fairly short train ride of about half an hour.
Check out the Osaka Museum of Housing and Living
In this museum, you can see what Osaka was like during the Edo period. Yukata and kimono can be rented out from the museum and you can take photos of yourself wearing either one while in the recreated buildings and streets of old Osaka.
Entrance to the museum costs ¥600 or approximately CAD$8 per person except for junior high school students and younger who may enter the museum free of charge. The museum is open from 10 a.m. to 5 p.m. with last admission at 4:30 p.m.
Enter Osaka Castle
Another iconic landmark of Osaka is, of course, the Osaka Castle. It is open from 9 a.m. to 5 p.m. but during holidays and special exhibitions, hours may be extended. It is important to note that Osaka Castle is closed from December 28 to January 1.
Before entering Osaka Castle, David and I bought food from the food stalls scattered on the way to the castle. I had a terrible beef on a stick (totally not the same as the one I had in Shibuya in Tokyo) for ¥600 or approximately CAD$8 and a bottle of Coca-Cola worth ¥200 or approximately CAD$2.67. We also got our first takoyaki or octopus balls (a piece of octopus coated in batter and cooked in a special mould and then topped with takoyaki sauce) of the trip. I cannot tell you how much the takoyaki was as David paid for it.
After filling our tummies with street food (food and drinks are not permitted inside Osaka castle), we bought our tickets to enter the castle. A ticket costs ¥600 or approximately CAD$8. Inside the castle, you can learn more about the castle’s history as the castle was transformed into a museum.
The castle is also air-conditioned (which is nice during the summer as it is really hot and humid in Japan) and has an elevator (something my tired feet were thankful for). The view from the top of the castle was amazing!
Another experience you may want to take note of is dressing up as a Japanese warrior and having your photo taken. This, of course, comes with a fee. After touring the castle, we bought our souvenirs and left for the next part of our itinerary.
Eat, eat, eat in Dōtonbori
This is street food heaven. You cannot not eat in Dōtonbori. As you walk along the Dōtonbori-gawa Canal, you will see a crazy number of restaurants, shops, and entertainment. You will also be bombarded with numerous advertisements flashing in neon lights.
The first thing I did when we got to Dōtonbori was to get an Oreo cookies and chocolate ice flake for ¥500 or approximately CAD$6.67 from Dessert Cafe. It was chocolatey but not overly sweet and the milk was the right amount and it was refreshing, which is probably not an adjective I should use to describe a chocolate dessert but in short, it was heavenly. It was the best dessert I had in my entire life. David got a mango ice flake for ¥750 or approximately CAD$10 and he also said it was amazing and that he still dreams about it. Please do yourself a favour and get a dessert from Dessert Cafe.
After devouring yummy icy treats from Dessert Cafe, we walked along the canal and checked out some of the stores to buy souvenirs. Although we would have liked to try more food in Dōtonbori, we did not as we were running low on cash. I have heard, though, that the best takoyaki in Japan can be found in Dōtonbori.
Take a shinkansen from Osaka to Tokyo
After a day filled with lots of walking and exploring two cities, a bullet train ride from Osaka to Tokyo could be a perfect opportunity to catch some zzzzs. The train ride took a little over three hours.
Get a proper sleep at a hotel
Once you get to Tokyo, go straight to your hotel for a full-night of sleep. As for us, we had a late dinner first at one of the restaurants open near our hotel. After dinner, we headed back to our hotel, showered, and went to bed.
Have breakfast at Tokyo station
David and I woke up early to head to Tokyo Disney Sea. We took a train on the JR Yamanote line from Uguisudani Station and got off Tokyo Station where we had breakfast at one of the restaurants in Tokyo station. I had katsudon (yes, this is one of my favourite Japanese dishes) for ¥550 or approximately CAD$7.33. After breakfast at Tokyo Station, we hopped on a train on the JR Keiyo line and got off at Maihama Station.
Spend a whole day in Tokyo Disney Sea
At Maihama Station, you will have to walk and get on a Disney train. The cost of a Disney train ticket is ¥240 or approximately CAD$3.20.
Once we got to the gates of Tokyo Disney Sea, we did not have to line up to buy tickets to enter the park as we already bought our Tokyo Disney Sea tickets online prior to that day. A one-day pass to Tokyo Disney Sea for one person was ¥7,400 or approximately CAD$98.67.
What I love most about Tokyo Disney Sea is Ariel’s castle. I have always loved mermaids so being in Tokyo Disney Sea and exploring Ariel’s castle was a dream come true. There are also a lot of other cool attractions at Tokyo Disney Sea that cannot be found in other Disney parks in other parts of the world. While you’re there, be sure to fill your tummy with Disney-themed food!
Take note that, Tokyo has two Disney parks: Disney Sea and Disneyland. If you only have time for one, choose Disney Sea and I promise you won’t regret it.
And in case you are wondering, shows are in Japanese.
Head back to your hotel
After a tiring but fun day at Tokyo Disney Sea, take the Disney train back and walk to Maihama Station where you can take a train back to Tokyo. Head to your hotel and rest up for the night to get ready for the your last full day in Japan.
Wake up early and get yourself to Tsukiji Fish Market
You must have heard about the famous tuna auction at Tsukiji Fish Market. If you want to see that in person, you’ll have to wake up super early as you’ll have to get in line to get in. They will only allow 120 people in for the tuna auction. It is a first-come, first-serve basis so some people try to be there at around 3 a.m. to have a higher chance of being let in.
For those of you who are not early risers like I am, you can go there as early as you can to eat sushi for breakfast. In my experience, I had my first sushi in Canada but I did not like it at all and never bothered to try it again until I went to the Tsukiji Fish Market where I had the freshest, melts-in-your-mouth sushi. My ultimate favourite being the red tuna nigiri.
After having breakfast, take a walk and explore the wholesale market, which is open to the public after 10 a.m., and the outer market, which is typically open from 5 a.m. to 2 p.m. Beware though that some stores do not allow photos. Also take note that Tsukiji Fish Market is closed on Sundays, some Wednesdays, and on national holidays so plan accordingly.
After a hearty sushi breakfast, head on over to Asakusa. You probably have seen the red giant lantern in photos when you google Tokyo or Japan. This can be found hanging at the Kaminarimon or Kaminari Gate in Asakusa. This gate will lead you to the Sensoji Temple which is a really popular Buddhist Temple in Tokyo.
As you walk from Kaminarimon to Sensoji Temple, you will pass by many shops in the Nakamise shopping street. Yukatas, kimonos, trinkets, souvenirs, and a variety of other items can be bought from the shops lining the street.
Take a stroll along Ueno Park
I would compare Ueno park to New York’s Central Park even if it’s not comparable in size. I would say both parks are similar as both have ample green space, a zoo, and museums.
Some points of interest you may want to see are the Kaneji Temple, Kiyomizu Kannon Temple, Tokyo National Museum, Tokyo Metropolitan Art Museum, and Ueno Zoo.
If you’re there in the spring, this is a perfect place to enjoy Japan’s sakura or cherry blossoms.
Shop and dine in Harajuku
If you love shopping, you shouldn’t miss out on Harajuku, a mecca for Japanese fashion. If you’re lucky, you might find people in cosplay.
Harajuku’s Omotesando is even considered to be Tokyo’s Champs Elysee as it is lined with high-end shops and restaurants. If you’re in Omotesando, you might recognize Tokyu Plaza Omotesando with its trippy entrance filled with glass walls and ceiling.
However, Harajuku is more than just a place for shopping and food. While you’re here, be sure to check out Meiji Shrine which is a short 10-minute walk from Harajuku station. This can be a quiet escape from Harajuku’s busy streets.
End your last night in Japan in Shinjuku
Want more shopping? Head on over to Shinjuku to bask in Tokyo’s bright lights and experience your last Japanese nightlife. In this ward, you will find many of Tokyo’s tallest buildings.
You may also want to check out Tokyo’s red light district, Kabukicho.
Leave your hotel to head to the airport
The cheapest and fastest way to get from Tokyo to Narita International Airport is again by taking the Narita Express or Keisei Skyliner. Taking a cab might be too expensive but more convenient if you have heavy luggages to carry up and down the stairs in train stations. Our hostel receptionist quoted me approximately CAD$300 for a cab ride from Oak Hostel Zen in Taito to Narita International Airport. It was insanely expensive!
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For those of you who only have a limited time in Tokyo, check out this short layover guide in Tokyo. However, if you are one of the lucky ones who get to spend more time in Japan, here’s a 2-weeks in Japan complete itinerary.