Japan is a phenomenal country. I could spend a whole post listing the various things I love about it. Its flame-coloured torii gates, the sounds of birdsong on the Tokyo metro, the roaming deer…
I’m by no means an expert on Japan. But I’ve drawn on my own research and experiences to provide some ideas and advice to help plan your own trip. Along with a 14 day Japan itinerary, I’ve included pre-planning tips, a breakdown of our expenses and even some alternative itineraries from other sources. Enjoy!
14 Day Japan Itinerary
About the itineraryHow should I use the itinerary?
No itinerary is one-size-fits-all.
I 100% recommend that you cherry pick the places that most interest you.
I’d also encourage you to dig deeper into those locations (things to do/see/eat) to determine how long you should stay in each place.
Foodies might prefer longer in Osaka. History buffs more time in Kyoto, or devoting more time to smaller places like Nikko or Mount Koya, etc.
Take into account where you’ll arrive and depart the country, consult a map of Japan to plot a logical route and you’re well on way to the perfect itinerary, whether your trip is for 5 days, 7 days, 10 days or even longer!
Note on start and end points: We flew into Tokyo and out of Osaka, hence why the itinerary uses those two cities as its start and end points.
Can I adapt this 14 day itinerary for my 7 day trip?
I would encourage you to use the itinerary for some initial inspiration. Then fit the pace and choice of destinations around your own schedule and preferences. I recommend alternative routes and destinations from other sources here.
Why 14 days / 2 weeks?
It’s based on my view of an ideal first trip to Japan.
I.e., spending multiple days in both Tokyo and Kyoto, while also squeezing in some other unmissable destinations and day trips.
This itinerary is a little fast paced, however. You might be happier slowing down and enjoying fewer places for a longer period of time.
Day 1-4: Tokyo and Hakone
Fly into Tokyo, a huge, frenetic metropolis brimful of things to see and do. I rounded up things to do in Tokyo in this post, but my top three recommendations have to be: Shinjuku Gyoen, Senso-ji Temple and Shibuya Crossing.
If city life gets too much, take one or two of the first four days to explore somewhere calmer nearby. Our choice was Hakone, a spa town with views of Mt Fuji. Some other getaway options include:
- Nikko — home to a scenic national park and elaborate shrine
- Kamakura — a small coastal city sometimes called the Kyoto of Eastern Japan
- Fuji Five Lakes — a lake resort even closer to Mt Fuji
Day 5: Ainokura
This is the slightly less conventional part of our itinerary, offering an opportunity to see a much more remote part of Japan. Depart Tokyo on day 5, travelling by bullet train to Shin-Takaoka and connecting by bus to Ainokura.
This tiny village in the mountains is part of a wider World Heritage site. It’s famous for its gassho-zukuri houses with thatched roofs so steep they resemble praying hands.
If you opt to stay in a minshuku guesthouse, you’ll also gain a wonderful insight into traditional Japanese culture.
Day 6-8: Hiroshima and Miyajima
On day 6, depart Ainokura by bus and take the train to Hiroshima.
The city is synonymous with the desolation of nuclear weaponry. But there’s also a bright thread of hope and a commitment to peace that wends its way through every memorial and museum here
Miyajima (aka Itsukushima) is a shrine island only a short train and ferry ride away from Hiroshima. Its most notable inhabitants are some delightful, food-pilfering deer.
Day 9: Himeji Castle to Kyoto
Take the train from Hiroshima to Kyoto on day 9, but stop off at Himeji to see its elegant confection of a castle.
I found the exterior the most interesting by far, so you can easily do this in an hour or so if you walk directly from the station.
If you’d prefer to make a day of it, you can also pay to explore inside or visit one of Himeji’s other attractions like Kokoen Garden or Engyoji Temple on Mount Shosha, one of the filming locations for The Last Samurai.
Day 10-12: Kyoto and Arashiyama
Kyoto has a lot of temples and shrines. They could keep you occupied for weeks! For such a flying visit, my advice would be to choose two and cover those in one day. My personal favourites were Kinkakuji Temple (The Golden Pavilion) and Fushimi Inari Shinto Shrine (the one with a seemingly infinite trail of orange gates winding up the mountain). Kiyumizudera Temple would also make my shortlist.
A half day or more spent in Arashiyama is a nice addition if you can squeeze it in. The bamboo grove and Iwatayama Monkey Park both offer a change of pace to religious sites.
Day 13: Nara
If you missed Miyajima and want an opportunity to commune with some of Japan’s sacred deer, Nara is another great opportunity not far from Kyoto. It’s also rich in Japanese history as the site of the first permanent capital.
Mount Koya, an atmospheric mountaintop village, is another excellent choice. (I so wish we’d been able to fit this in!) The Okunoin Temple there appeals to me the most, with its glowing Hall of Lanterns and moss-draped cemetery.
Day 14: Osaka
Regretably, we barely got to spend any time in Osaka – we only had a morning before catching our flight. (We spent time at the charming Museum of Housing and Living.) If you have more time to spend, Osaka has a reputation for stellar food.
Some alternative 14 day / 2 week itineraries
- Japan Guide’s “Best of Japan in 14 Days” itinerary follows a similar route to ours, but flows in the opposite direction and circles back to Tokyo. It also encompasses a few more destinations: Kanazawa, Shirakawago (another region with gassho-zukuri thatched houses) and Takayama.
- Another of Japan Guide’s 14 Day itineraries is slightly slower paced, skipping the Ainokura/Shirakawago area altogether but keeping Tokyo, Takayama, Kyoto and Hiroshima as well as several side trips.
- A Matter of Taste’s 14 day JR Pass itinerary assumes you’ve already visited Tokyo, and instead takes you off exploring Matsumoto, Nagano (including a wonderful Snow Monkey Park!) and Nagoya. From there they take in Kyoto, Nara, Osaka, Himeji, Hiroshima and Miyajima.
- The Nerd Nomads incorporate the stunning Alpine Route (including a stop in Matsumoto), Kanazawa, Shirakawago and Takayama in their 14 day itinerary.
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As with most places, each season has their pros and cons. Try Japan Guide for a thorough month-by-month breakdown, including typical temperature and weather.
We visited Japan in February, i.e. winter.
It was sad to miss out on prime cherry blossom season, though we did see some in places. But off-peak timing meant fewer crowds and cheaper flights, which are a bonus.
Also, the thatched roofs of Ainokura look like something from a fairytale in the snow!
How long should I spend in Japan?
We spent 17 days in Japan.
That sounds like a long time, right?
But even 17 days wasn’t long enough for me to feel immersed in everything I wanted to see.
If you have a prior interest in Japan and the money to do so, I’d definitely recommend staying even longer.
If not, don’t worry.
A shorter trip to Japan is still absolutely worthwhile:
In 7 days you can still see a lot of Tokyo and Kyoto, with a quick connection by bullet train.
In under 7 days you could have an amazing city break in either of those cities with a day trip to Hakone or Nara. Or perhaps two shorter city breaks.
How expensive is it travelling in Japan?
If you’re interested, I’ve listed our trip expenses here.
Do I need a visa?
Visa requirements vary by country, so always check your country’s foreign travel advice.
Good news for many countries, though:
“Visa exemptions can be made for citizens of sixty-six different countries provided that their stays are within ninety days”
See the full list of countries here – it includes the UK, USA, Canada, Australia, New Zealand and many more.
Should I be worried that I don't speak Japanese?
No, I wouldn’t worry about that.
I always recommend learning some key phrases. Hello, excuse me, thank you, please, I don’t understand, do you speak English? etc.
I found travelling with a small phrasebook allowed me to feel happy in most situations.
In cities, most people in customer-facing roles speak good English and are very helpful to boot. (In more remote areas this isn’t so much the case, but having a phrasebook helps a little.)
Thankfully the signage and announcements for transport are incredibly clear. They’re written in kanji and romaji (Japanese written in the English alphabet). To make it even easier, they often assign numbers to stops or exits too.
How do you travel around Japan?
Between cities, your best bet is by train.
For many travellers, using a Japan Rail Pass (JR Pass) for all or part of their trip will save money, time and effort. You can order either a 7 or 14 day pass and it works on the large network of JR trains, plus some JR buses and ferries too.
Learn more about eligibility for the pass, different types/costs and the trains you can use it on here.
Then find a designated sales office or agent from whom to order your pass here.
You’ll receive a voucher (“exchange order”) in the post that can be exchanged for the pass itself once you get to Japan. You only have 3 months from receiving the voucher to exchanging it, so don’t order too early.
Is it worthwhile?
I did a bit of research (using Hyperdia to check train times) and calculated that buying invididual tickets would actually have worked out cheaper for our trip.
But since the difference was relatively small, I went with the passes simply because they were so incredibly convenient.
I knew it would give us peace of mind to pay a flat fee and be covered for the bulk cost of our Japan travel. Then the only thing we needed to do on the ground was make the occasional seat reservation.
We opted for 7 day passes and then centred the majority of our train travel around the middle of the trip, not activating them until the day we left Tokyo and timing it so it expired after we’d arrived in Kyoto.
How much does this cost?
Here’s a rough breakdown of our spending in Japan. This is for two people.
I’ll admit, it is a little on the pricey side!Japan expenses breakdown
|Category||GBP £||JPY ¥||USD $|
Our accommodation included a mixture of Airbnb apartments (Tokyo, Kyoto), hotels (Hiroshima, Nara) and one more expensive minshuku stay (Ainokura).
Transport includes our JR Passes and additional local transport fares (metro, buses). I haven’t included our flights here.
Activities includes things like entrance fees to various temples, gardens, museums, etc. I also included the Hakone Free Pass in this category.
Are you visiting Japan soon? I’d love to hear what you have planned or what you’re most looking forward to in the comments.