Japan is a haven for technophiles, foodies, animation enthusiasts, and so much more. From the beautiful shrines and temples of Kyoto to the famed busy intersection of Shibuya in Tokyo, there’s so much to see but often so little time.
Being travelers ourselves, we at Travel Recommends know that while a month-long vacation would be amazing, it’s not realistic for most people. So we’ve come up with a 1-week itinerary for travel in Japan which will take you through Kyoto -> Tokyo -> Osaka -> Nara. It’s a pretty action-packed plan, so if you have more time to spare you can adapt the itinerary by spending a few more nights in each city and taking things at a more leisurely pace.
Pre-trip: Things You Should Know
1. Pre-purchase a 7-day Nationwide Ordinary JR Pass online before you depart. This itinerary includes 2 Shinkansen (bullet train) trips so it’s much more cost effective to get the pass as it would include all local JR Trains within the various cities as well. A 7-day pass will put you back RM1,164 but will cover almost all your transportation needs on your trip.
2. Get acquainted with your destinations. Each region of Japan has its own unique culture, attractions, and delicacies. From the hustle and bustle of Tokyo to the quintessential beauty of Kyoto, do a bit of research on what to expect for a more fulfilling experience.
3. Try to find places to stay that are within close proximity to train stations. Trains (and subways) are the best way to get around Japan and so it’s best to have one near your accommodation. Consider renting a place on Airbnb as hotel prices can get quite steep.
4. Stay connected by renting a Pocket WiFi router to help with research on the go. Getting around can be confusing in a foreign country where English is not the main language. It’ll also help with navigating yourself to the best Japanese food!
5. Buy tourist attraction tickets online. Japan has several top-rated theme parks such as Universal Studio Japan, Tokyo Disneyland, and Sanrio Puroland. Buy tickets in advance to save precious time when you get there. Other advantages are being able to make your purchase in your local currency and not be held back by any language barriers at the destination.Travel Recommends offers tickets to all three parks at discounted prices: Tokyo Disneyland – TR price: RM279 (adult ticket); Usual price: RM288 Universal Studios Japan – TR price: RM294 (adult ticket); Usual price: RM305 Sanrio Puroland – TR price: RM84 (adult price); Usual price: RM84
6. Prepare your walking shoes as Japan is best explored on foot (and train!). When walking around the cities you will likely find quaint alleyways with tiny restaurants and artisanal shops that are steeped in culture.
1 Week Itinerary: Japan
Day 1 (Your Country – Kansai International Airport – Kyoto)
Welcome to Japan! Fly into Kansai International Airport (KIX) and get your baggage to start your adventure.
If you’ve gotten yourself a JR Pass, head on down to the Ticket Office to activate your JR Pass. You’ll have to present your voucher, fill in a form and, show your passport and decide on a start date (you’ll be using a JR Train immediately to Kyoto, so choose your date of arrival).
Train to Kyoto
Look for the JR Haruka Limited Express train that will take you straight to Kyoto in just 75 minutes. The earliest Haruka service from Kansai Airport is at 6.30 am (6.40 on weekends and holidays) and the latest is at 22.16.
We recommend staying downtown near the Kyoto Station for maximum convenience. Once you’ve arrived and checked in, get acquainted with the downtown area and grab a bite to eat. Tofu is one of the specialty foods of Kyoto alongside its refined and delicate haute cuisine.
Arashiyama Bamboo Forest (West Kyoto)
From Kyoto Station, you can get onto the JR Sannin Line to Saga Arashiyama Station in just 15 minutes. The Bamboo Forest is a short walk away and is one of the most photographed places in Kyoto as it transports visitors to a different world.
Check out the Daimaru Basement food floor for an abundance of Japanese delicacies and snacks then head up to the Daimaru Resuturan-gai for a meal at one of the many restaurants. After dinner, enjoy the view of Kyoto at night from the rooftop of Kyoto Station. Located on the 15th floor of the west wing, the Sky Garden is easily accessible from the Grand Stairway.
Day 2: Kyoto – Exploring the famous temples and shrines
Start your day early, because there’s so much to see and getting from one shrine to another will take time. There are plenty of food options along the route so take your time and be sure to indulge in street snacks!
Kyoto has a mix of trains and buses for public transportation but the train stations are not conveniently located for tourist attractions. So to get around we would recommend getting the 1 day Kyoto Bus card for just ?500. You can purchase it from the main Kyoto Bus Information Center in front of Kyoto Station.
Start your day early and head to Nijo Castle which is an impressive historical structure which was home to the Tokugawa Shogunate – the last feudal Japanese military government. You can get there using the Kyoto Bus card on Raku Bus 101.
*The Raku Bus service was created specifically for tourists as they service most tourist attractions and make announcements in English and other languages.
From Nijo Castle, hop back onto the Raku Bus 101 to get to Kinkaku-ji. When translated to English Kinkaku-ji means Golden Pavilion Temple as the top two floors are completely covered in gold leaf. It’s possibly the most popular depiction of Kyoto as the temple sits on a pond which reflects the stunning gold structure.
Next, head down to the Kinkakuji-michi bus station and get onto a No.204 bus till you reach Ginkakuji-michi bus station. It’s covered by your 1 Day Bus Pass but will take around 40 minutes.
Not to be confused with Kinkaku-ji, Ginkaku-ji translates to Silver Pavilion Temple. However, unlike the Golden Pavilion, it is not covered in silver. It was constructed in 1482 by shogun Ashikaga Yoshimasa as a villa and was modeled after Kinkaku-ji. Besides the pavilion, there is also a sand garden, a moss garden, and several other meticulously maintained buildings.
When you’re done, take a taxi or walk down to the Hyakumanben bus stop and grab bus 203 down to the Kiyomizu-dera michi bus stop for the last must-see sight of the day. Literally translated as Pure Water Temple, it is best known for its wooden stage which is 13m above the hillside, offering spectacular views of the surrounding nature. Don’t forget to have a drink out of the Otowa Waterfall which splits into three streams at the base of the main hall. Each stream is said to provide a different benefit namely to cause longevity, success at school and a fortunate love life so choose wisely!
At the base of Kiyomizu-dera lies the Higashiyama District which is a great place to experience traditional Kyoto. Complete with narrow lanes, wooden buildings and traditional merchant shops, browse the local specialties and pick up a few souvenirs. Do note that the shops close early at around 5 PM – 6 PM so if you’re out of time then find your way to the Kiyomizu-michi bus stop and get onto a No.206 bus for 7 stops to the Karasumashichijo which is near Kyoto station.
If you’re not tired out after a full day of sightseeing, head to Gion and try to catch a glimpse of a geisha or maiko on her way to entertain a client. Do remember to act respectfully as they may not appreciate photos being taken as they go about their daily activities.
Day 3 (Kyoto – Tokyo)
Today you go from Kyoto to Tokyo on Japan’s famous shinkansen bullet train. This is where the JR Pass comes in handy once again as it covers all shinkansen and JR train rides. In Tokyo, we would recommend staying in the Shibuya area as it’s central with easy access to transportation, food, and entertainment at any time of day.
Fushimi Inari Taisha
After checking out from your hotel, head to Kyoto Station and store your luggage in the lockers provided. From there, get onto the JR Nara Line for 2 stops to the Fushimi Inari Station.
Yet another widely photographed area, Fushimi Inari Taisha is most visited for the thousands of torii gates which lead into the wooded forest of the sacred Mount Inari. There are many small shrines along the way as well as a few restaurants and it takes around 30-45 minutes to reach a viewing point. If you’re not feeling up for it, you can always turn back at any time.
Go back to Kyoto Station, grab some lunch, pick up your luggage, then catch the Hikari train on the Tokaido Shinkansen Line to Tokyo. The trip takes 2hrs 40 mins and is covered by the JR Pass.
Upon arrival at Tokyo Station, make your way to the JR Yamanote Line to Shibuya Station. Once you’ve settled into your hotel, go out and explore the many streets of Shibuya. Experience the famous street crossing first hand and take a picture with Hachiko at the station entrance.
Just one station away on the Yamanote Line is the popular fashion street of Harajuku. If you’re there on a Sunday, look out for cosplayers as they are usually out in full force in extravagant costumes.
Enjoy the evening in one of the most bustling cities in the world and go wherever your eyes take you. There’s an abundance of activities and nightlife in both the Shibuya and Harajuku areas which leave most people spoilt for choice.
Day 4 (Tokyo)
Today you’ll check out the world famous Tsukiji fish market, get some souvenirs in Asakusa and be amazed by technology in Akihabara. So wake up early, get your walking shoes and camera ready and head out!
The largest wholesale fish market in Japan, Tsukiji handles over 2,000 tons of marine products per day. If you’re early enough, try catching the live tuna auction at 5 AM but be sure to check online for the rules and etiquette one must follow.
When you’re done, enjoy a fresh sushi breakfast at one of the local shops then make your way from Tsukiji to the Higashi Ginza train station and get on the Asakusa line to Asakusa.
For a bird’s eye view of the city, visit Japan’s tallest structure – The Tokyo Skytree. The highest observation deck sits at 451.2m and there’s also a large shopping complex and aquarium at the base.
Time for some souvenir hunting! While Asakusa is most known for Sensoji, Tokyo’s oldest temple, it’s also best for buying souvenirs and sampling delicious traditional street food. Nakamise-dori is a historical shopping street which stretches for 250m and is lined with 89 shops.
Akihabara is a district famous for its electronics shops and is becoming more popular for otaku (diehard fan) culture. Browse the hundreds of electronics shops and perhaps try out a maid café where waitresses dress up as maid or manga characters. Even if you’re not into gadgets or manga, it’s a unique experience you won’t find elsewhere.
Day 5 (Tokyo)
Take a day trip away from the city for some spectacular views of the iconic Mount Fuji and experience a traditional Japanese hot spring. Get yourself a Hakone Freepass for unlimited rides within the Hakone area.
Start by getting to Hakona Yumoto. Just take the JR Shinkansen or the JR Tokaido line from Shinjuku to Odawara and get a local train from there. Hakone Yumoto is a quaint town with numerous public bathhouses or ryokan. Many of these ryokans open their baths to daytime visitors for an admission fee of typically between 500 and 2,000 yen. After your bath experience, explore Hakone Yumoto town and grab some lunch before heading down to the lake.
Get on the Hakone Tozan Railway for a slow and scenic ride through the mountains to Gora Station. Next, take to the skies via the Hakone Ropeway to Togendai which is right by Lake Ashi. Lake Ashi is one of the Fuji Five Lakes and has a number of attractions, museums, and historical sites along its shores. If you’re keen to go across the river you can do so via the Hakone Sightseeing Cruise.
On your last night in Tokyo, do some last minute shopping, sing your heart out at Karaoke or simply stroll around Shibuya and enjoy the hustle and bustle.
If you have extra time, check out these other places in Tokyo: 1. Roppongi Hill 2. Ghibli Museum 3. Disney Sea 4. Odaiba 5. Mount Fuji 6. Yoyogi Park 7. Meiji Jingu 8. Ueno Park Day 6 (Tokyo – Osaka)
Depart Tokyo and head to Osaka on the Tokaido Shinkansen. Osaka is perfect for exploring and discovering food while doing a spot of shopping on the side. We would recommend staying near the Umeda Station as it’s the most central and convenient location.
Kuromon Ichiba Market
Once you’ve dropped your luggage off at your hotel, head down to the Kuromon Ichiba Market for some delicious bites. Don’t forget to try Osaka’s most famous foods – Takoyaki and Okonomiyaki. From there you can also take a walk to the famous Shinsaibashi shopping district and Dotonbori.
Depending on your timing and how you feel, you can check out one or more of the options below.
Osaka Castle (optional)
In the afternoon, take a leisurely stroll around the expansive grounds of Osaka Castle which covers approximately 15 acres. It’s one of Osaka’s most famous spots for cherry blossom viewing, so don’t miss it if you’re around during the season.
Umeda Sky Building (optional)
Located near the Osaka and Umeda stations, the Umeda Sky Building is known for its modern architecture with two towers connected by a Floating Garden Observatory.
Osaka Aquarium (optional)
Japan’s most spectacular aquarium, it’s also one of the world’s largest. It features 15 tanks with the main tank housing whale sharks.
If you’re a ramen fan, Ichiran Ramen is one of the most famous chains and has two outlets in Osaka. For fancier options, you can also check out the Kitashinchi District.
Day 7 (Osaka – Your Country)
On your last day in Osaka, take it easy and do some last minute shopping before heading to the airport.
The longest shopping street in Osaka, it’s a short ride away from Umeda Station. Just stop at either the JR Temma or JR Temmangu station.
There are a number of trains that will lead you back to the Kansai International Airport, so ask around at the train station for the next and most convenient train for you. Once at the airport don’t forget to stock up on some Royce chocolate and Japanese whiskey!
The itinerary above can always be adapted to fit longer holidays as there’s so much more to see and do in Japan. Just spend a few extra nights in each destination and take things at a more leisurely pace.
Also, don’t forget that you can rent a pocket WiFi router, get your JR Pass and theme park tickets from Travel Recommends!
1. Japan TravelWifi at only RM15/day with unlimited 4G speed data
2. JR Ordinary Pass to complete this itinerary (Kyoto -> Tokyo -> Osaka -> Nara), available in 7, 14, 21 days.
Price: From RM1164.
3. Tokyo Disneyland: RM279 (adult ticket)
4. Universal Studios Japan: RM294 (adult ticket)
5. Sanrio Puroland: RM84 (adult price)