Best of Japan in Two Weeks
When I booked my flights to Japan I knew one thing for sure and that was that I wanted to see everything. I’d never been to Japan before and I simply wanted to experience every side of the country, from the ancient Japanese culture to modern skyscrapers and from bathing in hot springs to skiing down the Japanese Alps.
The downside was that I only had two weeks in Japan. TWO WEEKS! How was I ever going to fit all these places into one trip? Well, I started to plan like a pro – I even watched vlogs on Japan in the gym. The result is this epic itinerary to see the best of Japan in two weeks.
Stop 1: Tokyo
If you’re ready for the full Japan experience straight away make sure to start in Tokyo. It’s an amazing city like no other place you’ve ever been. Try to stay at least 3 days.
Where to stay
The best area to stay in Tokyo is in Shinjuku (close to the station). It’s easy to get there from almost everywhere in Japan. From the airport take the Narita Express . Unless you’re travelling solo and want to try one of the many capsule hotels – I heard they’re amazing and even though my boyfriend really wanted to stay in one I just couldn’t do it – stay in APA hotel, Premier Hotel CABIN or Super Hotel. All three hotels are close to Shinjuku station and are very affordable!
What to see and do
Though there are countless things to do in Tokyo, these are the 10 things you can’t miss!
1. Look out over Tokyo from the Government Building
Free entrance, make sure to take the South tower as at the other tower the best view is blocked by a restaurant.
2. Shibuya Crossing
World’s most busiest intersection where thousands of people cross the road at once. Go during rush hour and visit the Starbucks for the best views.
3. Senso-Ji Temple
Tokyo’s oldest and most famous temple, can be visited all year round.
4. Meiji Shrine
Go for a stroll around the Yoyogi Park as see this beautiful shrine dedicated to the spirits of Emperor Meiji.
5. Robot Restaurant
I won’t give any explanation, just book your tickets online and go. It’s an amazing experience. All I will say is this: get drunk and enjoy.
6. Golden Gai
Loads of little bars in small alleys, great place to go for a drink in the evening. Be aware of the cover charge at some places!
7. Mario Kart
Go Mario karting around Tokyo, it makes you feel like you’re in a Nintendo game, I didn’t try it but saw them driving around and it all dressed up in Mario outfits and it looked so much fun.
8. Tokyo Tower
Tokyo’s no need to visit the tower itself, but go to the Zojoji Temple close by for a view of the temple and tower in one!
This area is home to is home to many of Japan’s youth subcultures and you’ll find teenagers dressed up in the most amazing outfits you can think of.
For the ultimate Tokyo’s Electric Town experience make sure to go this area is full of electronic shops, anime and manga.
Stop 2: Japanese Alps
I love skiing so for me the main reason to visit Japan in winter was to try its amazing slopes. Everyone always says Japan has the best powder – and I can tell you that this is true. But, they don’t rent out the best skis so if you’re there make sure to don’t just trust the very friendly shop owners and carefully check what they’re offering you before you hit the slopes.
If you’re not in Japan in winter, I can still recommend to go to the Japanese Alps. There’s so much else to do! You can do some amazing hikes, chill in one of the many onsens (hot springs) and see the snow monkeys!
Where to stay
There are a lot of places to stay around the Japanese Alps but if you’re there to ski make sure to go to Hakuba. It’s really fun ski town, where the Olympic Winter Games were held in 1998 and perfect to ski or snowboard.
If you’re heading to Hakuba, stay in Echoland. This area has affordable accommodation and there’s a lovely street with amazing restaurants and fun bars. A free shuttle busses runs frequently to the slopes. We decided to stay at Mt Hakuba Backpackers because we wanted to have a hostel experience in Japan and meet some other travellers. Nevertheless, there are many hotels around for similar prices as the hostel.
What to see and do
If you’re there in winter make sure to hit the slopes as the snow in Japan is AMAZING. We went to Happo-One, which is one of the ski resorts around Hakuba. You can rent ski’s/snowboards and equipment at every corner of the street. Make sure to check your ski/snowboard before you head up the slope though. I arrived at the top to find out they forgot to fit one of my ski boots into my ski. But hey, I guess the Japanese make mistakes too.
2. Snow Monkey Park
If you want to see the snow monkeys bathing in hot springs make sure to go to the Jigokudani Monkey Park. If you’re planning to visit more places take the snow monkey pass (unlimited travel with public transport in the region). It’s 1 hour by bus from Nagano station and a short (beautiful) hike to get to the park. Definitely worthwhile a visit!
3. Matsumoto Castle
Matsumoto Castle is of Japan’s oldest existing caslte recognized as a National Treasure. To get there you can take a bus from Nagano. There’s also a train going there from Shinjuku in Tokyo.
Stop 3: Kyoto
Kyoto is a city that feels like a small town and is by far my favourite place in Japan! Try to spend as much time in this amazing city as you can! We stayed 5 nights and visited Nara and Hiroshima as day trips.
Where to stay
Kyoto has a lot of cute traditional areas which are nice to stay. The best experience, however, is to spend a few nights in a Ryokan – a traditional Japanese inn.
I stayed at COTO Kyoto Toji 3, close to the Toji Temple. I loved it because it was in a resident area, where people really lived instead of just tourists. If you want to stay more central stay at Nagomi Ryokan Yuu, if you prefer a hotel check APA Hotel.
What to see and do
1. Fushimi Inari-Taisha
Thousands of red Torii gates donated by companies or families for good luck and health. You can walk through them for hours! Make sure to go there at the end of the day as it’s really cool to see the Torii gates when it gets dark. Walk all the way up to the top for a view over Kyoto. Also good in combination with a trip to Nara (see next stop).
2. Golden Pavilion
One of Japan’s most famous landmarks of which the two top floors are covered in Gold. It’s a bit out of town (takes quite a while to get there by bus) but a must visit!
3. Higashiyama area
My favourite area in Kyoto! Wander around the most cute little streets and amazing temples. Make sure to be there for sunset. It’s magical!
4. Ponto-cho & Gion
Two amazing areas to stroll around in the evening. After spotting geishas and go to the narrow walking street between Shijo-dori and Sanjo-dori (running parallel to the river) for food. You’ll find excellent restaurants on both sides of the street.
5. Kyoto Station
When you’re around the station make sure to go in and walk up to the ‘Sky Garden’ over stairs with a light show and go down to the ‘Food Port’ where you will find the best affordable restaurants.
If you have the time, also visit these places:
✧ Bamboo Forest
✧ Nishiki market
✧ Toji Temple
Stop 4: Nara
Nara is Japan’s first capital and has eight Unesco World Heritage Sites. You can visit the city as a day trip from Kyoto. It’s only one hour by train, there’s a direct connection between the two cities.
Though the famous Todaiji Temple and giant Buddha are the main reason most people visit Nara, I went there to see the deer! The parks in the city are full of hundreds of deer that are so used to humans you can literally share a cookie with them.
Stop 5: Hiroshima
A bit off route but an important place to visit. I visited Hiroshima as a day trip from Kyoto and even though it took over 2 hours to get there by bullet train it’s not a place you can skip.
From the station take the tram to the Peace Memorial Park where you can see the Atomic Bump Dome, one of the few buildings that ‘survived’ the explosion. At 08:15 (as you can see on the watch above) the atomic bump was dropped on the city which literally turned into dust in only a few seconds.
We visited the museum where the daughter of one of the victims shared her mum’s story. It was one of the most horrible stories I ever heard and therefore I believe everyone should visit this place and learn more about nuclear weapons, but more about this in another blog I will write specifically on Hiroshima.
After our visit to the Peace Memorial Park we took the ferry to Miyajima. This is a little island famous for its giant Torii gate in the water. It’s really stunning and also here deer are wandering around! So in case you skip Nara make sure to see them here. Try to stay for sunset for the most beautiful views!
Stop 6: Osaka
You can also visit Osaka as a day trip from Kyoto (it’s only 20 minutes by train). Nevertheless, we decided to stay there for the night as the city is at its best when the evening falls.
The first thing I noticed is that Osaka is different than most other cities in Japan. There’s more rubbish on the streets, people smoke everywhere (and not only in the ‘smoke area’) and it simply feels a bit less organized. To be honest, it was great. I loved to experience another side of Japan.
Osaka in 1 day:
When you arrive in Osaka visit Shinekai, a cool area to walk around and get a taste of the city during the day. Also head to the Aquarium if you get a chance. It’s a fun experience and one of the city’s main attractions after the Osaka-jo Castle. There are 2 whalesharks which are pretty impressive to see. After the aquarium visit the Osaka Castle. Try to be there right before it gets dark so you get to see it during day and night – the castle lights up beautifully. Then go to the area Dōtonbor which is a great place in the evening. It’s amazing, try food in one of the many restaurants and just walk around and be impressed by all the lights, people and parties.
Stop 7: Mt Fuji
The last stop of our trip was Mt Fuji and I loved to end our holiday there. The nature is so incredibly beautiful and there are so many onsens around to chill in!
We decided to stay in Gora for the night. There is a loop you can do from Hakone to Gora, from where you take the tram and a cable car up to see Mt Fuji and learn more about the nature of the hot springs in the area. It’s very interesting and beautiful.If you’re heading there make sure to buy the Hakone Free Pass so you can explore the area in 2 or 3 days. If you don’t have time you can also do this as a day trip from Tokyo.