The “Land of Rising Sun”, Japan is rather difficult to describe as it is a complex blend between ancient and modern world. A fast paced, non-stop life in Tokyo or Mountainous regions of ancient Kyoto, Japan leaves no stone unturned to surprise you. Japanese culture can be traced back to about a thousand years and boasts of rich traditions. Japan will make each day of your trip count. It would almost feel like an excavation, with new things coming up every day.
Rumors are that Japan is very expensive, that may keep postponing your plans to visit. But if budgeted well, it would be affordable. Check out our tips and guide for Japan
After doing lots of research and planning, we formulated a 9-day itinerary to accommodate most of the things.
So here is how we divided our 9 days in Japan:
- 2 days Tokyo
- 1 day Kamakura
- 1 day Hakone
- 2 days Kyoto
- 1 day Nara
- 1 day Osaka
- 1 last day Tokyo
Tokyo made us believe in love at first sight. The city has a fine blend of old and new, on one side there are sprawling skyscrapers dominating the skyline and on the other, you will see the peaceful view of Zen temples. Tokyo really knows how to satisfy its visitors, which has something for everyone, with an unlimited choice of shopping, entertainment, dining & cultural experience. We choose to stay at Shinjuku, which is one of the ideal places to live in Tokyo since it is a heart of the Tokyo subway system, which made our travel easier.
The places we covered in 2 days are:
Meiji- Jingo shrine: It is one of the most important shrines in Japan, which is dedicated to the deified spirits of Emperor Meiji. You can also witness how Japanese weddings happen. The entry to this Shrine is free, but if you wish to check out Meiji Jingu Treasure house, which exhibits the personal belongings of the Emperor and Empress, you need to pay 500 yen.
Harajuku: Harajuku is my favorite spot, and if you love shopping, this is must visit for you. It has a most famous fashion street Takeshita Dori which is lined up with trendy shops, famous crepes stand, and fashion boutiques & even you can find young people engaging in Cosplay which is a costume play.
Shibuya: Shibuya is known for its famous scrabble crossing, which is a crazy intersection in Tokyo. You will love to see how hundreds of people cross at a time dodging each other. The area is also famous for branded fashion stores. Also, don’t forget to check out the statue of Hachiko, the world’s most loyal dog, which is located at the Shibuya station exit.
Akihabara: Known as a Tokyo’s electric town, as the name suggests, this place is home to many electronic shops and a heaven for gadget lovers. If you are into anime or manga this is the place where you should be. You shouldn’t miss visiting Yodobashi, to check out some really crazy gadgets.
Sensoji Temple: Sensoji temple is a Buddhist temple which is situated in the ancient temple town Asakusa & is one of the oldest temples in Tokyo. While walking towards the temple there is a famous shopping street called Nakamise, this street has some amazing souvenirs that you will surely love to take home with you. Avoid going on Sundays as it may get heavily crowded.
Hamarikyu Gardens: There are many Parks and Gardens in Tokyo, but we visited this as it was suggested by one of our friends. We visited the garden by taking a short ride from Sumida river cruise. The garden is large and attractive and located in central Tokyo.
Imperial Palace: It is a residence of Japan’s Imperial family. The palace is surrounded by a beautiful garden which can be toured by the public. There is not much to see, but one can enjoy beautiful views of Palace by taking a relaxing stroll in the East garden.
Rainbow Bridge: The bridge connects Tokyo with the man-made island of Odaiba. You can get some astonishing view of Tokyo Bay. Just get down to the closest station and walk through the bridge, the best time to visit is during sunset. Once you cross the Bridge you will get the view of Daikanransha, which is a Tokyo Ferris wheel similar to the London Eye.
Tokyo Skytree: It is a television broadcasting tower & also a landmark of Tokyo. It is the second tallest structure in the world. The Tokyo sky tree is mostly visited for the observatory deck, from where you can get the views of the Tokyo skyline. Remember to book your ticket online, to avoid waiting in the long queue which can take more than an hour.
Tokyo Metropolitan governmental building: As the name suggests it is a governmental building, located in Shinjuku area, the building is visited by tourists for its observatory deck located at 45th floor, to get the view of Tokyo Skyline. Unlike Tokyo sky tree, the entry to the observatory is free of cost.
Getting Around: Tokyo has one of the best subway systems in the world, so getting around the city is much easier. We got ourselves Pasmo card, which can be used on Jr line and subway lines.
Our 2 days glimpse of Tokyo
Kamakura (Day trip):
We decided to do a Trip to Kamakura on our 3rd day. Kamakura is only an hour ride from Tokyo& unlike Tokyo, it is very silent and peaceful and usually visited on weekends by Japanese people. This coastal town is packed with numerous shrines and temples. Since covering all the shrines was not possible in a day, we decided to do one which was most significant.
Here are places that we covered in Kamakura:
Great Buddha of Kamakura:
Great Buddha of Kamakura is the second tallest Buddha in Japan and is the most popular tourist attraction in Kamakura. It is also called as Daibatsu. The statue is about 13.35 meters tall. The interesting part is that it is hollow & with a small fee you can go inside the statue of Buddha.
Hase Dera temple:
It is one of the most beautiful temples in Kamakura, where you will get to see hundreds of Jizo Bodhisattva statues. The temple is known for the statue of Kannon, the goddess of mercy. We thoroughly enjoyed our visit to this temple strolling around the beautiful garden.
The main reason I want to visit this temple was for Bamboo groove, although it was not as big as the one in Kyoto, has a calm feeling. There is also a tea house inside bamboo groove where you can enjoy matcha tea, with the view of Bamboos.
Engakuji temple is one of the leading Zen temple and our last stop for the day in Kamakura. The temple itself is very large and needs more than an hour to explore. There are also grave sites, which are interesting to look. Unfortunately, by the time, we reached the temple was about to close, so we couldn’t get a chance to see and explore all the sites inside a temple.
Getting Around: The fastest way to reach Kamakura from Tokyo is taking JR Yokosuka line, which goes directly to Kamakura station. Getting around Kamakura is pretty easy since most of the sites are either around the train station, you can use local buses, or hike the trails.
Hakone is well known for its hot springs, great natural scenery and view of Mt. Fuji. Merely 90 minutes train ride from Tokyo, Hakone is easily accessible and popular among visitors. Hence making it perfect destination for a day trip. Sadly, we cannot catch glimpse of Mt. Fuji due to bad rainy weather.
Places worth a visit:
Hakone Jinja Shrine – It’s a beautiful Shinto shrine with tori gates in water.
Lake Ashi (Ashinoko) – Lake Ashi was formed in the caldera of Mt. Hakone after volcanic eruption 3000 years back. Lake offers beautiful views of Mt Fuji on clear days.
Hakone Open Air Museum – What better way to see the sculptures than in beautiful Open Park? A building dedicated to Picasso and an outdoor footbath! A variety of artworks blended with the serenity of surrounding nature, altogether a unique experience.
Fuji-Hakone-Izu National Park: It is a popular attraction among tourists for Onsen (Hot springs) and views of Mt Fuji.
Mt Fuji: a sacred mountain for Japanese people is the highest mountain in Japan ( 3776 meters ). People who have that extra energy and love hiking can consider climbing as well.
Note: Due to bad weather condition we weren’t able to cover all the attractions.
Getting Around: Travelling to Hakone is not covered by JR lines, so you won’t be able to use Jr pass for your trip. However, there is a separate pass for Hakone which is “Hakone Free pass”, it is a discounted pass which let you explore Hakone. The pass can be purchased from Shinjuku station or from Odawara station which has different prices. We got our pass from Shinjuku station, which let us travel from Shinjuku to Odiwara station on odakyu line. This pass lets you access 8 different transport systems in Hakone.
To know more about Hakone free pass you can visit Japan Guide
Day 5 & 6:
Kyoto is an ancient capital of Japan, a city which is filled with hundreds of temples, beautiful gardens, crafts, & a lot more. A trip to Japan would surely be incomplete without visiting Kyoto. As a nature lover, I can easily spend an entire month here. One can easily fall in love with Kyoto.
Places that we covered in Kyoto :
Kinkakuji temple: Kinkakuji was also known as Golden pavilion. Its top 2 stories are covered with Golden leaf. This temple is always crowded with tourists, which may make it difficult to enjoy the beauty of this serene temple.
Ginkakuji temple: Ginkakuji is known as a silver pavilion. But unlike Kinkakuji this temple is not covered with silver leaf. The most impressive part of the temple was its garden.
Tofukuji temple: The temple is most famous for it spectacular views during autumn. It is a beautiful Zen temple which we visited during our way back from Fushimi Inari shrine. If you like quaint atmosphere, serenity, then do not miss this temple.
Arishiyama bamboo groove: It is one of the famous Bamboo forests in Japan, where you can walk amidst the soaring stalks of Bamboos. One of the beautiful experience one can have, the only down part is a heavy crowd. If you seek to enjoy the beauty of this place and want to get into some forest bathing, try going in the early morning.
Fushimi Inari shrine: One of the unique shrines in Kyoto, this shrine will live up to your expectation of visiting Japan. The highlight of this shrine is more than 10000 Orange Tori gates, which are lined up along the pathway.
Gion district: The most famous neighborhood in Kyoto, famous among tourist for spotting Geisha. If you are looking to get the true feel of Japanese culture, and those old tea houses, that looks like a movie set, it is here right in Gion.
Yasaka shrine: Yasaka Shrine is in the center of Gion district. We accidentally happen to visit this shrine, which was on the main road. It is a beautiful shrine, where you get to see many tourists and Japanese females dressed up in Yakuta.
Nishiki Market: Nishiki Market is known as Kyoto’s Kitchen, the shopping street is lined up with hundreds of shop and restaurants. By the time we reached the market most of the stores were already closed, so couldn’t really get the real experience of this market. It is ideal to visit market before 5 pm.Getting Around: We reached Kyoto by Shinkansen which took nearly 3 hours from Tokyo. Moving around in Kyoto is pretty easy as most of the attractions are either connected by trains or by bus. The bus network is quite good, so will recommend you take a one day or two-day bus pass.
Another downpours ahead of us, and we had to cover Nara as it was very much in our “must visit” list.
Ever heard of deer’s running freely around humans in an open park? Yes, that’s true! Nara is the place where you can have this experience. Nara’s animal mascot is deer. They are protected status as envoys of the god.
Japan’s ancient capital city, Nara lies in Kansai region. Established in the year 710 at Heijo, Nara is located just less than an hour from Kyoto and Osaka, making it a perfect day trip. The place is full of UNESCO sites and treasures, including some of Japans oldest and largest temples.
Must see sites in Nara:
Home of the famous Daibutsu and largest Buddha statue reaching almost 15meters. The Daibutsu-den is said to be largest wooden building in the world and UNESCO world heritage site. Nonetheless, despite being the rainy day it was very impressive.
As you walk around the Daibutsu-den, four other giant statues are located and also a souvenir stand.
Though Nara park is not a site it’s an open deer park, where most of the temples and shrines are adjacent to it. A wide pleasant space full of greenery, the park is home to hundreds of freely roaming mercenary deer. Visitors to the park can purchase “deer crackers” to feed deer’s, however, deer’s can get aggressive if they know they are about to be fed.
The first temple you will come across from Kintetsu-Nara Station and a short walk from the center of Nara. This temple has a three story and five story pagoda which is Japans second tallest after Kyoto’s Toji temple. The legendary three faced Ashura is kept in the museum.
Getting Around :
Nara is less than an hour by train from Kyoto and Osaka. From Kyoto, both JR Nara Line and privately operated Kintetsu Kyoto Line will get you to Nara.
Though there are no direct buses from Kyoto or Osaka to Nara, there are bus tours and local buses inside Nara itself. Opt for one day pass (500 yen) and you can stop at any site.
Cycling around would probably be the best way to catch every site in Nara. Rent a bicycle at JR station for few bucks and make the best out of it.
Osaka is the third largest metropolitan city in Japan, which falls in its Kansai region. Initially, it was not the part of our itinerary, but somehow we decided to make a brief stop by taking a locally hosted tour through Airbnb which is introduced recently. The tour nearly ended for 2 hours after which we headed towards Osaka Castle.
Osaka Castle: The castle is one of the Highlights of Osaka. It is surrounded by the park which will give you the relaxed feeling. This castle truly encapsulates the history of Japan & takes you back to the old era.
Getting Around: Osaka has a good subway system, just like Tokyo, so traveling shouldn’t be an issue in Osaka. Since we were here for a short while we couldn’t take the real experience of traveling within Osaka much.
It was our last Day in Japan. Since our return flight was from Tokyo, therefore we decided to stay here. We spend our last day relaxing and doing some souvenir shopping. The best place to do some souvenir shopping are:
Nakamine Street, Asakusa: The street which leads to the Sensonji temple. It has some nice Japanese souvenir and goods, which you will definitely love to get back home, but it can be a bit pricey though.
100 yen shop: There are many 100 yen shops in Japan, which are stuffed with some cool Japanese products at very low cost. We went to Daiso, located in the Takeshita Dori, Harajuku. It is one of the biggest Daiso in Tokyo, which is a 4-storey store & has some endless variety of items at an affordable price.
Conclusion of our 9 days experience in Japan
Japan is a pretty country with a hospitable population. Every travel enthusiast must visit Japan and experience the Japanese culture. Just like the Indian culture, Japanese culture is also guest friendly and therefore the Japanese make sure that you feel at home in Japan.