Are you planning a trip to Japan? Most people want to take a Japan vacation at some point in their life. It’s an intriguing destination, full of sumptuous foods, mesmerizing landscapes, and incredible sights. The only thing holding you back from traveling to Japan is probably the daunting task of creating the perfect Japan travel itinerary.
We understand. That’s why we’ve taken the fear out of it for you by creating a perfect 7-day Japan itinerary that you can follow or use to plan your own trip.
For decades, the island nation of Japan has been a favorite destination for travelers to Asia. From amazing Zen temples to kitschy reproductions of western monuments like the Eiffel Tower, Japan has something for every traveler who visits. The hardest thing is fitting it all in.
The itinerary includes many of the top things you’ll want to see and do in Japan. You can see a lot in just 7 days in Japan, but it doesn’t have to be overwhelming. If you have longer to spend, you can expand this itinerary to any length you wish.
- We also have a 10-14-day Japan itinerary that might suit you better if you a bit longer to spend.
- If you will only be visiting Tokyo, check out our shortened 3-day itinerary for Tokyo.
- How about Kyoto? Here’s your 3-day itinerary.
How to Plan a Vacation in Japan
Best Time to Go to Japan
The first step in planning a Japan vacation is deciding when to go. As with most places, there isn’t a “best” time to go to Japan. You can’t go whenever the mood strikes you. Japan really is a year-round travel destination. However, there are “better” times to go.
It’s important to know the country’s seasons and when they occur during the year. The islands of Japan lie in the temperate and at the northeastern end of the monsoon area. The climate is generally mild, although it varies considerably from place to place when you travel Japan. Summer, which is warm and mild, begins around the middle of July following a rainy season that usually lasts for a month. Except in northern Japan the winter is mild with many sunny days. Spring and autumn are the best seasons of the year with balmy days and bright sunshine.
Late spring (March to May) and late autumn (September to November) are generally the best times to visit Japan. During these months, there is very little rainfall and there are many sunny days, but the temperatures are mild.
- Spring is cherry blossom season. While this is considered high season in Japan, the weather tends to be mild and nice from late March to May.
- In autumn, the leaves are changing color and the resulting scenery is nothing short of amazing.
- In summer in Japan it gets very hot and humid. It’s also a very busy high season for Japan, so you’ll constantly be fighting crowds and you’ll pay more for accommodations. Try to avoid traveling in July and August.
- In winter, December to February, there will be less tourists so the prices are lower and it’s easier to get in to top attractions. Japan can also be very beautiful in the snow.
Getting to Japan
Many top airlines have direct flights into Japan. Top Japan airlines include ANA and Japan Airlines, but you can fly to Japan with most U.S. airlines that fly internationally, like United and American.
Something to consider, which will help maximize your time in the country, is to fly into one city and out of another, such as flying into Tokyo and out of Osaka. Doing this will save time and money.
Once you arrive at the airport, there is a convenient train that takes you into the city center.
- In Tokyo, that train is called the JR Narita Express. A one-way journey takes about an hour and costs approx. 3000 yen. You can use the Japan Rail Pass for this train.
- In Osaka, rapid trains take you from airport to Tennoji Station within50 minutes for appox. 1060 yen. and to Osaka Station within 70 minutes for approx. 1190 yen.
- In Kyoto, the Limited Express Haruka train will take you to the Osaka airport in about 75 minutes.
Tipping in Japan
If you’re from the United States, Canada, or another country where tipping is customary, you should be aware that tipping in Japan is not customary. If you do try to tip, in a restaurant or a hotel for instance, it might even be refused or considered rude. To avoid awkwardness, follow the Japanese custom and do not tip.
General Japan Information
Japan consists of four main islands and several smaller ones. Together the islands take the shape of a sea horse and occupy an area of 377,435 square kms. Tokyo, the capital city, is very modern and bustling with activity, so when you travel to Japan, be ready for a few crowds.
The landscape of Japan, away from the big cities, is mountainous with spectacular scenery; some of the mountains are volcanic. Mt. Fuji is the tallest mountain in Japan, and is known for its symmetrical slopes.
Top Japan Destinations
There are many unique and interesting places to visit in Japan. While it’s not possible to visit them all in just seven days, if you have a bit more time, you can include more of these top Japan destinations in your itinerary.
The three top places to visit in Japan are:
If you’re not keen to travel on your own, there are many tour agencies that provide tours to these three cities. However, it is very easy to travel around Japan via high-speed Shinkansen bullet train, so organizing your own trip isn’t out of the question.
Other top destinations to visit in Japan are listed below. Each has its own special things to see and do.
Top Things to Do in Japan
- Seeing the temples in Kyoto, including the famous orange gates of Fushimi Inari Shrine and Kinkaku-ji Temple (Golden Temple).
- Staying the night in a traditional Japanese inn, or ryokan.
- Soaking in a communal onsen (traditional hot springs). Hakone is known for its many onsens and its fantastic views of Mount Fuji. Also try Nozawa onsens.
- Exploring the Tsukiji Fish Market in Tokyo.
- Eating sushi, ramen, gyoza and many other delicious things in Tokyo.
- Touring Hiroshima’s Peace Memorial Park & Museum.
- Trying real Kobe beef in Kobe.
- Seeing the cherry blossoms.
- Trying Japanese sake at a brewery.
- Walking through the Arashiyama Bamboo Forest.
- Catching a glimpse of Mount Fuji.
- Visit the Jigokudani Snow Monkey Park in Nagano.
- Feeding the deer at Nara Park.
- Hiking to the Great Buddha of Kamakura.
- Try izakayas (Japanese taverns) – a truly local experience. (Pro Tip: If you want to enjoy Japanese hidden Izakaya food and drinks, Magical Trip will help you navigate through their favorite izakaya bars on Tokyo Bar Hopping Night Tour with an awesome local guide.
How to Get Around in Japan
The best way to travel around Japan in by train. You’ll want to purchase a 7-day Japan Rail Pass. The pass allows you to travel on all JR trains throughout Japan, including the high-speed Shinkansen bullet trains, for either 7, 14 or 21 consecutive days. It’s the most economical and worry-free way to travel, if you’ll be making multiple stops along the way. Travel in Japan is not cheap and the cost of buying individual tickets will far exceed the cost of the Japan Rail Pass.
Just remember, you have to purchase it before entering the country and give time for it to be delivered to you. Read our guide on where to buy a Japan Rail Pass and if it’s worth it.
When planning your Japan itinerary, you’ll need to be sure to leave plenty of time between destinations for travel. The trains in Japan are fast, but travel still eats up a lot of time. Keep in mind the distance between each destination when making your itinerary; for instance, the train from Tokyo to Kyoto takes 3 hours, 15 minutes.
As long as there is a train linking each of your chosen cities, you’ll be able to easily travel around the country.
How to Spend One Week in Japan
Option One: Go on a Guided Japan Tour
While you can plan your own trip to Japan, sometimes it’s easier to go on a guided tour instead. Guided tours are a great way to experience a country you’re not completely comfortable in. The language barrier in Japan can be quite daunting. If you think you’d feel more comfortable in the hands of an experienced guide, you might want to check out one of the tours operated by Japan and More.
Japan and More offers a fully escorted 8-day Intro to Japan trip that takes you to Tokyo, Osaka, Kyoto. They also have longer trip itineraries:
For more information, check out Japan and More’s website. You’ll get $100 off the cost of your tour by using our coupon code. Not sure? Read this review by someone who’s taken a trip with Japan & More.Use coupon code: SAJN for $100 off
Option Two: Plan Your Own Self-Guided Trip
If you’re a frequent traveler, you’ll have no problem planning your own Japan travel itinerary and getting around on your own. Sure, there is often a language barrier to deal with, but it’s nothing a savvy traveler can’t handle.
If you’d like to put together your own self-guided trip, we’ve got a 7-day itinerary that ticks all the boxes you’re probably looking to do with a week in Japan. It includes Tokyo, Hakone/Mt. Fuji, Kyoto and Osaka.
Day 1-2: Tokyo
Day 1-2: Tokyo
How to Get There
Tokyo has two airports – Narita Airport and Haneda Airport. Narita is for international flights and Haneda is for domestic flights and a few international flights.
The JR Narita Express train is the fastest option for getting to the city center. It goes to JR Shinjuku Station, JR Tokyo Station, JR Ikebukuro Station, JR Shinagawa and JR Yokohama Station. Follow the signs in the terminal to the train.
If you have a Japan Rail Pass, you can use it for this train. If you don’t, you can purchase a ticket for around 3310 yen. The journeys is about 50 minutes to get to Tokyo station. From there, you can buy another ticket to take one of the inner city lines to your hotel.
The Airport Limousine Bus is another option, and probably the most convenient. The ticket desk is straight ahead as you leave the arrivals area. The bus stops are just outside the terminal building. You can go to Tokyo Station, Shinjuku Station, Disneyland and major hotels, and they leave every fifteen minutes. A ticket costs 3000 yen, and the journey is 1.5 hours.
Once you arrive, you’ll want to use HyperDia to figure out your train travel within Tokyo. It displays detailed timetable and compares routes and prices. It’s available for both iphone and android.
What To Do in Tokyo
While you could easily spend 7 or more days just in Tokyo, you’ll have to do the abbreviated version in order to see more of the country. We recommend following this 3-day Tokyo itinerary. You can mix and match what you do, to suit your interests.
Top things to see in Tokyo include:
- Tokyo Sky Tower
- Tsukiji Fish Market (read more about it here)
- Shibuya Crossing at Shibuya Station
- Meiji Jingu Shrine
- The Imperial Palace East Gardens
- Senso-ji, Tokyo’s oldest Buddhist temple
We also recommend participating in a tea ceremony, going on an Izakaya food tour, and taking a cooking class. You’ll definitely want to indulge in some ramen, which can be found in abundance at Tokyo Station Ramen Street.
Day 3: Hakone/Mt. Fuji
How to Get There
Hakone and Mt. Fuji are very close together, and they are on the way from Tokyo to Kyoto, so it’s a stop that most travelers make. If you have a Japan Rail Pass, hop on the Shinkansen – on the Tokaido line – from Tokyo Station or Shinagawa Station to Odawara. Be sure to check the stops on the train you’re getting on to make sure they stop in Odawara.
If you’re not using a rail pass, the quickest direct route to Hakone from Tokyo is on the Odakyu Electric Railway Romancecar. You will depart from Shinjuku Station and arrive at Hakone-Yumoto Station in 1.5 hours. A ticket costs 2,080 yen, including the limited express surcharge. Be sure you only get on the romancecars, as the others require a transfer.
If you’re going to be using transportation in and around Hakone for at least 2 days, the Hakone Freepass is a good idea. You buy it at Shinjuku for the train ride, and it also can be used on the Hakone Tozan Line trains, the Hakone Tozan Cable Car, the Hakone Tozan Ropeway, and buses. It’s valid for two days and costs 5,140 yen for adults and 1,500 yen for children.
What to Do in Hakone
The major reason people come to this area is for Mt. Fuji and Lake Ashi, two very beautiful natural highlights of the area. Hakone is also famous for its traditional hot springs (onsen) and Ryokan. This is the place to go if you want to experience these hot baths. The onsens are separated by gender and are a “no bathing suit” style traditional bath.
Here are a few things you’ll want to do in Hakone:
- Take the cable car to see Mt. Fuji
- Go hiking
- Hakone open-air museum
- Hakone Yumoto hot springs
- Owakudani – an active volcano
- Lake Ashi
Day 4: Kyoto
Day 4: Kyoto
How to Get There
You will leave from Odawara Station and continue on the Tokaido-Sanyo Shinkansen line to Kyoto Station. This is covered by the Japan Rail Pass. It takes about 3:15 to get there.
The best way to get around Kyoto is by using public transportation, You can get a Icoca card, which is accepted on most trains and buses around the city. If you’re going to be traveling around a lot in a day, consider getting a 1-day pass that will save you money. Most tourists won’t travel around enough to make this worth it, however.
What to See in Kyoto
Kyoto is known for its temples, kaiseki cuisine, and even tofu, so this is an excellent place to spend a few days immersed in a fascinating culture.
You’ll want to see the temples of Kyoto, including the Fushimi Inari Shrine and Golden Temple, visit Nishiki Market, see the geishas walking around the city center, and go to a traditional kaiseki dinner.
Another way to experience the cuisine is to take a cooking class. AirKitchen matches you with dozens of locals who will show you the ins and outs of Japanese cooking in their own kitchen
Day 5: Kyoto
Day 5: Kyoto
If you’re happy to keep hanging out in Kyoto, you can spend the full day there following our 3-day itinerary. Another option is to take a JR train to Nara Park to feed the roaming deer, see the world’s largest bronze Buddha statue, and one of the tallest pagodas in Japan. You can easily spend a full day in the Nara area, or split the time between the two.
In the evening, take the JR train onward to Osaka, so you can get an early start in Osaka.
Day 6: Osaka
Day 6: Osaka
How to Get There
There are many routes you can take on the train to get from Kyoto to Osaka. Take a look at this article for more guidance on your particular situation. If you have a JR pass, you’ll want to take the super fast Shinkansen train from Kyoto Station to Shin-Osaka. It takes just 12 minutes. If you don’t have a JR Pass, you can take the Special Rapid Service on the JR Kyoto Line to Shin-Osaka for a third of the price in 23 minutes.
Since it doesn’t take long to make this transfer, we recommend doing the transfer in the evening and staying overnight in Osaka, so you can get an early start on your sightseeing in Osaka.
What to Do in Osaka
Osaka is a lively port city packed with interesting architecture, an incredible street food scene, buzzing nightlife, and cherry-blossom trees that bring color to the city in the spring. We have a 2-day Osaka itinerary that you’ll want to follow to be sure you see it all.
Here are some top sights to see in Osaka:
- Osaka Castle and Park
- Shopping in Shinsaibashi
- Osaka Aquarium
- Tempozan Ferris Wheel
- Omeda Sky Building
- Universal Studios Osaka
- Shinsekai shopping area
Be sure to visit Dotonbori Street to try all the Japanese specialties, like okonomiyaki and takoyaki. It’s best after 8pm, when the street gets packed with people and becomes exciting. If you have time, also visit the food-focused Kuromon Ichiba Market.
Day 7: Kobe
Day 7: Kobe
How to Get There
From Osaka-Umeda stations, take the Hanshin or Kobe line to Kobe-Sannomiya station. It takes anywhere from 30 minutes to an hour, depending on the train type.
The city of Kobe is rather large and there are a few things to see. You can visit the Kobe Harborland for shopping, restaurants and bars. We spent our day in Kobe having a really amazing lunch at a Kobe beef restaurant, which was very much worth it.
Then we transferred to Kobe’s Nada district where you find all the sake breweries. Many of the breweries offer tours and tastings and they are all reachable by train and on foot. See this post for information how how to visit the breweries.
Unfortunately, this is the end of your trip. You can fly out or take the train back to Tokyo from Osaka or Kobe. It will take around 5 hours total time to get back to Tokyo, so be sure to plan that into your itinerary.
There are many ways to experience and enjoy your Japan vacation. Building your own itinerary is the only way to ensure you see and do the things you’ve always wanted to do in Japan. But if the task overwhelms you, rest assured that this 7-day Japan itinerary will take you to some of the top places to visit in Japan, and will prepare you for a second visit.
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