22nd December 2019

THE PERFECT 2 WEEK JAPAN ITINERARY

Shibuya Tokyo Skyscrapers
Disclaimer: This is not a sponsored post (however affiliate links may be used, including Amazon Associates, which mean I earn commissions on purchases at no extra cost to you) and all thoughts are my own.

Who This Itinerary Is For

The internet is saturated with itineraries for two weeks in Japan but I feel like they all hit the same spots (being Tokyo, Osaka, Kyoto and Hiroshima). The standard itinerary sounds great other than the fact that I’m not really a ‘city girl’, so we wanted to branch out into some of the less visited destinations!

Early on, we made the decision to exclude Osaka from our itinerary to make room for some of the lesser-visited destinations. I can hear Japan-lovers recoil in horror at this statement – even though everyone told us that we NEEDED to visit as it’s such a foodie capital (and we love food), we just didn’t feel compelled to see the city.

Japan is much bigger than I realised, so even with the help of bullet trains, it can take a while to get from A to B and it took a hell of a lot of planning to reach all of the places we wanted to see! So sit tight and get ready for a jam-packed itinerary! While it looks like we were constantly moving, we never felt particularly rushed and I certainly wouldn’t change our itinerary. That being said, if you’re looking for a slow-paced trip, they may not be the itinerary for you!

Girl with rainbow candyfloss in Harajuku, Tokyo

When Should You Visit?

Given that we love exploring so much, we tried to avoid the heat and humidity of the Summer months, so opted to visit in September and October. However, despite our best efforts to explore in cooler months, September and October were unseasonably warm in 2019!

While we were in Japan, a typhoon was working it’s way through the Japan Sea which made certain areas particularly humid and another typhoon hit the country (including Tokyo) shortly after we left, causing a fair amount of disruption.

So, while September and October are meant to be great months to visit Japan, be warned that the weather can be very unpredictable! If I were to visit again, I’d err on the side of caution and book later in October/November to definitely try and catch the Autumnal colours (just imagine all of the trees covered in gorgeous red and orange leaves)!

Of course, another really popular time to visit Japan is during the cherry blossom season in Spring, but be warned that prices are inflated at this time and popular areas can get very busy. Alternatively, if you love skiing/snowboarding, Japan is supposedly a great place to visit during Winter!

RELATED: Looking for another two week itinerary that you can squeeze into your annual leave? Check out my 2 week itinerary for South Africa!

Hakone, Japan oramge Torii shrine

How To Get Around

The easiest way to get around Japan is by using their extensive train network. If you’re planning travel around a lot, it is probably advantageous to purchase a Japan Rail Pass.

If you’re planning a short trip (2 weeks or less) and want to fit lots into your itinerary, I recommend planning which trains you want to be on before you arrive. On arrival in Tokyo, we visited the Japan Rail Pass office at Shinjuku station to activate our rail passes and book seats on all of our upcoming bullet trains. By planning ahead of time, we were able to reel off a list of destinations, times and train numbers and the very helpful lady printed seat reseverations for us immediately.

On one occasion, we didn’t catch our reserved train once and instead jumped on an earlier train and cancelled our later reservation at the station. Seat reservations are free to book with the Japan Rail Pass and can be amended at any point – I just wish that they have an online reservation system!

To review train timetables, use the Hyperdia website. The trains that we used are listed below in our itinerary and were correct as of September/October 2019, please make sure you check up-to-date timetables before travelling!

You do not need to reserve a seat, all trains have a reserved and non-reserved area.

Our Itinerary

Tokyo tower, Japan
Imperial Palace, Tokyo, Japan

Tokyo (3 Days)

How To Get There

We took a flight from London with a layover in Beijing. Be sure to check out Skyscanner to find the best deal for you! Tokyo has two airports – Haneda which is close to the city centre and Narita which is much further away.

Most international flights land in Narita but we were lucky enough to find reasonable flights that meant we landed in Haneda and could get to our hotel as quickly as possible after a long day of travelling!

Airport Limosine Bus is the easiest way to get to and from the major airports in Japan. The bus stops at some of the major hotels in Tokyo, so you may be able to get door-to-door service for a very reasonable price!

Where To Stay

We used our Hilton points to stay at the Hilton Tokyo Hotel for 2 nights which was very luxurious and had a great breakfast selection! It will always be a special place for us as it was our first experience of the glorious Japanese toilets!

Our final night was spent in Hotel Rose Garden which had very small bedrooms (this is fairly standard in Japan) but was clean and reasonably priced (especially when booked last minute for a stay during the 2019 Rugby World Cup).

What to Expect

I won’t blabber on too much here, you all know what to expect from Tokyo – big lights, fancy technology and a fast paced lifestyle – right? Thankfully, there’s much more to the city than that and these were some of our favourite experiences:

View of Mount Fuij from Lake Ashi, Hakone, Japan
Girl in Cedar WOod Avenue, Hakone, Japan

Hakone (1 Day)

How To Get There

Using your JR Pass, you can jump on a train from Shinagawa (Tokyo) to Odawara. We opted for the Shinkansen Kodama 641 which left Shinagawa at 09:04am and arrived in Odawara at 09:30am.

On arrival at Odawara station, we picked up the Hakone Free Pass which covers all transport and attractions in the Hakone region. Using this pass, we jumped on the Hakone Tozan Railway from Odawara at 09:47am and arrived in Hakone-Yumoto at 10:04am ready to explore!

Where To Stay

We opted to stay in Guesthouse Azito which is a great budget option if you’re looking to stay in a capsule hostel. We found capsule hostels to be very expensive in Japan (although that could have something to do with the fact that we were travelling while Japan was hosting the Rugby World Cup) .

While it isn’t a standard capsule hostel (i.e. female and male dorms in separate sections of the hostel and modern pods with TVs etc.), it’s a great budget option. The pods are wooden and the dorm room feels like a giant treehouse! We opted for a double bed pod which isn’t available in most traditional capsule hostels.

The staff were super friendly and we were offered a free alcoholic welcome drink on arrival – I definitely recommend if you’re looking for somewhere cheap, cheerful and a bit different!

Alternatively, it’s possible to visit Hakone as a daytrip from Tokyo if you’re short on time.

What to Expect

After 3 days in Tokyo, I was very ready to spend some time outside of cities. If you’re lucky and visit on a clear day, Hakone is one of the best places to get a view of Mount Fuji! We enjoyed strolling around Lake Ashi before hopping on a cruise across the lake (on a pirate ship?!) and taking in the sights from the cable cars.

Unfortunately, half of the cable car section of Hakone was closed due to volcanic activity. When the ropeway is fully open, you can visit Owakudani (The Great Boiling Valley) to see the volcanic steam coming out of vents in the mountainside and try black eggs!

We also spent some time walking down Tokaido Avenue, a gorgeous road lined with tall cedar trees and exploring the nearby shrines.

Matsumoto Castle, Japan
Matusumoto Shopping Streets

Matsumoto (1 Day)

How To Get There

This was one of the journeys that involved the most trains. Although it looks somewhat convoluted, the journey passed by so quickly and the Japanese train system triumphed with it’s efficiency as always! Our route was as follows:

Where To Stay

We stayed at the Premier Hotel Cabin which was clean, friendly and located close to the train station. As with most Japanese hotels, the room was fairly small and basic but the hotel was perfect for a cheap short stay.

The highlight of this hotel is the restaurant area on the top floor which has great views out over the rest of the city.

What to Expect

Matsumoto is most famously known for it’s castle – and quite rightly so! The castle is truly gorgeous and definitely worth visiting. It’s reasonably priced to enter the castle too!

Matsumoto is a more upmarket city and has some great shopping streets too. Although, we happened to visit on the same day that a food and drinks festival were in town, so we spent most of the rest of the day eating our way around the city!

Girl in mountains on Alpine Route, Japan
Mountains on the Alpine Route, Japan

The Alpine Route (1 Day)

How To Get There

From Matsumoto, we jumped on the JR Oito Line at 07:15am to arrive in Shinamo-Omachi at 08:13am (58 minutes). After dumping our large backpacks in an office outside the Shinamo-Omachi train station (they are delivered to the end of the Alpine Route for you), we hopped on a bus to Ogizawa (40 minutes) before beginning the Alpine Route.

Where To Stay

The Alpine Route was simply a day trip for us. At the end of the day, we continued our journey to Kanazawa.

What to Expect

The Alpine Route was one of my favourite days of the entire trip and is definitely worth factoring into your itinerary if you have the time and want to escape the cities!

The Alpine Route is a combination of trains and buses to explore the mountains and visit some epic viewpoints, including a huge dam.

If you visit during good weather (we unfortunately didn’t!), there are also some great hikes to do around the area.

The Alpine Route tickets are on the pricey side and we had to completely re-jig our entire itinerary to get to this side of the country – but luckily all of the cities we added to the itinerary while trying to factor in the Alpine Route (Matsumoto, Kanazawa and Takayama) were great too!

Gold Leaf Ice Cream in Kanazawa, Japan
Lake of Kenroku-en Gardens in Kanazawa, Japan

Kanazawa (0.5 Day)

How To Get There

After completing the Alpine Route on the previous day, we hopped on the Shinkansen Hakutaka 571 train from Toyama at 19:16pm to Kanazawa at 19:37 (22 minutes).

Where To Stay

In Kanazawa, we checked into The Square Hotel which was suprisingly luxurious for the price we paid!

What to Expect

With only a morning to explore Kanazawa, we headed out early to see what the city has to offer. We managed to fit a surprising amount into one morning, including eating street food in Omicho market, visiting Kanazawa Castle, exploring Kenroku-en (supposedly the most beautiful gardens in the whole of Japan) and wandering around the Samurai District before continuing our journey.

Kanazawa is known as the Gold City and is the home of ice cream covered in golf flakes – you can find it in a few stalls surrounding the gardens. The Kanazawa Art Museum is also home to the famous swimming pool exhibition which I see on Instagram all the time! The queue to access the installation was 2+ hours long when we visited, so we decided to skip it!

Takayama Ouan Hotel Onsen
Takayama Shopping Streets

Takayama (1.5 Days)

How To Get There

After spending the morning exploring Kanazawa, we hopped on the following trains to reach Takayama:

The Ltd Express train is a particularly pretty journey! We were allocated the front seats of the train which gave us even better views.

Where To Stay

Takayama is known for its ryokans and onsens, so you’ll be spoilt for choice when it comes to accommodation. As Callum has tattoos, we needed to find a hotel that offered private onsens, so this limited our choices somewhat. Also, as we were visiting Japan during the 2019 Rugby World Cup, hotels were booking up fast!

We ended up booking a stay at Takayama Ouan – a ryokan with a modern twist. While the floor of the hotel is still made of straw-like material (you have to leave your shoes in a locker at reception) , the walls were not paper thin and the bed is somewhat raised from the ground. Modern amenities were in the room such as a TV and there was no need to convert your room from a dining area to a bedroom, both areas were available at all times.

The hotel was lovely and the rooftop private onsens were a real treat. We thoroughly enjoyed our stay here and would highly recommend making a booking. However, we would like to try a more traditional ryokan too if we were to return to Japan!

What to Expect

While Callum enjoyed the bright lights of the big cities, Takayama was another favourite destination of mine within Japan! Although I must admit that the town was much bigger than I expected – so you definitely can find more rural areas if you try!

The town centre is truly gorgeous with old wooden buildings and shops lining the streets. If you’re feeling active there are lots of walks that begin from the main town centre and lead through plenty of gorgeous shrines. Alternatively, you can rest your feet and relax in one of the many gorgeous onsen!

Just outside of the city, you will find Hida Folk Village, a whole host of buildings and homes from around the Hida region of Japan, showing how architectural styles have changed over the years and the Hida people live.

The Hida region is also known for it’s Hida beef. I’m not a huge meat eater, so were very excited to stumble across Butchers (a very small, gorgeous restaurant with very friendly staff) who served an incredible steak for Callum and the most delicious spaghetti bolognese using Hida Beef for me!

Fushimi Shrines, Kyoto, Japan
Kinkaku-ji gold shrine, Kyoto, Japan

Kyoto (3 Days)

How To Get There

After our second day in Takayama. we hopped on the following trains to reach Kyoto:

On arrival in Kyoto, we hopped on the subway to Shiko station, however this step wouldn’t be neccessary of your hotel is near the main train station!

Where To Stay

WeBase Kyoto had been recommended to me by so many other travellers that booking it was an absolute no brainer. We opted for a private room within the hostel and it was one of the more spacious/modern rooms we had in the whole of Japan (so please don’t rule out hostels if you’re travleling through Japan)!

While bathroom are shared, they were spotlessly clean during our entire stay and toiletries are complimentary. The hostel has a large common area where 2019 Rugby world Cup games were shown on a big screen – we would highly recommend staying here!

What to Expect

Kyoto is packed to the brim with things to see and do, the most famous probably being the many gorgeous orange torii gates within Fushimi Inari – you can’t scroll through Instagram without seeing a picture of them nowadays!

Close competition for Fushimi Inari in the ‘most Instagram-ed location in Kyoto’ award goes to Arashiyama Bamboo Forest – although be sure to get there super early to avoid the hoards of people.

To finish off the trio of gorgeous Kyoto locations, head to Kinkaku-ji, a completely golden temple located on the outskirts of the city.

Aside from the above tourist attractions which are all located on the edges of the city, there’s plenty to do in the city centre – my favourites being strolling around the Geisha District, learning about (and dressing up like) ninjas and samurai in the museum and being drawn by professional manga artists in the Manga Museum!

Kyoto also has a huge number of temples in the Higashiyama district. To be honest, we were a bit ‘templed-out’ by this point in our trip and we completely skipped this area! If you don’t visit as many temples on your trip, definitely spend an extra day in Kyoto to get your temple fix!

Girl outside shrine in Nara
Deer of Nara outside a shrine, Japan

Nara (1 Day)

How To Get There

Nara can be reached from a quick ride on the JR Nara Rapid Service from Kyoto. We left Kyoto at 09:32am and arrived in Nara at 10:19am (47 minutes) ready for a full day of exploring!

Where To Stay

We visited Nara as part of a day trip and therefore didn’t stay in any accommodation. AS we were heading to Hiroshima the evening, we paid to store our large backpacks in the Nara Tourism Office. Lockers are available in the station for slightly smaller bags.

What to Expect

Nara is the home of hundreds of free-roaming deer (and of course some more shrines)! While you probably don’t need more than a day in Nara, it’s definitely worth making a daytrip from Kyoto/Osaka or stopping off there between train journeys (like we did).

You can buy special biscuits to feed the deer, however we saw lots of irresponsible tourists feeding them all manner of treats – please be sensible!

Atomic Dome in Hiroshima, Japan
Girl overlooking view from Miyajima Island

Hiroshima and Miyajima (2 days)

How To Get There

After spending the day in Nara, we hopped on the following trains:

If you are travelling using the JR pass, the much faster Shinkansen Nuzomi to Hiroshima is not covered by the pass, so don’t accidentally get on and get yourself into trouble!

Where To Stay

We stayed at the APA Hotel Hiroshima-Ekimae Ohashi which is conveniently located close to the train station. We always chose hotels that were close to train stations rather than the main attractions on the basis that we’d rather have a short walk to/from the train station on arrival/departure when we’re laden with bags!

While the main attractions were a fair walk away, the hotel was clean and we would definitely stay here again. Although, be warned, this was potentially the smallest room we had during our 2 weeks – once filled with two people and two bags, the room was at bursting point!

What to Expect

Hiroshima was a highlight of Japan for me. If you have the time to visit Hiroshima during your trip to Japan, the museum is a must visit – it is truly one of the most poignant places I’ve ever visited. The darkened rooms filled with victim’s stories truly highlight the horrors of the incident.

After a somewhat harrowing day in Hiroshima, we took a ferry over to Miyajima Island for beautiful scenery and yet more deer and shrines! One of the main things to see in Miyajima is the ‘floating shrine’, unfortunately this monument is being restored at the moment and was covered in scaffolding!

Have you ever visited Japan? What was your favourite city/town?

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