We visited Japan for 17 days in November 2015 and I have put together a suggested 14 day Japan itinerary, however if you only have 7 days then I would suggest that you base yourself in Tokyo and Kyoto (3 nights in each) and perhaps incorporate day trips if you have time.
Tokyo (Day 1 – 3)
Depending on what time you arrive, and the length of your flight, you may not want to start full on sightseeing. Check into your hotel, take a look around the area you are staying and eat at a local restaurant.
- Tokyo Metropolitan Government Office (Free)
The view blew us away, you can really appreciate how vast the city is from here.
- Meiji Jingū shrine (free) and inner garden (500Y)
Set beside Harajuku Station and close to busy shopping streets, this shrine provides a welcome respite. At the entrance you pass through a large Torii gate and whilst walking to the shrine buildings themselves you wander through part of an evergreen forest that consists of over 100,000 trees.
- Takeshita-dōri (trendy teenage shopping street shops open 11:00 to 20:00)
A shopping street frequented by trendy Japanese teens. Here you will find clothes, keyrings, crepes and sweet shops.
- Shibuya crossing (world’s busiest inter section)
When we visited for the first time, ‘Hello’ by Adele was bellowing out on the big screen and we really got the ‘Wow – we are in Tokyo’ feeling.
Kōrakuen & Akihabara District
- Large (and small) electrical shops
We visited some of the large electrical shops in the Akihabara district one evening as I had my eye on a waterproof compact camera, however it turned out that the cost was only slightly cheaper than back in New Zealand. If you are a photography enthusiast though, there are lots of second-hand lenses and cameras on offer – so there is the potential for a bargain to be had.
- Anime and Manga stores and cafes
I didn’t manage to persuade Ben to visit any of the ‘maid’ cafes in this district, as he was convinced they were some weird type of sexual fantasy café (they aren’t). If you are interested in visiting one of these unusual cafes, then you may want to check out this list of maid cafes in Tokyo.
Tsukiji / Ginza District
I loved wandering around this busy fish market – seeing people go about their tasks, filleting fish, boxing fish, selling fresh sushi to customers…not to mention the vast array of unusual fish on display.
- Hama Rikyū Onshi-Teien Gardens (300Y)
A tranquil garden amongst the skyscrapers. I would recommend getting the free audio tour and taking your time to wander around this beautiful garden.
Ueno & Yanaka District
- Tokyo National Museum (620Y)
If museums are your thing, then don’t miss the Tokyo National Museum. It is the oldest and largest of Japan’s national museums and consists of 6 separate buildings.
- Ueno Park (Rent a row boat 600Y per hour)
The park is pleasant to walk through if you are in the area (although if out of cherry blossom season – you could give it a miss). Shinobazu pond, at the Southern end of the park was almost completely covered in lotus plants when we visited (November), however there is a clear section where you can hire a row boat.
- Sensō-ji Temple (Free)
I recommend visiting this temple shortly before it closes at 5pm as the sky begins to get darker and the temple is beautifully lit. If you get one of the fortunes, take it with a pinch of salt as this temple has a high rate of ‘bad’ fortunes.
If you have an additional day, or want to miss any of the above, then you could consider a day trip or perhaps 1 night stay in Nikko to visit the UNESCO temples.
Kyoto (Day 4 – 6)
Kyoto has 17 UNESCO World Heritage Sites, and literally thousands of Buddhist and Shinto shrines, so you will need to choose a handful that you most want to visit.
We found Kyoto more difficult to get around than Tokyo as the subway system didn’t go to most of the places we wanted to visit, so we ended up getting the bus which added additional travel time.
You may also wish to take a look at my Kyoto Vlog.
Day 4 & 5 – Shine / Temple Hopping
There are a lot to choose from so I have listed a couple of my favourites below.
- Nanzen-Ji Temple (Hojo Garden 500Y / San-Mon Gate 400Y / Grounds – Free)
- Chion-in Temple (Temple – Free / Combined Garden Ticket 500Y)
- Maruyama Park (Free)
- Yasaka Shrine (Free)
- Fushimi – Inari (Free)
This temple is iconic as photos of its thousands of Torii gates are used for many Japan guides and articles. I would recommend visting early morning (before 9am) or late afternoon to try and avoid the crowds.
- Daigo-ji (Sampo-in 600Y / Kondo Hall & Pagoda 600Y / Grounds – Free)
Daigo-Ji is a Buddhist temple and a listed UNESCO World Heritage Site.
Gion is a great area to wander around, especially Shimbashi street which is very pretty and you will walk away with lots of photos.
- Day trip to Nara (45 minutes by train) or Osaka (20 – 30 minutes).
Nara would be great with kids, or if you haven’t seen any ‘friendly deer’ previously – you can buy some deer crackers and feed them (both me and Ben loved it as we are big kids). Nara is also home to the beautiful Tōdaiji Temple.
Osaka is also a great day trip if you want some more ‘bright lights’ and big city action. Osaka is also home to Universal Studios – great if you love theme parks or are visiting with teenage children.
Travel back to Tokyo to catch your flight.