Two week Itinerary for seeing the Best of Japan

Visiting Japan – the Land of the rising sun, red lacquered bridges, orange Torii gates and the sacred Mt Fuji has been on our wishlist for a while now.  But the fear of navigating a country without knowing the language had kept us from planning a trip to this beautiful place full of temples shrines and rich in culture.  When you mention Japan, most people think of the cosmopolitan city of Tokyo but Japan is also a country with a lot of natural resources — from mountains ranges, to seashore, valleys and natural hot spring there is plenty to explore. The scenery here reflects beautifully the passing of the seasons—cherry blossoms in spring, the vibrant green of new leaves in summer, colorful autumn foliage and snowscapes in winter.  Given that our school breaks never coincide with the time when the beautiful Sakura flowers or the Cherry blossoms put on a show, we decided to plan a trip during our December holidays and see some of the wintry landscape. Here is our Japan Itinerary focusing on Winter Travel to see the Best of the country in two weeks.

Fushimi Inari Shrine in Kyoto

Two week Japan Itinerary

Day 1 to 3 Tokyo

Day 4 Day trip to Mt Fuji Five lakes area or Hakone

Day 5 Osaka

Day 6 to 9 Kyoto

Day 10 Visit Hiroshima, stay Miyajima

Day 11, 12 Nagoya

Day 13, 14 Back to Tokyo

Day 14 Fly Back Home

Tokyo

Park Hyatt Tokyo

Waiting for the sunrise in Park Hyatt Tokyo

We were welcomed by the distant fireworks in Tokyo Disneyland as we made our way to our hotel in Shinjuku from Narita International airport. We could see glimpses of the high rises, luxury hotels, the Tokyo Tower and the a maze of office building that was bustling with activity and people as the neon lights were turning on and the sun was setting. Once we made our way to our rooms in the 42 floor of the 52-storey tower where Park Hyatt Tokyo was located – it finally felt like an oasis, with all the chaos of the city like twinkling stars at a distance.  Having made the 12 hour trip from Dallas we were not in the mood to leave our calm and comfortable space to go out and explore the city that looked like a concrete jungle.  We were not too anxious to reenact scenes from the movie “Lost in Translation“, not just yet and instead opted for the view from the Peak Bar while eating our not so Japanese meal of chicken nuggets and Pizza.  At least we ordered some sake to start off our trip!

Day 1

Two week Itinerary for seeing the Best of Japan

On the way to Meiji Shrine

The next morning was a clear, crisp day, we could see Fuji-san in the far distance among the tall skyscrapers of the city.  We had a nice view of The NTT Docomo Yoyogi Building from our room — at 790 ft it is the fourth tallest building in Tokyo. We were jet lagged and enjoyed some green tea and the quiet as the city was slowly waking up.  After breakfast, we talked to the friendly concierge who convinced us that we don’t have to book our bullet train tickets in advance.  After being assured that we should be easily buy them at the station, we walked up to Meiji Shrine.  It was a brisk 20 minute walk from Park Hyatt and we spent some time at the Yayogi park people watching after leaving our wishes and prayers on votive tablets at the shrine.  We then made our way to the Shopping district of Harajuku and walked east on Omotesando, browsing the shops along the way.  You can continue east all the way to the Nezu Museum and go to explore the Japanese garden after checking out the museum.  Since it was pretty cold, we decided to skip the garden. We took the JR train to Shibuya and exited the station via the Hachiko exit and then crossed the famous Shibuya Crossing. We made it up to the Starbucks for a cup of coffee to help fight off the sleepy eyes as our body clock still kept working in Dallas time. The crossing is pretty insane, the crosswalk goes in all direction and you can see hundreds of people crossing the road in an orderly fashion that the Japanese are known for. In the midst of all that were people trying to take pictures and videos of the crossing.  We walked to the big department stores and browsed through the boutiques of Shibuya and had a quick bowl of noodles ordered from a vending machine (more about that later) before heading back.  While making your way back to the train station stop by the Hachi statue –  The dog who is remembered for his remarkable loyalty to his owner, for whom he continued to wait for over nine years following his death. Hachikō is known in Japanese as chūken Hachikō “faithful dog Hachikō”  That was a lot for a first day in Tokyo and we were wiped out!

Day 2

There are two sides to Tokyo – traditional Tokyo and a modern Tokyo! If you have only a week in Japan, spend 2 days in Tokyo – one exploring modern Tokyo and the other visiting the traditional places of old Tokyo or Edo as it was called before.  To visit the traditional Tokyo, start with the Asakusa Temple. The temple is quite unlike anything else in the city—and as one of Tokyo’s most popular attractions, it’s pretty crowded.  You can visit on your own or join a sightseeing tour that includes a visit to the Tokyo Skytree, Tokyo Tower, Imperial Palace Plaza, the Tsukiji Fish Market, and the Nakamise-dori shopping district. For an in-depth experience in the Asakusa area, you can also opt for a walking tour, rickshaw tour, or evening food tour.  

Senso-ji Temple, Japan

Senso-ji temple entrance

The must-see Asakusa Temple (also known as Senso-ji or Asakusa Kannon) combines architecture, centers of worship, Japanese gardens, and traditional markets to offer visitors a modern-day look at Japan’s rich history and culture. Erected in AD 645 in what was once an old fishing village, Asakusa Temple was dedicated to Kannon, the Buddhist goddess of mercy. Stone statues of Fujin (the Shinto wind god) and Raijin (the Shinto thunder god) guard the entrance, known as Kaminarimon or the Thunder Gate. Next is Hozomon Gate, which leads to Nakamise’s shopping streets, filled with vendors selling handicrafts and Japanese snacks. Don’t miss the Asakusa Shrine or Kannon-do Hall.  The temple can get crowded around midday, particularly on weekends, so if you’d like more elbow room, visit before 10am or after 6pm.  Senso-ji is located in Asakusa, within central Tokyo’s Taito district. The temple is just a few steps away from Asakusa Station, which is served by Tobu Railways and the Ginza and Asakusa subway lines and of course you can take a taxi there. Make sure to try a green tea soft serve here.

Day 3

We spent a lazy morning in Hotel on Day 3 before making our way to Imperial Palace and the East Garden to take a stroll. December 23rd is the Emperor of Japan’s birthday and the only day the Palace gates open for the public. We then made our way to Ikebukero to meet our private guide from Context Travel. It was a two-hour Tokyo for Kids and Families Tour, where our docent explained what it is like to be a child in Tokyo today.  He took us to arcades and introduced us to the world of manga (comic books), anime (cartoons) and themed cafes.  Kids in Japan are pretty independent and it is a very safe environment.  After school most kids go to hangout in the arcades with their friends.  D tried to play the renowned Taiko no Tatsujin (a Japanese rhythm drumming game) after some basic instructions from Edgar Peláez.  Peláez who is a Phd candidate in International Studies at the Graduate School of Asia-Pacific Studies is well versed on the Japanese popular culture.  We were not big anime or manga fans, so this tour helped us delved into these realms as our docent explained the history and current trends associated with these fascinating subjects.

Owl cafe, Ikebukero, Japan

Selfie with the owl at the owl cafe in Ikebukero

If you want to live in a comic book, Tokyo is the place – from maid cafes to colorful Kawai Monster Cafe to riding Mario carts in the middle of the city in costumes there is plenty to make that inner child happy.  Our docent talked about the reason why cat cafes and dog cafes are popular – we were intrigued and decided to check out a owl cafe in Ikebukero.  We felt a little sad for the owls confined to the small space, there were owl of different sizes and colors. Edgar also told us about one of Tokyo’s highlights and highly acclaimed studios, which is the Ghibli Museum, the mecca for all those anime (Japanese cartoon) lovers. It’s an interactive display of design with fun displays for the young and old to enjoy. We made a note of it for next time and had a quick lunch, before visiting shopping mecca of Ginza and then the electronic town of Akihabara, known for its wonderful array of neon lights and electronics stores.

Additional Tokyo Ideas if you have 2 more days

If you are visiting during Spring Park – Cherry blossom trees are everywhere in Tokyo but Shinjuku Goeya Park, Yoyogi Park, and Ueno Park are a few of the best places to catch Cherry Blossoms in Tokyo. Other than that, don’t forget to explore the quirky markets of Harijuku, urban chaos in Shibuya, temples in Asakusa, shopping malls in Ginza, and local eateries in Shimbashi and Ueno.

Takeshita Street in Harajuku, Japan

Takeshita Street in Harajuku

An hour by train from the crush of Tokyo Station is the charming town of Kamakura, home to one of Japan’s most widely recognized religious icons—the 13.35-meter-tall Great Buddha of Kamakura. You can visit this in half-day Kamakura Tour or spend an entire day there exploring on your own.  You can visit the massive bronze structure as well as some of Kamakura’s other important temples and shrines, such as Engaku-ji and Hase Temple.

Another day trip idea would be to visit Disneyland in Urayasu, Chiba or Odaiba a man-made island out in Tokyo.  Odaiba is easily reached by monorail, a fun way to see the city from above. Once in Odaiba, there is everything for the whole family to enjoy; trick museum, future driverless cars, walking robots, a super ‘Science of the Future’ museum, fantastic shopping and even a reconstructed traditional hot spring bath-house to relax in.

Where to Stay: While I can’t recommend Park Hyatt Tokyo enough, there are other budget friendly options from the Prince Hotels which is a big Hotel Chain in Asia to Hilton Tokyo where we spent a night on the way back.  It was super crowded and the service, staff and views were nothing compared to the Park Hyatt.

Mt Fuji

Mount Fuji, or Fuji-san, as it is more commonly known in Japan, has been the subject for many artists over the years, from the famous “ukiyo-e” woodblock prints of Hokusai to being printed on the back of a JPY 1000 note. At 12,400 feet (3,776 m), Mount Fuji is the tallest mountain in Japan and its near symmetrical-shaped cone has attained an almost mythical status. It is one of Japan’s three holy mountains and was first ascended by a monk in 663, with women being forbidden to climb it until the Meiji Era, in the late 1800s. It was believed that your soul is rebooted after you climb Mt Fuji, your slate cleared.

Chasing the light in the Fuji Five Lakes area

After much contemplation we decided to do a day trip to the Fuji Five Lakes area instead of spending a night or two there.  If you are going to be there in March or April, I highly recommend a stay in the area to walk through the flower fields and soak in the scenery. Located at the foot of Mount Fuji, in Yamanashi Prefecture, this region is one of the most scenic spots from which to view the mighty mountain. If you plan on climbing Mt Fuji – it is only open to hikers from 1 July to early September.  You can follow up the accomplishment by a relaxing visit to an onsen, one of the hot spring baths that are abound in this volcanic archipelago of Japan. The Japanese have made the baths, and the accompanying nudity, a part of their lifestyle, communing with nature in the midst of a serene landscape – try it at least once, the sore muscles will thank you!

Our first stop in that Fuji Five Lakes area was the Fuji Information center to learn a little history about this famous dormant volcano that had last erupted in 1708.  Then we climbed a few hundred steps to get to the top to see the Chureito Pagota.  We saw a baseball team running up and down the stairs as part of their warmups, we were teasing D that he needs to go introduce himself to the coach and join in on the training while we huffed and puffed our way up the shrine. While there were no cherry blossoms to frame Mt.Fuji – a picture I can easily conjure up if I closed my eyes, it still was breathtaking to see the snow covered volcano peak against a cloudless blue sky.  One of the benefits of travelling during winter months is that there are more chances of seeing the Fuji-san who is know to hide under a veil of clouds during the summer months. The region is home to five, clear-water lakes (hence the name of the area), with Kawaguchi-ko being the most accessible. There are good views of Mount Fuji from the lake, particularly on the northern shore. Most of the accommodations are located to the south-east side of the lake.  We hired a private car with English speaking driver who was also our tour guide for the day.  We suggest visiting the pagoda mid afternoon and staying around till sunset. The pagoda and its surroundings are beautiful in the evening light.  We were there midday and it didn’t make for any good photos as the sun was against us.

Hakone

The other option would be to go to Hakone – situated less than two hours from Tokyo and accessible by bullet train and private line trains, the Hakone National Park is an area of equally natural beauty, volcanic and thermal activity and weather permitting, an ideal spot from which to view Mount Fuji. Most visitors to Hakone adopt a standard circular route around the park, which can be enjoyed over a couple of days or you can do a tour. The loop is serviced by various modes of transport, including a cable car, switch-back mountain trains, a ropeway and even a lake crossing on a mock pirate ship.

Where to Stay: There is a Hyatt Regency near Hakone we were looking at also Prince Hakone Lake Ashinoko with views of the lake.  But if you want an authentic experience and an onsen with a view I would say stay at Konansou or Fuji View Hotel in the Fuji Five Lakes area near Kawaguchi-ko. 

Osaka

We decided to fly from Haneda to Itami airport in Osaka – to experience a local airline and also to get another look at Mt. Fuji, this time from air.  The view of the majestic mountain peeking though the clouds did not disappoint. You can also take the Shinkansen or the bullet train from Tokyo to Kyoto – if you do, ask for a seat on the right, from the right hand side of the carriage, if you are traveling south from Tokyo.  We stopped to visit the Osaka castle which is one of Japan’s most famous landmarks that played a major role in the unification of Japan during the sixteenth century before making our way to our Luxury Ryokan in Kyoto.  If you have more time in Osaka make sure to visit Universal Studios. Osaka has a vibrant food scene, shopping and entertainment and with one of Japan’s best aquarium.

Kyoto

Kyoto is full of Zen gardens, many mysterious Buddhist temples, beautiful Shinto shrines and graceful geishas.  Our Relais and Chateaux Ryokan located in Honeyanocho district, renowned for crafted fans was just steps away from the Nishiki food market and many restaurants and micro breweries.  Futon beds, tatami mats, bamboo furniture and true serenity welcomed us at the Kanamean Nishitomiya. Mr and Mrs Nishida, the fifth generation of hoteliers who run the Luxe Japanese Inn, in typical Japanese tradition of hospitality made sure we were taken care of during our stay with them.  We had a beautiful Kiseki meal for dinner on Christmas day that showcased the seasonal ingredients and dessert of Kyoto.  They were kind enough to altered some of the dishes to make vegetarian ones for me.  Visiting Kyoto is a culturally-enriching experience that will give you a better understanding of Japan.

Golden Pavilion, Kyoto

Kyoto was Japan’s capital city for 1,200 years. Kyoto is known to be the city where Japanese culture was born and shaped into what it is today. Kyoto’s original and sophisticated cultural offerings include World Heritage temples and shrines, architecture, tea ceremonies (sado), flower arranging (kado), incense ceremonies (koudo), paintings as in wooden block or silk screens, music and other arts. Instead of just visiting places, we hired private guides that would help us understand and experience better.

Arashiyama bamboo forest, Kyoto, Japan

Arashiyama bamboo forest, Kyoto

We visited Japan’s most famous shrine called Fushimi Inari Shrine, where the mountain path is lined with thousands of orange torii gates. There was a huge torii( entrance gate) with two stone guard dogs symbolizing Shinto shrines. It was snowing the day we visited the beautiful Golden Pavilion (Kinkakuji) that sits in a relaxing garden to the north-west of the city.  Arashiyama bamboo forest is another polpular place to visit.   When we went there, I was very disappointed — there were thousands of people walking around, including multiple tour groups, there was no zen!  You couldn’t hear birds or the creaking of the bamboo in the wind even though it was a chilly 35 degrees. There is private pathway for rickshaws that seemed a little more quiet. There’s also a few temples located in the bamboo forest and we could hear gongs every now and smell the incense.

Kyoto is the only city where the culture of Maiko and Geiko still exists in Japan. Maiko and Geiko are young women who expertly sing, dance and play a shamisen (a three-stringed instrument) as a form of delightful entertainment at a banquet. A Maiko is a young girl (about 15 to 20 years of age) who is yet to become a Geiko. After training for 5 years as a Maiko, the girl then holds the title of a Geiko. Maiko and Geiko are affiliated with “Okiya” that are centered around Kyoto’s Gion area, and from each Okiya, they are called to perform in tea houses.

Geishas near Gion, Kyoto

Next day we made our way to the Yasaka Shrine, in Gion area.  This is where we spotted a few Geisha, may be Maikos shuffling away in their cumbersome zori sandals, elaborate makeup, hairdos with pretty hair ornaments and their exquisite kimonos.  Gion is the area where the geisha are usually spotted, however they can be elusive and you may leave Kyoto without seeing one.  You can see a geisha show at the theater house called Gion Corner.  Here you can see a traditional Geisha performance, as well as other traditional Japanese ceremonies and cultural skits. The tickets are $25 and you have to line up at the Gion Corner and wait for the tickets. Another places to see Geishas are in Hanamikoji street, where there a few tea houses that they frequent – best time to see them is after 5pm we were told.

Ninja training at Ninja Dojo, Kyoto

Ninja‘ conjures up the world of Japanese culture perfectly, especially for kids. So we signed up for a quick lesson at Ninja Dojo. The class included demonstration and training for Ninja sword, Sword training, Kunai(Dagger) training, Shuriken(Ninja star) training, Ninja blowgun(blow darts) training. They also got to some basics of ninja meditation – equally as important in ninja training. No sure where they will practice it though but it was a unique experience.

If you missed visiting one of the animal cafes in Tokyo, don’t worry they are there in Kyoto as well – check out this adorable Pug cafe!

Of all the temples in Kyoto, this one is the most popular with children – Kiyomizu-dera Temple. Because it’s a “participatory” temple – there’s plenty to do here, including ringing bells, drinking holy water and walking from one famous “love stone” to another. And don’t forget the incredible underground passage known as the Tainai Meguri.  Before we left Kyoto, we woke up in the morning and walked to Toji Temple, which is only a few blocks away from Kyoto Station. Toji Temple is home to Japan’s tallest pagoda, and also a very nice Japanese garden and temples with ornate shrines inside, which you are not allowed to photograph.

Our futon mattresses at the Kanamean, Kyoto

Where to Stay: We wanted a traditional Japanese Inn experience, so we chose Kanamean, there are other luxury hotels in Kyoto like the recently opened Four Seasons Kyoto with one of the biggest pool and spa areas and an 800-year-old pond garden and Ritz Carlton Kyoto featuring Japanese elements and stunning views of Kamogawa river.  There are other budget friendly Ryokans, family friendly machiyas and hotels as well.

Nara

Bronze statue of Buddha at Todai-ji Temple in Nara

Nara is an easy day trip from Kyoto. It is in the ancient capital of Nara where Buddhism was first introduced to Japan nearly 1,500 years ago. We begin with a stroll through the lovely expanse of Nara Park, home to hundreds of freely roaming deer; in the ancient faith of Shinto, these gentle creatures are believed to be messengers of the Gods and the animals here have been designated as a natural treasure. On the grounds of Nara Park, Todai-ji Temple is one of the largest wooden structures in the world. Inside, you will see an immense bronze statue of Buddha, towering nearly 50 feet high and flanked by two Bodhisattvas. We then strolled along peaceful lantern-lined paths to visit Kasuga Taisha, one of Japan’s most celebrated shrines, first established at the same time that the city of Nara was founded.  The stone lanterns are donated by merchants and lit up for special occasions – during two Lantern Festivals, one in early February and one in mid August. You can take a JR train from Kyoto to Nara or do a tour that covers most of the key sites.

A deer watches us as we enter Kasuga Taisha shrine in Kyoto

The kids really enjoyed visiting Nara, they both claimed seeing the bowing deer was the highlight of their trip right next to those Ninja lessons in Kyoto.  You can buy a few biscuits for the deer, it is amazing and amusing to see how the deer have learned to bow for food.

Hiroshima

Thousand Paper Cranes at the Peace memorial park in Hiroshima

We look our first bullet train from Kyoto to Hiroshima – As you probably know Hiroshima was where the Atomic bomb was dropped. During the final stage of World War II, the United States dropped nuclear weapons on the Japanese cities of Hiroshima and Nagasaki on August 6 and 9, 1945 causing catastrophic destruction.  Today a memorial stands in Hiroshima which lists of 300,000 names of the hibakusha – a Japanese word that literally translates to “explosion-affected people” who are known to have died since the bombings.

The peace park and museum are very thought provoking and the image of all the paper cranes, the symbol for peace, is one of beauty and melancholy. There are paper cranes made by Sadako Sasaki, a child made famous by the book Sadako and the Thousand Paper Cranes. Sadako was diagnosed with leukemia from the bomb radiation and she made thousands of paper cranes, hoping that if she made enough she would be granted her wish, which was to survive the cancer.

Two week Japan Itinerary

Miyajima torii, near Hiroshima

We then made our way to one of Hiroshima prefecture’s highlights – the gate of Itsukushima Shrine, often referred to as Miyajima torii, particularly beautiful at high tide.  We took a train and then a ferry from Hiroshima to Mayajima Island to see the famous Itsukushima Shrine. When the tide is high it appears to be floating, when it is low you can walk up to the Torii. This is the only Torii gate that sits in the ocean.

Nagoya

Two week Japan Itinerary

While we didn’t make it to the famous Nagoya castle – we added Nagoya as a last minute detour since our daughter wanted to see the Illuminations at the Nagashima Resort which was a 30 to 45 minute taxi ride away from the Nagoya Hilton where we were staying.  Nagashima Spa Land where the illuminations are, can be reached by a bus as week from Nagoya Station to Nagashima Resort.  Luckily the hotel arranged for a Taxi who waited for us and brought us back to the Hotel.  During the 40 minute ride he tried to make conversation with us using Google translate, we were so touched by his kindness.  He had a warm tea from a vending for us when we got back in the taxi after walking around in the cold seeing the led light displays (yes you can get hot coffee, tea, chocolate milks from vending machines) We didn’t encounter a single rude person or ill mannered person the entire trip.  Japanese were the kindest, sweetest and most humble people we have ever seen in our travels.

Where to Stay: We were at the Hilton in Nagoyo. We didn’t spend too much time at the hotel to form an opinion.  The beds were comfortable and rooms clean. 

Shirakawago and Takayama

This was the one tour that I was super excited about – a guaranteed snow day in the Japanese Alps. We boarded a bus at the Nagoya station bright and early at 7:50 am for a 12 hour road trip to the snowy Alps.  Our first stop was Takayama, know as little Kyoto. We strolled down the narrow streets of the old part of Takayama, and taking in the traditional charm of the old ancient wooden houses which makes you feel like you are back in the Edo/ Samurai-period. I got to try some steamed bean bao buns while the boys had the hida beef.  The red lacquered bridge made a striking contrast against the snowy landscape and perfect for some pictures.

Shirakawago, Japan

We then drove a couple of hours after a hotpot lunch to Shirakawago.  Once we parked, we geared up for the snow with snow pants and jackets since it was snowing as expected. Snowfall in this region can get pretty intense and Ogimachi village in particular usually gets covered in 1 to 2 meters of snow, making the town into its own unique winter wonderland. We crossed the bridge over the calm Shokawa River leading us to the reason why we came here – the Ogimachi village famous for its unique gassho-zukuri buildings.  Gassho-zukuri is a unique architecture style special for the Hida district of Japan (inland in the mountains). They are steep straw-roofed homes made of wood. Due to harsh and unforgiving winters with a lot of snow, the roofs of the houses are steeply angled to prevent the snow from piling up.

Shirakawa-go and Gokayama‘s beauty radiates in every season — may it be spring (sakura or cherry blossom season), summer, autumn or winter. Though if you would only have to choose one, I would highly suggest visiting in winter during the famous Shirakawa-go Winter Light-Up! In select Sunday and Monday evenings in January and February, the village organizes such a special illumination event for visitors in which many of the gassho-zukuri farmhouses are given light from 5:30 to 7:30.

Back to Tokyo

Ginza shopping district in Tokyo

We originally had plans to visit the giant Buddha of Kamakura, on our last day in Japan but were tired and wanted to take it easy.  So we decided to take the train to Harajuku for some crepes and see Shibuya again and indulge in some shopping at Ginza. Shinjuku Station is the busiest train station in the world with 3.6 million users every day, essential the hub of Tokyo.  People still queue up for trains and go about their business in an orderly fashion – almost a controlled chaos.  There is plenty to eat at the Shinjuku station and nearby areas from set menu restaurants to conveyor belt sushi – the food experiences in Japan warrants its own post!  I was able to find vegetarian options without any issues.

Shopping

My teens enjoyed the shopping experience in Tokyo – although things were more expensive, they were able to find the trendy clothing stores like Supreme, Bape and Undefeated stores stocked pretty well.  Make sure to take your passport when you go shopping so you can get the tax benefits. Here are the areas where we found some of the best shopping.

• Harajuku: The most popular, vibrant fashion and shopping district in Japan for the younger generation, the most famous being Takeshita street. Cat Street is also popular and offers more of a diverse shopping experience for the fashionistas and casual shoppers.
• Omotesando: The Champs-Élysées of Tokyo. Omotesando is a fashionable tree-lined shopping boulevard in Tokyo’s Harajuku district. In comparison to Harajuku, this area caters more to the haute-couture and high-end fashion. 
• Shibuya: Shibuya is a popular shopping district within Tokyo where you can find entertainment, shopping malls, boutique shops, restaurants and bars, and karaoke boxes. the famous 109 building is also here. If you missed the Illuminations at the Nagashima Resort, don’t fret – you can still see some in TokyoDubbed Ao no Dokutsu (‘Blue Cavern’), this illumination show was a huge hit when it first took place along the Meguro River back in 2014. It has been brought back to Shibuya last few years year, and engulfs the backstreets of Shibuya in a mysterious glow until New Year’s Eve. Set up along a 750 m stretch covering Koen-dori all the way to Yoyogi Park, thousands of blue LEDs reflect off the ground to create an immersive light-up experience.
• Ginza: The 5th Avenue of Tokyo as it is the most expensive area in Tokyo. You can enjoy amazing shopping from luxury products to stationary to local products from each part of Japan. The most popular department stores include; Mitsukoshi, Matsuya and the newest shopping complex, Ginza 6. Stores like Gucci, Chanel, Prada and the likes can be found here including a mega-store of Uniqlo. Global Japanese retailer’s flagship store has twelve floors and a whopping 5,000 square meters, it is the company’s biggest store in the world.
• Marunouchi: The prestigious business area between the Imperial Palace and Tokyo Station. Once home to feudal lords, it is now both a financial business district as well as a popular shopping destination for luxury goods and fashion.

If you have a few more days

Our itineraries are always packed since we have to work with a 2 week holiday period, but if you have a few more days here are a couple of options to add to your plan provided you like the colder temperatures.  You can visit the snow monkeys of Yudanaka – at Jigokudani Onsen in Nagano, Japanese macaques can be seen taking a dip in the open-air baths, their facial expressions vividly conveying just how relaxed they feel.  This can be done as a day trip from Tokyo but it will make for a long day.  If you are visiting Japan in February make sure to add a day at Sapporo to see the beautiful Snow sculptures at the Snow Festival in Sapporo.  There are many places in the Japanese Alps where you can go Skiing – Furano or Niseko are know for their world class powder.  Some Skiing in Nagano can be organized as a quick day trip from Tokyo where you can rent all the ski gear and clothes.

Some Helpful Japanese Phrases


Hello: Konnichiwa (Kohn-nee-chee-wah)
Thank you (normal): Arigatō. (Ah-REE-gah-tohh)
Thank you (less formal): Arigatō gozaimas (Ah-REE-gah-tohh goh-zahy-mahs)
Thank you (informal): Dōmo (DOHH-moh)
Excuse me: Sumimasen (Soo-mee-mah-SEN)Yes: Hai (Hai)
No: Iie (E-eh)
I’m a vegetarian “Watashi wa bejitarian des
I don’t eat meat or fish. “watashi wa niku toh sakana wo taberarimasen” “Taberarimasen” means “I don’t eat” so you can add any word in front of that.
Oishi katta – that was delicious.
I’m sorry: Gomen nasai (Goh-men-nah-sahy)
Is there someone here who speaks English?: Dareka eigo ga hanasemasu ka? (Dah-reh-kah ey-goh gah hah-nah-seh-mahs kah?)
Help!: Tasukete! (Tahs-keh-teh!)
Cheers!: Kanpai! (Kan-pie!)
Goodbye (long term): Sayōnara (Sah-yohh-nah-rah)
Goodbye (informal): Ja ne (Jahh neh)

Are you planning a trip to Japan to see the 2020 Olympics or may be see the Cherry blossoms in bloom during April or May? If you are planning a trip to Japan, hope you found this article useful.  I did add some links to tours that we were looking into and some that we did book. Will add some hotel information too, soon. If you are planning at least 7 days in Japan, I heard it is beneficial to get the JR pass – which is valid on all the JR trains and the slower bullet trains.  Since we were taking taxi to most places and wanted to experience Nozomi, the fastest bullet train we didn’t buy the JR pass.

Look for more posts coming soon with details about our different experiences in Japan and additional photos from our trip! Till then… Sayōnara!!

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12 thoughts on “Two week Itinerary for seeing the Best of Japan”

  1. Love, love Japan and so glad you were able to see so much of this beautiful country. What a great itinerary and this brings back some wonderful memories and things to add for our return visit.

  2. I visited Japan in 2013 – a few days in tokyo, we did all the same stuff you did 🙂 but we did make it to an onsen and saw Mt. Fuji. Didnt make it to Osaka or Kyoto though! Nor did we see snow (well except at the top of Fuji) I would love to go back!

  3. Love this, great itinerary! I was in Japan for just about ten days and mostly in the Tohuku region in the north, loved every bit, looking forward to going back 🙂

  4. Have always wanted to visit Japan, and hopefully one day soon can get the chance. This post would be helpful when I do!

  5. Sounds like a perfect two weeks! Japan is high on my husbands bucket list so I will definitely be circling back to this post one day!

  6. What a thoughtfully put together, comprehensive post! We do plan to stay Konansau in Mt Fuji as a start to our trip, so your validation helps 🙂 I think I’ll be rereading certain parts right before our trip! Very thoughtful of you to include suggestions for the cherry blossom season. Guess what, we were considering staying near Arashiyama but luckily didn’t book anything and now I’m going to go with a bit of apprehension. I love that your kids did the Ninja workshop – it sounds so fun, I would do it myself! I realize there are so many thoughts and reactions in my comment! 😀

  7. Japan is on of the most amazing countries I’ve ever been. The culture is just amazing and I just can’t keep going back. I’m glad you had such a great time there.

  8. Great itinerary. There are so much to see in Japan, and you have covered some great cities in Honshu like Tokyo, Kyoto, Osaka, and Hiroshima. If you would ever return to Japan you may consider the other islands and I am sure you would still be surprised~ @ kncyx.journeying
    http://knycxjourneying.com/category/japan-2

  9. We get an all-Japan television channel and there are so many things I want to see and experience there! It looks like you fit a lot in, snow and all. Saving this for when we get the funds to go and need itinerary ideas.

  10. A very comprehensive guide for Japan! I’ve never been anywhere in Asia yet, but I’m planning to go to China this year. Japan is next on my list, so your post comes in very handy. I don’t think I could spend so much there, though. If I were to visit Japan only for 5-6 days, what would you recommend seeing in this interval?

  11. Your itinerary for visiting Japan looks awesome. I think you packed a lot in for your time there. I like the idea of spending extra time in Tokyo to see more.

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