Japan is becoming one of the most popular tourist destinations and for good reason! The country has a lot to see, but you can knock off a good chunk of it in about 10 days. If it is your first time visiting Japan, Tokyo and Kyoto are a must. This itinerary throws in a few additional cities like Osaka and Hiroshima to round out the ultimate 10-day itinerary for first timers in Japan.
Explore Tokyo with a Day Trip to Nikko
Click here for my full five-day Tokyo itinerary.
Days 1-2: Depart for Tokyo
Japan isn’t exactly close to the United States so your first day of the trip will be taken up by travel. Coming from the East Coast, we left in the morning on a Thursday and arrived in Tokyo on a Friday night. Take it easy the first night as you adjust. After checking into your hotel (I recommend the Ritz-Carlton Tokyo, using Marriott points of course!), grab a drink and light dinner at the New York Bar at the Park Hyatt Tokyo.
Day 3: Shibuya, Harajuku, and MariCar
Spend the majority of the day exploring Shibuya and Harajuki. Some highlights include:
- Shinjuku Gyoen National Garden (technically in Shinjuku, but close by and a nice place to start your morning)
- Meiji Shrine
- Yoyogi Park
- Shibuya Crossing
- Shibuya Center Gai
- Visit an animal cafe
- Eat Kawaii food like rainbow spaghetti
- Cat Street
In the evening, make a reservation at MariCar for a go-cart tour through the streets of Tokyo. There are different courses to choose from. The one we picked included the Rainbow Bridge, Tokyo Tower, and Shibuya Crossing. Check out my full review of MariCar here.
Day 3: Asakusa, Central Tokyo, and Odaiba
Start your morning with a free walking tour of Asakusa which covers the highlights of old-Tokyo including the Sensō-ji Temple and the historic shopping streets, Nakamise-dori and Denpoin-dori. The tour ends near the Tokyo Sky Tree, the tallest tower in the world.
After the morning walking tour, head to Akihabara for a Classic Tokyo tour starting in Akihabara. Akihabara is the cultural center for all things anime and manga. The tour also visits the Yushima Seidō, Kanda Shrine, Ameyoko Shopping Arcade, and Ueno Park.
In the evening, head to Odaiba to visit the teamLab Borderless Digital Art Museum (full review here).
Day 4: Day Trip to Nikko
There are lots of great day trip opportunities from Tokyo, but we picked Nikko for its scenery, temples, and shrines. Nikko is easy to access with a Japan Rail Pass (click here to purchase). Highlights include the Shinkyo Bridge, Toshogu Shrine, and Kegon Falls. Check out all of the details of a day trip to Nikko from Tokyo here.
Day 5: Ginza and Shinjuku
Start the morning with a stroll through the Imperial Palace East Gardens. The gardens are free to enter. You could also make a reservation to tour the Palace grounds.
After the gardens, head to Ginza, one of Tokyo’s top shopping districts. Walk around the main shopping streets of Ginza, Chuo-dori and Harumi-dori. Once you’ve worked up an appetite, sit for a multicourse sushi lunch at Sushi Ya. For dessert, pop into Kimuraya, a bakery known for its sweet rolls, or anpan. Then walk to Hamarikyu Gardens (admission 300 JPY) for yet another leisurely stroll!
After dinner, head to the free walking tour of Shinjuku where you’ll learn about the red light district called Kabukicho, love hotels, and host/hostess clubs. Last but not least, end your night at Golden Gai, a network of alleys with over 200 tiny bars, many of which have themes.
Click here for my full two-day Kyoto itinerary.
Day 6: Higashiyama and Fushimi-Inari
Take the train to Kyoto in the morning and drop your bags at your hotel (we stayed at the Ritz-Carlton Kyoto). Spend your first day exploring Higashiyama. Main sights include:
- Maruyama-koen Park
- Philosopher’s Path
- Ginkaku-ji (Silver Pavilion)
We took a cab to Kiyomizu-dera, but walked between all of the above sights. This is a decent amount of walking so wear a good pair of shoes.
After exploring Higashiyama, take a cab to the Fushimi Inari Shrine. This free shrine is famous for the thousands of orange Torii gates leading up Mount Inari. If you’re looking for something different for dinner, try Antonio, a tapas restaurant run by an expat from Spain.
Day 7: Northwest Kyoto and Arashiyama
Sights in northwest Kyoto are a bit more spread out so take a cab to the Zen temple, Ryoan-ji. From there, you can walk to Kikaku-ji (Golden Pavilion).
Take another cab to Arashiyama and check out the following sights:
- Arashiyama Monkey Park
- Togetsukyo Bridge
- Tenryu-ji Temple
- Arashiyama Bamboo Grove
- Okochi Sanso Villa
- Miffy Sakura Bakery
You can take public transportation or a cab back to downtown Kyoto to check out Nishiki Market before it closes. In the evening, explore Pontocho, a narrow alley packed with restaurants one block west of the Kamogawa River. Then, keep walking across the river to Gion, Kyoto’s geisha district. In Gion, check out Hanami-koji Street and the Yasaka Shrine. For dinner, try a place in Pontocho or Teppanyaki Manryu in Gion.
Day Trip from Kyoto
Click here for my full Hiroshima and Miyajima itinerary.
Day 8: Hiroshima and Miyajima
On Day 8, take a day trip by train to Hiroshima and Miyajima. Highlights include:
- Hiroshima Castle
- Atomic Bomb Dome
- Hiroshima Peace Park
- Hiroshima Peace Memorial Museum
- Istukushima Shrine
- Daisho-in Temple
- Mount Misen
You could also choose to spend the night if you want more time to explore.
Head to Osaka
Click here for my full Osaka itinerary.
Day 9: Osaka
Take the train from Kyoto to Osaka in the morning. If you have time, you could stop in Nara on the way. After dropping off your bags at your hotel (we stayed at the InterContinental Osaka), head to Osaka Castle. Next, head to Minami for a free walking tour around Dotonbori and Shinsekai.
Osaka is known for its food so pick somewhere good for dinner. Since we went to Japan for our honeymoon, we decided to splurge on a three Michelin star dinner at Hajime.
Day 10: Travel Home
You have two options for getting back home from Japan. You could either fly out of Osaka’s airport or take the train back to Tokyo and fly out of Haneda or Narita. We took the train back to Narita, and since Japan’s trains are so efficient, it wasn’t too much of an inconvenience.
This itinerary is the perfect introduction to Japan for first-time visitors. You will get a chance to see Japan’s largest cities, experience its natural beauty, and visit more temples and shrines than you can count. It will be a busy 10 days, but your memories of Japan will make it worth it!