Japan was always a place that I wanted to experience, and I just so happened to splurge on a last minute ticket for a week-long getaway in Japan! Some of my friends had told me there was no way I could experience Japan in a single week, but I’d like to think I was able to see a lot of the sights and culture. From robot shows, to amazing food, to anime, and to bowing deer, I’m going to take you through my one-week itinerary to see the highlights that Japan has to offer.
Day 1 – Arrival in Tokyo – Narita Airport
If you’re flying from North America, you’re bound to have at least a 13 hour flight. If you’re cheap with flights like I am, you would have been uncomfortable in economy class the whole flight, wondering why you made the decision to fly this far. You’ve suffered through flavourless food and wish you could bite into a (veggie) burger. You’re dreaming of sleeping in a bed, but hating that you feel that way because you just want to adventure in Japan and make the best use of your time there.
Oh the woes of a long overseas flight! Once you overcome your exhaustion and pick up your bag from the baggage carousel, look for signs for the JR Narita Express to start your journey downtown. The train is the easiest and cheapest way to get downtown. It will take about 85 minutes and costs around 3000 yen. It is clean and safe, and I wouldn’t worry about taking a short nap on the train.
Quite honestly, after the long flight (unless you opted for a sleeper pod or bed in first class), you are likely exhausted and just want to lay down. For at least your first night in Japan, I would recommend getting a decent hotel for a good night’s sleep. Along with this, you should plan to take it easy on your first day. Without a quick recharge – it may take longer to recover from jet lag, and if you’re only in Japan for one week, you don’t have much recovery time!
For me, I only planned on wandering around the area near by hotel and grabbing food on my first day in Japan. I checked out a mall and found a place that had vegetarian ramen for dinner. The rest of my night was spent at cocktail hour, then having a relaxing bath to rest up for a busy week in Japan!
Day 2 – Shibuya & Shinjuku, Tokyo
Hopefully you get a good night’s rest because the rest of the trip is going to be really busy! There are so many interesting and diverse wards within Tokyo, that it can be hard to decide where to go, especially if you only have a week to get a taste of Japan.
For your first full day in Japan, I would explore Shibuya and Shinjuku. Both areas are easily accessible by transit. During my time in Tokyo I stuck to local trains, which were extremely easy to navigate if you download offline maps on Google Maps ahead of time. You purchase your ticket from a machine by selecting your destination city, and jump on the train. Transit in Japan is amazing – it is always on time, and everyone politely stands in line to wait to get on!
Once you find the nearest train station, I would set Shibuya as your first destination. Shibuya is home to the famous Shibuya Crossing – the busiest intersection in the world, beautiful shrines, plenty of shopping, and amazing restaurants to try!
After checking out the crossing, head to Meiji Jingu – a beautiful Shinto shrine, surrounded by forest and gardens. Then, checkout Takeshita Street – a very popular pedestrian street with trendy shopping and eateries.
A few food shops to check out in Shibuya are:
- Eiswelt Gelato – a fun gelato shop serving animal-shaped cones
- Marion Crepes – a popular crepe shop with over 80 branches across Japan
- Totti Candy Factory – serving giant cotton candies
- Calbee Plus – a Japanese snack shop, serving fresh potato fries and chips
- Long! Longer! Longest! – serving giant churros, ice cream cones, spiral potatoes, cotton candy, and rainbow grilled cheese
Next, head back to the subway station and head to Shinjuku. I really enjoyed visiting Shinjuku during the evening, as there are some really neat drink spots, especially in Golden Gai. After the 9-to-5ers finish work for the day, many head to Golden Gai. Here, there are winding alleys with many little bars with very few seats. It is quite an interesting experience, as it isn’t like North American bars at all. There can be an entrance fee to get a seat, but it is definitely worth checking out.
If you’re looking for incredible views of the city, I suggest heading to Tokyo Metropolitan Building at night, where there is a free observation deck, open to the public! I loved the 360 degree panoramic view of Tokyo.
One of my favourite things I did in Shinjuku, was see a show at the famous Robot Restaurant. If you haven’t yet heard of it, I highly recommend looking into purchasing tickets. It is one of the most unique shows I have ever been to, with flashing lights, giant robots, and quite an interesting show! The entire time I was wide-eyed and amazed with what was going on!
Day 3 – Taito City & Sumida City, Tokyo
I really enjoyed these areas of Tokyo. I tend to like to take it easy for at least a day when I travel, even though I travel super quickly. I’d suggest taking this day to do that. Explore some shops and dine in some incredible restaurants around Tokyo. Japan sure doesn’t disappoint when it comes to food!
In Taito City, you should head to Asakusa – an area that feels like older Tokyo, with plenty of street-food and traditional craft shops. That area is home to the beautiful Sensoji temple, a five-story red pagoda. It is quite the busy area, so try to arrive early in the morning if you want to avoid the crowds.
Sumida City is home to the Tokyo Skytree, which you should definitely check out. Nearby, there’s plenty of restaurants and shops, along with an Aquarium to check out!
Day 4 – Kyoto
Next up is navigating the bullet train to head to my personal favourite Japanese city – Kyoto. Kyoto was by far my favourite city I visited in Japan. Kyoto is home to over 1600 temples, beautiful gardens, and fantastic food. Kyoto has fascinating history – from being Japan’s capital and the emperor’s residence from 794 to 1868, to being destroyed and rebuilt by multiple wars and fires.
It takes about 2 hours and 13,000 yen to get to Kyoto via the bullet train. On the way, be sure to get a window seat as the train passed through the beautiful Japanese countryside. If it is a clear day, you’ll definitely be able to see Mount Fuji from the train! As for hotels in Kyoto, anywhere near a subway station is fine. I found the sites easily accessible by local transit.
On this 3/4 day in Kyoto, I would opt to explore the southern part of the city. Some key spots to check out include:
- Nishiki Market – 400-year-old iconic market with neat items and food
- Yasaka Shrine – a beautiful red Shinto shrine, erected in 656 A.D.
- Hōkan-ji Temple – a 5-story Buddhist pagoda temple
- Higashi-Honganji Temple – a very large Buddhist template complex
- Fushimi Inari Taisa – a popular mountainside Shinto shrine, with a path of hundreds of traditional dates
Day 5 – Kyoto
On this day, I would suggest heading out to Arashiyama, along with temples in the north side of the city. One of my favourite place I visited in Kyoto was the bamboo forest in Arashiyama. You will walk through an incredible bamboo grove, surrounded by tall bamboo stalks. It is quite the serene location, if you get there early enough that is. It is very touristy, but definitely worth checking out. After the bamboo grove, head on over to the Monkey park. After a short hike, you will be surrounded by wild monkeys and experience incredible views of the city.
Next on the agenda, head to the must see Kinkaku-Ji Buddhist temple. You will walk through beautifully landscaped gardens on your way to this temple. Once you arrive at a large pond, you will be amazed by the golden pavilion. It is by far my favourite temple that I saw in Japan. Spend some time walking through the gardens and viewing the temple from different views – it is definitely worth taking the time to do so!
A few other cool spots I would recommend checking out this day are:
- Nijō Castle – a wooden castle with beautiful gardens
- Kyoto Imperial Palace – former residence of the Imperial family
- Heian Shrine – a beautiful colourful shrine built for the city’s 1100th birthday
Day 6 – Nara & Osaka
A quick train ride away are the cities of Nara and Osaka. You can definitely get a taste of both these cities in one day. I planned on just exploring Nara, but ending up changing plans and heading to Osaka in the same day!
If you haven’t heard of Nara yet, it is the home to the park that is filled with bowing deer! First, purchase some crackers from a person selling them on the street (not sketchy I swear!). Then, head into the park, where deer with immediately approach you. If you stand in front of one and bow, THEY WILL BOW BACK! It is quite an unique experience, and I tell everyone about it when they ask me how my Japan trip was. Keep feeding them crackers, and they will keep flocking towards you!
After this experience, jump back on the train and continue to Osaka. When I visited, I didn’t have much time there, and I just headed to Shinsaibashi – Osaka’s main shopping area, and to a cat café. A large part of the Shinsaibashi district is a covered shopping street, with quite an array of shopping stores.
If time permits, be sure to check out Osaka Castle. I unfortunately didn’t have time to check it out, but it is one of Japan’s most famous landmarks!
After exploring what you can of Osaka, you can either catch a train back to Kyoto or take the bullet train straight to Tokyo. I tend to arrive in the city where my flight is departing the night before, just in case anything comes up!
Day 7 – Tokyo
On your last day in Tokyo, I would recommend checking out the anime district – Akihabara. This area is filled with a lot of interesting stores, from full stores dedicated to trading cards, to giant electronic stores, to maid cafés, there’s definitely a lot to explore! I picked up some trading cards and souvenirs from this area.
Lastly, stock up on your favourite Japanese snacks! I brought home many different flavoured Kit Kats, and an assortment of single packaged snacks I picked up from the grocery store.
Have you been to Japan or are you planning on heading there soon? Let me know your top spots in the comments!