10 Days in Japan: From Tokyo to Kyoto- The PERFECT Itinerary for Japan First Timers
Now that I know exactly what to expect from the Land of the Rising Sun, I’m so excited to share my perfect 10-day Japan itinerary with you guys!!!
From temple-hopping to cherry blossom viewing, from street food to sushi dinners, from neon lights to lush green landscapes, there really is something for everyone here in Japan.
Here’s mapping out your PERFECT 10-day itinerary starting in Tokyo with side trips to Kyoto and Osaka. And if you have a few extra days to spare, I’ve included MUST-SEE spots that we didn’t have enough time for that I’m DYING to visit on our next trip!
G E T T I N G A R O U N D
The Japan Rail Pass is what all foreign travelers need to get around. A 7-day unlimited pass will run you approximately $250/usd, even cheaper than 1 round trip ticket to Kyoto or Osaka from Tokyo (around $290 usd). So if you’re planning on any side trips at all, one pass will save you tons! The local JR line is one of my favorites since it’s less congested, but getting around via any metro line is easy peasy as automated ticket machines have English translators built-in.
You must purchase this pass in advance since they ship the passes to your home so you can get it processed and activated once you land in Japan. Buy the JR Pass at least 3 weeks before your trip to account for shipping and handling time.
For more information and to purchase tickets direct see Japan Rail Pass HERE.
There are taxis aplenty and uber if you need to, but I found the subway/metro/ train lines so efficient, fast, cheap, and easy, it was the only way we traveled for 99% of the trip. The other 1% we taxied back to the hotel after clubbing and late night bar hopping.
S E E
With thousand year old temples, shrines, parks, monuments, gardens, and riverbeds teeming through the city, there is SO MUCH/ TOO MUCH to see that you must jam-pack your daily schedule and get up at the butt crack of dawn to take it all in. We only had 10 days to view all the below and I still feel like we missed TONS. But of course, Japan’s not going anywhere so it’ll take me a lifetime of trips to fully grasp the unparalleled beauty and history of this incredible country.
Insider’s tip: Most travel credit cards offer a free 5th night with a 4 night stay. So with this deal, I try to book 5 nights at
the first destination (in this case Tokyo) then plan our side trips around that.
To see if you qualify for an Amex SPG credit card, click my REFERRAL CODE
While the Westin may not be the most budget friendly hotel (4 stars, starts @ $325USD/ night) it’s totally worth it if you have the funds or points. Located in a quiet upscale residential area of Tokyo, the hotel is adjacent to the famed Yebisu Garden Place, almost like a city within a city with its commercial buildings, skyscrapers, and friendly neighborhood cafes and restaurants sprinkled throughout.
City life, this is not, as I much prefer to stay out of all the street noise and congested areas. But with hip, young, and trendy Shibuya a mere 1 subway stop away, it is still a centrally located area in Tokyo and VERY convenient with an underground terminal taking you straight from the metro line right into the hotel. I swear they think of EVERYTHING here in Japan! Ingenious especially in rainy weather!
Other Notable Areas to Stay In:
I would consider Roppongi the Beverly Hills of Tokyo. Super posh hotels (Lost in Translation was shot at the Park Hyatt Tokyo with the famous New York Bar scene overlooking the city lights) and a nightlife scene that’s very chi-chi. It’s where all the beautiful locals and expats hang out so if you want a glimpse into what non-touristy, real life is like here in the city, book your stay in Roppongi.
Haute Roppongi Hotels
InterContinental ANA Tokyo, Ritz-Carlton,
Hotel Okura, Park or Grand Hyatt, Tokyo Prince Hotel
Young, trendy, teeny-boppery, city/lights/action-packed fun. This is the area known for its famous Shibuya crossing where hordes of people cross the street packed like sardines coming from every which way but up. The area is loud, hip, teeming with tourists and tons of towering shopping malls so buyer beware. If you love to be in the thick of things, you’ll love it here. But if you’d rather not deal with the crowds, stay in Yebisu or Roppongi and simply take the 1 to 2-stop train or taxi in.
Haute Shibuya Hotels
Cerulean Tower Tokyo, Shibuya Excel, Hotel Tokyu, Hotel Century Southern Tower
Shinjuku is like Shibuya’s older sister. Where Shibuya is the prom queen, Shinjuku is president of her college sorority. A little bit
more refined, hangs with the older, well-established crowd, but still parties with the best of ‘em.
Haute Shinjuku Hotels
Hotel Gracery (infamous Godzilla hotel), Century Southern Tower Hotel, Sheraton Miyako, Hotel Allamanda Aoyama
Tokyo, Park Hyatt Tokyo
Please note: Although I have only stayed at the Westin Tokyo from the above list all thanks to my trusty Amex SPG (Free room booked completely on points!) I researched the above and would have happily shelled out the money to stay at any of those haute hotels.
Ok guys, so now that you know how to get around and you’ve decided on where to stay, here’s mapping the PERFECT 10 day itinerary from Tokyo to Kyoto and errthang in between!
Day 1 Tokyo: Exploring Western Tokyo
You must start your trip with the areas quintessentially known as the Japan you see in movies. Shibuya and Shinjuku mainly. The
congested city life with its towering skyscrapers, neon marquees, and million mall complexes will surely give you a taste of that nonstop, frenetic, Tokyo excitement.
Haute Spots: Shibuya, Shinjuku, Harajuku
The infamous Golden Gai alleyways, Anthony Bourdain-made famous teensy tiny bars that only hold
about 6-8 patrons max. You can zig zag your way from bar to bar, pay a minimal cover charge and have a cocktail for about $20usd / per person before hitting the spot next door, or the door after that. There’s approximately 300 or so bars concentrated in this area. NOT to be missed!
Shinjuku is also home to Tokyo’s infamous red-light district: Kabuki-cho where young, pretty boys stand guard outside neon-flashing buildings to lure you in with scantily-clad pictures of naked women on their phones. An hour with these Japanese women (aka prostitutes/ escorts/ strippers) will cost ya $100/usd. The sex part is obviously illegal, but highly accepted as social norm so play at your own risk!
Temples | Shrines: Meiji Shrine
Parks | Gardens: Shinjuku Goen, Yoyogi Park, Meguro River
From city life to local life, start day 2 at the famous Tsukiji Fish Market where all the sushi chefs shop wholesale for the fresh catch of the day. Start early (5am) if you want to catch the live tuna auction in the center of the market or come at a leisurely hour (8/9am) if you just want to browse around. Have breakfast at one of the surrounding restaurants outside the covered market and load up for all day excursions into Chiyoda and the Imperial Palace grounds. You’ll need all the food energy because there’s a LOT of walking ahead!
Haute Spots: Tsukiji Fish Market, Chiyoda, Imperial Palace, Chidorigafuchi, Kitanomaru Park
Extras: Tokyo Dome City- entertainment district around Tokyo Dome
Day 3 Tokyo: Exploring Northern Tokyo
From Yebisu/Shibuya, Tokyo Skytree is quite a ways away. I believe 10+ stops on the subway so prepare for a half hour ride before snagging breakfast at Tokyo Solamachi, a super cute 8 story mall with dining spots on every floor! Then head up to the top observation deck of Tokyo Skytree for unparalleled views of Tokyo. On a clear day, you can even spot Mt. Fuji. Everything below is pretty much in walking distance so map out your route from Skytree and go from there.
Haute Spots: Tokyo Skytree/ Tokyo Solamachi, Asakusa, Ameyoko
Temples | Shrines: Sensoji Temple
Parks | Gardens: Sumida Park, Ueno Park, Rikugien Landscape Garden, Botanical Garden
Extras: Tokyo National Museum, Edo-Tokyo Museum, Sugamo shopping district, Yanaka
Day 4 Tokyo: Exploring Western and Southern Tokyo
Day 4 will make you feel like a complete local. From Yebisu to Roppongi, there’s a lot of shopping spots that aren’t too touristy like Don Quijote (imagine a ‘suped up Daiso but higher end and takes up 6 floors), Tokyo Midtown (high end shopping mall), and Yebisu Garden Place with a brewery and shopping complex in one. Roppongi is especially lively at night with restaurants, bars, karaoke, and night clubs where all the locals and expats hang out. Map your schedule with sightseeing/ shopping during the day and end with Roppongi at night.
Haute Spots: Yebisu Garden Place, Roppongi and Roppongi Hills, Tokyo Tower, Tokyo Midtown
Central Tokyo was an area that I scheduled on our itinerary but didn’t get a chance to visit. Ginza is akin to shopping Rodeo Drive in Beverly Hills. Akihabara is the district for electronic and otaku goods so for any of you tech nerds like myself and le hubs, you can get
lost in this area testing out all the new Japanese gadgets and cool anime shops. Have lunch/dinner in the atmospheric Yurakucho dining area and soak in the beauty of the temples and parks below.
Extras: Tsukishima manmade island known for monjayaki pancakes, Marunouchi business district, Kanda
Day 6: Exploring Kyoto
Kyoto was easily one of the BEST highlights from our trip. The traditional side of Japan, Kyoto is the imperial capital where heaven and earth meet to bring you lush natural landscape, centuries-old temples, markets, and shrines, beautiful rivers and endless cherry
blossom parks for your viewing pleasure.
The architecture is old world and restored; Buildings look like they came out of a historical movie set as geishas run freely in concentrated areas of town. It’s a big city feel with an old time look and simply breathtaking from the inside out.
Eat: Yudofu in Higashiyama, Matcha Green Tea Ice Cream at Tsujiri, Mochi anywhere at a pastry shop on the main street of downtown Kyoto/ Shijo-Dori, Sake tasting at Fushimi Sake District
Day 7: Exploring Arashiyama
Arashiyama is located in Western Kyoto, a mere 30 minute train ride away from Kyoto Central Station. Start your day as early as possible to beat the crowds (8am/ 9am) and score unobstructed views from all of the sites below. It’s almost impossible to get a solo shot from the Bamboo groves, but the local trick is to go when it’s raining, lol. Yup, that’ll keep em away!
Tourists start bombarding Arashiyama after noon so best if you make your way to the Bamboo forest first, then the park at Oi River observation point, cross the Togetsukyo Bridge, and over to the Monkey park. It’s quite a hike and easily a 1hr excursion from point to point without breaks, so be prepared with snacks and water in your bag. Have lunch in the quaint little town next to Iwatayama, tour some temples, and get back to Kyoto by dinnertime.
Haute Spots: Bamboo Forest, Oi River Lookout Points, Togetsukyo Bridge, Iwatayama Monkey Park
Temples | Shrines: Kinkakuji Temple, Tenryu-ji
Parks | Gardens: Kyu Shiba Rikyo landscape garden, Showa Memorial Park
Extras: , Ryoan-ji Rock Garden, Daikakuji Temple
Day 8: Exploring Osaka
Osaka is Japan’s 2nd largest metropolitan area, next to Tokyo. Locals from Osaka consider themselves to be the cooler, hipper, less pretentious version of the big city. I imagine the comparison to be much like Brooklyn vs. Manhattan?? They’re all New Yorkers, but here’s a certain sense of hometown pride once you reach the outskirts. Stepping foot into Osaka, you immediately feel the difference and dare I say, it was a refreshing surprise to city life especially with a gorgeous river running right through it.
Parks | Gardens: Osaka Castle Park, Expo 70, Kema Sakuranomiya Park
Extras: Showa Memorial Park, Osaka Aquarium (good for kids), Universal Studios
Day 9: Exploring Osaka, Umeda, and Nara
Nara is a side trip most popular for their free roaming deer that inhabit Nara Park. Located just 40 minutes away from Osaka by train, most people just come to take selfies with the deer and skip the famous temple that they live by altogether. If you have the time (or an extra day), I say take the trip and explore Nara for a half day and get back to Osaka before dusk. That’s when the beauty of Osaka really comes alive! If not, I’d spend the day shopping in Osaka and Umeda since prices here are famously lower than Tokyo by about 20%. Score!
Haute Spots: UmedaTenjinbashi-suji Shopping Street, Umeda Sky Building, Shinsekai district
Temples | Shrines: Shitennoji Temple
Parks | Gardens: Minoo Park
Extras: Nara, Osaka Mint Bureau
Day 10 Tokyo: Last Day in Tokyo
Your last day in Tokyo should be spent exploring any spots you may have missed from the above or revisiting a favorite park for a lunchtime picnic or free lounge time. Like I mentioned before, I packed our schedule with so much (evidently, lol) that I felt rushed from haute spot to temple to garden and back.
I didn’t even have (or make) time for personal shopping! I know! Can you believe it?
That’s a total first for me, but when the sightseeing and hanami viewing is SO friggin exceptional, you have to prioritize what’s important! In this case, the cherry blossoms, lol. Trust me, if you visit during spring, you’ll know EXACTLY what I mean! I could (and did) get lost under those blossoms for HOURS per location!
B O N U S P R I N T O U T
Here’s a handy dandy print-out for you to download (bookmark and share!) breaking down your 10 days in Japan! I’ve also included some insider tips before your trip and how to navigate the Japan Rail Pass like a pro!
That’s it for my perfect 10-day Japan Itinerary for first timers guys! Hope this helped map your future trip to Japan!
For those of you who have visited before, did I miss any of your favorites?!
Please comment below and I’ll be sure to edit the post to include your picks!
Catch up on all my Japan travel posts HERE and HERE