10 Days in Japan: From Tokyo to Kyoto- The PERFECT Itinerary for Japan First Timers

Tuesday, May 16, 2017

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.  

Kitanomaru Park | Chiyoda

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. 

Arashiyama Rail

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.

Oi River | Arashiyama


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.

Westin Tokyo Foyer and Bar


With my trusty American Express Starwood Preferred Guest credit card in tow, I booked our stay at the fabulous Westin Tokyo (located in Yebisu/ Meguro area) for free, all on points.  

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.  

Yebisu Garden Place and downtown Tokyo nighttime view from Westin Sky Bar

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

Roppongi by night via


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

Shibuya by day


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.

Shinjuku's busy streets

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 inbetween!

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.

Kabuki-cho | Shinjuku

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!

Kabukicho Entry Gate | Robot Restaurant | Golden Gai Bar

Harajuku | Takeshita Street by night

Harajuku Owl Cafe

Temples | Shrines: Meiji Shrine
Parks | Gardens: Shinjuku Goen, Yoyogi Park, Meguro River
Extras: Nakano Broadway Mall, Kagurazaka shopping district, Harajuku Owl Cafe

Meguro River by night

Day 2 Tokyo: Exploring Central Tokyo

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!

Sushi Breakfast at Tsukiji Fish Market

Adjacent Nippon Fish Port Market next to central Tsukiji

Pick up famous Masamoto knives at Tsukiji that all pro chefs swear by

Covered market at Tsukiji

Haute Spots: Tsukiji Fish Market, Chiyoda, Imperial Palace, Chidorigafuchi, Kitanomaru Park
Temples | Shrines: Imperial Palace, Yasukuni Shrine              
Parks | Gardens: Imperial East Gardens
Extras: Tokyo Dome City- entertainment district around Tokyo Dome

Entrance to Imperial Gardens

Kitanomaru Park 

Imperial Palace East Garden | Chiyoda Skyline


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.

Tokyo Skytree Observation Deck | Tokyo Solamachi

Sumida Park

Azumabashi Bridge overlooking Sumida River 

Sensoji Temple

Fresh grilled yakitori at Sensoji Temple

 Asakusa Market adjacent Sensoji Temple | Line up for fresh matcha ice cream puff pastries (below)

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

Pack a picnic at Ueno Park

Ueno Park Cherry Blossom Festival runs annually from mid-March to early-April

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.

Yebisu Garden Place

Tokyo Tower seen from Tokyo City View observation deck at Roppongi Hills complex via

Haute Spots: Yebisu Garden Place, Roppongi and Roppongi Hills, Tokyo Tower, Tokyo Midtown
Temples | Shrines: Sengakuji Temple, Zojoji Temple,
Parks | Gardens: Kyu Shiba Rikyo landscape garden
Extras: Showa Memorial Park

Dinner and drinks at Rigoletto Restaurant and Bar | Roppongi

Day 5 Tokyo: Exploring Central Tokyo

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.

Akihibara via

Ginza via

Yurakucho Dining via

Haute Spots:  Ginza, Akihibara, Yurakucho dining destination
Temples | Shrines: Yasukuni Shrine
Parks | Gardens: Koishikawa Korakuen, Hama Rikyu
Extras: Tsukishima manmade island known for monjayaki pancakes, Marunouchi business district, Kanda

Yasukuni Shrine via

Koishikawa Korakuen garden via

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.  It’s no wonder Travel and Leisure magazine readers voted Kyoto the “Best City in theWorld” twice in a row (2014/2015), an unprecedented honor to which no other city has been bestowed.

Kama River Kyoto

Matcha soft serve goodies from Tsujiri Honten Kyoto

Gion district

Kennin Ji Temple Gion

Haute Spots: Gion, Higashiyama, Nishiki Market
Temples | Shrines: Kiyomizu-dera, Fushimi Inari Shinto Shrine, Heian Shrine
Parks | Gardens: Kyu Shiba Rikyo landscape garden, Maruyama Park, Ninomaru Garden, Philosopher’s Path
Extras: Nijo Castle, Sento Palace, Kyoto Imperial Palace, Ginkakuji Temple, Tofuku-ji
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

Nishiki Market

Tori Gate entrance to Fushimi Inari Shinto Shrine

Thousands of columns with donor names engraved at Fushimi Inari Shinto Shrine

Kiyomizudera via

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.

Bamboo forest

Arashiyama lookout point at Oi River

Feeding monkeys at Iwatayama | Kameyama Koen

Boats for day rentals on the Oi River

Iwatayama Monkey Park- Thousands of monkeys live here and roam freely on the mountains

Iwatayama Monkey Park observation deck- overlooking all of Arashiyama

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

Kinkakuji Temple aka The Golden Pavilion

Kinkakuji Temple grounds

Kinkakuji Rock Garden

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 there’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.

Osaka skyline

Osaka Castle from outer moat

Osaka Castle Park

Shinsaibashi Shopping Strip by day

Haute Spots: Osaka Castle, Takio Bashi Bridge, Dotonbori, Namba, Shinsaibashi
Temples | Shrines: Sumiyoshi Taisha
Parks | Gardens: Osaka Castle Park, Expo 70, Kema Sakuranomiya Park
Extras: Showa Memorial Park, Osaka Aquarium (good for kids), Universal Studios

Ramen hopping | Dotonbori by night

Dotonbori by night

 Shinsaibashi Shopping Strip by night

Osaka claim-to-fame Okonomiyaki pancakes

Dotonbori dining by night

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!

Todaiji Temple Nara via

Deer at Nara Park via

Haute Spots: Umeda Tenjinbashi-suji Shopping Street, Umeda Sky Building, Shinsekai district
Temples | Shrines: Shitennoji Temple
Parks | Gardens: Minoo Park
Extras: Nara, Osaka Mint Bureau

Umeda Sky Building via

Umeda Tenjinbashi-suji Shopping Street via

Shinsekai on a rainy spring day via

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

Coming UP:
The BEST spots to view Cherry Blossoms in Tokyo, Kyoto, and Osaka!
You didn’t think I’d forget about the SINGULAR reason why we visited, did you?
Tune in next week for the drop!

Thanks for reading loves!

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  1. Replies
    1. Thank you Heather! It was the trip of a lifetime!

  2. Wow, what an amazing trip! I went to Tokyo in the Fall and didn't see Kyoto or Osaka but I definitely want to go back there (when it's not raining the entire time) and explore and visit more of these incredible places you noted. We hit a few of them you mentioned in Tokyo, but there is so much more to see. I love that there are free roaming deer in Nara, how cool is that?! I will be referring to this post when we book another trip to Tokyo! Looks like such a wonderful and memorable vacation! xoxo, Christine

    1. Osaka is a MUST see babe! If only for 1 day, you really get to see the difference from Tokyo...it's SO gorgeous with all the old history vs. modern buildings!

  3. Hey, lovely blog!
    Wanna follow each other??
    Let me know if you want because i want it too :) Leave a comment on my blog and I'll follow you directly, don't forget to follow mine
    xoxo, Sylvi Gautama ❤

    1. Hi babe, thanks for the visit! Just visited and now following your blog. xx

  4. La Bijoux Bella | by miaMay 17, 2017 9:51 PM

    So cool ... such beautiful scenes of nature and street life captured through the lens ... love the breakdown each day activities, feels like I'm there too! You traveled to the best places only to have such amazing and precious photos! So very lovely Gorgeous Julie! :)

    ��LA BIJOUX BELLA ��| By Mia | A Creative Lifestyle Blog

    1. Thanks Mia! Hope you'll get to visit one day and tell us all about your experience!

  5. Replies
    1. Thank you for the visit Alena! Have an awesome wknd!

  6. Such an amazing itinerary for first time in Japan! Thank you for that. And the pictures are just stunning.

    Michelle Morchella

    1. Thanks love! I'm sure I can still refer to my itinerary with subsequent trips back! Japan changes seasonally, can't wait to see it come Fall.

  7. I need to read this again, if I every go to Japan some day! Great post :)


  8. Amazing photos!Such a wonderful post!Thanks for sharing:-)


  9. This is so detailed and helpful, love the photos!


    1. Thank you Katherine! Hope it helps to plan your future trip to Japan!

  10. I would love to visit sometime. Great post with so much info.

    Amy Ann
    Straight A Style

    1. Thanks Amy! I did SO much research before my trip thought I'd pay it forward and help others with my crazy itinerary! lol Happy Weekend babe!

  11. What an incredibly helpful post, especially for someone like me who's never visited Japan before. Like you've said, there's so much to do and see that having something like tis to refer to that narrows everything down is extremely helpful and helps minimize stress. Thanks for sharing, beauty, and I hope you're having a great week so far!



    1. I need to start making babies soon mama, had to squeeze in an epic trip before life changes forever! lol

  12. Hello my dear,

    very good photos and interessting topic;)
    Very nice impressions I loooove it ;) I will follow your blog :-*

    Hugs from Germany;)


    1. Thanks so much for the visit Isa! Hope you have an awesome weekend!

  13. Oh wow what a great post! Looks like you had the most amazing time.

    Gemma x

    1. I totally did babe. Visited with my 3 best friends and their hubbies, it was the trip of our lives!

  14. Great photos dear!


  15. Great tips! I'm DYING to go to Japan! Will bookmark this post for whenever I manage :)

    Alya / moorizzla xx

    1. Yes! Hope this helps your future trip babe! xx

  16. I am totally bookmarking this page for my trip to Japan. It must have taken you a great deal of time to research your trip and put this together. I am dying to go one day ad visit Tokyo...looks like going during Cherry Blossom season is a must
    Grey Canvas

    1. Yes!! Awesome babe- hope you make it next spring!

  17. Your pictures are amazing!!! I'm sure you had a fabulous time darling. Would love to visit one day too!


    1. Oh Adela it was a dream trip babe! Especially with all my best friends in tow <3

  18. My family and I were actually just discussing visiting Japan. I've heard such amazing things about it. Your itinerary sounds amazing, I've bookmarked it for when I go :)

    1. It's so affordable babe, actually come to think of it, one of the least expensive international trips I've been on! Maybe because our dollar is high right now, but yes you must GO!!

  19. I havent been to Japan in so long! Thank you for sharing this, made me so nostalgic!


    1. Thank you for the visit Yuka! Happy Weekend babe!

  20. Thank you for sharing your beautiful photos and experience. I hope I will be able to make the same trip at least once.

    1. Thanks for stopping by Miri- enjoy your weekend babe!

  21. You are so lucky to go to Japan! I've always wanted to go. Such beautiful scenery. Lovely owl too and I like your floral dress!

    Raindrops of Sapphire

    1. Thank you Lorna- it's been a long time dream of mine to visit. Now I'm checking off all the spots one by one...life is too short! ;D

  22. I totally need to bookmark this! It's on my Bucket List for travel!

    1. Thank you babe! Hope you use it to make your trip easier to plan!

  23. What a beautiful travel diary, the photos are vivid and your outfits are all so pretty, I love every bit of it. That yellow kimono is the best! It's so obvious you had a wonderful time. Nice to see that Westin Tokyo looks good because I'm also a SPG member :)


    1. Thank you Mercy! That yellow kimono was the first thing I packed! ;D

  24. First of all, I can tell how hard you worked on this Itineray. and it is AMAZING!! It's always been a dream of mine to visit Tokyo, and I am booking this post for when I do eventually go. These photos are beyond breathtaking. And I don't have anything else to say on the subject because I don't really think my words will do justice to the beauty of these photos. Thank you for this wondrous peek inside Japan.


    1. Thank you SO MUCH love! I couldn't wait to share this itinerary and the amazing landscape of Japan! Hoping it helps to make one of your trips easier to plan! xx

  25. Your photos from Japan are soo beautiful! My family on my father's side is from Kyoto and I absolutely love the traditional city.


    1. Kyoto was easily one of my fave parts of my trip. Seriously the allure is so magnetic...it's the people and the beauty of the natural landscape that's pure magic babe!

  26. Awesome post and photos! I hope you're having a lovely day!

    1. Thanks for reading Anya! Have an amazing weekend babe!

  27. Beautiful photos, as always and I love that you included an itinerary- so helpful to be able to see it all in order!

    XO, Emily
    Epicurean Emily

    1. Thank you Emily! Gotta keep organized to get through this monster itinerary! Happy Weekend love!

  28. Your beautiful photos make me want to fly to Japan right now.

    1. Thanks babe! Trust me I have the same problem when I re-read this post! When can I go back? lol Have a great weekend Doreen!

  29. Wow, I never seen Japan like this before...totally amazing... Thanks for sharing your moments with us.

    Best Samsung galaxy s6 edge cover

  30. Replies
    1. You must Joana! Especially during spring, Japan is positively dreamy!

  31. Ahh wow what a great guide!! I'm dying to go to Japan! Need to bookmark this for when I finally make it over!

    Alya / moorizzla xx


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