Japan is a country that has been on my bucket list well before I moved to Asia. 10 days goes by fast when you planned to hit up as many cities as I wanted to, but transportation is easy when the next town is simply a train stop away by high speed rail. For this trip I purchased the 7 day Japan Rail Pass (239 USD). This will get you unlimited access to JR lines and Shinkansen trains in the 9 days. Trains in Japan are not cheap, the faster the more expensive so purchasing the JR Pass will do you well if you plan to see a different city every couple of days. Transportation in the town itself is locally run (not through JR) but I found this to be inexpensive and in most of the towns I was visiting, I didn’t really need the public transportation. If you’re planning to do just a section of Japan, I would highly recommend looking into the different rail passes available per prefecture. Read below for my full itinerary!
Day 1-3: Tokyo
It’s a good thing Japan makes it easy for tourists (and locals) to plan their trips – their websites give you suggested itineraries to the detail of how many days you plan to stay in each city. I worked out of the Tokyo office for the 3 days so I was limited to mostly evenings and nights to explore Tokyo. A good coworker of mine spent the past 10 years in Japan so as far as Tokyo goes, I feel like I got the vibe of the city in the short 3 days.
Restaurants in Tokyo
For a cool and interesting dining experience we literally got to “catch our fish and eat it too” at ZAUO.
Sushi it’s the BOMB and also affordable at Numazukou. My favorite was the Ebi nigiri which literally melted in your mouth and put american sushi joints to shame.
With a morning to spend in Tokyo we decided to check out famous Harajuku Takeshita-dori Street. Street shopping and snacking is the name of the game. Don’t forget to stop by and take cutesy photos at the photo booths. When in Japan – you will have white flush skin and big buggy eyes. A quick train ride over takes us to the busiest intersection in the world, Shibuya crossing. We stop by the Starbucks across the street to watch the people cross in masses. By now we’ve built up the hunger to grab some ramen. Dining is always an experience in Japan and today we chose a ramen shop where you order by a machine and served your ramen behind a curtain in your own individual booth. This is so that busy working men and women won’t fear being caught eating lunch alone or ordering more food than they should.
Day 4-5: Hakone
Escaping the hustle and bustle of Tokyo, we hop on a train for a relaxing and rejuvenating weekend in Hakone. There are many onsens in Hakone and we chose to go with one which was more traditional and authentic. While the first day was all about rest, the second day I spent hiking and enjoying all the nature Japan had to offer. A 2 hour hike up Mt. Kintoki left us with fantastic views of Hakone valley and partial views of Mt. Fuji. Another day I hiked around Lake Ashi in Hakone.
Day 5-6: Kyoto
Starting with Kiyomizu-dera Temple because it is close to my hostel. After Kiyomizu-dera, explore the streets of Sannen-zaka and Ninen-zaka which are beautifully preserved and also full of treats to satisfy your morning munchies.
Taking the train to Inari Shrine – this is literally my favorite template in Japan. Although the stairs seem like they go on forever, it’s well worth the hike through seemingly endless rows of red gates.
In the evening we take a stroll through Kyoto night garden; located above the main Kyoto station.
On the second day, we explored the Tenryu-ji Temple followed by the famed bamboo forrest. Honestly I found the bamboo forrest to be a bit disappointing, especially since accidentally wandering down a corridor at Inari Shrine I actually felt was more impressive than the bamboo forrest.Following Tenryu-ji we make our way over to Kinkaku-ji Temple – a golden pavilion temples which stands majestically in the middle of a clam lake, golden walls reflecting into the water.
Day 7: Nara
Visit Todai-ji Temple and Daibutsu-den. Hike the hill behind Tamukeyama Hachiman-gu Shrine for panoramic views of Nara.
Day 8: Himeji
Visit Himeji castle (half day). This is my favorite castle in Japan. It’s not possible to take a photo of this castle from a bad angle. It’s a structural piece of artwork.
Day 9: Hiroshima and Miyajima
A visit to the Hiroshima War Museum is a must. Luckily, the museum was under construction and I only saw a small portion of it. What I saw would break your heart. While visiting, groups of children fell into silence by the content of the museum. The atmosphere is heavy and visiting ground zero is eerie. War is tragic, and I’m greatly humbled to live in a time of relative peace.
Another quick train ride takes me to Miyajima. You can choose to take a cable car to the top – but there’s no fun in that; so I decided to take all the way up. It took me around 1 hour and although I was there on a slightly cloudy day, the view from the top is misty and breathtaking.
Day 10: Osaka
I only spent a half day/evening in Osaka. I was pleasantly surprised when a local offered to take me to eat chicken sashimi, a delicacy in Japan. I probably wouldn’t eat it again and most Americans would be put off by it but I definitely checked that one off my bucket list!