Several people have asked me questions regarding planning for their own Japan trip, so here is a post describing my itinerary and some tips I have for Japan travellers. I travelled in Japan for 8 full days plus one day at each end for travel. I think our itinerary worked out really well for a first-timer in Japan! Feel free to ask me any other questions if you want more details.
Before the trip
- Bought JR 7 day rail pass at a travel agency in Singapore – you must buy this before entering Japan
- Exchanged money to Japanese Yen (¥)
Day 0: arrived in Tokyo
- Landed at Narita airport at 6pm
- Bought SIM card: 3000¥ for 100MB/day for 15 days (there are several counters at the airport that sells these)
- Exchanged JR rail pass vouchers for our JR pass to be used on Day 2 – Day 8
- Took Keisei train to hostel in Asakusa and had dinner there
- STAY: Khaosan World Asakusa Hostel (highly recommend this hostel, or any of the Khaosan Tokyo hostels)
DAY 1: western tokyo
- Bought subway day pass (600¥)
- Meiji shrine
- Takeshita Street
- Recommend going to stores Daiso and Kiddy Land
- Sushi lunch at Uobei (highly recommend – really unique sushi experience)
- Took subway to Shinjuku and had dinner at a maid cafe
- STAY: Khaosan World Asakusa
DAY 2: Tsukiji fish auction & odaiba
- Left hostel at 3am and took taxi to Tsukiji fish market
- Took us a while to find the exact location. We got there at 3:40am, and there were already about 80 people there
- By 4am, all 120 spots were gone
- After the fish auction, we had sushi at Daiwa sushi. We had to wait around an hour for this restaurant. The most popular one, Sushi Dai, had a line of over 2 hours. (and this was at 6am!!) The omakase had about 8 nigiri pieces, and was 3500¥. This was more than enough to fill me up!
- Came back to hostel for a 2 hour nap
- Took a boat from Asakusa to Hama Rikyu Garden (Walk around the garden was really relaxing)
- Yurikamome train from the garden to Odaiba, where we spent the rest of the day
- Went to Round 1 (arcade&bowling&skating&ping pong&much more) at DiverCity mall (highly recommend)
- STAY: Khaosan World Asakusa Hostel
DAY 3: asakusa & onsen ryokan
- Walked around Asakusa and Sensō-ji temple
- Tokyo Station Ramen Street for lunch
- Trained to Minakami for our onsen (2 hours from Tokyo Station)
- Hot springs!!
- STAY: Takaragawa Onsen (highly recommend)
- The outdoor baths at this onsen had a breathtaking view, especially since we went in the winter and everything was covered by a meter deep snow. We also got served an amazing Japanese-style dinner in our rooms, which was a fantastic experience.
DAY 4: onsen ryokan & kyoto
- More hot springs in the morning!
- Left the onsen in the morning and trained to Kyoto (Left onsen at 9:30am, got to Kyoto at 3pm)
- Tea ceremony
- Learned how to make legit matcha tea! Pretty unique experience.
- Kyoto Station Ramen Street for dinner
- STAY: Hana Hostel Kyoto (highly recommend – very close to Kyoto station)
DAY 5: day trip to osaka
- Trained to Osaka
- Pokemon center near Osaka Station
- Lunch at Umeda Sky Building
- Osaka Castle and its surroundings
- Didn’t actually bother going in the castle
- Museum of History (near Osaka Castle)
- Museum was not bad for a 400¥ admission, but there were many things without an English translation.
- Dontonbori for street food! (highly recommend)
- STAY: Hana Hostel Kyoto
DAY 6: biking around kyoto
- Rented bikes from our hostel for 500¥/day (highly recommend)
- Biking by the river was really beautiful and very fun 🙂
- Biked to Fushimi Inari Shrine and did 2 hour hike (highly recommend)
- Nishiki Market
- Kiyomizu Dera temple (this temple was too crowded with tourists with selfie sticks – do not recommend)
- STAY: Hana Hostel Kyoto
DAY 7: kyoto walking tour
- Cool Kyoto Walking Tour (10am – 3pm) – highly recommend
- for only 3000¥ with lunch included, this tour was very worth it!
- Walked around parts of Kyoto and went into many different shops that we would have never gone into if we were by ourselves
- The tour guide was a samurai, and he gave a fruit-ninja like demonstration!
- Trained back to Tokyo
- Walked around shops of Tokyo Station and had dinner there
- STAY: Anne Hostel Yokozuna in Ryogoku
- We booked this one very last minute so we didn’t have many choices. But Ryogoku was pretty convenient location as it was close to Tokyo Station, and had a subway line to Shinjuku.
DAY 8: tokyo
- Walked around Ginza’s expensive shops
- Shinjuku for lunch and some shopping
- Akihabara for some arcade gaming!
- Back to Ryogoku for dinner and pick up our luggage
- Went to airport at night (took JR from Tokyo Station)
- STAY: Narita Airport Terminal 2
- There is a capsule hotel in Terminal 2, but you have to book far far in advance for that. The gates to the terminal actually close at 11pm, and the only shop open 24/7 is 7/11. I slept on the chairs and it was quite cold. Narita wasn’t the best airport to stay overnight at, but at least it had free wifi, and we saved about 3000¥ of hostel and train fees (our JR pass expired on Day 8)
- Bought some omiyage (souvenirs) from the airport, and caught our 10:30am flight back to Singapore.
- We started booking one week before our trip, which was too late for a couple things.
- We were lucky because we went to Japan during low season. At other times, I’ve heard of everything being booked a month ahead of time.
- Saturday night stay was very busy, and also many popular onsen ryokans were booked.
- All the hostels we stayed at were all very impressive. Average price was 2500¥/night.
- Many hostels we stayed at offered private rooms, or ryokan style rooms. These were more expensive, but probably cheaper than hotels.
- It was really convenient that we got a hostel (Hana Hostel Kyoto) close to Kyoto station. It made for a really easy day trip to Osaka, and also easy for arrival and departure. The Hana hostel chain has locations in Kyoto, Osaka, and Hiroshima, all very close to their respective train stations.
- All hostels had shampoo & soap, and free umbrellas to use during the day (which was really useful for us).
- There is wifi at most major subway/train stations, and also big malls.
- We still got one sim card for a data plan, which was pretty useful.
- We tried to use our credit card most of the time. Most restaurants take credit, and some hostels do.
- If you are exchanging money to yen, I recommend either doing it before you arrive in Japan, or just using an ATM. There weren’t many money exchangers in Japan, and they didn’t seem to have good rates.
- I went into Japan knowing no Japanese whatsoever. Most major touristy spots and subway/train stations have English signs.
- It helped that my friend could read Chinese; Japanese writing uses a lot of Chinese characters.
- It was a bit tricky trying to find places; sometimes Google Maps points you to a wrong location, especially if you type in the address in English. You can try copying and pasting the address in Japanese in Google Maps, or look for written directions on their site (if they have an English version).
- Many restaurants will have an English menu if you ask for one.