When I was studying in Osaka for ten months, my parents came to visit, and we traveled Japan for three weeks. But even before that, I had already explored Tokyo and also the Kanto area (Osaka, Kyoto, Nara, and Kobe) excessively. Since I came to live in Tokyo three years ago, I took even more time to explore the famous destinations and also lesser known places all over Japan.
Based on this vast experience I have put together the perfect itinerary for 2 weeks in Japan. This suggested itinerary for Japan includes traditional and modern culture, history, food and other general tips is mainly aimed at first-time visitors to Japan. I am currently working on detailed posts for each of the stops on this 2 weeks in Japan itinerary and will add them over time. For the time being, I will link to other useful resources that I think will be helpful for your travel planning.
If you thing 2 weeks in Japan is not enough (I do agree with you there, for me 3 years hasn’t been enough) you could have a look at an alternative Japan 3 week itinerary.
-> Go straight to the detailed Tokyo post
Most travelers to Japan fly into Tokyo, so this is where my two-week Japan itinerary starts. There are two airports in Tokyo, Haneda International Airport, which is closer to the city, and Narita International Airport, which is located about 60 minutes outside of Tokyo. When you are looking for flights, and you have the choice between both airports I recommend you fly into Haneda.
In my opinion, 3 days is enough to get a feel for Tokyo. Of course, you can stay longer and always find more things to do. My first time in Japan I stayed 6 weeks in Tokyo, and I did a lot of in-depth exploring. Check out my 5 days in Tokyo post for fabulous ideas on what to do in Tokyo. I know if you follow this 2 weeks in Japan itinerary you will only have 3 and not 5 days to explore Tokyo, but I suggest you pick up the activities that interest you most.
Since you are going to be seeing a lot more of Japan than just Tokyo in your two weeks in Japan, don’t feel bad if you leave out a couple of temples, for example, you are going to see a lot more of those. Instead, go to the destinations and do activities you can only experience in Tokyo. For example a drive around Tokyo dressed as a character from Mario Cart is something you can only do in Tokyo and nowhere else in the world. Here is the full MariCar Shinagawa review if you are interested.
Tokyo is great for taking pictures, because the culture is so different from western but also other Asian places, I suggest you take lots and lots of them while you are there.
Explore Harajuku’s colorful shopping street, Takeshita Dori
See the Scramble Crossing in Shibuya from above at Starbucks
View Tokyo from above at Tokyo Skytree or Tokyo Tower
Buy electronics and anime merchandise at Akihabara
Learn about Tokyo’s and Japan’s history at the Edo-Tokyo Museum
Participate in a Sumo Practice
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Udon at Taniya in Nihonbashi Ningyocho (Budget $)
Crepes at one of the many crepes stands in Harajuku Takeshita Dori (Budget $)
Chanko Nabe at Chanko Tomoegata in Ryogoku (Budget $)
Matcha green tea and Wagashi set at Kantokutei Mitoya in Korakuen (Budget $)
There are probably many things you want to try while you are in Japan for two weeks. I can imagine Sushi and Ramen are on your list, but there are a lot lesser known dishes that should be on your list of food to try in Japan.
Another side note, make sure to not only try all the delicious food in Japan (of which there is plenty) but also try the weird food in Japan (like Natto, or grilled intestines or raw egg on rice) that you can’t try anywhere else in the world. This is also a part of Japans food culture and a necessary step to get to know Japan’s culture in depth. In Japan you will also find crazy snacks that are popular.
Staying centrally in Tokyo is essential. I recommend finding a hotel or ryokan close to Tokyo Station in the Nihonbashi area. This is where I live in Tokyo, and I can tell you it is very convenient. I don’t have a recommendation for accommodation, so why don’t you browse a little bit on booking.com using the below widget:
From Tokyo, head north for one day to see Nikko. Nikko is not only rich in culture, being the home of one of the UNESCO World Heritage Sites but also has beautiful nature and incredible Onsen (hot springs) to enjoy. You can visit many Japanese Onsen conveniently as a day visitor, just make sure to follow the Japanese Onsen etiquette.
I recommend you make your visit to Nikko a day trip and return to Tokyo for the night so you can start the next leg of your 2 week trip to Japan conveniently from Tokyo the following day.
Yuba (Tofu skin) at Sun Field in central Nikko
Every region in Japan has it’s special regional food, if you have the chance try the regional foods while you are visiting. For Nikko it is Yuba, Tofu skin, deliciously prepared in different variations.
In my opinion, Nagoya is mainly a destination because of the delicious food. But if you want to explore some more of Nagoya, there are a couple of things worth doing. Nagoya Castle comes to mind. In my opinion, it is a more beautiful castle than Osaka Castle (but don’t tell that to the Osaka people). There is also a shopping street with a lot of old Japanese charm right next to one of the most important temples in Nagoya.
Hitsumabushi (grilled eel Nagoya style) at Hitsumabushi Inou Esuka Shop next to Nagoya Station
The absolute highlight of Nagoya is the delicious food you can eat there. So try all the different dishes for which Nagoya is famous. I love eating Japanese eel, and while you can try it in other regions (like Narita) the dish called Hitsumabushi is traditionally from Nagoya, and that’s why you should try it there.
So far I only have bad experiences with accommodations in Nagoya. Both my hostel for one night and also our business hotel when I was traveling with my family were kind of dirty. I hope you will find a nice hotel or hostel and if you do please let me know.
Just be careful, it might be better to avoid Airbnbs in Japan for a while, because the Airbnb law is changing and your booking in 2018 might be canceled due to that.
Hiroshima is one of the destinations on my 2 weeks in Japan itinerary that I find most important. From a historical standpoint, of course, because of the bombing of Hiroshima. I recommend you take your time at the Atomic Bomb memorial and museum to take everything in and digest what you have learned. If you want to learn about history a bit farther in the past, you can also visit Hiroshima Castle. And afterward stroll through Shukkeien garden and enjoy the traditional Japanese landscaping.
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Okonomiyaki is the soul food of Hiroshima. Translated it means something like “everything you like fried” and that’s exactly what you get. In Hiroshima Okonomiyaki is traditional with soba noodles. The noodles are fried on a hot plate and are sandwiched between some fried egg on the one side and a thin pancake on the other. In the middle is sliced cabbage and “everything you like” namely a variety of seafood, cheese, bacon. Topped off with a thick and sweet sauce, Okonomiyaki is one of the most delicious dishes you can try.
Oysters are grown in huge quantities off the coast of Hiroshima, and therefore Hiroshima is one of the places where you get the best and freshest oysters.
Effectively I recommend you spend only one day in Hiroshima; the other day should be a day trip to Miyajima, an island off the coast of Hiroshima. Miyajima is famous for the red torii gate of Itsukushima Jinja standing in the shallows of the island. Itsukushima Jinja is a UNESCO world heritage site. There are many other shrines and temples on the island and other fun activities like hiking (or going up the ropeway) and of course eating delicious food.
There are also many day tours operated to Miyajima.
The local food of Miyajima is Anago, a kind of eel, different from Unagi (which is the eel used in Nagoya’s Hitsumabushi dish). Anago is a little bit expensive and can be enjoyed at different restaurants on Miyajima. But be prepared to stand in line for a couple of hours if you really want to try it.
My favorite city in all of Japan (and come to think of it, probably in the world) is Kyoto, your next stop on your two-week Japan itinerary. I have lived in Kyoto for 3 months attending a language school and doing a homestay, one of the best experiences I had ever had.
It is true Kyoto can get really crowded but Tokyo, for example, is no different when it comes to the number of people you have to deal with to explore the most popular and famous spots. And there are many amazing things to see in Kyoto so make sure you get up early to avoid the crowds and have the best time possible.
The Temples and Shrines of Kyoto is another UNESCO World Heritage Site and in my opinion all of Kyotos shrines and temples are worth a visit. Which is a real problem because you can never see all of them in 3 days. I stayed in Kyoto for 3 months and didn’t manage to see all of them.
Uji Matcha Float at Gion Tsujiri
Yatsuhashi sweets anywhere in Kyoto
It was actually kind of hard to come up with Kyoto specific cuisine. I never really ate anything in Kyoto that was Kyoto specific except for the Matcha sweets and Yatsuhashi which are little triangle shaped sweets. So for you, I googled around and found this article on foods to try in Kyoto. I hope this can be inspiration for you. Bun in general, there is so much delicious non regional Japanese food to try and you only have 2 weeks in Japan that I would simply walk around and try food at any restaurant that looks appealing to you. That’s how I usually do it!
I recommend you base yourself in Kyoto close to Kyoto Station for the five days you are in Kanto area and visit Osaka and Kobe as day trips. You can use the Shinkansen to get to each (included in your JR Rail Pass ticket) fast and free. My parents stayed at the Kyoto Tower Hotel, and it was a lovely experience, it is nothing fancy, but it will do for a couple of days, and the location cannot be topped.
If you are looking for a detailed 2 day Kyoto itinerary you should check out this one.
In my opinion, Osaka has not too much to offer, and I say this after having lived there for ten months. The food is delicious though, and that is the main reason I recommend a visit. If you want to go shopping or clubbing, you will get lucky around Shinsaibashi. Don’t forget to take a picture with the Gulico running man while you are there. You can also visit Osaka castle (but as I mentioned earlier, Nagoya castle is better).
In my opinion, Hiroshima Okonomiyaki is better than Osaka Okonomiyaki, but I think you should make up your own mind about this matter. Osaka Okonomiyaki usually doesn’t have noodles, and the preparation is also a bit different, so you can argue that they are different dishes.
Another typical Osaka food is Takoyaki: little balls filled with octopus. They are crispy on the inside and creamy on the inside. Just be careful not to burn your tongue.
Lastly, let me mention Kushiage. Vegetables, meat or fish deep-fried and on a stick, made even more delicious by dipping it into a dark sauce. Need I say any more?
There are two reasons to visit Nara. One are the deer you will encounter on a day trip to Nara. They are the politest deer you will ever meet because when you give them food, they will bow to you in the real Japanese manner. Be polite and bow back.
The other reason is Todaiji Temple a big wooden hall in which a big wooden Buddha is housed. It is the biggest wooden hall of its kind in Japan and a UNESCO world heritage site.
I have visited Nara twice from Osaka. Once with my friend’s parents and once with my own. The area around Nara park where Todaiji and also Horyuji are located are really amazing and worht the trip.
Another city where I am not really familiar with the local cuisine. I can’t even remember what I ate the two times I visited Nara before. But that doesn’t mean there isn’t anything delicious to eat in Nara, just have a look at this article with the 7 most famous regional dishes.
After Nara, it is already time to head back in the direction of Tokyo and your flight back home (or onward to your next destination?). With only two days left of your 2 weeks in Japan wouldn’t it be nice if you could see Mount Fuji? One of the best places to do that is by crossing over Ashinoko (Lake Ashi) in Hakone. On a one day trip to Hakone you can experience so much aside from an amazing view of Mount Fuji, like Hakone Jinja or Owakudani.
By the way, there are seven more fantastic viewing spots of Mount Fuji beside Ashinoko, in Hakone as well as Kawaguchiko, also known as Fuji Five Lakes.
Black Eggs at Owakudani
Hakone Soba at a restaurants in the area
Freshly baked bread
The sulfuric fumes at Owakudani turn the shells of eggs black and it is said that they are very healthy. The taste isn’t changed through the sulfur though.
If you explore Hakone you will notice two things, a lot of Soba noodle restaurants and a lot of bakeries. I suggest you try some of the noodles while you are there. For example for lunch. And also buy some bread as a snack in between.
My parents and I stayed at a lovely Ryokan while we were visiting Hakone. I wanted to experience the traditional Japanese style accommodation including a wonderful Japanese dinner, an Onsen with a view of Mount Fuji and traditional Japanese breakfast with fish, rice, and miso soup. We slept in a tatami mat room on futon beds laid out on the floor. If this is an experience you would be interested in, then book one night at Mount View Hakone.
->Go directly to my Narita post
In case you fly from Narita Airport and still have a couple of hours before your flight I highly recommend a short visit to Narita city as your final stop before you leave.
Narita city is only 10 minutes away from the Narita Airport and has a lot to offer if you still haven’t had enough of temples, Japanese gardens, delicious Japanese foods or souvenirs. A great way to end your 2 weeks in Japan.
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For this 2 weeks in Japan itinerary, it makes perfect sense to buy the two-week JR Rail Pass before your arrival in Japan. This rail ticket usable only for foreign visitors enables you to ride JR trains all over Japan except for Nozomi Shinkansen Bullet trains, you can use the other slightly slower Shinkansen Bullet trains. It is also possible to use JR trains in the cities you visit.
Please note, that you cannot use your JR Rail Pass on subways anywhere in Japan. You will need to purchase separate tickets for the metro. I suggest you get a Suica Card. This card is similar to a lot of top-up cards in other cities like London or New York. You charge the card with a certain amount, and each time you use it when you leave through a ticket gate, it will take the transportation cost from the amount on your card. Nowadays you can not only use the Suica Card for transportation, but you can also pay with it at vending machines or in convenience stores.
I am a person who can’t live without access to the internet, getting directions on Google Maps or checking flight connections on the go are a big help for stress-free travel. If you are like me, I suggest you either get a pocket WIFI which you can connect to multiple devices or a travel sim card. You can reserve both in advance online and simply pick up your choice at the airport when you arrive.
This 2 weeks in Japan itinerary is a round-trip starting and ending in Tokyo. Feel free to mix it up a little. When my parents came to visit, they flew into Osaka and left Japan after three weeks of traveling from Tokyo.
With this itinerary, I tried to give you a good mix of what a wide variety of experiences and attractions Japan has to offer, from the super modern to hundreds of years old traditions. If you have any further questions about your trip to Japan I am happy to answer you, so feel free to leave a comment below.
None of the experiences in this post are in any way sponsored and have all been payed for by myself. The opinions stated are all my own and have not been influenced in any way.
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Lena is the creator of the Social Travel Experiment. Planning her trip around the world took a lot of effort. To make it easier for future world travelers she has made it her mission to teach others how to have an unforgettable trip around the world, through short stays with locals, without wasting valuable time or money.