Visiting Japan – A popular sightseeing itinerary

Japan is a beautiful country that blends the modern with the ancient seamlessly.  With the dependable infrastructure throughout the country, travel from one place to another within the country is extremely easy.  So, whether you choose to travel in a “package” sightseeing tour or build an itinerary on your own, you will not be disappointed.  Based on what we were able to see and do, below is a suggested itinerary. 

If you have been to our blog before, please feel free to check out the individual destination posts. 

Important Note:  The sightseeing suggestions are based on kids traveling with you (family oriented).  Japan has many dimensions, so please do research based on your interests.

Day 0 – Arrive in Tokyo

Depending on where you are arriving from, you can either land in Narita Airport (about 1 1/2 hours from Shinagawa, Tokyo) or Haneda Airport (about 1/2 hour from Shinagawa, Tokyo).  We used Shinagawa as a base just because of the number of hotels available.  The choice of area of course is upto you.  If you are traveling on your own, I would highly recommend you stay in Tokyo rather than near Narita Airport.  It will make the next day program easier.

Money exchange – There are counters right after you exit.  It is a very simple process.  In fact, one thing that is cool about Japan is that you will find money exchange ATMs in tourist spots where you can insert US Dollars and  equivalent Japanese Yen are given (the exchange rate may be slightly worse however).  Guides can also help with money exchange if needed.

Day 1 – Kamakura

An easy day trip from Tokyo is to the seaside city of Kamakura.  You can leisurely explore the city before heading back to Tokyo.

Please check out the individual destination blog post for more details on what you will be able to see.

Day 2 – Yokohama

Another easy day trip from Tokyo is to the city of Yokohama.  Here, you can enjoy the beautiful parks and a large Chinatown.

Please check out the individual destination blog post for more details on what you will be able to see.

Please note:  in most “package” sightseeing tours, Kamakura & Yokohama are combined into one day.  In Kamakura, you will see the Great Buddha (Kotoku-in) and in Yokohama you will see one of the parks (most likely Yamashita) and Chinatown.

Day 3 – Tokyo

Use this day to begin discovering Tokyo.  Following are the places you can comfortably visit on this day.

Tokyo Skytree – Depends on whether or not you want to see the Tokyo landscape during the day or night.  If the skies are clear, during the day, it is possible to see Mt. Fuji san. 

Senso-ji Temple & Nakamise Arcade – A beautiful area that will transport you to another world.  Depending on the season, expect the area to be crowded.  If you have an opportunity, do spend time shopping in the Arcade… you can pick up some nice souvenirs (light in weight) 🙂

Miraikan (The National Museum of Emerging Science and Innovation) – If you love science, then you will love this museum.  From ASIMO to the newer robots, you can see how the AI world is changing.  Definitely worth the effort to visit if you love science.

Ginza – Spend the evening in Ginza and see how beautiful it looks at night before heading back to your hotel and calling it a night.

Day 4 – Tokyo

Use this day to continue discovering Tokyo.  Following are the places you can comfortably visit on this day.

Ueno Park and attractions in the park vicinity –  Depending on your interests, pick and choose what parts of the park you would like to visit.

Hei Shrine and Meiji Jingu Shrine – Beautiful shrines to visit and enjoy the surroundings

Imperial Palace – It is a nice walk up to the area where you can take pictures.  But, all said and done, it is pretty much a photo stop (assuming you are going on most days when the Palace is closed to the public)

Please note:  in most “package” sightseeing tours, proper Tokyo sightseeing is allocated only one day.  On that day, you will visit the Tokyo Skytree,  Senso-ji & Nakamise Arcade,  Ueno Park (briefly), Hei Shrine, Imperial Palace Photo stop & Ginza (briefly).

Day 5 – Mt. Fuji, Gotemba, Owakudani Boiling Valley and Lake Kawaguchi

These places are included in the package sightseeing tours.  Because of the logistics involved, I would highly recommend using the services of a tour company if you are traveling on your own to visit these places. 

Please check out the individual destination blog post for more details on what you will be able to see.

Day 6 – Nara

Shift your base to either Osaka or Kyoto from Tokyo.  There are trains that travel during the night that will take you from Tokyo to either of these cities.  If you are part of a sightseeing tour, you will travel by bus to a place between Mt. Fuji and Nara the previous night.

Start the day by traveling to Nara.   Depending on when you reach, visit Todaiji and the Deer Park first and then visit other shrines depending on how much time you have.

Please check out the individual destination blog post for more details on what you will be able to see.

Day 7 – Kyoto

This is my personal recommendation.  We missed spending time in Kyoto because of the tours that we had picked.  If I had an opportunity, I would have loved to spend at least one day in Kyoto to explore the city including the Bamboo Forest.

Day 8 – Osaka

Again this is my personal recommendation.  In our case, Osaka sightseeing was left to the last day where there wasn’t enough time to fully explore the city.  If you are traveling on your own, travel to Okayama using the bullet train at the end of the day.  In our case, we traveled to Okayama on the night of Day 6.

Day 9 – Okayama and Hiroshima

Once you reach Okayama, depending on the time of the day, explore Okayama as much as you can before heading to Hiroshima.

Explore Hiroshima Peace Museum and surrounding areas before heading back to Okayama.

Please check out the individual destination blog post for more details on what you will be able to see.

Day 10 – Kobe and Osaka

Travel from Okayama to Kobe and spend the day exploring the city.  Depending on when your outbound flight is, head back to Osaka to ensure you have adequate time to check in.

Please check out the individual destination blog post for more details on what you will be able to see.

Alternate Itineraries:

  1. Narita (night) – Kamakura/Yokohama – Tokyo – Mt. Fuji – Nara – Okayama/ Hiroshima – Kobe / Osaka
  2.  Narita (night) – Kamakura/ Yokohama – Tokyo (2 Days) – Mt. Fuji – Nara – Kyoto – Okayama/ Hiroshima – Kobe – Osaka

Other Details that might help with your planning

. I was traveling alone with the kids and although my research indicated I could travel easily from city to city, I chose a package group tour to save money and feel secure.  In retrospect, I would have probably done a combination.  Go early and explore places like Tokyo, Kyoto and maybe others that are not included on the tour and then head back to the place where the tour starts. This of course adds both days and cost to the trip.  But, if this will be the only time you visit Japan, then it may be worth considering.

.  In the package tour, you will be traveling to a different city / hotel each day.  In that case, it is hard to reduce the number of clothes you carry.  Honestly, with all the sightseeing, you will not have enough time to find a washer/dryer to do laundry.  Quick dry inner wear might work, but, you just don’t know.  If you are traveling on your own, then, by picking appropriate bases and then doing day trips, you will have a better opportunity to wash and dry clothes. 

.  Travel as light as possible.  The bullet trains have overhead racks that can accommodate carry-on size suitcases.  Large suitcases tend to slow you down.

. Most of the hotel rooms really are small in size.  If you love coffee, it is better you carry your own.  You will find that only green tea is available (except at breakfast).

.  As mentioned previously, converting USD to Yen is a fairly simple process.  All you need to do is find the appropriate ATM.  In most cases, the guides can also help you convert.

.  If you are traveling on your own, do take the time to research buying a Japan Rail Pass ahead of time (there are restrictions).  A few folks we met explored Tokyo, Kyoto and Osaka on their own to their hearts content by planning ahead.  

.  Japanese food is absolutely amazing.  Enjoy it as much as you can!

. The cities mentioned above are the most common ones that can be seen in the most affordable way.  Of course, Japan has a lot more to offer.  Personally, my sincere hope is I will be able to go back once more in my lifetime — this time, just to chill and focus on the spiritual aspects.

. Finally, if you can, practice squatting and sitting on the floor cross-legged (for at least a couple of months before your trip if you are not used to it) .  This will help in a couple of ways: 1) Enjoying Japanese meals the traditional way where the option is available, 2) sitting cross-legged comfortably for long stretches which will allow you to enjoy the shrines and temples better, 3) not worry about going to the bathroom (esp. ladies) where both western style and squatting style toilets are available and the squatting style toilets always have no waiting line at all 😉


Budget smartly and remember to have fun, relax and just take it all in one day at a time!!


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