Experiencing Japan is something really intimate. It looks like it touches each person in a particular and unique way. And it is not just a matter of what you do or where you go. If you are open to “breathe” Japan, regardless of how many people you are surrounded by, you will have the moment to connect yourself on your own way to this magical place.
Before our trip, we were struggling to plan the perfect Japan itinerary, but the truth is that it is impossible to cover all its highlights in humble 18 days. There are no “must-see” lists from Japan that will fulfil ourselves because it will always have more and more to explore. According to your state of mind, a simple 10-minute conversation with a local could become one of the highlights of your trip.
Our main goal in Japan was to experience the cherry blossom at its fullest. Following the sakura forecast, we have planned our schedule to fit the days in each city, according to the first bloom expected date. The blooming is extremely sensitive to weather conditions, and we knew it was like a lottery. Unfortunately, the days were unusually colder, and it delayed the full bloom. As a result, we were just able to enjoy the pink scenario on the last days of our trip. But it didn’t spoil our holiday at all, as we finally found ourselves totally immersed in this whole new world that Japan is.
Japan Itinerary for 18 days
Here is how we planned our days in Japan. We’ve tried to include as much as we could, but aware it would probably be too much. As we didn’t want to take the risk of wasting time with research during our trip, we found it better to have a big list of things to do and set priorities in case we have to cross something out of it. In the end, we had a few rainy days and it was easy to optimise indoors and outdoors activities. We kept the places we missed due weather conditions or lack of time as it would be inspiring for your plans:
Tokyo in 5 Days
Asakusa district was our first stop. Sensoji Temple is a walk-distance from Asakusa station and it is Tokyo’s oldest and most significant Buddhist temple. Due to its importance to the city, it was a relevant destination on our Japan Itinerary.
We then took the Tokyo River Cruise from Asakusa Pier to Hamarikyu, where we had a nice walk into Hamarikyu garden.
We also had a geek day at Akihabara Electric Town, with its many stores dedicated to gamers, electronic products, anime & manga fans.
A day full of discoveries in Ueno Park and Yanaka streets was the highlight of Tokyo. Tokyo National Museum is unmissable if you are a history lover.
In the first sunny day we had in Tokyo, we escaped for a day trip to the Fuji Five Lakes area for a close view of the majestic Mount Fuji.
What we missed: Tokyo Skytree, Showa Kinen Park, Imperial Palace Gardens
Nagoya in 3 Days
Nagoya has a different atmosphere than Tokyo. It is elegant, with clean and modern buildings. It doesn’t look like a top tourist destination, which didn’t bother us. Nagoya Castle is the obvious destination, and we had a couple of kid-like activities: a day in the Nagoya City Science Museum and another one in Nagashima Amusement Park.
What we missed: Tokugawa Art Museum, Tokugawa Garden
Nara in 2 Days
Deer feeding and exploring Nara Park took us two days, but we managed to fit shopping, sake tasting and culinary experiences in this ancient city. Points of interest that worth a visit: The Great Buddha in Daibutsuden Hall, as part of the Todaiji Temple complex, Kasuga Taisha Shrine, and Isuien Garden.
What we missed: Yakushiji Temple.
Kyoto in 3 Days
Kyoto is just majestic. It is a must in any Japan Itinerary. One of the main tourist destinations in the Land of The Rising Sun, it didn’t disappoint us. Just be prepared for the crowds. Our route on the first day was a walk to Fushimi Inari-Taisha (that deserves a whole day dedicated to itself), Nanzenji Temple and Suirokaku Aqueduct.
On day 2, after a morning in the Kyoto Imperial Palace and its garden, a relaxing stroll in the Path of Philosophy (especially nice during the cherry blossom season) recharged our batteries.
Our last day in Kyoto started a little disappointing in Arashiyama Bamboo Groove and Sakano Scenic Railway, but finished in great style with breathtaking views of the Golden Pavilion (Kinkakuji Temple).
What we missed: Hozugawa River Cruise, Kurama Dera, hiking to Kibune and Gion (the Geisha district in Kyoto).
Osaka in 2 Days
The rainy weather in Osaka made us run for indoor activities. The Osaka Aquarium was crowded and not so exciting, so we jumped out quickly and took the afternoon to rest up. Day 2 was much better with a visit to Osaka Castle, followed by an afternoon Japanese drums session with the amazing guys from Taiko Center.
What we missed: Santa Maria Cruise, Tempozan Ferris Wheel
Himeji in 2 Days
This cosy town features an original castle that survived along the centuries and it still intact. Himeji Castle is perfectly maintained and its interiors are fascinating. Just beside is Kokoen Garden, wich was designed and built according to the Edo Period’s style. It has a lovely spot to enjoy green tea in a tea ceremony house.
What we missed: Mount Shosha
Hiroshima in 1 Day
The delicate city that exhales the tragedy of the atomic bomb gave us a resilience lesson. We were touched by the vibes of the Peace Memorial Park & Museum. The cherry trees full bloom finally came up and Hiroshima Castle was especially beautiful. A walk in the local streets took us to Shukkeien Garden for a final appreciation of the city.
At the end of our tour in Japan, we were physically exhausted but, at the same time, revigorated. This journey blew up our minds and we left Japan already wondering about a second visit.
Do you have a suggestion for our next Japan itinerary? Please share your thoughts by commenting below =)
Read more: Planning a trip to Japan