For most travellers, Japan is rather far away. To travel to Japan from Germany, I had to get on a ten hour flight. So when you finally land in the Land of the Rising Sun, you want to make every minute count for any Japan itinerary spanning 7 days. Here is an exemplary guide for one week in Japan, for Honshu island, covering the most popular destinations.
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Japan Itinerary Day 1: Tokyo
You can easily spend a week in Tokyo alone but if you do want to see more of Japan in one week, understandably, then condense your sightseeing spree. Kick off your first day at the famous Fish Market Tsukiji, which opens at 4am. It’s quite the experience although I bet challenging with jetlag. But as you know, you gotta push through it and be on the move to beat the fatigue.
Afterwards, make your way over to Asakusa and stroll along the promenade to witness an amazing sunrise over the Tokyo Skytree skyline. Especially during spring time, the cherry blossoms in Asakusa are pure delight. From there, take a short walk over to Sensoji, one of the most important temples in Tokyo. If you get the chance, you gotta attend one of its temple festivals, such as Sanja Matsuri in June.
Once the shops open, take your time browsing through the handcrafted items, yukata and kimonos on display at the temple and the nearby shopping arcades. If you’re keen to walk, head straight west towards Ueno or take the Tokyo metro and get off after two stations, at Ueno. Here, you can continue your Japanese souvenir shopping experience underneath the railway bridges or branch off into Ueno Park, another popular sakura spot in Tokyo.
In Ueno Park, there are museums to be visited if that’s something you like doing. Alternatively, you can enjoy a little picnic. Grab a bento box from a nearby store and then eat like the Japanese do before you stroll over (or take the metro/JR line for two stops to Nippori) to Yanaka Ginza. This little stretch of local shops is also known as Cat Street as all the items sold are cat themed.
If you can still muster the energy, take the metro or JR train to Akihabara. This is where you can find a small Anime/Manga museum, plenty of local game shops, arcades, manga stores, cosplay havens and all things a manga and anime fan in Tokyo could desire. Should you want to dine in a Maid Cafe, you can do that here as well.
Japan Itinerary Day 2: Tokyo
Start your day right in Tokyo’s centre, at the Imperial Palace. Walk the grounds, explore the riverside and maybe even go on a boat tour in the moats. Afterwards, take the JR line to Shibuya and its world famous crossing. A good place to take photos from is Starbucks. Take a look around Shibuya 109 as well, even if you don’t want to buy clothes. The displays and outfits alone are worth it.
The same goes for the Harajuku shops along Takeshita Street up in Harajuku. Again, you can take the train for one stop or walk. Feel free to walk into the side streets of Takeshita to discover even more shops with kawaii fashion. Also, there are plenty of cute Harajuku cafes to dine out, such as the one with 3D foam art on your cup of cafe or hot chocolate.
To rest your weary feet for a while, enter Shinjuku Gyoen Park for a small fee. It’s a big park landscape with ponds, cherry trees and pavilions. For the afternoon, why not check out Kameido Tenjn Shrine during wisteria season or Shibamata to discover the “Old Tokyo”. Get yourself a cup of beer and a freshly barbecued skewer to complete the authentic experience.
Japan Itinerary Day: 3 Nagano
No matter what time of the year, the wonderful temple district of Nagano is well worth if you travel for 7 days in Japan. Get a day ticket for both the park and public transport from the tourist information at the train station. Then head to Jigokudani Monkey Park to mingle with the apes for an hour or two. In winter, you can see them play in the snow and warm their cold bodies in the hot natural springs. In spring and summer, baby apes can be observed.
The entire area is known for its onsen, and if you visit all seven, it is said to bring special luck. Any visit is a must, however, as onsen are a unique and quite wonderful Japanese must do. Once you are relaxed, return to Nagano and pay your respects at Nagano temple. Don’t forget to down below the temple to search for the “door to paradise”. At night, settle in one of the local izakayas or restaurants for true Japanese fare. Basically, you will wanna dine out every day of your seven days in Japan.
Japan Itinerary Day: 4 Matsumoto
Matsumoto isn’t far from Nagano and home to one of the most renowned Japanese castles. Crow Castle, as Matsumoto Castle is also known, might have been rebuilt but it still looks as magnificent as it did originally. You can walk around it for free but if you want to enter the castle walls and the actual castle, there is an entrance fee.
As with many Japanese castles, there isn’t much to see inside as most were built for defensive purposes and furniture wasn’t part of the concept. The most frivolous thing you can see is the moon tower that was erected after Matsumoto castle was used for residential and entertainment purposes for a while.
On the way from the train station to the castle, you will encounter a string of vendor huts along a stream. Stop by here and dine on the delicious taiyaki. Its sausage and mayonnaise version is apparently exclusive to Matsumoto and absolutely yummy.
Japan Itinerary Day: 5 Nagoya/Osaka
From Matsumoto you can take the train to either Nagoya or Osaka, depending on what you deem more important on your 7 day Japan tour. Both are major cities and you can fill your day with plenty of sightseeing, though Osaka and the Kansai region have more to offer in that respect but lies farther away.
In Nagoya, I recommend strolling along the canals towards Nagoya Castle. There often are festivals held at the castle, which can also mean free entrance. This castle offers more in terms of exhibitions as you can marvel at skilful and gold plaited art pieces, recreations of server huts and more. Schedule in one to two hours here. For exposure to Japanese culture during your 7 days in Japan, attend the Kabuki Theatre.
For Osaka, there are three areas worth exploring. The first should be Osaka Castle. Its grounds are free to visit and quite extensive. Along the moats alone, 2000 cherry blossoms have been planted. Next, take the JR line to Dotonbori to dine on okonomiyaki and see the flashing neon light displays by the canal. You can even go on a cruise yourself.
Another district full of food and entertainment is Tennoji. Like Dotonbori, a nightly visit will feel entirely differently and will be much more vibrant. Tennoji, however, also houses a big temple complex, which is worth the visit as well. There’s no need to pick favourites, include both areas into your 7 day Japan tour itinerary.
Japan Itinerary Day: 6 Kawaguchiko
One of my favourite places in all of Japan is Kawaguchiko. The town itself isn’t terribly exciting. But it has direct access to Mount Fuji. If you are visiting a time other than the warmest days of the year, in late AUsgust or early September, you will only be able to get up to Fifth Station. There is a bus going for 2100 yen.
Even from afar, there are plenty of scenic views with Fuji-yama as the backdrop and the Historic Villages are some of them. Another point that you absolutely cannot miss out on is the Shibazakura Festival from late April to mid May. Here, the grounds are entirely covered with pink, white and purple moss phlox. Super stunning!
Japan Itinerary Day: 7 Tokyo
Even though you can get from Kawaguchiko to Narita or Haneda Airport and trains in Japan are always right on time, it’s much more convenient to chill out for another day in Tokyo. Let the Japanese experience really soak in, treat yourself to even more Japanese food, such as the strawberry mocha, ramen, sushi and more.
Maybe visit the Ghibli Studio or attend the Takarazuka Revue. For both, you need to get tickets way in advance from one of the 7 Eleven ticket machines (only Japanese) or preorder through a third party online. Alternatively, you can plan a day trip to Anata no Warehouse in Kawasaki, to Yokohama or Kamakura.
A unique spot to visit in Tokyo is the Cat Temple, which lies a little bit outside. For true otakus in Tokyo, a visit to Nagano Broadway should be high on the list. This obscure mall at first appears quite hidden and regular but its second and third floor are filled to the brim with merch.
Japan Itinerary 7 Days Alternatives
My exemplary Japan tour itinerary for 7 days is of course based on my personal preference and recommendation. There are plenty other deserving destinations and you can decide to head up North or all the way to the west as well.
Especially if you have a 7 day Japan Railpass for the entire country and can use the bullet train, shinkansen, your travelling time will be dramatically reduced. Bus travel is quite affordable but not as fast and as well connected. With it, you can’t easily reach the various castles in the Kansai area, for instance.
To the North of Tokyo, check out Nikko, Hitachi Seaside Park, Cat Island, Sendai and Aomori. In case you make it all the way out to Hiroshima, include the quaint Miyajima Island into your Japan Itinerary for 7 Days. This is where you can admire the “floating gate” as well as cute (but greedy) Japanese deer, like the ones you can find in Nara.
How to Easily Get Around Japan in One Week
Getting around during your 7 day Japan itinerary isn’t as expensive as is often expected. For short sight packed visits with a lot of travel, the JR Railpass provide definitely good value. You can only order and receive it while abroad, so order this ahead of your visit. It’s basically a concession ticket for foreigners, Japanese cannot claim it. Once you have it, it is valid for a year and needs to be validated before first use. Then, you can take any eligible train at any time and even reserve seats for free.
Alternatively, you can get local regional passes. For Tokyo, you can pay for each use of the public transport or use a Seica or combined metro/rail ticket. There are various combinations and they are not available everywhere. Some you can purchase only at the airport, etc. I personally preferred to pay separately for each trip as I had better oversight of what I was spending during my week in Tokyo. Tokyo has multiple transport providers and you pay anew once you change from one to another. Always ask the station staff for help if you’re not certain where to change or get out.
The cheapest travel method in Japan is bus travel. Take the Highwaybus or Willer Express for longer distances. Skip the special day trip deals, you can get them cheaper and have more flexibility if you piece the trip and entrance fee together yourself. The sooner you order, the cheaper the prices get. There are overnight potions as well and the plush seats come with a hood so you can “dim the light”.
Where to Stay in Japan
Hotels in Japan will easily blow a hole into your budget. They can be super pricy and are rather small as well. Budget options are bare bone business hotels (which mostly cater to men) and capsule hotels (which have started catering to women finally).
My preferred option is airbnb as you get to stay in local areas and feel more like actually living in Japan for a while. With new rules having been announced for airbnb and rentals in Japan in general, you can hope for better (albeit less) property listings. They have been really hit and miss in my experience. Always carefully read the reviews!
Hostels in Japan are very low key. In the lower price range, they are super basic and seem to begin disintegrating. Buildings in Japan are basically built to last 30 years and then get replaced. At least in theory, which can be clearly seen in quite a few hostels I stayed in. Most times, expect to sleep on a mattress on tatami mats. It can be quite comfy. Often, you have to leave the hostel over lunch time so the cleaners can do their job undisturbed. Then, there are capsule hotels or a few hour stay hotels as well if you just want a nap before an overnight bus ride.
The most authentically Japanese experience is staying in a ryokan. These are classic Japanese bed ‘n’ breakfasts. Check for included traditional meals and outstanding hospitality. Especially in Kyoto, ryokans are a great idea. Last but not least, you can also plan a temple stay. Or just rest your head for the night after a long hike in a temple, which is free as far as I’ve been told.
What to Pack for Japan
Japanese weather can be fickle and temperature changes can be rather severe in spring, for instance. The first time I visited in March, I could walk in snow in Nagano and temperatures were around freezing point. A month later, I was sweating in 26°C. Even within one week in Japan, the weather can change quickly in spring.
When it rains, it can take a day or so to clear. Check the up to date weather forecasts to be sure. March to May is a great time to visit because of the Japanese spring flowers. Autumn is striking thanks to its deep red maple foliage. Get local maps at the tourism information as the best viewing spots are usually marked.
Inspiration for a Japan Itinerary for 7 Days
To get your wanderlust going and get some inspiration of other places or specific sights you can see on a Japan itinerary during 7 days, why not entertain yourself with popular films or literature? The most popular one is The Geisha, both as a book and film. (Just ignore that the main actress isn’t actually Japanese.)
Any film by Studio Ghibli and Hayako Mitzuki promises an amazing time as well. Try Neighbour Totoro or Spirited Away. Once you’ve seen them, you will quickly spot all the fan articles all over Japan. In Kyoto, for example, there is even an entire shop dedicated to Totoro (with a giant Totoro figure).
Is One Week in Japan Enough?
To fully immerse yourself in the experience, one week in Japan most likely will not be enough. However, there are tons of things and sights you can see during seven days in Japan. You will get a pretty good overview over the main Japanese island, Honshu.
I’d say, book your train and bus travel in advance to know exactly how much time you can spend in each destination. You can get easily distracted in Japan. There is so much to see! But on the other hand, that is part of the fun, isn’t it?
Tell me: Which part of my Japan itinerary for 7 days would you look forward to most?
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