A sample 10-day itinerary for first timers to Japan, covering Tokyo, Osaka and Kyoto. This post is a condensed version of my Japan trip in late Nov/early Dec and detailed posts will come soon.
We did this 10-day Japan itinerary at a leisurely pace so you can definitely cover more grounds if you wish. The budget was about USD1.8K per person (inclusive of flight, accommodations, food and shopping). You can do it for much less with budget airlines, an open-jaw flight at Tokyo and Osaka and cheaper accommodations such as hostels and capsule hotels.
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Day 1 – Ginza
Hardly any time was left for sight-seeing by the time we arrived at city center. Since Ginza was just a short train ride away from where we stayed at Akihabara, we went over to have dinner at Mugi to Olive (awesome and affordable btw) and headed to Uniqlo and GU to get last minute winter essentials.
Day 2 – Disney SEA
The entire day was dedicated to Disney SEA. Check the crowd calendar to determine which is the best day to visit during your trip. Tickets were bought at the local convenience store the day before to skip the queues at the theme park. Although we managed to purchase the tickets, it was done with a lot of help from the convenience store staff. Don’t tempt the odds of finding someone who can understand you; book your tickets through Klook instead.
Also, make a beeline for Toy Story Mania once the park opens!
Day 3 – Lake Kawaguchiko & Mt Fuji
A day trip to Lake Kawaguchiko takes about 2 to 3 hours one-way. Remember to stock up on some bread and snacks for the journey.
We tried the Kachi Kachi ropeway to get a gorgeous view of the lake and also in hopes for a clear view of Mt Fuji. But luck wasn’t on our side and we never got to see Mt Fuji in full glory. We also took the Pleasure Boat around the lake.
Instead of taking the same train route back, opt for the highway bus back to Tokyo station to save the hassle of transferring trains and end the day with a satisfying dinner at Donburiko in Tokyo station.
If you still have energy like us, do some shopping at Muji and Uniqlo at the mall next to Akihabara station.
Day 4 – Shinjuku, Harajuku and Shibuya
Have breakfast at Gotran Cherrier Shinjuku (now defunct), one of the pretty bakeries around Shinjuku station. Then, head to Tokyo Metropolitan Government Building where you take in the city center from their free observation deck.
Walk through the Shinjuku Chuo park back to the station and take the train down to Harajuku.
Harajuku was teeming with young crowds. We tried the famous Calbee+ (so-so really), shopped at the four-story Daiso and walked over to Omotesando where I stopped briefly at Tower Records to get souvenirs at the Dragon Ball pop-up cafe.
We ended our day in Shibuya where we window-shopped at Tokyu Hands and Loft. Dinner was a simple affair at the popular curry rice chain, Coco Ichibanya.
Day 5 – Dontobori
Halfway through our 10-day itinerary, we were drained out and decided to sleep in, which resulted in us taking a later bullet train to Osaka.
By the time we settled down, it was already late afternoon (lunch was the shinkansen bento). We got distracted by the jiggly pancakes from Cafe Gram on our way to Dontobori but they’re limited edition (why, of course!) so we tried their french toasts instead. Fabulous btw.
If you’re staying near Denden town area, you could start off first with the anime merchandise stores and arcades in Denden town, then walk down Sennichimae Doguyasuji, a specialty street hawking kitchen utensils. After which, continue walking down Dontobori followed by Shinsaibashi. Lots of good shopping along the way with a Disney store, Daiso and Book-off. Their pachinko palors are also pretty amazing sights to behold.
Grab some Pablo cheese tart and takeaway sushi if the hunger pangs hit and settle down for a piping hot bowl of Ichiran ramen before you end the day.
Day 6 – Kyoto
We did a day trip to Kyoto on the 6th day. Breakfast was settled at a random cafe in the subway station before we took the Shinkansen to Kyoto. The journey takes about 15 minutes. If you did not reserve any seats beforehand, queue up at the free-seating carriages when waiting to board.
Our first stop is Tenryu-Ji in Arashiyama and I highly recommend you to get the entrance tickets to visit the picturesque gardens which are made even more beautiful with the mountains in the background.
From the exit of the gardens, there’s a direct route to the Arashiyama Bamboo Grove. Even though the location was teeming with tourists, everyone instinctively lowers their volume in its tranquility.
We headed to Fushimi Inari Shrine next and was fortunate to catch the sunset there. The sunset cast warm hues over the red template roofs; coupled with the floating clouds and clear skies in the background, it was a breathtaking sight that made us stop and watch. While some may say it’s an over-hyped location, I do feel that Fushimi Inari Taisha had the best scenery for me.
Have your dinner at a nearby restaurant, Kendonya. The restaurant serves substantial handmade udon and don sets which will warm you up on a brisk night. After the meal, take the train on the Keihan Main Line from Fushimi-Inari station opposite the restaurant to Gion-Shijo. The Gion district boasts a unique night scene that will make you feel like you’re in the Edo period. If you’re in luck, you might even catch a Geisha on her way to her work appointments. But please stay rational and don’t go all paparazzi on them!
When we returned to the Namba area, we realized that Namba parks were having their annual festive illuminations. The mall was lit up and decked out in Christmas splendour and we took some time to take them all in. Japanese are huge on their lights and decor so if you’re there during the year-end period, be sure to leave some time to visit one of the illuminations.
Day 7 – Universal Studio Japan
I bought the tickets and express passes in advance, off the official website with this particularly useful guide but it still took a significant amount of time because the website wasn’t particularly friendly + language barrier + too many different types of express passes. For my upcoming trip, I just bought the tickets off Klook instead since prices were similar. Klook is having a major sale now till the end of the year; enter the code “YES100” to get $50 off minimum $450 and get another $50 voucher for your next purchase (minimum $300) so wait no longer!
Remember to check the crowd calendar to pick the day to visit. If you visit on a day with crowds in the 10+ region (green boxes), I’d suggest skipping the express passes.
Without a doubt, The Wizarding World of Harry Potter is not to be missed and Hogsmeade too with a mug of butterbeer in hand. Another ride that I would recommend is Space Fantasy (surprisingly).
For a glimpse into the otaku and anime/manga-lovers’ life, drop by the Jump store before heading back.
Day 8 – Nara
We went back to Cafe Gram to try the fluffy pancakes. It was rather disappointing and I don’t recommend to anyone.
Next, we travelled to Nara and visited Kofukuji. The temple appears to be under reconstruction and falling short of its full grandeur.
Another must-go place is Nara park. You will get swarmed by deer, especially after you purchased deer feed. One deer tried to chomp my scarf while I was posing for a photo with her.
We then went to the Okumura Commemorative Museum. The Museum celebrates the centenary of the corporation and exhibits their history and achievements. Out of goodwill, the museum offers its open terrace on the second floor for free. You can take a rest there and take in an unobstructed view of Nara.
From there, take a short walk to Todaiji. We weren’t really keen on another tour of the temple grounds so we stopped outside at Nandaimon.
From Nara, head to Osaka Castle if you still have juice left in you. It would be 40 minutes trip with some walking from the station to the castle. The castle was already closed by the time we got there, so we viewed it from afar.
Have your dinner at Fukutaro, a typical Japanese okonomiyaki restaurant with English menu. It has limited counter seats with iron griddles right in front of you.
You’ve gotta try Okonomiyaki at least once in Osaka; it’s the signature dish.
Day 9 – Tokyo Sky Tree (kind of..)
Because our flight was in and out from Narita, we returned to Tokyo via Shinkansen.
By the time we got out from our hotel in Ikebukuro, it was already 3 PM. We decided to stop by Tokyo Skytree before heading to our relatives’ place for a short visit. Didn’t go up as the queue for the tickets was horrendous. Beat the queue by purchasing your tickets in advance. We did, however, did some light shopping in the connecting malls and enjoyed the sunset from one of the open terraces.
When we returned to Ikebukuro, the malls were mostly closed. We wanted to do dinner at Muteki-ya but the queue again was horrendous so we headed to Ichiran instead. In hindsight, try any udon and soba places nearby with vending machines. I did on my second trip and loved how fuss-free and spontaneous it felt. 😂
If your flight is in the noon, you would not have time to do substantial sightseeing. Instead, catch up on your last minute shopping. If you stay in Ikebukuro, the stretch near Round One arcade is peppered with drug stores (cue Kim Kardashian Pay Me gif for the girls) and snack shops. Further down, there’s also Sunshine City.
To get us to Narita, we booked the airport limousine bus from Sunshine Prince Hotel. It’s more expensive than taking the train but super convenient since it saves the hassle of lugging your luggage up escalators and changing trains.
And that’s it! A 10-day Japan itinerary condensed into one post. Also, as I’ve previously mentioned, this 10-day Japan itinerary was a really relaxed one and you could do more in the same itinerary:
- Head out earlier to Lake Kawaguchiko and you probably could catch the sunset at Chureito Pagoda
- Wake up earlier on day 4 to visit Tsukiji Market
- Head out earlier on day 6 to cover Kiyomizu-Dera
- Start your day earlier on the 8th day to leave enough time for either American Village, Korean town or Hep 5 at night
- Day 9 – Take an earlier Shinkansen so that you have more time to cover Tokyo. Either head to Sensoji before Tokyo Sky Tree, return to Ikebukuro earlier to shop around the area or do a short trip to Odaiba and view the Rainbow bridge at night
Hope you guys find the post useful! Feel free to leave comments if you’ve any questions or comments. 😀
Read the full trip online: