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  • Writer's pictureSamantha Minor

A 9 Day Itinerary for Your First Trip to Japan!


Hello everyone! A few weeks ago, I went to Japan for the first time, and words can simply not express how magical it was! After being in the country for only 11 days (booooo American PTO), I am certain I will be back.

Since I've returned, I've had quite a few people reach out to me about how we planned our trip, how we decided what to do, and how we fit so much in to a small window of time. If you're here from my YouTube video, welcome! This is the more detailed version of the itinerary.

The simple answer to how we did it all is: research.

We actually booked our flights about 6 months in advance (which I would recommend), and because I'm a crazy person, I spent those 6 months reading books, listening to podcasts, watching YouTube videos, and Googling like my life depended on it.

As a result, we were able to come up with a great itinerary that worked to near perfection once we arrived. So, I thought I would share our itinerary in case any of these things toot your horn or give you ideas for your own trip!

Before I get into it, check out my Vlog for a quick overview of everything in this post:


The Overview

I'm going to break down the individual days, but first I want to give you a quick snapshot of this itinerary.

First and foremost, we were actually in Japan for 11 days. However, we arrived in the evening of our first day, and we left in the afternoon of our last day. So because those weren't full days, I'm not going to include them in this itinerary.

Secondly, we organized our trip by breaking Tokyo up into two chunks. We flew in and out of Tokyo, which most people do, but we knew we wanted to go to Kyoto and Osaka as well. So we started our trip in West Tokyo, then headed to Kyoto, then Osaka, and finally, returned to end the trip in East Tokyo.

Honestly, this format worked really well for us. The thing is, Tokyo is huge. Like. huge. It can take you a good hour to an hour and a half to get from one side of the city to another. So even if you don't want to break up your trip like we did, I would recommend getting a hostel/hotel in one area, doing everything you can in that area, then switching to a new location. It will save you quite a bit of time on the train in the end!

And lastly, I should mention that this itinerary is pretty packed! It's difficult to see Japan in less than two weeks, and because this itinerary includes most of the "big ticket" items, it's pretty busy. But if you're like me, I like to get the most out of every trip and I enjoy going from one place to the next. Feel free to modify this itinerary to fit your travel style!

I wanted to include as much detail for you guys as I could, so buckle up, because a bunch of information is coming your way! I'll include a printable 1 Page PDF at the end of this post to summarize the itinerary.

Note: Significant locations will be hyperlinked to their Google addresses.

Day 1 - Tokyo

As I previously mentioned, we started our trip in East Tokyo. Specifically, we stayed in Shibuya. And what better way to start our first day in Japan than at the Shibuya crossing? We woke up early, grabbed breakfast, and watched the city come to life at the famous crosswalk.


If you look at the photo above, right underneath the tree on the right is the famous Hachikō Memorial Statue! There are also a few places around the crosswalk where you can go up into a building and get a birds eye view. One of the more popular spots we saw was a second floor Starbucks overlooking the crossing.

Once you've made your way through the sea of people heading to work, Shibuya is a great place to explore. We walked around for a few hours, going in and out of department stores (notably Don Quijote and Tokyu Hands), checking out arcades, and taking it all in.

Next, we walked to Harajuku. Known as the "hipster" neighborhood of Tokyo, Takeshita Dori (dori means "street") is the center of all the action. There are tons of fun shops and endless street food. If you're in the area, you have to try a famous Harajuku crepe!

I will warn you, similar to most tourist places in Japan, there will likely be a lot of people there. It was pretty packed when we visited around 10:30 - 11:00 am. If this is an important location to you, make sure you get there early! And if you need a quick escape or two from the crowds while you're there, there are a lot of side streets that branch off of the main drag. They're full of hipster stores and restaurants but are significantly quieter.

After Harajuku, we grabbed lunch and headed to the Meiji Jingu Shrine. Just about a 5-10 minute walk away, this is one of Tokyo's most famous shrines, and a must-see if you're in the area.We were even fortunate enough to witness a traditional Japanese wedding taking place when we visited!


The shrine is right next to Yoyogi Park, which is the perfect place to sit and relax for awhile. Similar to Central Park in New York, Yoyogi Park is a peaceful paradise in the middle of a bustling area. Grab a drink or a snack from the food trucks and relax under the trees!

To end our day, we headed back over to Shibuya. Even though Shibuya is fun during the day, this is an area you have to see at night. Grab dinner, go shopping, hit up an arcade, or just people watch!

Day 2 - Tokyo

Wait--this is only day 2!? Like I said, it's a packed itinerary!

We started day 2 in Tokyo at the Tokyo Metropolitan Government Building. This building has a free observation deck with incredible views of Tokyo. You'll probably hear me say this a million times in this post, but get there early if you want to avoid the lines. We got there about 30 minutes after it opened and we waited another 30 minutes to get to the top.


A lot of people like to get a view of the city on their first day in Tokyo, but we visited on a weekend, and the building is only open on week days. So feel free to swap days 1 and 2 in this itinerary if you'd like to visit the TMG building right away!

After checking out the observatory, we walked around the area. Shinjuku Chuo Park is right next to the building, and we were lucky enough to visit during Cherry Blossom season, so it was absolutely beautiful!

We grabbed lunch at a restaurant I have to recommend. It's called Fuunji, and it's a small ramen shop nestled in the middle of an unremarkable grey street. The place was absolutely packed with locals and we waited a while to get in. However, it was totally worth it, and just a short walk from Chuo Park, so if you're craving ramen, definitely give it a shot!

After lunch, we headed over to Shinjuku. The main area to check out is Kabukicho. Describing this area as sensory overload seems like an understatement. Every direction you turn, there are lights, restaurants, shops, arcades, and of course, some 18+ venues we didn't venture into. A major tourist attraction, Robot Restaurant, is also in this area.


After wandering around Kabuchiko for awhile, we headed to Omoide Yokocho, unfortunately nicknamed "Piss Alley." Despite the harsh nickname, Omoide Yokocho is a small alley packed with small food stalls, each containing about 10 or less seats. The chefs mostly cook yakitori (grilled meat) from small grills right next to the customers, and it's known for having amazing food, no matter which stall you pick. We went a little early to beat the dinner rush, but keep in mind that most of the stalls don't open until 5:00 - 5:30 pm.


After dinner we went back to Kabuchiko, because just like Shibuya, you have to see this place at night! When you see photos of the crazy lights in Tokyo, you're likely seeing the lights in Shinjuku. It was one of the most lively areas we visited and a great place to spend the rest of your night. Just a short walk away, you can also pop over to Golden Gai, a street known for bars and street food.

Day 3 - Kyoto

It's hard to believe we're only on day 3, but you can breathe a sigh of relief because you'll get a little break on this day!

We hopped on a bullet train to Kyoto first thing in the morning with our JR Pass. Since the ride is 2-3 hours, we got to Kyoto around lunch time. After grabbing lunch at Kyoto station, we checked into our hostel and wandered around some Kyoto shopping streets.

Kyoto has a ton of super long, covered shopping streets full of traditional Japanese goods, 500 Yen shops, and fast food. Teramachi-dori and Shinkyogoku are just a few! However, once you find one, you'll likely run into several others as they are all strangely intertwined. In any case, this is a great place to pick up souvenirs and wander around for a few hours.

For dinner, we headed over to Ponto-cho Alley. Similar to Omoide Yokocho, Ponto-cho Alley is a very romantic alley with a bunch of restaurants! The main difference is that they are much larger. Though they look small from the alley, the back sides of the restaurants open up and overlook the Kamo River. They're also a bit more expensive, but there are several inexpensive options as well, so take a moment to browse the menus as you pass by.


After enjoying dinner and the river, we headed back to our hostel for a good night's sleep!

Day 4 - Kyoto

We're back on the grind, and our second day in Kyoto started with the legendary Fushimi Inari Shrine. With several larger shrines at the entrance, you'll soon find the path of thousands of tori gates leading up Mount Inari.


We visited around 9:30am and there were already a lot of tourists there. However, if you're up for a nice walk, you can made the journey up the mountain in less than and hour. The further you go, the less people there are! And don't be discouraged by the stairs, the few steep moments, or the poorly drawn maps.

Every 15 minutes or so, there will be a gap in the gates where you can stop and rest if needed. There are shops and bathrooms along the way if you need refreshing. I highly recommend pushing through and getting to the top! With only a few people around, it's incredibly peaceful, and you'll be rewarded with some beautiful overlooks of Kyoto as well.

That being said, it was a little warm when we visited so we went back to our Hostel to shower and change out of our sweaty clothes afterwards! We then headed over to Nishiki Market for an epic street food experience.


Whether you visit this market or not, at some point, you must visit a Japanese market! It's a great place to try new and different foods in small portions. Not to mention, everything is pretty cheap!

After the market, we were back on the Shrine and Temple game, heading over to the Kiyomizu-dera Temple. This temple is a world heritage site and one of the most popular tourist spots in Japan. Unfortunately when we visited, the main hall (which is absolutely massive) was under a lot of construction so it was mostly covered. However, once you arrive you'll actually see that the area is much more than one building.

There are several temples around, and a long shopping street leading up to it all, filled with souvenir shops and snacks. Even though we couldn't see the main temple, it was definitely still worth the visit, as the other temples were equally beautiful and the area was so picturesque.


After the temple, we headed back over to the Ponto-cho Alley area for dinner because it was relatively close to our hostel. And the moment you've all been waiting for, another restaurant recommendation!

It would be a crime against mankind if I didn't recommend Chao Chao, home of the greatest gyoza I've ever had the privilege of tasting. Like many restaurants in Japan, it's very small, and although we happened to arrive early, there was an insanely long waiting list by the time we left. But the food is so worth it, and the atmosphere is elbow-to-elbow, with the chefs and servers running around and yelling and laughing with customers. We stayed for a long time and ordered a lot of gyoza!

Day 5 - Kyoto

If you haven't figured it out by now, Kyoto is breathtakingly beautiful. On our fifth day in Japan, we started the day at the Arashiyama Bamboo Forest.We went early, around 9:00am and the crowds weren't too bad. It doesn't take long to walk through, but it's a must-see if you're in Kyoto.


While we were walking in the area, we stumbled upon the Tenryuji Temple, and I'm so glad we did! A very historic temple from the 1300s, it's home to one of the most beautiful gardens I've ever seen. You do have to pay an entrance fee to get in (500 Yen), but you can actually walk inside the temple, and it's a wonderful place to. rest and enjoy nature for a while.


After grabbing lunch, we headed over to Kinkaku-ji temple, more commonly known as the "Golden Pavilion." Because we went in the afternoon, it was a bit crowded, but I can honestly say I've never seen anything quite like this temple. It's worth running into a few people for!


We're finally on our last stop of day 5: Gion. Although it is known as Kyoto's "Geisha District" we weren't fortunate enough to see one. However, the area is incredibly quaint, with plenty of traditional restaurants, tea houses, and even a theater! You can easily spend the evening in this romantic corner of Kyoto.

Day 6 - Osaka

And we're off to the food capitol of Tokyo, and probably the world: Osaka! Osaka is very close to Kyoto. Depending on the train you take, it will only take you 30 minutes to an hour to arrive. We headed over first thing in the. morning so we could get a full day in this magnificent city.

The first thing we did in Osaka was visit Osaka Castle. Incredibly historic and picturesque, it's located in a very peaceful park and is definitely worth seeing up close. If you pay 400 Yen, you can go inside the castle. Most of the floors consist of a museum, but up on the 8th floor is an observatory where you can take in a great view of Osaka.


After the castle, we headed over to Shinsekai. Shinsekai is known as Osaka's "old neighborhood," but it's an incredibly busy and colorful shopping and eating area. While there, we actually stumbled into a retro arcade where we spent a good amount of time!


We spent the rest of the night/evening in Dotonbori, Osaka's most famous area known for it's nightlife. Honestly, if there was one place I wish we could have stayed longer, it would have been Osaka because this city was just so much fun!


Dotonbori is home to the famous "Glico Sign" as well as some of the best food I've ever tasted. In Osaka, you must try Takoyaki, which are fried octopus balls, and Okonomiyaki, which is a savory Japanese pancake. My mouth is literally watering just thinking about it.


The last place to mention in Osaka is America-mura. It's only a 5 minute walk from Dotonbori and we actually ran into it by accident. America-mura just means "America town" and it's an area full of American brands and crazy night life. It's often referred to as the equivalent of Harajuku in Tokyo. We ended the night here at a small Sake bar.

Day 7 - Osaka/Tokyo

Before heading back to Tokyo, we spent the morning back in America-mura eating the Instagram famous fluffy Japanese pancakes. So. Good. The place we went to was called A Happy Pancake if you're in the area.

We then hopped on a bullet train back to Tokyo. I should mention that we had originally planned on making a stop in Hakone to catch some great views of Mount Fuji. Hakone is a small village about an hour outside of Tokyo, but you'll probably learn quickly that seeing Mount Fuji is harder than you might expect. Since it's surrounded by water, it's often foggy and not visible. Unfortunately, on this day, it was quite rainy and dreary so we decided to head back to Tokyo instead.

After a few hours on the bullet train, we checked into our new Hostel and made our way to Akihabara. Now, this area was one of my absolute favorite areas in Tokyo, but it might not be for you, so let me give you a quick run down!


Akihabara is the electronic, gaming, manga, and anime hub in Tokyo. So for me, as an anime nerd, it was paradise! There were just so many things in Akihabara that you can't find in America. But I will say, even if you're not into any of those things, you'll probably still enjoy strolling around the area.

There are a ton of maid cafes around, people in cosplay, karaoke, and next level arcades, so it's still a lot of fun even if you don't want to go into all of the stores. There are a bunch of giant electronic stores too, full of strange technology and accessories.

We spend the rest of our night in this area, finishing off with some mouth watering Tonkatsu from Gyukatsu Ichi Ni San.

Day 8 - Tokyo

On day 8, we finally made our way to the famous Sensoji Temple. On the way to the temple, there is a lot to see. The Kaminarimon Gate is probably the most recognizable, as it is the gate leading to the temple with a huge lantern in the middle of it.

After you pass through the gate, you'll walk along Nakamise Shopping Street, which is full of souvenir shops and street food. Similar tom nay other popular streets, I would recommend exploring some of the side streets, and they're significantly less busy, but still full of fun shops.

We went early in the morning to beat the crowds, but the next time in the area, I'd love to see Sensoji Temple at night, because the photos look beautiful!


After Sensoji, we grabbed lunch and headed to Ikebukuro. Ikebukuro is on the North side of Toyko and is known as the "Akihabara for girls."

We went to one the biggest malls I've ever been in called "Sunshine City" to hit up the Pokemon Center, and then wandered around the main area, popping into shops and attempting to read strange anime fan fiction. I was very surprised at how lively Ikebukuro was, but in true Tokyo fashion, there were a billion people there.


We then headed to Ueno Park, as it was in the general direction of our Hostel. Similar to Yoyogi Park, it's very large and a peaceful spot in the middle of a really busy area. There's even an Ueno Zoo in the park if you're into that.

We relaxed for awhile and listened to some interesting live music before eventually heading to Ameya-Yokocho. It's pretty much located just before the entrance to Ueno park, and it's another street food paradise. It begins as one street and splits into two. Packed with tiny food stalls and shops, it's a great place to end the night with a full belly.


Day 9 - Tokyo

If you're still reading this... congratulations! Also NOOOOO!! We've reached the last day in Japan. But don't worry, I've saved something incredible for the end.

We spent our final full day in Tokyo in Odaiba. Odaiba is an artificial island in Tokyo Bay. And the reason we decided to visit was because of the TeamLab Borderless museum.

It's honestly so hard to put this place into words because it was truly the most amazing museum I'v ever been to. It's a digital art museum, where the "art" is constantly moving across the walls. No room ever stays the same, and there are no maps or directions once you're inside. You are purely meant to explore and discover.


The museum is primarily dark walls with the art moving from floor to ceiling, but there are also several rooms and floors where different exhibits can be found. The most famous room is a room full of hanging lanterns. We also found a room with waves dancing across the walls, and another full of hanging LED lights. And of course, everything is coordinated with music, so you literally feel like you're in. a trance as you're wandering around.


We ended up being inside for 3 hours, which was much longer than we anticipated, but there is so much to see! I would recommend doing some research ahead of time to read about the different rooms and make sure you se everything you want to see.

Also, I want to mention that you have to buy your tickets online in advance from the TeamLab website. One ticket is about $30 USD. And even if buy tickets in advance, you'll have to wait in a bit of a line before you get in. We waited for 30 - 45 minutes, but it's primarily due to crowd control inside the museum. You also may have to wait in line to get in. some of the rooms inside. But I cannot emphasize enough: It's worth it!!!


Okay, enough of me jabbering on about TeamLab Borderless. The rest of Odaiba is beautiful too!

For the rest of the day, we hung out at Odaiba Beach and Odaiba Seaside Park. There are several malls in the area, an indoor amusement park (Joypolis), and of course, Rainbow Bridge. Rainbow Bridge connects Odaiba back to Tokyo, and in certain times of the year, it lights up in different colors. However, most of the time it's just lit up with white lights. Still, it's a great place to relax and watch the city from across the water, taking in your final night in Japan.

 

That's all, folks.

I'm not crying, YOU'RE CRYING! I hope you've got a few ideas now for your perfect trip to Japan! As promised, here is the PDF of the whole itinerary. Just click on the image below!


9 Days in. Japan PDF

I hope you've enjoyed looking through my itinerary, and please let me know if you'd like to see more posts like this in the future! If you end up going to any of the locations mentioned in my post, tag me on Instagram (@samanthaminor) so I can keep up with your trip. Have fun in Japan!


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