Although Japan might be one of the most interesting and culturally rich countries in the world, most travelers use to have a limited time to visit it. Thus, the aim of this post is to share the route that we completed when we discovered Japan in 2015. We have written a lot about this beautiful country in previous posts, but we wanted to give you a full idea of the kind of trip that we did and to prove that some of the main hotspots of the country can be seen in less than two weeks.
As we already explained in this post, when flying from Barcelona to Tokyo we did a stopover in Moscow that gave us some time to visit the city and the same happened in our trip back home. This means that we had less time for Japan due to the lenght of our stopovers. Nevertheless, in 11 days and thanks to the wonderful Japan Rail (JR) Pass we left Japan with a good number of must-see places in our bags.
If we had to give a tip to anyone planning a visit to Japan, this would be: do it by train. Japan has a good railway and buying a JR Pass allows you to use most of its trains for a fixed price. You should buy your pass prior to your departure and you will receive all the relevant documents at home by courier. Checking the timetables and booking a seat in advance once you are in Japan is highly advisable for touristy itineraries.
The JR pass can be bought for a term of 7 days, 14 days or 21 days. With that in mind, we tried to concentrate all the trips between different cities in 7 days: in our case, in the first part of the trip, so that we could end it in Tokyo. The day we arrived at Tokyo was the last one in which our JR Pass was valid. So the next 3 full days we stayed in Tokyo, discovering one of the most vibrant cities in the world, until the 4th day, when we had our flight back home.
Below you’ll find our final itinerary:
Day 1. Tokyo-Kyoto.
As soon as we landed in Tokyo, we took a high-speed train towards Kyoto where we arrived at the afternoon, but with enough time to settle in the ryokan where we would spend 2 nights and to visit our fist shrine, the beautiful Kiyomizu-dera. After dinner, we walked back to our ryokan to sleep and deal with the jet lag.
Day 2. Kyoto
The wonders that awaited in Kyoto were enough reasons to get up early. We left our ryokan and spent the day around Kyoto visiting some of its jewels, such as the Kinkaku-ji (the Golden Pavilion), the Tenryū-ji and the Arashiyama Bamboo Forest and the Iwatayama Monkey Park.
Day 3. Kyoto-Koyasan
We left Kyoto early in the morning. We took the train to the Shin-Osaka station and then the metro to Namba station. From there, we took another train to the Gokurakubashi station and afterwards a cable towards the top of the Mount Koya. Indeed, a long jorney, but it was totally worth it.
In Koyasan we had a great experience, sleeping in a buddhist temple and living the Obon ceremony in first person in the Okunoin cemetery. Just unforgettable.
Day 4. Koyasan-Nara-Osaka
The following day, we returned to the golden triangle Osaka-Nara-Kyoto. That time our destination was Nara, where the first Japanese permanent capital was established more than 1,300 years ago. In Nara you cannot miss the Todai-Ji shrine, with its great Buddha, and the deers that move freely along the city. Back in Osaka, we changed tradition for modernity in the vibrant Dotonbori.
Day 5. Osaka-Miyajima-Hiroshima-Osaka
Another day getting up early, but our desire to explore was bigger than our tiredness. The good thing of Osaka is that it is an extremely well connected city and thus we could easily reach the Miyajima island, which is famous due to its floating torii gate. That day we also had time to quickly visit the area of the Peace Memorial in Hiroshima, where we had dinner before moving back to Osaka. If you have more days in Japan, don’t hesitate to spend a night in Miyajima to enjoy the island in a relaxed manner.
Day 6. Osaka-Kyoto-Osaka
As we already explained in a previous post, we took profit of our JR Pass and the high-speed train between Osaka and Kyoto to return to Kyoto for one day with the aim of visiting some pending shrines. The most amazing one might be Fushimi Inari-Taisha, with its 4 kilometres of red torii along the mountain. In the evening, back in Osaka, we could visit (and have dinner in) the Umeda Sky Building.
Day 7. Osaka-Himeji-Tokyo
The last city that we visited before going back to Tokyo was Himeji, which has one of the most impressive Japanese castles, as we have already explained in this post. After visiting Kyoto, Koyasan, Nara and Miyajima, we had a good idea of the religious architecture, but in Himeji we had the opportunity to learn about the Japanese military architecture. We ended our day in Tokyo, visiting the Shibuya quarter.
Days 8, 9, 10 and 11. Tokyo
And, finally, we devoted the last days of our trip to Tokyo and managed to visit a good number of its quarters, such as Asakusa, Shinjuku, Akihabara and the man-made Osaiba island. Tokyo must be discovered while wakling through its streets but also from the top of its skycrapers.
PS: If you have a bit more time in Japan, don’t forget to visit Takayama and explore the Japanese Alps. We couldn’t visit this area in our trip to Japan and thus we have another reason to go back soon! 🙂