As a first-timer to Japan, when I made this itinerary I had a couple of objectives: I wanted a good mix of cultural and historical experiences, with a mix of touristy and local activities. I also wanted to eat ALL the good Japanese food. At ten days, the trip definitely could have been longer, but I think this itinerary allowed my three friends and I to see a well-rounded view of Japan and walk away with a greater appreciation of Japan’s natural beauty, efficiency, polite AF culture, and amazing food.
How to Plan for Ten Days in Japan
Here’s a taste of how we planned out how to cover Japan in ten days. The way I like to plan is to set a couple of must-see sights for the day and then leave the rest of the schedule open to chance, so if you want to spend more time at a park talking to a local, you can. Everyone has a different style, but hopefully this itinerary is helpful in providing a general idea of what to do.
- Land at Haneda International Airport in Tokyo
- Check into the Airbnb and then explore the Shinjuku ward (ward is similar to a district), pictured below, in Tokyo (Tokyo is divided into 23 wards).
- Spend 4 full days and 5 nights in Tokyo – visiting various wards like Harajuku and Akihabara, eating all the ramen and sushi in sight, visiting temples, playing with owls in owl cafes, seeing the Japanese Giants play baseball, wondering “what the hell did I just watch?” at the Robot Restaurant and making friends with sumo wrestlers. Here are some snapshots:
- Train from Tokyo to Hakone, famous for its onsens (hot springs) and Hakone Shrine, as a relaxing break from the craziness of Tokyo and to experience Japan’s quieter side.
- Leave Hakone and take the bullet train to Kyoto. The main item on the agenda is the famous Fushimi Inari Shrine and trying the okonomiyaki, pictured below:
- Leave Kyoto and go on a day trip to Nara, which is famous for its friendly, selfie-loving deer population, as evident in the picture below:
- Leave Nara and head to Osaka; spend the night there.
- Visit the famous Osaka Castle Park and a whiskey bar:
- Make our own personalized cup of noodles at the Cupnoodles Museum!
- Take bullet train to Tokyo
- Leave for SF from Haneda International Airport
For more detailed info on each of the cities, I will be coming out with city guides in the upcoming weeks.
My flight was free using points I had saved from the Chase Sapphire Preferred card bonus, which was a plus because I had just graduated from Yale where I made zero income lol. My round-trip flight from SFO to Haneda for June 2016 “cost” around 70,000 points. Friends who purchased those same tickets about 2 months in advance paid about $700-$800 for their flights. We all flew United, which was pretty basic – they had decent food, no wifi, and limited leg space but for the price of free, I’m not complaining.
For housing, we stuck to Airbnb for the entire trip. This is because it was much cheaper for four people than the comparable hotels. I was interested in trying a ryokan (traditional Japanese inn) with hot springs in Hakone but most were at least a couple hundred dollars per night so we nixed the idea. Staying at a capsule hotel also would’ve been cool but it ended up not working out for us this trip. One thing to keep in mind is that in Tokyo, the rooms will be a lot smaller than in other cities, due to the high density of the city. For example, this is how our bedroom looked like:
As for Airbnb, the experiences were mainly positive. The rooms generally included toiletries like shampoo, conditioner, soap as well as towels. Some hosts even gave us rides to/from the train station, going above and beyond the call of duty. The negatives were around miscommunication or lack of cleanliness (both occurred in Tokyo) – but this could happen anywhere while traveling. For price, location, and the opportunity to meet more locals, Airbnb provided the most options and flexibility. Some even had hair salons located within the Airbnb like the one pictured below:
- I would highly recommend buying a JR pass to get between cities. It is a pass that you can use for a certain amount of days for unlimited rides on the JR public transit lines. This was great for traveling on the bullet trains from city to city (like Tokyo to Kyoto). You can NOT get it in Japan so make sure you order it and pick it up before you leave.
- In Tokyo, the metro can be confusing because there are a couple of different lines you can take. You can find a more comprehensive breakdown of your different options here. The signs are also in English, which was extremely helpful when navigating.
- The other cities we visited (Nara, Kyoto, Hakone, Osaka) all had public transportation signs in English as well. The cities were easy to navigate and are walking-friendly.
- Also, the metro stations are some of the nicest I have ever seen in my life, with everything from fine dining restaurants to Cafe du Monde, both at the Kyoto Station pictured below. Ridiculous.
- There were moments when we must have looked lost AF because Japanese locals would come up to us and help us. This happened multiple times, which further corroborated all the talk about their politeness and friendliness (Although there was this one drunk man who helped us find our train and then asked for money lol).
- Station agents are also very helpful!
- For Wi-Fi, I highly recommend getting a pocket wifi. This was CLUTCH during our travels for navigating around the cities and looking up destinations.
- Yelp is not popular in Japan but all the food that we tried was so amazing, the app is pretty much irrelevant. You can pretty much walk into any restaurant and expect good quality food, like this Ippudo we casually stumbled upon with zero line (a first!):
- For currency, it is recommended to bring yen but most places took card. However, we did stick to mainly touristy high-population cities.
- Whenever I travel, I try to keep in mind that I’m a visitor entering a foreign country with different customs and culture. I try to learn a couple of basic phrases before I go so I don’t completely make an ass out of myself. Some standard phrases used on this trip included “Watashi wa Heesun” which means “My name is Heesun” and of course “nama birru” which is “draft beer”. Here are some other useful phrases, provided by my friend Armand, who is teaching English in Japan:
Thank you: Arigatou Gozaimasu
Sorry/Excuse me: Sumimasen
Good morning: Ohayo Gozaimasu
Hello (used in the afternoon): Konnichiwa
Good evening: Konbanwa
Good night: Oyasuminasai
Where is X: X wa doko desu ka? (i.e. Where is the toilet?: Toire wa doko desu ka?)
When is X: X wa itsu desu ka?
How much is X: X wa ikura desu ka?
Paying separately: Betsu betsu
Paying together: isshouni
Bill please: Okaikei onegaishimasu
Can I use credit card?: kurejitto kaado wo tsukaemasu ka?
- Japanese sounds more like Korean than I thought. In the beginning of our trip, I kept on turning around when people spoke because I thought they were talking to me in Korean!
- People dress REALLY well; suits for men and women for their 9-5 are the norm. Even kids are super cute in their uniforms (yes, I felt kinda creeps as I took this photo…but couldn’t resist D:)
Have you been to Japan? Is there anything I forgot to mention that you think is a must see? Feel free to share in the comments below!
If you like this post, you might also like…
- What to Do When You Go to Korea
- Discover the Best Things to See in Vietnam
- How to Visit Thailand in One Week