2 Week Itineraries / Asia / Japan / long haul / travel

First time in Japan Itinerary: Is 10 days in Japan enough?

sake barrels in tokyo

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Are you looking to spend 10 days in Japan? With so much to see it is hard to know where to start with planning your 10 day Japan itinerary.

Here is my recommended route, top tips and helpful advice to help you plan your first Japan trip with the option to add on a few extra days if you have the opportunity to spend 2 weeks in Japan.

Japan has been at the top of my bucket list for the longest time, however, I always put it off, I believed it would be too expensive to visit or 10 days would not be enough time. But after extensive planning, I took the risk and booked the flights. Japan ended up being everything I hoped it would be and more, I already cannot wait to go back again one day.

shinkensai in osaka, a great addition to a 1 day osaka itinerary

Therefore, I wanted to share my exact 10 day Japan itinerary to help you plan your trip. It is aimed at people visiting Japan for the first time and will, therefore, cover the most popular tourist destinations Tokyo, Osaka and Kyoto with day trips to Nara and Hakone.

Read before you visit: Interesting facts about Japan to help you plan your first trip

Is 10 days in Japan enough?

10 days will never be enough time to fully explore any country, but if you continue waiting until you have enough time you will never go.

Thankfully, Japan has the Shinkansen, also known as the bullet train, meaning fast and efficient travel is accessible across the whole of Japan. This was revolutionary for my trip as it meant no wasted days at airports transferring to new places or time spent on overnight buses. We could board a train in Tokyo at 7.30 am and be in Kyoto by 9.30 am in time for breakfast and an entire day of sightseeing.

I believe 10 days – 2 weeks in Japan is the perfect amount of time for your first visit. It will give you enough time to many of the main tourist highlights, get a real feel for the country and leave you wanting to come back for more.

Things to know before visiting Japan:

Buy a guide book during the planning stages as well as using blogs:

As much as I am, obviously, a huge blog advocate, I always recommend purchasing a guide book when starting to plan your travels.

marco polo guide book in kyoto

Marco Polo’s Japan travel guide was my go-to for this trip. I find by having a guidebook, I can scribble notes inside and highlight sections to have everything in one place. The Marco Polo guides are small enough and light enough to tuck inside your bag but still have so much information, including a large pull out map. This particular guide also has detailed suggested 2-3 week itineraries, which I found super helpful as well as a list of further websites and blogs to help with the planning.

Marco Polo Guides are always my go-to, they are practical yet engaging and are great value for money.

>> Want to learn some Japanese for your trip? Here are some useful Japanese phrases for tourists

Getting around in Japan

If you are planning on travelling around Japan then you will need to buy a J Rail Pass in order to use the Shinkansen (bullet train). These 7, 14 or 21-day passes are only available to tourists and you can only purchase this in advance before arriving in Japan. Click here to secure your J Rail Pass.
I also advise downloading the Hyperdia App on your mobile phone. This app will give you access to the train timetable as well as the platform they will be leaving from – train stations in Japan are huge, therefore quickly knowing platforms will save a lot of time.

Money in Japan

Card payment is not always available in Japan, aside from large chains, most places only accept cash. Therefore ensure you have Yen before arriving in the country. If you need to withdraw cash while in Japan, most 7/11 stores have international ATMs, however, the majority of these only work with Visa and not Mastercard.

Stay connected in Japan

Rent a portable wifi box. Wifi is not readily available across Japan but it is needed, for booking trains, Google Maps, Google Translate, etc. I rented this portable wifi box with unlimited internet access and collected on arrival at Haneda Airport (you can also collect from Narita Airport). At all times the internet was available and fast, you can also connect up to 9 devices at one time meaning if you are travelling as part of a group it is very affordable. Renting a wifi box will work out cheaper than purchasing a sim card in Japan.

–> Find more Japan posts here 

How to Spend 10 Days in Japan for first-time visitors.

Japan itinerary route overview

Day 1 – 3: Tokyo

Day 4: Hakone

Day 5-6: Kyoto

Day 7: Nara

Day 8-9: Osaka

Day 10: Tokyo

Day 1-3 – Tokyo

If flights allow, I recommend starting your trip in Tokyo. Tokyo is the city that made me fall in love with Japan, despite being one of the busiest cities in the world, the efficiency still manages to provide a feeling of calm. I already cannot wait to go back one day.

On Arrival into either Haneda and Narita airport be sure to pick up your portable wifi box.

sake barrels in tokyo

Where to stay in Tokyo

Tokyo is huge and is roughly 3 times the size of London. But thankfully, it is very well connected by the metro and JR Trains.

During our stay in Tokyo, we stayed in two different locations, Shinjuku and Asakusa. Both were extremely well-located to the main attractions and like all of Japan felt completely safe. I personally preferred the area of Asakusa but would happily recommend both.

In Asakusa, we stayed in a private room at the Plat Hostel Keikyu Asakusa station. The Plat Hostel offers private dorms as well as dorms. The private rooms were everything we needed for a short stay as well as being very affordable for the location as well as clean. Everything in the room is controlled by an app, making for a very modern feel as well.

In Shinjuku, we stayed at the Tama Ryokana traditional style Japanese Ryokan. The Tama Ryokan offers a much more homely feel as opposed to a hotel and was overall a really wonderful experience. The lady who runs the Ryokan continuously made us feel welcome and it was a lovely way to start our trip in Japan.

Top things to do in Tokyo for first-time visitors

As I mentioned, Tokyo is huge, therefore I recommend breaking the cities down by districts to ensure you cover as much as possible as well as efficiently.

lady at the top of the shibuya sky

  • Walk across the world-famous Shibuya crossing and then see it from above from the Shibuya Sky Tower. 
  • Embrace the colour in Harajuku (but avoid the animal cafes) and find some of the best things to buy in Tokyo before visiting the  Meiji-Jingu shrine.
  • Head to Asakusa to visit the Senso-Ji, the oldest temple in Tokyo as well as exploring the surrounding markets. In this area, you will also find the Tokyo Skytree – be sure to book your ticket in advance to avoid the queues.
  • Visit the electrical district of Akihabara for Gashapon and Claw Machines.
  • If you are a fan of cats you will not want to miss the Gotokuji Temple located in the Setagaya Ward of Tokyo.
  • Eat incredible ramen at Ichiran.

Day 4 – Hakone

On day 4, take a day trip from Tokyo to Hakone using your JRail Pass.

Hakone is one of the places to catch a glimpse of Mount Fuji and by Shinkansen (bullet train) from Tokyo, it will take you roughly 1 hour to reach Hakone.

On arrival into Hakone, if you are visiting for just the day, buy the Hakone Free Pass. This one day pass is priced at ¥4600 / £32 per person and includes admission onto the monorail, the cable car past Mount Fuji and a boat cruise. This pass is available to buy at the main tourist centre on arrival into Hakone Station as well as JRail Stations in Tokyo.

river cruise in hakone

All of which create a loop which brings you back to Hakone station to make your way back to Tokyo. I found this pass to be excellent value for money, the cable car especially is not to be missed.

Be aware Mount Fuji is not always visible due to cloud cover and therefore it is not guaranteed. We only saw Mt Fuji for 1-2 minutes before it was covered by cloud, however, despite this, it was a really fun day trip.

cable car ride in Hakone, a must during 10 days in japan

Day 5-6 – Kyoto

Take an early morning Shinkansen to Kyoto from Tokyo. This bullet train will take 2 hours and 15 minutes. As with all Shinkansens, you can book your seats in advance at any JRail Station, I would advise doing this, as some trains do get extremely busy. On this route, book a seat on the right-hand side of the train for a view of Mt Fuji. Fuji-san comes into sight a little under an hour after leaving Tokyo and stays in view for around 10 minutes.

Once the capital of Japan, Kyoto is famous for its religious places, including 1,600 Buddhist temples and 400 Shinto shrines, as well as imperial palaces, geishas, gardens and traditional wooden architecture.

view of kyoto from torii gates, the perfect addition to a 2 day kyoto intinerary

Where to stay in Kyoto

If you are looking for affordable yet private accommodation during your 2 days in Kyoto then I would recommend the Gion Ryokan Q-beh in the Gion District. We stayed in a private traditional Ryokan room but there are also shared dorm rooms available as well. I found the Q-beh in an excellent location central to the main tourist attractions mentioned in this itinerary as well as close to the main transport links.

However, it is important to note the Gion district does close quite early, therefore you would need to go to the Kyoto Central area for dinner and drinks, from our accommodation, this meant catching a 20-minute bus.  If you prefer to be close to evening entertainment then I would recommend staying at the Ibis Styles which is located opposite the main train station in central Kyoto.

Accommodation is often in high demand in Kyoto so ensure you book well in advance

The things to do in Kyoto

When planning your time in Kyoto please refer to my efficient 2 day Kyoto itinerary. This guide shares the top things to do in Kyoto, the best places to eat as well as all the information you need on how to get around Kyoto.

japan guide book in bamboo forest japan

Kyoto Highlights include –

  • A traditional tea ceremony
  • A walk around the Gion District
  • Visiting the Bamboo Forest
  • A walk through the Fushimi Inari shrine
  • Ninja training at Ninja Dojo

couple in the bamboo forest japan

Day 7 – Nara

On day 7 take a day trip from Kyoto to Nara. Nara Station can be accessed from Kyoto Central Station on the JR line and the journey will take roughly 45 minutes on the express train.

Nara is home to the famous Nara Deer Park, a great way to ethically see animals in Japan. Nara Park is home to over 1,000 sacred deer. Though born wild, the deer have become extremely wise to tourists and have chosen to interact if there is food involved (please be sure to only feed the deer food available for purchase in the park).

Deer crackers are available to purchase for ¥200 with all proceeds going towards the care of the deer. After purchasing your deer crackers, the deers will quickly find you and you will be quickly surrounded by many, many deer.

lady feeding the deers of nara park

Located inside Nara you will also find the Todaiji Temple, a Buddhist temple complex that was once one of the powerful Seven Great Temples.

Both the Todaiji Temple and Nara Deer Park are free to visit.

For a great place to eat in Nara, I recommend Monks on the Moon.

Day 8-9 – Osaka

From Kyoto take an early morning Shinkansen to Osaka, this journey will take roughly 30 minutes. Osaka is Japan’s third-largest city and a popular stop on the tourist trail for first-time visitors to Japan. Like Tokyo, Osaka is a big city as opposed to the more relaxing Kyoto.

Where to stay in Osaka:

We stayed in Book and Bed Shinsaibashi which I fully recommend if you are a literary enthusiast. Book and Bed is a hostel where each of the capsule beds is encased inside a huge bookcase, it is, without doubt, the coolest hostel I have stayed in. I will never normally book a dorm room in a hostel but as soon as I saw the photos I knew I had to stay here.

Not only is it well located it is a really unique experience to have when visiting Japan.

book and bed hotel osaka

What to do in Osaka

When planning your time in Osaka please refer to my post on the top things to do in Osaka, this post includes the top places to eat in Osaka, places to avoid in Osaka, as well as some fun day trips if you have a bit more time.

neon lights in osaka, japan

Osaka highlights include: 

  • Take in the bright lights of Dotonbori
  • Visit the beautiful Osaka Castle
  • Take a day trip to Universal Studios Osaka and visit the Wizarding World of Harry Potter. Book your tickets in advance to skip-the-line on admission, this will save you a lot of time.
  • Visit the Osaka Pokemon DX Center and Pokemon Cafe
  • Go shopping in Shinsaibashi
  • Visit the old neighbourhood of Shinsekai

Day 10 – Tokyo

I would recommend travelling back to Tokyo from Osaka on the evening of day 9. Osaka is a lot smaller than Tokyo and therefore you should be able to see the majority of it during the 2 allocated days. This will leave you will a full last day in Tokyo.

You can either use this day to cover areas you may have missed on your first visit, or do what we did and go to Tokyo Disney!

volcano at disneysea, japan a great way to end 10 days in japan

Tokyo is home to two Disney Parks, Disneyland and DisneySea. Disneyland is home to the castle and is similar to the more traditional Magic Kingdom parks around the world, whereas DisneySea is unlike any other park.

DisneySea is based around the idea of water and the Oceans and is the park I recommend visiting. While the characters are not as present in DisneySea, the theming throughout the park is impeccable and stunning, there are also more thrill rides in this park too.

Where possible, visit the parks during the weekdays as opposed to weekends, to avoid long queue times. I would always recommend buying your park tickets in advance as well, this will prevent additional queuing time on arrival – saving you more time for the rides!

You have now come to the end of your 10 days in Japan! Japan is a fantastic country, one that you will keep on wanting to return too. This itinerary aims to be efficient in order for you to get the most out of your 10 days, enabling you to see as much as possible while still giving you time to enjoy it.

You can see all of my Japan posts here to help you further plan your trip and remember to book your JRail Pass here before arriving in Japan.

two people posing outside of osaka castle

This post was created as part of my Brand Ambassador role with Marco Polo Guides, however, as always, all opinions and love for the guides are my own.

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