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2 week Japan itinerary for the first-time visitor

Japan had been on our travel wish list for a looong time, so it wasn’t hard to pick a destination when we had 2 weeks of free time on our hands. Choosing an itinerary on the other hand wasn’t easy: Japan is bigger than you might think and has so much to offer. In the end, we cut the knot: we went for a cultural shock in overwhelming Tokyo, intriguing temples and traditions in Kyoto and day trips to Nikko and Nara, while catching a break from the city rush in beautiful Takayama and Kamikochi. And that leaves us with plenty of options for next time!

Is 2 weeks enough for Japan?

Two weeks is perfect for a first encounter with the Land of the Rising Sun. You could add Osaka, Hiroshima or Mount Fuji to your itinerary, but we made a deliberate choice not to make our schedule too busy. Even though public transport is fantastic, you shouldn’t underestimate the distances to cover. Moreover, we had to deal with a tyfoon – the worst one in 25 years it turned out – which forced us to turn our travelling plans upside down to avoid the eye of the storm. So, unfortunately we had to cross out Koyasan, but we’re definitely putting that on the list for next time. If you’re able to spend more than 2 weeks in Japan, just do it. You won’t be bored, promised.

We flewwith ANA (All Nippon Airways) directly from Brussels to Tokyo and back. You canalso choose to fly back from Osaka (normally with a stopover at Paris orvAmsterdam) depending on what your travel itinerary is going to be.

Best travel time for Japan

We travelled to Japan in September 2018. It’s a bit of a grey month but overall we were quite lucky with the weather, apart from the tyfoon that messed up our travel plans. Rain and tropical storms are not that uncommon for this period of the year. Generally speaking, we’d recommend avoiding the summer months since temperatures rise to uncomfortable tropical heights. Spring and autumn are the perfect seasons to go to Japan, not only in terms of temperature, but also because nature is showing its most beautiful side then. The amount of tourists, however, is rising accordingly, especially in springtime. So make sure to book your trains and hotels in advance when you’re travelling during high season.

Travelling around Japan

Public transport in Japan is heaven: Trains and busses are riding exactly on time which makes it hard to miss your connections. Don’t worry about being lost in translation: everything it indicated in English. There are also a few apps which will come in handy when travelling around Japan (More on that in a next blog post). Moreover, you’ll be impressed by the Japanese courtesy: queueing for a train or bus is the most normal thing in the world, there’s no pushing others around to get a seat… quite shocking to realize just how rude our own culture can be in that regard. And finally: if you’re planning to travel a lot by train, you might want to consider buying a JR Rail pass to save time and money. Our travel itinerary:

  • Tokyo: 4 full days + 1 day trip to Nikko
  • Kyoto: 4 full days, trip to Nara included
  • Takayama: 2 days, drive to Shinhotaka included
  • Kamikochi: 1 day hike
  • Tokyo: 1,5 days to finish off

Crazy Tokyo

Tokyo is an absolute must on your trip through Japan. Busy neon-lit neighbourhoods and stylish youngsters in trendy areas go hand in hand with the intriguing old Japan where traditions are kept in honor. There is so much to see and do that you could easily spend your entire holiday in Tokyo. Go shopping in Harajuku or Omotesando, visit the beautiful Zen garden of the Nezu museum or witness a traditional wedding ceremony near the Meiji Shrine. Tokyo has a surprise for you around every corner. Immerse yourself in crazy Tokyo with our tips for the coolest neighbourhoods and restaurants.

Nikko National Park

A two hour train ride will take you from Tokyo to stunning Nikko National Park. Get lost in these ancient forests with their impressive temples, or walk along the riverw here Jizo statues have been standing guard for centuries. It’s the perfect escape from the hustle and bustle in the capital. Discover why Nikko is a must do in this blogpost.

Jizo statue in Nikko

Traditional Kyoto

The old capital of Japan breathes history. Rent a bike and explore green Arashiyama in the west or go visit the iconic red Torii gates of Fushimi-Inari in the south. And if you’re tired of all the temples Kyoto has to offer, you can always sit down in one of the many restaurants or go for a sake tasting. No time to get bored here!

The Golden Temple in Kyoto
The Bamboo Forest in Arashiyama

Mysterious Nara

When you’re in Kyoto, don’t forget to put Nara on your to do list. It’s so worth a visit. You’ll walk around its grounds where tame deer are roaming around freely, and you’ll get to visit the most beautiful temples. Don’t miss out on the gigantic Buddha in Todai-ji or the hundreds of lanterns in Kasuga Taisha. You can read more details about Nara and how to get there in this post.

Todai-ji
Nara

Old Japanse charm in Takayama

Situated in the middle of the mountainous Hida region, Takayama is the perfect gate to the Japanese Alps. The old town centre is one of the few (and best) preserved ones in Japan. In addition, you’ll find the Hida Folk Village just outside town. Here, age-old houses from all around the region were brought together in some sort of open air museum. It’s an interesting stop where you’ll discover more about traditional Japanese life. Read more about Takayama here.

Hida Folk Village in Takayama

Nature at its best in Kamikochi

We chose a Japanese mountain hotel near the Shinotaka Ropeway as a base from which to start a day hike to gorgeous Kamikochi. After a challenging descent with unexpected clambering because of storm damage, a dive in one of the private onsen of the hotel was absolute heaven on earth. Discover why a mountain hike to Kamikochi is definitely worth your time.         

View at the top station of the Shinotaka Ropeway
Kamikochi

There’s a lot more to be told about intriguing Japan, so check out our other blog posts:

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