From cat cafes to cherry blossom picnics and robot shows to bowing deer, Japan is like no where else on the planet. You could easily spend months wandering bewilder in this bizarre and dynamic country, but my busy 2 week Japan itinerary provided the perfect amount of time to have a taster and to get to know the highlights of Japan.
After years of wanting to go to Japan I was so excited to finally have my flights booked. Because of work commitments, I could only squeeze in 14 days. With so much on offer, deciding where to go though was really tough and I spent hours researching and looking for recommendations online. Finally, I came up with what I thought was the best 2 week Japan itinerary.
2 week japan itinerary
Prices are all per night for 2 people sharing a double room. I made all the bookings through Booking.com.
2 nights TOKYO
I used these 2 days to see the highlights of the city going to Shibuya park (and the crossing), taking a boat ride, seeing the markets of Asakusa and catching a show at the Robot Restaurant.
Kiba Capsules Hotel – $45
A capsules hotel offering couples and single capsules. A comfortable place and a great experience for a night. Only worth staying here if you are a couple and looking to share as there are nicer capsule hotels available for singles.
2 nights OSAKA
The first day I saw a sumo wrestling match and spent the evening in Dotonbori, a packed district full of restaurants, shops and lights. The second day I spent at Universal Studios.
Drop Inn Osaka – $60
Basic Ryokan rooms at an affordable price. A very modern hotel with a great location and helpful staff. Would stay here again.
1 night KOYA SAN
My favourite place of the trip, don’t hesitate to visit. The journey initially seems complicated but was very easy and didn’t take long. While there we saw the Okunoin Cemetery both in the day and at night (completely different experiences) and spent the rest of the time enjoying our temple lodgings with its traditional monk cuisine.
Shukubo Fudoin – $240 (dinner & breakfast included)
Incredible Temple lodgings with beautiful grounds, delicious vegan cuisine, a modern onsen and friendly monks. I loved staying here, it was a highlight of the trip. You can even join the monks in the morning to observe the morning prayer.
1 night MIYAJIMA
I arrived on the island by early afternoon to get the cable car to the top of Mt Misen before watching the sunset behind the Torii gate.
Coral Hotel – $65 (breakfast included)
A simple western hotel right by the Miyajima ferry port, offering good views of the island. Basic but comfortable and cheap.
3 nights KYOTO
On the way to Kyoto, I broke up the journey and stopped at HIROSHIMA to see the A-Bomb memorial and museum (taking about 3 hours total). I also stopped at HIMEJI to visit the castle (had 2 hours in the castle). Used railway lockers at the train stations to store suitcase.
In Kyoto I hired an electric bike which provided a great way to see the never-ending temples and the palace. Seeing a Geisha dance was particularly memorable. Our final morning in Kyoto, we visited NARA to see the giant buddha and the bowing dear.
Capsule Ryokan Hotel – $70
For Kyoto this place is great value. Clean and modern hotel offering very small rooms sleeping on Ryokans. Great location and I can really recommend staying here.
2 nights HAKUBA
We arrived late in Hakuba so spent the evening enjoying the mountainous views and having numerous hot spring baths. The following day I went to see the olympic jump before having my first ever skiing lesson.
Hakuba Onsen Ryokan Shirouma-so – $190
A really fantastic family run ryokan. Traditional japan with a lot of luxury. The food here was also great. I loved my stay here, definitely worth the price for a bit of luxury.
1 night YUDANAKA
I spent a night in Yudanaka which was the closest town to see the famous Snow Monkeys.
Yudanaka Seifuso – $110
A very traditional family run ryokan. The family don’t speak a word of english but are sweet and welcoming. The rooms were just ok and I didn’t think the quality of the hotel compared to others we had stayed in.
2 nights TOKYO
Returning to Tokyo, I spent the first day in Uneo park experiencing the cherry blossom in full bloom and all the festivities. The final day was spent at DisneySea – a lot of fun!
Tokyo Hilton Odaiba – $250
Top, luxurious hotel. A comfortable location for the bay, close to Disney offering a free shuttle with world class service and the best breakfast spread I have ever seen. Well worth splashing out on. With a rooftop infinity pool, phenomenal service and the biggest breakfast layout I’ve seen. This is the best hotel I’ve ever stayed in.
What was good and what would I change?
I managed to fit in a lot more than I had planned as the trains were just so quick and easy. They are also very comfortable and clean so I didn’t feel tired from the long journeys. The train station lockers are great for fitting in quick stops to see sights along the way. This 2 week Japan itinerary was busy but I felt like it was a good pace. The hot onsen most evenings meant that I felt like I got lots of relaxation time even though most days I was on the move.
Koya San, although a bit tricky to get to, really is a definite. Miyajima makes a great day out, but I wouldn’t spend any more than a day there. Hakuba also turned out to be really fun, and I loved skiing, seeing the mountains and also experiencing a different side to Japan.
The biggest disappointment was Yudanaka. It was expensive to get to (it wasn’t covered by the JR Pass) and took a long time. The monkeys themselves are in a grotty area and there really is nothing else to do in the area. They throw rice into the pools to make the monkeys go in them as it wasn’t that cold when I was there. Don’t go – it’s not worth it!
I also personally wouldn’t bother visiting Osaka unless you have Sumo tickets or, like me, are desperate to go to Universal Studios to see the Wizarding World of Harry Potter. Osaka is extremely modern but with less character than Tokyo. In terms of theme parks, Universal Studios is fun, but DisneySea was a lot better with loads more to see and generally a better atmosphere.
If I dropped Yudanaka or Osaka from the 2 week Japan Itinerary, I would have spent the extra days in Kanazawa, doing a day trip to Shirakawa-go and Gokayama, to break up the journey to Hakuba. I wouldn’t have spent any more time in Tokyo as I felt 3 days sightseeing allowed me to see the best bits, or Kyoto as, although it was an amazing city, it was also very touristy.
Spring is a busy time to go because of the cherry blossom. Although it is busy, it is mostly with Japanese tourists who are quiet and considerate so the crowds didn’t feel too much. It is well worth going for the blossom as it makes the whole country look so pretty and there is a real sense of excitement and celebration. It will also give you an opportunity to see the Geisha Spring Dance.
The budget below is based on per person costs for the entire 2 week Japan Itinerary laid out above. The accommodation, which was double rooms shared between 2, has been split in half. Generally, my spending habits for this trip were mid range. I balanced staying in cheaper accommodation with a couple of luxury stays which I think worked really well. Even the cheaper hotels are clean and to a high standard. I didn’t hold back on tickets or events. Food wise I was more on the lower end budget (especially as I am a vegetarian) with a few exceptions on expensive set menu meals.
Japan being expensive is a misconception. I was really surprised by how cheap the holiday worked out to be, with day to day costs of drinks and snacks being very low. Ryokan accommodation provides a cheap alternative to western hotels and in most places offers just as much comfort and bags more character. The Japan Rail Pass meant that I was able to travel a huge amount at a set price (we definitely got our moneys worth!) and most of the attractions I visited only cost a couple of pounds to go in, or were free.
Flights (from London to Tokyo return, via Warsaw on using Lot airlines)- $830
Accommodation – $870
Transport (14 day Japan Rail pass) – $360
Food (Daily cost averaged $30 which in most cases was street food lunch/snacks and a low-average priced dinner) – $420
Sumo Wrestling tickets – $80
Geisha Dance Tickets – $60
Universal Studio Tickets (with express 7 pass) – $160
DisneySea Ticket – $60
Skiing (equipment hire, lift pass and a private 2 hour lesson) – $150
Daily costs (averaging $20 a day for entry to temples, drinks, small souvenirs) – $280
TOTAL – $3270 (or £2300)
- The first thing you should do if you are visiting Japan is purchase a Japan Rail Pass – an easy decision for any visitor. This pass gives you unlimited journeys on most of Japans super fast, super slick trains. Individual tickets for trains are very expensive so you often make your money back on 2 or 3 journeys alone. Book this is advance.
When you arrive in Tokyo head to the JRP help desk to collect your pass booklet (we had to queue for 45mins).
- For a lot of train journeys you can book seats in advance which is worth doing as if it is busy you will have to stand. Book them from a help desk at the train stations.
- Buying the tickets in advance is essential as everything sells out – but problematic because the sites are all in Japanese. We used Buy Sumo Tickets who were brilliant. Not only did they get us sumo tickets but they also brought our Geisha show and Universal Studio tickets for just a small fee.
- I struggled with the food, especially as I am a vegetarian and wish I had brought some snack bars with me to save me the hassle of finding something for the journeys
- If you eat fish, bento boxes are great – packed lunches that you can buy for journeys or picnics
- Tipping is not done in Japan and is even considered rude
- If you stay in a ryokan, you will need to take your shoes off before entering either the building or the room. There will be slippers available for you to use and somewhere to store your shoes
- I was surprised that barely anyone spoke english. People are incredibly kind and helpful though so I never got stuck. If there is something you need to communicate (like eating preferences), get someone with good english to write it down in Japanese on a piece of paper which you can show people
- Unless you are happy being naked in front of other people, you will need to book hotels with private onsen which are considerably more expensive. The Japanese are incredibly polite and discrete so public bathing isn’t daunting. Learn the etiquette before you go though, it’s different – check out my Japanese bathroom guide.
- There are lots of new customs to get used to in Japan but don’t worry about offending people. The Japanese are very forgiving and understanding.
If you found this Itinerary useful and want to fund out more, check out my other blogs. Like 10 Unmissable Japan Experiences.
You can also find a more detailed breakdown of my visit; Japan: part 1, Japan: part 2 and Japan: part 3. Also, learn a bit of bathroom etiquette before you go. For any vegetarians, I put together a guide to help you survive Japans food (you’ll need it!).