Based on my experience, this is my recommended itinerary for 2 weeks in Japan sharing what were the highlights and what you should leave out. To make the planning as easy as possible for you I’ve also included a budget breakdown and top tips for travelling in the country.

From cat cafes to cherry blossom picnics and robot shows to bowing deer….Japan is like nowhere else on the planet. It’s one of my favourite countries!

So while 2 weeks isn’t a lot of time, the efficient transport system makes it possible to fit in a lot. Most visitors will have a budget to stick to as it is a pricey destination. So you’ll want to do a fair bit of planning to make sure you make the most of your perfect Japan itinerary.

A few notes on my budget and travelling style

my travelling style is energetic and diverse. I wanted to see as much of Japan as I could and a good mix of city and towns, old and new.

I would say I was travelling on a low-medium budget….with a splash of luxury. It’s really worth stretching the budget for a couple of luxury nights in Japan! If you are 2 people (as I was – travelling with my husband) often the price of a double in a simple hotel works out the same as 2 people in a hostel room. A lot of the Ryokans also include meals so while they might seem expensive, once you’ve factored in the food they aren’t that bad.

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Before we start….

If you are new to this blog, I’m Bex Band – a full-time UK adventurer and founder of the women’s adventure community, Love Her Wild. I’m on a mission to make the travelling and going on adventures as easy as possible. You can read more about me here.

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2 week Japan itinerary

Prices below from my Japan 2 week itinerary are all per night for 2 people sharing a double room (updated 2020). I made all the bookings online in advance.

Tokyo – 2 nights
Osaka – 2 nights
Koy San – 1 night
Miyajima – 1 night
Kyoto – 3 nights
Hakuba – 2 nights
Yudanaka – 1 night
Tokyo – 2 nights

2 nights TOKYO

What did we do:
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.

Where did we stay:
Kiba Capsules Hotel – $45
A capsules hotel offering couples and single capsules. Such a great Japanese experience!!! Only worth staying here if you are a couple and looking to share as there are nicer capsule hotels available for singles. If you are looking for the best single room capsule you’ll want to check out Nine Hours.

If staying in a capsule hotel isn’t your thing I’d recommend the Knot Hotel Shinjuku ($75) which is in a great location and is a really nice hotel at a good price.

2 nights OSAKA

What did we do:
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.

Where did we stay:
Drop Inn Osaka – $60
Basic private Ryokan rooms at an affordable price. A very modern hotel with a great location (walking distance from the station which is handy) and helpful staff. Would definitely stay here again.

1 night KOYA SAN

What did we do:
This was 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.

Where did we stay:
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.

All the temples in the area are expensive but it is well worth the money. They also include an impressive breakfast and dinner experience.

1 night MIYAJIMA

What did we do:
We 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.

Where did we stay:
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. We saved a lot of money by not staying on the island. The ferry is easy to catch and runs until quite late so I don’t think it’s worth spending the extra to be on Miyajima Island unless you really want to.

Another option would be to use Hiroshima as your base as you need to pass through here to get to Miyajima Island. You are then conveniently located for visiting the Atomic Bomb museum with more restaurant and nightlife options for the evenings. I’d suggest staying at Hatchobori Hiroshima ($120 breakfast included) for its convenient location.

3 nights KYOTO

What did we do:
On the way to Kyoto, we broke up the journey and stopped at Hiroshima to see the A-Bomb memorial and museum (taking about 3 hours total….it was enough time as it’s not an easy museum to take in).

We also stopped at Himeji to visit the castle (we had 3 hours in the castle). For both, you can use railway lockers at the train stations to store suitcase.

For our 3 nights in Kyoto, we hired an electric bike (about $15 a day) which provided a great way to see the never-ending temples and the palaces.

Seeing a Geisha dance was particularly memorable (only available during cherry blossom season. Tickets are hard to come by but we used this website and asked them to organise the tickets for us). Our final morning in Kyoto, we visited NARA to see the giant Buddha and the bowing dear.

Where did we stay:
Kyoto Tower Hotel – $110
A great value hotel for Kyoto which is an expensive city. The location near the station makes it a perfect base for exploring.

If you want somewhere more budget then Piece Hostel ($50) is the place for you! There are also some really good Airbnb options in the area which have the advantage of a kitchen so you can save a lot of money on food as well.

If you’ve not used Airbnb before follow this link to get a £34 off your first booking.

2 nights HAKUBA

What did we do:
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.

Where did we stay:
Hakuba Onsen Ryokan Shirouma-so – $190 (breakfast and dinner)
Just amazing! A really fantastic family run ryokan – don’t hesitate to stay here. This felt like 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

What did we do:
We spent a night in Yudanaka which is the closest town to see the famous Snow Monkeys. Check my review below though to hear my thoughts on the snow monkeys….you’ll probably want to skip this!

Where did we stay:
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. Being around the family was what made this stay nice.

2 nights TOKYO

What did we do:
Returning to Tokyo, we 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!

Where did we stay:
Tokyo Hilton Odaiba – $220
Top, luxurious hotel – we like to finish our holidays in style. A comfortable location for the bay, close to Disney offering a free shuttle. Well worth splashing out on. With a rooftop infinity pool (AMAZING), phenomenal service and the biggest breakfast layout I’ve seen.

Details on the places we visited…

If you want more of a breakdown of the places we visited in Japan with more photos and suggestions, I kept a detailed journal along the way:

What was good & what would I change?

We managed to fit in a lot more than I thought was possible because trains are 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 without needing to stay overnight.

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 we were on the move and seeing lots.

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. If you weren’t keen on skiing though I would skip Hakuba in favor of Kanazawa.

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!

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If I dropped Yudanaka and Hakuba from the 2 week Japan Itinerary, I would have spent the extra days in Kanazawa visiting the famous garden and art museum with an overnight visit to Shirakawa-go and Gokayama on the way back to Toyko (see my suggested alternative Japan 2 week itinerary below).

Some people suggest having more time in Tokyo and Kyoto. For me, 3 days exploring both was enough time. Although there was more I wanted to see in Kyoto it is also very touristy so I was happy to have a change after a few days.

The perfect Japan 2 week itinerary

With all that in mind – if you weren’t desperate to see the snow monkeys or try your hand skiing then this could be an alternative itinerary:

Tokyo – 2 nights
Osaka – 2 nights
Koy San – 1 night
Miyajima – 1 night (staying in Hiroshima and doing Miyajima as a day trip)
Kyoto – 3 nights (day trip to Nara)
Kanazawa – 2 nights
Shirakawa-go and Gokayama – 1 night
Tokyo – 2 nights

When is the best time to visit Japan?

The most obvious answer is Spring to see the cherry blossom. Although it was busy, it was 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. Weatherwise it was sunny and pleasant but still a bit cold. Most days I was wearing my coat. It didn’t rain once while we were there.

Japan has very defined seasons. Summer can get very hot and uncomfortable and winter can be bitterly cold, even snowing. For this reason, Autumn is a more comfortable time to travel if you don’t want to go in spring. The Autumn colours across the country are also very pretty!

2 week Japan itinerary

Travel insurance for Japan

For insurance, we used World Nomads. They covered us for our full Japan trip including for adventurous activities (hiking and skiing).

You can get a quote with World Nomads using this link.

Japan Rail Pass – a must!!

The trains in Japan are very expensive. But if you are a visiting tourist you are eligible for a Japan Rail Pass. Getting this card is a no-brainer. It will give you unlimited travel across most of Japans rail networking allowing you free access to visit all the major places – Tokyo, Kyoto, Hiroshima, Kanazawa, Osaka, etc, etc.

The cost for the pass is:

7 Days – $275
14 Days – $437
21 Days – $559

To get a railcard just follow this link and purchase the length of time that you want. Do this in advance of your holiday. When you arrive in Japan, head to the JRP help desk (you’ll find them in airports and train stations) and swap your receipt for your bass booklet. There can sometimes be a bit of a queue so factor this in.

I’d suggest reading this helpful guide to using the pass which says where you can exchange your pass, where it is valid and how to reserve your seats. It is helpful to reserve seats if you can (it’s easy to do) as some of the journeys we took were busy and we would have been standing otherwise.

Budget for 2 weeks in Japan

The budget below is based per person for the entire 2 week Japan Itinerary laid out above.

The accommodation, which was double rooms shared between 2, has been split in half.

Our accommodation was a mix of budget stays with a few nights of luxury. We didn’t hold back on tickets or events…they’re just too good to miss. Food-wise I was more on the lower end budget (especially as I am a vegetarian) – eating from bakeries, supermarkets, and street food to save costs – with a few exceptions on expensive set menu meals.

Japan being expensive is a bit of a misconception!

I was really surprised by how cheap the holiday worked out to be. The Japan Rail Pass meant that we were able to travel a huge amount at a set price (we definitely got our moneys worth!) and most of the attractions we visited (like temples and museums) only cost a couple of pounds to go in or were free.

It’s not what you would call a cheap destination but it also wasn’t crazy expensive. I personally found it cheaper than London prices.

Breakdown of budget for 2 weeks in Japan:

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) – $80
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 – $3190 (roughly £2,553)

Top tips for visiting Japan

…….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. The supermarkets are bizarre and I often had no idea what I was buying!

……….vegetarian? It’s not an easy country to be veggie in. Check out my Guide to being vegetarian in Japan for some top tips.

…….If you eat fish, bento boxes are great. These are packed lunches that you can buy for journeys or picnics. You can get them from stall holders and shops in rail stations and shopping malls.

……Tipping is not the done thing in Japan and is even considered rude.

…..Ryokan’s are traditional Japanese inns. You should try to stay in at least one for the experience. They are often cheaper than in western hotels. I can also recommend checking out Airbnb, especially for longer stays, if you are trying to save money. You click here for £25 off your first booking with Airbnb.

……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 through.

…….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!

Resources for Japan 2 week itinerary

I’d recommend reading these books before heading to Japan:

  • Lonely Planet Japan – offers the most comprehensive guide to travelling around Japan
  • Memoirs of a Geisha – the streets of Kyoto come alive in this gripping story told from the perspective of a Geisha living in Japan
  • Shogun – another gripping international bestseller set in Japan!
  • Death Note – anime is everywhere in Japan and is read by people of all ages. Don’t knock it till you’ve tried it! The Death Note series is a really good anime book to start with.

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