Japan is a country of extremes. At the cutting edge of technology, Tokyo is a fast-paced futuristic place with its traditions very much planted in the old. Jump on a high-speed train from Tokyo; in no time you could be surrounded by mountains standing in front of an 11th-century Shinto Shrine – this is just how Japan rolls.
This 10-day itinerary is perfect for first-timers looking to experience a slice of Japanese life. Hitting world-famous cities like Tokyo, and Kyoto as well as picturesque gems like Hakone and Nara, 10 days may not be the most amount of time in Japan (you always want more), alas this itinerary will make them count.
Your 10-Day Japan Itinerary
Days 1 – 3: Tokyo
When visiting Japan, most tourists fly to Tokyo. Narita International is Japan’s largest airport and it is located just outside of the city. The journey into central Tokyo takes one hour and you will want to do it via the high-speed JR Narita Express (N’EX).
There are many districts to explore in Tokyo, each with its own traits and craziness. Shibuya, however, makes a great case for the best district to base yourself while in Tokyo. Home to the world’s busiest train station and intersection, a stay in Shibuya will be perfectly chaotic.
Other districts worth checking out on your three-day Tokyo whirlwind include Harajuku and Shinjuku. Harajuku for its trendsetting fashion, shopping, and food scenes. Shinjuku for its late-night energy. Streets lined with restaurants, bars, and nightclubs are everywhere in Shinjuku. It is also an inclusive district for Tokyo’s LGBTQ community.
Sightseeing-wise, Tokyo has it all. Whether you want to check out the Buddhist Sensoi Temple in Asakusa (Tokyo’s oldest and most significant Buddhist temple) or conquer Japan’s tallest structure the Tokyo Skytree, the Tokyo Metro will get you there.
There are literally thousands of ramen restaurants in Tokyo that each serves incredibly good ramen, but none do it like Ichiran Shibuya. Specialists in Tonkotsu Ramen, their unflinching pursuit of perfect pork bone ramen is something of a phenomenon.
Days 4 – 5: Hakone
One and a half hours on the high-speed, Hakone is a picturesque mountain town that will give you the chance to reset as you piece together your Tokyo whirlwind. One of the best ways to recharge the senses in Hakone is to soak the bones in an onsen (a natural hot spring in Japan). Revered for its healing powers, Onsen is everywhere in Japan, and it is a perfect tradition to experience in the fresh mountain air.
The Hyatt Regency Hakone Resort & Spa has been designed in a traditional ryokan style that feels elegant and offers a calming sense of place. It is conveniently located in the Gora district of Hakone which is famous for its open-air onsens that boast unimpeded views of Mount Fuji and beyond.
At the bottom of Hakone, you will find Lake Ashi with a valley view toward Mount Fuji that is to be photographed and remembered.
Along with the town’s many art galleries, historical sites, and parks, visiting Hakone Open-Air Museum is a delightful way to spend an afternoon. If you aren’t scared off by heights, the Hakone Ropeway is a valley-crossing gondola, that, unsurprisingly, offers more majestic, panoramic views. Whether you visit Japan in spring, summer, fall, or autumn, Hakone is a seasonal delight for the senses.
Days 6 – 8: Kyoto
Conveniently, Hakone is on the train line from Tokyo to Kyoto. So, after you have spent a couple of days enjoying Hakone’s slow pace and natural beauty it is time to hop aboard the high-speed – destination Kyoto. No Japanese vacation is complete without visiting the country’s ancient heart of Kyoto.
The city is home to thousands of Buddhist temples, Shinto shrines, imperial palaces, traditional gardens, and parks. To get a grasp of Kyoto’s importance, 17 of its historical sites are UNESCO World Heritage Listed and Kinkaku-Ji is one such site. On account of its striking color, this ancient Zen Buddhist temple is also known (unofficially) as the Golden Pavillion.
With its many paths lined by red tori gates, Fushimi Inari Shrine is another iconic landmark of Kyoto that you will have likely seen images of. Kiyomizu-Dera is the place to head at sunset. Perched atop a hill in eastern Kyoto, the balcony of this ancient Buddhist temple offers mesmerizing views over the city.
Filled with traditional wooden buildings, and idyllic hillside streets, Higashiyama Ward is one of Kyoto’s most historic and charming districts. This section of Kyoto is very authentic and is frequented by many visitors each year. If you are after somewhere to stay in Higashiyama Ward, the elegant hillside retreat of Park Hyatt Kyoto will enchant and relax you.
Adjacent to Higashiyama Ward, Gion is a district famous for its Geisha traditions. Walking the streets of Gion, you may spot Geisha entering/ exiting the many private clubs and tea rooms of the area. Gion is also home to Yasaka Shrine, which is a Shinto Shrine of immense beauty. This little snapshot of Kyoto can be convincingly achieved in three days to offer an inside and out view of the city.
Days 9 – 10: Nara
Nara was the capital of Japan for a period of time between 710 and 794. As a result, the city is home to a total of eight UNESCO World Heritage Sites. Collectively, they are known as the “Historic Monuments of Ancient Nara”.
There are many places where you could spend your last night in Japan – Hiroshima, and Osaka being two of them. Nara, however, has something special going for it that we think makes it the perfect place to visit before heading back to Tokyo.
One of the coolest things about Nara is the city’s wild deer population. They are often seen cruising its forests, parks, and streets, with a particular connection to the World Heritage Listed Kasuga-Taisha Shrine. Other historical sites that are worth checking out include Toshodai-ji, Todiji, Shosoin, Akishinodera, and Kofuku-Ji. These are among the city’s Seven Great Temples.
Nara’s former merchant district, Naramachi is an ideal district to take an afternoon stroll. In close proximity to Naramachi, there are many chic and boutique hotels perfect for a cheeky one-night stay. The JW Marriott Hotel Nara is one such luxe lodging. Day 10 sees you heading back to Tokyo and onto Narita International, feeling all warm and fuzzy from your 10-day trip of a lifetime through Japan.
As you can see, Japan doesn’t do things in halves. From ancient times to the modern-day, whatever Japanese people decide to put their worth and energy into, gets executed to perfection. We hope this 10-day itinerary has given you the inspiration to book your dream vacation to Japan today so that you’re sipping sake tomorrow.