From it’s bright neon city-lights and ancient temples, to it’s super fast trains and amazing toilets. Japan is one of the coolest and most unique places I’ve ever been. We spent just over 1 month in Japan and I still felt sad to leave, it was just so different to anywhere else we have been.
During our time in Japan we experienced the worst typhoon to hit Japan in 25 years, we also experienced lots of extremely high temperatures (up to 38 degrees celsius) and lots of rain! Despite this, we still found travelling in Japan to be ridiculously nice, efficient, clean, safe, easy and relaxing. Which wouldn’t usually be our thing, yet the culture in Japan is completely unique, there’s just nowhere else in the world quite like it. Maybe August- September isn’t the best time to visit, or maybe we just had bad luck with the weather!
Despite the weather – we were really happy with our route in the end, we flew into Tokyo and then spent the majority of our time in central Honshu where we travelled with Shaun’s parents, once they left we travelled to Western Honshu plus 1 stop on Kyusha island at the end before we flew to South Korea.
Here is our suggested 1 month in Japan itinerary:
Tokyo (5-7 nights)
We actually had 12 nights in Tokyo, as we firstly had 8 nights there while we waited for Shaun’s parents to arrive and then another 4 nights with them once they arrived. Even after 12 days in Tokyo we still hadn’t ran out of things to do!
We would suggest a minimum of 4 full days in Tokyo to see the main sights, but even then your days will be very jam packed if you wanted to see everything! So you could easily spend longer here if you had the time, there’s just so much to do. About 7 nights is probably perfect.
Top things to do in Tokyo:
- Don’t miss the gaming arcades and neon lights in the anime- obsessed land of Akihabara
- Experience the cultural side of ‘Old Tokyo’ in Ueno
- Visit the Sensō-ji temple in Asakusa (and eat some menchi-katsu at ‘Asakusa Menchi’)
- Go Kawaii mad in Harajuku, Tokyo’s centre of pop-culture
- Head out for evening drinks and more bright city lights in Shinjuku
- Spend a morning at the legendary Tsukiji Fish Market (I read this might be closing soon though!)
- Go shopping in Shibuya and walk across the world’s single busiest pedestrian crossing
- For more high-end shopping, head to Ginza
- Experience one of Tokyo’s ‘themed cafes’ from cat cafe’s to maid cafes!
Where to stay in Tokyo:
We spent our first week in ‘Oak Hostel Fuji‘ in Asakusa, it was one of the best hostels we have ever stayed in and highly recommend! We spent the rest of our time staying in ‘Hostel East57 Asakusabashi’, another good hostel but the layout of the huge dorms made it a bit noisy, but the location was absolutely fantastic!
2. Hakone (2 nights)
We next took a train from Tokyo to Odawara using our Japanese Rail Pass and then switched for another train to Hakone- Yumoto train station. Hakone is known for it’s natural hot springs, beautiful scenery and the view across Lake Ashinoko of the famous Mount Fuji (if it’s not raining like it did for us!).
Hakone is a good place to splurge on a traditional Ryokan or an Onsen hotel, where you can sleep in a traditional Japanese-style room, relax in the hot springs (yes, you do have to go in completely naked!) and go for your traditional Japanese dinner in your kimono (some places also serve you dinner in your room).
What to do in Hakone:
Aside from experiencing an Onsen, spend 1 full day in Hakone doing the ‘Hakone Circuit’ which involves a mountain train, ropeway, cable car, boat trip across the lake and a bus back.
Tip Tip: Don’t forget to purchase a ‘Hakone Free Pass’ this covers all your above transport and travel around Hakone
Where to stay in Hakone:
We stayed in Hakonenomori Okada (an onsen hotel) and absolutely loved it! The dinner there was the best meal of our trip.
3. Kyoto (6-7 nights)
From Hakone-Yumoto station we took a train back to Odawara where we switched to the bullet train which took us to Kyoto. There is SO much to see in Kyoto, staying here for a week would allow you to see all the main sights as well as do a couple of day trips out from here.
Things to do in Kyoto:
- Kiyomizu-dera temple
- Do a cooking class (we recommend Initia cooking class – you get to learn how to cook in their family home!)
- Fushimi Inari hike – a steep walk through hundreds of red tori gates
- Sanjusangendo temple, with 1000 golden Buddha statues
- Kyoto Railway Museum
- Toji Temple
- Arashiyama Bamboo Grove
- Shopping in Gion
- Nishiki food market
- Day trip to Nara, a temple and deer filled park
Where to stay in Kyoto:
We stayed in ‘Stay Inn Kyoto Gojo‘ and it was again one of the best accommodations of our trip, we had our own little apartment with cooking facilities and a washing machine! So it was perfect to have dinner in and do laundry after long days exploring. Close by is a fantastic Coco Curry House! (Japanese curry chain)
4. Kanazawa (3-4 nights)
From Kanazawa, we hopped on the Thunderbird train direct to Kanazawa. Kanazawa is famous for it’s castle and beautiful Japanese gardens, unfortunately again the weather was not kind to us, it rained our whole way around the gardens, but they were still beautiful even in the rain. Kanazawa is also a good base to do a day trip into the Japanese Alps.
What to do in Kanazawa:
- Kenroku-en gardens – the most famous gardens in Kanazawa
- Kanazawa Castle
- D.T. Suzuki Museum, all about ‘Zen’
- 21st Century Contemporary Art Museum
- Shirakawago day trip – a village in the Japanese Alps. You can take a bus from Kanazawa train station to Shirakawago.
Where to stay in Kanazawa:
We stayed in ‘Shaq Bighouse‘ in a traditional Japanese- style private room with futon beds.
5. Osaka (2 nights)
From Kanazawa, we then took the Thunderbird train direct to Osaka.
What to do in Osaka:
- Dotonbori – head here for some shopping along the longest shopping street in Japan, followed by dinner and drinks.
- Osaka Castle – We had planned to visit the castle on our second day in Osaka but once again the weather was not on our side at ALL This was the day that the big typhoon arrived. So we spent the day inside our lovely hostel instead.
Where to stay in Osaka:
In Osaka we stayed in another wonderful hostel – Guesthouse U- en. We stayed here in a pod style dorm in a cute old Japanese wooden building.
6. Hiroshima (4 nights)
Next we were back on the bullet train heading West direct to Hiroshima.
What to do in Hiroshima:
- Hiroshima castle – it also has a really good museum inside
- The Peace Memorial Park and the Peace Memorial Museum. A very sombre experience but a must visit when in Hiroshima
- Shukkei-en gardens – very pretty gardens
- A day trip to Miyajima to see Itsukushima Shrine
Top tip: Make sure you try ‘Okonomiyaki’ (Japanese savoury pancake) they are great in Hiroshima!
Where to stay in Hiroshima:
We stayed in a lovely hostel called Hostel Mallika, in a pod-style dorm. This hostel is located in a perfect location right by the Peace Memorial Park.
7. Fukuoka (2 nights)
From Hiroshima we took a direct train to Fukuoka on the northern shore of Kyushu Island. This was our final stop before we flew from here to Busan in South Korea.
What to do in Fukuoka:
- Shopping Malls – Fukuoka is great for shopping (we enjoyed Canal City Mall), eating and drinking.
- Temples – there are also some nice old temples to stumble upon in Fukuoka, some of them are extremely old! (Shofukuji temple for example, is the oldest Zen Temple in Japan).
- City views – For a view of the city, you can either pay to go up the Fukuoka Tower or just head up to the rooftop garden at the top of JR Hakata City Mall for a free view like we did
Where to stay in Fukuoka:
We stayed in a lovely private room in Hotel Sunlike Fukuoka, it was one of the cheapest options we could find and was great value for money especially compared to all the other hotels in the area. Book in advance!
And that’s our suggested route for travelling around Japan! Japan impressed me even more than I thought. It was an amazing country to experience travelling in, it’s so clean and nice and the locals are so friendly and helpful, plus it has extremely delicious food (Japanese food is now my 2nd favourite food – after Indian food!). Plus, Japan wasn’t actually as expensive as we thought it would be. Just make sure you get a Japan Rail Pass!