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Japan is a mesmerizing archipelago where ancient traditions blend with modern technology, where sake is sipped daily and mountain paths are tackled by intrepid travelers searching for hidden onsens. But choosing how long to spend on any one of the thousands of islands that make up the country is a difficult task. From the sandy beaches of the southern islands to the powdered ski slopes of the north, there are lots of lands to cover, so keep reading to find out how to design the best Japan itinerary and make the most of your time in the land of the rising sun.
It’s tricky to precisely say how long you should spend in Japan as it depends on what you’re interested in, and how much ground you want to cover. If your only goal is sightseeing, we’d recommend opting for a Japan itinerary of around seven days, at least. The best kind of Japan trip shouldn’t rush you from one place to the next but should offer an in-depth guide to every place you visit.
With seven days as your minimum holiday duration, what’s the maximum? Well, there is no limit! But if you have a job that you need to return to, we’d cap it at three weeks and split it out between the primary islands of Hokkaido, Honshu, Kyushu, and Shikoku. There’ll be plenty of time to stop off at some lesser inhabited, paradise-like, islands along the way too!
On your seven-day Japan travel itinerary, you’ll probably stick to the main island of Honshu and cover one or two of the three biggest cities — Tokyo, Kyoto, and Osaka. We recommend tackling Tokyo first and visiting Sensō-Ji temple, Meiji Jingu Gardens and the Imperial Palace. Spend three days in Tokyo and you’ll also have time to visit Ueno park, the Tokyo national museum, and Tokyo’s Shinjuku area, soaking up the cities culture as you go. From Tokyo, it’s just a four-hour train journey to Kyoto or Osaka. In Kyoto, you can expect to enjoy kaiseki dining traditions, explore imperial palaces and visit the Arashiyama bamboo grove. If you opt for three days in Osaka you’ll be admiring modern architecture, dining on hearty street food, and visiting the 16th century Osaka castle.
For more inspiration, check out out list of 7-day tours in Japan.
Those with a little more time to spare should consider a 10-day Japan itinerary. With this amount of time, you could visit Tokyo, Kyoto and Osaka, and still take a self-guided tour of the Kumano Kodo trail, which forms part of Japan’s ancient pilgrim highways and is dotted with religious temples. If you’re an outdoor enthusiast and a seasoned walker, the trails here range from family-friendly routes to difficult but rewarding treks. We’d recommend spending two days in Tokyo before taking the bullet train to Kyoto and heading out to the mountains. The towns of Tsumago, Nojiri, Kiso-Fukushima, Yabuhara, and Koromo are all good starting (or ending) points for day-long hikes.
Two weeks is one of the most popular time-frames for exploring Japan as you can really soak up city-life and local culture before heading out into the countryside to explore mountain trails on foot or visit lesser-known villages. Start by enjoying the very best of Tokyo by dining like a king on sushi and sipping house-brewed sake. Be sure to visit Kanawaza’s Omicho market at your leisure to sample fresh Japanese sample dishes and ingredients. We recommend spending three days in Tokyo and two to three days in Osaka or Kyoto before heading further afield. Once you’ve finished soaking up the cities of east and central Honshu island, head further west to Hiroshima and spend two days learning more about the history of WWII and the atomic bomb. From here, head back to Tokyo via the Takayam region to trek the Japanese Alps for a further day or two. This should leave you with plenty of time to move across the island and enjoy a wide variety of landscapes.
If you’re lucky enough to have three or more weeks in Japan, then you’re going to want to get a Japan travel pass and ride the bullet train across the country at 200mph. Again, we recommend starting in Tokyo and soaking up the city life before you zoom across Honshu to Kyoto and Osaka. From here, you could head north to the island of Hokkaido and bathe in natural hot springs amongst cedar trees, fly south to the tranquil beaches of Okinawa, or tackle the Japanese Alps with ski poles in hands. A three-week Japan itinerary is just the right amount of time to soak up cities, coastline, and mountains.
A 3-week itinerary is a perfect trip duration for those keen on exploring lesser-known islands. During these three magical weeks in Japan, immerse yourself in lush green forest to find hidden hot springs in Yakushima island, enjoy a remote wildflower-covered escape in the summer or stand knee-deep in snow in the winter on Rishiri island. If you’re a water enthusiast, add the emerald waters and soft sand beaches of Sado island to the end of your trip.
Traveling to Japan? Chat with a local travel specialist in Japan who can help organize your trip.
Jeff Aasgaard Travel Expert in Japan
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