First time in Japan? Make sure to check these places out
This blog is part of a series of travel tips for first-timers in Japan. Today, we will be looking at how to use your time in Japan if you are there for one week. I will make two weeks and three weeks blog post versions at a later stage.
1. Tokyo (2–3 Days)
Most international flights arrive in Tokyo, so we will be starting our Japan trip here. Depending on the time of your arrival, the first day should be spent on getting over your jet lag and maybe exploring a bit in your area around the hotel. If you are not sure which the best area to stay at is, feel free to check out my guide on Tokyo areas to stay in.
Tokyo is a massive city that you could easily spend months in and not see everything, but some must-see highlights include Senso-ji Shrine in Asakusa, Shibuya, Shinjuku and Harajuku, Skytree, Akihabara and more. But really just wandering around aimlessly in the city was one of my favorite things to do while over there and will certainly give you a good opportunity to see hidden gems in Tokyo.
2. Hakone (1–2 Days)
Just a couple of hours outside of Tokyo is Hakone, a lush mountain area famous for its many Japanese hot springs (Onsen(. Here, you can try a traditional Japanese Ryokan stay, including sleeping on Tatami floors, bathing in hot springs, and eating a typical Japanese Kaiseki course.
The Hakone area itself has many attractions worth checking out. If you are into art, the Hakone open-air museum is a wonderful place to spend a couple of hours. Owakudani is a sulfur mine, famous for black eggs which are cooked in the waters up here. If you are the sporty type, nearby Lake Ashinoko features a moderately difficult hiking trail as well as one of Japan’s most famous photo spots (pictured below). Finishing the night in your Ryokan, soaking in hot springs, and eating a delicious course meal; it doesn’t get much better than this.
3. Kyoto/Osaka (3–4 days)
Located in the Kanto region of Japan, Kyoto and Osaka are two prime tourist destinations that everyone should check out at least once. Kyoto is the ancient capital of Japan (until it was moved to Tokyo in the late 19th century) and was mostly spared from bombarding during WWII. Some of the country’s oldest and most important Temples and shrines, such as Kinkakuji and Kiyomizudera can be found here. Another highlight is the Fushimi-Inari shrine, a mountain temple complex featuring the famous red Torii gates below. Arashiyama bamboo forest is another must-see in every Kyoto itinerary.
Just 30 minutes away by train is Osaka, one of Japan’s biggest cities with a more open and laid-back vibe than Tokyo. Famous for street food, there are many stalls selling typical Takoyaki (Octopus dough balls) as well as Okonomiyaki (a pancake with cabbage and toppings to your liking). Osaka Castle is another place worth checking out, as well as the massive Kaiyukan aquarium featuring whale sharks.
Outside of Osaka and Kyoto, Nara is a popular day trip. This town used to be the old capital of Japan and features a massive temple complex with one of the county’s largest Buddha statues as well as many domesticated deer which will bow to you in exchange for snacks. Nara is easily reachable via train from both Osaka and Kyoto and can be done as a (half)- day trip.
If you are traveling for the first time in Japan, this itinerary gives you a good basic overview of what Japan has to offer: a massive city full of modern technology in Tokyo, ancient temples and shrines in Kyoto as well as great nature in Hakone. If you have more time, stay tuned for my two-week itinerary, which will be released soon!