Ultimate Japan Itinerary for first time visitors (14-Day Japan Itinerary)

In this post, we share our ultimate Japan itinerary for first time visitors. We walk your trough the itinerary day-by-day and tell exactly where to go, what highlights not to miss as well as a few things we learned along the way that might come in handy when traveling Japan!

Planning your first trip to Japan can be quite overwhelming. There is so much to see and do and only very limited time. We know, we definitely struggled when building our Japan itinerary at first. We didn’t want to miss out on anything, but at the same time we also did not want to rush through everything either.

After experiencing this Japan itinerary ourselves first-hand, we optimized a few minor things to built the best possible version for you. And in this post we will now share our resulting ultimate first-time Japan itinerary!

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How to spend 14 days in Japan – An Itinerary for first time visitors

This Japan itinerary is a two-week or 14-day Japan itinerary. However, if you are traveling from overseas, you might need to add travel time accordingly depending on where you are coming from. The 14-day time-frame starts on the day you arrive in Japan and ends on the day you depart.

We consider this an ideal itinerary for first-time visitors, since it covers most well-known places of Japan i.e. Tokyo, Kyoto and Osaka. But it also gives you a glimpse into some more rural places like Takayama.

Of course this itinerary is meant to serve as an inspiration. So take the things you like and change what you would do differently based on you interests! For instance, you can always shorten or lengthen your time in certain places. We allocated quite some time to Tokyo, but maybe you prefer to spent more time in Kyoto instead!

What you should know before you go

Just, real quick, before getting into this itinerary, let’s first talk about a few organizational details. And by that we mean: how to get to Japan, how to get around once you are in Japan as well as what are some essentials you will need when traveling around Japan!

Getting to Japan – Book your flights to Japan

Since Japan is an island, whether you are traveling from a close-by country or from overseas, chances are you will probably fly to Japan. For this itinerary specifically, you should be flying into Tokyo, since the latter is the start and end point of our Japan itinerary for first-time visitors!

Tokyo has two major airports: Tokyo Haneda Airport and Narita Airport. Which one you will be flying to mostly depends on the airline you choose and does not really matter in terms of travel-planning. While Narita Airport is located further away from Tokyo, both airports are well connected. You should not have any trouble getting to the city from either one!

โœˆ๏ธ Search for flights via Trip.com*

A tip for battling jet lag (for oversea travelers)

We landed at Tokyo Haneda Airport around 4 p.m. and after getting through customs, baggage claim and reaching our hotel, it was already well after 6 p.m.! After a quick dinner, we called it an early night and woke up the next morning bright and early, ready to explore!

This was the easiest we ever got over jet lag! So, if you have the possibility to do so, opt for a flight that lands later in the day in order to get over your jet lag a bit more easily.

How to get around – Do you need a JR Pass?

By far the easiest way to get around Japan is by train. All the cities and locations in this Japan itinerary are easily accessible by train, which is why we would definitely recommended you to mainly rely on train travel when getting around the country. Especially, if it is your first time in Japan!

We booked a 14-day JR-Pass before our arrival in Japan and would recommend you do the same. Of course you should always inquire beforehand, whether or not the JR-Pass is worthwhile, especially since prices were raised substantially in 2023!

However, for this itinerary, you will be taking the shinkansen a number of times and a lot of JR-trains as well! In case you want proof we detailed all major journeys you will have to take, which are included in the JR-Pass, down below!

๐Ÿš‹ Travel around Tokyo using the numerous JR Lines such as e.g. the JR Yamanote Line.
๐Ÿš… Take the shinkansen from Tokyo to Nagoya, then JR Hida Limited Express to Takayama.
๐Ÿš… JR Hida Limited Express from Takayama to Nagoya, then shinkansen from Nagoya to Osaka.
๐Ÿš‹ Travel around Osaka using the Osaka Loop Line (which also takes you to USJ)
๐Ÿš‹ Travel from Osaka to Nara using the JR Yamatoji Line.
๐Ÿš… Take the shinkansen from Osaka to Kyoto.
๐Ÿš… Take the shinkansen from Kyoto to Odawara (Hakone).
๐Ÿš… Take the shinkansen from Odawara (Hakone) to Tokyo.
๐Ÿš‹ The JR Pass can also come in handy for other day trips such as e.g. travel to Nikko, Kamakura or Yokohama from Tokyo.
โœˆ๏ธ Airport Transfer from and to Tokyo Haneda and Narita Airport!

Note: Be aware that you need to book your JR-Pass before your arrival in Japan! The JR-Pass will be send to your home address, which MUST NOT be in Japan.

Japan Travel Essentials you should have

๐Ÿ“ฑ Japanese Unlimited Data SIM Card*. Book your SIM Card even before heading to Japan. That way you can easily pick it up at the airport once you arrive. 

๐Ÿš… JR Pass*. For this itinerary a JR Pass is recommended to make your trip easier! More information on why you should get one in the previous section!

๐Ÿ’ณ Suica Card. Get yourself a Suica Card to facilitate paying for public transport where the JR Pass is not accepted e.g. most subway systems! For more information click here!

๐Ÿˆฏ Google Translate. When faced with Japanese Kanji, Hiragana and/or Katakana on a sign or menu, you will be relieved to be able to at least grasp the general meaning using this app!

๐Ÿ—บ๏ธ Google Maps. Use Google Maps for navigating through Japan. The latter gives you real-time public transport connections and can be a great help when trying to figure out how to get places!

Perfect 14-Day Japan Itinerary for first-time visitors

Now that we got all the organizational stuff out of the way, let’s get into the itinerary itself!

Overview of the 14-Day Japan Itinerary on a Map!

In order to get a better grasp of where this itinerary will take you, we created a map that shows you exactly where you will be headed on this ultimate 14-Day Japan trip for first time visitors!

The map is then followed by a more detailed day-by-day description of the itinerary, the highlights included and links to all relevant information needed to make your trip a great success!

Day 1-3: Explore the bustling city of Tokyo

Where better to start off your Japan trip than the bustling metropolitan city of Tokyo itself? Three days are a good amount of time to cover the highlights of Tokyo. However, with the sheer size of this city you simply won’t be able to see everything.

There is always more to see and more areas to explore. So, choose wisely based on your interests an preferences. Down below you can find a quick overview of some of the highlights Tokyo has to offer!

Tokyo Highlights you should not miss!
โ›ฉ๏ธ Sensลji/Asakusa Temple. If you only visit one temple in Tokyo, let it be this one! Sensลji temple has a stunning pagoda and outer gate. The latter is connected to the temple via a lovely shopping street called Nakamise. Entrance fee: free of charge.

๐ŸŒ† Shibuya Crossing. No visit to Tokyo is complete without walking the famous Shibuya Crossing at least once. Shibuya area in general is a great area for shopping and entertainment. For the best experience, come after sunset.

๐Ÿ—ผ Tokyo Skytree. Or any other observation deck for that matter, Tokyo has quite a few. But, Tokyo Skytree happens to be the third-highest building in the world which makes it in our opinion slightly more interesting than the others. Entrance fee: Check fares on official website.

โ›ฉ๏ธ Meiji-Jingu Shrine. A beautiful wooden shrine located within a huge park near Harajuku Station. Buy an amulet and observe the Japanese way of praying at a shrine. If you are lucky you might even get a glimpse of a Japanese wedding! Entrance free: free of charge.

๐ŸŽฎ Akihabara. This area of the city is well-known to be the anime, gaming and tech center of Tokyo! If you come on a Sunday afternoon, the main road is closed for traffic and you will see numerous people, tourists and locals, roaming the streets of this funky district.

๐ŸŒ‰ Odaiba. An artificial island in the harbor of Tokyo. If you come for sunset, you can witness the city change colors in the background with the stunning Rainbow Bridge in the forefront!

๐Ÿฃ Tsukiji Outer Market. An area filled with small shops and stalls selling the freshest sea food items and sushi! Its best to come before noon, since most shops will close in the afternoon.

๐ŸŒƒ Shinjuku. The latter is a fun area of the city filled with restaurants and arcades. For the best experience come after sunset! This is also where you can find the famous Golden Gai street.

๐Ÿœ Ramen Street. A personal highlight was Ramen Street, an indoor area filled with numerous ramen restaurants, inside Tokyo Central Station.

Day 4-5: Plan a few day trips from Tokyo

We absolutely love day trips! Not only do you get to explore a new area or city, but also you can do so without having to drag all of your luggage there and without having to change your accommodation every day!

The surrounding area of Tokyo actually has quite a few awesome day trip destinations in store. We will give you a few popular day trip options for first-time Japan visitors down below. You can then choose any two options which most peak your interest to fill your day 4&5 with!

Option 1: Marvel at the stunning backdrops at Tokyo Disney Sea

Tokyo Disney Sea is a very unique theme park, as it is the only Disney Park in the whole world that is designed this way. Which of course makes it a very worthwhile day trip from Tokyo! Its landscapes are truly stunning and one of a kind. The newest addition ‘Fantasy Springs’ will opens in June 2024!

Be aware though that the park can get very, very busy – so if you happen to travel during peak season and are not that much of a theme park person, we would recommend to maybe give preference to the other day trip options.

Option 2: Venture out to see the Great Buddha in Kamakura

Kamakura is a Japanese seaside town that is located only about a 1 hour train ride away from Tokyo. The town is probably best known for its Great Buddha statue. However it is also home to a lovely shopping street, cozy cafรฉs and a few stunning shrines.

If you wish to explore Kamakura a bit more off the beaten path, we can recommend hiking the Daibutsu Hiking Trail! The latter is a moderate hike that takes you through Japanese forests (partially a bamboo forest too!), past small local shrines and temples all the way to the Great Buddha! If you wish to know a little more about this trail, head to our guide on How to spend a day in Kamakura hiking the Daibutsu Hiking Trail.

Option 3: Explore stunning shrines and temples in Nikko.

Despite being quite far away from Tokyo (125km), Nikko is one of the most popular day trips from Tokyo! Located at the entrance to the mountainous landscapes of Nikko National Park, Nikko itself is mainly known for being the home of beautifully decorated shrines and temples. Especially during autumn season, the backdrop becomes even more scenic and Nikko a preferred travel destination for many.

We would mostly recommend this day trip if you decide to get a JR Pass. The latter allows you to reach Nikko in about 1 hour and 40 minutes by taking the JR Tohoku Shinkansen followed by the JR Nikko Line. Otherwise a day trip to Nikko can get quite long and/or expensive.

Option 4: Stroll around the bustling Yokohama.

After Tokyo, Yokohama is actually the second largest city in Japan and located in Tokyo Bay as well. Some of its more popular attraction include Yokohama Chinatown, Minato Mirai -Yokohama’s business and entertainment center-, the popular Cup Noodle museum, Ramen museum as well as the harbor area of Yokohama among a few others.

Yokohama is a fun day trip for those that can’t quite get enough of the vibrant modern cities of Japan. Also it is a rather easy day trip from Tokyo travel-wise, since it can be reached very quickly and comfortably from Tokyo.

Day 6-7: Explore Takayama and Shirakawa-go.

On the sixth day of your trip, it is finally time to leave Tokyo behind and explore a new a bit more remote region of Japan. Take the shinkansen to Nagoya and from there the JR Hida Limited Express all the way to Takayama. The city of Takayama is tucked away in the beautiful Japanese Alps, surrounded by forests and crystal clear water streams.

The train ride into the mountains is quite scenic and already well worth the trip. The old-town center of Takayama is really charming as its streets are lines with traditional Japanese dark-wooden buildings. Take some time to stroll around the streets and explore the lovely little shops and stalls selling items from local craftsmanship.

As a tip: Takayama is quite a small regional town when compared to Tokyo and therefore most shops close by 5 p.m. and restaurants around 9 p.m.! So, make sure to eat your dinner early!

An absolute Must-Do from Takayama is a visit to Shirakawa-go, which we would recommend you do on day 7. The latter is a historic village that is also one of Japanยดs UNESCO World Heritage Sites.

For more information on how to get to Shirakawa-go from Takayama and what to see & do while there, head to our quick guide on : How to plan a day trip to Shirakawa-go.

Take the rest of the day to explore Takayama some more.

Takayama Highlights you should not miss!
๐Ÿฎ Takayama Old Town. Marvel trough the streets of the beautifully preserved Old Town of Takayama. 

๐Ÿ›๏ธ Miyagawa Morning Market. A small local market which runs daily from 6 a.m. to noon alongside Miyagawa River. Great to get a glimpse of local life and to shop for locally crafted souvenirs!

๐ŸŽ† Takayama Festival. Considered to be one of the most beautiful festivals in Japan, it is held twice a year, once in spring and once in autumn. Highly recommend attending if you can make the dates align!

๐Ÿ‘บ Matsuri no Mori Museum. If you do not manage to attend the actual festival, you can still catch a glimpse of the stunningly decorated floats which are paraded during the festival in the museum! Entrance fee: ยฅ1000.

โ›ฉ๏ธ Higashiyama Walking Course. This walk takes you past a number of small shrines as well as the former castle site. It is not the most scenic walk out there and a few shrines are admittedly a little run down, however it is a relaxed way to get an insight into rural life in Japan.

Day 8-10: Explore Osaka

After spending two days in the secluded Japanese Alps, it is now time to venture back into the bustling Japanese cities. More precisely, to the fun-filled city of Osaka! Visit the beautiful castle of Osaka and explore the colorful streets filled with all sorts of street food and delicacies!

There are two ways you can spend your days in Osaka. Either you spend one day exploring the city of Osaka itself and then two days on day trips. Or you spend two days exploring Osaka and then one day on a day trip!

In terms of what to see and do when in Osaka: Down below you can find a list of highlights you should not miss when there! For more details on how to spend one or two exciting days in Osaka, head to our 1-2 Day Osaka itinerary, where we delve a lot deeper into what to see and do in this awesome city.

Osaka Highlights you should not miss!
๐Ÿฏ Osaka Castle. You cannot visit Osaka and not see Osaka Castle, one of Japan's most famous landmarks! Entrance fee: ยฅ600 for the museum; entrance to the park is free.

๐Ÿ™ Try takoyaki. Osaka is the birthplace of takoyaki, a dish that consists of ball-shaped snacks made of wheat-flour batter with a piece of octopus inside. Numerous stalls sell this famous dish in Dotonbori. Note: The dish is really hot, so be careful when eating!

๐ŸŒ† Dotonbori. Stroll around Dotonbori, one of the most popular areas in Osaka! This colorful district is home to the Glico Sign, Dotonbori Canal and heaps of street food.

๐Ÿ”ญ Harukas 300. The latter is the tallest building in Osaka and home to a stunning observatory which offers great views over the city. Entrance fee: ยฅ2000.

๐Ÿฃ Kuromon Market. A decently sized food market, selling seafood, fruit and vegetables as well as street food and some souvenirs!

๐Ÿ—ผ Shinsekai. A popular area, known for its colorful streets filled with mostly restaurants and Tsลซtenkaku Tower in the background! It is a great area to go on the hunt for dinner after sunset.

When it comes to day trips, Osaka is actually situated in a great location for just that! Whether you decide to do only one or two day trips, you can find the most popular day trips from Osaka for first-time visitors down below. As always, choose the ones that most peak your interest!

Option 1: Stroll through Nintendo World in the Universal Studios Japan

Spend the day at Universal Studios Japan (USJ), which is located on the outskirts of Osaka. Drink butter beer in Hogwarts, collect coins in Nintendo World or marvel at dinosaurs in Jurassic Park! Also keep your eyes open for Anime related attractions, which change seasonally!

Same as Japan’s Disney Parks, USJ can get quite busy as well. However, if you are a theme park enthusiast and like us you travel to Japan from Europe, where there are no Universal Studios at all, USJ is definitely worth a visit!

Option 2: Explore Buddhist temples in Koya-san

Koya-san is a small secluded town located on top of a mountain. The town is well known for being the center of an important Buddhist sect in Japan that was introduced to Japan in the 9th century. If you are interested in the life of monks, trying monk cuisine and marveling through beautiful temple grounds surrounded by healing forests, Koya-san might be right up your alley!

If you wish to get there on your own, Koya-san is not necessarily the easiest or quickest day trip from Osaka. Which is why we would probably not recommend it to you if the latter is what you are looking for. However, we can definitely recommend a visit for anyone that is truly interested!

Option 3: Feed deer in Nara Park

The city of Nara used to be the Japanese capital in the 8th century. Today it is mostly known for its free-roaming deer. Feed the lovely deer at Nara park and visit the world’s biggest bronze Buddha statue! The Todai-ji temple is also listed as a UNESCO World Heritage Site!

In our opinion, Nara is actually a must-do for anyone visiting Japan for the first time! Nara Park is especially stunning during Sakura season, however it is still really beautiful in any other season too.

Note: Nara is located somewhere in between Kyoto and Osaka. That means that it can actually be visited as a day trip from Kyoto as well if you prefer spending one more night in Kyoto instead of Osaka.

Day 11-12: Explore Kyoto

In the early morning of your eleventh day in Japan, take the shinkansen from Osaka to Kyoto. The journey between the two cities on Japan’s high-speed train will actually only take about 15 minutes! Take the next two days to explore the wonderful city of Kyoto, which is filled with so much tradition and history!

While not quite as modern as Tokyo or Osaka, Kyoto is definitely still a highlight for anyone visiting Japan for the first time! Which is probably why the city is notoriously busy with tourist almost always. Most of Kyoto’s highlights are either temples and shrines or activities rooted deep in Japanese traditions. Down below we grouped some of Kyoto’s biggest highlights to give you a quick overview!

Kyoto Highlights you should not miss!
โ›ฉ๏ธ Fushimi-Inari Shrine. This shrine is probably one of the most famous shrines in all of Japan and certainly in Kyoto! Fushimi-Inari is the head shrine of all Inari shrines in Japan. It is well known for its numerous red torii gates which are lining most paths on the shrine grounds!

๐Ÿฏ Kinkaku-ji. Visit one of the most famous landmarks in Kyoto, the temple of the Golden Pavilion. Entrance fee: ยฅ500.

๐ŸŽŽ Gion District. If you ever read anything about Kyoto before, chances are you have heard about Gion District. The latter is the famous 'Geisha' district! However, access for tourists has been limited as of 2024 due to some tourists unfortunately acting rather disrespectful when meeting Geisha on the streets and trespassing into private property within Gion district.

๐ŸŽ Arashiyama. Most know it for its famous bamboo forest, however Arashiyama is actually a whole district in Kyoto filled with all kinds of cafรฉs and sights! Definitely plan to spend a few hours here!

โ›ฉ๏ธ Kiyomizu-dera. Another super popular Buddhist temple in Kyoto. Especially famous for the stunning colors during autumn season however it is a must-do no matter when you come to Japan!

๐ŸŽŽ Sannenzaka & Ninenzaka. Located only down the road from Kiyomizu-dera, these are probably the most famous and therefore most busy shopping street in Kyoto! They are really scenic though, since they are lined with traditional Japanese buildings!

Day 13: Get a glimpse of Mt. Fuji in Hakone

Take the shinkansen from Kyoto to Odawara Station and from there make your way to the stunning Hakone! Hakone is an onsen town in a mountainous region not far from Tokyo. What makes it even more popular though is its proximity to Mt. Fuji!

You should be aware though that in order to be able to see Mt. Fuji your best bet is getting all the way up to ลŒwakudani Ropeway Station. Also, traveling around Hakone will involve a multitude of modes of transportation!

To end your trip in Japan on a high note, spend the night in a Japanese ryokan. Experience all the perks of spending time in a Japanese onsen/hot spring, before feasting on a traditional kaiseki, a Japanese multi-course meal typically served in a ryokan for dinner!

Day 14: Head back to Tokyo

Take the shinkansen from Hakone back to Tokyo. Either head straight to the airport or spend one more night in Tokyo and explore some of the things you did not manage to do on your fist stay in the city.

Final thoughts on traveling to Japan

Japan has become quite a popular destination over the last decade among international travelers and we can definitely see why. This country has so many deeply rooted traditions and interesting facets! In our opinion, Japan is a country that everyone should travel to at least once in their lifetime if the opportunity arises.

In order to paint a more complete/accurate picture of what traveling Japan is like for you, we feel like there is one thing we need to mention to any new travelers that are maybe not aware.

What you should to know before your first trip to Japan:

Japan is increasingly having trouble handling the number of tourists in certain areas, especially during peak season. A popular example for this is Kyoto, where there have been discussions about e.g. restricting the number of tourists that can enter the city per day. Another recent example is a specific Lawson near Kawaguchiko Station, where tourists block traffic in order to get a specific picture that is popular on social media.

That said, we don’t say you should not go to these places at all anymore – I mean, some of them are literally in this itinerary. However, we do think everyone should be aware of the situation. Because, first of all, that way you as a visitor can adjust your expectations when going to really popular spots. And second, if you can, maybe travel out of peak season or opt for some less popular day trips or sights, if you do wish to escape the crowds from time to time.

Finally, Japan may be a very different and fascinating country depending on where you come from, however it is no theme park. There are a lot of people living their daily life in the cities and towns you will visit. So, always be respectful and mindful of the customs of the country you go to!

That said, we hope you have a really great first trip to Japan!

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