Let’s be realistic, one week in Japan is not enough to see the country, but it’s enough to give you a taste for the first time. Some may think that spending just 7 days in the Land of the Rising Sun is not worth it, but trust me, you won’t regret making a trip to Japan.
If you’re only spending one week in Japan, that means you’ll be limited to just Tokyo and Kyoto. Day trips are tempting and possible, but I wouldn’t recommend them since you’ll be cramming in too much stuff. A 7-day JR pass will likely be worth it, so be sure to pick one up before you depart. Here’s how to spend one week in Japan.
Day 1: Arrive in Tokyo, Shinjuku
Things can be a bit tricky during your first day in Tokyo since what you see and do depend on what time you arrive. If you’re arriving from Narita, it’ll take you at about 90 minutes to get into the city while those landing at Haneda will need to budget 30 minutes to get to Shinjuku.
Once you’re settled make your way to Shinjuku where most of the action takes place in the city. Head straight for the observation decks at the Tokyo Metropolitan Government Buildings since they’re free. If the day is clear, you’ll even be able to see Mt. Fuji. After taking in the view, head to the heart of Shinjuku where you’ll find some of the best shops, arcades, and restaurants in the city. It’s best to just wander the streets with no real plan in mind to absorb the culture.
As night falls, take a stroll through the alleys of Golden Gai where many local bars attract visitors or head to “Piss Alley” which is a laneway full of restaurants that runs under the train tracks. Alternatively, head to Harajuku where you can embrace the youth culture or people watch. Takeshita street has some interesting shopping options as well as some delicious crepe shops which are always open late.
Day 2 – Tsukiji, Shibuya, Roppongi
If you’re suffering from jetlag, a trip to Tsukiji fish market may be tempting, but you need to arrive at 3 am if you want to catch the tuna auction. Just head there whenever you’re awake and stroll through the stalls. The outer market is full of sushi restaurants with the most famous one being Sushi Dai. The waits are very long there, so I recommend just picking a random sushi restaurant instead. Trust me, it’ll still be the best sushi you ever had. Keep in mind that Tsukiji will eventually be moving to a new site.
Once you’ve had your sushi fix, head to Shibuya for the famous crossing. After taking too many photos, you can wander the streets and the various malls here. There’s really not much else going on around here, but again, the fun in Japan is just exploring.
In the afternoon you can head to Roppongi where there’s a thriving arts scene. This is also the area for nightlife if that’s your thing. You should also treat day 2 as your “event day.” If there’s something you’ve planned such as the robot restaurant, cat cafes, or the Mario Kart experience, today is a good day to do it.
Day 3 – Asakusa, Ueno, Akihabara, Ginza
With your last full day in Tokyo, it’s time to explore some of the other sites the city has to offer. Asakusa is a good place to start your day since there tend to be fewer crowds at Sensoji Temple. Sensoji is Tokyo’s oldest temple and is absolutely stunning. Leading up to the temple is a shopping street called Nakamise that offers every souvenir you could possibly imagine. For an aerial view of Sensoji, head across the street to the top of the Asakusa Culture and Tourism Center. The Tokyo Skytree is also nearby on the other side of the Sumida River, but since you’ve already had two free views of the city, there’s really no point in paying to go up.
You’ll likely have to make your way to Ueno from Asakusa since it’s the closest connection to the JR line. Ueno has a giant park full of various attractions including the zoo, Tokyo Metropolitan Art Museum, and Gojoten Shrine. Before getting on the train, explore the streets of the Ameya Yokocho market where many locals shop for their daily goods.
Just south of Ueno is Akihabara which is more commonly known as electronics town. As the name implies, this is an area that has many electronics and anime stores. The area is also famous for maid cafes if you’re into that kind of thing. Kanda Myojin and the Holy Resurrection Cathedral are two religious sites in the area that both have amazing architectural features.
As for Ginza, it’s mainly a high-end shopping area, but it’s worth going to all the different department stores since the shopping experience is very different compared to North America. Each floor feels like a mini-mall so it’s quite fun seeing what they have to offer. The closest JR station to Ginza is Yūrakuchō which also has restaurants and food stalls under the train tracks that are popular with the locals.
Day 4 – Arrive in Kyoto, Kinkaku-ji, Arashiyama
Kyoto is just 2.5 hours away from Tokyo, but you still shouldn’t pack your first day in the former capital. Once you arrive in Kyoto, have a meal in one of the food courts in Kyoto station. This station is massive and feels like a mini city. Once you’ve checked into your hotel, buy a Raku bus pass and head to Kinkaku-ji (the golden temple) which is one of the most stunning buildings you’ll see in all of Japan.
In the afternoon, you should make your way to the bamboo forest of Arashiyama. Note that the temples here close around 5 p.m. so if you wanted to see those, you may want to swap your days around. The main street of Arashiyama has plenty of shops, but head south to the Togetsukyō Bridge for excellent views of the surrounding area. If you have the energy (and if it’s still open), head for the Arashiyama Monkey Park.
At night, you can wander the streets of Gion or Pontocho for a traditional Japanese experience but be warned that the restaurants here are expensive.
Day 5 – Eastern Kyoto
Japan Guide has an excellent Eastern Kyoto full day itinerary, but after visiting Japan, I don’t know how it’s possible to see everything they’ve listed in a day. I recommend picking just a few places on their list and using the Raku bus to get you to each place within a reasonable time. Renting bikes and exploring is another option, but you’ll need to budget some extra time.
My favourite spots in the itinerary are Kiyomizudera, Higashiyama streets, Heian Shrine, Philosopher’s Path, and Ginkakuji. It’s a good mix of temples, shopping, and nature. One spot that’s not listed but I recommend is Chion-in which is a rather impressive temple.
At night, you can explore Kyoto station (It’s a mini-city remember?). You could also head to Fushimi Inari-taisha with their 1000’s of torii gates since it’s open 24-hours, but it might be a better idea to hold this until tomorrow.
Day 6 – Day trip to Nara, Osaka, or Hiroshima and Miyajima
I know I advised against day trips, but this is the one day you’ll have time during your one week in Japan trip. Two out of the following three cities are close to Kyoto so doing a day trip is possible. If you decide to stay in Kyoto, you can just explore other temples and shrines you missed the day before.
Osaka is just 45mins away by train from Kyoto and is famous for their street food down by Dotonbori. The giant signs make it pretty clear what each restaurant serves, but it’s probably more fun to just snack on all the food served outside. Shinsaibashi-suji Shopping Street is fun, but there are better shopping options in Tokyo. Attractions in the city include the Osaka Aquarium, Universal Studios Japan, Osaka Castle, the Umeda Sky Building, and Hep 5. You obviously won’t be able to see everything so just prioritize the things that interest you.
Nara is famous for the deer that roam the streets and come right up to you if you’re offering them food. Nara takes just 1 hour to get to from Kyoto and then another 10-minute bus ride to get to to the temple area. In Nara, you’ll find Tōdai-ji which is the largest wooden Buddhist temple in the world. There are many other temples in the area, but if you already explored Kyoto, you might be tired of temples by now.
The final day trip option is Hiroshima and the island of Miyajima. It takes 3 hours to get to Hiroshima from Kyoto so if you plan on making this trip, do it early. To be honest, heading here is a bit time consuming, but it’s well worth it. The island of Miyajima is quite serene and a welcome break from the cities while the peace park in Hiroshima is a look back at one of the darkest times in history.
Day 7 – Tokyo – See what you missed and something new
I’m assuming you’re backtracking to Tokyo for your last day, but some people fly out of Kansai International Airport which serves both Osaka and Kyoto. If this is you, spend your last day in Osaka and just explore.
If you’re headed back to Tokyo, you may want to return to areas you enjoyed earlier and pick up any souvenirs for family. There’s also a good chance that you came across someone in Kyoto who recommended you see something in Tokyo that you missed earlier so check it go check it now!
You may also want to explore some of the lesser-known areas of Tokyo. Kagurazaka is known as the ‘French’ area of town and is situated on a slight incline surrounded by trees. There are many international restaurants here and don’t forget to explore the back streets. Close to Shibuya station is an area called Daikanyama which is often compared to Brooklyn since it’s trendy with hipsters and has a lot of fun coffee shops and stores to hang around.
By the end of this trip, you’ll absolutely be exhausted, but it’ll be worth it. Japan has so many things to see and you’ve only seen two cities. One week in Japan may not seem very long, but don’t worry, you’ll be back. If you’re wondering how much a two-week trip will cost you, check out my detailed guide now.