How to Spend One Week in Japan

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 at your hotel in Tokyo, 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.

Check out my Tokyo hostel guide and cheap hotels in Tokyo posts now.

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. Note that Asakusa has some of the cheapest hostels in Tokyo.

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.



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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.

By | 2018-04-05T16:13:08+00:00 August 10th, 2017|Destinations, Travel|

10 Comments

  1. Rose August 15, 2017 at 4:38 pm - Reply

    I want to sign up foryour newsletter.Having problems with this

    • Barry Choi August 15, 2017 at 4:43 pm - Reply

      Hi Rose,

      I’ll manually add you to my mailing list.

  2. Adriani September 24, 2017 at 4:01 pm - Reply

    Hello,

    What affordable hotel did you stay at?

    • Barry Choi September 24, 2017 at 4:06 pm - Reply

      Hi Adriani,

      I actually stayed at an Airbnb in the Ebisu area. You should be able to find reasonably priced hotels in the Nishi-Shinjuku area which is a little northwest of Shinjuku station.

  3. Karen June 30, 2018 at 4:18 am - Reply

    Hello!

    I found your website just today and find it very helpful—thank you.

    I plan to go to Japan in November with my hubby and 17-year-old son for the autumn foliage. We will fly in to and out of Narita and stay for 9D 8N. At the moment, our itinerary is this:

    Day 1: 1040 ETA in TKY (Activate 7-day JR Rail Pass from Narita)
    Day 2: AM in Hakone, PM in Kiso Valley
    Day 3: AM in Kiso Valley, PM in Takayama
    Day 4: AM in Shirakawago, PM in Kyoto
    Days 5-6: Kyoto
    Day 7: Hiroshima and Miyajima
    Day 8: AM travel to TKY
    Day 9: TKY, 2030 ETD (bus to Narita)

    My question is: If we activate the JR pass by, say, 1130 on Day 1, does this mean we can still use it for our Hiroshima>Tokyo trip on Day 8 if we start our travel by, say, 0800? It takes 5h3m to Tokyo, but I read somewhere that as long as we are on the train and don’t go out (of the station, I assume), we will not pay anything.

    Please advise. Thank you.

    Karen
    1.

  4. Karen June 30, 2018 at 4:26 am - Reply

    Hi, again.

    I forgot to ask how to use the ordinary JR Rail Pass: When we use the rail pass to go to the places I mentioned above, do we just choose the train schedule when we get to the station, show the pass to the attendant at the platform, and hope that our chosen train can accommodate us? And if the train is full, then we have to wait for the next one(s)?

    Thank you again.

    Karen

    • Barry Choi June 30, 2018 at 6:13 am - Reply

      Hi Karen,

      The JR Pass goes by calendar days, NOT 24-hours so you need to be back in Tokyo by day 7.

      In my opinion, your schedule is a bit crazy packed. There’s A LOT of travelling you’ll be doing. I personally would consider dropping the Kiso Valley, Takayama, and Shirakawago. I would take those days saved and allocate more time to Tokyo and Kyoto.

      As for seats. With the JR Pass, you can make your seat reservations any time after you activate the card. So if you know your schedule, just pop into a JR office and have them reserve seats. If all the seats are taken, you can still get on and just ride in one of the non-reserved cars. It might be standing room only, but you can still get on.

      You do indeed just show your pass to the attendant to get in and out of stations. This applies to all lines operated by JR.

  5. Karen Luna July 1, 2018 at 10:27 pm - Reply

    Thanks very much, Barry!

    1. That info on the JR rail pass being applicable to calendar days and not to hours is very important. I will have to revise our itinerary if that’s the case. I couldn’t find it on the JR website.
    2. Because we’re taking the ordinary rail pass (no reservation), may I confirm that it is possible to be standing for the entire journey, for example, from Hakone to Kyoto, if all seats are taken and we don’t want to wait for the next train?

    Again, Barry, thanks very much.

    Karen

    • Barry Choi July 2, 2018 at 6:48 am - Reply

      Hi Karen,

      The ordinary JR pass still allows you to make reservations (just not in the green cars). Think of the green cars as premium economy on a flight and the other cars as economy. That being said, ALL seats on JR trains are VERY comfortable.

      Another way to “fix” your schedule is to simply depart Tokyo on day 3 and arrive back in Tokyo the PM of day 8. You would likely have to shift your trip to Hiroshima to day 5 or 6 and then spend day 7 in Kyoto before returning to Tokyo. Again, I still think you’re travelling too much in 9 days, but that’s just a personal opinion.

      Here are some additional stories I wrote that may help you.

      https://www.moneywehave.com/hiroshima-and-miyajima-in-one-day-from-kyoto/
      https://www.moneywehave.com/kyoto-tourist-bus-the-raku-bus/

  6. Karen Luna July 2, 2018 at 9:47 pm - Reply

    Thanks very much, Barry, for answering my queries and giving advice on the JR pass and itinerary.

    My November trip will actually be my fourth trip to Japan. But all my previous trips were organized for me (and other people), so for this one, I will be doing all the initial planning before hubby and I decide on the final “program of action.” =P

    Cheers!

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