If you had asked me 5 years ago how to spend 10 days in Japan, I would have given the same boring answer everyone else does. A few days each in Tokyo, Kyoto, and Osaka, with maybe a day trip thrown in. Luckily, I’ve explored a lot more of the country since then, and I’m here to share a more unique 10 day Japan itinerary.
Don’t let the title fool you: this guide still covers all the must see places in Japan, from ancient temples to flashing billboards. But instead of sticking to the traditional “Golden Route”, you’ll take a few detours to explore samurai towns, visit hot springs, and marvel at Mount Fuji.
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10 Days in Japan Itinerary
Don’t Forget Your Japan Rail Pass!
Days 1-2: Tokyo
Shake off that jet lag with a visit to Shibuya Crossing, one of the world’s busiest intersections. Take the subway to Shibuya Station and head upstairs to the Starbucks, where you’ll have an overhead view of all the action.
For a calming change of pace, take a stroll around Yoyogi Park. Inside this magical, tree-filled green space lies Meiji Jingu, a large shrine complex with a famous iris garden that blooms in June.
Jump back into the bustling city life in Harajuku, Tokyo’s epicenter of all things cute and cool. Takeshita Dori is famous for eclectic shopping, like anime pencil cases and over-the-top Lolita dresses. And be sure to enjoy a sweet crepe at Angels Heart (I recommend the strawberry and chocolate).
From Harajuku Station, take the subway to Shinjuku, where people flock for shopping and entertainment options. But before you get sucked into the streets, head to the Tokyo Metropolitan Government Building for amazing and free views over the city.
Afterwards, walk back towards Shinjuku Station and keep going east. You’ll soon reach Shinjuku Park, a massive green space in the heart of Tokyo. Pay the 200 yen admission fee and wander the numerous garden paths, which are lined with cherry blossoms in the spring. There’s also a greenhouse, Chinese garden, and an open field with great views of the city skyline.
At this point, it should be close to dark, and that’s when Shinjuku comes alive. Walk northeast of Shinjuku Station to Golden Gai, a series of narrow alleys lined with lanterns and tiny izakaya, Japanese pubs.
Though it’s a cool place to walk around, I don’t recommend going inside any bars without a guide. It’s one of the few places in Japan where foreigners are often overcharged, and some places only allow Japanese patrons.
Instead, book a Golden Gai tour with a local who can help you get an authentic Shinjuku experience.
Wrap up the night at the infamous Kabukicho, Tokyo’s “red light district”. You’ll find endless streets of hostess clubs, love hotels, and karaoke bars beneath the flashing lights. Despite its reputation, Kabukicho is perfectly safe and plenty of fun if you stick to the private karaoke rooms and stay out of the clubs.
Start the day at Tokyo’s Imperial Palace, where the city’s iconic mix of old and new architecture is most apparent. Be sure to check out the East Gardens for great views and a peaceful atmosphere.
Then it’s time for flashing billboards, arcades, and otaku culture in Akihabara. Pop into Super Potato for retro gaming collectibles, Don Quijote for funky and affordable souvenirs, and the Sega Building for multiple floors of arcades and crane games. Grab lunch from a street food vendor (taiyaki and takoyaki are always good options), or visit a maid cafe for an over-the-top dining experience you’re sure to remember.
You can easily spend the rest of the day in Asakusa, Tokyo’s historical Edo period neighborhood. The main draw for tourists is Senso-ji, a massive temple and one of Japan’s top sightseeing attractions. Explore Nakamise Dori and the surrounding alleys before walking to Sumida Park for river views and cherry blossoms in the spring.
Asakusa is rich with history and culture, so I suggest booking a guided tour to discover the hidden gems.
If you have more time and energy, cross the river to reach Tokyo Skytree. This radio tower/mall/aquarium/observation deck is a true amalgamation of Tokyo life. Aside from the popular panoramic overlook, the Skytree is a great place to find cute character cafes and shops (they had a Kirby themed pop-up last time I visited).
Alternate Option: Studio Ghibli Museum
Where to stay in Tokyo
Tokyo’s excellent train and subway system means you can stay pretty much anywhere. However, for this Japan ten day itinerary, I suggest staying in either Shinjuku, Shibuya, Minato, or Kanda. All of these wards offer a wide range of accommodation, food/drink, and access to Tokyo’s main subway lines.
Day 3: Nagano
This is where my 10 day Japan itinerary goes off the beaten path. Instead of hopping on the shinkansen and heading south along the Golden Route, you’ll travel north to Nagano prefecture.
The Japanese Alps run through the region, providing great opportunities for hiking, skiing, and other nature activities. It may sound intense if you aren’t physically active or an “outdoorsy” person. But thankfully, you don’t need to be an athlete to experience the highlights.
Here are a few ways to spend your day in Nagano:
- Hike the serene, cedar-lined shrine path of Togakushi
- Chase waterfalls (and Terrace House locations) in Karuizawa
- Marvel at Matsumoto Castle on your way to hike Kamikochi, Japan’s most beautiful national park
- Visit the snow monkey hot spring of Jigokudani
Check out my complete guide on things to do in Nagano to plan your visit!
Where to stay in Nagano
If you’re closely following this 10 day Japan itinerary, I highly recommend staying at the Chisun Grand Nagano. It’s a short walk from Nagano Station, and very affordable. I was pleasantly surprised at the spaciousness of my room, which had a gorgeous view of the mountains. And the in-room massage chair was a welcome treat after long days of hiking.
Accommodation near Karuizawa station could also work depending on how you spend your day.
Day 4: Kanazawa
Kanazawa is easily in my top five favorite Japanese cities. Thanks to sheer luck and some strategic positioning, Kanazawa was relatively untouched by war and natural disasters since the Edo era. Walking through the famous “chaya” districts is like stepping back in time, with many Japanese tourists dressed in traditional yukata and kimonos.
Several of these historic districts, known for their geishas and tea houses, have been preserved since the 1600s. Nishi Chaya, Kazue-machi, and Higashi Chaya are the most intact, with several tea houses and shops still operating in Higashi Chaya. In the evening, the warm glow of lanterns combined with the tea house hostesses shuffling about in kimonos makes for a magical experience.
Constructed in the 1500’s, Kanazawa Castle rises above the city center. In the spring, cherry blossoms add a lovely pop of pink around the main entrance. And inside the turrets and storehouse, you’ll find beautifully restored wooden beams and cultural artifacts.
Just across from the castle lies Kenroku-en, one of the “Three Great Gardens” of Japan. This impressive green space includes reflecting pools, moss gardens, a traditional tea house, and panoramic viewpoints over the city. And if you’re traveling to Japan in October, you’ll also see some stunning red Japanese maples!
If you’re curious about samurai or ninja life, check out the Nomura Clan Samurai House and Myoryuji ninja temple. While the samurai museum takes walk-in guests, you’ll need to make a reservation to tour the ninja temple. However, being able to explore its secret passageways and hidden traps is worth the inconvenience.
And if samurai are really your thing, you could squeeze in a trip to the Kanazawa Ashigaru Museum. Like the Nomura Clan House, this building is a living museum to Edo-era footsoldiers who served the Kaga clan.
Read my complete Kanazawa itinerary to plan your perfect trip!
Note: There’s a lot to see in Kyoto, the next stop, so I suggest taking the 7:00am JR Thunderbird from Kanazawa to Kyoto Station for an early start.
Where to stay in Kanazawa
In keeping with the Old World theme, I suggest spending the night in a ryokan. These Japanese inns offer a unique cultural experience, with tatami floors, futon beds, and (usually) a traditional breakfast.
Save me for later!
Days 5-6: Kyoto
Kyoto is my favorite city in Japan, if not the world. Surrounded by mountains and split by a river, it’s a dazzling blend of nature and man-made design. It has a distinctly different feel than other large Japanese cities, namely because of all the preserved temples, shrines, and historic districts.
Getting Around Kyoto
Start your day at Nijo Castle, the former home of the Ieyasu shogunate that’s now a UNESCO World Heritage Site. Inside the walls, you can tour the elegant Ninomaru Palace and grounds.
The next stop is Kinkakuji, a.k.a. the Golden Pavilion. Take the JR Bus here from Nijo Castle and get ready to be wowed. Kinkakuji is a glittering Zen temple covered in gold leaf, and the view of the building from across the reflecting pool is unforgettable.
After passing through the pretty tea house gardens, hop on the Raku bus towards Ginkakuji, a.k.a. the Silver Pavilion. The temple has a slightly confusing name because it’s not actually silver!
Ginkakuji’s official name is Higashiyama Jisho-ji,and it was supposed to be a shiny silver version of Kinkakuji. However, the project to cover the facade in silver leaf never happened, and the temple remains a humble wooden structure. Ginkakuji has two fantastic gardens, including one made of raked sand.
Just a short walk away from Ginkakuji, you’ll find the northern entrance to the Philosopher’s Path. This scenic footpath runs along a canal and is lined with charming cafes, shops, and cherry blossoms in the spring. Keep an eye out for Suzuki Shofudo, an adorable papercraft shop with a frog mascot. I brought back several souvenirs from here during my first 10 day trip to Japan.
It takes around 20 minutes to walk the entire 2km path without stopping. And when you reach the southern exit, you’ll be just around the corner from Eikan-do Zenrin-ji. People travel from all over the world to see the incredible autumn colors on display here. However, the complex is remarkable no matter what the season, especially the famous garden with a reflecting pool and stone bridge.
Nearby Nanzen-ji is also a must see. Situated near the base of Kyoto’s eastern mountains, Nanzen-ji is one of Japan’s most important Buddhist temples. Because of its hillside placement, the huge temple gate offers lovely views, and the vast grounds are a peaceful escape from the city.
From here, it’s a 15-minute walk to Heian Shrine. You’ll pass beneath Kyoto’s iconic giant torii gate that spans Jingu-michi street, so have your camera ready at the crosswalk! Unlike the city’s other ancient buildings, Heian Shrine was built relatively recently in 1898 to commemorate Kyoto’s 1100th birthday. Don’t miss the splendid garden that wraps around the outer complex, which boasts a huge pond and covered wooden bridge.
I don’t often make restaurant recommendations in my itineraries. But there are some truly fabulous dinner spots around Heian Shrine that deserve mentioning:
- Mughal is Kyoto’s premier Indian restaurant–the head chef came over from London’s Dishoom!
- Hatsune Sushi is a cozy local spot serving traditional Kyoto-style sushi at an affordable price
- Masutomi dishes out delicious soba, including a popular duck set
If you’re visiting Kyoto during plum blossom season, you have to check out Kitano Tenmangu. There’s a sprawling plum grove that’s absolutely dripping with flowers in late winter.
Students and their parents visit the temple before important exams to pray for good luck and pet the cow statue’s heads to increase their wisdom. And if you visit on the 25th of the month, you can browse Tenjin Market for antiques, clothes, crafts, and food.
Hop on one of the buses (there are multiple options) from Kitano Tenmangu mae to Kyoto Imperial Palace. This was the Imperial family’s home until 1898, when the capital was relocated to Tokyo. In the past, a reservation was required to explore the vast grounds, but today it’s freely accessible (though you can’t go inside any buildings).
From here, walk south on Karasuma-dori Street to reach the Kyoto International Manga Museum. Anyone who loves libraries or has even a passing interest in manga (Japanese comics) needs to see this place. There are towering shelves packed with every manga series imaginable, as well as exhibits and art galleries in English/Japanese that showcase both famous and up-and-coming illustrators.
Head east towards the river to reach one of my favorite places in Japan: Pontocho Alley. This long, lantern-filled alley is lined with old-fashioned wooden facades and mysterious entrances to dark narrow corridors . The atmosphere is distinctly Japanese and reminiscent of a Studio Ghibli film.
You could pop into a sit-down restaurant in Pontocho for lunch, or save your appetite for the next stop: Nishiki Market.
To be frank, I was hesitant about including Nishiki on this 10 day Japan itinerary because it’s become pretty touristy. Locals no longer come here to do their grocery shopping, and most vendors have shifted gears to cater to foreigners. However, Nishiki Market is still a phenomenal place to sample Japanese cuisine like grilled oysters, taiyaki (fish-shaped pastry with sweet bean paste), and dango (grilled dumplings with sweet sauce).
I consider Japanese department stores a sightseeing experience, and one of my favorites is Daimaru. It’s Kyoto’s 2nd largest, with 10 floors packed with clothes, accessories, electronics, and more. Highlights include the giant handkerchief selection on 1F, and the elegant kimonos and super cute stationary on 6F. But the best thing about Daimaru is the enormous basement food hall, where hundreds of stalls sell everything from tempura to bread to traditional sweets.
After a few hours of hedonism, hop on the sightseeing bus and humble yourself with a visit to Rengeoin Sanjusangendo. This Buddhist temple will blow you away with its 1,001 tall statues of the Goddess Kannon arranged in rows.
From here, it’s a 20 minute walk to another jaw-dropping temple: Kiyomizu-dera. Easily the most popular temple in Kyoto (if not all of Japan), Kiyomizu-dera is a large complex of buildings and gardens set on a hill among a forest of trees and bamboo. The multi-story wooden main hall has an observation deck with outstanding views over Kyoto, and it’s especially magical when the leaves turn red and gold in autumn.
Back down the hill you’ll find Ninenzaka and Sanenzaka, the picturesque and historic neighborhood streets with views of Kiyomizu’s pagoda. Please respect the “no photography” signs where posted.
At this point, you’re approaching the heart of Gion, Kyoto’s famous “geisha district”. This area is full of beautiful alleys, traditional shops, and elegant tea houses. If you’re lucky, you might catch a glimpse of a geisha or maiko apprentice on their way to an appointment (but please appreciate them from a distance).
There’s a lot to see and do in Gion, but these highlights are not to be missed:
- Hanamikoji is the district’s main street, where you’ll find lots of shops and street food counters operating under the pretty sakura lanterns. It’s a great place to pick up traditional wagashi–Japanese sweets–as a souvenir (Kagizen Yoshifusa is my favorite wagashi shop).
- Yasaka Shrine sits at the end of Hanamikoji, and is one of Japan’s most culturally significant shrines thanks to the Gion Matsuri festival held every summer.
- Behind Yasaka lies Maruyama Park, a lush green space that’s home to multiple temples and Japanese gardens.
This historic distict holds a ton of secrets and charms, and the best way to discover them (and spot a few geisha along the way!) is on a walking tour with a local.
Gion is also the epicenter of Japanese haute cuisine known as kaiseki. Every aspect of the meal, from the ingredients to the plating to the order in which dishes are served, is governed by Japanese principles of nature, balance, and order. While kaiseki dinner is quite expensive (upwards of $100 per person), the flavors and overall experience are well worth the cost if you can swing it.
Where to stay in Kyoto
I’ve been to Kyoto a few times, and my favorite place to stay is Kyoto Traveler’s Inn.
It’s conveniently located across from a sightseeing loop bus stop and a giant torii gate (so you’ll never get lost!). Gion and Pontocho are a short walk away. Plus, they offer a mix of Western and Japanese-style rooms depending on your preference. And the staff are super friendly and speak enough English to help you navigate the city.
Day 7: Day Trip from Kyoto
Part of why I love Kyoto is the sheer number of awesome destinations within day trip distance. You can explore ancient shrines where sacred deer roam, ride a scenic train beneath cherry blossoms, kayak next to a floating torii gate… the options are endless!
To help you choose, I wrote a guide to the top day trips from Kyoto. Nature lovers will especially love the destinations, though anyone can appreciate these beautiful excursions.
Day 8: Shizuoka
Colorful shrines, Mount Fuji views, matcha cafes… Shizuoka City has some of the best things to do in Japan in 10 days.
While Shizuoka prefecture’s natural beauty draws in a fair number of tourists, the region’s capital remains off the beaten track for international travelers. In fact, you’ll surprise a lot of Japanese people by telling them you visited the places listed here (at least in my experience)!
Start your journey at Sunpu Castle, the former home of the Ieyasu shogunate. The castle remnants and grounds have been converted into a bustling park with pretty views towards the distant mountains.
Just a few blocks away is CHA10, a modern green tea cafe with a killer matcha nitro and fluffy cheesecake. Shizuoka prefecture produces over 40% of Japan’s green tea, so drinking a glass (or three) is a must while you’re here.
Once you’re feeling refreshed, walk over to Shizuoka Station’s bus terminal and journey to the Nihondaira for Mount Fuji views (check the timetables and other travel information here.). This observatory and park at the top of Mount Udo is free to enter, and boasts 360 degree panoramic decks overlooking Shizuoka prefecture and the ocean. Seeing Fuji-san rising behind the city bay was among my top memories from my 10 days in Japan.
From here, you can take a scenic cable car ropeway down to Kunozan Tosho-gu, where renowned shogunate leader Tokugata Ieyasu is enshrined. Kunozan is a complex of colorful buildings surrounded by lush forests, with beautiful ocean views from the top. It’s the kind of mystical place that entices people to visit Japan.
If the weather is clear and you have the time, head out to Miho no Matsubara. This tree-lined beach with Mt. Fuji views is one of Japan’s best scenic points. It’s tough and time-consuming to get here via public transit, so your best bet is to take a taxi (use the Japan Taxi app or call and ask your hotel to order one for you).
Where to stay in Shizuoka
For an ultra-convenient and comfortable stay, book at the Hotel Associa Shizuoka.
You’ll be in the heart of the city with easy access to the train station, restaurants, and matcha cafes. Their rooms are incredibly spacious (even by Western standards), and the upstairs bar and dining areas offer stunning views over Mount Fuji.
Day 9: Nagoya and Osaka
To make the most of this 10 day Japan itinerary, I don’t recommend spending the night in Nagoya. Instead, you’ll check out the city’s highlights before continuing south to Osaka for some nighttime exploring.
Nagoya is a popular stopover between Tokyo and Kyoto thanks to its iconic castle. Constructed during the Edo-period, Nagoya Castle was one of Japan’s largest until it was bombed in 1945. Restoration efforts are still ongoing, with the main keep set to be finished by 2023. Surrounding the castle, you’ll find a mix of Japanese gardens, ponds, hanging wisteria, and a plum blossom grove that blooms near the end of winter.
Take the Meijo subway line south to Atsuta Jingu, a serene respite in the middle of Nagoya city. The shrine complex is famous for its tall cypress trees and lush walking paths lined with flowering trees during spring and summer.
My Neighbor Totoro fans should make the journey east to Satsuki and Mei’s House. This charming replica of the characters’ home is about 90 minutes away from Atsuta Jingu by public transit, so you’ll need to start your day early to fit it into your itinerary. It also requires a reservation, so plan your visit in advance!
Before you leave Nagoya, enjoy a delicious lunch of hitsumabushi. This miso-glazed grilled eel is served with condiments like hot tea and pickled vegetables, and is a must eat food in Japan. If you don’t have time for a sit-down meal, grab an unagi bento from the station before heading to Osaka.
Osaka at Night
Drop your bags and dive right into the famous Osaka nightlife at Dotonbori. You’ll pass beneath colorful billboards, neon lights, and some giant sea creatures as you weave through the crowded streets. Be sure to check out Hozenji Yokocho and the riverfront Glico Sign and Ebisu Bridge.
If you’re hungry for dinner, you’re in the right place! Osaka is a street food mecca, and there’s plenty of it in Dotonbori. Takoyaki (fried balls of octopus) and okonomiyaki (egg and cabbage pancakes with mix-ins and savory sauce) are the city’s specialties. For a sit-down meal, I highly recommend okonomiyaki at Fukutaro.
Before you turn in for the night, cross the river to reach Shinsaibashi, Osaka’s premier shopping district. Even if you aren’t looking to buy, its vibrant shopfronts and covered markets are a must see after dark.
Where to stay in Osaka
For this short trip to Osaka, I recommend staying near Namba Station. Most of the activities are walkable from here, and the rest can be easily reached via public transit.. Plus, you’ll have an easy connection back to the shinkansen station or airport.
Hotel WBF Namba Motomachi is a great option for budget travelers. The rooms are simple and small, but the location is perfect for exploring Osaka on foot in a short time.
Day 10: Osaka
Close out your 10 day Japan itinerary with an epic exploration of Osaka.
You’ll have an early yet magical start at Sumiyoshi Taisha, a 1,600-year-old Shinto shrine. The sprawling complex includes twisting trees and a lovely pond with a red footbridge. It’s best to visit before 9am, when the grounds are still quiet and the priests are conducting their morning chores.
Exit on the eastern side and cross the street to reach Sumiyoshitorii-mae tram stop (it’s the raised platform in the median). Then, take the Hankaidenki-Hankai tram to Dobutsuen-mae.
Hop off the tram and walk north to Shinsekai, the Insta-famous street with a view of Tsutenkaku tower. There are tons of restaurants and shops in the area, including a massive Don Quijote.
From here, it’s a short walk to Tennoji Park, a huge green space in the middle of Osaka. Definitely pay a visit to Keitakuen Garden for unique views of the city skyline.
Exit the garden to the north and pass by Isshinji Temple on your way to Shittenoji, an impressive and ancient Buddhist temple with a gorgeous pagoda. I loved that you could see the modern skyscrapers rising behind the historic buildings.
After exploring the temple complex, it’s time to eat! Walk west to Ebisucho Station and take the Sakaisuji Line to Nippombashi Station. This will drop you right outside Kuromon Market, one of the busiest food markets in Japan.
Kuromon Market is 100 years old, but only started selling street food around 2016 due to an influx of Chinese tourists. Before then, it was a shopping market frequented by locals.
Kuromon can be pretty intimidating, especially if you don’t speak Japanese, so I strongly recommend booking a guided food tour with a local. I had the best time sampling and learning about Japanese cuisine with Hiro, our local guide.
Waddle your full belly back to Nippombashi Station and travel to Osaka Castle. Photos do not do this place justice. The five-storied layers of white, gold, and teal are absolutely breathtaking when viewed up close, especially through a veil of plum and cherry blossoms. You can also pay to visit the castle tower for stellar views over the city below.
And speaking of awesome overlooks, you’ll cap off your 10 days in Japan at the Umeda Sky Building. The 40th floor observation deck provides unparalleled panoramic views over Osaka. You’ll need to make an online reservation, and I suggest choosing a sunset time slot for the ultimate experience.
Know Before You Go
Before you embark on your 10 day trip to Japan, there are a few things you should know.. These detailed guides cover everything from packing lists to cultural taboos:
My favorite Japan travel books
These books are full of fun and practical information about traveling in Japan (I own all three!):
You’ll find pretty much everything you need in the above resources. But if you’re after the TL;DR version, here are the must-knows:
- Many Japanese train stations have coin-operated luggage lockers where you can store bags of all sizes. Sometimes it’s more practical to store your luggage and start sightseeing right away rather than travel to your hotel to drop your bags.
- Always carry cash, as many small restaurants don’t accept credit cards
- Rent a pocket wifi or SIM card for mobile data on the go
- Download offline Google Maps for every city you’re going to visit (in case you lose service and get lost)
- Don’t eat or drink while walking or on public transit (except for bullet trains), and be prepared to carry your trash/recycling around because bins are scarce
- If you have dietary restrictions, scout out restaurants in advance and have a way to communicate your needs in Japanese (ex. make some English/Japanese allergen cards)
- Learning some simple travel phrases goes a long way
Where to stay in every city