Japan's culture is an intoxicating mix of old and new. Staying in Tokyo, Kyoto, and Osaka over nine activity-filled days, you'll get under the skin of both sides of this fascinating country. See the historical and futuristic sides of Tokyo and cruise among the neon lights of Osaka. Immerse yourself in Japanese tradition, from watching a sumo wrestling practice to sampling whiskey at a top distillery. You'll also walk among Kyoto's serene shrines and temples and get to know geisha culture.


  • Explore Tokyo, including neon-lit Kabukicho and traditional Omoide Yokocho 
  • See magnificent Mount Fuji from cable cars and on a Lake Ashi cruise 
  • Witness the art of sumo wrestling at a morning practice in Tokyo
  • Immerse yourself in Kyoto's UNESCO sites of Kinkaku-ji and Nijo Castle
  • Taste fine Japanese whisky at Suntory Yamazaki Whisky Distillery

Brief Itinerary

Day Highlights Overnight
Day 1 Arrive in Tokyo, Explore Shinjuku Tokyo
Day 2 Day Trip to Lake Ashi, See Mount Fuji Tokyo
Day 3 Morning Sumo Practice Viewing in Tokyo Tokyo
Day 4 Transfer to Kyoto, Meet the Geisha Kyoto
Day 5 Hike at Fushimi Inari Shrine  Kyoto
Day 6 Visit Arashiyama District Kyoto
Day 7 Transfer to Osaka, Evening Street Food Tour Osaka
Day 8 Suntory Yamazaki Whisky Distillery Osaka
Day 9 Depart Osaka  

Detailed Itinerary

Day 1: Arrive in Tokyo, Explore Shinjuku

Tokyo's entertainment district, Kabukicho

Touch down in Tokyo! Your airport greeter will meet you and help with your public transport transfer. Whether night or day, the bustling Shinjuku district is a great place to start exploring the city. At the Tokyo Metropolitan Government Building, you can observe the cityscape with a 360-degree view from the 51st floor, 664 feet (202 m) above ground. On sunny days, you can see Mount Fuji—Japan's tallest peak.

While the area is known for its impressive skyscrapers, a five-minute walk from Shinjuku station is Omoide Yokocho, an area of narrow alleys and old wooden buildings strung with paper lanterns. The locally-run restaurants here are a great place to try your first yakitori dinner (skewers made of various cuts of meat), while the neighborhood's tumble of drinking dens, known as Golden Gai bars, are the perfect spot for your first drinks in Japan. Cheers!

To continue the evening fun, head to Japan's tourist land and red-light district, Kabukicho—synonymous in Tokyo with entertainment of all types. This world of curiosities offers everything from hostess bars and robot restaurants to busy pachinko centers (noisy gambling arcade machines), "love" hotels, and other after-dark activities. Kabukicho's unapologetically fun side is epitomized by its giant Godzilla head and claw, gripping the towering Toho Cinema building.

Day 2: Day Trip to Lake Ashi, See Mount Fuji

Enjoy a wonderful view of Mt. Fuji!
Mount Fuji, behind the Hakone shrine and Ashi Lake

Experience the splendor of Mount Fuji and Hakone on this full-day guided bus tour from Tokyo, around two hours away. Hakone, a town within the volcanically active Fuji-Hakone-Izu National Park, is known for its expansive views and rich nature. It's also in a prime position to take a closer look at Mount Fuji, the often snowcapped mountain that dominates the horizon with its height of 12,390 feet (3,776 m). 

You'll experience the Hakone Ropeway aerial lift, marvel at the Owakudani Valley, enjoy a Lake Ashi cruise, and visit the Hakone shrine, climbing lantern-lined steps through a dense forest. A giant red torii gate marks the approach to the shrine—across Japan, these symbolize the transition from the mundane to sacred worlds. Lapped by the edge of Ashi Lake, it appears to be floating on water.

Day 3: Morning Sumo Practice Viewing in Tokyo

Morning sumo practice in Tokyo

Begin the day by heading to a morning sumo training session in Ryogoku, where you'll witness the skill and power of these traditional athletes. More ceremony than sport, sumo wrestling is a tradition that began centuries ago—as the legend goes, it started as a ritual to entertain the gods. Witnessing the strength and smarts of these famous wrestlers is a unique experience, especially if you are an avid sports spectator. 

As an option for the afternoon, consider a "Perfect Afternoon Food Trip" around Nakameguro, one of Tokyo's hippest neighborhoods. A professional food writer guides this small-group tour. The cool cafés here have gained a reputation for their authentic delicacies. You can try anything from taiyaki (fish-shaped mini cakes) to fruit sandwiches, black sesame ice cream to artisanal pudding, plus third-wave coffee and craft beer. Lunch options might include ramen, sushi, shabu-shabu (hotpot), or gyoza (filled dumplings). 

Day 4: Transfer to Kyoto, Meet the Geisha

Welcome to Beautiful Kyoto
Yasaka Pagoda, in the historical Higashiyama neighborhood

Welcome to Kyoto! To get here, you'll take the bullet (high-speed) train from Tokyo, a journey of three hours. This former imperial capital is brimming with history and magnificent historic buildings. Depending on your arrival time, you can explore the ancient streets and jump headfirst into traditional Japanese culture independently or with a guide. Start at the Gion neighborhood, where you can spot ladies strolling around in patterned kimonos and shop for souvenirs and crafts. It's also a perfect place for your first Kyoto dinner. 

Another option is to visit the Yasaka Pagoda in the traditional Higashiyama neighborhood. The five-story Buddhist pagoda is an icon of Kyoto. It's the last remaining structure of a sixth-century temple complex known as Hokan-ji. Near this shrine, you can enjoy a traditional geisha and maiko (apprentice geisha) performance—the best way to start your journey in Kyoto!

Want to know what it's really like to be a geisha? As an optional evening activity, there's the chance to "meet the geisha." A maiko will host your visit to a traditional geisha studio. She'll serve you green tea while you discuss the ancient practice, and you'll get to try on a kimono yourself before posing for a professional photographer. You'll come away with stunning vacation pictures (emailed to you) and a deeper knowledge of Japanese culture. 

Day 5: Hike at Fushimi Inari Shrine 

Hiking at Fushimi Inari Shrine (Half day activity)
Climb the steps at Fushimi Inari shrine
Plan your trip to Japan
Chat with a local specialist who can help organize your trip.

In a small group tour, you'll see the shrine of Fushimi Inari Taisha, where you can walk inside the 10,000 "lucky" red gates popularized by the movie "Memoirs of a Geisha." The walkway leads to sacred Mount Inari, where you'll find grottoes filled with lit candles and stone foxes. If you'd like to hike the whole trail, it will take around two to three hours (3 mi/5 km, but with lots of steps). The shrine draws millions of visitors a year—but the higher you go, the fewer people there are!

If you like, you can also add an excursion to the colorful Nishiki Market. Known as "Kyoto's Kitchen," the market is all about fresh produce, from seafood to green tea, to Kyoto specialties like pickles and sweets. Get in line with the locals to try some of Kyoto's local dishes, such as yu dofu (boiled tofu) and nishin soba (noodles with dried herring). Nearby Nijo Castle is another great option—this UNESCO heritage site dates back to 1603 and was the residence of Tokugawa Ieyasu, one of the most powerful men in Japan. 

Day 6: Visit Arashiyama District

See Magnificent Views in Arashiyama
The tranquil Kinkaku-ji temple 

Today is a full-day trip to Arashiyama, a district in the western outskirts of Kyoto, around 30 minutes on the train. Located at the base of the Arashiyama Mountains (meaning "Storm Mountains"), it's a taste of the greenery of rural Japan. Immerse yourself in the Arashiyama Bamboo Grove and walk on shady forest trails. Among the many must-see attractions in the area is the Zen temple of Kinkaku-ji, a UNESCO World Heritage Site and place of perfect peace and tranquility, as well as the Monkey Park, where playful monkeys roam.

An optional activity today is a 45-minute tea ceremony—one of Japan's most famous traditions, it is the ancient art of preparing and presenting matcha (powdered green tea). Step inside a machiya (townhouse), in the historical neighborhood of Ninenzaka, at the heart of Kyoto's famous Higashiyama district. Guided by an expert, you'll discover the intricacies and delicate process of the tea ceremony and tea making while enjoying seasonal sweets. 

Day 7: Transfer to Osaka, Evening Street Food Tour

The bright lights of Osaka's Dotonbori district

All aboard! The train from Kyoto Station to Shin-Osaka Station takes just 15 minutes. Say hello to one of Japan's most vibrant cities, often described as Tokyo's younger and cooler sibling. Today, you'll have time to tick off Osaka's famous sights, such as Osaka Castle and its square mile (2 sq km) of blossom-filled grounds. Head to Umeda Sky Building, a landmark duo of 40-story towers linked by an atrium-like walkway. Then check out Shin-Sekai, a neighborhood created in 1912, with Coney Island as a model for its southern half and Paris for the north.

Next, head to the lively area of Dotonbori, where waterways are lined with luminous adverts and signs. It's especially glitzy during the holiday season, with decorations strung across the bridges. Full of fantastic restaurants, clubs, and karaoke bars, it's the city's go-to area for entertainment.

Osaka gives Tokyo a run for its money when it comes to delicious cuisine. At night you'll experience its delights on a street food tour to introduce you to the city's unique dishes. Try takoyaki, ball-shaped octopus bites, kushikatsu (Japanese deep-fried skewered meat and vegetables), and okonomiyaki, a savory Japanese pancake topped with whatever you like. Your guide will show you the best local restaurants and traditional food, so make sure you come with an empty stomach!

Day 8: Suntory Yamazaki Whisky Distillery

Suntory Yamazaki Whiskey Distillery (Half Day Activity)
Suntory Yamazaki Whisky Distillery 

If you enjoy the smooth taste of a fine whiskey, then then you'll love this half-day excursion to Suntory Yamazaki Whisky Distillery on the edge of Osaka. The region of Yamazaki was chosen for its conditions, which are similar to the Scottish Highlands—a misty valley where three rivers meet. It has some of Japan's softest waters, and the atmosphere is ideal for whiskey maturation. The complex consists of a museum (covering the history of Suntory Whisky from its conception in 1923), a souvenir shop, and a bar with a huge whisky selection.

The rest of the day is at your leisure. For an added culture hit, head to the Asahi Beer Oyamazaki Villa Museum of Art. This villa-museum houses decorative arts from Japan and abroad, as well as several of Monet's world-famous waterlilies paintings. The café's veranda provides an awe-inspiring view of the river-threaded valley.

Add a touch of tradition to your day with a trip to Myokian, a thatched Zen temple that's a short train journey northeast toward Kyoto. Its tea house is the oldest in Japan, making it the perfect place pre-book a tea ceremony if you haven't already done one. Add the temples of Hoshaku-ji or Rikyu Hachiman to your itinerary for opulent Japanese architecture and serene grounds. 

Day 9: Depart Osaka

Osaka Castle during cherry blossom season

It's time to say goodbye to beautiful Japan. Depending on your departure time, you could take another quick stroll around the Dotonbori district or maybe glimpse Osaka Castle before you head to Kansai Airport. Have a safe journey home!

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Map of Cultural Trip to Japan: Tokyo, Kyoto & Osaka - 9 Days
Map of Cultural Trip to Japan: Tokyo, Kyoto & Osaka - 9 Days