This two-week itinerary takes you on a whirlwind tour through Japan's greatest highlights. Walk the streets of hyper-modern Tokyo and Osaka, hike to a sacred Buddhist monastery at Koyasan, soak in hot springs under Mount Fiji, and step back in time in historic Kyoto. From ancient temples to futuristic art shows, vibrant cities to secluded mountaintops, you'll experience a little bit of everything on this adventurous journey.

Highlights

  • Train with sushi chefs in Tokyo
  • Soak in hot springs under Mount Fuji
  • Meditate with monks at Koyasan
  • Wander magical bamboo forests in Kyoto
  • Sample street food in Osaka

Brief Itinerary

Day Highlights Overnight
Day 1 Welcome to Tokyo! Tokyo
Day 2 Futuristic Odaiba Tokyo
Day 3 Tokyo's Fish Markets and Fashion Districts Tokyo
Day 4 Free Day in Tokyo Tokyo
Days 5-6 Mountains and Hot Springs in Hakone Hakone
Day 7 Memoirs of a Geisha in Kyoto Kyoto
Day 8 Bamboo Groves and Temples at Arashiyama Kyoto
Day 9 Meditation, Calligraphy, and Kendo Kyoto
Day 10 Day Trip to Nara Kyoto
Days 11-12 Stay with the Monks on Mount Koya Koyasan
Day 13 Kansai Cuisine in Osaka Osaka
Day 14 Farewell!  

Detailed Itinerary

Day 1: Welcome to Tokyo!

View across the Sensoji Temple, Tokyo.
View across the Sensoji Temple, Tokyo.

After settling into your accommodation, get oriented in the city with a visit to the world’s tallest tower. At 2,080 feet (634 m), the Tokyo Skytree offers spectacular views as far as Mount Fuji from its 360-degree observation deck. If heights aren’t your thing, take a walk through the grounds of Sensoji,  the city's oldest and most historically significant temple. Legends say it was founded when two brothers fished a statue of the goddess Kannon out of the Sumida River. The neighboring Asakusa Shrine also highlights the stark differences between Shinto and Buddhist belief systems. 

As night falls, head to the Shibuya district for your pick of restaurants, and finish off the evening with a trip to a Japanese izakaya (bar) to sample the different varieties of shochu, sake, and umeshu on offer.

Day 2: Futuristic Odaiba

Lanterns at the Mori Building Digital Art Museum, Odaiba.
Lanterns at the Mori Building Digital Art Museum, Odaiba.

Explore the artificial island of Odaiba— a center of the city’s futuristic fun. Even traveling to this shopping and entertainment district is enjoyable, whether taking a cruise through Tokyo Bay or crossing colorful the Rainbow Bridge.

Start your day at TeamLab, a permanent interactive art exhibition on the island that gives new meaning to the term 'modern art.' Be prepared to color in, follow art along the walls, gasp in awe, and take loads of photos. 

Car enthusiasts can visit the nearby Toyota City Showcase. Check out the latest innovations in the technology zone, reminisce about the old days in the vintage car collection rooms, or test-drive a favorite car on their private track (an international driving license is necessary).  

In the evening, experience one of Tokyo's wackiest shows at the Robot Restaurant. Less of a culinary adventure and more of a theatrical one, this 90-minute show is jam-packed with neon lights and vibrant music and is a great way to experience Japan's crazy techno culture.

Afterward, weave in and out of the alleys surrounding the famous Golden Gai district, and enjoy choosing from 200+ bars. Some bars only offer 3-5 seats, making for an intimate and memorable experience.

Day 3: Tokyo's Fish Markets and Fashion Districts

Tsukiji Market, Tokyo.
Tsukiji Market, Tokyo.

Day three starts at the largest fish market in the world, a must for anyone who loves sushi. You’ll take a guided tour of the lively Tsukiji and Toyosu Markets, then select fresh cuts of fish to make your own sushi under the guidance of a trained chef. 

In the afternoon, you’ll head to the trendy fashion hub of Harajuku. As you walk down Takeshita Street, be sure to stop by the rainbow cotton candy and crepe stands, as well as the fascinating costume galleries and character cafes. Visit the famous Kawaii Monster Cafe to get a glimpse of Japan's 'kawaii' culture. The brightly colored food, live performances from waitresses dressed like cartoon characters, and vibrant decor make it a memorable experience. 

For a brief respite from the neon and busyness, duck into Meiji Jingu Shrine, one of Tokyo's most spiritually significant religious structures. Take a stroll through its forested grounds for a bit of peace in the middle of the city. 

End your evening in Shibuya, visiting the iconic Shibuya Crossing before exploring the area's great restaurants, bars, and nightclubs.

Day 4: Free Day in Tokyo

Back streets of Shimokitazawa, Tokyo.
Back streets of Shimokitazawa, Tokyo.

Today the city is your oyster. Tokyo is packed with both fast-paced and leisurely pursuits, and the day is yours to explore at our own pace.

Suggested activities include:

  • Disney Sea: Although there are Disney theme parks in several parts of the world, Tokyo is the only city with a Disney Sea. Spend the day exploring hidden volcanic islands, riding gondolas in Mediterranean harbors, and whirlpooling in mermaid lagoons as you enjoy getting lost in the world of Disney. 
  • Picnic in Yoyogi Park: All you need is a few lunchboxes or 'Bentos' from a nearby store, a ball/frisbee, and some refreshing drinks to enjoy the vast lawns, ponds, and forests of Tokyo's largest park. Uniquely beautiful in autumn, when hundreds of trees spout golden leaves, it is equally enjoyable during the rest of the year.  
  • Shimokitazawa: Another super-trendy suburb of Tokyo, this district is popular with the younger demographic and filled to the brim with vintage clothing stores, live music venues, and dozens of izakaya offering food and drink from trendy to traditional.
  • Hike Mount Takao: This is one of the closest mountains to the city and offers numerous hiking trails for any outdoor enthusiasts. If the day is clear, you may also see the tell-tale snowcapped peak of Mount Fuji in the distance.
  • Attend a festival: Festivals or 'matsuri' are a fantastic opportunity to see a different side of local culture. Depending on the time of year, you can expect anything from parades and food stalls to dancing, music, and traditional arts. 
  • Animal cafes: Tokyo is full of places to hang out with your favorite furry friends, including cats, hedgehogs, owls, and rabbits.

Days 5-6: Mountains and Hot Springs in Hakone

View of Mount Fuji and Lake Ashi from Hakone.
View of Mount Fuji and Lake Ashi from Hakone.

No trip to Japan would be complete without seeing one of the country’s most iconic natural landmarks—the majestic Mount Fuji. Today you’ll travel to the mountainous region of Hakone, where a beautiful cruise across the lake followed by a ropeway gondola to the top of Mount Owakudani will reveal stunning views of the volcano and its surroundings. With two days in Hakone, you'll have time to relax and explore the area's natural and cultural wonders in depth—including its lakeside Shinto shrines and renowned onsen (hot springs.)

Hakone even boasts an onsen theme park. Guests have the opportunity to experience over 20 different types of hot springs, including wine, coffee, green tea, and sake baths. For those seeking a more conventional experience, relax in their open-air springs and saunas, or enjoy a more stimulating adventure with a visit to their waterslides, cave baths, and splash pools.

Day 7: Memoirs of a Geisha in Kyoto

A 'Maiko' walking the streets of Kyoto.
A 'Maiko' walking the streets of Kyoto.

 

Japan's former capital, Kyoto, is bursting with history and offers a more traditional, laid-back pace compared to Tokyo. Your first stop will be the famous Fushimi Inari Shrine. Featured in the movie Memoirs of a Geisha, this shrine has over 10,000 picturesque red torii gates donated by people and various businesses from all over Japan.

Your next activity is a traditional Japanese performing arts show. As well as offering a chance to see a performance by a Maiko (trainee Geisha), the theatrical experience also introduces you to other various skilled artists such as ikebana flower arrangers, puppeteers, Japanese harp players, and court musicians.

In the evening, take a walk through the bustling streets of Pontocho, an area along the Kamogawa River that’s packed with restaurants and bars.

Day 8: Bamboo Groves and Temples at Arashiyama

Arashiyama's dense bamboo groves.
Arashiyama's dense bamboo groves.

Just outside Kyoto is the tranquil area of Arashiyama, where you'll start your day with a ride on an open-air train, surrounded by incredible views of the river and surrounding forest. Then, travel down the Hozugawa River on a traditional Japanese boat. Depending on the season, you could be floating past banks lined with white and pink cherry blossoms in March, the deep green leaves of a warm summer in July, or the brilliant and fiery colors of autumn trees in November.

The district’s centerpiece is the sprawling Tenryuji Temple, a World Heritage Site that includes picturesque and ancient landscape gardens. Its gorgeous and otherworldly bamboo grove is the star attraction of Arashiyama, and it's easy to devote hours to exploring the meandering trails. Nearby you'll also find Nonomiya Shrine and the Iwatayama Monkey Park, where macaques roam freely.

If you're up for a walk, head to Otagi Nenbutsu-ji, a unique temple that houses hundreds of statues, all carved by different people. Look closely, and you'll find some of these Buddhist statues sporting glasses and carrying cellphones.

Day 9: Meditation, Calligraphy, and Kendo

Practicing Shodo calligraphy in Kyoto.
Practicing Shodo calligraphy in Kyoto.

Today you'll get the opportunity to learn zen meditation and clear your mind with practicing Buddhist monks. Buddhism is one of the two major religions in Japan, and this class will allow you to experience one of its significant practices first-hand.

You'll also learn the ancient art of 'shodo' or calligraphy as you put your artistry skills to the test. Your teacher will show you how to write certain characters in hiragana, katakana, and kanji, and teach you how to write your name in Japanese, which you can take home on a small souvenir.

If you're feeling adventurous, channel your inner martial arts master in a kendo lesson. You'll learn the basics of this ancient martial art, and compete against the other members of your class in a fun-filled tournament at the end of the session.

Day 10: Day Trip to Nara

Deer among ancient stone lanterns at Nara.
Deer among ancient stone lanterns at Nara.

Today you'll journey to the compact city of Nara, famous for its traditional sites and resident herds of tame deer. With scenic gardens, parks, temples, and shrines, you’ll spend the day exploring at your own pace. The Todaiji Temple, home to the giant Daibutsu Buddha statue, is a must-see before you head back to Kyoto for the evening.

Days 11-12: Stay with the Monks on Mount Koya

The ancient Okunoin Temple at Koyasan.
The ancient Okunoin Temple at Koyasan.

Days 11 and 12 take you to the southeastern side of Mount Koya, where you’ll follow an ancient pilgrimage route to reach the mountain’s holy Buddhist temple complex. Your journey begins in the village of Yunomine Onsen, a UNESCO World Heritage site known for its hot springs, and as the starting place for monks making the ancient Kumano Kodo pilgrimage. 

An exhilarating hike passes lush forest and sweeping views before reaching Koyasan. Home to over one hundred holy temples, the mountaintop monastery is considered one of the most sacred sites in Japan. This serene and spiritual place will be your home for two nights, giving you an immersive insight into Japan's Buddhist culture. Sleep in a historic temple, eat traditional vegetarian cuisine (shojin ryori), attend meditation classes, and learn the art of contemplation and relaxation. Witness the morning offering at Okunoin Cemetary before wandering through the Torodo Hall of Lamps, or hiking the many trails to waterfalls and hidden temples.

Day 13: Kansai Cuisine in Osaka

Street food vendors in Osaka.
Street food vendors in Osaka.

Osaka gives Tokyo a run for its money when it comes to delicious cuisine. Today you'll experience its delights with a street food tour. Enjoy being tantalized with mouthwatering smells and tastes as you traverse the city streets, sampling the specialties of the Kansai area. Savor the best rice wine in the region at a nearby sake brewery, and for those who prefer whiskey, tour and taste at the nearby whiskey distillery.

Afterward, head to Osaka's famous castle for panoramic views of the city before ending your night in the trendy Dotonbori district. Full of fantastic restaurants, clubs, and karaoke bars, its the city's go-to area for a great night out.

Day 14: Farewell!

Saying goodbye to Japan.
Say goodbye to Japan.

Today you'll bid farewell to Japan and reflect on all the fantastic memories you've made during your trip!