This diverse 10-day itinerary focuses on Japan's four major cities. Start in Tokyo, exploring the city's modern and ancient charms, before heading to traditional Kyoto, trendy Osaka, and inspiring Hiroshima. In between, you'll visit magical islands and bamboo forests, sample local cuisine, and experience the culture of four fascinating regions. 

Highlights

  • Sample sake and sumo wrestling in Tokyo
  • Step back in time with a traditional boat ride in Kyoto
  • Savor traditional street food in Osaka
  • Discover the rebirth of vibrant Hiroshima
  • Explore the pristine, deer-filled island of Miyajima

Brief Itinerary

Day Highlights Overnight
Day 1 Welcome to Tokyo! Tokyo
Day 2 Sumo and Sake in Tokyo Tokyo
Day 3 Futuristic Odaiba Tokyo
Day 4 Memoirs of a Geisha in Kyoto Kyoto
Day 5 Bamboo Groves and Temples at Arashiyama Kyoto
Day 6 Day Trip to Nara Kyoto
Days 7-8 Kansai Cuisine in Osaka Osaka
Day 9 Reborn Hiroshima Hiroshima
Day 10 Miyajima Island Hiroshima

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: Sumo and Sake in Tokyo

Barrels of sake.
Barrels of sake.

Today you'll get a deeper insight into some traditional and spiritual aspects of Japanese culture. Begin at a morning sumo training session on Ryogoku, where you'll witness the skill and power of these skilled athletes. More ceremony than sport, Sumo wrestling began centuries ago as a ritual to entertain the gods.

Afterward, take a short walk to the Edo-Tokyo Museum. Here you'll discover what it was like to live in 16th century Japan.  Learn about how the residents worked together to build and protect their communities while traversing the halls of a replica Edo-era town. 

End the afternoon with a visit to one of Tokyo’s sake tasting centers. Choose from a sampling of over 80 different fermented wines and spirits as you learn the art of food and sake pairing.

Day 3: 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 4: 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 5: 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 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 6: 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 7-8: 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 9: Reborn Hiroshima

Hiroshima skyline and the monument of the Atomic Dome Museum.
Hiroshima skyline and the monument of the Atomic Dome Museum.

Day nine takes you to Hiroshima, a place of sobering history and inspiring regeneration. Start at the Atomic Dome Museum and Hiroshima Peace Park, where you'll learn about the events of WWII and the city's slow process of rebirth and rebuilding. 

Next, head to Hiroshima Castle, a  magnificent landmark overlooking the Otawaga River. A principal seat of power in the 16th century, the original castle was destroyed during the war. An excellent recreation now stands in its place, offering panoramic views of the city from its top floor.

Finish your evening with a meal of okonomiyaki, a regional savory pancake topped with shredded cabbage, noodles, and pork belly.

Day 10: Miyajima Island

Red torii gates in the waters of Miyajima.
Red torii gates in the waters of Miyajima.

Today you'll visit the magical island of Miyajima. Travel via a short ferry ride and be sure to stand on the deck to get a good view of the giant red torii gate rising out of the sea upon your arrival.

Miyajima holds the rare distinction in Japan of having never experienced an earthquake; because of this, many of its temples are entirely original and centuries-old. Be sure to visit Daisho Temple, Itsukushima Shrine, and Mount Misen via its scenic ropeway. The view from the top of the mountain is superb, looking out across the inland sea. The island is also populated with friendly deer, which adds to the fairytale-like setting.

Map

Map of Japan's Big Four: Tokyo, Kyoto, Osaka & Hiroshima - 10 Days
Map of Japan's Big Four: Tokyo, Kyoto, Osaka & Hiroshima - 10 Days