Japan is made up of hundreds of islands that extend for nearly 2,000 miles (3,210 km). How many days should you spend exploring, and where should you focus your time? From an action-packed four days in Japan to a leisurely three-week itinerary, here are some suggestions for making the most of your time in the Land of the Rising Sun.
Make the Most of Your Time in Japan
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Over 900 miles southwest of Tokyo, Okinawa-hontō—Okinawa's main island—anchors the lesser-known string of islands straddling Japan's two southernmost prefectures. For those who fancy a beach holiday on their grand tour of Japan, its tropical climate and unique Ryūkyūan culture are just a two-hour flight from Tokyo.
If you have just five days to spend in Japan, you could focus your energy on the ultra-modern city of Tokyo. Or divide your time between Tokyo and the more traditional Kyoto, visiting the most famous shrine in the country. A more ambitious itinerary takes you to several cities, including Hiroshima and Osaka, while a simpler trip plan focuses solely on the culture and history of Kyoto. Another alternative is to get away from the crowds and hike along the historic Nakasendo Trail, following the footsteps of feudal lords and samurai on the mountain path connecting Kyoto and Tokyo.
You can visit at least two regions of Japan in six days, thanks to efficient transportation that includes high-speed trains. First-time visitors will enjoy a mix of tradition and modernity while experiencing Tokyo's nightlife and Kyoto's historic sites. Those keen on cuisine will try sushi-making in Tokyo and take a tasting tour of Osaka. Outdoor enthusiasts can immerse in nature and rural culture while hiking the Kumano Kodo Trail or opt for a winter adventure that includes snowshoeing in Nagano.
With a week to spend in Japan, some travelers focus on Tokyo, adding side trips to Hiroshima and Mount Fuji. If you're eager to experience a more traditional side of Japanese culture, consider a weeklong itinerary that takes you to Osaka, Kyoto, the shrines of Nara, and the sacred temples of Koyosan. Photographers might focus on scenic Japan, from charming villages and quiet gardens to gorgeous natural landscapes. And if you visit in spring, consider a cherry blossom tour where you'll have ample opportunities to see the famed pink flowers in bloom.
You can incorporate a cultural highlights tour by seeing geisha and tucking into Japanese cuisine or experience the best of Tokyo and Kyoto in eight days, with additional day trips to Hakone, Nara, and Arashiyama. Alternatively, chase cherry blossoms and spot the iconic Mount Fuji as you travel from Osaka to the capital. Discover the world-famous Senso-ji Shrine and the Yasaka Pagoda in Higashiyama. Or don your winter gear and set off on the Naksendo Trail, sleeping in a different ancient village each night.
With nine days in Japan, you can visit three to six destinations. Foodies and first-timers can hit the highlights and taste their way around Tokyo, Kyoto, and Osaka. Nature and culture enthusiasts can visit villages and hike the Nakasendo Trail in Central Japan. The Northern Japan itinerary is suited to travelers interested in Hokkaido and families with little ones that will love kid-friendly activities like Oshino Ninja Village. Active travelers who prefer to venture independently can cycle, kayak, and hike on the self-guided tour.
With 10 days in Japan, you can choose to tour Japan's major cities—Tokyo, Kyoto, Osaka, and Hiroshima. Or get away from the bright lights and crowds, choosing a trip through Japan's natural wonders, from towering bamboo groves to mountain peaks to rivers lined with cherry blossom trees. If you're traveling with children, consider a family-friendly journey that includes a visit to a ninja theme park and a ride on one of the world's steepest roller coasters. Adventure seekers might follow in the footsteps of samurai on a self-guided walking tour of the Nakasendo Trail.
Thanks to efficient public transportation, you can fit a lot into 11 days in Japan. First-timers and families can take a Japan highlight tour that comprises Tokyo, Kyoto, and Osaka or opt for the faster-paced itinerary that includes a Hiroshima visit. History enthusiasts and cherry blossom chasers will enjoy scenic heritage sites, such as Takayama, on a history-focused trip, while foodies can sample local flavors in several cities, including Osaka, the "nation's kitchen," on the "Culinary Heritage" tour.
In 12 days, you can explore as few as four destinations, like Tokyo, Kyoto, Hiroshima, and Osaka, or over eight on a faster-paced trip, adding in lesser-known locales like Kurashiki, Oda City, and Hagi. Cover the best of Japan and include an island visit to Okinawa, Japan's "Hawaii," indulge in the culinary delights and sake on a food-forward tour, or discover stunning nature from Lake Kawaguchi to peaceful gardens in Kanazawa. Or consider a multiday trek on the historic Nakasendo Trail.
In 13 days, you can experience the highlights of five or six cities, like those of Tokyo, Hakone, Kyoto, Hiroshima, and Osaka, on a history-focused tour by train or swap out Hakone and add Nagoya and Kobe to discover modern and traditional Japan. Slow the pace down and eat sushi at Tsukiji Market, see Mount Fuji from Lake Kawaguchi, and pay your respects in Hiroshima. Alternatively, follow a pilgrimage trail on Shikoku Island to discover some of Japan's most prestigious temples.
With two weeks to spend in Japan, you can take a classic tour around the country's highlights—including Tokyo, Kyoto, and Hiroshima—or opt for an itinerary focusing specifically on culture and history. Travelers with children love a family-oriented tour featuring hands-on activities, like sushi-making classes and a samurai sword-fighting course, plus visits to two major theme parks. Adventurous visitors opt for an off-the-beaten-path journey around Japan's hidden gems or an active trip around the country's wintry landscapes.
With 15 days in Japan, you can delight in a well-rounded introduction to Tokyo and Kyoto's rich history and culture on a highlights tour or include time in Kanazawa, Naoshima, and Hakone to immerse yourself in the country's art scene. Those looking to get off the beaten path can make their way north from Tokyo to Akita and back, while travelers seeking a relaxed trip will enjoy the gentle pace of a Golden Route tour.