This 10 day Japan itinerary through the main island of Honshu explores Japan’s fascinating melding of old traditions and new innovations. It’s a destination I want to return again and again, thanks to the countless stunning temples, delicious noodles and sushi, and incredible infrastructure. My 10 day Japan itinerary covers all of the country’s highlights and is perfect for a first-time visit.
Getting Around Japan
This 10 day Japan itinerary works best if you plan to travel through Japan by train. I recommend the Japan Rail Pass (JR Pass) which is good for between 7 and 21 days depending on which pass you buy. You should plan to buy this pass online before your trip with enough time to receive your voucher by mail. When you get to Japan, you’ll exchange your voucher for your actual pass. More information and how to purchase can be found on the official Japan Rail Pass website.
How Much Does it Cost to Travel in Japan?
Japan is not a cheap country to travel in, especially when compared to other destinations in Asia. With a strong economy and currency, travelers from Western Europe, the USA, Canada, Australia, and New Zealand will find prices similar to those at home. In general, you can expect to spend an average of $120 USD per day, per person for a midrange travel experience. Budget travelers could eke out their trip at $50 USD per person per day if they really dedicated themselves to saving money. These estimates do not include international travel to Japan. For more guidance budgeting your trip, check out Budget Your Trip‘s website for a breakdown of anticipated costs in Japan. We spent about $1300 per person following this 10-day itinerary in Japan.
10 Day Japan Itinerary Day-by-Day
Day 1 – Fly to Tokyo
You have two airport options when flying internationally into Tokyo – Narita International Airport (NRT) and Haneda Airport (HND). Haneda is a bit closer to the city, but has fewer international connections that Narita.
Days 2-3 – Explore Tokyo’s Highlights
In my opinion, the most efficient and educational way to explore a city is with a guide. I am a big fan of walking tours, and like many cities, Tokyo has free walking tours available. All of the Tokyo highlights I list below can be visited on your own, and many are also all included in free walking tours offered by Tokyo Localized. For efficiency, we actually did 3 of Tokyo Localized’s free tours on the same day. It made for a long day, but enabled us to cover many highlights in a single day. We started with their flagship Free Walking Tour Tokyo in the morning, followed by the Meiji Shrine and Harajuku afternoon tour, and lastly the Shinjuku Night tour.
Akihabara is the epicenter of all things anime and gaming. Animated characters cover billboards and signs on seemingly every available space, and there are countless pachinko casinos. The whole area feels electric – and it may literally be due to the voltages of power pulsing through the streets.
Meiji Shrine is the most impressive shrine in all of Japan for me, even though it’s relatively new. The shrine was originally constructed in 1920, destroyed in WWII air raids, and rebuilt in 1958. To get to the temple, you walk through a serene wooded path. Along the way you’ll see paper lanterns and barrels of sake, given as gifts to the gods and wrapped in colorfully designed paper.
Harajuku is the place to see and be seen in elaborate and whimsical outfits. The culture of dressing in outlandish fashion has been diluted over the past few years, but it’s still a place to come peacock, especially if you’re a teenage girl.
Senso-Ji Temple is Tokyo’s most visited temple thanks to the compelling legend that surrounds it. The temple holds a golden image of Kannon, the Buddhist goddess of mercy. Allegedly, two fishermen pulled this golden image out of the river in 628 AD, and the relic has remained at this site ever since. That said, since the image is not on public display, no one really knows if it actually exists. To get to this temple, you must first pass through a large red torii and then down a bustling shopping street called Nakamise-Dori, in a funny reversal of the “exit through the gift shop” notion.
The street sells anything you can think of – food, tourist knickknacks, authentic handmade crafts, and more. I found one store that only sold bobbling cat figures. The temple complex is also home to a shrine to the two fisherman who found the relic. As an aside, Buddhism and Shintoism are very much intertwined in Japan, so it’s common to see Buddhist temples that have Shinto shrines, and vice versa.
Tsukiji Outer Market
Although the inner Tsukiji Market (where the world’s largest and most significant fish market was located for decades) has moved to Toyosu Fish Market, the Tsukiji Outer Market is still worth a visit! You can sample a number of items from stalls along the way – dried fish, whole crabs, and delicious wasabi sesame seeds. I recommend going with a guide if possible, as the chaotic alleys and stalls are hard to navigate solo.
Toyosu Fish Market
The new location of Tokyo’s fish market is a cleaner, more sanitary version of the iconic Tsukiji Market. Toyosu Fish Market features a tuna auction every morning at 4:30am as well as dining options showcasing fish from the market. Previously at Tsukiji, there weren’t any restaurants as the market catered more to restaurant owners and fish distributors rather than everyday people.
While I can’t speak to the conditions at Toyosu specifically since it was not yet open, it’s worth noting that touring a fish market is a very raw experience. You might see blood on the ground, chunks of dead fish on ice, and you’ll almost certainly smell all of it. It’s a fascinating glimpse into where our food comes from, but it’s not for the faint of heart.
Day 4 – Day Trip from Tokyo to Mount Fuji and/or Aokigahara Forest
After you’ve explored Tokyo, it’s time for a day trip to see Mount Fuji’s iconic snowcapped peak. How you are able to enjoy the volcano varies with the seasons. In summer, you can hike any of the trails in the Fuji-Hakone-Izu National Park, but in the winter the trails are inaccessible
If you have a Japan Rail Pass, there are a number of day trip options from Tokyo accessible by train with your pass. We visited in the winter and opted to visit Aokigahara Forest, where we had incredible views of the volcano, plus the opportunity to visit ice caves formed by lava tubes. Since caves maintain the same temperature year-round, this is a great option at any time of the year. The forest is also beautiful and unique. Lave flows coming from Mt. Fuji had formed the part we walked through. This exposed all of the trees’ roots in an upheaval of jumbled foliage.
Once we reached the cave’s floor, we saw hundreds of icicles coming from both the ceiling and the ground. Eventually, we were walking over a frozen lake, which, our guide explained, descends 20 meters below our feet. An explosion of gas from Mt. Fuji created this cave. Because the cave walls are all lava rock, which is porous, there is no echo within this cave. This makes it very different from most caves I’ve been in.I definitely recommend including Aokigahara Forest in your Mount Fuji day trip from Tokyo.
Day 5 – Day Trip from Tokyo to Nikko
Nikko, about an hour away from central Tokyo, is another great day trip option from Japan’s bustling capital. The town is most known for its scenic bridge and shrines preserving the glory of the Edo period from 1600 to 1868. It is an easy day trip from Tokyo by train, however, once in Nikko, expect 3-4 miles of walking to the main sights or to take a cab.
The red footbridge spans a river at a sight where two giant serpents carried a Buddhist priest, Shodo Shonin, on their backs.
Just up the hill from the picturesque Shin-kyo bridge is the Tosho-gu Shrine built in Shodo Shonin’s honor.
Kanman-ga-Fuchi is a lovely trail alongside the river featuring dozens of stone Buddhas (jizos) who symbolically protect children and travelers. They also wear red woven hats and capes, making them especially picturesque and one of the most unique things we saw in Nikko.
Day 6 – Hakone
Hakone is a small mountain and hot springs resort town a few hours south of Tokyo, near the base of Mount Fuji. Allegedly, people can visit this town as a day trip from Tokyo, but between navigating the subway and train lines to get there, and then figuring out what bus to take, to finally realizing that Hakone is less a town and more an entire region, I don’t have any idea how anyone could visit Hakone and back in a day from Tokyo. I recommend spending at least 1 night, but preferably 2 in Hakone.
It’s also worth noting that you can see Mount Fuji from Hakone (although the view looked more distant and hazy in my opinion than from the Aokigahara Forest). If you plan to visit Hakone for more than just 1 day, you could probably combine your Mount Fuji hiking plans into your stay in Hakone. We found public transportation getting into and exploring withing Hakone to be a little bit confusing, though, so I recommend doing research on transportation or day tour options if you want to use Hakone as a base for exploring Mount Fuji.
Onsen and Ryokan Experience
We stayed at Ashinoko Ichinoyu, a traditional guesthouse near the town center. We absolutely loved this hotel. Dinner and breakfast were amazing, and we had free access to private onsens.
Our night at this traditional ryokan (Japanese-style guesthouse) is one of my favorite experiences in all of Japan. Our room was laid out on mats, with a seating area on the floor for tea. Instead of chairs, there were cushions around the low table.
The hotel offered a multi-course dinner for only $25/person, which included as much sake and beer as we cared for. Our dinner was elaborate and delicious, featuring multiple courses of appetizers (the shredded chicken and oyster boiled in soy sauce were standouts), a generous hot pot dinner (veggies and meat you boil yourself on a hot plate on your table), a divine piece of fish broiled with cheese on top, and a sorbet dessert.
After dinner, we relaxed for a bit before our private onsen reservation. An onsen is a traditional Japanese hot spring. Bathing is a special ritual in Japan, and the Japanese take hot springs very seriously. Normally, you can go to a public onsen (typically separated by men and women), but since we had access for free to enjoy the hotsprings together by ourselves, this was the obvious choice. Also, people with tattoos are generally not allowed in public onsen, because tattoos are associated with the Japanese mafia.
In the morning our hotel served us breakfast, which was again quite elaborate. We had a whole fish, a soft boiled egg that is meant to be mixed with rice and a special sauce to create a delicious soup-like dish, steamed veggies, and the best miso soup I’ve ever had. I think this is due to what I later learned are small coils of straight-up gluten. Everything about our experience at this hotel was relaxing and indulgent – and surprisingly not particularly expensive. We only spent $100 per person for everything.
Scenic River Cruise
We didn’t have an opportunity to do this since we arrived to Hakone too late in the afternoon. When we eventually return this is top on my to-do list. For 1930 yen (or 3470 yen with the Hakone Ropeway), take a round-trip riverboat cruise on a pirate ship. It’s a little hokey, but it’s the best way to see Mount Fuji from the water.
Ropeway and Owakudani (The Great Boiling Valley)
For 2600 yen (3470 yen with the Scenic River Cruise), take the Hakone Ropeway to Owakudani (The Great Boiling Valley). Owakudani was created only 3000 years ago when a nearby volcano erupted and collapsed. Today, you can see the hydrogen sulfide steam billowing from the ground.
Day 7-8 – Kyoto
From Hakone, take the train to Kyoto, Japan’s first capital. Kyoto is also home to the highest concentration of temples and shrines in the world.
There are dozens of noteworthy destinations in Kyoto, but here are the key highlights you don’t want to miss.
Kinkaku-ji (Golden Pavillion)
Kinkaku-Ji, one of Kyoto’s most famous temples, known as the “Golden Pavilion”.
The temple was originally built in 1397 as a retirement home for a shogun (leader). It was later converted into a temple by his son. In 1950 a monk burned it to the ground (apparently out of love). Five years later, a full reconstruction took place of the ruins, with even more gold leaf added for pizazz.
Arashiyama Bamboo Grove
Tall stalks of bamboo surround either side of the trail at Arashiyama’s Bamboo Grove. This creates the feeling that you are further away from town than you really are. That said, the place is wildly crowded. The photos that only have us in them are more or less an optical illusion. Remove us from the picture and you’d see dozens of other tourists. The grove is also smaller than I expected. It’s still worth seeing, but it’s not this magical, other-worldly experience you may read about on other sites.
Fushimi Shinto Temple
Fushimi Shinto temple is known for its seemingly endless red toriis. The gates lead the way up the nearby mountain (considered sacred). In Shintoism, one walks under torii gates to cleanse his or her soul before entering a holy place. If that’s true, you would leave this site with the cleanest soul ever.
Day 9 – Day Trip from Kyoto to Hiroshima
The next day we took the shinkansen bullet train to Hiroshima, less than 2 hours away. This was a great day trip and I highly recommend it for anyone staying in Kyoto or Osaka. Hiroshima was very walkable. You can have a very full and meaningful visit walking to everything from the train station.
Shukkei-en is a small garden with lakes, hills, picturesque bridges, and lots of koi fish.
Memorial to Sadako Sasaki
Sadako Sasaki was a young girl who died of leukemia following the atomic bomb the US dropped on Hiroshima on August 6, 1945, at 8:15 am. I had learned about Sadako in elementary school when we read Sadako and the Thousand Paper Cranes. The children’s book is about Sadako and the origami paper cranes she and others made. She hoped that once she reached a thousand, she could make a wish to live. Stumbling upon this memorial in front of the school she had attended was incredibly moving. This story affected me very strongly when I was a kid and remained in my memory all this time.
We then came to the Hiroshima Castle grounds, a beautiful castle from the 1590s, but destroyed by the bomb. A few years later it was rebuilt and now serves as a museum of the city’s pre-WWII history.
Atomic Bomb Dome
The Atomic Bomb Dome is all that was left standing of the Hiroshima Prefectural Commercial Exhibition Hall after the United States dropped the world’s first atomic bomb. Everyone in this building died instantly.
150,000 individuals died between that day and the end of the year as a result of injuries and illness caused by the bomb. Many of these were children just starting their school day when the bomb detonated over a hospital in the city’s center.
Peace Park and Memorial Museum
The Peace Park and museum are a memorial to the victims and a plea to the world to end all nuclear weapons programs. The Memorial Museum was especially poignant. An entire room displays the names and photographs of each of the victims, some of whom remain unidentified.
Another room plays videos and readings from a periodic journal that came out shortly after the bomb where parents describe their last moments with their children who died in the attack. The journal served as a way for the community to grieve collectively and memorialize their children who died too young.
Day 10 – Osaka
Take the train to Osaka from Kyoto and check into a hotel there. With more time, spend a few days in Osaka. Otherwise, you can take an international flight from one of Osaka’s two international airports (Kansai International Airport (KIX) andOsaka International Airport (ITM)) to your next destination.
Japan 10 Day Itinerary Summary
Covering Tokyo, Nikko, Hakone, Mount Fuji, Kyoto, Hiroshima, and Osaka, this 10 day Japan itinerary covers key highlights in a brief time. Let me know what you think or if you have any questions in the comments!