We visited Japan during the summer months and in this blogpost I want to share our itinerary with you, including the pros and cons of this itinerary. If you want to read about the highlights of our Japan travel, you can click here.
We traveled by train. We bought separate tickets for each journey, as we sometimes visited locations that were not easily reachable with the JR pass. This way you can always take the most efficient route to your destination. However we decided last minute that we would do a daytrip with the bullet train to Hiroshima from Kyoto. This is a very expensive train ride. In the end the total travel costs were about the same when buying individual tickets or traveling with the JR pass.
The advantage of having a JR pass is not having to research where you can buy tickets and skipping cues. The disadvantage is that the JR pass does not cover all stations and trains, so it can be a costly option depending on your route. You can check train schedules and prices on Hyperdia, to check whether it would be worth investing in a JR Pass.
- Tokyo: 4 nights
- Kawaguchiko for Mount Fuji: 2 nights
- Japanese Alps for Nakasendo trail: 2 nights
- Kyoto: 5 nights
- Koyasan for temple stay: 1 night
- Osaka: 1 night
Total number of nights: 15 nights
The dayplanning below explains the main activities we did per day on our trip to Japan.
Day 1: Visit to Sensoji temple and walk around Asakusa neighborhood, and walking from Shibuya to Harakuja neighborhoods.
Day 2: Visiting the Technology Museum at the other side of town with great views of Tokyo city, Mario Kart at night.
Day 3: Mukojima Hyakkaen gardens, Akihabara at night, dining in Piss alley.
Day 4: Walk around the gardens of the Royal Palace, leave to Mt. Fuji.
Day 5: Rising early and going to the Onsen of our hotel and watch Mt. Fuji. Walk around Lake Kawaguchiko and take the Mount Fuji Panoramic Ropeway.
Day 6: Travel to the Japanese Alps to the village Nagiso. At night traditional Kaseiki dinner at the restaurant of our hotel.
Day 7: Walk the Nakasendo trail from Magome to Tsumago.
Day 8: Travel to Kyoto and visit the Imperial Palace in the afternoon.
Day 9: Go to Fushimi Inari to visit the shrine and tori, walk through the Arashiyama bamboo forest and in the evening we did a walking tour in Gion with a guide.
Day 10: Cycling tour of Kyoto with a guide.
Day 11: Visit the Miho museum and during sunset we visited Gion again to spot Geishas ourselves.
Day 12: Daytrip to Hiroshima and Miyajima.
Day 13: Travel to Koyasan for the temple stay. At night we did a guided tour of the cemetery.
Day 14: Travel to Osaka, go to Dotonbori in the afternoon, visit the Tempozan Ferris Wheel during sunset and enjoy the views over the city.
Day 15: Daytrip to Nara and at night fly back home.
Best things about our program:
I wrote a separate blogpost about the highlights of our trip, but below I will write down the best things about our program:
- Staying in Asakusa in Tokyo. It is much cheaper to stay in this area, than more central areas, while still being well connected with the touristy areas by public transport.
- Spending 4 nights in Tokyo was the perfect amount to be able to do all the activities we wanted to do. The city is huge and you need at least three days to explore.
- Doing the daytrip to Hiroshima from Kyoto. The museum and war memorial were super impressive, I would not have wanted to miss this experience, however I was happy that we stayed in Kyoto at night, as Kyoto is much more atmospheric than Hiroshima.
- Visiting Gion several times during our days in Kyoto. Gion is a place where you can still feel the past of Japan. The sunsets in Gion are stunning and the excitement of spotting Geishas adds to the whole experience.
- Walking the Nakasendo trail. I like my travels to be a mix of culture and nature and adding the Japanese Alps to our itinerary really helped to achieve that. We loved the hiking trail and our hotel with an Onsen in the middle of the Alps.
What I wish I didn’t do:
I absolutely loved Japan, it is one of my favorite countries, however there are some things that I think we spent too much time on:
- The Arishiyama bamboo forest was a bit of a letdown. It is located far outside of the city center, it took us quite some time to find it from the bus stop and in the end it was really small and crowded. I suppose it is a good location to take pictures, but only really early in the morning before the crowds. I don’t like going to a place just for taking pictures and had seen better bamboo forests in other Japanese gardens.
- Daytrip to Nara. I had seen all the pictures of people feeding the deer in Nara and didn’t necessarily get there to take pictures with the deer. However it is impossible to enjoy Nara without being photobombed by people taking pictures with deer.. The deer attract massive crowds.. I did not like the palace in Nara as much as I liked the much quieter palace in Kyoto, which had lovely gardens as well. Concluding: if you do not want to feed the deer, don’t go to Nara. I wish we had spent the day in Osaka instead, as it is a really lovely town.
- Staying two nights near Mt Fuji at Kawaguchiko. We were lucky to see Mt Fuji on the first day, as some days it is fully covered in clouds. If you do not plan on climbing Mt Fuji (which is only possible in the summer months), I would not advice to stay near Mt Fuji for over one night. I thought Kawaguchiko had kind of lost its former glory and did not love the place. Mt Fuji and the lakes were absolutely beautiful, but the surroundings felt kind of lackluster and lacked the special vibe which I experienced in many locations in Japan. Friends of mine enjoyed Mt Fuji from Hakone, which could be a nice alternative.