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Japan is a fascinating country with vibrant cities, historic temples and mountainous landscapes. Although a rather small country, Japan boasts a massive population and an array of delectable cuisine. Most intriguing is the country’s lengthy history and unique (and evolving) culture. On our trip to Japan, we wanted to see and experience it all. We created a Japan itinerary to the country’s top three spots: Kyoto, Mt. Fuji and Tokyo. The three destinations are distinctly different, which is ideal for visitors traveling to Japan for the first time. We are sharing our detailed Two-Week Japan Itinerary to help other travelers plan their perfect trip.
2 Weeks In Japan: How To Plan A Trip To Japan
Planning a Trip to Japan can be mind-boggling. The country is packed with ancient sights, lush nature and modern marvels. For people going to Japan for the first time, choosing which attractions to include in a Japan travel itinerary can be a real task.
While some people travel to the country just for Temple Tours, Cherry Blossom Season or an epic shopping spree, we were seeking a range of experiences for our two weeks in Japan. That said, we were not interested in racing through the country and seeing a new city every day. We wanted to spend enough time in each place to really get a feel for it, while enjoying the atmosphere and sights.
Visitors (like us!) who are intent on limiting the number of destinations to more fully experience the cities will quickly find that there are an overwhelming number of things to do in each destination. No need to worry! Fellow travelers can use our Japan trip planner as a guide to create the ultimate Japan trip itinerary.
Japan Travel Planner Tips
We think our two-week plan is the best itinerary for Japan – but what if you only have 7 days in Japan or are trying to plan a Japan 3-Week Itinerary? We’ve got you covered! We include Japan itinerary planner alternatives for less – and more! – time at the end of the post.
Our Japan trip plan can be done in either direction – starting in either Kyoto or Tokyo. We chose to start in Kyoto because, as a smaller city, it was much easier to get acquainted with than Tokyo. By the time we arrived in Tokyo, we were much more comfortable in our Japan navigation skills. We flew to Osaka Kansai International Airport from Sydney and departed from Tokyo Narita to Lviv, Ukraine (via Warsaw). To find the best airline fares into one city and out of another, we recommend starting your search on SkyScanner.
An internet connection is essential when you visit Japan! Contact your cell phone provider to find out if you can adjust your plan. If not, we highly recommend renting a mobile hotspot (also called Pocket WiFi or Mifi) or buying a SIM card in Japan.
Japan is a notoriously expensive country. If you are traveling on a budget, you may be wondering how much it costs to travel to Japan. At the end of the post, we include information on how much 2 weeks in Japan cost and tips on how to plan a trip to Japan on a budget.
Bookmark, Pin and Save our Japan Itinerary blog post so that you can easily access it during your trip to Japan!
Overview: Japan Travel Itinerary 14 Days
Our Japan travel guide itinerary includes the top highlights of the country and best attractions, which is why it is perfect for people visiting Japan for the first time. We designed a 2-week trip to Japan that begins in the historic city of Kyoto, explores the Five Lakes region near Mt. Fuji and ends with one week in Tokyo. Our Japan route planner is designed to give visitors a taste of history, nature and culture. Our Japan guide can be used exactly as it is written – or as a guide for travelers to create their best Japan itinerary.
City Guide for Japan 2-Week Itinerary
We spent ample time deciding which cities to include in our two-week trip to Japan. We could have easily chosen to base ourselves in either Kyoto or Tokyo, but we were intent on exploring more than one destination on our trip.
Kyoto City is located in the Kansai region of Japan. For more than 1,000 years Kyoto served as the Imperial capital of Japan – and it ranked as the country’s largest city until the 16th century. Kyoto was spared during World War II and, therefore, many historic buildings and temples (17 of which are UNESCO World Heritage sites) are found in the city. Nestled in the valley of a mountainous region, Kyoto has a mix of ancient districts and modern architecture.
Kawaguchiko and Mount Fuji Five Lakes District
Lake Kawaguchi – or Kawaguchiko – is located near Mt. Fuji in Japan’s Five Lakes District. The nature retreat is a popular tourist destination and one of the best places for incredible Mt. Fuji views. Visitors flock to the Five Lakes for mountain climbing (however, the Mt. Fuji climbing season is limited to July 1 to September 15), forest trekking and lakeside relaxation.
Top Tip: Read our Mt Fuji trip blog post, Things To Do in Kawaguchiko, for more information.
Tokyo became the capital of Japan in 1869 and is currently the most populated metropolis in the world. The sprawling city, which is comprised of 23 Wards, is densely packed with skyscrapers, shopping malls and restaurants. Sprinkled in are iconic sights that every visitor must see. Much of the city had to be rebuilt after World War II, which has resulted in a modern landscape.
Japan 14 Day Itinerary
Our Japan tour itinerary includes detailed day-by-day sightseeing for 14 days in Japan!
Day 1: Arrive in Kyoto and Explore
Arrive at the Osaka Kansai International Airport (where you can pick up a mobile WiFi device and ICOCA transportation card), then make your way to Kyoto and settle into your accommodations (recommended; Japaning Hotel Kyoto Station East). Kick off your Japan vacation itinerary by seeing the sights in central Kyoto. Visit city-center attractions, like the famous Rengeoin Sanjusangendo Temple, Nishi Honganji Buddhist Temple and the Nijo Castle.
Spend the afternoon eating your way through the traditional and modern fare at Kyoto’s Nishiki Market. The market hall features more than 100 food stalls where visitors can try fresh seafood-on-a-stick and sweet treats. End your first day with a craft beer or sake at Bungalow or get a local experience with drinks and fried snacks at Premium Hyaku.
Day 2: Discover the Arashiyama District and Top Kyoto Sights
On the second day of your trip, get an early start and catch a train to Arashiyama. The district is known for its Bamboo Forest, quaint temples and lush gardens. Spend the morning seeing the sights – and don’t miss often-skipped temples: Gioji Temple and Adashino Nenbutsuji Temple! By mid-day, hop aboard a historic tram and rattle through Kyoto suburbs to our recommended lunch spot, Okonomiyaki Katsu – a small family-owned Japanese savory pancake shop.
In the afternoon, visit two of Kyoto’s most iconic sights: the Kinkakuji Temple (also called the Golden Pavilion) and the Kyoto Imperial Palace (which served as the Imperial Family residence until 1869). Take your time at both stops to stroll the spacious gardens (but be mindful of closing times!). End your day at Kyoto Station, where you can feast on delicious conveyor belt sushi at Mushashi Sushi before heading to the top of the Kyoto Tower.
Day 3: Walk Famous Kyoto Routes and Gion District
Start Day 3 of your Japan trip just south of Kyoto at Fushimi Inari Shrine. Make your way to the back of the shrine where thousands of red torii gates straddle the 2.5-mile hillside path. Hike the looping trail that passes shrines and leads to viewpoints away from the hordes of tourists. Grab something to eat from the vendors set up outside the shrine before hopping on a train back to the city.
Back in the city, visit Ginkakuji Temple (also called the Silver Temple) before starting a peaceful walk down Philosopher’s Path. Detour to nearby temples and museums (if time allows), eventually making your way to Yasaka Shrine. From the shrine, walk through the city’s famous Gion District to the impressive UNESCO World Heritage Site Kiyomizu dera Temple.
Choose a different route back to the heart of the Gion District – and keep your eyes peeled for Geisha who are walking to functions in the district’s traditional tea houses. Cross the river to Pontocho Street, a picturesque riverside lane lined with upscale restaurants and bars, and choose a location with a river view for dinner.
Day 4: Take a Kyoto Day Trip
On Day 4, take a Kyoto day trip to a nearby city, like Osaka, Nara, Kobe or Hiroshima.
- Osaka is easily accessible and has multiple malls – as well as top attractions, like Universal Studios and the Osaka Aquarium.
- A day trip to Nara will most likely include visiting a Deer Park (where hundreds of deer roam free), Todaiji Temple and Kasuga Shrine.
- In Kobe, visitors can try the famous wagyu Kobe Beef, spend time at the harbor and ride the ropeway to the mountaintop.
- Hiroshima is a little further away, but visitors who want to visit the Peace Museum and Itsukushima Shrine can do so on a day trip from Kyoto.
Tourists can plan their own day trips or join one of the many tours offered from Kyoto. Many tour operators combine multiple destinations into full-day trips from Kyoto. Find the top tours (and read travelers reviews) on Viator.
Day 5: Arrive at Mt. Fuji Five Lakes District via Bullet Train
Leave Kyoto on Day 5 and travel by high-speed Tokaido Shinkansen Bullet Train to the Mount Fuji 5 Lakes District (Mishima Station) – and then travel onward to Lake Kawaguchi by bus. Drop your bags off at your accommodations (recommended; Kawaguchiko Hotel), then set off on a lakeside stroll.
Walk to the southeast corner of the lake, where visitors can set sail on a boat cruise or soar to the mountaintop on the Kawaguchiko Ropeway. Both options – lake or mountain – provide excellent views of Mt. Fuji (if it’s not covered by clouds!). Find a place to eat dinner near the lake; if you are craving something besides Japanese cuisine, try the wood fired pizzas at Pizzeria Onda!
Day 6: Find the Best Fuji Views
On Day 6, make it your mission to find the absolute best views of Mount Fuji. Buy an unlimited ride pass on the Kawaguchiko Sightseeing Bus and traverse all three routes. Be on the first Blue Line bus and ride to the Lake Shojiko Panorama Observatory stop. On clear days, the view of Mt. Fuji across the lake is phenomenal. As you may have guessed by our photos, we did not have any clear days!
Return on the Blue Route, but disembark at the Wind Cave stop. Explore the Wind Cave and/or Ice Cave, then set off on a trek through the Aokigahara Sea of Trees Forest. Walk north through the forest on the Jukai Nature Trail and end at the Saiko Bat Cave where you can pick up a Green Line bus back to Lake Kawaguchi. Get off the bus at the Herb Hall stop (and visit the Herb Hall, if so inclined). Hop on a Red Line bus around the lake to the Kawaguchiko Natural Living Center for more incredible views of Fuji across the lake.
Eat dinner with a lake view at one of the restaurants on the east side of the lake. If staying at the Kawaguchiko Hotel (or any other hotel with an on-site onsen), end the day soaking in the thermal pool.
Day 7: Hiking Trails and Japanese Fusion Food
Put on your hiking shoes and hit the trails on Day 7! Attempt to conquer Mt. Fuji if you are visiting during the Fuji climbing season (plan for an 8- to 12-hour hike round trip). Or, avoid the crowds and hike Misutoge – a full-day hike that offers incredible views of Mt. Fuji along the way. Winter visitors (and year-round travelers not prepared for an epic hike) can get a thrill at Fuji-Q Amusement Park or enjoy a relaxing day at the many museums and temples around the lake.
Whatever you decide to do, end your day indulging in the fare at Izakaya High Spirits. The owner is the host, server and cook…and he’s amazing. Feast on tapas-style fusion cuisine in the small and cozy space. Call or message a day ahead to make reservations – the space fills up quickly!
Day 8: Arrive in Tokyo
On Day 8, check out of your hotel in the morning and head to the Kawaguchiko Station…but it’s not time to go to Tokyo just yet! Store your luggage in a station locker and hop on a Fujikyuko Line train to Shimoyoshida. From the station, follow the marked route to the Chureito Pagoda. Follow the trail into Arakurayama Sengen Park to the viewing platform that perfectly frames the red, five-story pagoda next to Mt. Fuji. Back at the Kawagucho Station, cross the street to Hoto Fudo to eat a bowl of the region’s famous Hoto Noodles before catching the bus to Tokyo.
The route between Tokyo and Kawaguchiko is serviced by multiple bus companies, but the ride should take about 2 hours and most buses terminate at Tokyo Station. Top Tip: On your arrival, check the board at the Kawaguchiko Station for bus schedules and details so you can better plan your departure.
Once in Tokyo, navigate to your hotel (recommended: Hotel MyStays in Asakusa or Sotetsu Fresa Inn in Roppongi). Rather than jumping into a list of sights to see, spend the evening discovering your new neighborhood without a checklist in hand. Leisurely stroll the streets and see if you can find any hidden gems.
Day 9: Experience Historic and Modern Tokyo
Start your Tokyo exploration on Day 9 with a full day of sightseeing. Start – and end! – your day at the city’s famous Sensoji Temple – the oldest and largest temple in Tokyo. Get a birds’ eye view of the temple from the Asakusa Culture Tourist Information Center – then ride the subway to the Ueno District. Stroll the lanes and sample the food at the popular Ameyoko Market and walk to Ueno Park, where there are some of the city’s best museums.
Spend the afternoon at Tokyo SkyTree – the iconic broadcasting tower that ranks as the tallest tower in the world. Visit the SkyTree observation deck or partake in other area entertainment, such as the Sumida Aquarium, Planetarium, Solamachi Shopping Center or Postal Museum.
Return to Asakusa via the Azuma Bridge, a great vantage point of the skyline and river (and make a stop on the 22nd floor of the Asahi Brewery Building if you didn’t go up SkyTree). Eat dinner at Sometaro Okonomiyaki, where you can make your own savory pancakes in a comfortable lounge, or go to Hoppy Street for a bowl of stew and a few beers. Swing by the historic Kamiya Bar for a classic after-dinner cocktail, Denki Bran. End the night back at Sensoji Temple, which is beautifully illuminated at night.
Day 10: Japan Kawaii Culture and Epic Tokyo Nightlife
On the tenth day of your trip, explore three of Tokyo’s iconic districts: Shibuya, Harajuku and Shinjuku. Start your day with an overhead view from the Tokyo Metropolitan Government Building observation decks. Back on the ground, make your way to Meiji Jingu Shrine and Yoyogi Park before getting a full dose of Japan’s Kawaii culture on Takeshita dori. Join the city’s youth and feast on sugar laden crepes, ice cream and cotton candy while shopping for ‘cute’ gifts and souvenirs.
Continue your shopping spree at Tokyo Plaza Omotesando (an upscale mall with boutique shops and a rooftop Starbucks), Cat Street (one of the trendiest streets in Tokyo) and Shibuya Center-Gai (a pedestrian street lined with fashion outlets and bizarre shops). Join the masses at Shibuya Crossing – one of the world’s busiest intersections – and do ‘The Shibuya Scramble’ from one corner to the next. Pop up to the rooftop of the Magnet shopping center and watch the crossing madness from above.
Spend the evening in Shinjuku. Eat dinner at one (or more!) of the hole-in-the-wall eateries that specializes in yakitori – grilled chicken on a stick – at Omoide Yokocho. After dark, walk through Kabukicho – also known as Sleepless Town. The seedy nightlife district is rife with bars, hostess clubs and massage parlors. The district streets glow under the bright neon lights. End the evening bar-hopping in Golden Gai. Comprised of six narrow alleys and almost 200 bars, Golden Gai is one of the best nightlife districts in Tokyo.
Day 11: See Iconic Tokyo City Sights
Start Day 11 with a breakfast of fresh sushi and auction action at the recently opened Toyosu Fish Market (which replaced Tsukiji Fish Market in October 2018). After you get your fill, continue on to Odaiba Island in Tokyo Bay. In addition to shopping centers, Odaiba is also home to Sega World Joypolis, Madame Tussaud’s and Legoland. While in Odaiba, keep an eye out for a few odd sights, such as the replica Statue of Liberty, the white Rainbow Bridge and a 60-foot-tall Transformer.
Back in the city center, go to the Tokyo Imperial Palace, which is home to Japan’s Imperial Family. Walk along the outer plaza to the East Gardens of the Imperial Palace. For an even more impressive Japanese Garden, go to Hotel New Otani’s Garden, which features koi ponds, red bridges and a waterfall. Visit the grounds at the Akasaka Palace State Guest House, which was built in 1909 as the Crown Prince’s Palace. Afterwards, walk to Hie Shrine for a less-touristy shrine experience – and be sure to check out the back-entrance staircase that is covered in torii gates.
Next, visit Japan’s second-tallest structure: the Tokyo Tower. Take in the views from the observation deck, then go to the historic Zojoji Temple next door. Six of the Tokugawa shoguns are buried in a mausoleum at the temple and the main gate ranks as the city’s oldest wooden structure. Detour east into the neighborhood and find the Meishu Center; here visitors can get an informal introduction to sake and inexpensive tastings.
Catch a subway to Roppongi, where you can go shopping (Tokyo MidTown and Roppongi Hills Mall) or visit one of the area’s top art museums (Mori Art Museum, Suntory Museum of Art and 21_21 Design Sight Gallery). Eat a satisfying meal of ramen at Ippudo Ramen (claimed by many to be the best ramen in Tokyo) and then set off on an adventure in Roppongi nightlife.
Day 12: Tokyo Shopping and Gaming
On Day 12, go to the Ginza District for an upscale shopping experience. Home to luxury retailers and high-end flagship stores, the shopping streets of Ginza sit on the most expensive real estate in the world. Shop ‘til you drop…then switch gears and head to Akihabara.
The Akihabara District is nicknamed Electric Town for the abundance of electronic shops, computer goods and video games. In addition to computer geeks and gamers, fans of anime and manga also congregate in Akihabara. Join in the fun and test your skills at one of the top arcades, like Taito HEY, Super Potato or Club Sega.
End the day at one of the district’s Maid Cafes (a real-life fantasy land for some people, while downright bizarre to others), try your luck at a Pachinko Parlor or sing your heart out at a karaoke joint. Either way, stay in Akihabara after dark when the neon lights come on.
Day 13: Learn More About Japanese Culture
Start Day 13 with a short train ride outside of Tokyo to nearby Yokohama City. Just a half-hour from Tokyo, it is the second-largest city in Japan and home to 3 million residents. Established as a port city, Yokohama is home to a large Chinese population, many of whom live in the 150-year-old Chinatown (the best Chinatown in Japan). Yokohama visitors will want to take in the colorful Chinatown streets and delicious fare – then head to The Cup Noodles Museum before heading back to Tokyo.
In the afternoon, participate in a cultural activity. Book a Geisha experience, dress in a traditional kimono, learn to be a Samurai warrior, go on a Go-Kart street tour or join a guide for a food tour. If you would rather forego a paid tour, use our list of Tokyo Temples to create your own obscure temple tour or use our list of What To Eat in Tokyo to create a food tour.
Day 14: Revisit Your Favorite Tokyo Spots!
On your last day in Tokyo, we recommend revisiting your favorite district. Delve deeper into the neighborhood – venture off the beaten path and wander down side streets, pop into a local shop and dine at a restaurant that doesn’t have an English menu (be adventurous and just point to an item and see what gets delivered to your table!).
If you have an early morning flight from Narita, we recommend staying closer to the airport for your final night. We booked a budget stay at the APA Hotel Keisei Narita Ekaime, which is located just steps outside the Keisei Narita Train Station and offers free shuttle buses to the airport. Although the rooms are tiny (the smallest of our entire stay), they are well-equipped. What we loved best about the hotel, however, is that it was located within walking distance to Narita City, which allowed us the opportunity to explore one more place before leaving Japan. We highly recommend having drinks at Narita Radio Taps and dining at the restaurant just two doors down (to the left when looking at the bar).
How long to spend in Japan? Sample Japan Itinerary Suggestions
When deciding how many days in Japan, you have to consider several factors, such as time off work, interest and budget. When we were planning our first trip to Japan, we attempted to create a plan for a long layover in Tokyo (which eventually morphed into a much longer trip!). To help other travelers plan an alternate Japan travel route than outlined above, we have created multiple Japan itineraries.
Japan Itinerary 5 Days
Not ideal for a First-Time Japan Itinerary, with 5 days in Japan, visitors can get just a taste of the country. On such a short trip, we would recommend using either Tokyo or Kyoto as a base. If based in Tokyo, we recommend following Days 9 through 13 of our above Japan travel itinerary for 2 weeks. If based in Kyoto, we recommend following Days 1 through 4 above and adding a second day trip to Fuji 5 Lakes District or spending one day immersing yourself in Kyoto culture (find experiences on Viator).
Alternatively, ambitious travelers who are intent on seeing both cities can create a whirlwind 5-Day Tokyo-Kyoto Itinerary. Arrive in Tokyo and spend 3 days exploring the city (following our advice for Days 9, 10 and 11). Take the high-speed Bullet Train to Kyoto on Day 4. When you arrive in Kyoto, squeeze as much sightseeing as you can into the day (following our tips for Day 1 in our 2-Week Itinerary for Japan) and on your last day, combine the sights you most want to see from Days 2 and 3 in our Japan 2-Week Itinerary). Leave the country from Kyoto.
Japan Itinerary 7 Days
Spending one week in Japan allows for many more options. Visitors with 1 week in Japan can choose a base or decide to stay in multiple locations. If spending 1 week in Tokyo, you can simply follow Days 8 through 14 of our above 2-week plan. Find detailed information for this option in our Tokyo Trip Itinerary blog post.
Alternatively, if planning a Kyoto, Japan 1-Week itinerary, we recommend sightseeing the city at a more leisurely pace. For example, spend an entire day at Arashiyama rather than a half day and make time to visit some of the city’s museums. Find specifics on our Kyoto Itinerary post.
Japan One-Week Itinerary: Tokyo, Kawaguchi, Kyoto
Wondering what to do in Japan for a week if you want to see it all? Visitors can create a Tokyo and Kyoto Itinerary with an overnight stop in Kawaguchiko. Although it would be a fast-paced trip, a One-Week Japan Itinerary could be spent like this: 3 days in Tokyo, 1 day in Kawaguchi and 3 days in Kyoto. But it will be rushed!
Japan Itinerary 10 Days
Having 10 days in Japan allows for much more relaxed exploration. On a 10-day trip to Japan visitors can easily condense our 2-Week Itinerary for Japan into a 10-day Japan tour. We recommend spending 3 days in Kyoto (using Days 1, 2 and 3 from above), then spending 2 days in Kawaguchiko (condensing the sightseeing into 2 days instead of 3 as outlined in our plan), which leaves 5 days in Tokyo (follow Days 8 through 12). This Japan travel itinerary for 10 days would be a lot less rushed versus 7 Days, while still seeing the highlights of the country.
Japan Itinerary 21 Days
Three weeks in Japan offers the opportunity to discover a lot more of the country. With 3 weeks in Japan, we recommend using our Japan itinerary as an outline, with a few modifications. Start your trip in Tokyo and spend 10 days in the city – including an overnight trip to Nikko. Travel to Kawaguchiko and spend 3 days exploring the region (exactly as outlined in our 2-week plan for Japan). Spend the remaining 9 days in Kyoto – including an overnight trip to Hiroshima or one of the islands.
Alternate Japan Destinations
We chose to visit three of Japan’s most famous cities, but there are many other destinations travelers can add to their trip.
With its tragic history, many of the sights in Hiroshima focus on the Atomic bomb. The Hiroshima Peace Memorial Museum and Atomic Bomb Dome are must-see for those interested in learning more about 1945 bombing.
Miyajima Island (Itsukushima)
The small island of Miyajima is well-known for its torii gate that appears to float on the water. The island is one of Japan’s top three scenic spots – and an easy day trip from Hiroshima.
Nagano Snow Monkeys
There are 160 Japanese Macaque monkeys that inhabit Jigokundani, which has natural thermal pools. Many people come to see the monkeys covered in snow soaking in the hot springs.
Visitors go to Hakone for the same reasons they go to Kawaguciko: to escape the city and get a taste of nature…and for the views of Mount Fuji across the lake. Like Kawaguchiko, there are hiking trails, a ropeway and museums.
The Old Town in Takayama is set with traditional houses, shops and restaurants. The town allows visitors to get a glimpse of what Japan used to look like.
Japan Day Trips
There are numerous opportunities for day trips in Japan – from both Tokyo and Kyoto. For longer trips – or for travelers who like to move at a much faster pace – day trips are a great way to see more of the country. We recommend searching for Japan day tours on Viator, where you can read fellow traveler reviews before booking your trip.
If the thought of planning the required specifics and nitty gritty details of your trip is becoming a travel buzz-killer, then consider joining one of the highly-rated, guided tours of Japan. Leave the planning to the professionals so all that you have to do is enjoy the trip! There are many companies that organize multi-day trips in Japan, but two that consistently get rave reviews are TourRadar and Intrepid Travel. In addition to their good track records, both companies offer multiple Japan tour options – from a 7-Day Japan Tour to 3-Week Tours of Japan.
Best Way To Travel Around Japan
We researched and agonized over the best (and most economical) way to travel through Japan. By basing ourselves in 3 cities (rather than hopping to a new city every day) and flying into one city and out of another, we only needed city-to-city transport twice. We traveled by both Bullet Train and bus to get between cities. In each city – Kyoto, Kawaguchi and Tokyo – we used public transport cards.
JR Pass vs Individual Tickets
The Japan Rail Pass (or the JR Pass) is a tourist pass that offers unlimited rides on numerous train networks (but not all) at a low price. Passes can be purchased for 7, 14 or 21 days and start at 29,110 yen (about $250 USD) for a 7-day, ordinary adult pass.
While the Japan Rail Pass eliminates the need to purchase individual transportation tickets to many destinations, they are valid for very limited (or no) local transport options once in the city. For example, JR Passes cannot be used on Kyoto Metro and is only good when riding JR Buses – but not other local buses – in the city. After analyzing our trip plan and the places we wanted to travel to within each city, we did not find the JR Pass to be financially beneficial for our Japan itinerary. Read more about the JR Pass here.
How We Paid for Public Transport in Japan
Rather than buying the JR Pass, we opted to purchase individual long-haul transport tickets. From Kyoto to Kawaguchi, we rode the Bullet Train, which cost about $100 USD each (and another $20 USD each for the bus from the Mishima train station to Lake Kawaguchi). We traveled from Kawaguchi to Tokyo by bus, which only cost about $16 USD each. For transportation in both Kyoto and Tokyo, we used pre-paid IC Cards (more on that next!). In Kawaguchi, we opted for the 2-Day Unlimited transport card, which cost about $13 USD each.
IC Cards Japan
Public transportation is the best way to get around Japan’s bustling cities. The most convenient way to pay fares for public transportation – including almost all trains subways and buses – in Tokyo and Kyoto is with an IC Card. The rechargeable cards are loaded with money and fares then are paid by simply tapping in and out of stations and buses on a card reader. Although there is no cost benefit to using the cards over single tickets, the ease of use makes the IC Cards essential for visitors planning to use public transport.
The part that gets a little complicated is that there are 10 different IC cards available in Japan. Which one you choose to purchase depends on what city or region you will be visiting. In Kyoto, visitors will buy an Icoca card and, in Tokyo, visitors buy a Suica or Pasmo card. That said, all of the cards are valid in Japan’s major cities, including Tokyo, Kyoto and Osaka. Therefore, the Icoca card will work in Tokyo and the Suica card will work in Kyoto.
IC Card Refund
The only hang up on using an IC Card outside the ‘zone’ it was purchased in is getting a refund (the value of the card – about $5 USD – plus any unused amount). Cards can only be refunded through the issuing office; Suica cards cannot be refunded in Kyoto and Icoca cards cannot be refunded in Tokyo. Before we departed from Kyoto for Kawaguchi, we refunded our Icoca cards at the JR Office at the train station. The Suica card was even easier to return – as we used the machine at the airport to completely refund our remaining balance, plus the cost of the card. Read more about IC Cards here.
Where To Stay In Japan
There are an incredible number of places to stay in Japan – from high-end luxury hotels to basic capsule rooms. Like many things in Japan, hotel rooms are designed to make the most of the space available…and most rooms are on the smaller side. Generally speaking, rooms will be sparkling clean; slippers, robes and toiletries are a few amenities that are usually provided. Breakfast is usually offered as an additional charge. Check-in and check-out times are strict…most places won’t allow you to check in a minute before the posted check-in time, but they will allow you to leave luggage without incurring extra fees.
Being budget-conscious travelers, we were not looking for posh places to stay…but we didn’t want to stay in hostels, either. When we were searching for hotels, we were looking for locations that were close to public transport lines, rooms with a private bathroom, amenities like a kettle and fridge and value for money. In the end, we were satisfied with our Japan accommodation choices!
Kyoto – Japaning Hotel Kyoto Station East
The Japaning Hotel Kyoto Station East far surpassed our expectations! An easy walk from Kyoto Station, the room was actually a small apartment. The space included a small entryway with room for our shoes, a full kitchen, a small laundry room with washing machine, shower room, toilet room, and a spacious bedroom with dining table and a balcony. One minor drawback is that the hotel sits next to the train tracks, which could be a little noisy – but only in the early morning hours. The hotel staff was wonderful – always kind and accommodating.
Lake Kawaguchi – Kawaguchiko Hotel
Although somewhat dated, Kawaguchiko Hotel is full of charm. The historic hotel sits on the lake; some rooms have a lake view, while others (like ours) had a view of Mt. Fuji. Rooms are quite spacious, ours had two separate beds, a couch and private bathroom. On the top floor, there is a thermal spa that is free for guests to use (and absolutely wonderful after a day of hiking!). The hotel offers breakfast for an additional charge – but coffee is available in the lobby for free.
Tokyo – Hotel MyStays in Asakusa and Sotetsu Fresa Inn in Roppongi
We stayed in two neighborhoods in Tokyo: Asakusa and Roppongi. The Hotel MyStays in Asakusa is within walking distance to sights, but is located in a non-touristy and quiet area. The rooms are rather small, but manageable, and our room had a small balcony. Amenities were offered in the lobby, umbrellas were provided for our use and the staff was kind. Overall, the room served its purpose and provided value for the money.
Our hotel in Roppongi, the Sotetsu Fresa Inn, was much more spacious. Located just down the street from the Roppongi Station and in the heart of the district made it easy to explore the area and beyond. An assortment of amenities were offered (including bath salts and face masks) and we indulged in the breakfast buffet (for an extra fee). We also did a Housesit while in Tokyo, which really helps with our overall Japan Itinerary Budget!
Narita – APA Hotel Keisei Narita Ekaime
We had an early flight leaving from Narita Airport and we didn’t want to hassle with public transport during the early morning rush hour while carrying our luggage. Therefore, we spent our last night in Japan in Narita. We chose the APA Hotel Keisei Narita Ekaime because of its location just steps from the Keisei Narita Train Station. The hotel also offers a free shuttle to the airport. The rooms are tiny – the smallest of our Japan trip – but worked well for us for the night.
2 Weeks In Japan Budget
The cost of a vacation to Japan can be exorbitant…but it doesn’t have to be. Travelers who want to create a Japan budget itinerary can easily do so using our suggested itinerary for Japan – and making just a few adjustments.
During our stay, we averaged (as a couple) about $180 USD per day (not including flights and travel insurance). We stayed in budget accommodations, used public transportation (or our own two feet!) and skipped many of the expensive entertainment options (such as observation decks and theme parks). We rarely splurged on meals, yet sampled an array of excellent cuisine…and often grabbed lunch on-the-go from Japan’s famously economical convenience stores. Although we often went out to bars, we usually found places that did not charge a cover and we limited our consumption.
Japan Budget Accommodations
An easy way to cut costs in Japan is by booking inexpensive accommodations. Although we focused on finding affordable places to stay, we were not willing to forego little luxuries, like a private bathroom. Travelers on a low budget might want to consider staying at hostels or capsule hotels (which can be fun, too!). We also recommend booking lodging as far in advance as possible. Much of our trip was booked last minute – and by that time, many of the inexpensive hotels were already fully booked.
Budget Japan Activities
Many activities in Japan are expensive, but there are also heaps of free things to do in Japan. To save money, find alternatives to sights with entry fees. For example, skip the observation decks at SkyTree and Tokyo Tower and go to the free Tokyo Metropolitan Government Building viewpoint instead. Instead of visiting a high-priced museum, visit the free exhibitions at the Tokyo Metropolitan Museum of Art or the free (but small) exhibit at the FujiFilm Square Museum at Tokyo MidTown.
Eating On A Budget In Japan
Although it can be tough to find inexpensive places for sit-down meals, there are numerous options for cheap meals on the go in Japan. The convenience stores – Lawson, 7-Eleven and Family Mart – offer a variety of fresh meals at affordable prices. Read our complete guide of What To Eat in Tokyo for more budget eating tips.
Japan Travel Essentials
- Our Japan two-week itinerary is a jam-packed sightseeing adventure that covers some ground. We recommend wearing comfortable shoes (I like these shoes by Columbia and Kris likes his Merrell shoes), carrying a travel umbrella (for rain cover and sun protection) and bringing a refillable water bottle.
- Make sure to have a good map of Japan and guide book before arriving! A Japanese guide book for language phrases might also be useful. Find the best Japan travel guide books on Amazon.
- Whether you prefer a backpack or a suitcase, make sure you have your favorite day bag to organize and secure all of your everyday travel items.
- We’re certain you’ll be snapping tons of photos during your trip. Rather than relying on your mobile phone to capture the sights, upgrade to an actual camera for higher quality photos. We travel with a Canon Rebel (which takes amazing photos, but can be a bit clunky) and a Canon PowerShot ELPH (which takes beautiful pictures, is a slim and lightweight budget camera).
- We think travel insurance is essential! If you haven’t already obtained travel insurance for your trip, travel protected with World Nomads.
We want to know: What would you add to our 2-Week Japan Itinerary? Give us your best tips and advice in the comments!
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