A First Trip To Japan: 16-Day Itinerary & Review

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Looking for an good itinerary for a first-time visit to Japan? Read this post! 

The Real Japan subscriber Andrew Rondeau and his wife had been planning a trip to Japan for some time. They wanted to experience the country's famous cities and attractions along Japan's 'Golden Route'. 

They decided on a 16-day itinerary designed to meet their needs and interests. 

Use Andrew's trip report below to help you build your own travel plan, hear what they loved, and learn what they will do differently next time.

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Our First Trip to Japan: 16-Day Itinerary & Review

by Andrew Rondeau

I had spent hours and hours deciding what to do on my first trip to Japan.

We wanted to visit the more tourist type places: Toyko, Kyoto, Osaka and Hiroshima (aka the 'Golden Route').

first time Japan itinerary Andrew Rondeau

A nighttime stroll alongside the Lake Biwa canal in Kyoto

So I contacted Rob at The Real Japan and used his Travel Planning Services to help me whittle down all my notes into an 16-day itinerary, specifically tailored to the needs of my wife and I.

Here's the story of our first trip to Japan - the good and the bad. I hope you find it interesting and helpful. 


Our 16-day itinerary

Day

Location

1

Tokyo (Arrive Haneda)

2

Tokyo - Kamakura Day Trip

3

Tokyo

4

Kyoto

5

Kyoto

6

Kyoto

7

Kyoto - Arashiyama Day Trip

8

Hiroshima

9

Hiroshima

10

Hiroshima - Miyajima Island Day Trip

11

Osaka

12

Osaka

13

Osaka

14

Tokyo

15

Tokyo

16

Tokyo (Depart Haneda)

Meet & Greet at Haneda airport

We booked a meet and greet service at Haneda airport in Tokyo. Was it worth it? We think so! We must have saved about 30 mins to an hour. They showed us where to pick up our bullet train tickets, our Ninja pocket rental Wifi, how to forward our suitcases to the hotel and find the monorail to get to the shrine in Meiji Jingu.

first time Japan itinerary Andrew Rondeau

Yasaka Shrine is a Shinto shrine in the Gion District of Kyoto

The Ninja pocket WiFi we rented was brilliant – well worth it, we had no issues at all. And Google Maps is your best friend when trying to find your way around.


Our accommodation

Tokyo (start): Sola Hotel in Shibuya, Kyoto: The Gate Hotel, Hiroshima: The Knot Hotel, Osaka: Hotel The Flag Shinsaibashi, and back to Tokyo: Karaksa Hotel Colors.


Fun on the busy streets of Harajuku

The Meiji Jingu shinto shrine was lovely and peaceful. After wandering around there for a little while we walked down a busy fun street in Harajuku, lots of colourful shops and signs, food shops and music all around.

first time Japan itinerary Kyoto Andrew Rondeau

Mrs Rondeau blending in with Fushimi Inari shrine in Kyoto

We then walked to Shibuya crossing which is a mass of zebra crossings and people and noise which you have to see to believe. We wandered around a bit more then decided to go to our hotel near the Tokyo Skytree area as they said we could check in early.


Staying at the Sola Hotel

We were staying at the Sola Hotel in Shibuya. Just a 5-minute walk from the metro, and 10 minutes from the Skytree and a huge indoor shopping and restaurant complex.

Sola hotel Tokyo first time Japan

Tokyo's Sola Hotel has great views of Tokyo Skytree from its roof terrace

Our room was small but had everything you needed and the staff were really nice. We did find out the hotel was unmanned from 6 and our luggage was being dropped off between 6 - 9 which was concerning. We decided to wait in the lobby from 6 waiting for our cases while having some wine, tea and snacks. The cases arrived at about 7.45 - finally!


Kamakura day trip - the great Buddah

For the next day we'd planned a day trip to Kamakura to see the bamboo grove at Jomyoji temple.

first time Japan itinerary Kamakura Andrew Rondeau

The Great Buddah statue is a major attraction in Kamakura

We also visited Hasedera Buddhist temple and the Great Buddha. We bought a pastry and a cake for lunch at a french boulangerie run by Japanese ladies and ate by a lake with loads of big koi fish coming up to the surface.

We had matcha tea at one of the temples which we drank but didn’t enjoy that much! Overall it was a great day out.


Dinner with the locals

On the way back, we got off the train one stop away from our hotel and ate in a little Japanese place. It was difficult as they spoke no English and there was no English on the menu but somehow we got a nice meal of sweet and sour pork, chicken and bean sprouts, miso soup, rice and salad and a beer for £10 for both of us. (See also: 15 Must-Try Japanese Foods.)

Next day we arranged to have our cases sent on to our next hotel and visited the Tsukiji fish market which was really bustling with food and other stalls. Lots of people queued to try different types of food.

first time Japan itinerary Yokohama Andrew Rondeau

Odaiba is a man-made island in Tokyo Bay featuring a replica of New York's Statue of Liberty

From there, we went to the Statue of Liberty replica at Odaiba and had lunch in a food hall. Really nice fried dumplings and fried rice. Then we went on a river cruise and sat next to a Canadian couple.

After that we went to Sensoji Temple in Asakusa.


A bullet train to Kyoto with bento boxes

Next day, a bullet train to Kyoto with bento boxes! I don’t know how they do it… bento boxes beautifully presented and delicious food for £5.

Our accommodation in Kyoto was beautiful - we stayed in The Gate Hotel.

The Gate Hotel Kyoto Booking first time itinerary

The Gate Hotel in Kyoto is perfectly located for a stay in the city

Perfect location, and one free drink and snacks in the hotel every afternoon! While in Kyoto we visited Nishiki Market, did the hop on/off bus tour, booked a geisha/samurai makeover and watched a tea ceremony.

While staying in Kyoto we also visited the bamboo forest in Arashiyama, Inari shrine and a food tour.

SEE ALSO: 3 Hidden Kyoto Walks To Get You Off The Beaten Path


Hiroshima peace tour and Miyajima Island

Bullet train to Hiroshima. Another beautiful hotel – The Knot Hotel. Very close to all the main peace memorial sites. Booked a peace tour. So glad we did, we learnt so much. Well worth doing.

first time Japan itinerary Hiroshima Andrew Rondeau

Mr and Mrs Andrew Rondeau soaking up the sun in Hiroshima

Day trip to Miyajama island. Very pretty island with tame deer roaming free. Some were pestering people for food like ice creams and eating paper bags people were carrying. (Learn more about Miyajima in the Hiroshima City Guide.)

first time Japan itinerary Miyajima Andrew Rondeau

A day trip to Miyajima Island is easy when staying in Hiroshima

We went to the shrine and up the mountain in a cable car. Had a coffee in a little shop on one of the quieter streets. There was a little old lady of 80 who wanted to chat to us about her life - she was very sweet. 

SEE ALSO: Hiroshima City Guide Google Map


Osaka maple leaves fried in batter

Bullet train to Osaka. Stayed at the Hotel Flag. Another very convenient hotel, very close to all the action.

It was just crazy round here! Thousands of people just walking around. Huge queues for restaurants in the main area around Dotonbori, alongside the river. Walk five minutes from the main river area, and the restaurants are less busy.

first time Japan itinerary Osaka Andrew Rondeau

Osaka's Dotobori riverside area is an immersive experience, especially at night

While in Osaka we did a day trip to Minoh Park. There was a nice hike to get there with little shops selling food and other stuff on the way. We bought some momiji - which were maple leaves fried in batter into little biscuits. The waterfall was really pretty and we had a fish on a stick for lunch. 

(If you like craft beer, you can book a 5 hour Japanese craft beer hike where you can sample beers from the Minoh Beer Warehouse as you take in the countryside.)

VIDEO: Abeno Harukas 300: Glass Elevator to 60th Floor - Amazing Views


Bullet train back to Tokyo - views of Mt. Fuji

Back on the bullet train, back to Tokyo. A beautiful sunny day and spectacular view of Mount Fuji from the train. This time we stayed in the Karaksa Hotel Colors.

first time Japan itinerary Mt. Fuji Andrew Rondeau

Spectacular views of Mt. Fuji are possible when taking the shinkansen between Osaka and Tokyo

We had a beautiful (and massive!) room with our own washing machine and tumble drier. Went to the Shibuya Sky Building. Amazing views of Tokyo but absolutely freezing. We had a drink and snacks on a sofa with a blanket to keep us warm and it was cold but still fun.


Morning set breakfast and a strange TeamLab experience

Next morning, we got up and out early to grab a 'morning set' breakfast in a nearby Cafe Lafresa. Looked a bit scruffy from the outside but the food was really good. Fried egg, ham, blueberry jam on thick toast, salad and a slice of melon and coffee. £2.75 - bargain. It was a smoking cafe but we only saw one person smoking and he left quite quickly.

first time Japan itinerary Andrew Rondeau

City street night lights in Osaka's central Chuo Ward

After that we went to Shinjuku, which was a bit loud and tacky and we saw a lot of homeless in one area. Our first time seeing this in Japan.

We didn't stay long and got on the train to see the teamLab Planets experience - was really good, lots of mirrors, big balloons, flowers and water to wade through with vibrant colours around you. Really strange experience. After that we got the train to Roppongi to see the Christmas lights.

Then… home.


A few practical tips 

A few things to mention... book your bullet train tickets and seat reservations as soon as you can (see this post for more on the Japan Rail Pass). We had to go slightly later in the day due to lack of seats and once could not sit next to each other. 

first time Japan itinerary Andrew Rondeau

Turning Japanese with a maiko/samurai makeover in Kyoto

And secondly, if you intend to visit Mount Fuji on the Fiji Excursion train, book it as soon as you can. I tried to book a few days beforehand and all booked up, so we had to cancel that plan. 

We took cash and cards. Cards were accepted in most places but we decided to take some cash as well. It worked out well. We just used the Suica app on our phones to use the subways and topped up as we went / needed to. 


Travel resources we used

Meet & Greet Service at Haneda Airport via JRPass.com.

JR Pass Meet & Greet The Real Japan travel resources

Pre-booking a personal Meet & Greet service can save you a lot of time on arrival in Japan

Japan Rail Pass from JRPass.com.

Pocket Wi-Fi rental Ninja Wi-Fi (via JRPass). Review: Ninja Wi-Fi (includes video router guide and walkthrough).

Haneda Airport transfer: Shared Transfer to Tokyo or Private Transfer to Tokyo. Or use Suica (Japan’s most convenient prepaid card) on Tokyo Monorail or Keikyu Line trains. The pass is valid on subway, buses, ferries, trams. Can also be used in convenience stores and many vending machines.

Haneda airport transfer Klook

Shared or private transfers from Haneda to Tokyo city centre can be booked online in advance  |  Photo: Klook

Similar services are also available if you're arriving at Narita Airport, or you could use the Keisei Skyliner Train to transfer to the city centre.

Tokyo Wide Pass 3 Days Unlimited Rail and Bus Travel (optional).

Train and transport timetables Japan Transit Planner (Jorudan) and/or Japan Travel (Navitime) - both have Android and Apple app versions. 


Conclusion: We loved it. Cannot wait to go back!

I have to say we loved Japan. The people, the respect, no litter, the toilets! We cannot wait to go back! We are now thinking of April next year. But we don’t like going to the same places – any ideas? Please leave a comment below with your suggestions. 

Thanks so much to Rob and everyone in The Real Japan community who has helped and thanks to you for reading.

If you have any questions, please ask away and I'll do my best to answer them.

Andrew Rondeau testimonial TPS The Real Japan

About the Author

Andrew is a website builder and helps small businesses with their on-line presence, so they can grow their customer list and increase sales. You can find out more at his website: webuildyourblog.com.

Resources

Services Used

Travel Planning Service: via The Real Japan

Japan Rail Pass: from JRPass.com

Japanese Tea Ceremony in Kyoto: via Viator

Maiko/Samurai Makeover Experience in Kyoto: via Klook

Meet & Greet Service: at Haneda Airport via JRPass.com

Pocket Wi-Fi Rental: Ninja Wi-Fi via JRPass

Train and transport timetables: Japan Transit Planner (Jorudan) and/or Japan Travel (Navitime)


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Leave A Comment / Ask A Question

  • Sounds like a great trip! I liked your comment on team lab – I’m thinking of going there next time I’m in Japan.

    • Karen – we really enjoyed the team lab. It was busy, though! And I would say: ‘take your time’. Enjoy each room before moving onto the next one. If you rush it, the experience will be over very quickly.

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