I had travel to Japan in the past before. However, in this trip I am bringing a first time visitor so I wanted to pack as much as possible into the itinerary. That is why I excluded theme parks like Disneyland and Universal Studios from this itinerary. With that said, I still recommend people to visit these theme parks if they had time (I went to both before and both are very different experiences).

9 days: 3 days in Tokyo, 3 days in Kyoto and 3 days in Osaka (including a day trip to Kobe)

The overall itinerary can be summed up by this table:

Time/Date

Itinerary

Day 1: 1/11/17

Harajuka-Shibuya-Shinjuku

Day 2: 2/11/17

Hakone Day Trip

Day 3:3/11/17

Asakusa-Skytree-Akihabara
Day 4: 4/11/17

Go Kyoto City-Fushimi Inari Shrine

Day 5: 5/11/17

Arashimaya-Nishiki Market-Gion

Day 6: 6/11/17

Yasaka Shrine-Kiyomizudera- Nijo Castle

Day 7: 7/11/17

Go Osaka-Osaka Castle-Dotonbori-Shinsaibashi

Day 8: 8/11/17

Go Kobe: Arima Onsen Day Trip
Day 9: 9/11/17

Rinku Town: Rinku Premium Outlet and Rinku Pleasure Town Seacle

22.00 Flight back to base

Tips of travelling in Japan:

1st Tip: Getting around Japan

  • You can get JR Pass online to save money but it only comes in 7, 14 and 21 days. If your travel period does not fit the length of the pass it will be a waste. Moreover JR passes does not cover private lines like Odakyu railway (which I used to go Hakone)
  • IC cards are prepaid cards I used to pay for public transports. You just need to pay a deposit of 500yen and top up the money as you use it. You can buy the cards readily form vending machines at train stations. The 2 main cards I used on this trip are:
    • Suica Card which cover my Tokyo travels
    • Icoca which covers for Kansai Area (including Osaka, Kyoto and Kobe)

2nd Tip: Navigating around Japan

  • I always rely on Google maps when navigating around Japan because it is quite accurate. Trains are predictable and easy to navigate while buses are hard as we don’t know how to read the bus lines. So, I rely heavily of google map especially in Kyoto when bus is more convenient (as they stop much nearer to main attractions). Also it can tell you the bus no. and time it will arrive.

3rd Tip: Importance of Staying connected

  • Since I rely heavily on google maps, having data is important. I don’t like to use pocket wifi because it might run out of battery easily and I need to bring extra device and charger out when I travel. I prefer sim with data so that I can access my phone’s apps immediately without reconnecting to the pocket wifi again. Of course my love for Pokemon Go plays a big role. There are a lot of service providers in Japan. On this trip, I used Sakura Mobile.
  • Staying connected also allow me to update social media immediately.

4th Tip: Plan, plan and plan

  • I like to plan my trip in advance to get the most out of a day. It is important to make sure the opening hours of main attractions and their locations. I always plan to visit main attraction of the same district at the same day so I don’t waste time traveling around.
  • Another thing to plan ahead is food. Always know what is the local food you must try for example for my trip I made sure I ate these: Kyoto: Ramen, Soba, Tofu, Matcha Ice Cream; Kobe: Beef; Osaka: Takoyaki, Okonomiyaki, Crab meat. You may tweak the list according to your personal taste.

Day 1: TOKYO (Harajuku – Shinjuku – Shibuya)

1st Stop: Harajuku

We started in Harajuku because I wanted to visit Japan’s most famous Shinto Shrine, Meiji Jingu which enshrines the ashes of the beloved Emperor Meiji and Empress Shoken.  The entry of the shrine grounds is marked by this huge tori gate. The moment you walk past the gate, you lose yourself in the nature of the forest grounds and leave behind the bustling city. Sometimes you may get lucky and see ceremonial rituals in progress:

Harajuku, Japan

Also in Harajuku is Takeshita Dori (Takshita Street) which is roughly 400 meter long street lined by shops, boutiques, cafes and fast food outlets targeting Tokyo’s teenagers. You can see Japanese dressed in all sorts of cosplay.

2nd stop: Shinjuku

It is a famous for large area filed with entertainment, shopping and business complexes. You can find Isetan, Takshimaya, Odakyu and many more. But our main point was to visit Yodobashi Camera. It is Tokyo’s largest electronic shop. You have to visit to know how big it is. It is indescribable.

3rd Stop: Shibuya

It is famous for its crossing and Hachiko statue. You could either take picture in the middle of the crowd while crossing or sit in the Starbuck café nearby and look at it from above. Either way, it is instagram worthy.

Day 2: Hakone

If you want to spend a day away from the city, Hakone is your best choice as it is famous for its onsens. To get there, I suggest to buy Hakone free pass (cost 5140yen/adult) which gives you unlimited usage of 8 different transportation systems e.g. railway, cable cars and sightseeing boats. The pass is worth it since it covers all the transport necessary to thoroughly explore hakone.

You can buy this pass at Odakyu sightseeing service centers at Shinjuku Station. Make a note to arrive early to buy the tickets as there is a long line when we reach after our breakfast. It took us around 30 mins to buy the tickets. You can also buy the passes from vending machine (I only know this after waiting in line for 30 mins).

Hakone

Hokone also known for its active volcanic valley, also known as “Jigokudani” (the Valley of Hell) by locals and you may buy some boiled chicken eggs. It is boiled in the hot sulfur spring which turns it to black and was rumored by locals to add 7 years to your life span just by taking one.

Mt Fuji from Hakone

On clear days, you may see Mt. Fuji from Hakone.

Day 3: Tokyo (Asakusa – Skytree – Akihabara)

1st Stop: Asakusa

Sensoji Temple is located in Asakusa and known as the oldest temple in Tokyo. You won’t miss it as there are crowds there all year round and a huge red lantern hangs at its entrance known as Kaminarimon Gate.

Sensoji Temple

2nd Stop: Tokyo Skytree

We walked to Tokyo Skytree from Sensoji Temple with the guidance of google map and took great pictures of it. You might not be able to capture the tower fully if you are too near to the building. Observation decks: 8:00-22:00 Ticket: 2060 yen (1st observatory, regular); 1030 yen (2nd observatory).  You may want to go up the tower at night to see Tokyo’s night lights (the tower is also lighted at night). However, we choose to go during noon so that we avoid the crowd. We only waited for 1 hour to go up while you may need to wait longer if you plan to go in the evening.

Tokyo Skytree

3rd stop: Akihabara

After that we went to Akihabara, also known as Otaku’s heaven. You can find all the Japanese Manga and Anime there. You can also immerse in maid culture in one of their maid cafes but all these maid café require an entrance fee. So, I opted to openly stare at the “maids” on the streets, promoting their cafes. You can see different café have different themes just by looking at the costumes these maids have.

Day 4:  Kyoto – Fushimi Inari

There are 3 lines available: Kodomo Shinkansen (slowest, takes aprox. 4 hours); Hikari Shinkansen (2nd fastest train, takes aprox 3 hours); Nozomi Shinkansen (fastest train, takes aprox 2hours 40 mins). Train tickets are on average 13,000 yen but may vary according to peak hours and different train line.

In order to purchase a shinkansen ticket, the following information is needed: (Hikari Shinkansen or Nozomi Shinkansen)

  • Number of travelers: 2
  • Date of travel: 11.17
  • Departure Station: Shinagawa/ Tokyo
  • Destination Station: Kyoto
  • Ordinary or green car : Ordinary
  • Reserved or non-reserved seat : Reserved seats

We departed around 10am from Tokyo and reached Kyoto around 1pm. After checking into Airbnb and grabbing a quick bite at 7-11, we head to Fushimi Inari.

Fushimi Inari Shrine is a Shinto shrine dedicated to the God of Rice, Inari with foxes being its messenger. So you see lots of Fox statue in the shrine. It is also famous for its vermilion torii gates. The gates are donations from worshipers and line up to the peak of the hill. It’s hard to take pictures with the gates without taking in the crowds as well. You can hike up the hill and as you go up, the crowds will grow thinner and you can then take a perfect picture of the tori gates.

Tori Gate, Fushimi Inari

Day 5: Kyoto (Tenryuji Temple – Arashiyama – Nishiki Market)

My initial plan and hype was Arashiyama Bamboo forest but you must go in Tenryuji Temple when you reached. We entered Tenryuji temple because we saw lots of people going in. Once in there I am struck by the beauty of the gardens. It really looked like a well-painted scenery. Pictures won’t do it justice. Some people even just sit around the garden to look at it at length.

Tenryuji Temple

You can exit the temple and walk straight into the bamboo forest. It’s too crowded to take a decent photo so we did not stay for long.

We went back to the city after that to Nishiki Market. I liked to walk past the rows of shops selling fresh produce and catches of the day. They also sell preserved foods in bulk. I like to immerse myself in the smell and noise of the market and take a bite here and there.

Day 6: Kyoto (Yasaka Shrine – Kiyomizudera – Nijo Castle)

1st stop: Yasaka Shrine

We started this day by visiting Yasaka Shrine as it is own our way to Kiyomizudera. Honestly we didn’t plan to walk in, just that there was not much crowd at this shrine and we wanted to take some pictures without strangers in our pictures.  You probably want come back at night as the shrine is lit up by lanterns.

2nd stop: Kiyomizudera

This is my favorite temple yet. As it is built uphill so, you can see a nice view of the cherry blossoms or maple tress (depends on season) from its deck. You could also rent a kimono from the various shops lining up the hill. I didn’t do it this time, but I do recommend it. The feeling of dressing in a kimono and standing in a historical temple is something which only can happen in Japan. At the foot of the hill there is Otawa Waterfall. If you drink from the 3 streams, it benefits your health, love and school life.

Kiyomizudera

3rd stop: Nijo Castle

Nijo Castle was built for the first shogun in the Edo Period. It looks very different from the famous Osaka Castle so I wanted to go in and see the difference myself.

Day 7 Osaka: Osaka Castle-Dotonbori-Shinsaibashi

After all the walking we did in Kyoto, I decided just to sleep in till 10am. We only checked out from the AirBnb at 12 noon. We went to Kyoto Station to get lunch and take the next train to Osaka.

1st Stop: Osaka

1st Stop in Osaka will definitely be Osaka Castle. It is after all the land mark of Osaka. It will be beautiful if you visit it during spring. You can see cherry blossom trees planted all around the premise. It’s a dream of mine to visit it during spring one day. During fall, which is this season, you can see verifying yellowing maple leaves. It is beautiful too.

Osaka Castle

2nd Stop: Dotonbori – Shinsaibashi – suji

Shinsaibashi is a shopping street lined with famous shops such as H&M, Uniqlo, GU and many more. I always do my shopping here as I can find different styles in different shops. If  you walk on, you can reach Dotonbori. Dotonbori is a famous food street where you can eat a lot of different delicacies.

You know you had reached Dotonbori when you see the big neon Glico Man Sign. Don’t forget a picture with it. It is proof that you have been to Dotonbori.

Day 8: Kobe

My initial plan was to see Nonubiki Herb Gardens and Meriken Park but my travel buddy really wanted to have a hot spring experience. So we consulted the information center when we reach Kobe and they suggested us the Rokko-Arima Pass. This pass includes bus rides, a cable car ride and a ropeway lift to Arima Onsen Station. You can actually reach the Arima Hot Springs in a less convoluted way but I love the natural scenery along the path we took. The yellowing maple leaves among the thick fog gave it a very mystical feeling.

This pass also includes a free entrance to an onsen of your choice between Kin No Yu and Gin No Yu. We choose Kin No Yu because it is larger. You do need to rent a towel if you didn’t bring one. Shampoo and soap is provided. Make sure you read up what to do and what no to do before going into a public bath.

We ended the day with a hearty Kobe beef dinner at steakland. I searched online and find it’s the cheapest menu for Kobe beef. With that said there is different restaurants all named as Steakland. I am unsure whether all of them are under the same chain. Either way, we just went into one we thought looked the best and ordered their dinner set. I will always remember the taste of Kobe beef. However, I do vouch that If I get rich one day, I will come back and try prime Kobe beef. (I’ve seen other restaurants with a higher pricing Kobe beef with certificates of prime Kobe beef. The thought of it make my mouth waters).

kobe beef dinner at steakland

Day 9 Osaka: Rinku Premium Outlet

It is our last day here and I left most of my shopping to this day. This outlet is very near Osaka Airport, so you can either go when you are leaving or go when you arrive. I prefer to go on my last day at Osaka (my flight leaving Osaka at 11pm) so that I can estimate how much more baggage space I have as to avoid any excess baggage payment.

If you are not interested in buying branded products, you may think of going to Rinku Pleasure Town Seacle which is just next to the put let. It is a large scale shopping complex with an interactive theme park for children. So, it would suit those with children as well.