So you’re thinking about – or going on – a trip to Japan! You have some ideas, but you’re not totally decided on destinations or an itinerary yet, and you’re looking for a little more inspiration.
You’re in the right place! There’s something in Japan that speaks to the soul of every type of traveler: unimaginably beautiful food, otherworldly urban landscapes, lavish natural splendors, and fascinating cultural history expressed in the country’s arts, traditions, and aesthetics.
It’s no wonder more people are visiting Japan than ever before.
Even if you are a very experienced traveler, planning your Japan trip may feel overwhelming in some ways – and it’s all too easy to get caught up in “best cities to visit” lists (though we don’t believe there is such a thing).
Is our “perfect” 2-week Japan itinerary absolutely perfect for you? Perhaps not! In our experience, all of our clients are unique, with widely varying interests, priorities, and travel styles.
But it is the perfect place to begin, and we carefully and lovingly designed it to include an amazing mix of destinations and experiences.
So, get ready for takeoff… we’re headed to Tokyo!
Day 1: Shake off your jet lag with an evening of food and drink at an izakaya in Tokyo’s trendy Ebisu district
Tokyo is a top culinary destination, but you don’t need to hit the high-end, Michelin-starred restaurants to have a fabulous foodie experience. Tokyo’s izakayas, or Japanese-style gastropubs, are the best way to experience authentic Japanese cuisine in a friendly, casual environment (think Japanese tapas).
Tokyo has a well-deserved reputation as a city that never sleeps; its nightlife is vibrant, diverse, and at times, utterly frenetic. Although there are many awesome neighborhoods with amazing nightlife, we love Ebisu. It’s got some of the best bars and izakayas, and caters to a hip, 30-something crowd. End the night at Bar Trench, or the rambunctious Ebisu Yokocho.
Day 2: Immerse yourself in fashion and design in the backstreets of Harajuku and Aoyama
Central Tokyo’s west side is home to many of the city’s most fashionable districts. Stroll the eclectic streets of Harajuku, a neighborhood known for unorthodox fashions, vintage shops, and easy eats.
Then wander down Omotesando, a wide, tree-lined boulevard perfect for shopping, admiring modern architecture, and people watching. Make sure to wander into the charming side streets, full of lovely boutiques and cafes.
Grab a snack at Commune 2nd, a stylish outdoor food court with a great mix of casual snacks. You’re in Aoyama now, home to many of the city’s most remarkable shops (Maison Kitsune, Issey Miyake, Miu Miu, Louboutin, and Hanae Mori have cutting-edge fashion outlets here).
Day 3: Learn to slurp like a pro on a “ramen safari”
If you’ve been to New York or Melbourne lately (make that any great world city), chances are you’ve experienced just how glorious ramen can be.
But if ramen makes you think of Momofuku Ando and instant ramen cup noodles, you’re in for a delightful surprise.
As far as popularity goes, ramen is the new sushi, inspiring the same passion in its enthusiasts, and a plethora of ramen shops around the world.
You’ll head out with a ramen expert who will take you to a couple of great ramen shops, specializing in different types of ramen. Learn how to order, how to customize your noodles, toppings, and basic ramen etiquette (it’s easy!) – including how to slurp like a local.
Day 4: Explore Tokyo’s Tsukiji Market
You could easily spend hours wandering Tsukiji, shopping for knives and Japanese spices; sampling oysters, tea, omelettes; and enjoying coffee alongside market workers and other locals.
There’s nothing like learning about Tsukiji Market from a chef who knows the market inside and out – and if you’re passionate about cooking, you can even shop alongside a sushi master, then head to his shop for a private lesson in unbelievable surroundings
Find more ideas for your visit to Tokyo in our guide to One Day in Tokyo.
Day 5: Take the luxury bullet train to Kanazawa for seafood and tradition
Getting to the historic city of Kanazawa used to require a little more effort, but now that you can reach it directly from Tokyo via the Hokuriku Shinkansen, there’s little excuse not to try and visit.
Kanazawa is a lovely city on the coast (beyond the mountains of Nagano) famed for its sushi (and seafood in general), traditional arts and crafts, and well-preserved districts (including geisha and samurai districts).
Since you’re going, you may as well splurge on Gran Class, one of the most worthwhile train journeys in Japan, including plush reclining chairs, warm towels, slippers, snacks and a bento, and of course drinks (yes, beer, sake, wine, and more). Enjoy!
Day 6: Road trip to the mountains or the sea
You could certainly spend a lot more time in Kanazawa itself. Or hop in a car (driving in Japan is relatively easy and safe) and head south into the Japanese Alps, or north into the rugged Noto Peninsula.
For more seafood and a taste of the rugged north, head into Noto Hanto (the Noto Peninsula), famed for its festivals, Wajima Market, the seafood and produce (including wondrous Noto gelato), and remote onsen (hot springs).
Day 7: Cycle (and eat) your way around the ancient capital of Kyoto
As Japan’s capital city for over a thousand years, Kyoto’s abundant cultural heritage is writ large in its temples, shrines, gardens, and back streets. There’s no more intimate (and fun) way to explore them than on a private bicycle tour through its stunning historic districts, sampling Kyoto’s delectable eats along the way.
End at the breathtaking Fushimi Inari Shrine, a monument to the Shinto god of rice that dates back to the 8th century. While (deservingly) popular with travelers, the thousands of vermillion torii, or gates, form one of the most memorable sights in all of Japan.
Day 8: Wander Nishiki market, “Kyoto’s kitchen,” and treat yourself to a once-in-a-lifetime culinary adventure
Nishiki Market got its start as a 14th century fish market, and today represents the epitome of Kyoto’s culinary abundance. Fish, squid, eels, vegetables, tea, pickles, seaweed, and even sweets jostle for prominence in a gloriously colorful and fragrant array of vendor stalls.
Following your stroll through the market (make sure to enjoy some samples as you walk!), head for lunch at a tiny hole-in-the-wall counter-only restaurant, where a detail-obsessed master painstakingly prepares locally-sourced ingredients – a culinary experience you won’t soon forget.
Day 9: Eat and drink ‘til you drop in food-loving Osaka
Just thirty miles from Kyoto, and an easy train trip away, Osaka feels like a different planet – and people from both Kyoto and Osaka would agree.
Kuidaore is a word commonly associated with Osaka. It means “to eat oneself to ruin.” The people of gritty, energetic Osaka are happily secure in their culinary identity, and the city boasts a delectable mishmash of unique and addictive treats: takoyaki, golf ball-sized octopus fritters; okonomiyaki, savory pancakes stuffed with seafood, pork, and kimchi; and kushikatsu, deep-fried meats and veggies on a skewer (perfect with a cold beer); among so many others.
The city really comes alive at night, and tonight you’ll venture out on a private sake crawl, visiting amazing izakayas, and bars specializing in premium sake paired with tapas-style bites.
Day 10: A day of Zen, tea, and pottery
Enjoy a leisurely morning, and a relaxing coffee at one of Kyoto’s many excellent cafes.
Then you’re off to a working temple for a private session with a Buddhist monk, who will introduce you to Zen (minus the cliches), answer your questions, and lead you on a fluff-free meditation.
Next up is a fascinating introduction to the Japanese tea ceremony, held in a lovely Japanese-style room. Learn about this little-understood ritual, ask any questions you may have, and enjoy wonderful green tea paired with a seasonal wagashi sweet.
You’ll have a smooth transition from tea to sake via the beauty of Japanese pottery, new and old. Meet a Japanese pottery expert for a primer on the history and aesthetics of Japanese pottery, while enjoying sake from meditation-worth pieces.
Days 11 & 12: Spend two days immersed in art and architecture on Naoshima Island
If you’re reading this, you may already know about Naoshima – though if you don’t, I’ll tell you why it’s so amazing.
Naoshima is a small and formerly remote island that is now becoming one of the world’s most noteworthy art destinations. Yayoi Kusama pumpkin sculptures and Tadao Ando-designed buildings blend in with the surrounding seascape.
The incredible Chichu Art Museum alone is worth the visit, but in addition to the island’s many art offerings, one of the highlights is a stay at the coveted Benesse House, which doubles as museum and hotel.
Choose from the strikingly simple rooms in the Benesse House Museum, the fantastical Oval building’s beautifully-appointed rooms overlooking the Inland Sea, the Park (one of Ando’s rare wooden structures) with its lovely views of the mountains of Shikoku, or Beach, with its spacious and airy guest rooms just steps from the shore.
Day 13: Ryokan and onsen: Japanese hospitality in stunning Izu
After two days of art on Naoshima, you’ll begin the trip back to Tokyo. But you’ll be hopping off the bullet train for a detour into the Izu Peninsula,just southwest of Tokyo.
For your final night in Japan, enjoy a splurge you’ll never forget! There’s no more relaxing way to immerse yourself in traditional Japanese culture than with a night at a ryokan (traditional Japanese-style inn).
Blessedly within reach of Tokyo, Izu Hanto (Peninsula) is home to unspoilt emerald forests, rugged coastlines, and wonderful ryokans and onsen.
After a rejuvenating soak in the healing waters, put on your yukata (robe) and you’ll be treated to a lavish, multi-course kaiseki dinner. Enjoy a dreamy sleep before your return to Tokyo tomorrow.
Day 14: A final morning in Japan, and evening departure
Your final day begins with an early-morning soak in the open-air onsen, and an unforgettable Japanese breakfast.
Then it’s time for the easy and pleasant train trip to Tokyo, where you’ll spend your last few hours in Japan.
Enjoy one final stroll — and another meal! — before it’s time to head to the airport.
Come back again soon! Arigatou gozaimashita!