I’ve visited the place three times – and each time it just gets better.
I know there is a lot of info out there on Japan, but I thought I would put in my own two cents.
This post is not anything ‘off the beaten path’, just some notes on the main tourist places that some of you might find helpful.
let’s break it down by city
Where to stay: Anywhere near a subway. We’ve mostly stayed in and around Shinjuku. Airbnb options in Tokyo are wonderful. Have a peek at where we stayed in this vlog.
What to see and do:
– Gawk at the huge tunas heads on display at Tsujiki Fish Market. Eat some sashimi. Visit before November 2016 as the market is relocating.
– Time lapse the Shibuya Crossing (free seats in Starbucks). Do some wandering and shopping in the surrounding area (Shibuya, Harajuku, Omotesando)
– Obligatory? Sensoji temple visit at Asakusa (skippable if you ask me)
– Akihabara, for tech nerds who like maid cafes, gaming and sticker photos (so pretty much, if you’re Alvin)
– Disneyland and Disneysea for the Disney fans.
– Catch the monorail (Yurikamome train line) to watch the sunset over Rainbow Bridge in Odaiba
– Visit the various parks in Tokyo. Meiji Shrine in Yoyogi Park is right next to Harajuku if you are close by.
Memorable eats: Ninja Akasaka ($$ fun place), La Rochelle ($$$$ will break the bank), random yakitori place on the way to Niwa Noyu Onsen ($) Ask your hotel / hostel to book in advanced for the first two.
Where to stay: Osaka – Namba area, anywhere close to the train stations.
What to see and do:
– Wander through Osaka Castle
– Drink butterbeer at Universal Studios
– Eat takoyaki and okonomiyaki and take a photo of the Glico running man in Dotonburi
TBH Osaka is missable in my opinion.
Where to stay: Gion
What to see and do:
– Walk / cycle / bus around town and visit the various temples and shrines. Highlights include Kiyomizu Temple, Fushimi Inari Shrine, and Kinkakuji Temple (Golden Pavilion). Remember that you don’t have to visit everything. Just pick a few and enjoy your journey.
– Day trip to Arashiyama region (catch a bus there). Visit the Tenryuji Temple (be sure to wander both inside and in the gardens), bamboo forest and look out for the busker who plays the metal instrument. It is magical.- Spend your evening walking around Gion for some pretty pictures.
Where to stay: Anywhere near the main city area. Everything is only a few tram stops away.
What to see and do: Hiroshima Peace Museum & Park, A-Bomb Dome, day trip to Miyajima Island.
What to eat: Hiroshima’s version of okonomiyaki, wind down at an izakaya and sake bar.
You have a few options to see Mt Fuji.
If you feel like a daredevil – go to Fuji Q Highlands.
If you want to walk / cycle around some lakes – go to the Fuji 5 Lakes, see this vlog.
Hakone – a national park with great view of Fuji, as well as a great place to soak in some hot springs.
Hike Mt Fuji – we’ve heard mixed reviews, some say the view is better from afar, some appreciate the accomplishment of hiking the thing.
Note that the view of Fuji is weather permitting, it is often shrouded in cloud. So don’t expect too much, just in case!
Get naked at an onsen (if you are looking for one in Tokyo – we a recommend Niwa No Yu). There is a naked only male and female only section, and also a combined indoor and outdoor area (with bathers). No tattoos (or find a creative way to cover the up). Otherwise, there are plenty of other onsens in beautiful settings all around Japan, and some that permit tattoos (research in advanced).
Watch a baseball game. Japanball.com is a good resource to use, but I think if you book from the site its quite expensive. A cheaper option might be to ask your hotel / hostel for some assistance.
Stay overnight in a temple at Mount Koya. This is hands down one of our favourite places in Japan (disclaimer: enjoyed it as a couple, not as a group of guys wanting to party). Why? The place is eerie, enchanting, and it was cool to stay in a temple. Sorry but no vlog of this place as we went a few years ago. We stayed at Fudoin Temple.
If you are in Japan for more than 7 days and planning to travel to more than one city, the JR pass if for you. In short, you can use the JR pass on any of the JR train lines, ferries etc. (There is like a billion transport carriers / companies in Japan so if you go and read the exceptions and exclusions you’ll be overloaded). Basically – if it says ‘JR’ you can use your pass. Any time you need to book a inter-city train, go to the JR ticket office, and they will sort you out anyway.
If however, you are travelling less than 7 days, or not really travelling much between cities, there are more economical options such as the overnight buses. See this vlog for a 3 second clip of us on the bus.
Tokyo – catch the JR trains (you can use your JR Pass for free), or subway (buy a rechargeable Suica card, you can get a refund of the Suica card fee when you leave)
Osaka – I don’t really remember anything but walking around and catching the train. SORRY
Kyoto – All tourist sites are well connected by the bus system. When you arrive at Kyoto station, head out to the bus station, and buy a bus pass – you can buy a single or double day I believe. Get your hands on the bus map too.
Note on buses: You board from the back, and get off and show your bus card at the front. Note that the first time you use your card, you need to ‘validate it’ by inserting your card in the slot.
Hiroshima – You can tram or walk to the main sites.
Note on trams, you board from the back, and get off and pay (coins) at the front. No change given.
Miyajima Island – You catch the JR train and then a JR ferry (free with your JR pass) from Hiroshima.
Whilst there is free WIFI here and there, I would recommend hiring a pocket wifi (sometimes your Airbnb host will actually provide one too!). We hired ours from Global Advanced.
If you want to be more economical – I remember reading that there are also some apps you can download which allows tourists to access many more free wifi spots.
7 days (jam packed)
Day one – Arrive in Osaka, roam the streets of Dontonburi, eat the Takoyaki balls and take the photo of the running man.
If you arrive at night this is all you will do. If you arrive in the morning, you could visit Osaka castle.
Day two & three – Catch train to Kyoto (30mins slow train, or 15 mins fast train). Explore Kyoto by bike, foot or bus. Stroll around Ginza at night.
Day four– Catch train to Hiroshima (1-2 hours?) Half day trip to Mijajima Island in the morning. In the arvo, head back to Hiroshima and visit the A-bomb dome and the peace museum. Look for a sake bar at night (or catch an overnight bus to Tokyo).
Day five – arrive in Tokyo, spend afternoon wandering around Shibuya and surrounding area. Go to Shinjuku in the evening if you like and look for the Golden Gai. Or alternatively catch the train to Odaiba and see the sunset over the rainbow bridge.
Day six – Visit Tsujiki fish market in the morning (check which days it is open), train to Asakusa and visit the Sensoji Temple, train again to Akihabara and be wooed by maids, owls (at the owl cafes) cafe and take some sticker photos.
Day seven – Visit Fuji, see above Fuji section.
> 7 days
Above itinerary, but you could fit in
– A day or two at Mount Koya (after Hiroshima)
– A day’s side trip to Nara from Kyoto
– Stay overnight in one of the Fuji areas
– Add some theme park days (Universal Studios on Osaka, Disneyland & Disneysea in Tokyo, and / or Fuji Q Highlands near Fuji).
– A few more days in Tokyo to just explore anything and anywhere, or just eat.
No matter what you do, what you see, Japan won’t disappoint.