You’re visiting Japan for 10 days? Let’s go!
Planning a 10 day trip to Japan can be overwhelming with so much to see and do (especially in Tokyo alone), slight language barriers (especially when my husband has a shellfish allergy), and curious cultural differences. My 10 Days in Japan itinerary is intended to help make your planning a little easier and inspire you to try new experiences.
This 10 Days in Japan itinerary is designed to give you a taste of the major cities and some smaller locations for a bit of a breather. Tokyo can be exhausting. We opted to bookend our trip with Tokyo time so that we could experience different parts of the city and leave room for places we may want to see again or places that locals may recommend over the 10 days. We appreciated the break in between Tokyo visits to slow down a little.
Please make this itinerary your own and move pieces around to fit your needs!
Know before you go
Before you take off for 10 days in Japan there are a few things you want to know and prepare. The obvious first: make sure you have an up-to-date passport. If you’re traveling from the US, you do not need to purchase a visa in advance. The not so obvious: if you plan to drive Mario Karts around Toyko (you read that right! Read more below..) you will need to get an international driver’s license. Simply bring your passport, US driver’s license, 2 passport photos, and 20 dollars to your local AAA Cruise & Travel location and they will create one for you, same day.
I highly recommend reserving a pocket wifi before you arrive in Japan. It was beyond helpful to always have a connection to get around, translate Japanese, and learn about the areas we were touring. We booked with Ninja wifi and paid $70 for 10 days of wifi. Worth it. You can reserve a pocket wifi and pick it up at the Tokyo Narita airport when you land.
Getting around Japan
Spending 10 days in Japan requires lots of travel between different activities and cities. You’ll use a mix of local trains, private trains, bullet trains, taxis, and walking, of course.
For most travels, you’ll take the JR rail, local subways, or the Shinkasen (aka bullet train). The most difficult part of planning my trip to Japan was figuring out the different train systems and which ticket types to buy. I plan to write a whole post on this topic alone to help others. THAT’S how frustrating it was!
Be sure to purchase your JR pass before you leave home. It will be shipped to your local address, and you will activate it when you arrive to Japan.
Taxis are easy to find across Japan, and they are very clean and safe. All of Japan is clean and safe, really. Ninety percent of taxis we took only accepted cash, so be sure to carry cash with you if you plan to travel by taxi.
NicDiNic Tip: Taxi doors open and close automatically. Your driver will open and close the door for you, no need to reach for the handle.
Language & Culture
After 10 days in Japan, you’ll be surprised how easy some common Japanese phrases will roll off your tongue. I found this video really helpful in learning how to speak a few key phrases.
Most people only speak a little English, if any. But the people of Japan are incredibly kind and helpful and will gladly do their best to help you find something or get to a place or address you show on a map. Even at our worst times, a little sign language and a few key phrases will go a long way. May I recommend “doko deska” being your first phrase?
All hotel staff and train ticket counter staff we met were able to speak enough English to successfully get what we needed. The mom-and-pop udon noodle place in Nara, on the other hand, required lots of sign language and a few key phrases.If you, like my husband, have any allergies, I recommend getting a laminated card with the specifics of your allergy written in Japanese. Also, purchase and pack any medications you may need before you leave home.
People do not litter in Japan and everywhere we went, there was no trash and everything was very clean. But here’s the part I don’t understand–there are no trashcans! We found it funny and frustrating. People don’t eat and walk in Japan. You’ll even see signs posted about this cultural norm, so there is little waste walking the streets. People hold on to their trash until they return home or to a hotel.
After 10 days in Japan, can you guess what is the number one unique Japan item we wish we could bring home? The toilet seats! They are gently heated and come with all sorts of features to make you comfortable. One public toilet even had a “privacy” button that would play soft music if you needed it. I want these in my house ASAP. Enjoy and appreciate them while you can. All other toilets now fail in comparison to Japanese toilets.
Before we left for our trip to Japan, we were warned to always carry large amounts of cash (remember, Japan is very safe) because many places, even some hotels, won’t accept credit cards. We found this to be false. While taxis, markets, and some restaurants were cash-only, a majority of the restaurants visited and activities we selected accepted credit cards. But I would still make sure you have cash on you at all times, just in case.
NicDiNic Tip: It is not expected to tip in Japan. We even read that it can be insulting to tip. The one exception is the free walking tour I recommend in this 10 day Japan itinerary.
You can take out cash at local ATMs across Japan. We always went to the 7-eleven ATMs, and they all have an “English” button you can press to translate the entire process.
10 Days in Japan Itinerary
Day 0: Tokyo Arrival
You made it! Likely, you’ve landed at the Narita Tokyo airport, and if you crossed the International Date Line to get here: Congratulations! You’ve just time traveled! And you’re probably really tired. Fight the urge to go to sleep. Grab your luggage, pocket wifi, and JR pass (if you choose to get one), and purchase a ticket for the Narita Express. The JR pass does cover the Narita Express. However, for this itinerary, I recommend waiting to activate your JR pass on the day you leave for Kyoto since JR passes only come in 7-day increments.
Start your 10 days in Japan in the Shinjuku area of Tokyo. This is a fantastically located area with easy transportation to other parts of Tokyo and other parts of Japan.
Recommended places to stay in Shinjuku, Japan
- Splurge: Hyatt Regency Tokyo. I haven’t personally stayed here, but it comes highly recommended and rated.
- Mid-range: Keio Plaza Hotel. We stayed here during our trip and loved this hotel! It’s perfectly located within walking distance of everything we needed, including the train station, while being just on the edge of the action. We appreciated the quiet retreat in busy Tokyo.
- Budget: IBIS Tokyo Shinjuku. I haven’t stayed here, but I stayed at an IBIS during my New Zealand trip, so I know it’s a trusted, budget hotel. It’s located in a great location right in the action of Shinjuku.
By the time you check into your hotel it will be dinner time, and you might not be hungry but go out anyways and dive in! I recommend noodles, because when in Japan…
- Tokyo Abura Soba Shinjuku Branch. When I reminisce about all the food in Tokyo, these were hands down the best noodles we had in Japan. They are open from lunch until 4am. Eat here and browse the nearby streets. Only locals were here (good sign) when we visited. They didn’t speak English, but they happily helped us purchase our meal on the vending machine–the common way to purchase at any noodle restaurant.
- Ichiran Ramen. This is a chain you can find all across Japan. There are three locations in Shinjuku alone, so there is likely one near your hotel. This was the best ramen we’ve ever had, anywhere in the world. Purchase your meal on the vending machine, get seated, and hand your ticket to the person behind the screen at your seat. You’ll be served the best ramen that will surely cure your jetlag.
Day 1: Tokyo – Shibuya and Shinjuku
Typically, I am anti-organized tour, but when it’s my first time in a new city, I do like to take a tour to learn about the culture. Start your morning with a free walking tour of the Meiji Shrine and Harajuku with Tokyo Localized.
Touring the Meiji Shrine with a guide is the perfect intro to Japanese culture. You’ll learn the difference between a shrine and a temple, the proper ritual to cleanse before entering, and other etiquette and customs. You will visit many more shrines and temples during your time in Japan, so you’ll use these lessons often!
The tour then walks through Takeshita Street and ends in Yoyogi Park. You’re going to want to head back to Takeshita Street to experience everything kawaii! (That means cute!)
By now, you’ve worked up an appetite. Head into the heart of Shibuya and grab some delicious sushi delivered to your seat by conveyor belt at Genki Sushi, which was SO fun, or right next door pop into Coco Ichibanya for Japanese curry.
Feel that jet lag settling in? Don’t be tempted to take a break for a nap. Keep pushing through! Walk over to the Starbucks Tsutaya for some caffeine and the BEST views of Shibuya crossing! Take your coffee upstairs and watch the herds of people scramble across the intersection in all directions. It’s mesmerizing. I could have stayed there for hours.
If you’re into craft beer, like my husband and me by association, head over to Mikkeller Tokyo for a relaxing spot with delicious beers. Right outside there is a small shrine where you can practice the skills you learned earlier.
If you enjoyed the free walking tour this morning, Tokyo Localized offers a free Shinjuku night tour that includes Omoide Yokocho and Golden Gai. Alternatively, you can get lost and miss the meeting time for the tour and explore these areas on your own (like what happened to us!). We enjoyed an evening of cozy Izikayas in lantern filled alleys and drinks in tiny bars in Golden Gai, but I still wish we would have made the tour to learn more about these areas!
Day 2: Tokyo – Akihabara and Shinjuku
Are you ready to drive go-karts around Tokyo?! We booked the 10am “Middle Course” with Street Kart, leaving out of Akihabara 1. This was our favorite experience in Tokyo! The two-hour course takes you through Akihabara, Tokyo Sky-Tree, Asakusa, Ueno, Tokyo Station, and Ginza. It is a wild experience to drive a tiny go-kart through one of the busiest cities in the world. But you’re with a guide that keeps everyone safe and on track.
Be sure to get your international driver’s license before you leave home! It is simple to get in 1 day from your local AAA Cruise & Travel location.
After that adrenaline rush, grab a juicy Kobe beef burger at Henry’s Burger and then explore and nerd out in the seven-story Akiba Cultures Zone.
This is where I take a detour in the itinerary. In reality, we went to the Robot Restaurant, which was highly recommended throughout all my research, but it was not for us. And I wouldn’t recommend it to anyone else. Instead, I wish we would have explored a few other options on my list like the renowned food halls in Isetan Shinjuku and the eclectic cocktail bar, Ben Fiddich. Even a repeat evening in Omoide Yokocho and Golden Gai would have been better.
Day 3: Bullet train to Kyoto and Nara
One of the more exciting parts of your 10 days in Japan–it’s time to ride a bullet train! Today, I recommend heading to the smaller city of Nara (via Kyoto). Depending on which bullet train you book (or incorrectly get on in our case) you’ll get to Kyoto somewhere between 2 hours 20 minutes and 3 hours and 50 minutes. From there, take the Nara line (JR pass) or Kintetsu line to Nara. Both lines offer an express train that will get you there in 45 minutes.
Nara wasn’t supposed to be part of this itinerary. Three weeks before our trip, Typhoon Hagibis damaged the town of Hakone and the Ryokan we were so excited to stay in. If conditions improve when you travel, I recommend squeezing a day trip to Hakone into your plans. It’s easily doable from Tokyo.
My disappointment in the sudden change of plans quickly turned to excitement after a little research. We opted to stay at Kotonoyado Musashino, a traditional Japanese inn called a Ryokan (Ree-oh-kan), because they offer rooms with a private onsen (hot spring bath) in your own secluded garden. Heavenly!
Enjoy the kaiseki dinner in the comfort of your room and get ready to explore Nara tomorrow.
Day 4: Nara and travel to Kyoto
After breakfast in your room, it’s time to explore Nara! And I hope you weren’t expecting a solo stroll around town–you’re going to have many furry friends following you around. When I heard that Nara was known for deer roaming the city, I imagined a few sitting in a park. No. These deer are everywhere! And they’ll follow you around like you’re Snow White if you keep feeding them the deer wafers. Pick some up at your hotel or a local shop for only 200 Yen.
I recommend touring around Nara Park going counter-clockwise. Due to our Ryokan location, we started at the Sumiyoshi Shrine and wound our way through several peaceful shrines and temples before taking a left, down a path to the Great Buddha Hall. Before you leave this area of town, don’t miss an unforgettable Udon noodle experience at the family-run Rokumeien.
After lunch, head south from the Great Buddha Hall, past all the tourist shops, and across the street to the Kofukuji Temple and beautiful 5-storied pagoda. Finish your loop of Nara at the Kasugataishashinen Manyo Botanical Gardens. Once you feel like you can pull yourself away from the adorable baby deer, grab your bags and hop on a train back to Kyoto!
Day 5: Kyoto – Pontocho Alley
While planning the Kyoto portion of our trip, I was overwhelmed with the number of beautiful, historic shrines and temples to visit all across the city. Unless you have several days here, it’s important to select your 3-4 favorites and be ok with not seeing them all. We definitely got “shrined-out” after touring so many. I found this article helpful for making my picks.
Recommended places to stay in Kyoto, Japan
- Splurge: The Westin Miyako Kyoto. While we didn’t stay here, I can’t remember a Westin I didn’t like.
- Mid-Range: Kyoto Shijo Takakura Hotel Grandereverie. We stayed here and loved this smaller, boutique hotel. It was on a quiet street while also being close to shops, the Nishiki Market, and Pontocho Alley.
- Budget: Enso Ango Fuya. I have no connection to this hotel, but I would absolutely book it based on reviews, location, and great price.
Once you settle into your hotel, head over to Pontocho Alley for dinner and drinks. We randomly found a speakeasy-type cocktail bar behind a hidden bookcase called The Alchemist and we still talk about how good the drinks, service, and vibe were here! Pop in for a drink or two before dinner and come back after dinner too.
Pontocho Alley is filled with restaurants, so you’re sure to find something you’ll love, but my top recommendation is to head to Yamafuku for an incredible Shabu Shabu experience. Be prepared to take your shoes off for this authentic dinner. Your table will be prepped with a umami soy milk broth where you’ll cook thinly sliced wagyu beef and vegetables. Don’t worry, your server will show you what to do. This is a must do!
Day 6: Kyoto – Shrines, Nishiki Market, and Gion District
At this point, I know you have been go, go, go on this Japan trip, but stick with me for two more early mornings! Get on the train to the Fushimi Inari Taisha Shrine, famously known for the orange torii gates. We were struggling to get moving, arrived at 10am, and it was packed. The earlier you arrive, the less crowds you’ll have to move through. We did, however, discover a little hidden bamboo garden that gave us a little solitude.
Not everyone goes to the top of the Inari Shrine or all the way down the other side, so as you go up, the crowds will thin out some. Even though we went at peak time, it was still a memorable and moving experience. We would certainly go back!
Grab the train back into Kyoto because it’s time to stroll the Nishiki Market. This alley of shops and eats is the perfect place to buy your souvenirs and pick up lunch. Be sure to find the knife shop that will engrave your name in Japanese into a knife of your choice!
After the market, walk over to the Gion District and tour the Yasaka Shrine, which is a massive complex and a burst of color in the middle of Kyoto. Take your time but don’t linger too long. You need to make it up to Kiyomizu-dera Temple before sunset to see Kyoto light up!
NicDiNic Tip: If you want to see THE famous Kyoto street, the one you always see in photos, make sure your walk between Yasaka Shrine and Kiyomizu-dera Temple includes the street from the Yasaka Pagoda to Inoda Coffee.
Day 7: Kyoto – Bamboo Forest, Monkey Park & Osaka
Ok, this is your last early morning wake up. You can do it! I was worried the bamboo forest wouldn’t live up to the hype, but I promise, you won’t regret waking up before the sunrise to enjoy the bamboo forest in peace and quiet. Don’t try to go through the Tenryuji Temple to get to the bamboo forest (like we did). It will be closed this early in the morning. Take the street just north of the temple.
If you want to see more shrines and temples, please go to Otagi Nenbutsuji Temple and Kinkaku-ji and then come back and tell me all about them! These two are out near the bamboo forest and were high on my list. If you are “shrined-out” like we were, you can walk across the river and up to the Arashiyama Monkey Park.
On a whim, we decided to take a hike up in the mountains to catch sweeping views of Kyoto and interact with the locals—snow monkeys. There were over 140 monkeys roaming the park! I loved that each one had a name and was lovingly cared for by the park staff. Even though this is a “monkey park” it was the opposite of a zoo. They were free to wander, no fences or enclosures. Instead, people have to enter a cage in order to feed them apples and peanuts.
Thanks to bullet trains, tonight is the perfect opportunity to check out Osaka. You can get there from Kyoto station in about 20 minutes. Head straight to Dotonbori Street for a vibrant evening of street food, bright lights, and a festive riverwalk. Be adventurous and try Takoyaki!
Day 8: Back to Tokyo – Ginza & Tokyo Station
Take the Shinkasen (bullet train) back to Tokyo today, and settle into your new hotel. We opted to stay in a different area of the city, Ginza/Tokyo Station.
Recommended places to stay near Tokyo Station, Japan
- Splurge: Hyatt Centric Ginza. I’ve never stayed here, but I sure wish I could.
- Mid-Range: Courtyard Marriott Tokyo Station. We stayed here and really enjoyed the location.
- Budget: Hotel Musse Ginza Meitetsu. This hotel was on the short list to be considered before we went with the Marriott property.
After checking in to our hotel, we were craving some sushi and headed to the Tokyo Train Station to check out the renowned eating spots below the station. You can find some of the best ramen options in all of Tokyo here, often with lines of over an hour wait, including Rokurinsha where Anthony Bourdain once ate.
If you’re feeling sushi, like we were, Kyotatsu was a welcome treat as we returned to Tokyo and they happily accommodated my husband’s shellfish allergy.
Spend the afternoon walking the streets of Ginza, admiring the shops that are works of art, and then get to a mouth-watering Kobe Wagyu experience. Ginza has several exquisite and Michelin star rate options. We chose Ishida Ginza Honten because it was highly rated and they take online reservations in English, which is extremely rare. If you have your heart set on another location, your hotel concierge can also make a reservation for you.
Day 9: Tokyo – Digital Art Museum
It’s day 9 and honestly, we are tired at this point. It is difficult to go, go, go for this long. We chose to sleep in a little before heading to lunch to get… more ramen! We decided to wait in line for ramen spot Anthony Bourdain visited, Rokurinsha.
This spot features thick noodles that you dip in broth. While the experience was interesting, this wasn’t our favorite ramen because the noodles come out cold. And even though the broth is hot, it doesn’t last long.
After lunch take a train to see the teamLab Borderless exhibit in the Digital Art Museum. You could easily spend an entire day exploring and interacting with all the mesmerizing exhibits. The rooms are constantly changing so be sure to explore and revisit different areas for a new experience! My favorite rooms were the Crystal World, the Athletics Forest, and the Future Park where you can make your own art come to life in the exhibit!
The most visited room is the Forest of Lamps. It’s gorgeous and super instagrammable, but the wait was easily an hour, and you only have 2 minutes to enjoy the room. It’s just enough time to snap a few photos before you’re pushed out. I didn’t feel like I got to really enjoy it. Another room with a ridiculously long line was The Nest. Honestly, you can skip this if the line is long. It was my least favorite room.
For dinner, enjoy high quality beef, but this time on the cheaper and more casual side. Gyukatsu Motomura in the Toyko Station part of town is a no-frills experience of melt-in-your-mouth breaded steak that you cook to your liking on your own personal hot plate. There will be a line, but it moves quickly. There are only 9 seats inside so have a little patience and enjoy!
Day 10: Fish Market Tour and Departure
This is it. Day 10 in Japan–we saved the best for last. And the famous fish market is closed on Sundays, which was our day 9, so this was our only chance to go! We opted for a guided tour to see both the old Tsukiji Market and the new Toyosu Market.
This tour starts at 6:15am to see the end of the tuna action and has a stop in the middle for the best sushi breakfast you will ever experience. You’ll have lots of options when you stop to eat. We noticed one spot had a two-hour line. Our tour guide pointed out that it is only so popular because it’s easy to find and review on the internet. The other little spots don’t always have websites or ask for reviews.
We went with his recommended spot, pictured above. I don’t even know the name. But the family serving us was delightful, and we had the most amazing tuna we’ve ever tasted. I’m a little worried no other sushi will ever be able to compare!
Before you take the Narita Express Train to the airport, you need one final meal. Ramen. Go back to Tokyo Station, in the same area as Rokurinsha, and pick one at random. This is how we discovered some of our favorite ramen of the entire trip. I don’t even know the name. Order from the vending machine, enjoy every last slurp, and then make the long journey home.