Japan 16-Day Itinerary – Highlights of Two Weeks in Japan

  • 08.03.2024 10:04
  • Bruno Arcos

Best things to see and do in Japan in two weeks. Discover the country’s most famous landmarks and tourist hotspots in our Japan 16-day itinerary!

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This Japan 16-day itinerary is a part of our broader travel guide for the country. We recommend you check it out for the best travel tips and the most accurate information on transportation, hotels, restaurants and best hikes in Japan.

Japan 16-Day Itinerary – Where to go in Japan in 2 weeks

Although a country as rich and vast as Japan could easily require a stay of several months just to scratch the surface, once can still enjoy the best that the country has to offer in just 16 days. In addition to the classics of Tokyo and Kyoto, which are mandatory in any shorter itinerary, with a full 2 weeks you can also explore the most picturesque cities of the Japanese Alps, delve into the vibrant metropolis of Osaka (with a quick visit to Universal Studios Japan) and witness the scars of the atomic bomb in Hiroshima.

However, if you don’t have the availability for such an extended trip, you are always welcome to take a look at our shorter itineraries for Japan:

So, without further ado, here are the cities, places and tourist attractions you should visit in a 16-day itinerary through Japan:

Japan 16-Day Itinerary: Day 1 – Tokyo: Shibuya, Harajuku and Shinjuku

After a good night of rest following a flight half-way across the world, it’s finally time to delve into the mesmerizing and captivating Japan. As expected, our journey begins in the massive city of Tokyo, the nation’s capital. Tokyo is a metropolis of contrasts, where bustling crowds, electronic billboards and loudspeakers clash with the silence, the serenity and the order. Despite its immense size, Tokyo is surprisingly easy to navigate and explore, and there’s no better place to gain a sense of that organized chaos than at the iconic Shibuya Scramble Crossing, globally known as the busiest pedestrian crossing on Earth. While it may seem odd how this kind of place became a tourist magnet to begin with, experiencing the bustling intersection firsthand is a must. Aside from joining the crowds on crossing the street, there are several viewpoints from which to watch the “show”. Alongside Shibuya Sky (¥2200), one of Tokyo’s most popular vantage points where tickets often sell out in advance (buy online here), you can also take in the views of the crossing from MAGNET by Shibuya 109 (¥1500, including a drink) or from the galleries of Shibuya Mark City. Regarding the latter, views may not be as impressive but at least admission is free.

From there, you’ll head north into the neighboring district of Harajuku. While the luxury shops lining Omotesando Avenue may initially dazzle you, Harajuku’s real subculture can be found at Takeshita Street. Despite its touristy reputation, this pedestrian thoroughfare is filled to the brim with alternative shops displaying the unique style that became synonymous with Harajuku. Think colorful wigs, lacy fabrics, extravagant makeup and quirky bows – as if the street has been suddenly taken over by the cast of “Sailor Moon”! For something way more sober, it’s time to pay a visit to Meiji Shrine, one of Tokyo’s most popular religious sites. Located inside a green space adjacent to Yoyogi Park, this shrine pays tribute to Emperor Meiji, the ruler who declared the end of the Edo period and reopened Japan to the outside world, leading to its remarkable industrialization and rise as one of the globe’s wealthiest and most advanced nations. Plus, this is also a great place to get introduced to Shinto, Japan’s native religion which is still practiced by the majority of the population. Despite having been heavily influenced and molded by Buddhism, Shinto still maintains its distinct rituals and sanctuaries. Next on our itinerary is Shinjuku Gyoen (¥500). In a city that is famous for housing some of the most beautiful parks in the world, this one might very well be the most spectacular of the bunch! Plus, this is one of the most popular places in all of Japan to witness the pink hues of the cherry blossom season.

As the day comes to an end, and once the night falls over Tokyo, there’s no better place to be than Shinjuku. If you’ve dreamed of Tokyo’s stereotypical bright lights and bustling streets, this is where you’ll find them! In fact, there aren’t that many tourist attractions in Shinjuku, but simply strolling along its rowdy streets and taking in all the mayhem is part of the quintessential Japanese experience – like going to New York and seeing Times Square! For something a bit more local, we recommend strolling along Golden Kai, a street famous for its abundance of bars, or venturing into the atmospheric alleyways of Omoide Yokocho, weirdly nicknamed “Piss Alley”. Plus, this is one of the top places in Tokyo to indulge in a snack or two at an izakaya, a traditional Japanese pub where salarymen unwind after a long day’s work. Finally, and in order to gain a better insight into how unbelievably sprawling Tokyo really is – this is the world’s biggest city, after all – don’t miss out on getting to the top of the Tokyo Metropolitan Government Building. While there are many other observatories in the city, some inclusively at higher altitudes, this is the only one where admission is free. Besides, you can even catch a glimpse of Mount Fuji on clear days! On a final note, if that view of Mount Fuji is a must for you, then simply reverse the order for the day, starting with the observatory in Shinjuku and ending the day at the iconic Shibuya Scramble Crossing, when crowds are even bigger.

First day wrap-up:

  • Shibuya Scramble Crossing
  • Shibuya Sky OR MAGNET by Shibuya 109 OR Shibuya Mark City
  • Harajuku
    • Takeshita Street
    • Avenue Omotesando
  • Yoyogi Park
  • Meiji Shrine
  • Shinjuku Gyoen
  • Shinjuku
    • Tokyo Metropolitan Government Building
    • Yomode Okocho
    • Golden Kai

Where to eat in Japan – Best restaurants in Shibuya and Shinjuku

Japan 16-Day Itinerary: Day 2 – Tokyo: Ginza, Chiyoda, Akihabara and Ueno

For your second day in Tokyo, you’ll get out of bed early in the morning and check out some of the other city districts, starting at the famous Tsukiji Fish Market. Once the place where the iconic morning tuna auction took place – an event many tourists made sure to witness – now only the outer market remains, where you can find countless street stalls offering all kinds of local delicacies (though predominantly focused on fish and seafood). Unsurprisingly, this is where some of Japan’s finest sushi and fish bowls (kaisen donburi) are offered, albeit at prices substantially higher than average. Nevertheless, it’s a cool place for a stroll and to sample a few new things. Once you’re done with the market, follow that up with a visit to the district of Ginza, renowned as one of Tokyo’s most upscale and exclusive areas. A place to see and be seen! Though there’s not much to see or do in Ginza when it comes to conventional tourist landmarks, a walk down Chuo Dori – the central avenue – and a visit to the Kabukiza Theater are highly recommended. Playing host to some of the most famous plays of Kabuki, a traditional Japanese style of performing arts, these musical numbers can easily last over 4 hours per show. While understanding the dialogue may pose a challenge for non-Japanese speakers, the theater offers ¥1000 “single act tickets” for those curious to experience a single segment of the play (approximately 60 minutes).

At the western edge of Ginza, you will come across the Tokyo Imperial Palace Gardens. While the palace itself remains closed to the public except on specific festive occasions, it’s still very much worth exploring the surrounding gardens and enjoying distant views of the buildings’ architecture. Even if you go ahead and book a guided visit that allows you to actually enter the islet where the main palace is located, keep in mind the interiors are always off-limits. A few kilometers northward (you can walk or take the JR Yamanote Line), and the path will now lead you to Akihabara, Tokyo’s epicenter of nerd and geek culture, and a stark departure from the traditional sobriety of Japanese society. Here, anything goes! We’re talking about dozens of multistory buildings brimming with manga and video game stores (some selling 20th century classics), sex shops, pachinko and slot parlors, and all kinds of weird themed cafes your mind can think of, from the harmless joints where you can share the space with cats, owls or capybaras, to the far more suggestive maid cafes (where waiters dress up as French maids…), to the downright bizarre restaurants featuring BDSM, dancing robots and screaming samurai. Definitely a different side of Tokyo!

As hunger sets in, you’ll take your well-deserved lunch break at the Ameyoko Shopping District, one of Tokyo’s biggest street food hubs, before venturing into the nearby Ueno Park. Much like Shinjuku Gyoen, this park is also a great place to witness the cherry blossom season, though it remains a timeless tourist attraction all-year-round, boasting the likes of the Ueno Toshogu Shrine (¥500) and the Tokyo National Museum (¥1000). Split across six different buildings, the latter is home to the country’s biggest collection of archaeological and cultural artifacts. Finally, you’ll cap off this busy day with a visit to Senso-ji Temple, Tokyo’s oldest and most important Buddhist sanctuary. Beyond its impressive architecture, which includes the iconic Kiminarimon Gate and Five-Storied Pagoda, the complex is also famous for Nakamise Street.

Second day wrap-up:

  • Tsukiji Fish Market
  • Ginza
    • Chuo Dori
    • Kabukiza Theater
  • Tokyo Imperial Palace Gardens
  • Akihabara
  • Ameyoko Shopping District
    • Ueno Park
    • Ueno Toshogu Shrine
    • Tokyo National Museum
  • Senso-ji Temple
  • Nakamise Street

Where to eat in Japan – Best restaurants in Ginza, Ueno Park and Asakusa

Japan 16-Day Itinerary: Day 3 – Tokyo: Day in Kamakura / Night in Roppongi

Now that you’ve been able to visit (well, sort of) Tokyo’s major tourist areas, it’s time to dedicate a couple of days to exploring neighboring regions and towns, using the capital as base for some very exciting day trips. First up, and perhaps the easiest, is a journey to the ancient historic capital of Kamakura. This city is just a 60-minute train ride from Tokyo, with several direct local services per hour (via the JR Shonan-Shinjuku Line) departing from Shinjuku, Shibuya or Tokyo Station. The ticket costs ¥940 one-way. To make the best use of your time, it’s good to know that Kamakura also has its own networks of trains (Enoshima Electric Railways) and buses. So, if you wish to save your legs and some precious time, we recommend taking the round trip (5 minutes each way, ¥400 round trip) between Kamakura Station and Hase Station, which is closest to the first two temples on this itinerary.

As for Kamakura, known as the “Little Kyoto”, it was struck by a massive earthquake in 1923 that nearly destroyed all its historical areas. However, the city’s phenomenal array of temples mostly survived unscathed, still adorning the landscape between the hills and the sea to this day. In total, there are around 80 temples and shrines in Kamakura, so you’ll need to be highly selective if you intend to return to Tokyo in time for the recommended late afternoon activities. With that said, we suggest starting with a mandatory visit to Hase Temple (¥400), famous for its immaculate gardens, terrace overlooking the sea and the beautiful main building, which houses an impressive wooden statue of the goddess Kannon standing over 9 meters tall! Nearby, you can also find the Great Buddha of Kamakura. Located inside Kotoku-in Temple (¥300), this famous bronze statue is arguably the most iconic symbol of Kamakura, and for an additional ¥50 you can even enter its small interior. When you’re ready to return to the main station (as mentioned in the previous paragraph), you’ll stroll along Komachi Street and visit the Tsurugaoka Hachimangu Shrine, the most important Shinto place of worship in the city. Before catching the train back to Tokyo, we also recommend making one last effort and stopping by Hokokuji Temple. Although the temple itself is rather ordinary, its backdoors hide one of the most beautiful private gardens (¥400) in Japan, famous for its small bamboo grove.

Back in Tokyo, you’ll end your afternoon with a visit to teamLab Borderless (¥3800), one of the world’s best digital art exhibitions. Located inside the Mori Digital Art Museum, part of the Azabudai Hills complex, this experience is a true festival of color, sounds, holograms and mirror reflections, and one of the most impressive things to grace Instagram feeds around the world. In fact, it poses the question: Is this place truly “art”? Or is it just a great marketing strategy for people seeking highly aesthetic photos and videos? We’ll leave that for you to decide. Please note that purchasing tickets online is mandatory and should be done well in advance, as you’ll need to specify the date of your visit and a 30-minute arrival window. However, and as long as you enter the museum within that timeframe, you can stay for as long as you like. As the night sets in, and since you’ll be nearby anyway, you can enjoy another panoramic view of Tokyo by climbing up the famous Tokyo Tower (¥1200 for the Main Deck at 150 meters; ¥3000 for the Top Deck at 250 meters), the former tallest building in the city before the Tokyo Skytree was inaugurated. Alternatively, for a view that includes the Tokyo Tower itself, you can access the observation deck at Tokyo City View (¥2000).

Third day wrap-up:

  • Kamakura
    • Hase Temple
    • Great Buddah of Kamakura
    • Komachi Street
    • Tsurugaoka Hachimangu Shrine
    • Hokokuji Temple
  • teamLab Borderless
  • Tokyo Tower OR Tokyo City View

Where to eat in Japan – Best restaurants in Kamakura and Roppongi

Japan 16-Day Itinerary: Day 4 – Day Trip to Mount Fuji

Magnificent, majestic, breathtaking. Is there a more quintessential image of Japan than the snow-capped summit of Mount Fuji? W ell, today you’ll have the chance to witness it firsthand! While there are several towns and regions where you can appreciate the sight of the iconic volcano, most visitors gravitate towards two specific regions: Hakone and the Fuji Five Lakes. In our case, we’ll suggest a visit to the latter, particularly to Lake Kawaguchi. To go from Tokyo to Kawaguchi Station, you can hop on a train from JR, specifically the Ltd. Exp. Fuji Excursion service departing from Shinjuku. This line links the the capital to Mount Fuji in just over 90 minutes, with a one-way ticket priced at ¥4130. Alternatively, for a budget-friendlier option, consider JR Kanto buses (refer to our Japan general guide for schedule information and tickets), which complete the journey in about 2 hours, costing ¥2050 for a one-way trip. Additionally, since many attractions near the lake are quite spread out, you’ll have to rely on local buses and trains (Fujikyu Railways).

With that said, let’s kick off our itinerary with a visit to Oishi Park, on the northern shores of Lake Kawaguchi. Famous for being the best spot along the lake for admiring Mount Fuji’s iconic beauty, Oishi Park is a must-visit. To get there, board the red line of the local bus system, departing from stop nº 1 of the tiny terminal located directly in front of the Kawaguchi train station. You can conveniently use your Welcome SUICA or PASMO Passport to pay for the fare (¥570, 30 minutes). After snapping some of those mindboggling photos, hop back on the same bus, this time in the opposite direction, and get out at the stop called Yuransenropulei-iriguchi (¥470, 15 minutes), conveniently located by the entrance of the Mount Fuji Ropeway (¥900 round-trip). This panoramic cable car offers a brief journey to the summit of the Kawaguchiko Tenjozan Park, boasting a scenic terrace with absolutely stunning views. To the right, the serene Lake Kawaguchi; to the left, the majestic silhouette of Fuji – can’t get any better!

Back on solid ground, you’ll walk for 15 minutes until you’re back at the train station. Once you’re there, you can board the Fujikyu Railways line and get off at Shimoyoshida (¥310), the starting point for the brief yet rewarding 400-steps climb to the iconic Chureito Pagoda, part of the Arakura Sengen Shrine. Funny enough, the pagoda itself isn’t particularly grand or impressive, but the way its silhouette stands against the backdrop of Mount Fuji is nothing short of mesmerizing – and one of Mount Fuji’s most emblematic postcard-pictures. As the time comes for you to start slowly making your way back to Tokyo, consider a brief detour to the lesser-known Shimoyoshida Honcho Street, another hidden gem where you can capture Fuji’s majestic peak. To return to the capital, simply catch the local train back to Kawaguchiko (¥310), then board either a bus or train bound for the capital. On the other hand, if you find yourself with some extra time to spare, and depending on your interests, then you might consider visiting the Fuji-Q Highland amusement park, soaking at the Fujiyama Onsen’s hot springs or embarking on a scenic cruise along Lake Kawaguchi aboard the Appare Boat. Nevertheless, if you’re able to stick to our original plan, we guarantee it will be a day well spent!

Fourth day wrap-up:

  • Lake Kawaguchi
  • Oishi Park
  • Mount Fuji Ropeway
  • Chureito Pagoda
  • Shimoyoshida Honcho Street

Where to eat in Japan – Best restaurants in Kawaguchiko

Japan 16-Day Itinerary: Day 5 – Day Trip to Nikko

For our third and final day trip from Tokyo, we’ll venture away from the bustling city towards Nikko National Park, one of the most popular weekend getaway destinations among Tokyo locals. Before heading to Nikko, you’ll want to make use of one of the many lockers at Asakusa Station (ranging from ¥300 to ¥700, depending on size) to store your luggage, as you’ll be spending the night on a different city. Since there are no direct buses to Nikko, your transportation options are limited to trains, with services provided by both JR and Tobu Railways. However, we recommend going with the latter, as they offer the Nikko Pass World Heritage Area. In addition to covering the base fare for trains between Asakusa and Nikko, this pass includes unlimited bus transportation within a designated area in Nikko. It costs ¥2120. Unfortunately, though, there’s more to it when it comes to travel expenses. Since this pass only covers the base fare for the trip, it means you can only rely on local trains if you don’t want to spend any more money. However, doing so would require 4 hours of travel and some 5 transfers, making it pretty much impossible to visit Nikko on a day trip. Therefore, in addition to the pass, you’ll need to pay a limited express fee (a mandatory seat reservation on fast trains) for Tobu’s Limited Express trains, which shorten the journey to just 2 hours. For a round trip between Tokyo and Nikko, this fee amounts to ¥3300, bringing the total transportation cost for this day trip to ¥5420. You can purchase the pass on the day of your trip at the Tobu Tourism Information Center in Asakusa or online through this link, although you’ll still need to collect it in person at the same location. On the other hand, reservations for the limited express train must be made at least a couple of days in advance. You can do this through Tobu’s online reservation system (Departing station: “Asakusa”; Arriving station: “Tobu-Nikko”) or by visiting Asakusa station a few days prior.

Now that we’ve tackled the logistical details, let’s talk about what to see and do in Nikko – famous for its breathtaking waterfalls, scenic trails and numerous temples and shrines, recognized as UNESCO World Heritage Sites. Among these, the most prominent is the monumental Nikko Toshogu Shrine (¥1300), arguably the finest in all of Japan. Serving as the final resting place of Tokugawa Ieyasu, the ruler who kickstarted the Edo period and played a pivotal role in the unification of Japan, this shrine is a curious departure from the traditional simplicity of Japanese religious sites. No more sobriety or humbleness, as this temple boasts a juggernaut festival of gold, opulent architecture and vibrant colors. Plus, it’s also famous for blending elements of both Buddhism and Shinto (extremely uncommon in Japan), and for housing the first-ever depiction of the “Three Wise Monkeys” (hear no evil, speak no evil, see no evil). Nearby, you can also find the other two popular temples of Nikko: the Futarasan Shrine (¥200) and the Rinnoji Temple (¥400). However, after visiting the Toshogu, nothing else can quite compare! As you descend the hill, be sure to visit the iconic Shinkyo Bridge (¥300) before returning to the station. Upon returning to Asakusa, retrieve your luggage and head to Matsumoto, where you’ll spend the night. To do so, you can take a direct limited express train from Shinjuku (2h45; ¥6620) or a bus from the same station’s terminal (3h30; ¥3900).

Once in Matsumoto, and though we usually save the hotel recommendations for the appropriate section of the broader travel guides, we have to make an exception here, as staying at a ryokan is one of the best cultural experiences Japan has to offer. Therefore, we absolutely have to suggest booking a Japanese room at Hotel Shoto Matsumoto. Besides the traditional architectural elements, such as sliding doors, tatami floors (where you’ll sleep on a futon) and low tables, your stay will also include access to the inhouse Japanese hot springs – the onsen – and the opportunity to try out a Kaiseki Meal, the name given to a multi-course Japanese feast usually served in ryokans. Enjoy your stay while wrapped in a yukata, a traditional Japanese garment, and don’t forget to eat your way through a traditional Japanese buffet breakfast before checking out.

Fifth day wrap-up:

  • Nikko Toshogu Shrine
  • Futarasan Shrine
  • Rinnoji Temple
  • Shinkyo Bridge
  • Ryokan Experience at Hotel Shoho Matsumoto

Where to eat in Japan – Best restaurants in Nikko

Japan 16-Day Itinerary: Day 6 – Matsumoto Castle and the Jigokudani Snow Monkey Park

Located on the edge of the Japanese Alps, the region that you’ll visit next, Matsumoto is a small city without much to see. Be that as it may, it boasts a unique position halfway between Takayama (the next stop) and Nagano, home to one of Japan’s quirkiest and most visited sites: the Jigokudani Monkey Park! If the name doesn’t ring a bell, perhaps the image of red-faced white macaques happily bathing in natural hot springs will jog your memory. Yep, this is the place you’ve likely seen countless times on social media! That being said, you’ll have to get up very early and head on a train journey to Nagano. You can choose between the Ltd. Exp. Shinano (50 minutes; ¥2370) or the JR Shinonoi Line (1h15; ¥1170). Upon arrival at Nagano Station, you’ll then transfer to the Nagaden Express Bus, which leaves from the building’s East Exit and will take you to the entrance of the park in 45 minutes. Tickets can be bought directly from the driver or at the station ticket counters for ¥1800 one-way. Alternatively, if the bus schedules don’t really suit you, you may instead choose to travel on the Nagano Dentetsu Line train to Yudanaka (45 minutes; ¥1290), followed by a brief local bus ride (¥310, 10 minutes) to the park.

Upon reaching the park gates and paying the ¥800 admission fee, you’ll finally get to witness the adorable sight of those fluffy balls of fur enjoying a soak in the natural hot springs. Extra points for visiting between December and April, as the snow will only add to the atmosphere! Finally, a few words about the Snow Monkey Pass, a cost-saving option that covers transportation between Nagano and the park (whether by express bus or Dentetsu train + local bus), plus the admission fee. Priced at ¥4000, it’s available for purchase either in person at the Nagano Station’s Dentetsu office or online, with pickup at the same location.

Back in Matsumoto, be sure to make a stop at Matsumoto Castle (¥700) before sunset. While the city may not offer much when it comes to tourist attractions, it does boast one of Japan’s three historic castles that have never been destroyed, allowing visitors to understand how ancient cities were built around these feudal fortresses. Built as a tower-like structure, you can ascend all of the castle’s six floors and enjoy a nice panoramic view of the city center – the perfect way to bid Matsumoto adieu.

Sixth day wrap-up:

  • Jigokudani Snow Monkey Park
  • Matsumoto Castle

Where to eat in Japan – Best restaurants in Matsumoto

Japan 16-Day Itinerary: Day 7 – Takayama

Yet another day, yet another destination to explore – this time it’s Takayama, located at the heart of the Japanese Alps! Unlike most of Japan’s biggest cities, Takayama emerged unscathed from the air raids of World War II, preserving its historic center as one of the most traditional and authentic from the Edo period. That said, you’ll wake up in Matsumoto and catch the 7h40 bus from Nohi Bus (¥3500) bound for Takayama. The vehicle will arrive by 10h20, giving you a solid full day to explore. Since check-in won’t probably be available yet, you can stow your luggage in the station lockers or, if your accommodation allows, drop it off directly at the hotel. Once you off-loaded all of your stuff, start off your tour of Takayama with a visit to the Sakurayama Hachimangu Shrine, one of the city’s most important religious sites. Next door, you can have a look at the Takayama Festival Floats Exhibition Hall, showcasing some of the ornate floats used in the biannual Takayama Festival, widely regarded as one of the nation’s most beautiful and authentic celebrations.

Afterwards, head to the historic center and maybe you’ll still catch a glimpse of the Miyagawa Morning Market, before officially entering the District of Sanmachi, considered the Old Town of Takayama. Here, narrow pedestrian streets are lined with beautifully preserved traditional wooden merchant houses, where owners used to live and do business. In fact, many of these establishments still operate today, some as sake breweries or as artisanal miso producers. A few houses have also preserved its historic interiors and been converted into museums, like the Kusakabe House (¥1000) and the Yoshijima House (¥500). Once you’ve explored every nook and cranny of the quaint Old Town, it’s time to visit Jinya Takayama (¥400), the former government office during the Edo period. Despite its modest exterior, the complex boasts a surprisingly extensive network of traditional tatami rooms, warehouses and serene gardens, and stands as a great example of the town’s historic wooden architecture. You may then check out Kokubunji Temple, before wrapping up your day by completing the Higashiyama Walking Course, a scenic trail that passes through the remnants of the ancient castle, old temples, shrines and even cemeteries. While the full trail extends for about 3.5 km, you can adapt your route at any point and return to the city center.

NOTE: Despite standing out as one of the most popular tourist attractions in Takayama, we’ve chosen to exclude the Hida Folk Village (¥700) from the itinerary. Given that you’ll be visiting a genuine traditional village tomorrow, we believed it wouldn’t make much sense to include a visit to an open-air museum that aims to recreate a similar setting. Your time will be better spent exploring other parts of Takayama.

Seventh day wrap-up:

  • Sakurayama Hachimangu Shrine
  • Takayama Festival Floats Exhibition Hall
  • Miyagawa Morning Market
  • Sanmachi (Old Town of Takayama)
  • Kusakabe House OR Yoshijima House
  • Jinya Takayama
  • Kokubunji Temple
  • Higashiyama Walking Course
  • Optional: Hida Folk Village

Where to eat in Japan – Best restaurants in Takayama

Japan 16-Day Itinerary: Day 8 – Shirakawa-go

Following your visit to Takayama, you’ll then move on to Kanazawa, but not before making the customary stop in Shirakawa-go. Smacked right between these two destinations, this traditional village stands out as one of Japan’s best-preserved, earning the title of a UNESCO World Heritage Site alongside Gokayama. Famous for its picturesque setting and iconic thatched-roof houses, Shirakawa-go ranks among Japan’s most sought-after destinations, trailing closely behind the likes of Tokyo, Kyoto, Osaka and Hiroshima. Once again, your journey will be completed aboard a vehicle from Nohi Bus, as the Japanese Alps are one of the very few regions where road travel is actually faster (and cheaper) thank taking the train, whose routes often involve unnecessary detours. There are multiple daily connections between Takayama and Shirakawa-go, with tickets priced at ¥2600 for the 50-minute trip. Upon arrival in the village (where luggage can be stored in lockers for ¥500 or ¥1000), we recommend heading straight to the Tenshukaku Observatory, a viewing platform set on the former castle grounds. As anticipated, the views are nothing short of phenomenal, whether the village is covered in snow or surrounded by a lush, green landscape.

Back on the streets of Shirakawa-go, the best way to enjoy the village is to wander aimlessly, exploring the quaint pathways and snapping some photos of its distinct houses. Known as gassho-houses, their name derives from the shape of their thatched roofs that resemble the Buddhist gesture of two hands placed together in prayer (“gassho” being the Japanese term for this hand movement). In fact, you may even step inside one of these historic structures, such as the Wada House (¥400), the largest in the village, where the governing family used to live. A few hundred meters further ahead, you can also visit the Myozenji Temple (¥300), the main Buddhist place of worship in the village, also built in the local traditional style; as well as the Hachiman Shrine, its Shinto counterpart. Upon crossing the Sho River via the dramatic Ogimachi Suspension Bridge, you can finally cap off your adventure at the Gasshozukuri Minkaen Outdoor Museum (¥600). Similar to Hida Folk Village, which we chose not to include in the previous day’s itinerary, this open-air museum showcases 25 traditional structures, showing what life was like in the village in bygone eras. Following your museum visit, you can return to the bus station to retrieve your luggage and board another Nohi Bus bound for Kanazawa. Once again, the fare is ¥2600, although this leg of the journey is slightly longer (1h15).

Eighth day wrap-up:

  • Tenshukaku Observatory
  • Wada House
  • Myozenji Temple
  • Hachiman Shrine
  • Ogimachi Suspension Bridge
  • Gasshozukuri Minkaen Outdoor Museum

Where to eat in Japan – Best restaurants in Shirakawa-go

Japan 16-Day Itinerary: Day 9 – Kanazawa

By now you must have realized that even with a generous 16 days in Japan, the pace never really slows down in the Land of the Rising Sun, which is why you’ll do your best to explore the best of Kanazawa in a single day. A challenging task, considering this was the stronghold of the second most powerful and influential clan during the Edo period, as well as the second-largest Japanese city (after Kyoto) to escape the WWII destruction. Interestingly, the city lacks a clearly defined historical center or Old Town, instead boasting a series of ancient districts traditionally associated with a specific activity or population. Among the finest examples are the Geisha Districts, a series of three quarters where world-famous maikos used to serve tea and entertain guests from the upper-crust, with the Higashi Chaya District standing out as the biggest of the group. Having retained its old-world looks, this district is extremely picturesque and, considering its long history, home to some of the city’s best teahouses in Japan. In fact, you can even visit places like the Ochaya Shima Teahouse (¥500), converted into a museum showcasing how a teahouse operated in the 18th and 19th centuries; or the Kaikaro Teahouse, an institution that still hosts performing arts events featuring real geishas to this day. It’s a pricey activity (starting at ¥11.000), but there’s no other place in the world where this tradition is preserved in such a raw way. If you cross the bridge to the opposite bank of the Asano River, you can also make a quick visit to the Kazuemachi Quarter, another geisha district, albeit much quieter (and not as impressive) than the former.

Next up is a visit to the Omicho Market, where you can snack on something or even have an early lunch before heading to the Kanazawa Castle Park. Completely ravaged by a fire in 1881, the castle is now being carefully reconstructed, with some areas already open to visitors. Nevertheless, while there’s still a long way to go, the park surrounding the castle definitely deserves a visit. In fact, this park would very well be Kanazawa’s most impressive green area… if not for the nearby Kenrokuen Garden (¥320), considered by many to be the most beautiful in all of Japan! It’s definitely not an overstatement, since this garden was designed by the city’s former rulers according to the six Chinese principles that compose the perfect garden. Hence why its name, “Kenrokuen”, can be roughly translated as “the Garden of the Six Sublimities”. After exploring the famoys park, you’ll head towards the banks of the Sai River (the other river running through Kanazawa) and explore the Nagamachi Quarter, known as the Samurai District. As dramatic as it may sound, the designation is quite literal, as this was the city area where the samurais serving the Maeda clan lived. Though not as well-maintained as the geisha districts, a couple of streets have retained their classic atmosphere, especially those with a higher concentration of historical samurai houses. Speaking of those, we recommend a tour of the Nomura House (¥550), now converted into a museum dedicated to portraying the life of the legendary warriors who inhabited feudal Japan. Finally, on the other side of the river, you’ll explore the Nishi Chaya District, the third and final geisha district, before ending your journey at the peculiar Myouryu-ji Temple (¥1200), known as the Ninja Temple. Originally a temple like any other, the Maeda clan converted it into a true military and espionage stronghold to prepare for any foreign attack. As a result, secret passages, tunnels, hidden corridors and watchtowers were created, turning it into a truly unique place.

Once you’ve seen all of Kanazawa, it’s time to head to Kyoto, where you’ll spend the night. For this specific route, we strictly recommend taking the train, using the JR Ltd. Exp. Thunderbird service that will get you to your destination in just 2h30. Tickets cost ¥6500. As for the bus, while much cheaper (4h30; ¥3700), there are no afternoon departures from Kanazawa to Kyoto, meaning it’s not really a viable option. Although you’ll save some money if you choose to travel by bus the next morning (earliest departure at 8h00), keep in mind your Kyoto itinerary will be seriously compromised (since you’d lose an entire morning for the bus trip).

Ninth day wrap-up:

  • Higashi Chaya District
    • Ochaya Shima Teahouse
    • Kaikaro Teahouse
  • Kazuemachi Chaya District
  • Omicho Market
  • Kanazawa Castle Park
  • Kenrokuen Garden
  • Nagamachi Samurai District
    • Nomura House
  • Nishi Chaya District
  • Myouryu-ji Temple

Where to eat in Japan – Best restaurants in Kanazawa

Japan 16-Day Itinerary: Day 10 – Kyoto: Gion and the Temple District

After a good night of sleep, today promises one of Japan’s most iconic itineraries. Kyoto stands out as the nation’s most revered tourist destination, so there is plenty to see and do in the ancient imperial capital, especially when it comes to the historic district of Gion and the region of Northern Higashiyama, home to the Temple District. That being said, your day will start precisely with a visit to one of Kyoto’s three most famous temples/shrines: the Kiyomizu-dera Temple. While access to the gates and to the Zuigu-do Hall is free, you’ll need to pay a small fee of ¥500 to enter the Hondo (main building), the Okuno-in Hall and to see the charming Otowa Waterfall. Plus, the paid area is where you’ll find the panoramic terraces offering breathtaking views of the Hondo’s deck, the temple’s most emblematic image – and an experience not to be missed! Following your visit to the temple, you’ll stroll along the enchanting Sannenzaka and Ninenzaka streets, arguably the prettiest thoroughfares in the city, where you can get a glimpse of old Kyoto and snap great pictures of the Yasaka Pagoda.

From there, you’ll keep heading north until you reach Kodai-ji Temple (¥600). While its buildings may not rival those of other temples in Kyoto, this one actually boasts a lovely garden with a pathway through its very own bamboo grove. On the other hand, your next stop – Kennin-ji Temple (¥600) – may lack expansive traditional gardens, but its spectacular main hall adorned with a monumental painting of two dragons stretching across the ceiling is certainly a sight to behold. Besides, as the temple once served as a monastery of Zen Buddhism, visitors can also explore the living quarters where monks resided and carried out their daily activities. Afterwards, you’ll finally venture into Gion, historically known as the Geisha District. To this day, it remains home to numerous ochayas (teahouses) where local geishas continue to entertain with traditional tea ceremonies and Japanese arts performances. Although Gion is traditionally referred to as an “Old Town” of sorts to Kyoto, the truth is that the district is relatively modern, especially if you try to compare it to its European counterparts. Be that as it may, glimpses of old Japan can still be found along some of the quarter’s streets, such as Hanamikoji Street, Shirakawa Lane, Pontocho Alley or Isibekouji Street.

After lunch, don’t miss out on Nanzen-ji Temple. While the main temple building (¥400) isn’t all that impressive, the grounds feature the impressive Sanmon Gate, one of Kyoto’s largest and most imposing gates. For an additional ¥500, visitors can ascend to the top of the gate for panoramic views of the surroundings. However, what really lands Nanzen-ji Temple a spot on our itinerary is the unusual presence of a 100-year-old-aqueduct inside the complex, built to help supply water to a nearby canal. As the afternoon unfolds, your journey through Northern Higashiyama’s temples will continue along the picturesque Philosopher’s Path. Starting in the Nanzen-ji quarter, this scenic 2-kilometer trail is filled with cherry blossoms, making it a prime destination during the Sakura season. If you’re visiting during a different time of the year do not be discouraged, as this walk along the banks of the Lake Biwa Canal is a pleasant experience all-year-round along. At the end of the trail, you’ll finally come across Ginkaku-ji Temple (¥500), famous for housing the Silver Pavilion. Beyond the iconic structure though, the temple’s most distinctive feature is its lush moss garden (sounds weird, but it’s extraordinarily beautiful), that you can explore before retreating back to your hotel room.

Tenth day wrap-up:

  • Kiyomizu-dera Temple
  • Sannenzaka Street
  • Ninenzaka Street
  • Yasaka Pagoda
  • Kodai-ji Temple
  • Kennin-ji Temple
  • Gion Quarter
    • Hanamikoji Street
    • Shirakawa Lane
    • Isibekouji Street
    • Pontocho Alley
  • Nanzen-ji Temple
  • Philosopher’s Path
  • Ginkaku-ji Temple

Where to eat in Japan – Best restaurants in Higashiyama

Japan 16-Day Itinerary: Day 11 – Kyoto: Fushimi Inari and a Day Trip to Nara

Remember when we said that regardless of the time you had in the country, you’d always have to pick up the pace? Well, today is an excellent example of just that, as you’ll have only one day to explore neighboring Nara and still save a few hours to visit the most famous temple in all of Kyoto (perhaps even Japan). Famous for the countless vermilion torii gates lining the pathway from the main shrine to the top of Mount Inari, Fushimi Inari Shrine is an absolutely iconic site and, alongside Mount Fuji and Himeji Castle, one of the main postcard pictures when it comes to promoting tourism in the Land of the Rising Sun. The hike to the mountaintop can take nearly 3 hours (round-trip), a timeframe we simply cannot dispose of for this day, which is why we suggest going only as far as the Yotsutsuji Crossing, a “mere” 60 to 90 minutes (round-trip) away from the start of the trail. From there, you’ll be able to enjoy a nice view of Kyoto, having had the opportunity to explore some secondary shrines and walk through endless rows of picturesque vermilion gates. Since you have a long day ahead and crowds can be quite overwhelming at this shrine, we recommend visiting Fushimi Inari at the break of dawn, one of the rare instances where you can experience the trail in silence and at your own pace. Although not exactly close to central Kyoto, access to the shrine is quite easy, as you can simply take a JR Nara Line train from Kyoto Station (get off at Inari) or the Keihan Main Line from Gion (get off at Fushimi Inari). In both cases, the ticket will cost around ¥250, and you can use your IC card (PASMO or SUICA) for payment.

Moreover, this destination combo for today works because you don’t need to return to central Kyoto to head to Nara. Instead, you can simply return to Inari Station, board the JR Nara Line again and travel to Nara Station, with the journey taking 1 hour and costing ¥700. Aside from being Japan’s first permanent capital, a glorious period that left behind some of the world’s most impressive Buddhist temples, Nara is famous for its massive deer population. Regarded as messengers of the gods according to Shinto beliefs, native deer in Nara have always been allowed to coexist among humans, with the local species adapting and developing the habit of being surrounded by people. As you walk through the vast Nara Park, the city’s main green space, you’ll encounter dozens and dozens of deer, as if you’ve just walked into the set of a Disney film. Everywhere, you’ll also find street stalls selling rice crackers (¥200 per pack), the only snack tourists and locals are allowed to feed the animals. Although it’s possible to feed the deer, take photos and even pet them, keep in mind that these are still wild animals, so there’s always a certain level of risk involved.

In addition to the expansive park, other notable sites in Nara include the spectacular Kofuku-ji Temple (¥700), featuring its Central Hall and Five-Story Pagoda, and the Isuien Garden (¥1200). However, the only landmark in Nara capable of rivaling the magic of the deer is the jaw-dropping Todai-ji Temple (¥600), whose centerpiece – the Great Buddha Hall – stands as the world’s largest wooden building. Speaking of superlatives, the hall’s interior also houses Japan’s largest Buddha statue, making the one in Kamakura look like a trinket. Definitely one of the most striking buildings you’ll see in Japan. Behind Todai-ji, you’ll also find some wooden buildings that are actually sub-complexes of the temple, such as Nigatsudo Hall. Finally, you’ll continue your journey across Nara Park until you reach Kasuga Taisha Shrine (¥500), the last temple for the day. Surrounded by dozens of deer and about 3000 stone lanterns that line the path to the entrance of the shrine, this is one of Japan’s most magical sights, and a place that actually resembles the Japan we’ve heard and read about on movies and books! On the way back to the station for the return trip to Kyoto, be sure to stop by Nakatanidou, Japan’s most famous mochi shop. If you’ve come across the funny clips of two men shouting and pounding green dough on social media, chances are that video was filmed here. That said, you can always come, watch the brief “show” and try a mochi made in the most old-fashioned way possible. While the combination of matcha-flavored glutinous rice and sweet red bean filling may not sound the most appealing thing in the world, it’s undoubtedly the most Japanese combination in human history!

Eleventh day wrap-up:

  • Fushimi Inari Shrine
  • Nara
    • Nara Park
    • Kofuku-ji Temple
    • Isuien Garden
    • Todai-ji Temple
    • Nigatsudo Hall
    • Kasuga Taisha Shrine
    • Nakatanidou

Where to eat in Japan – Best restaurants in Nara

Japan 16-Day Itinerary: Day 12 – Kyoto: The Golden Pavilion, Arashiyama e Downtown Kyoto

Before bidding farewell to Kyoto, you’ll dedicate one last full day to the city and take the opportunity to visit its remaining tourist districts, including the bustling modern area of Downtown Kyoto and the last element of the city’s three main temples. In fact, let’s get right to it! Now that you’ve visited Kiyomizu-dera and Fushimi Inari, the “Big Three” are complete with a visit to Kinkaku-ji Temple (¥500). Since this area of the city is not served by the metro or the train (the nearest station is Kitano Hakubai-Cho, located over 20 minutes away on foot), your best bet is to take the bus. You can use lines 12 (from Gion), 204 (from Northern Higashiyama) or 205 (from Downtown Kyoto and Kyoto Station). Although it’s the smallest temple of the three, Kinkaku-ji boasts the most beautiful building in the entire city – the iconic Golden Pavilion. In fact, its name shouldn’t be taken figuratively, as the façade is literally covered in gold leaf. It is absolutely stunning! After visiting the temple, you’ll walk about 1.5 km to Ryoan-ji Temple (¥600), known for having one of the world’s most famous “dry gardens”. In this type of garden, no trees or plants are used, and the space is adorned with nothing but stones, sand and gravel. It may not really fit into the garden aesthetics you’re probably used to, but its layout has a deeper meaning. Comprising 15 stones scattered across a small gravel field, it’s impossible to see all 15 elements at once from the main deck, no matter how hard you try. The only way to see all stones at once is by standing on a higher platform, symbolizing spiritual ascension.

From the temple, you’ll head to Ryoanji Station and board the Kitano Line from Keifuku Electric Railroad towards Katabiranotsuji Station. Then, you’ll transfer to the Arashiyama Line (from the same company), and get off at Arashiyama, the final station. You can use your IC Card to pay for the trip (¥250). As you may have guessed from the name, the final stop is located near the Arashiyama Bamboo Forest, another one of Kyoto’s most popular sites. If you’ve followed our itinerary so far, then by now you will have visited one or two small bamboo groves. However, nothing compares to the sheer size of this forest, with various trails and paths flanked by the towering plants. Although you won’t have much time left, if you want to visit more cool places in Arashiyama, you can also stop by Tenryu-ji Temple (¥800 for the temple + garden; ¥500 for the Dharma Hall) or by the Iwatayama Monkey Park.

To get back to the city center and visit Downtown Kyoto, you’ll again hop on a train from the Arashiyama Line and leave at the terminus in Shijō-Ōmiya (¥250). From there, you’ll walk for about 1km until you get to Nijo Castle (¥800), the former official residence of the Shogun in Kyoto. Although Japan retained the Emperor as its head-figure, the Shogun was the one who actually held the power during the Edo Period, and it was precisely inside this castle that the regime eventually came to an end. Fearing a military defeat, the reigning Shogun declared the restoration of formal power to the Emperor, marking the end of an era in Japan. Since this historic episode reopened Japan to the outside world, leading to its steady industrialization, we can confidently say that the country would be very different from the one we know and love today if that document – signed inside this castle – had never been proclaimed. History aside, this is the castle with the most beautiful and well-preserved interiors in all of Japan, and it’s well worth the ticket price (which also includes access to all the gardens in the complex). Finally, your day will come to an end with a visit to the Kyoto Imperial Palace, the Emperor’s official residence until 1868. However, keep in mind that, much like the palace in Tokyo, it’s mandatory to schedule your visit in advance, otherwise you won’t be allowed inside the walls of the palace and your visit will be restricted to the grounds of the Kyoto Gyoen National Garden. Once you’re done with all the sightseeing, it’s time to look for something to eat at the always lively Nishiki Market, before taking a nighttime stroll through the district of Kawaramachi. With its tall buildings, loud music, bustling crowds and insane number of bars and restaurants, this is the area of Kyoto that will remind you that, despite its gardens, temples and historic districts, this is still a city of 1.5 million people.

Twelfth day wrap-up:

  • Kinkaku-ji Temple (Golden Pavilion)
  • Ryoan-ji Temple
  • Arashiyama Bamboo Forest
  • Tenryu-ji Temple
  • Iwatayama Monkey Park
  • Nijo Castle
  • Kyoto Imperial Palace
  • Kyoto Gyoen National Garden
  • Nishiki Market
  • Kawaramachi District

Where to eat in Japan – Best restaurants in Downtown Kyoto

Japan 16-Day Itinerary: Day 13 – Osaka

Starting early in the morning from Kyoto, you’ll complete the short train journey to Osaka, Japan’s second-largest city. There are several local services available, both from JR and other private companies (like the Keihan Main Line), that will get you to Osaka in less than 60 minutes, for a fare of around ¥400 to ¥600. Once again, just swipe your IC Card! Alternatively, if you want to take the Shinkansen, the journey lasts only 15 minutes but is also much more expensive (¥1440). For services originating from Kyoto, the final stations in Osaka will be Shin-Osaka, Umeda or Yodoyabashi. Upon arrival, we recommend leaving your luggage in one of the many lockers at any of these stations (these can cost between ¥500 and ¥1000) and setting out to explore the city. Osaka may lack the charm of Kyoto or the organized chaos of Tokyo, but it’s a city with tremendous character. It’s one of the few places in Japan where you might find litter on the ground, graffiti on the walls or pedestrians ignoring red lights when crossing the street. Let’s say Osaka is to Japan what Naples is to Italy or Marseille to France. It’s not for everyone, but it’s one hell of a ride!

With that said, you’ll immediately hop on the JR loop line (which passes through Umeda) and get out at Osakajokoen, the closest station to Osaka Castle (¥600). Although the castle is a reconstructed version of the original (like most castles in Japan), the park offers a welcome escape from the hustle and bustle of the big city. Next up, you’ll take the Tanimachi Line (purple) at Temmabashi, on the other side of the park, and travel to Tanimachi 9-chome, a short walk from Sumiyoshi Shrine. This Shinto shrine is one of the most beautiful in Osaka, though you’ll hardly be surprised by any other Japanese temples after visiting Kyoto. In fact, since Osaka is strongly hailed as Japan’s street food capital, temples and shrines are far from being the priority to visitors. In the more central areas, the concentration of restaurants, street stalls and izakayas is nothing short of overwhelming, and you’ll rarely go more than 30 seconds without seeing a window display or a menu offering the city’s specialties (such as okonomiyaki or takoyaki). For a first taste of this crucial element of local culture, we suggest a stroll through Kuromon Market, before diving headfirst into the sensory overload that is the district of Dotonbori.

It’s hard to put into words what goes on in Dotonbori. It’s a gigantic cluster of tall, modern buildings and covered shopping arcades, where each façade is adorned with billboards (like the famous Glico Running Man), neon lights and restaurant signs that, in the most extravagant cases, almost resemble amusement park rides. It’s contagious, even if in the worst way possible (for some). Still in Dotonbori, you’ll have to go for a walk along Shinsaibashi-Suji, the city’s main shopping street. After picking up your bags and completing the check-in, you’ll take a few hours to rest until night falls. Once the sun sets and Osaka lights up, you’ll head out and visit Harukas 300 (¥1800), the observation deck at Japan’s tallest building. Although the way to get there will depend on the location of your place of accommodation, the closest stop to the towering building is Tennoji Station. As expected, the view is absolutely jaw-dropping and will give you a better sense of just how big Osaka really is. Back on the ground, it’s worth stopping by the Tsutenkaku Quarter. Once considered one of the ugliest and most dangerous districts in the city, things have changed since the 2000s. Crime is no longer an issue, but Tsutenkaku has never lost that aura of degradation and seediness, a world away from the Japan you’ve met so far.

Thirteenth day wrap-up:

  • Osaka Castle
  • Sumiyoshi Shrine
  • Kuromon Market
  • Dotonbori (Glico Running Man)
  • Shinsaibashi-Suji
  • Harukas 300
  • Tsutenkaku Quarter

Where to eat in Japan – Best restaurants in Osaka

Japan 16-Day Itinerary: Day 14 – Universal Studios Japan

After exploring Osaka, you’ll take a day to visit Universal Studios Japan, the theme park from the US-based film production company. In addition to the park’s standard area, where you’ll find the most iconic attractions, as well as the music parades, Universal Studios Japan is also quite famous for its other two areas: the Wizarding World of Harry Potter, based on the adventures of the young wizard; and Super Nintendo World, inspired by the beloved franchises of the giant Japanese video game producer, such as Super Mario, Legend of Zelda or Pokémon. Fully aware of the popularity behind Super Nintendo World, the park’s management isn’t shy at all when it comes to milking this money cow… all for the sake of crowd management, of course! With that said, let’s talk about tickets. Available online via the official Universal Studios Japan website or through authorized third-party resellers (such as Klook), the price for a 1-day Studio Pass (the standard ticket) will depend on the time of the year. During quieter periods, prices can go as low as ¥8600, going up to ¥10.400 during peak times. It’s important to note that while this standard ticket grants access to all other areas of the park, it does not include entry to Super Nintendo World. If you want to gain access to this very special part of the park, you’ll need “Area Timed Entry Ticket”, an additional feature that assigns you a specific time slot to enter. To obtain this complement to the standard ticket, you have several options.

If you’re willing to take a chance and not spend any more money, you can wait until the day of your visit and request this supplement for free, either in person at the ticket booths or through the Universal Studios Japan official mobile app. However, be aware that there’s always the risk that no slots are available, especially during peak seasons. Therefore, you can play it safe and secure your entry in advance… at a steep price! The cheapest method is to purchase a Studio Pass that includes an Area Timed Entry Ticket for Nintendo World (starting from ¥12.500). However, these tickets are limited and sell out very, very quickly. Alternatively, when purchasing your ticket, you’ll need to add what they call an “Express Pass“. Essentially, this is a special pass that allows you to reduce wait times at some of the resort’s most popular attractions. It’s available in different versions, all of which include the coveted Area Timed Entry Ticket for Nintendo. The cheapest Express Pass grants you quick access to 4 rides and starts at ¥14.800, while the priciest option reduces wait times at 7 attractions, costing at least ¥19.800. Important note: this Express Pass does NOT replace the standard ticket, meaning you have to add this amount to the regular Studio Pass price!

Regarding transportation, getting to the park couldn’t be easier thanks to the Osaka Loop Line, operated by JR. This route goes through the city’s main stations and connects to Nishi-Kujo Station, where you can transfer to the Yumesaki Line (also JR) and get off at Universal City. Using the Umeda Station as a pinpoint, the total journey takes less than 15 minutes, with the ticket costing just ¥190.

Fourteenth day wrap-up:

  • Universal Studios Japan

Japan 16-Day Itinerary: Day 15 – Day Trip to Himeji

For your third and final day in Osaka, you have an exciting day trip planned to the majestic Himeji Castle, renowned as Japan’s most stunning and well-preserved castle. While the wooden interiors are quite simple and without much to look at, as it often happens with most castles in the country, the grounds are simply magnificent and help make it one of Japan’s most iconic tourist attractions. Admission to the castle costs ¥1050 and the ticket also grants entry to the adjacent Kokoen Garden, known as one of the nation’s most beautiful private green spaces. Formed by a series of intricate gardens harmoniously connected through different pathways, it’s a much-welcome enhancement to your castle experience. After checking out the entire complex, you can catch one of the local buses number 43 or 45, departing from Himeji Station towards the Mount Shosha Ropeway (¥1000 round-trip). Although the brief ride offers picturesque views, the real reason to come here lies at the very top of the hill. Hidden away amidst the greenery of Mount Shosha, the Engyoji Temple remains one of Japan’s best kept secrets, and one of its finest Shinto shrines. Despite the influx of day trippers to Himeji, it’s remarkable how this site remains relatively unknown by mainstream tourism, even after being featured in “The Last Samurai”, starring Tom Cruise. To return to the station, simply get back down on the cable car and board the same bus in the opposite direction.

Regarding transportation between Osaka and Himeji, you have two options departing from Umeda Station. The first, operated by Hanshin, takes approximately 2 hours (slightly less) to reach Sanyo-Himeji, with a one-way ticket costing ¥1300. Alternatively, JR offers a faster option, with its local line completing the journey to Himeji Station in about 90 minutes for ¥1500 one-way. As you’ll spend the night in Osaka, you will once again use either of these two lines to return to the city after you’re done with visiting Himeji.

Fifteenth day wrap-up:

  • Himeji Castle
  • Kokoen Garden
  • Mount Shosha Ropeway
  • Engyoji Temple

Where to eat in Japan – Best restaurants in Himeji

Japan 16-Day Itinerary: Day 16 – Hiroshima

And here we are, on your last day in Japanese soil! It has been a memorable adventure, but there’s still much to see before hopping on the inevitable flight that will take you back. For your farewell, you’ll be visiting Hiroshima, the city that gained a place on history books as the first (and one of the only two, alongside Nagasaki) where an atomic bomb was dropped. It’s a somber reminder of one of humanity’s darkest episodes, yet there’s also a certain relief in witnessing how the city has been rebuilt, to the point you can barely notice any signs of the devastating bombing. However, there’s no escaping it – coming to Hiroshima inevitably involves dealing with the history and aftermath of the bombing – so a visit to the Hiroshima Peace Memorial Museum (¥200) is a must. Don’t be deceived by its somewhat tame naming, as this is a tough and stomach-churning museum that leaves nothing unsaid or unshown. Through photographs and objects left behind by both victims and survivors that vividly illustrate the horrors of the bombing and its aftermath, the institution paints the grim story of the enduring effects of resorting to nuclear weapons of mass destruction. In the vicinity of the museum, you should also take a stroll through the Hiroshima Peace Memorial Park, a vast green space filled with monuments paying tribute to the victims of the bombing. Furthermore, this is also where you’ll find the iconic Atomic Bomb Dome, the ruined building that would become a symbol of the city. After wall, it was precisely above this building, at an altitude of about 600 meters, that the atomic bomb was detonated. Due to the mushroom-shaped explosion, the epicenter ends up being less affected than the surrounding areas, which is why the building structure didn’t collapse (although all occupants died instantly). Within a 2 km radius of the explosion, though, everything was turned to rubble, ashes and debris. After some deliberation, the authorities chose to preserve the building ruins, considering it a stark reminder of the ever-painful episode.

Naturally, there were no historical buildings or monuments left after the explosion, so there isn’t much else to do in the city center besides a quick visit to the rebuilt Hiroshima Castle (¥370). However, to help make things a little bit better after a rather depressing morning, there’s a magical place right outside Hiroshima that you MUST visit. We’re obviously talking about the lush and mystical Itsukushima Island, better known as Miyajima! There are several ways to reach the island. The easiest, albeit the most expensive, is to take a ferry from SKK directly from the Port of Hiroshima. This journey takes 30 minutes and costs ¥2100 one-way (though you can purchase a daily pass for ¥3800 to cover the return trip as well). You can check the schedules here. Alternatively, if you want to save some money, you can take the line 2 (red) of the Hiroshima Tram system from the station located right across the Atomic Bomb Dome and get off at the final stop, called Miyajimaguchi. The journey takes 35 minutes and costs only ¥270 one-way. This station is located right next to the ferry terminal, where you’ll then catch one of the many daily ferries (running every 15 minutes) operated by JR or Miyajima Matsudai Kisen. Regardless of the company, the journey takes about 5 minutes and costs ¥200 one-way (total cost of ¥940 vs ¥3800 for the SKK fast boat).

On the ferry trip to Itsukushima, it’s impossible not to be in awe by the scenery. With its lush green shores and the sleepy waters of the bay, this seems like the Japan we’ve always seen on books and cartoons, a world away from the bright lights and the hustle & bustle of the big cities. Upon docking on the island, we recommend strolling through the Otomesando Shopping Street, Miyajima’s main street, and trying out some specialties, like the local oysters or the Momiji Manju (stores selling this sweet usually have their own factory and assembly line open to visitors). Along the way, you’ll notice a Five-Storied Pagoda slowly rising behind the façades. This structure is part of the Senjokaku Hall (¥100), an impressive wooden shrine that was never completed. Its deck, though, offers a nice view of the surroundings. Back at the shores, it’s then time to visit Miyajima’s greatest tourist attraction. Apparently built over a set of floating wooden platforms, the fantastic Itsukushima Shrine (¥300) is one of the most beautiful in all of Japan, and one of those rare places that will impress you no matter how many temples you’ve seen so far. In fact, it’s precisely because of this site that Itsukushima is often referred to as Miyajima, a word that can be translated as “Shrine Island”. Apart from its distinctive location and colorful buildings, this specific temple is also known for its torii gate that appears to float on water during high tide. Just a 10-minute walk away, it’s the mysterious Daisho-in Temple is also worth stopping by. Finally, to cap off your day (and your whole adventure) on a high note, you’ll have to access Mount Misen Observatory for one of the most glorious views the Land of the Rising Sun has to offer. While it’s perfectly possible to follow the walking trail and get there in about 60 minutes, you can save both time and effort by taking the Miyajima Ropeway, the cable car that will take you to the observatory in just 10 minutes, for ¥2000 round-trip.

After enjoying the views, you’ll have to take the same ferry and tram back to Hiroshima, where you’ll spend the night. Tomorrow, you’ll have a Shinkansen trip all the way back to Tokyo, where your flight awaits. What an adventure!

Fifteenth day wrap-up:

  • Hiroshima Peace Memorial Museum
  • Hiroshima Peace Memorial Park
  • Atomic Bomb Dome
  • Hiroshima Castle
  • Itsukushima Island (Miyajima)
    • Otomesando Shopping Street
    • Senjokaku Hall (+ Five-Storied Pagoda)
    • Itsukushima Shrine
    • Daisho-in Temple
    • Monte Misen Observatory

Where to eat in Japan – Best restaurants in Hiroshima

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