Fourteen days in Japan - Japan's Must-Sees

For those exploring Japan for the first time, a well-planned itinerary is key to experiencing the breadth of what this country has to offer. A typical 14-day journey encompasses a mix of urban exploration, cultural immersion, and natural beauty. This guide aims to outline an ideal itinerary for first-time visitors, covering major destinations and providing insights into the unique aspects of each location.


Day 1 – 4: Tokyo

Tokyo's Shinjuku Area, Japan

Tokyo, as the capital, is often the starting point for Japan travel. Tokyo is home to over 13 million people. Allowing up to 4 days in Tokyo, allows visitors to immerse themselves in the variety of experiences that Tokyo has to offer. In Tokyo, each of the city's diverse neighborhoods have their own unique character. For instance, Asakusa, home to the famous Senso-ji Temple, offers a glimpse into Tokyo's past with its historic buildings and traditional shopping streets. In stark contrast, the Shibuya district, known for the iconic Shibuya Crossing, epitomizes Tokyo's modern face with its towering buildings, bustling streets, and vibrant nightlife. Similarly, Akihabara, Tokyo's electronics and anime district, showcases another facet of contemporary Japanese culture.

Apart from these, Tokyo boasts a range of attractions such as the Meiji Shrine, set in a sprawling forest in the heart of the city, and Tokyo Tower, which offers panoramic views of the urban landscape. Additionally, neighborhoods like Shinjuku and Harajuku are essential for experiencing Tokyo's multifaceted urban culture, from the government buildings and business centers in Shinjuku to the trendy and fashion-forward streets of Harajuku. For those interested in art and history, Tokyo's museums and galleries provide a deep dive into both traditional Japanese art and contemporary works.


Day 5 – 6: Hakone

Lake Ashi, Hakone, Japan

Hakone, a picturesque town located in the Kanagawa Prefecture, is a recommended inclusion in any Japan itinerary. A 1 to 2-day stay in Hakone provides ample opportunity to explore the region. As it is well-known for its hot springs (onsen), traditional inns (ryokan), and the scenic Lake Ashi, which is often depicted in photos with Mount Fuji in the background. Visitors to Hakone can explore a variety of attractions. The Hakone Open Air Museum, for instance, combines art and nature, displaying sculptures and artworks in an outdoor setting. Another key attraction is the Hakone Shrine, located on the shores of Lake Ashi, known for its torii gate that appears to float on the water.
One of the best ways to experience Hakone's diverse landscapes is by purchasing the Hakone Free Pass. This pass offers unlimited use of local transport, including buses, trains, cable cars, and sightseeing boats. Travelers can enjoy a cruise on Lake Ashi, a ride on the Hakone Tozan Railway, which winds through the mountains, and a visit to the Hakone Ropeway, offering stunning views of the surrounding area and Mount Fuji on clear days. 
The onsen experience in Hakone is a highlight for many visitors. These hot springs offer a chance to relax and rejuvenate while enjoying the natural settings. Whether staying at a ryokan or visiting a public onsen, this experience is integral to understanding Japan's bathing culture.


Day 7 – 9: Kyoto

A person in a kimono walking down a path with a red umbrella in Kyoto, Japan

Kyoto, once the capital of Japan, is a city where the historic and the cultural aspects of Japan are vividly alive. The city is renowned for its well-preserved temples, beautiful gardens, and the enduring practices of tea ceremonies and geisha arts. Kyoto's significance in Japan's history is reflected in its over 2,000 religious places, comprising both Shinto shrines and Buddhist temples.
One of the most iconic sites in Kyoto is the Fushimi Inari Shrine, famous for its thousands of torii gates that create tunnel-like paths along the hillsides.  Another remarkable attraction is the Kinkaku-ji, or the Golden Pavilion, a Zen Buddhist temple whose top two floors are completely covered in gold leaf.
A visit to the Arashiyama district is also recommended. The area is well-known for its bamboo grove, a dense and towering bamboo forest that offers a unique walking experience.  Kyoto's Gion district, known for its preserved machiya houses and as the center of geisha culture, offers an insight into the traditional entertainment and art forms that have been part of Kyoto's history.


Day 10: Nara

A person walking a deer with an umbrella in Nara, Japan

Nara, conveniently accessible from Kyoto, was the first permanent capital of Japan and as such, holds an essential place in the country's historical narrative.
The most prominent attraction in Nara is the Todai-ji Temple, a landmark of historical and architectural significance. The temple houses one of Japan’s largest bronze statues of Buddha and is recognized as a UNESCO World Heritage Site. The Daibutsu (Great Buddha) hall, reputed to be the world's largest wooden building, is a marvel in itself, housing the gigantic bronze statue. Another key feature of Nara is the Nara Park, known for its free-roaming deer, considered in Shinto to be messengers of the gods. Visitors can interact with these animals, an experience that has become synonymous with a visit to Nara. The park also encompasses several other important shrines and museums, providing a comprehensive cultural experience. Additionally, Nara offers several smaller temples, gardens, and the remains of the ancient Nara Palace.


Day 11 – 13: Hiroshima and Miyajima

A red arch in water at Miyajima, Hiroshima, Japan

Hiroshima, a city reborn from its devastating history, stands today as a symbol of peace and resilience. The city's historical significance is centered around the events of World War II.
The Peace Memorial Park, located at the epicenter of the atomic bomb blast, serves as a reminder of the tragedies of war and the enduring hope for peace. The park is home to several memorials, including the Hiroshima Peace Memorial Museum, which provides an in-depth look at the events of 1945 and its aftermath. The A-Bomb Dome, one of the few structures that remained standing near the bomb's hypocenter, is now a UNESCO World Heritage Site and a stark reminder of the city's past.
Only a short ferry ride from Hiroshima, visitors will find Miyajima Island. Miyajima is famous for the Itsukushima Shrine, notable for its "floating" torii gate, which appears to rise from the waters of the Seto Inland Sea during high tide.  The island also offers hiking trails, traditional shops, and the chance to see wild deer roaming freely, similar to those in Nara.


Day 14: Tokyo Revisited

Akihabara, Tokyo, Japan

Returning to Tokyo for the final day of the trip offers an opportunity to explore aspects of the city that may have been missed earlier. This day can be used to delve into Tokyo's unique contemporary culture, from themed cafes to shopping districts that cater to every interest and style.
Shopping in Tokyo is another experience not to be missed. Districts like Ginza, Shibuya, and Harajuku offer a wide range of shopping options. Ginza is known for its upscale boutiques and designer stores, while Harajuku is the center of youth fashion and subculture, offering a variety of trendy and unique items. Additionally, visitors can explore local markets or department stores for souvenirs, ranging from traditional crafts to cutting-edge gadgets.
A final day in Tokyo also allows for a chance to visit any landmarks or districts not covered in the initial days of the itinerary. Whether it's a leisurely stroll in a lesser-known neighborhood, a visit to a museum or an art gallery.