Lately, we’ve done one big trip a year. I’d love to do more, but our work schedules don’t really allow for it. This year’s big trip was to Japan. In September, we headed over to one of the few places in East Asia I hadn’t yet been: Japan.
Jeff had been already; in fact, he lived there, studying abroad near Lake Biwa for a semester in college. We went with Jeff’s brother Kevin as well, who had lived in Japan for a year, teaching with the JET program.
We set a fast pace over our 16 days in the country. Here’s how we spent our time.
Days 1-4: Tokyo
We arrived in the afternoon on a Saturday and made our way to our Airbnb in Shinjuku. All of the Airbnbs we stayed at in Japan were self check-in, which was very convenient.
We were tired, so we basically had dinner and went to sleep. On Day 2, we activated our JR passes and walked around Harajuku and Shibuya, stopping at Meiji Shrine.
Day 3 was our visit to the Tsukiji Fish Market – we skipped the tuna auction and checked out the fruit and vegetable auction instead (not very tourist friendly). We ate at Daiwa Sushi then walked around in Ginza, had a nap, and walked around Shinjuku.
On Day 4, we had lunch at Nakajima, walked around Shinjuku National Gardens, checked out Senso-ji and Asakusa, and got on the night train to Okayama.
Day 5: Naoshima
On the morning of Day 5, we arrived in Okayama and transferred to Uno, then took a ferry to Naoshima, which is a small “art island.” We dropped off our luggage and grabbed bikes, which came with our guesthouse. We checked out the art houses in Honmura and looked at the outdoor sculptures at Tsutsujiso.
Day 6: Miyajima
The next morning, we took the ferry and then the train over to Hiroshima, put our luggage in lockers, and took a train and another ferry to Miyajima. It was rainy that day but we still enjoyed walking around, looking at Itsukushima Shrine, and watching the deer. In the afternoon we went back to Hiroshima and checked in, and had dinner with a friend who lived nearby.
Day 7: Himeji and Osaka
I woke up on Day 7 with an aching knee, which was unfortunate because the next day I was supposed to be going on a Cycle Osaka food tour which would include a lot of biking. I was able to cancel for a refund, thankfully. We went to Himeji as planned but I decided not to go up in the castle because it had a lot of steps. We could see it well walking around the base. We went on to Osaka, and spent an evening eating street food in Dotomburi.
Day 8: Osaka and Kyoto
In the morning, Kevin and Jeff went off to the bike/food tour, while I took the metro over to the Osaka Aquarium. It’s rather large and a good aquarium! I was then supposed to meet the guys at our lockers, but had to wait for Kevin to find his lost backpack – don’t worry, he found it! Once we got to Kyoto, we checked out Arashiyama Bamboo Grove at dusk and had some ramen.
Days 9-11: Kyoto
The first full day in Kyoto, we took it easy and just went to Ginkakuji, the Kaleidoscope Museum, Nishiki Market, and a karaoke place. That doesn’t seem all that easy in retrospect, but it wasn’t actually much walking and we did it fairly slowly.
Day 10 was Kiyomizu-dera and our lunch at Kikunoi, a kaiseki restaurant with three Michelin stars. It was amazing and took four hours! We also did a bit of shopping.
On day 11, we walked around Fushimi Inari in the rain and relaxed at the zen gardens at Tofukuji.
Days 12-13: Kanazawa
In the morning, we got on the train to Kanazawa. We ate a late lunch at Ippudo Ramen upon arrival, and did the day’s last tour of the Ninja Temple.
The next day, we got an early start and walked around Kenroku-en, which is a beautiful garden. We had lunch at a French restaurant, walked around Higashi Chaya District, ate “unmelting” ice cream, and had sushi for dinner.
Days 14-16: Tokyo and Kamakura
On Day 14, we took the train back to Tokyo and did some shopping on Kappabashi Cooking Street.
The next day, we did a day trip to Kamakura to see a festival where there was horseback archery, and went to the ramen museum in Yokohama.
Our last full day was spent hanging out in Akihabara, visiting an owl café, and picking up our last souvenirs.
We flew out on the following day, and said goodbye to a wonderful country.
While we definitely traveled faster than we were used to, it was okay for a little over two weeks. I would have liked to spend more time in most places we went, and seen some other spots, but I think we really packed in a lot of great stuff.
If you’re traveling this fast in Japan, I definitely recommend a rail pass – it was certainly worth it for us, both budget-wise and for the convenience. Trains in Japan aren’t cheap, especially if you want to get there fast.
Have you been to Japan? Where did you go?