Logo light mode the Fabryk
Published on

2 Weeks Japan Itinerary (from Tokyo)

Authors
2 Weeks Japan Itinerary (from Tokyo)

When we decided to visit Japan and cross this massive point off my bucket list, it was clear we wouldn't limit our experience to just Tokyo. Firstly, because the journey was long, and we wanted to make it fully worthwhile; secondly, while Tokyo is a unique city and the largest in the world with 37.1 million people, it is still 'just' another metropolis.

We wanted to immerse ourselves in authentic Japanese culture, and we knew that leaving Japan's capital to explore other nearby areas would give us a much fuller experience. That's why we planned to see as much as possible in Honshu, Japan's largest island, previously known as Hondo.

Whether you have limited days and budget or can buy a Japan Rail Pass and spend 7 days or more exploring Honshu, we've got you covered. In this guide, you will find all the ideas to optimize your travel to Tokyo and Central Japan, hitting all the great places and the best things to see and do.

If you still have doubts about why you should visit Tokyo and Central Japan, consider this: Tokyo stands as a vibrant metropolis and is simply unmissable. Our suggestion is to spend a week jumping into Tokyo's offerings and its surrounding areas. Then, a good idea is to venture further with the option of utilizing a JR Pass to explore Honshu, ensuring you don't miss out on its best places, major cities, and experiences.

Contents

Don't miss the other guide we created about the Northern Region of Japan (Hokkaido) and Southern Japan (Kyushu) to extend your Japan trip.

Two men take a selfie with Kanazawa Castle and blooming flowers in the background, showcasing the traditional architecture and scenic beauty of Kanazawa, Japan. This historic site is a key attraction on a Honshu Japan itinerary.

Kanazawa castle


Tips for First-Timers on When to Visit Tokyo and Central Japan

Unlike other areas of Japan, such as mountainous Hokkaido or beachy Okinawa, choosing when to visit Central Japan depends largely on the type of experience you seek. This region offers a variety of attractions, from big cities like Yokohama to the Japanese Alps.

For first-timers, the best time to visit Tokyo and Honshu is during the cherry blossom season. The cherry blossoms typically start blooming in the very last days of March in Central Japan and peak in the first 10 days of April. This spectacular display lasts less than two weeks, so timing is crucial. Best views to enjoy cherry blossoms in Honshu include Meguro River in Tokyo and the Philosopher's Path in Kyoto. However, be prepared for large crowds and packed tourist spots, especially if you're aiming for perfect photos. Visiting early in the morning or in the late afternoon can help avoid the busiest times.

Summer in the cities can be hot and humid, but you can escape to cooler areas like Mount Fuji or the mountainous Nagano Prefecture in the Chūbu region. On the other hand, the western coast, where Kanazawa is located—the city of samurai—experiences heavy snowfall in winter and has a charming atmosphere. Starting in the second half of September, sightseeing can be risky due to the possibility of rain, so plan accordingly.

Whenever you decide to go, we're confident you'll have an amazing experience by following our recommendations in this guide. Don't miss our videos about Honshu for more tips and insights.


Important Information for Your Japan Trip:

  • Travel Insurance: Make sure to get travel insurance to cover any unexpected situations. We opted for SafetyWing, as always.

  • Data Usage: Staying connected is essential for navigation and communication. We recommend renting a pocket Wi-Fi, which provides reliable internet access throughout your trip. Although the connection wasn't always perfect, it was generally effective. We rented ours in the south at Fukuoka Airport arrivals hall and conveniently returned it at Sapporo Airport all the way in the north.

    • Another option, is using Airalo eSims. While we didn't use this in Japan, we have used this in many countries afterwards, and it has proven to be the most reliable way to travel around.
A man poses with a life-size statue of Goku from Dragon Ball at the Bandai Headquarters in Tokyo, Japan. This site is a fun addition to any Honshu Japan itinerary, especially for anime enthusiasts.

Nice to meet you Goku-San at Bandai Headquarter in Asakusa


How to get to central Japan and around Honshu

Here's the most popular connection: Upon arriving at Narita Airport, you can easily access Tokyo Station using public transport. From there, the JR Pass grants you access to the Shinkansen (bullet train) to reach various destinations in central Japan, including Shinjuku Station for a transfer to other areas of Tokyo or Kyoto Station for further exploration.

Whether you're starting your Japan trip from Narita Airport or Shinjuku Station, the JR Pass offers a convenient and efficient way to travel around central Japan. While Haneda Airport offers fewer flight options, it is much closer to downtown Tokyo and easier to reach.

Getting a car in Honshu:

Renting a car, to be honest, might be cheaper after the JR Pass' price hike, although it can be challenging to read Japanese indications on the streets, and you must be comfortable driving on the right side of the road.

Public Transportation in Honshu

If you prioritize budget over time, we recommend using buses. Japan is famous for its reliability in transportation. Buses are inexpensive, punctual, and clean, often equipped with Wi-Fi (truly, this country is a dream for it—why can't the rest of the world learn! I swear, I'm Japanese at heart).

But, if you want to save time, the best option is the Japan Rail Pass:

Is the Japan Rail Pass worth it?

We were fortunate enough to include Tokyo and central Japan during our road trip from south to north in 2023, so we arrived here by taking a Japan Rail Pass in and from Kyushu. With this pass, you can also experience the famous bullet train!

The JR Pass is indeed worth it, but it can be expensive. Plan your trip meticulously to maximize the days you use it. For example, we used it only for a week, designating it as our heavy travel week, during which we would stay in one place only for a short time (or not even sleep, like when we spent the night in the karaoke in Hiroshima). Although with the JR Pass, you can take the very fast trains and also some local lines, such as the Kansai Area pass, in Osaka.

A panoramic view from the observation deck of the Umeda Sky Building in Osaka, Japan, showing the city skyline and the Yodogawa River. This spot provides breathtaking vistas and is a highlight of any Honshu Japan itinerary.

Even the love lockets are perfectly aligned in Japan, especially at the Umeda Sky Building/Kuchu Teien Observatory.


1 Week Itinerary in Tokyo: How many days to spend in Tokyo?

Let's make it easy: you need a week for Tokyo, unless you really don't care about visiting this city and are here for other reasons. Plan to stay in Tokyo for at least a week and perhaps include one or two excursions to nearby cities.

The city is vast, offering a blend of contemporary and historical culture. Spending less than a week here might leave you feeling unsatisfied. If you're short on time, we recommend skipping other cities like Osaka and saving them for another trip. Instead, substitute Kamakura with Kyoto for a more historical experience around Tokyo.

While some people may prefer Osaka (which is closer to Kyoto), personally, I recommend Tokyo for first-timers. However, the choice is ultimately up to you.

While in Tokyo, be sure not only to savor the delicious food but also to immerse yourself in Japanese animation and manga. Remember to book tickets for the Ghibli Museum (you need to book around two months in advance) for a whimsical journey into the world of Studio Ghibli. You might also want to visit the Pokémon Center (I'm a big fan and have already written a post about an exhibition I found in Kanazawa, which you can read here). Additionally, consider visiting any other Japanese animation museum you’re a fan of, among other attractions.

Plus, explore famous neighborhoods like Ueno, Harajuku, Asakusa, Ginza, Akihabara, Shibuya, and Roppongi. And remember, these are just a few of the many exciting areas Tokyo has to offer.

Visitors explore the Pokémon Center in Kanazawa, Japan, filled with vibrant Pokémon merchandise and a large statue of Pikachu riding Milotic. A must-visit for families and fans on a Honshu Japan itinerary.

The Pokemon center in Kanazawa

A man with a playful expression flashes a peace sign in a colorful, neon-lit anime bar in Osaka, Japan. This unique nightlife spot is an exciting addition to any Honshu Japan itinerary, especially for anime fans.

Ryan is a big Osaka Fan

Because this guide is more focused on central Japan and not only Tokyo, I won't list all the famous attractions, like the Fushimi Inari Shrine or the Imperial Palace here. However, we've created a video about it. Look at the video we made about the 10 must-do things in Tokyo to learn more about main attractions like Tokyo Skytree, visible from the Ueno cruise, the Imperial Palace or the Tokyo Tower.


A table set with bowls of ramen, gyoza, fried chicken, and rice in a cozy Osaka ramen restaurant. Sampling local cuisine like this is an essential part of a culinary adventure on a Honshu Japan itinerary.

Day Trip Excursions from Tokyo

If you're short on time, perhaps with only a 7-day or 10-day itinerary, and you need a full week just for Tokyo, you can still get a glimpse of the rest of the country by taking one-day excursions.

Kamakura: Located just an hour south of Tokyo, it was the political center of Japan during the Kamakura period (1185-1333). Visitors are drawn to its numerous ancient temples, the Hokokuji bamboo forest, such as the iconic Great Buddha (Daibutsu) at Kōtoku-in and the serene Tsurugaoka Hachimangu Shrine.

Nikko: Located in Tochigi Prefecture, Nikko is famed for its stunning natural beauty and historical significance. The UNESCO-listed Toshogu Shrine, housing the lavishly decorated Golden Pavilion, is a masterpiece of Edo-period architecture dedicated to Tokugawa Ieyasu, the founder of the Tokugawa shogunate.

Mount Fuji to Hakone: Enjoy breathtaking views of Mt Fuji from Lake Ashi, relax in natural hot springs (onsen), and take a scenic ride on the Hakone Ropeway. : Check Mount Fuji's accessibility, as it's not open for climbing year-round. Go from Hakone to Lake Kawaguchiko.

Numerous stone fox statues dressed in red bibs surround a memorial stone at a fox shrine in Tokyo, Japan, with a man standing in the background. Visiting such unique shrines is a memorable part of a Honshu Japan itinerary.

Toyokawa Inari temple off the beaten Path in Tokyo


1 Week Itinerary Around Central Japan (including some of the Major Cities)

Central Japan offers an abundance of attractions that truly require more than a week to fully explore. However, considering your 14 days itinerary and the fact that you've already allocated one week to Tokyo, we recommend selecting not more than two destinations from the following list.

Two men look up at the towering structure of the Umeda Sky Building in Osaka, Japan, from the base. This architectural marvel is a key attraction on a Honshu Japan itinerary, offering stunning views from its rooftop.

3-4 Days Itinerary in Osaka, Kyoto, and Nara (Must-Do)

These destinations are well-connected, making it easy to decide whether to move from one to another or take a day trip.

Start your journey in Osaka, begin with a visit to the impressive Osaka Castle, followed by a trip to the Tsutenkaku Tower, Kucho Teien Observatory, and the Tempozan Ferris Wheel near Universal Studios Japan (complete with transparent floors 😱). Dive into the vibrant nightlife of Osaka, exploring the lively Shinsekai market and the famous Dotonbori district, renowned for its neon lights and street food.

A vibrant night scene at Dotombori Market in Osaka, Japan, featuring brightly lit signs and a bustling street filled with people. This lively market is a highlight of any Honshu Japan itinerary, known for its food stalls and entertainment.

LEDiful Dotonbori Market at night in Osaka.

Kyoto is a city that needs little introduction and great time, with its iconic attractions such as the bustling Nishiki Market. For a truly enchanting experience, head to Nara, where you can stroll through the serene parks and interact with friendly deer that roam freely among the ancient temples. There's nothing quite like the magic of walking up the Kasugayama Primeval Forest surrounded by these gentle creatures.

A man in a blue t-shirt is squatting next to a resting deer in Nara, Japan, under the shade of a building. This encounter with the friendly deer is a must-see experience on any Honshu Japan itinerary, particularly in Nara Park.

Fabio and his BPF ake Best Pet Friend (of the day).

Two deer stand on a grassy hill overlooking the cityscape of Nara, Japan, with a panoramic view of Honshu’s landscape in the background. This scene is a typical stop on a Honshu Japan itinerary, highlighting Nara’s natural beauty and wildlife.

Judgy Deer in The Primeval Hill of Nara.

A sign in Nara Park warns visitors about the potential dangers of interacting with wild deer, with illustrations depicting biting, kicking, butting, and knocking down. This is an important safety notice for travelers planning a visit to Nara as part of their Honshu Japan itinerary.

Beware of The Deer! They're not that innocent.

If you have some extra time, consider a detour to the Mie Prefecture to visit the Grand Shrine of Ise, Japan's most sacred Shinto shrine dedicated to the sun goddess Amaterasu. This site includes two main shrines, Naikū and Gekū, and is famous for its unique ritual of rebuilding every 20 years. Nearby, you can also explore Meoto Iwa, the Married Rocks of Futaminoura, a significant Shinto symbol and a UNESCO World Heritage Site.

📦 HOTELS IN OSAKA, KYOTO, & NARA

R Hotel Honmachi

ASAI Kyoto Shijo

Henn na Hotel Nara


2-3 Days in Kanazawa and Shirakawago

Start your journey in Kanazawa by arriving at the stunning new train station, a true architectural gem. From here, explore the historic Nagamachi neighborhood and visit the Houses of the Samurai. Stroll through the Kazuemachi tea district, once frequented by geishas, and don't miss the impressive Museum of the 21st Century and the serene Kenrokuen Garden.

Next, venture to Shirakawago, a UNESCO World Heritage site renowned for its massive farmhouses. Though these places aren't as well-connected (except for Kanazawa, which is accessible via fast train from cities like Nagoya, Japan's fourth most populous city), you can take buses from Okuhida via Takayama to reach Shirakawago. For an immersive experience, consider staying overnight at one of these traditional farmhouses.

If you have extra time, consider visiting Nagano to see the snow monkeys enjoying the hot springs and explore the Alpine Route via cable car. However, please note that the Alpine Route is closed from December to mid-April.

A picturesque view of Kanazawa Garden with meticulously trimmed bushes, lanterns, and the castle walls in the distance. This serene garden is a highlight on a Honshu Japan itinerary, perfect for a peaceful stroll.

Everything is manicured between Kanazawa Castle and Kenrokuen Garden.


Hiroshima may not be the most visually stunning city due to its modern architecture shaped by its history, but visiting the Peace Memorial Monument is a profoundly moving experience that prompts deep reflection. Nearby, you'll find the famous Hiroshima Castle, offering another glimpse into the city's past.

From Hiroshima, you can easily access Itsukushima Island, renowned for its iconic floating torii gate, which appears to be standing on the water during high tide (as well as more deer!). Reachable by metro and ferry, both included in the JR Pass, the island is undeniably beautiful, though it can get crowded with tourists.

If you have extra time, consider a visit to Shimane, about 2 hours from Hiroshima, to see the Izumo Taisha Grand Shrine. This is one of Japan's oldest and most sacred Shinto shrines, dedicated to the deity Okuninushi, revered for marriage and good fortune. Additionally, the annual Kamiari Festival, a renowned event where gods from across Japan are said to gather, takes place here, making it a must-visit destination.

The Hiroshima Peace Memorial, illuminated at night, stands solemnly beside a river with the cityscape of Hiroshima in the background. This poignant site is an essential part of a Honshu Japan itinerary, reminding visitors of the city's history.

I hope I’ve provided you with enough ideas to plan your trip to Central Japan, whether you're staying for 10 days, 2 weeks, or longer. We're eagerly looking forward to returning and exploring the Tohoku region, which is currently less touristy (I didn’t mention it in this post because we haven’t had the chance to visit it yet), though it promises to be a wonderful time on our next trip to Japan.

Don’t forget to explore our other Japan-related content on our blog, YouTube, and social media for more insights and inspiration.

In conclusion, I want to extend my gratitude to my school friend from the Erasmus program, Soichiro Katayama, and his family. I've always had a keen interest in Japan, and if my first trip there was amazing, it’s largely due to his invaluable local recommendations. I’m happy to share this information with you.

Good luck, and have an amazing time in Japan. Sayonara..., see you soon Japan!

A man peeks through a corridor of colorful tied ribbons at a shrine in Kanazawa, Japan. This shrine, often visited during a Honshu Japan itinerary, is known for its ritual of tying wishes or fortunes.