How To Spend 10 Days in Japan As a First Time Visitor
Believe it or not, Japan is the most amazing country you will ever visit. The people were so civilized and kind, the food is just so delicious and the landscape, sceneries, and shrines are just simply stunning.
If you only have 10 Days in Japan, then it would be best to spend your whole time in Tokyo and Kyoto as well as a bonus day trip in Nara. So for this article, let me share with you my itinerary which is composed of three full days in Tokyo, another four full days in Kyoto, exploring Nara in one day as well as two travel days.
I hope this will help you make most of your time in Japan.
Day 1 – Tokyo: Explore the Modern Tokyo
My first destination in Japan is Tokyo, the world's largest metropolis, and Japan's capital city. This is one of the most interesting places I've been; whether you are a food lover, history junkie or fashion buff, there will absolutely something awesome and exciting treat in store for you.
Anyway, when we arrive Narita International Airport we headed straight to Harajuku a popular hub for Japanese pop culture. I was able to explore Meiji-Jingu Shrine, a shrine dedicated to the deified spirits of Emperor Meiji and his consort, Empress Shoken. It has been known for its huge wooden torii and 175 acres of pristine forest composed of trees given from different regions of Japan.
You can buy an ema at the shrine, this is a small wooden plaque where you can write down your prayers or wishes and then hung under a tree to be offered to the Shinto gods. You can visit the shrine for free, but the ema will cost you 500 yen or around USD $5.
You can also pass by Tokyu Plaza, a shopping complex found in the intersection of Harajuku and Omotesando. I was so impressed how its entrance has been beautifully architected, making this an amazing spot take a picture. If you still have more time, you can go to the rooftop terrace on the 6th floor which offers a stunning view of the surrounding area.
Then you can take a train and subway to Roppongi to explore some more. If you love contemporary art, then you should visit Mori Art Museum which is located inside the Roppongi Hills Mall. This is the largest museum of contemporary art in Tokyo which features unique artistic displays. The bonus is that it is located on the 34th and 35th floors, so you can also have an amazing view of the downtown.
You can also hang out with space fish at Mohri Garden which does not only offer beautiful views but also is a perfect spot for lunch.
Day 2 – Tokyo: Discover the Traditional Tokyo
For your 2nd day in Japan, you can relax a bit from the busy and noisy life of the city and explore a more laid-back side of the city. Begin your day by visiting the ancient Buddhist Sensoji Temple in Asakusa; this is the oldest temple and Tokyo and is the most significant one.
After that, you can take the subway over to Ueno. You can explore the museums and wander around the park there. This is a gorgeous area where you will see the Ueno Park and Zoo, National Museum of Nature and Science, Tokyo University of Arts, Tokyo Bunka Kaikan concert hall, Tokyo Metropolitan Art Museum, National Museum of Western Art, and so much more.
Day 3 – Tokyo: Visit Tsukiji Fish Market and Central Tokyo
Now, begin your day at Tsukiji Fish Market, one of Tokyo’s top attractions. It is actually one of the most exciting markets I’ve been. The moment I arrived in the morning I witnessed tuna auctions and then I began my search for some sushi breakfast.
Once you are already full from a tasty breakfast, you can head to the Tokyo Imperial Palace Park which is a huge expanse of greeneries and is surrounded with some great museums, parks, and shrines. You can check out the Imperial Palace East Garden, Kitanomaru-koen Park, and Yasukuni-jinja Shrine.
Day 4 – Head on to Kyoto (Travel Day)
Going to Kyoto from Tokyo can be best done by Shinkansen or bullet train. The entire trip will only take you around 2.5 hours.
You can tackle this day easily, there’s no need to start the day early. Anyway, most of the hotels and guesthouse in Kyoto won’t allow you to check in until its 3 PM. Once you are checked in and left your luggage at the hotel, you can begin doing a short walk near your hotel to familiarize the area. Otherwise, you might want to store your luggage in the lockers at the Kyoto Station or at the luggage storage office and start exploring the station or probably grab some delicious lunch until check-in time.
Day 5 – Kyoto: Wander Around Southern Higashiyama
Then you need to explore the most significant sightseeing district in Kyoto, the Southern Higashiyama. Begin at the famous Kiyomizu-dera Temple then slowly descend through the atmospheric Ninen-zaka and Sanen-zaka lanes before you explore Ishibei-koji Lane. Wind down some quiet time at Shoren-in Temple too.
I also suggest you take an evening walk in Gion, the “Floating World” of Kyoto and discover the world of the geisha. This is the best way to immerse yourself in Japan's traditional entertainment without spending a fortune.
Day 6 –Kyoto: See the Sights at Arashiyama
So for this day, we are going to check out the west side of Kyoto and explore another important sightseeing area. You can visit Tenruy-ji Temple here, which is one of the most prominent landmarks in Arashiyama and a world heritage site. You can as well find in Arashiyama the Okochi-Sanso Villa and of course, the famous Arashiyama Bamboo Grove which will make you feel like you are walking into a scene of a fairytale.
If you still have the energy, you can hail a taxi and head to Kinkaku-ji Temple and Daitoku-ji Temple.
Day 7 – Take a Day Trip at Nara
Nara only takes 35 minutes from Tokyo Station through the private Kintetsu Line. Nara is a popular day trip sightseeing destination and is home to some of the country’s best shrines and temples. It is actually home to the 8 UNESCO World Heritage Sites collectively called “Historic Monuments of Ancient Nara” namely, Toshodai-ji Temple Kasugayama Primeval Forest, Heijo Palace, Kofuku-ji Temple, Todai-ji Temple, Gango-ji Temple, Saidai-ji Temple, Yakushi-ji and Kasuga Shrine – and the best thing is that you can visit all these attractions in just one day.
Todai-ji Temple is my favorite, it is the home to the massive grandeur of the Daibutsu, a 16-meter-high Buddha that I can really feel it seems to radiate some form of spiritual energy. Kasuga Shrine, on the other hand, is the most important Shinto shrine in Nara. There’s so much more to its shrine buildings and you will also enjoy the wandering deer around.
Day 8 – Kyoto: Travel Around Northern Higashiyama
This is the best day to just relax from your busy itinerary just by taking a stroll downtown in the afternoon. But if you still have the energy and don’t want to waste any time, you can head up to the village of Kurama, which is the home to some of the oldest shrines in Japan.
Day 9 – Kyoto: Learn Something New at Tofuku-ji Temple, Fushimi-Inari Taisha Shrine, etc.
Now, let’s go to the Southeast of Kyoto to discover the fabulous Tofuku-ji Temple and Fushimi-Inari Taisha Shrine. After strolling the area, don't miss to grab a lunch at Downtown Kyoto, there are plenty of restaurants in the area that serve really good food.
You can then proceed to Kyoto Imperial Palace Park and visit the Zen temple complex of Daitoku-ji Temple if you haven’t done it yet.
Day 10 – Get Back to Tokyo
You can still take the bullet train to go back to Tokyo. The whole trip will still take around 2.5 hours. Once you are back at Tokyo, you can spend the whole afternoon doing some last minute shopping.
I suggest you also consider to splurge with dinner for your last night in Japan. Shinjuku and Roppongi can be your best choice.
Things You Should Know Before Going To Japan
1. When to go to Japan
Since Japan is a four-season destination, any time of the year can be a good time to go. During summer, the weather can get hot and humid while during winter, it can be cold and chilly, depending on what you are used to, especially in the northern fringes of Japan in Hokkaido.
But the months April or November is the most popular time to visit the country. In the month of April, you will get to see the magnificent Japanese cherry blossoms invade much of the country under pretty sunny skies and of course, the mild temperatures. Similarly, November allows you to see the beauty of Japan’s fall foliage unfold.
2. How can you get connected in Japan
Just like most of the countries in East Asia, is not that difficult to stay connected in Japan. Most of the hotels in the country provide free WiFi both in the guestrooms as well as to some common areas. There are also plenty of free WiFi hotspots that are accessibly placed around the major tourist sites of the city, cafes, restaurants and even transportation hubs.
But if you don’t want to rely solely on free public WiFi, you can also rent some portable 4G WiFi Router that you can conveniently pick up at a number of major airports in Japan
3. Would it be worth it to get Japan rail pass?
Just like most countries in Europe, Japan is also a place that seems to beg to be explored by trail. The country has one of the world's best and most innovative train system. It brings you to your destination quickly, it is comfortable and convenient and is, by far, the best way to make the most of your 10 days in Japan.
If you want to save some of your pocket money, I highly recommend that you pick up a 7-Day Japan Rail Pass or 14-Day Japan Rail Pass.
4. Where to Stay in Tokyo?
Ginza and Shinjuku are the best areas to stay in Tokyo, though I can also recommend Shibuya, Tokyo Station and Asakusa. Anyway, here are my personally recommend hotels that you might want to check out.
Hotel Sunroute Plaza Shinjuku. I highly recommend this to practical travelers! It is conveniently located in a fantastic area of Shinjuku and comes at a very reasonable price.
Keio Plaza Hotel Tokyo Shinjuku. If you are traveling by groups or with your family, this is the best place to stay in Shinjuku. They offer superior rooms as big as 30-sqm., which is by far the biggest room I have ever stayed. Plus, if you want to go to Tokyo Disney, this hotel also offers free Disney shuttle bus.
Millennium Mitsui Garden Ginza. This hotel is conveniently situated near Tokyo Station so you can easily access your bullet train ride. I highly recommend this to anyone who just loves to shop.
5. Where to Stay in Kyoto?
Downtown Kawaramachi is the best area to stay in Kyoto, especially that it offers a lot of shops and restaurants. Other places I can also recommend are Kyoto Station, Central Kyoto, and Gion.
Toyoko Inn Kyoto Gojo-Karasuma. This is the best budget hotel I found in Kyoto. In can give you the comforts of a hotel for a guesthouse price.
Royal Park Hotel Kyoto. This is one of the most popular hotels in downtown Kyoto. Their rooms can quickly get sold out especially during peak season travel, so make sure that you book in advance.
Dormy Inn Premium Kyoto Ekimae-Kyoto. This mid-range hotel can be found just across the street from the Kyoto Station. What made this hotel famous is their large hot spring bath.
I hope this 10 days in Japan itinerary would be able to help you enjoy your stay in this beautiful and amazing city. When you get back, please let me know about your experience in the comment section below. I absolutely love to hear from you.
Don’t forget to share this article with your travel buddies too!