My itinerary for a first trip to Japan

In October 2014, I took a flight towards Tokyo to discover in 3 weeks the ‘must sees’ of this beautiful country.

It was my first trip to the land of the rising sun and I spent quite a bit of time scouring travel guides, blogs and forums to find “THE” itinary, ie the perfect timing to discover this country without too much rush and without missing key stages.

  • Day 1: Arrival in Tokyo

My flight landed at around 12:00 local time. The time to pass the formalities, to change money and my JR pass, I then headed to the metro which will take me to my hotel in the Ginza district. It must be around 3 or 4pm when I put my suitcases in the room and I have a few hours left to discover the surroundings.

  • Day 2 : Tokyo

Let’s go to my article about the unmissable visits in Tokyo !

  • Day 3 : Tokyo
  • Day 4 : Tokyo
  • Day 5 : Tokyo
  • Day 6 : Takayama (4h of train) then visit of the city

Takayama is a town known for its old wooden houses. This ancient feudal city is worth a visit because its historical center is very well preserved. The visit of an old house is to be envisaged, for my part it was an old merchant residence named Yoshijima which perfectly combines the old and the contemporary. Allow a moment to go to the Takayama Yatai Kaikan which presents the tanks that parade during the Matsuri (festival). Overnight stay in a ryokan.

Tea room in the Yoshijima House

The tanks of the Takayama Matsuri are presented in this museum

  • Day 7 : Takayama in the morning and Shirakawa in the afternoon

Visit of the government house and then stroll in the neighborhood Sanmachi Suji which is the heart of the old town with its traditional stalls and sake distilleries. 50 minutes by bus and we are in Shirakawa-go, village renowned for its old thatched houses. Walk through the village, visit a Gassho Zukuri style house and then a small walk will take you to a viewpoint overlooking the village and offers a nice view. Night at the inhabitant.

The garden in thegovernment house with its fall colors

Walk in the old town with its traditional sake distilleries

The old thatched houses in Shirakawa-go

View point on the Shirakawa village

Inside an old house, an unmissable visit !

Day 8 : Kanazawa

Bus to Kanazawa (1 hour drive). Medium-sized city with many points of interest, including its former samurai neighborhood and geisha district. Visit the Naga-machi samurai district and more particularly the Nomura residence. Go for a little quiet time in the museum of contemporary art will occupy our afternoon.

A samourai armour in the Nomura House

The museum of contemporary is worth seeing !

Day 9 : Kanazawa

We stroll through the old geisha district and explore in more detail one of the typical houses (Shima house). You can even enjoy drinking tea in a very zen environment (a magic place mentioned in my article about the 10 experiences not to be missed in Japan). The small shops around the area specialized in products covered with gold leaf are a feast for the eyes. Stroll through Kenrokuen Park, one of the most beautiful in Japan. Guided tour of the temple Myoryuji or “temple ninja” with its many hiding places and secret passages. At the end of the day, the gardens of Kanazawa Castle give some nice fresh air.

Walk in the old geisha district

The Ninja Temple : an amazing visit !

The Kenrokuen garden is lovely : you could stop in one of these restaurants closed to the lake !

  • Day 10 : Kyoto

Feel free to consult my post to know which are the must see in Kyoto!

  • Day 11 : Kyoto
  • Day 12 : Kyoto
  • Day 13 : Kyoto
  • Day 14 : Nara

45 minutes by train and you are already in Nara! This former capital of Japan is famous for its many temples and sanctuaries but also for its free-roaming deer (1200 deer in total). Visit of the Kofuki-ji, the second largest pagoda in the country and then of the Todai-ji, the largest wooden building in the world, containing a very impressive 16-meter-high Buddha. Return then overnight in Kyoto.

The dears in Nara aren’t too wild, especially if you have food for them

The 16-meter-high Buddha : so impressive !

  • Day 15 : Miyajima

Morning devoted to the journey which lasts about 3 hours (trains + ferry). The floating torii of Miyajima will be the first shot that will be made before strolling along the main street. Visit of the Itsukushima Jinja temple then return early to our ryokan to enjoy the onsen. The ryokan Kurayado Iroha is an ideal place to spend the night (see my post dedicated to it).

The famous floating torii of Miyajima

  • Day 16 : Miyajima and Hiroshima

Day spent with Yann of Hiroshima Safari to discover the less known and more authentic places. A pleasant walk through the narrow streets of Miyajima and some few stops at the small shopkeepers before arriving at sacred places very interesting. The ferry takes us back to Hiroshima, a city unfortunately known for its bombing during the Second World War. Some buildings held the shock following the explosion, as is the famous dome which is the key point of the city. Reminiscent vestiges that allow us to understand a little better the tragedy that hit Japan in the 50s.

The famous dome of Hiroshima

A door which survived the bombing. It protected a man who was located in the other room.

  • Day 17 : Osaka

Osaka is the 3rd largest city in the country: very lively streets, canals and for us the last big city that we will visit during this journey. The atmosphere is quite different from Tokyo, a little less “stiff” we will say!

  • Day 18 : Mont Koya

1h30 of train and a small funicular will lead us to Mount Koya. At 900m altitude, Mount Koya is the cradle of Shingon Buddhism with its 120 temples and monasteries. We take a lovely stroll through an alley that leads us to the Okuno-in temple: 2km through centenary cedars and more than 200,000 tombs. The atmosphere is very mystical and unique. But one of the best experiences to do during your stay in Koya-san is undoubtedly to spend the night in a temple where you can test the lifestyle of the monks: vegetarian meal, basic comfort and prayer at 6am. Not to be missed!

  • Day 19 : back to Osaka

Last shopping, last meals where you try to catch your favorite flavors forever, the last day of the trip will be devoted to these activities.

This itinerary of almost 3 weeks is fairly balanced: big cities and rural villages, cultural aspects and more relaxed walks, in short each profile of traveler can find its account according to its tastes and aspirations. The rhythm is medium, that is to say you will not have to get up at dawn to make everything good and you will have time to have a better appreciation of each stage without rusher.

Have you ever been to Japan ? What was your itinerary ? Feel free to send me your comments or questions by posting them on social media.

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