I took a trip to Japan with my family a few years ago. Due to time constraints, we could only plan a trip for a week. Japan is a beautiful country with tons to do. Given that we only had a week, we chose to do two major cities with plans for some day trips. Of course, there are Japan vacation and tour packages that you’ll be able to find online for one week, but if you’re looking to do something on your own, then hopefully this post can help you with your travel planning, with sites to see and some logistical tips to prepare for.
(all photos included in this post are my own)
Getting to the city from the airport
Tokyo Narita Airport is about an hour away from the city. Keep that in mind when planning your trip and trying to figure out the best way to get to your hotel. We ended up taking a group bus into the city that dropped us off at a bus station, and then from there, we hailed a taxi to our hotel. We found that the taxi drivers were not well versed in English, so we showed them the name and address to our hotel to assist with communicating.
Tokyo City Tour
We did a city tour one day in order to get a sense of how the city is laid out and also get some historical information about the heritage sites in Tokyo. The small group tour we did was great; great language translation, a drive by the imperial palace, plus lunch with traditional Japanese cuisine overlooking the harbor, and it finished up with a boat tour on that harbor.
The rest of the time, we explored the city on our own based on what we had researched prior to going.
It’s really easy to get around Tokyo. Most of the time, we were able to navigate by taking the subway. I highly recommend this. It’s affordable, easy and also one of the cleanest, if not THE cleanest I’ve seen. People line up politely to board the trains (versus fighting each other) and it’s so clean there’s not one crumb on the ground in the stations.
Also, the taxis–taxi drivers can push a button that opens the door for you. The first time I saw that happen, I thought I was hallucinating.
This is one of the busiest crossings in the world. If anyone has seen Fast and furious: Tokyo drift, it’s the intersection that they drift through at the end and the crowd just separates to accommodate them. Think of it as Time’s Square in New York…times ten.
Asakusa Shinto Shrine
Located in the northern part of the city, this is Tokyo’s oldest Buddhist temple. Leading up to it, there’s a line of vendors selling food and souvenirs. It’s a place where everyone can experience a little bit of everything, plus the temple is beautiful.
A trip to Japan, if in Tokyo, must include a visit to their famous morning fish market. You need to get up super early to make it, but watching buyers test the fish and heckle for the best price is quite an experience. Then after, you head out and grab some of the freshest fish for your breakfast meal.
Shinkansen (Bullet Train)
One of the main reasons my Dad wanted to go on a trip to Japan was to experience the Skinansen bullet train. We took the train from Tokyo to Kyoto. The journey takes maybe a couple of hours; you’ll get there in record time and won’t even feel the pull of going so fast, it’s pretty amazing. Oh, and make sure you get to the train station on time, meaning before your train is scheduled to leave. It only stops at the station for a few minutes to drop off and pick up passengers.
We had mount Fuji on our agenda as a day trip (booked through Viator) however, due to some scheduling issues with our flights we had to take it out of our itinerary. I recommend you put this down as one of your stops though. Some of the day trips include boat rides and lunch with views of the mountain in the background.
As I mentioned above, we traveled from Tokyo to Kyoto by train. Once you arrive in Kyoto station, its very easy to find a taxi to get to your hotel. We were lucky and ours was within walking distance of the train station.
All the Temples
Kyoto equals traditional Japanese temples galore. We did a full day tour with a travel guide that included stops at all the major ones. I thought it was the most efficient way to see them all and learn about them as well.
Eat dinner here one night. You’ll get beautiful 360 views of the city
All of our Geisha sightings occurred in Kyoto.
In General, a Trip to Japan Should Include…
Goes without saying, you’ll have some of the best and also some of the most interesting sushi when in Japan. One of the rolls my brother ordered contained crickets–head and all. Needless to say I made him eat them all. I’m adventurous but I have my limits.
In addition, I would recommend finding a sushi restaurant with a revolving sushi bar. The one we went to allowed us to order off of iPads and then the sushi came shooting out on the belt. It was great.
This only happens a certain time of year, but if you’re able to swing it, I’d recommend going on a trip to Japan during cherry blossom season. We were lucky and caught a few. It’s beautiful.
I really wanted to go to a sumo wrestling match but their match schedule didn’t work with ours. If you’re able to do this, I’ve heard it’s a lot of fun.
Another thing I wanted to do, but simply didn’t have the time with everything else we had planned. However, I hear these are a great experience! Definitely something to look into.
They have all the crazy weird flavors of kit kats, including green tea. Find a vending machine and go to town.
Random points of interest
The Japanese currency is the yen; Sapporo is Japanese beer that you should try while you’re there; Arigato is the term for thank you; when you eat out, the waiter will not come to your table until you look up and give him/her the go-ahead.
Our trip to Japan was fantastic; filled with culture, amazing food, history and beautiful sights to see. If I were to go again, I’d plan for 10 days or more, and include some of the things I wasn’t able to do last time. If you’re looking to go with family, a significant other, or even by yourself, a Japan trip will provide you with plenty to do, see, and experience, while being easy and safe.