Cherry Blossoms in Kyoto

Japan Trip Ideas

Planning a trip to Japan requires equal parts information and inspiration, which is the approach I’ve taken with the Japan trip ideas I’m about to share with you. Whether you have a specific amount of time you want to spend in Japan or prefer to organize your trip based upon Japan destinations or experiences, you’re in the right place.

For instance, if you have just one week in Japan, your top Japan vacation ideas might include a marathon trip through destinations like Tokyo, Kyoto and Hiroshima, taking advantage of lightning-fast Shinkansen bullet trains and sleeping relatively little. Alternatively, you might use this relatively short span of time to hone in on a specific region or travel interest, be it islands like Shikoku and Kyushu or, skiing in Nagano or Hokkaido’s Niseko area.

Let’s not get ahead of ourselves, however. For now, I want you to open yourself up to the knowledge and beauty I’ve acquired over more than two dozen trips to Japan, which I’m happy to share with you below.

Need help planning your trip to Japan? Commission a custom Japan itinerary!

The Two Main Ways to Plan Your Japan Trip

The first way to organize your Japan travel ideas into a trip is to work backwards, starting with the number of days or weeks you can travel and filling those up with the destinations you want to visit. To this end, I’m going to share my recommendations for one, two and three weeks in Japan, as well as my one month in Japan itinerary, if you happen to have that long to travel.

I’ll also make sure to share city itineraries for specific places in Japan, but then I’ll change course a little bit. Specifically, I’ll provide recommendations for trips that spotlight a particular aspect of traveling in Japan, be it a season (such as cherry blossoms or fall colors) or an experience like hiking or having animal encounters.

Comprehensive Japan Trip Ideas

One Week in Japan

 

Although this is the shortest of the Japan trip ideas I’m going to share, it’s also the most ambitious. This is because having only a few days in Japan (which is much, much larger than it looks on the map) presents you with a choice: To pack your trip full of destinations and make excessive use of your Japan Rail Pass; or to focus on a specific part of the country or experience: The island of Shikoku, for example, is a great place to spend a week in Japan.

READ MORE: One Week in Japan

Two Weeks in Japan

 

If your priority is seeing the main Japanese attractions and you don’t mind traveling at a fast pace, a two-week trip through Japan is just what the doctor ordered. Starting and ending in Tokyo, trips to Japan that follow this general shape include time in Kyoto and Osaka, day-trip destinations like ancient Nikko and deer-filled Nara (a top destination for Osaka day trips), and one night at what many consider to be the best onsen in Japan.

READ MORE: Two Weeks in Japan

Three Weeks in Japan

 

Have a little longer for Japan itineraries than two weeks? Supplement your sightseeing in Japan with some deeper cuts into the country, from emotional Hiroshima, to the ecotourism paradise of Nagano prefecture (where you’ll find the internet-famous Japan Snow Monkeys), to the Fuji Five Lakes region near Japan’s iconic mountain of the same name.

READ MORE: Three Weeks in Japan

One Month in Japan

 

For travelers who can devote a month to their Japan tour ideas, it’s possible to knock off a large number of must see in Japan items. In addition to the ideas for a Japan trip I’ve mentioned before, you can add in quirky destinations like the stunning San’in region, active experiences like the Nakasendo Way and trips to secondary Japanese islands like Hokkaido, Kyushu and Shikoku, the latter of which you could separate out on its own if one week in Japan is all you have to spend.

READ MORE: One Month in Japan

Japan City Itineraries

Three Days in Tokyo

 

There are so many places to visit in Tokyo that you could easily spend a month here. On the other hand, time is an issue on all but the most flexible Japan trips, so you’ll need to narrow down your Tokyo bucket list—you can visit both Shinjuku and Ueno parks, probably, but you might need to choose between day trips to Kamakura and Nikko. You should also make sure to visit the capital in many different seasons, including underrated winter in Tokyo.

READ MORE: Three Days in Tokyo

Two Days in Kyoto

 

Like Tokyo but for completely different reasons, Kyoto is a city where you could spend a long, long time. If you’re keen to dive deep into districts like like temple-filled Higashiyama, lush Arashiyama and the Geisha quarter of Gion district, however, you can see most of Kyoto’s essentials in just 48 hours, give or take, depending on which other Japan travel ideas your itinerary entertains.

READ MORE: Two Days in Kyoto

Cities of the Kansai Region

 

One of my favorite things about Kyoto is that it sits in the Kansai region, the most dynamic part of western Honshu island. After you finish temple-hopping in Kyoto, you can pet deer in Nara, eat yourself sick in Osaka, marvel at Japan’s best castle in Himeji or explore underrated cities like Kobe and Wakayama—all these Japanese trips are so easy to take.

READ MORE: How Long Should You Spend in Kansai?

Underrated Japanese Cities

 

Speaking of underrated Japanese cities, many of the best cities in Japan are ones you’ve likely never heard. From Hakodate on the southern tip of Hokkaido, to Matsuyama in Shikoku, and from Shimonoseki at the western tip of Honshu to Matsumoto in the heart of the Japanese Alps, there are plenty of reasons to venture of Japan’s not-so-beaten path on your own Japan trips.

READ MORE: Japan’s Underrated Cities

Special Japan Trip Ideas

Cherry Blossoms

 

The ultimate Japan trip is coming when the sakura cherry blossoms are at full bloom. The downside to having this dream? It’s extraordinarily difficult to time a trip just right—my first trip to Japan just so happened to hit the right spots at the right times, while many subsequent spring jaunts were daunting experiences, ones I hope you can learn from.

READ MORE: Planning a Cherry Blossom Trip

Japan’s Best Hikes

 

It should come as no surprise that Japan is one of the world’s top hiking destinations, what with it being a mountainous archipelago that boasts four distinct seasons. Whether you walk the ancient Nakasendo trading route, climb Mt. Daisen or hike pilgrimage trails like Wakayama’s Kumano Kodo and Shikoku‘s 88 Temple Trek, or simply take day hikes from major cities, Japan is an ecotourism paradise.

READ MORE: Japan’s Best Hikes

Autumn Colors

 

I’ve gone on a lot about Takayama fall colors on this website, but the truth is that most everywhere in Japan (with the exception of maybe tropical Okinawa) is beautiful during the fall season. However, this season is temperamental (though not as much so as cherry blossom season) and occurs later in the year than you’d probably imagine, so you’ll want to read my guide before taking Japan trip ideas related to fall colors too seriously.

READ MORE: Fall Colors in Japan

Winter in Japan

 

As far as I’m concerned, seeing Japan in winter is the most underrated seasonal experience—even if you’re not a skier. Whether you rub shoulders with the so-called “Snow Monsters” of Zao Onsen in Tohoku, walk along the icicle-lined Otaru Canal in Hokkaido or simply explore major Japanese destinations without the crowds, winter in Japan will warm your soul.

READ MORE: Japan in Winter

Japan Animal Experiences

 

If you’re like most of the internet, a trip to Japan’s aptly-named “Fox Village” probably sits high on your Japan bucket list. Absent that (what is wrong with you?) you likely want to visit the country’s cat- and rabbit-filled islands, or one of the many animal-themed cafés in Tokyo and Osaka. Even if your interest in Japan’s animals only extends to Hello Kitty, I’ve got you covered.

READ MORE: Weird and Wild Japan

Custom Japan Itineraries

Set on places to go in Japan or experiences to have there, but don’t know how to put them together? The good news is that this website is a sprawling (and growing) resource that can help you find all the information you need, whether you see a two weeks in Japan itinerary or something more comprehensive.

The better news? I offer a service whereby I plan a custom Japan travel itinerary for you, which is usually ready in a couple of weeks and is 100% satisfaction guaranteed. Click here to learn more, and to hire me as your Japan travel planner.

The Bottom Line

Whether you follow one of my Japan trip ideas precisely or combine a few of the suggestions I’ve made into your own custom itinerary, your Japan adventure starts here. Use the information I’ve provided to fill out the amount of time you’ve set aside to explore Japan, or take a more esoteric approach and allow your inspiration to guide to. Still think you need more help? Commission a custom Japan itinerary today!