Robert Schrader in Kawaguchiko, Japan

One Month in Japan

Among the many tips for travel to Japan I offer on this site, my most important is to spend as much time here as possible. While Japanese trains are efficient and its cities are organized well enough to see in a relatively short number of days, there are just so many destinations to enjoy. I’ve taken more than a dozen trips to Japan, and I’ve barely scratched the surface!

To be more specific, one month in Japan is a good time to devote in order to see all of Japan’s primary destinations and many of its most impressive secondary ones. You’re going to want to book your flight (not to mention, a stay at one of the best ryokans in Japan) after reading this!

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Tokyo and Kanto

I mentioned in my two weeks in Japan guide that you should spend three days in Tokyo (at most) on a trip of that length. If you have a month to spend in Japan, however, you can extend your stay in Tokyo and the surrounding Kanto region to between five and seven days.

Robert Schrader in Tokyo
 

Follow up a full two or three days in Tokyo with a day trip to Nikko, a UNESCO World Heritage city that features a shogun shrine splayed across a scenic hillside. Spend another day in Kamakura, a historical city in Kanagawa prefecture famous (among other reasons) for its giant Buddha, pairing it with underrated Yokohama (namely, Sakeien Garden and the Cup Noodle Museum) for good measure.

Flowers at the base of Mt. Fuji
 

Alternatively (or, if your month in Japan is more flexible, additionally) take an overnight trip or two from Tokyo. Head to towns of the Fuji Five Lakes region like Kawaguchi-ko, home to Lake Kawaguchi and Fujiyoshida, where most climbers of Mt. Fuji begin their treks. Or soak up everything there is to love about Japan’s de-facto onsen capital, Hakone.

READ MORE: How Many Days Should You Spend in Tokyo?

Kyoto and Kansai

The sheer amount of sightseeing in Kyoto makes it a (pleasantly) bloated part of any itinerary, one month in length or otherwise. As is the case with Tokyo, you’ll want to spend at least two or three days in Kyoto, just in the city-proper, enjoying its temples, shrines, forests, ryokan guest houses and culture.

Sakura in Kyoto
 

With this being said, having a month in Japan opens up Kyoto’s surrounding Kansai region. For example, you can visit Osaka for longer than a day, devoting at least a full day (or two) to this delectable, quirky city. As was the case with my two week itinerary, a day trip to Nara is probably all you’ll need, unless you enjoy deer or ancient wooden structure significantly more than the average person.

Himeji Castle in Kansai, Japan
 

My favorite place in Kansai to recommend to travelers, however, is Himeji Castle. Located in Hyogo prefecture about an hour from Osaka (slightly more from Kyoto) by Shinkansen bullet train, it’s perhaps Japan’s most picturesque castle, and is particularly beautiful if you can manage to see it during sakura season.

READ MORE: How Long Should You Spend in Kansai?

Shikoku

Get a bus from Osaka’s OCAT bus terminal to Tokushima, gateway to Japan’s most underrated island: Shikoku. Overlooked up until recently by everyone except pilgrims wanting to hike its 88 Temple Trail, Shikoku is a mysterious island filled with pristine nature and perfect cities in just the right combination.

Awa Odori Dance in Tokushima, Japan
 

Assuming you spend five days each in Tokyo and Kyoto, devote the same number of days to Shikoku. Moving in a clockwise loop from Tokushima, visit enchanting Naruto Whirlpools, dramatic Yoshino River and the gorgeous castle cities of Kochi and Matsuyama, followed up by stops at Dogo and Konpira onsens, in well-manicured Takamastu and in the udon-slurping town of Marugame.

READ MORE: Shikoku Travel Guide

Hiroshima

After you finish in Shikoku, get a local train from Takamatsu to Okayama (which is itself worthy of a night, if you can spare it) and from there, ride the Shinkansen westward to Hiroshima. Beyond Hiroshima Peace Park (which will take about a half-day of your time), you can enjoy 1-2 days in the Hiroshima area by adding sunset behind the floating gate of Miyajima to your itinerary.

Floating Gate in Miyajima, Japan
 

Extend your stay in far-western Honshu island to between 3-5 days by adding in a couple of other excursions. From Hiroshima, the so-called “rabbit island” of Okunoshima is an easy day trip, while visiting the Japan desert you find at the Tottori Sand Dunes requires an overnight stay for optimal enjoyable.

Kyushu or Tohoku

Most of this month in Japan itinerary so far has required little choice. Unfortunately, since you’ll have spent between 17-20 days in Japan already if you’ve followed it, you will need to make some decisions as to your travel priorities, starting now.

Yakushima Island, Japan
 

If you like the urban vibe of Hiroshima and the not-quite-tropical scenery of Shikoku, head southward to Kyushu island. Whether you stick to cities like Fukuoka and Nagasaki or natural experiences such as Beppu Onsen and Yakushima Island (accessible, you should note, via hydrofoil ferry—this alone takes 1-2 days), 3-5 days is more than enough to enjoy the best of Kyushu.

READ MORE: Kyushu Travel Guide

Nebuta Matsuri in Aomori, Japan
 

If the thought of exploring rugged northern Japan is more appealing to you, head back the way you came, riding the Shinkansen through Tokyo and up to Sendai, the gateway to Japan’s Tohoku region. Spend 3-5 days exploring the “snow monsters” of Zao Onsen and its nearby Fox VillageHirosaki Castle (which, in spring, boasts a gorgeous “petal moat”) and Japan’s “Apple City,” Aomori.

READ MORE: Tohoku Travel Guide

Hokkaido or the Japanese Alps

Another important choice is how you’ll end your month in Japan. From Tohoku the most obvious choice is to continue northward to Hokkaido island, spending 3-5 days here before flying back to Tokyo to connect back home. In winter, skiing in Hokkaido and the Sapporo Snow Festival are your best bests, while Hokkaido wildflowers are a great idea in summer; Hakodate is a great city 365 days per year.

Magome in Japanese Alps
 

If you chose Kyushu or simply don’t find a Hokkaido road trip appealing, point yourself in the general direction of Nagano, the city closest to the iconic Japanese snow monkeys (which you can actually see all year) and the Japanese Alps. Spend a day here (or preferably in nearby Matsumoto), finishing up with either a two-day walk along the Nakasendo Way, or a night at Takaragawa Onsen, arguably Japan’s best.

Lavender in Hokkaido, Japan
 

Japan Rail Pass for One Month in Japan

Now, you’re probably concerned about your Japan Rail Pass—it’s good for a maximum of 21 days, after all. There’s an easy workaround for a month in Japan, however. Since the JR pass doesn’t work in Tokyo (which takes five days off the time you’ll need it), and since the local trains of Hokkaido and the Alps aren’t worth using a full JR pass to ride, order the three-week JR pass and, optionally, a Hokkaido Pail Pass.

The Bottom Line

One month in Japan allows you to see all the country’s most incredible cities and attractions, though you will still have to do some picking and choosing when it comes to secondary sights. Follow up your time in Tokyo and Kyoto with emotional Hiroshima and spiritual Shikoku, then choose between the wilds of Kyushu and Tohoku, and the mountain scenery of Hokkaido and the Japanese Alps.