Robert Schrader in Japan

Japan in Just Two Weeks

As you search through travel guides for Japan, you find a lot of information about destinations and experiences, but probably not a concrete idea of where to go, for how long and in what order. Most every traveler who spends 2 weeks in Japan starts in Tokyo, and goes to Kyoto from there, but then what?

Over the next several paragraphs, I’ll not only talk you through the highlights of Japan’s most essential cities and regions—in order—but give my recommendations on how long to spend in each. Without further ado, here’s the best way to spend two weeks in Japan.

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Where to Stay During Your 2 Weeks in Japan

One way to keep your Japan two week itinerary exciting (as if all the incredible Japan destinations I’m about to describe to you aren’t enough) is to stay in a variety of different accommodations. This means boutique city hotels like Hotel Felice in Tokyo’s Akasaka ward to picturesque ryokan guest houses like Ryokan Kyoraku in Kyoto.

You can also, of course, vary the relative luxury of your accommodation. Whether you plan a Tokyo Kyoto Hokkaido itinerary or focus on southern Japan like Kyushu and Shikoku, juxtaposing luxuries properties like The Conrad Osaka with simple stays at places such as Super Hotel Takamatsu will add further texture to your Japan trip.

Places to Go With 2 Weeks in Japan

Tokyo

The question of how long to be spend in Tokyo is a contentious one, so allow me to be blunt: Three days in Tokyo should be your maximum if you’ve only got two weeks in Japan, though how many days in Tokyo you should spend becomes a more open question if you have three weeks in Japan or longer. From day-time attractions like Senso-ji Temple and Takeshita Street, to nights spend in the neon-washed districts of Shinjuku, Shibuya and Akihabara, Tokyo becomes a surprisingly manageable destination when you break it down.

Skyline of Tokyo
 

Even more specifically, I’d recommend spending two days in Tokyo proper, then taking a day trip to either Nikko or Kamakura, but not both. In general, I’d say Kamakura boasts a greater variety of attractions, while Nikko’s mountain scenery is more impressive.

READ MORE: Three Days in Tokyo

Kyoto

You’ll need a minimum of two full days in Kyoto, regardless of whether you decide to explore the rest of Japan’s Kansai region during your two weeks Japan trip or not. A morning each along the Philosopher’s Path and under the gates of Fushimi Inari Shrine; afternoons traipsing through Arashiyama Bamboo Forest and through the grounds of Nijo Castle; evenings watching sunset at Kiyomizu-dera Temple and geisha hunting in Gion before retreating to your Kyoto ryokan for a well-deserved rest.

Weeping Sakura cherry tree in Kyoto
 

With two weeks in Japan, you’ll have time for a day trip from Kyoto to Nara (deer and ancient wooden structures), Osaka (street food and quirky urban landscapes) or Himeji (Japan’s most picturesque castle). Unless you plan to cut out one of the other destinations I discuss in this post, you unfortunately won’t have a chance to visit all three, which might (sadly) prevent you from comparing Tokyo vs Osaka or Tokyo vs Kyoto. If you have only one week in Japan, on the other hand, you might not be able to see any of them.

READ MORE: Two Days in Kyoto

Chugoku or Tohoku

Peace Park in Hiroshima, Japan
 

Hiroshima Peace Park is necessary stop on any Japan trip, be it two weeks in Japan, 1 week in Japan or otherwise. With this being said, I find the city-proper of Hiroshima, the largest in the Chugoku region, somewhat underwhelming, even if its streetcars are charming and its okonomiyaki pancakes are delicious. For my money, the biggest draw of spending 2-3 days in the Hiroshima area after you finish up in Tokyo and Kyoto is Miyajima Island and its floating torii gate. Alternatively, spend part of your 2 weeks in Japan exploring off the beaten path in San’in.

Zao Onsen in Tohoku, Japan
 

Alternatively, follow up Tokyo and Kyoto with 2-3 days in the underrated Tohoku region in Japan’s northeast. Spend a day exploring Aomori City and nearby Hirosaki Castle, whose moat fills with sakura petals in late spring. In winter travel to Yamagata prefecture, sleeping at top-rated hot spring Zao Onsen to walk amid its so-called “snow monsters” and visit nearby Zao Fox Village. These options are particularly alluring (and slow in especially well) when Japan 3 weeks trips (or longer) are on the table.

Kyushu, Shikoku or Hokkaido

Nagasaki in Kyushu, Japan
 

You’ll likewise need to pick and choose which Japanese island (besides Honshu) you plan to visit during your two weeks in Japan. If you head to Hiroshima as described above, spend 3-4 days in either Kyushu or Shihoku. Things to do in Kyushu include scenic Nanzo-in Temple, emotional Nagasaki and picturesque Kumamoto Castle, while Shikoku sightseeing blends pristine nature and perfect cities, and is perhaps my favorite part of any Japan two weeks itinerary.

Matsuyama in Shikoku, Japan
 

From Tohoku, ride the Hokkaido Shinkansen to Hakodate, home to a morning market, extensive colonial architecture and Japan’s most famous night view. In winter, head further north to Sapporo to experience its iconic snow festival, the icicle-lined canals of Otaru and world-famous Hokkaido skiing; in summer, experience Hokkaido’s colorful wildflowers—the lavender of Furano is a particularly stunning addition to your two week Japan itinerary.

Night view of Hakodate, Japan
 

How to Get Around During You Two Weeks in Japan

Make sure your trip runs smoothly and affordably—order your two week Japan Rail Pass before you depart. This will enable you to ride the Shinkansen between major cities, and make use of JR trains, buses and select ferry services within cities.

Note that a JR pass doesn’t cover travel on the Tokyo Metro or other urban rail systems, but is still an unbeatable value, whether you spend two weeks in Japan, 3 weeks in Japan or any other length of time. It can help save money for you to stay at some of the best ryokans in Japan, though.

When to Spend 2 Weeks in Japan

As is the case with the best time to visit Japan in general, there is some subjectivity to the perfect timing for your 2 weeks Japan trip. An obvious answer would be to come during cherry blossom season or to enjoy koyo leaf view during Japan’s amazing autumn, though these are also very crowded (and expensive) periods for travel.

Of course, you could take a more non-traditional approach to your 2 week Japan itinerary. For instance, if cold doesn’t bother you, enjoy the beauty of winter in Japan, which is both underrated and also sees the country mostly empty. The summer monsoon is less visually rewarding (with the exception of a brief hydrangea season in June), but is nonetheless a unique time to visit Japan.

The Bottom Line

Two weeks in Japan isn’t an incredibly long time, but it’s enough to cover the basics of the country. After spending three days each in Tokyo and Kyoto, head either southward for a week in Hiroshima and Kyushu or Shikoku (but not both), or northward for 7-8 days in the Tohoku region and Hokkaido. Travel back to Tokyo to catch your flight home—and come back here to get inspired for your inevitable future trips.