I took a trip to Japan with my family a few years ago. Japan is a beautiful country with tons to do. Due to time constraints, we could only plan a trip for a week. As a result, 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.
(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 figuring out the best way to get to your hotel. We took 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 of our hotel to assist with communicating.
Tokyo City Tour
We did a city tour one day to get a sense of how the city is laid out and get some historical information about the heritage sites in Tokyo. The small group tour we did was great; excellent language translation, a drive by the imperial palace, and lunch with traditional Japanese cuisine overlooking the harbor. It finished up with a boat tour of that harbor.
The rest of the time, we explored the city on our own based on what we had researched before going.
Getting around Tokyo is easy. Most of the time, we could navigate by taking the subway. I highly recommend this. It’s affordable, accessible, and one of the cleanest, if not THE cleanest I’ve seen. People line up politely to board the trains (versus fighting each other), and 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.
Note how clean the ground is!
Shinjuku 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 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. As you walk up, 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 Tokyo must include a visit to their famous morning fish market. You need to get up 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 incredible. Oh, and make sure you get to the train station on time. It only stops at the station for a few minutes to drop off and pick up passengers.
We had mount Fuji on our schedule as a day trip (booked through Viator); however, we had to take it out of our itinerary due to some scheduling issues with our flights. 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. There are plenty of taxis at Kyoto station, so getting one to your hotel will be easy. We were lucky, and our hotel 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 and learn about them all.
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:
You’ll have some of the best and some of the most interesting sushi in Japan. One of the rolls my brother ordered contained crickets–head and all. I didn’t eat any. 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 iPads, and the sushi came shooting out on the belt.
Cherry blossoms only bloom at a specific time of year. 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. They are beautiful.
I 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.
Japanese Tea Ceremony
Given time constraints, this is another activity we could not do. However, I hear these are a great experience!
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 a 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 them the go-ahead.
Our trip to Japan was fantastic, filled with culture, delicious food, history, and beautiful sights. If I were to go again, I’d plan for ten days or more and include some of the things I couldn’t do last time. If you’re looking to go with family, a significant other, or even by yourself, a Japan trip will provide plenty to do, see, and experience while being easy and safe.