7 Day Japan Itinerary: From Bustling Tokyo to Serene Kyoto

More lanterns at Kasuga Taisha in Nara, Japan

You didn’t think my days in Asia were over, did you? I’ve already written about my 15-day trip around Asia, but I’ve also dedicated a solid week to Japan and Japan only. And if you’re looking for a 7 day Japan itinerary, you’re in luck! I aim to make these puppies flexible. So, even though it looks like a single itinerary on the surface, you can get two or three completely different trips out of this to suit your tastes.


7 Day Japan Itinerary Overview

The route is pretty straightforward here – Tokyo, Kyoto, half-day to Nara, and back to Tokyo. You can add in more or switch out other cities in your own itinerary, but I’d suggest not cramming it too full. You want a little space to breathe so you can enjoy your time abroad, you know? Snap pictures of the cherry blossoms, bring out your inner wine snob over an evening drink, and not collapse from exhaustion.

One quick tip for Japan: don’t bother flying between cities. Take the bullet train. Faster, cheaper, and you don’t have to go through security a billion times.

  • Fly into Tokyo. Tour for two days.
  • Bullet train to Kyoto. Tour for two days.
  • Half-day or full-day trip to Nara.
  • Return to Tokyo. Tour for two days before the return flight.

Important Note on Medications

One thing to keep in mind when traveling to Japan—they are very, very strict when it comes to medication, whether prescription or OTC.

For example, standard cold medicines are illegal (Vicks, Sudafed), and inhalers and injectables (for diabetes or migraines) are prohibited. Any medicines with codeine or stimulants are not allowed (Adderall), and psychotropics are banned (Prozac is sold on the black market).

It’s possible to get special permission to bring certain needed medication, but you have to make sure to call the Ministry of Health at least a few weeks (if not months) in advance.

Tokyo – Japan’s #1 Metropolis

For days 1-2 and 6-7, choose your favorites from the Tokyo must-sees I listed below and plan accordingly.

Getting Around

In general, public transportation in Tokyo is amaaaazing. It’s basically legendary for its commitment to running on time every day of the week, rain or shine. To make paying easy, I’d suggest getting an IC card at a train station. Foreign tourists can get a special IC card that doesn’t need a deposit and can be used pretty much anywhere.

  • By Metro: The metro in Tokyo can take you pretty much wherever you need to go in the city for a decent cost. Just don’t be like me and confuse the metro with the subway. They’re two different things.
  • By Subway: The subway works in a similar way to the metro. It just has a different company running it. I’d suggest a trip planner (for example, the Japan Transit-Planner) to help prevent getting them mixed up.
  • By Train: The train – the bullet train especially – is perfect for travel between cities and for getting to places on the city’s outskirts. Like the Ghibli Museum, or Mt. Fuji (which is over in Yamanashi Prefecture).
  • By Bus: Buses need either exact change or an IC card. Fare for adults is 220 yen (US$1.50), and school-age kids can ride for half that.
  • By Taxi: If you want the extra privacy and convenience, you can find them lined up at most train stations, waiting for their next customer. Walk up to the window, give them the address of the place you want to go, and you’re good.

Where To Stay in Tokyo

When I visited Tokyo, I stayed at The Tokyo Station Hotel. Very convenient location on the 27th floor above Tokyo Station, as you might’ve guessed from the name. Classy service too. Jeff and I managed to screw up about a dozen different social customs while there (including wearing flip-flops to the bar), but they were all still very polite.


Tokyo Must-Sees

A decent 7 day Japan itinerary must have some decent Tokyo sightseeing, and I think I hit some pretty nice ones. Keep in mind, you have to book early to see Mt. Fuji or Aokigahara Forest. That’s doubly true if you’re going during a busy time of the year.

But hey, even if you procrastinate and can’t book the spot you wanted (like me), Tokyo has tons to offer. You can head to an owl café (or a cat café, but come on. So overdone.) and if you’re lucky, see some real life Buddhist monks.

• Mt. Fuji• Meiji Shrine
• Senso-Ji Temple• Aokigahara Forest
• Sumo Wrestling practice• Takeshita Street
• Shibuya intersectionGolden Gai

Cruisin’ Kyoto for Kicks

You’ll be in Kyoto for days 3-4 of your seven days in Japan. Choose from my suggested Kyoto must-sees below and have a blast!

Getting Around Kyoto

One thing to keep in mind about Kyoto is that it’s not the most wheelchair-friendly. The city is dedicated to preserving as much of its traditional architecture as possible, which means a lot of stairs and a lot of walking. It’s something every 7 day Japan itinerary has to work around, but what can you do?

  • By Bus: Quite a few popular destinations are far from the subway and train stations, but bus stations can be found most anywhere. They can be a challenge to navigate, but that’s what Kyoto’s bus route planner is for.
  • By Bicycle: Rented bicycles are another great way to get around. Better than a rental car in most cases, since renting a bicycle is quicker, easier, and cheaper. There are plenty of bike rental shops, too, so there’s a good chance you’ll find one close to your hotel.
  • By Subway: If you’re headed downtown or to the Higashiyama area, the subway will be your best bet. It’s cheap and straightforward
  • By Train: Need to get to sightseeing spots further out? You’d think Kyoto’s most iconic site, the Fushimi Inari Shrine, might be in the city center, but nope! And of course, it’s also perfect for traveling between cities, but we already discussed that. So let’s move on, mmkay?
  • By Taxi: Pretty much the same rules as Tokyo. Find the line of taxis at the nearest station and go from there.

Where To Stay in Kyoto

Since it’s Kyoto, why not stay in a traditional Japanese-style inn? (Called ryokan, for those who are curious.) Okay, most can get pretty pricey, but there are some reasonable costs out there. One is Kyomachiya Hotel Mifuku. It’s got a great location too, in Kyoto’s downtown area, and loads of positive reviews.


Kyoto Must-Sees

Kyoto is one of the most famous cities in Japan for a reason. You won’t just find it on a 7 day Japan itinerary like this one, but on the #1 spot on a lot of Japan’s best sightseeing lists. Why? It’s the place to go to get a taste of the country’s culture and history, hands down. And if you were ever temple-starved, trust me, this place has more temples and shrines than you can shake a stick at.

• Nijo Castle (Nightingale Floors)• Arashiyama (Bamboo Forest)
• Golden Palace• Sanjusangen-Do Temple
• Imperial Palace• Fushimi Inari Shrine
• Samurai Sword Experience

To Nara, for Deer Pettings

And, finally, for your fifth day in Japan you must visit the famous deer of Nara. Whether for a half day or full day is up to you.

Getting Around Nara

  • By Tour: Personally, I booked a tour that included transportation to get to Nara. Bus tours are the easiest way, especially if you’re only going for a day trip. (You can check the Viator link below for some great bargains.)
  • By Bus: If you want to tackle things on your own, though, the buses are a pretty good value. You can get a bus pass anywhere from 500 to 1600 yen (US$3.50-$11.50) depending on which parts of Nara you want to go to.
  • By Rickshaw: Feelin’ a little fancy? Nara Park is always lined up with rickshaw drivers waiting to cart somebody around. It’s a bit pricey, in the 2000-3000 yen range (US$14-$22).
  • By Train: The main railway line in Nara is the Kintetsu Railway. It’s good for commuting, but you won’t need it if you’re only hitting the main sites, like Nara Park and Todaiji. If you do plan to stay in Nara longer for a more in-depth tour, though, it’ll prove useful for getting around.
  • By Bicycle: Much like Kyoto, you can rent bicycles in Nara for a half- or full-day – but only from the Yamato-Saidaiji station. Which is part of the Kintetsu Railway in downtown Nara. Unless you’re planning for a more in-depth tour as mentioned above, it honestly isn’t worth it.

Where To Stay in Nara

Now, I just had a quick half-day tour of Nara, so I didn’t stay at a hotel. But if you want to stretch your time in Nara, I’d suggest the Nara Visitor Center & Inn. Not only is the inn good value for comfortable accommodations, but the visitor center itself is highly recommended for sightseeing. There are lots of fun arts and crafts, and their tea ceremonies are some of the best in Japan.


Nara Must-Sees

Nara is most famous for its deer park, and for good reason, too. Where else are you going to get the chance to feed live deer? Forget theme parks. This is where to go to live out your fantasies of a Disney princess singing musical numbers with frolicking woodland animals.

Other Japan itineraries might skip Nara, and if deer aren’t your thing, feel free to swap it out. Some good substitutes might be Kobe, Hyogo (nice waterfront and home of the famous Kobe beef for you foodies out there), or Osaka (if you want to visit a big Japanese city that isn’t Tokyo).

• Todai-ji and the Giant Buddha• Kasuga Grand Shrine
• Nara Deer Park• Isuien Garden

More Asia Travel? You Bet!

You may think that for seven days in Japan, this was a doozy, but there’s plenty more where that came from. Be sure to check out some of my other Asian destinations and follow me for more around the world debauchery. Cheers!

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