Our Japan Itinerary
The following Japan Itinerary is based on our trip to Japan in the Summer season of July to the below 3 areas for a total of 9 days. This itinerary is great for people visiting Japan for the first time and if you’re into photography.
|Kyoto||3||Kyoto is a traditional area known for the temples, shrines, imperial palaces, gardens and traditional ryokans. Photographers can really capture the essence of traditional Japan here.|
|Tokyo||3||Tokyo is the metropolis centre known for its anime, manga and eccentric bars and restaurants. It’s much more modern and great for photographers that love cityscapes and electric colours.|
|Yamanashi||3||This is the northern part of Mt Fuji known for tranquil lakes and activities like hiking, fishing and skiing in winter. It’s a unique escape from ‘busy Japan’ and is recommended for nature lovers.|
Day 1: Gion District
- Location: Gion is located around Shijo Avenue between Yasaka Shrine. It’s also surrounded by several famous landmarks such as the Yasaka Shrine, Maruyama Park, Yasaka-no-to Pagodan and Kodaiji Zen Temple. The photogenic laneways here are filled with traditional restaurants, shops and tea houses attracting a really high concentration of tourists.
- Geisha District: Gion is known as the “geisha district” and may be spotted in the early evening. If you do see a geiko or maiko it’s very important to act respectfully.
- Hanamikoji-dori: This is the famous street in Kyoto facing the Hokanji Shrine. Since this street is almost always busy, we took Photo 1 here at sunrise when shops were still closed and nobody was around. However, Photo 2 was taken after we had just hired our kimonos and this picture took a lot of patience as we waited for a clearing in the street for a photo.
- Ninenzaka: Ninen-zaka Slope (Photo 3) and Sannen-zaka Slope are iconic streets of this area lined with shops selling Matcha, restaurants serving traditional cuisine and Kyoto style traditional inns. Shops here open around 9 – 10AM and some are open till late.
- Yasaka Shrine: This is a street-facing two-storied Shinto shrine and district landmark.. The shrine is dedicated to three Japanese Gods: God of Sea and Storms, his Goddess wife and their eight children (worshipped under one name). It is believed that by praying or making an offering here that the Gods will protect you from disasters.
- KLOOK Kimono Hire: Thanks to KLOOK we did the “One Day Kimono Rental” (currently starting from $AUD 39.39 depending on the package selected) which you can see in Photos 2 and 4. There was a wide kimono selection for both men and women and we were able to hire them until 6:30PM.
Day 2: Fushimi Inari
- Fushimi Inari Shrine: This is an important Shinto shrine in Southern Kyoto famous for its thousands of torii gates leading into the wooded forest of the sacred Mount Inari. The shrine is open 24 hours and starts getting busy around 9AM.
- Hiking Trail: At the very back of the shrine’s main grounds is the entrance to the torii gates hiking trail (approx 2 hours return hike). The torii gates along the entire trail are donations by individuals and companies (the inscriptions on each gate are the names and dates of the donations) and if you’re up for it, follow the trail of torii gates up to the top of the mountain for some really lovely views of Kyoto.
- Fushimi’s Old Town and Sake Village: If you’re a fan of Japanese sake, take a detour to Fushimi old town, just two stops away from Fushimi Inari Station on the Keihan Main Line. You can do some taste testing around Chushoji Station and take a walking tour of the area. As you leave the station, take a detour along the Horikawa River for traditional sake breweries and sightseeing boats.
Day 3: Arashiyama
- HOSHINOYA Kyoto: In the 17th century, a beautiful mansion was built by the Oi River to revel in the unique surroundings of Arashiyama. This estate has since transformed into HOSHINOYA Kyoto – an other-worldly riverside luxury retreat (Photo 1 and 2) . This traditional wooden inn is only accessible by a private boat but is conveniently close to the Bamboo Forest and Monkey Park.
- Arashiyama Bamboo Forest: If you’re not staying around Arayashiyama, use your JR Rail Pass to take the Sagano/San-in Line to Saga-Arashiyama Station. From there it’s a 10 minute walk to the forest and you simply follow the signs towards the path to find the groves. The forest is open 24/7, there are no entrance fees and the crowds start coming in around 7AM so if you want a private experience of the groves (like Photo 3) aim to get there around 6AM and pack yourself some snacks because it’ll be awhile before the shops open for breakfast.
- Arashiyama Monkey Park: The park is on Mt Arashiyama, on the other side of the Oi River (opposite the Arashiyama Bamboo Forest). You can easily walk from the Bamboo Forest to the Monkey Park. From the entrance, it’s a 30-50min uphill hike to see the monkeys and the view. The park is open from 9AM to 4:30PM in Mar – Sep and until 4PM other months. The entrance fee for the park is 550 yen and it’s well worth it if you love monkeys!
Day 1: Shinjuku
- Omoide Yokocho: Omoide Yokocho (also known as Memory Alley or Piss Alley) is located in Shinjuku and is our favourite street in the area. It’s a maze of narrow alleyways with tiny restaurants and open barbecue food stalls. The food stalls are very traditional and during after work hours, Tokyo’s office workers relax with a beer and a few sticks of yakitori. We came here for snacks and drinks with friends and it was buzzing with so much life.
- Robot Restaurant: This is a super quirky experience booked via KLOOK and it’s something you just have to do while you’re in Japan. It’s a ‘Theme Restaurant/bar’ with a sensory overload of robots, monsters, lasers and performers. The food here is more like bar and snack food so it’s recommended to eat at a restaurant before your show time so you can just sit back and enjoy the crazy experience.
- Shopping: Shinjuku is one of Tokyo’s main shopping areas. The main shops to keep an eye out for are:
- Bic Camera: Huge electronics store with every tech you need. Take your passport and purchase items tax-free here. It’s also good for picking up a SIM card.
- Bicqlo: This branch handily combines Uniqlo and Bic Camera in the same big building.
- Isetan and Takashimaya:: The food halls in Japanese department stores are really great for getting food souvenirs. They’ve got beautifully packaged sweets and weird flavoured Kit Kats.
- Tokyu Hands: Great shop for stationery, household items, and creative souvenirs.
- Don Quijote: A chaotic discount store perfect for cheap souvenirs.
Day 2: Koto & Shibuya
- teamLab Borderless: We did a day trip out to Koto City to visit the permanent MORI Building Digital Art Museum: teamLab Borderless. This famous exhibit had different rooms of moving and interactive artworks that are so beautiful and immersive. We got our tickets online via KLOOK so that we didn’t need to line up at the museum. We arrived a little earlier than the 10AM open time and was the first group in so we had the chance to experience the rooms without a huge crowd (Photo 1).
- teamLab Planets: This is a newer exhibit which isn’t as busy as Borderless but definitely just as beautiful! If we had time to visit both we would have loved to experience Planets too.
- Takeshita Street: Photo 2 is taken in front of one of the MANY dessert places along Takeshita Street. This is the shopping street filled with unique fashion boutiques, independent shops, photo booths, cafes and restaurants. With so much in one place, it’s one of the busiest streets in the area.
- Meiji-jingu Shrine: Meiji-jingu (Photo 3) is Tokyo’s grandest Shinto Shrine located next to Harajuku Station. Passing Harajuku Station, you’ll be led into the forest down a winding pathway to the shrine’s main grounds and it’s like you’re stepping out of the City and into nature. This is a beautiful serene experience where you can write wishes on little pieces of paper and tie them onto the prayer wall or toss some yen into the offering box (near the huge taiko drum), bow your head twice, clap twice, and bow once more.
- Gotokuji: This edo period Buddhist temple in Photo 4 has become famous due to a legend citing it as the birthplace of the maneki-neko (beckoning cat) good luck charm.
Day 3: Transit Day
Day 3 was a transit day for us as we left Tokyo for Yamanashi and didn’t book anything in our itinerary.
Day 1: HOSHINOYA Fuji
HOSHINOYA Fuji: This is Japan’s first ever luxury glamping resort, designed as a digital detox retreat that has been celebrated by many as one of the most unique places to stay in the world.
Located in a town around the foot of Mt Fuji just 100 metres up the slopes of Aokigahara Forest, once guests enter this expansive and secluded resort, there are so activities around the camp sites, the forest and the lake that you don’t even need to leave the resort to explore the area.
So on our first day here we immersed ourselves completely into our room, our view and just toasted marshmallows by the campfire in the woods and it was absolutely splendid.
Our favourite activity during our stay was the Early Morning Canoeing at Lake Kawaguchiko with still waters and panoramic views of Mt Fuji. It was breathtaking.
Day 2: Fuji Five Lakes
- Oishi Park: This park (Photo 1) Is located next to the entrance of HOSHINOYA Fuji. So this Day 2 morning we decided to check out the flowers and there happened to be market stalls and an ice cream truck set up that day too.
- Lake Kawaguchiko: We didn’t get enough of the lake so we headed there again to take in the views of Mt Fuji. Among the “Fuji 5 Lakes” this lake is the easiest to access and around it has the most things to see and do. So if you’re like us and only had limited time to explore the Fuji 5 Lakes, then Lake Kawaguchiko should be one of your top picks.
- Chureito Pagoda: Unfortunately on our second day it started to rain and with the clouds rolling in we didn’t have the chance to see this beautiful view of Mt Fuji (Photo 3) from Chureito Pagoda, however, if you get the opportunity to then this is a must do in the area!
- Oshino Hakkai: Between Lake Kawaguchiko and Lake Yamanakako is the small village of Oshino (Photo 4) notable for its spring water ponds. The eight ponds of Oshino Hakkai are beloved because they are filled by underflow water from Mt. Fuj making the water so clear you can see all the fish in the ponds. We didn’t have time to visit this area due to the rain but it was on our for a sunny day.
Day 3: Transit Day
Day 3 was a transit day for us as we left Japan for our next destination.