Doing Japan in one week is a tall order. Like it’s people, the country appears to be timeless. It’s an intoxicating place where tradition is everywhere you look, yet technology is well and truly at ease. The infrastructure runs like clockwork, the people are supremely friendly and crime is almost non-existent. It’s a fantastic place to get up close and personal with new and interesting cultures. Just spend an hour or so slurping delicious noodles on a street corner somewhere, and you’re bound to encounter trendsetting techno-teens and cycling grannies. Both complimenting each other completely in this fascinating place.

So trying to see Japan in one week only scratches the surface. This is a whistlestop tour of Japan, covering just Kyoto and Tokyo in one short week. While there is so much more to see, if you have limited time and want to experience ancient temples beside neon-lit high rises, try food you’ve never seen before, and observe and the wild and wacky, this is an itinerary for you.

Trip Overview

Day 1
Day 2
Day 3
Day 4
Day 5
Day 6
Traditional Kyoto and atmospheric temples
Local neighbourhoods and the Bamboo Grove
Philosophy, Pavilions and nude bathing
Iconic temples and fast trains
Tokyo highlights and local dining
Cultural Japan and weird views

Energy and vibe of one of the world’s great cities
Centuries of fascinating tradition and culture
Beautiful Temples in painstakingly maintained gardens
Sushi, Sashimi, Izakaya, Okonomiyaki
Exquisite Japanese attention to detail

Why we loved this trip

Trip Overview

Day 1
Day 2
Day 3
Day 4
Day 5
Day 6
Traditional Kyoto and atmospheric temples
Local neighbourhoods and the Bamboo Grove
Philosophy, Pavilions and nude bathing
Iconic temples and fast trains
Tokyo highlights and local dining
Cultural Japan and weird views

Why we loved this trip

Energy and vibe of one of the world’s great cities
Centuries of fascinating tradition and culture
Beautiful Temples in painstakingly maintained gardens
Sushi, Sashimi, Izakaya, Okonomiyaki
Exquisite Japanese attention to detail

Exploring the highlights ofJapan in one week.

Day 1 | Traditional Kyoto and atmospheric temples

Arrive into Kyoto and kick off your first day in Japan by exploring the southern Higashiyama region. Head first to Sanjūsangen-dō. This is one of the more visually pleasing temples in Kyoto, thanks to the abundance statues dedicated to the temple’s main deity – the Thousand Armed Kannon. There are 1,000 statues on display, of which, 124 are from the original temple, saved when it burnt down in 1249. The long perfectly formed rows of statues along the 120 m length of the temple make a dramatic visual display.

After soaking up your first temple, walk through the Tainai-Meguri gate, past the row of shops selling intriguing goods to tourists. Your destination is Kiyomizu-dera. Kiyomizu-dera is an impressive wooden temple that sits 13 metres above a hill overlooking the city. It’s an interesting temple to stroll around and offers fantastic views of Kyoto.


Read More

For a glimpse of what Kyoto looked like before modernity took over, take a stroll around the preserved areas of Ninen-zaka and Sannen-zaka. These beautiful, narrow lane pedestrian areas are lined with traditional wooden buildings, artisan craft shops and tea houses. Make sure you visit Ishibei-koji, possibly the most beautiful street in Kyoto.

Stop for lunch at Kamanza, a great little cafe serving traditional Kyoto specialities such as local yuba (tofu skin). It has fantastic, Japanese atmosphere and friendly staff. A lunchtime sake is sure to get you into holiday mode.

After lunch head north across Maruyama-koen, quickly collecting Yasaka Shrine on your way to this afternoon’s premier showcase, Chion-in. Walking through the colossal Sanmon Gate that leads to Chion-in is a Kyoto experience you won’t forget. Inspect the amazing craftsmanship on the wood panelling before making your way up to the giant bell located in the extensive grounds. Next, head to Shōren-in. This is another beautiful temple but the best thing here is the pristine garden around the back.

After the temples, head west to explore Gion, Kyoto’s most famous geisha district. Thanks to property taxes once being based on the width of the property, Gion is full of old wooden merchant houses only a few metres wide. The best sights to collect are Hanami-koji with its beautiful old buildings, and Shirakawa dori with its small stream creating a lovely atmospheric setting.

For dinner, head to Ponto-chō which runs north of Shijo Dori. Ponto-chō is a tightly packed, laneway bursting with restaurants. Select your favourite looking Izakaya and enjoy the experience. Take a seat at the counter and make a wonderful mess of ordering in Japanese.

Day 2 | Local neighbourhoods and the Bamboo Grove

Spend today taking a stroll through the Arashiyama district to discover serene temples, local neighbourhoods and Kyoto’s famous bamboo grove. Start at Tenryū-ji, the first of the 5 great Zen temple in Kyoto, followed by a walk around the beautiful Sogenchi Gardens behind it. The gardens are an excellent example of Zen culture with each of the four seasons being represented as you make your way around the central pond.

Next up, take a stroll through the Arashiyama Bamboo Grove. This quintessential image of Kyoto doesn’t disappoint – and while it can get very busy – a little patience is all that’s required to snag that Instagram friendly image. After the bamboo grove, head to Ōkōchi Sansō, where you can enjoy a traditional Japanese green tea in the pavilion at the top of the grounds.

After a refreshing tea, head north past the train station stopping off at Jokako-Ji and gardens. Continue in the same direction to Takiguchi-dera and finally, to Giō-ji Temple. The drawcard at Giō-ji is their impressive moss garden. The moss garden is well established in a beautiful forest setting and infuses the whole area with a beautiful translucent green light. It looks so good, it will make you wonder whether you should spend so much time trying to get the moss out of your lawn at home.

Next, head back towards the station and have lunch at Asazino. This is a great local, family-run restaurant serving authentic fresh noodles. As English is limited, the best way to order is to find someone with a delicious looking dish, and politely point out your choice to your waiter.

After lunch, take a taxi to Ryōan-ji to admire their impressive rock gardens. It’s then another 20-minute walk (or another taxi ride) to Kinkaku-ji or the golden pavilion. Set beside a picture perfect pond, this is another iconic Kyoto image that’s not to be missed.

After a long day, find an Okonomiyaki place somewhere by the river in Gion Shirakawa. We liked Gion-Tanto  a relaxed friendly place overlooking the canal where you sit on the floor eating delicious Okonomiyaki, bountifully topped savoury pancakes.  

Day 3 | Philosophy, pavilions and nude bathing

Start today by visiting Heian Jingu, a very popular shrine styled in bright orange. The real beauty here, however, is the garden tucked behind the shrine. With Chinese influences including cute little bridges, it comes alive during cherry blossom season.

Next, stroll over to Nanzen-ji. Dating back to the mid 13th century Nanzen-ji is a large expansive collection of temples with plenty to see. You’ll first walk through a massive Sanmon entrance gate where you can climb up to the balcony for views across the temple complex. Inside there are numerous sub-temples, an impressive aqueduct, a gorgeous pond garden and a traditional raked gravel garden.

Next, head north taking the Path of Philosophy, a beautiful walk that leads you through a tree-lined, car-free boulevard. Stop off at Hōnen-in, a hugely atmospheric temple that is much quieter than other spaces in Kyoto. The cemetery at the back is particularly interesting. Continue on the Path of Philosophy to Ginkaku-Ji, the Silver Pavilion.

Next walk west for 30min or hop in a taxi to Demachiyanagi Station and jump on the Eizan line to Kurama. Kurama is well known for it’s temple (Kurama-dera), and very inviting thermal spas. Take a 10-minute walk up to Kurama Onsen, a very local outdoor hot spring where you can bathe, completely nude with the locals. Take some naked downtime, ogling the impressive mountain views through the steam. It’s a great way to feel like part of the family in Japan.

Day 4 | Iconic temples and fast trains

Today, jump on Kyoto’s very efficient metro system and go to Fushimi-Inari, to explore Fushimi-Inari-taisha Shrine. Spend some time strolling around this meandering temple complex with the famous torii gates. There are around 10,000 of these gates, marking a path up to a lookout on the top of the mountain. The atmosphere at the temple is fantastic with plenty of authentic street food on offer. If you’re in need of a good coffee at this point, try Vermillion Coffee for a well prepared flat white.

After exploring Fushimi-Inari and the many local shopping opportunities in the surrounding streets, make your way to Kyoto Station to take the Shinkansen (bullet train) to Tokyo. Travelling at 320 km/h it makes light work of the journey, reaching Tokyo in 2 hours, 20 minutes.  Keep your eyes peeled for Mount Fuji which should be clearly visible as you buzz past.

After getting settled in your hotel in Tokyo, head straight for the streets east of Shinjuku station, for your first night being dazzled by the buzz and bright lights of Tokyo.

Day 5 | Tokyo highlights and local dining

An interesting way to get involved in Tokyo is with an early morning trip to the Tsukiji Fish Market. The famous tuna market usually takes place around 5am, but because of huge visitor numbers, tourists need to apply for a position at the information centre near the Kachidoki Gate.  Even if you don’t manage to grab a spot at the tuna market, strolling around the complex is a fascinating experience. Not built as a tourist destination, the market struggles to cope with the huge number of visitors who descend every morning. If it gets too much, the cafes around the perimeter of the market offer some great local delicacies and a cool environment to soak up.

After the market, have a stroll through Ginza, Tokyo’s most famous high-end shopping district. Once you’ve given your credit card a seeing to, head up to the Imperial Palace. Surrounded by a moat and protected by massive stone walls, the palace makes for great photo opportunities. After collecting some shots of this fantastic scene, head to the adjacent Imperial Palace Gardens. The gardens were originally the inner circle of defence for the castle, today they are a stunning example of pristine topiary craftsmanship.


Read More

Next, catch metro to Shibuya, and grab some lunch somewhere cheap overlooking the famous Shibuya Crossing. After soaking up the madness, potter around the shops and streets in the area for a couple of hours. Make sure you catch Omotesandō, a regal shopping boulevard containing all the right high end brand names, and Harajuku for fascinating teenage Japanese trends. After soaking up the culture in this on-trend area, head to the nearby Meiji-jingu. This beautiful shrine set in expansive gardens is a welcome detox to the energy of Tokyo.

If a bit of downtime at Meiji-jingu re-energises you enough, head over to the Park Hyatt for a drink in the New York Bar and watch the sun go down and the lights come up over sprawling Tokyo. On a clear enough day, you can see all the way to Mount Fuji.

For a fantastically authentic Japanese dinner, grab a taxi and head over to Tonkatsu Tonki near Meguro. This family-run Tokyo institution has three generations working delicious noodles to perfection. Grab a seat on the benches and wait for your name to be yelled out, the ascend the bar and indulge in some real Japanese cooking.

Day 6 | Cultural Japan and weird views

After exploring Japan’s local food scene last night, start today with some culture and history at Tokyo National Museum in Ueno. The museum houses the world’s largest collection of Japanese art, sculptures, pottery and kimonos – just to name a few. If you are visiting between March and April the museum gardens are open to the public.

After the museum, take a casual 30-minute walk to Senso-Ji, Tokyo’s oldest and most significant Buddhist temple. It’s a delight to wander around watching the locals engaging in the ceremony of this magnificent place. Have lunch somewhere nearby that tickles your fancy, and explore the streets and markets around Kappabashi-dori and Nakamise. Nakamise is one of the oldest shopping streets in Tokyo and is the best place to collect those memorable Japanese trinkets.

Jump on the metro and head to the Tokyo Sky Tree, to ogle the sights from their 634m observation deck. For a weird experience, walk down to the Asahi Sky Room for another soaring view of Tokyo. Basically the lunchtime cafeteria for the Asahi staff, it’s a quirky place to have a beer watching the sunset over Tokyo. Our tip is to be there before it gets too dark. Although we tried, we couldn’t quite convince them to dim their fluorescent lights and settled for looking at our reflection in the windows, rather than the view of Tokyo.

In the evening head over to Ginza for an evening stroll and dinner at the fantastic Restaurant Dazzle.

Share this article