8 Days in Japan Itinerary : Ultimate Guide For First-Timers

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Japan is a fascinating country with a rich cultural heritage. From the Zen of the shrines to the jumbo advertising boards and incredible cuisine, Japan is full of surprise.

To be honest, Japan was not at the top of my travel bucket list at first, but my mother’s desire to visit influenced my decision and finally we bought the flight tickets and then we were off to the land of the rising sun!

And after we spent 8 days in Japan, I fell in love with the country, and it is now in my top three countries to visit again.

It was our first time to visit Japan and we wanted to see the two cities in Japan: Tokyo and Osaka so we planned the trip to both of the cities in 8 days. Two big cities in eight days may seem a bit rushed, but we still have time to explore some neighbourhoods outside of the top sights. So I believe this itinerary is suitable for first timers to visit Japan.

In this 8-day Japan itinerary that covers Osaka, Kyoto, Tokyo, Nara and Hakone, I will share from my own experiences and added some recommendations too.

Japan Itinerary : Day 1

Most people will start the trip in Tokyo and travel to Osaka afterwards. However, when we checked the flight tickets, the flight to Osaka International Airport was cheaper than that to arrive in Tokyo Airport so we booked an early flight to Osaka Kansai Airport (KIX) and arrived in the afternoon.

Dotonbori

Our Airbnb is sitted in the heart of Osaka – Dotonbori! Dotonbori is not only one of the districts in Osaka, it is also a popular food destination and entertainment area in Osaka. 

When we arrived, we immediately got captivated by the vibe and energy from the street. There are many Japanese restaurants on the street and you can get some of the Japanese street food here such as Takoyaki and Okonomiyaki.

Glico Man at Dotonbori
The iconic Glico Man at Dotonbori

Hundreds of neon lights and mechanical signs, including the well-known Glico Running Man sign and Kani Doraku crab sign, illuminate it at night. Getting a photo shoot with the iconic Glico Running Man is also a must-do thing when in Osaka.

Takoyaki
The must-try Takoyaki in Dotonbori!

Umeda Sky Building

The panaromic view from Umeda Sky Building
The panoramic view at the top of Umeda Sky Building

The highly distinctive and gleaming Umeda Sky Building is a glass and steel high-rise building that dominates an open space. The Sky Building caught my eyes because of the Floating Garden Observatory. It is named Floating Garden, however there is no garden or tree on the high level deck. The sky building features 360 degree panoramic views that can be enjoyed from the open deck at 39th floor.

To get up to the deck, you will need to buy a ticket. Our entrances were included in our Osaka Amazing Pass which is really worth it. We can show the pass and access to the deck directly without having to purchase the entrance ticket.

Shopping at Shinsaibashi

At night, we returned to our Airbnb and walked to the nearby shopping street which is also the main shopping street in Osaka! Shinsaibashi and Dotonbori are the most vibrant areas in the city. People even say that going to Osaka without visiting Shinsaibashi and Dotonbori is like going to Paris without visiting the Eiffel Tower. And that is true. 

The largest shopping district in the city is Shinsaibashi, which features numerous retailers. If you are a fan of shopping, this is the place to go. Aside from the shopping spree, you can also find some great Ramen and street food stores on this street.

Read more: Osaka Travel Guide

Japan Itinerary : Day 2

The next morning, we got out early and rode the early train to Kyoto!

We took a 1 hour and 30 minutes train ride and arrived at Fushimi-Inari Station. As shared in the Japan travel guide, we booked the Kyoto-Osaka Sightseeing 1-Day Pass for our Day 2 trip which include the transport from Osaka to Kyoto on Keihan Line. The Pass sets us worry-free to go to all the sights within Osaka and Kyoto.

Visit Fushimi-Inari Taisha

Fushimi-Inari is the head shrine of Inari. In Japanese, Inari is ​​god primarily known as the protector of rice cultivation which also furthers prosperity and is very well- respected by the Japanese. 

Torii gates at Fushimi-Inari Taisha
Thousands of torii gates in Fushimi-Inari Taisha

When you are in Japan, you will notice that the torii gates are almost everywhere, even as a store deco or a souvenir keychain. The torii gates symbolise the entrance to an Inari shrine and Fushimi-Inari with countless of the gates is considered as the most impressive religious site to visit in the country. All of the red torii gates lead uphill to the highly regarded Mt. Inari, which would take two hours to climb. 

Japan itinerary : Lanterns in Fushimi-Inari Taisha
Lanterns in Fushimi-Inari Taisha.

When we arrived, the shrine was already crowded with tourists and locals. There is no charge to visit the shrine and even climbing up to the mountain is free.

Visit Toji Temple

Toji Temple is another hidden gem in Kyoto. It is lesser known by tourists so it is less busier than Fushimi-Inari Shrine.

The literally meaning of Toji Temple means the “ East Temple”. Toji Temple is one of Kyoto‘s many UNESCO world heritage sites.

When we first arrived, the entrance led us to the Kondo Hall which is a large wooden building and the temple’s main hall . Across the Kondo Hall is where the five stories Pagoda stands. The pagoda is 57 meters tall and makes it the tallest pagoda in Japan! 

Toji Temple
The Kondo Hall of Toji Temple

The Toji temple is large, and the surrounding region is kept up nicely with lovely gardens.The garden is built around the two ponds – east and west. Because of the garden and pond,the Pagoda in the Toji Temple is also a well-known photo location in Kyoto.

Take A Walk At Gion

8 days Japan itinerary : Pagoda in Toji Temple
The Pagoda of Toji Temple

We then travelled to Gion, the well-known geisha neighbourhood.

Gion is known for having a large number of old wooden machiya merchant houses that are now home to restaurants, stores, and teahouses where geisha perform.

You might be able to see geisha in Gion wandering through the streets wearing traditional Kimonos. But it’s best to treat them with respect. We did encounter a geisha walking by and we did not disturb them for photo purposes.

Head Up To Kyoto Tower

In the evening, we toured to the iconic Kyoto Tower before going back to Osaka.

Kyoto Tower in the evening
Kyoto Tower lights up in the evening.

Kyoto Tower is sited right in front of the JR Kyoto Station. There are so many things to explore inside the tower from hotel and gourmet to dozen of souvenir shops and observatory deck!

What caught our eyes was the observatory deck, the only 360° viewing platform in Kyoto. I recommend going to the deck in the evening to see the breathtaking night view of Kyoto.

The admission fee for an adult was 800 JPY for one hour. I believe it is worth the price because it is a strategic vantage point for viewing all of Kyoto, and the platform is also very well-maintained. You can get the ticket online or on the site.

Japan Itinerary : Day 3

Day Trip To Universal Studio Japan (USJ)

Prior to Universal Studio Japan (USJ), we had been to Universal Studio Singapore (USS) a few years ago. It was so much fun and I have become a fan of Universal Studio Theme Park ever since, and it is on my wish list to visit every single Universal Studio in the world. 

This time came the chance for me to explore Universal Studio Japan in Osaka! I was super excited.

The iconic Universal Studio Globe
The iconic globe at the entrance of Universal Studio Japan

Universal Studio Japan is more than double the size of Universal Studio Singapore and it is the Top 5 most visited amusement parks in the world!

The park has plenty to offer. If you enjoy the heart-pounding roller coaster rides, you will not be disappointed. If not, there are still a tonne of other, less difficult rides to experience.It takes at least a whole day to tour because it is so large and so many things to see.

We purchased the ticket online in advance so we could skip the ticket counter and go directly to the entrance line.We got there 30 minutes before the park opened because we had been warned about the huge crowds at USJ. I was surprised that when we arrived, there was already a long line in front of the entrance to the park! However, as soon as the park opened, the line moved very quickly, and we were able to enter after approximately 15 minutes.

We experienced several major and popular rides in the park like Wizarding World of Harry Potter, Jurassic Park rides, Despicable Me Minion Park for kids, Water World, and many more.

Butter beer in Universal Studio Japan
The Butterbeer at the Harry Potter zone is a must-try!

The rides were so much fun and I wished I had more time to go on another round of rides but the queue for the rides were normally long and needed about 30 minutes to 2 hours waiting.

Also, the butter beer is also one of the highlights in the Wizarding World of Harry Potter. Try one when you’re there!

Our tickets were the standard entrance tickets, which gave us enough time to ride every ride once but not enough time to ride again in order to see everything the park has to offer. Therefore, in order to save time and be able to explore the park and rides as much as you like, I suggest getting an Express Pass is totally worth it.

The Wizarding Wold of Harry Potter
The lines at The Wizarding World of Harry Potter
Minion park in Universal Studio Japan
The Minion world in Universal Studio Japan is fun!

Japan Itinerary : Day 4

Kuromon-Ichiba Market

If Osaka is the Kitchen of Japan, then Kuromon-Ichiba Market is without a doubt the kitchen of Osaka. 

Kuromon Market is a covered public market that is massive with more than 150 shops selling seafood, meat, food, snacks and even clothes too. This market is usually where the locals buy the ingredients to cook and due to its massiveness it became popular among tourists too. 

The market opens at 8 in the morning and when we arrived at their opening times, there were already dozens of shops open for business and within one hour, the market was already busy. 

Kuromon Ichiba in Osaka
Kuromon-Ichiba Market

One of the market’s many attractions is that they not only sell raw food but also cook food for consumption right away. Some shops even provide a little area where customers can usually stand and eat. 

Osaka Castle

Osaka Castle
Osaka Castle

After a satisfying brunch at the market, we took a train ride to Osaka Castle.

One of Osaka’s most well-known sites, Osaka Castle Japan, exhibits the quintessence of Japanese architecture and culture.

Osaka Castle was built in 1583 and has undergone renovation over the years to upkeep the castle. Before heading to the castle, we strolled through the Osaka Castle Park first. The park is large and it includes many areas such as the Osaka Castle Main Keep, Nishinomaru Garden and Osaka Castle Museum.

From the garden, we followed the sign to Osaka Castle Main Keep. In the meantime, we stopped and took photos in the garden and it took us about 30 minutes to the main keep. The open spaces around the area of the castle keep make it a great photoshoot spot especially in cherry blossom time.

We were mesmerized by the facade of the castle main keep. The castle has eight levels inside, while seeming like a five-story building from the outside. You can either admire the castle form the outside or visit the castle by purchasing the ticket in advance or on site. The admission to the inside of the castle is 600 JPY for adults.

Deer-Feeding at Nara Park

One distinctive feature about Nara Park is that you will find the bowing deer wandering freely here! When I was planning for this trip, I read from blogs about visiting Nara Park and the bowing deer caught my attention. 

Deers at Nara Park
The lovely deers at Nara Park

The deers in this region are renowned for unique behavior: bowing to visitors. And it is true. When we were strolling in the park , the deers were all over the park too and they would bow to us occasionally. It’s so adorable. We also bought the cracker to feed them and they saw us with the cracker they kept following us. 

A 10 minutes walk from the Nara park brought us to the Kofukuji temple, a UNESCO World Heritage site. Inside, there is a five storied pagoda which is the oldest in Japan. We spent some time in the temple and took the chance to take some photos together with the deers in the temple.

Deers at Kofokuji Temple in Nara
The deers wander freely in Kofokuji temple

Japan Itinerary : Day 5

On our fifth day, we checked out of our Osaka Airbnb and boarded a plane for Tokyo. The flight was a pleasant one and ANA airline offered the best economy class I had ever had. The seat was spacious and they offered in-flight snacks for our one hour flight too. 

After checking into our hotel in Tokyo, it was already afternoon. We headed to Meiji Jingu Shrine in Shibuya.

Meiji Jingu Shrine

Only a short distance away from Harajuku station is where this Shinto temple is located . It encompasses a huge area, including a lovely, quiet forest encircling the holy path leading to Meiji main shrine. The tranquility inside the forest makes us forget that we are in the heart of Tokyo, the world’s largest metropolis. We lost ourselves in this peaceful forest for about half a day.

Tokyo itinerary : Sake wine barrel in Meiji Shrine
The sake barrel deco on the way to Meiji Jingu Shrine
Wish hangs in Meiji Shrine
Make a wish at Meiji Shrine

After a long walk in the day, we treated ourselves to the cafes in the city and people-watch while sipping coffee.

Japan Itinerary : Day 6

The sixth day of our trip is where we spent the day exploring the cities in Tokyo.

Shinjuku

We headed over to Shinjuku for a city tour. It is truly a bustling city. The area is known as Tokyo’s largest red light district and offers a luxurious nightlife adorned with colourful neon lights. However, when we visited in the daylight, it was also a busy city with much entertainment, food and shopping to do. 

Tsukiji Market

Next, we visited Tsukiji Fish Market with a train ride away. Tsukiji market previously had the inner market which was mostly wholesale but it moved to a new site in Toyosu. The outer market remains and it consists of a whole block of retail and wholesale, including restaurants along the narrow lanes. The seafood was exceptionally fresh at the sushi restaurant we ate at for lunch in Tsukiji Fish Market. You should definitely have breakfast or lunch here.

Seafood in Tsukiji Market
Fresh seafood for sale in Tsukiji Market

Shibuya

After lunch, we went off to the nearby city – Shibuya (again)!

The famous Shibuya-crossing was the one that blew our minds. The surrounding area of Shibuya is a lively, popular destination for people of all walks of life. The scramble intersection of the crossing is the busiest intersection I’ve ever seen, and while I was there watching, the crowds never thinned down. This shows how lively Shibuya city is.

Shibuya crossing
Shibuya Crossing

Next to the Shibuya Crossing is the symbol of Shibuya – Hachiko. Hachiko’s bronze statue has been there for over 80 years and it is also one of the iconic points in Tokyo. 

Japan Itinerary : Day 7

Day Trip To Hakone

We took a day trip to Hakone to see the legendary Mt. Fuji! Hakone is about a 1hour 30 minutes train ride from Tokyo.

We bought the Hakone Day Pass in advance and that pass gave us accessibility to the public transport to Hakone and also within Hakone. We took the Tozan train through to Gora and the train is also built to climb to steep mountain slopes.

Hakone Free Pass
Hakone Free Pass!
Lake Ashi in Hakone National Park
Cloudy Weather at Lake Ashi Hakone

However, when we were in Hakone, the weather was cloudy and windy, so it was pretty hard to get a nice view of Mt. Fuji. It is advised to check the weather before planning a day trip to Hakone to avoid disappointment.  

Some major points in Hakone like Hakone Shrine, Lake Ashi, Hot Springs and cable car are good spots to view Mt. Fuji.

Although the weather was not great for viewing Mt.Fuji, we had a pleasant time in Hakone exploring the town.We were absolutely enveloped in the calm in this wonderful village, which contrasts sharply with the other areas in Tokyo, which are constantly bustling.

Torii gate in Hakone Shrine
The instagrammable spot : Hakone Shrine

Japan Itinerary : Day 8

Sensoji Temple, Asakusa

Here comes the last day and the highlight of our  trip in Tokyo! 

A trip to Japan without experiencing the traditional Kimono is incomplete. So we booked a Kimono rental in advance and headed to choose our Kimono and get our hair done by the rental shop too!

Wearing Kimono in Sensoji Temple
Wearing Kimono in Sensoji Temple
Wearing Kimono in Japan
Wearing Kimono in Sensoji Temple is one of the most unique experiences.

The shop that we rent Kimono from is only a few blocks away from the famous Sensoji Temple. Sensoji Temple is popular for its entrance gate called Kaminarimon which stands out through its large red lantern. I am sure you have seen countless times of this lantern from the internet. It is like the icon of Japan.

The temple is so famous amongst locals and tourists not only because of the temple itself but also there is this oldest shopping street in Japan, called Nakamise Dori which is located beyond Kaminarimon and leads to the temple’s main hall. The shopping street has vendors selling traditional Japanese handcrafts and snacks.

After a few hours in the Kimono, we returned to the rental shop and waved goodbye to Japan.

Sensoji Temple at Asakusa
Sensoji Temple at Asakusa is a famous spot to visit.

Overall the trip was awesome ! One thing I regret is not being able to see Mount Fuji during this trip, but I will surely return! So that sums up my first 8-day trip to Japan. Japan is a great place with rich culture, amazing food, fun attractions and great people! If you plan to visit Tokyo and Osaka, 8 days is actually enough to explore the main attractions and still able to wander around the streets in Japan.  I believe this 8 days in Japan itinerary is great for a first timer too.

Food To Try In Japan

Japan is famous for its culture, historical buildings and most importantly, the FOOD! 

Here are some of the food to not missed out when you travel to Japan :

Ramen

Ramen is like a synonym to Japan. Most people know about Ramen and must have tasted it in its instant noodle type. But while visiting Japan, you will be surprised by its incredible flavour and its amazing taste. Head into any of the Ramen shop in Japan and you will be pleasantly surprised by the rich Ramen broth. 

Ichiran Ramen
Ramen is a must try in Japan.

Okonomiyaki

Okonomiyaki can be considered as Japanese pancake and it is extremely famous in Osaka. Osaka is renowned as the origin of the dish.

Okonomiyaki is a famous food in Osaka
Okonomiyaki is a must try in Osaka.

Sushi

Eating sushi from the sushi train is consider a must do when visiting Japan. With only 100 yen, you can get a plate of good sushi. One of the best places to find the good sushi at affordable price is in the Tsukiji market.

Sushi in Japan
Sushi is a signature dish in Japan.

Matcha

Matcha is one of the most popular Japanese food in the world. Matcha grows in Uji, Japan which is a region near Kyoto. Hence, don’t miss out on trying Matcha or food with Matcha flavour in Japan.

There are some ice cream shops that sell good Matcha ice cream too. One of the best I have tried in Japan was the Suzukien that sell Matcha gelato with 7 levels of richness. You can select any level of Matcha richness. The higher up the number goes, the richer is the Matcha flavour of the gelato. It is famous so do expect a line outside the shop but the queue is quick. 

Matcha ice cream
Matcha ice cream in Japan.

Tempura

Tempura is the deep-fried of fish, prawn, vegetables or chicken. It is good to be enjoy as it is or with dipping sauce. There are several great restaurants in Japan that are specialise in tempura and you may refer to this website for more info.

Tempura - food in Japan
Tempura is a popular dish in Japan

Udon

Similar to Ramen, Udon is another popular dish in Japan. There are many varieties of Udon in Japan, the Udon refer to the noodles while the broth comes with variances of flavours.

Udon is a must-eat in Japan
Udon - another popular noodle in Japan.

Soba

Another extremely noodle in Japan, is Soba. Soba can be enjoyed in cold dip or in a broth as soup noodle. The noodle is made of buckwheat and it is very special and tasty so don’t forget to try it when you visit Japan.

Soba in Japan - Japan travel guide
Soba in Japan

Yakitori

Yakitori is Japanese type of “Satay”. The word “Yakitori” literally means grilled chicken but it actually refers to skewered meat and vegetables prepared on a grill. I personally like the dish very much especially to have it with sake or beer. When you visit Japan, make sure to go to Izakaya to have some sake and yakitori as supper!

Yakitori - Japanese food
Yakitori with sake or beer is best for supper in Japan.

How many Days Is Enough For Japan?

Japan has a lot to offer. From sightseeing to food tour and temple visits, there are so many things to do and see in Japan. If it’s your first time to Japan, and you want to do sightseeing and food hunt, then spare at least seven full days to tour Tokyo and Osaka. The minimal amount of time required to visit Japan is seven days, while a more in-depth journey should last roughly two weeks.

When Is The Best Time To Visit Japan?

Japan has four seasons – Spring, Summer, Autumn and Winter. I would say each season of Japan is worth visiting. But March to May (Spring) is the most popular season of Japan. With cherry blossom in the Spring, everywhere in Japan becomes a picturesque scenery. 

Besides Spring season, September to November  (Autumn) is also another vibrant season because this is the red leaves season that adds tone to the beautiful country.

Where To Stay in Japan?

When travel, i always look for hotels that has good accessibility to public transport and at the same time also close to the city centre. Here are some of the good stays in both Tokyo and Osaka.

Tokyo:

Budget – Sotetsu Fresa Inn Higashi

Mid range – Mitsui Garden Hotel Ueno

Luxury – JR Kyushu Hotel Blossom Shinjuku

Osaka:

Budget – Grids Premium Osaka Namba

Mid range – Hotel Nikko Osaka

Luxury – Conrad Osaka

Japan Travel Cost

The cost of traveling in Japan is the highest among Asia countries. Based on my 8 days Japan itinerary, I spent around 15000 JPY ( 108 USD ) a day including accommodation, meals, transportation and tickets. I shared hotel rooms with my sister and the hotels we stayed were of mid-range.

Accommodation : Accommodation in Japan is not cheap. If you are looking for sharing room to save cost, a budget dorm room normally costs around 2000 – 3500 JPY (14 – 25 USD) per night. However, if you are looking for privacy and a standard budget room in the city, you can still find a small hotel room that costs around 5500 – 7000 JPY (38 – 50 USD ) per night.

Meals : Food in Japan is generally more expensive than in my home country Malaysia. For a bowl of Ramen at ramen bar like Ichiran, it costs at least 1000 JPY (7 USD).  Most restaurants meals cost around 2000 – 3000 JPY (14 – 20 USD). The iconic sushi train costs at least 150 JPY (1 USD) per piece. 

You could still find cheap pre-packaged food in Family Mart or 7-11. The food at these marts are good too and the locals usually buy them for breakfast.

Overall, spare a minimum of 6000 JPY (40 USD) a day for food in Japan.

Transportation: Other than accommodation, transportation in Japan is also consider as expensive compared to most of the Asia countries. Most of the city metro ticket costs around 150-250JPY (1-2 USD) for a single journey.

If you use the trains a lot, consider buying day passes like the Tokyo Subway Ticket for either 24 hours or 72 hours or JR rail pass for 1 weeks to 3 weeks. I bought the rail pass and it saves a lot of costs for my transportation in Japan. The pass is cheaper when you buy online in advance. 

If you are keen to know more about tips and guide of travelling in Japan, I wrote a detailed version in this guide.

From bustling cities to serene temples, from mouth-watering cuisine to breathtaking nature, Japan truly exceeded my expectations.

I am grateful for the warm hospitality of the Japanese people, who made me feel at home in a foreign land. Japan is a great place for fun, cultural experience , good food adventure as well as amazing people!

After this trip, 8 days in Japan is totally not enough because there are so much in Japan to explore! However, if you only have 8 days, you could follow this itinerary to discover the best of Japan’s big cities.

I can’t wait to return to Japan soon. I hope this 8-day Japan itinerary helps you in planning your trip to Japan.