Japan
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Three weeks in japan itinerary, three weeks backpacking japan itinerary kyoto

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About Japan

Japan is one of the most popular countries in the world to travel to. Japan is known both for its beautiful traditions and historic architecture, as well as being an ultra-modern society with high-impact pop culture. It’s a perfect mix of the old and the new, and every day traveling in Japan will include a reminder of these contrasts.

From snowy Hokkaido to mountainous Nagano, to flashy Tokyo to historic Kyoto and beachy Okinawa, there’s something in Japan for all visitors to enjoy. 

The first point of entry to Japan for most visitors is Tokyo or Osaka, which are where the largest international airports are in Japan. From there, the Japan itinerary possibilities are endless! The most popular route to travel Japan for 1-2 weeks is nicknamed “the Golden Route” and includes Tokyo, Kyoto, Osaka, and Hiroshima. Check out my tips on how to plan an international trip here and my own three weeks in Japan itinerary to get some ideas for your next trip to Japan. 

Best Time to Visit Japan: Spring and autumn. Japan is known for beautiful cherry blossoms in the spring and vibrant fall foliage in autumn. 

Currency: Japanese yen (¥ or 円), approximately 110-120 yen to $1 USD

Check your Japanese Embassy website for latest requirements and restrictions for entry into Japan. Remember to check whether you need a visa to enter Japan as well (check and order online at iVisa here). 

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Top Destinations in Japan - Travel Itineraries

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Top Cities to Visit in Japan

  1. Tokyo – the capital of Japan and the largest city in the world. An exciting city known for its traditions and culture but also for being ultramodern and trendy. Most travelers to Japan start their travels here. 
  2. Kyoto – the cultural capital of Japan, known for its many temples and shrines, local markets, and a large geisha district. If you only have time to visit two cities in Japan, Kyoto and Tokyo are the two places I recommend. 
  3. Osaka – a short train ride southwest of Kyoto, Osaka is known for its street food and nightlife. Osaka is the capital of the Kansai prefecture of Japan and home to Kansai International Airport, a common entry and exit point to Japan. 
  4. Hiroshima – known for being the location of the second atomic bombing of Japan on August 6th 1945. A Peace Memorial Park, Museum, and atomic bomb dome building commemorate the sad history here. Present day Hiroshima is known for its street food and castle as well. 
  5. Miyajima – a popular day-trip or overnight trip from Hiroshima. Miyajima is an island famous for the Itsukushima Shrine and its floating torii gate, a UNESCO World Heritage site. 
HIroshima peace memorial museum visit, August 6th 1945 Hiroshima peace memorial ceremony 2019 Cenotaph victims memorial. Atomic dome lantern floating ceremony
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  1. Hakone – a famous hot springs town with views of Mt. Fuji. Hakone is one of the most popular day-trip or overnight trip destinations from Tokyo.
  2. Nara – a traditional town located just 30 minutes east of Kyoto, famous for its domesticated deer and historic temples.
  3. Yokohama – a large Japanese port city located just south of Tokyo. Yokohama is only 30 minutes away from Tokyo city center by trail, making it a popular day-trip destination from Tokyo.
  4. Kamakura – famous for its large Kamakura Buddha statue and a number of historic temples. Kamakura is a great beach destination that is within day-trip distance from Tokyo too.
  5. Nikko – A UNESCO World Heritage town located two hours north of Tokyo by train. Nikko is home to many historic shrines, scenic natural landscapes, and hot springs, and is known for its beautiful fall colors.

Bucket-List Experiences in Japan

Japan Travel Packing Must-Haves

Make your next trip to Japan the best one yet by making sure your packing list contains the following essential items:

  1. Comfortable walking shoes – you will be walking a LOT in Japan to see all of its highlights, so comfy shoes are a must. It’s a bonus if you can slip them on and off easily, because it is custom to take off shoes before entering a home, dressing rooms, and some ryokan traditional inns in Japan. 
  2. Coin purse – although this is starting to change in recent years, Japan is still very much a cash-based society. Keep a coin purse handy for loose change. 
  3. Comfortable day-bag – This goes hand-in-hand with the comfy walking shoes. Because you’ll be spending a lot of time walking and exploring, keep important items such as a water bottle, phone charger and battery pack, and travel guides in your day bag. You’ll want something spacious to carry all of your gifts and souvenirs too! 
  4. Portable WiFi or SIM Card – Staying connected will help you navigate the public transit system around Japanese cities and make sure you’re on the correct path to visiting all of your Japan bucket list items in a timely manner. 
  5. Face masks – Everyone in Japan wears face masks, in both indoor and outdoor situations, and especially on public transportation. This was true even before the pandemic, but an even better idea now. 
  6. Hand towel – public restrooms often will not have paper towels for hand drying, because it is so common for Japanese people to carry hand towels. They are perfect for wiping sweat and cooling yourself down too. 

Travel Budget for Japan

Compared to other countries in Asia, Japan is an expensive place to travel. That being said, it’s totally possible to travel Japan on a budget! Here’s how much you might spend on each of these key categories in Japan, depending on if you’re a budget backpacker, a mid-range flashpacker, or a luxury traveler. The values below should be interpreted as average figures to help you budget for a trip to Japan. 

Food – Cheapest meals in Japan are bought from convenience stores and noodle shops, and can be as low as ¥200-¥500 per meal. Most meals at my favorite Tokyo restaurants will cost around ¥1,200-¥2,000. On the luxury side, foodie experiences like Japanese kaiseki multi-course dinners or Michelin-starred sushi can cost ¥30,000 per meal or more. 

Per Day: Budget ¥800-¥2,000 | Mid-Range ¥3,000-¥7,000 | Luxury ¥20,000+ 

Accommodation – The cheapest accommodation options in Japan are capsule hotels or hostels, both of which can cost between ¥2,000-¥4,000 depending on location. Private hotel rooms vary greatly in price, but you can expect no-frills double or twin rooms to be less than ¥15,000 per night. Luxury accommodation like rooms with Mt. Fuji views and private onsen (more on that below) can cost ¥60,000+ per night, but may have a kaiseki dinner and breakfast included in the price. 

Per Day: Budget ¥2,000-¥4,000 | Mid-Range ¥8,000-¥15,000 | Luxury ¥60,000+ 

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Seishun 18 kippu alternative to the JR Pass, cheaper than the JR pass seisshun 18 kippu trains in japan, how to travel by train in Japan, cheap tickets train tracks

Transportation (within cities) – The best way to get around cities in Japan is by train, which can cost ¥200-¥600 each way depending on the distance you are traveling within a city. The more you walk, the more you can save. If you prefer to take taxis to get around, be prepared to spend ten times as much to travel the same distance. To each their own! 

Per Day: Budget ¥700-¥1,000 | Mid-Range ¥1,500-¥3,000 | Luxury ¥15,000+ 

Transportation (between cities) – The total transportation budget between cities is highly dependent on your overall Japan itinerary. Train is still the most popular way to get between cities in Japan as well. Purchasing a JR Pass for ¥30,000 to take shinkansen bullet trains is popular for travelers going from Tokyo to Osaka to Hiroshima and back to Tokyo. If traveling on a budget, highway busses like Willer Express are often a cheaper option at ¥5,000-¥7,000 per trip between major cities. 

Per Trip: Budget ¥10,000-¥20,000 | Mid-Range ¥30,000-¥45,000 | Luxury ¥50,000+ 

Excursions and Tours – This budget again depends on the type of traveler you are. Per person, tickets often range from ¥1,500 to ¥3,000 for entry to museums and places like Teamlab Planets. Entry to theme parks like Tokyo Disneyland or private tours can cost ¥10,000+ per person.  

Per Trip: Budget ¥5,000-¥10,000 | Mid-Range ¥20,000-¥45,000 | Luxury ¥50,000+ 

Gifts and souvenirs – The cheapest souvenirs from Japan are from 100 yen stores like DAISO and Can-Do (basically dollar stores). Mid-range gifts and souvenirs like anime figurines, engraved chopsticks, and tenugui Japanese cloth can cost ¥1000-¥2000 per item. Fancier gifts like Japanese whiskey and kimonos can cost ¥10,000 or more each. 

Per Trip: Budget ¥500-¥1000 | Mid-Range ¥5,000-¥10,000 | Luxury ¥30,000+ 

Essential Books for Travel to Japan

If you’re like me and love a good travel book companion, check out these books about Japan. The travel guides will help you plan your trip and the language and culture books will help you make the most of your trip.

The two novels listed are two of many Japanese books I recommend to transport you to Japan, and help you learn more about the cultural norms, lifestyle, and traditions there. All of these books are sure to hype you up for your trip!

Japanese Travel Guides

Language & Culture

Novels about Japan

Where to Stay in Japan

When booking accommodation in Japan, it’s best to stay well-connected to the public transit lines (trains and busses) to make the most of your trip. That’s why I recommend for travelers to Tokyo to stay near the JR (Japan Railways) Yamanote Line, which is like London’s Circle Line that loops around the city’s most famous neighborhoods. 

If someone asks you, where is the best place to stay in Tokyo? The answer is: near the Yamanote Line! Check out my full post here. My itinerary posts including to Kyoto and Nagoya also provide recommendations for well-connected hotels to base yourself from. 

Just for fun, I’ve also created a wild & wacky list of weirdest hotels in Japan. From robot receptionists to sleeping in bookshelves, these hotels are sure to put a smile on your face and make your trip to Japan unforgettable.

Japanese Hotels with Private Onsen

One unforgettable accommodation option in Japan is staying in a hotel with on-site natural hot springs, or onsen. Take it one step further by finding accommodation with a private onsen attached in your room

This bucket-list experience in Japan can be enjoyed in hot spring towns across the country, including Hakone, Beppu, and Nikko. Check out my full lists of Japanese hotels or ryokan (traditional Japanese inns) with private onsen below.

Best Japanese hotels with private onsen

Hakone Ryokan with Private Onsen
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Nikko Ryokan with Private Onsen
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Miyajima Ryokan with Private Onsen
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Beppu Hotels with Private Onsen
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Nagano Ryokan with Private Onsen
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