This post is looooong overdue (so is my post on Taiwan). My husband and I go to Japan almost every year, and would unequivocally say it is our favorite country in the world to visit. We often joke about just moving there, because it’s such an awesome country. Michael also goes to Japan at least once a year, usually multiple times. Anytime we hear friends or family say they’re thinking about going to Japan, we immediately start gushing about how amazing it is, how awesome/polite/kind the people are, how safe it is, and how you’d never get bored or run out of things to do there. It really has something for everyone. With Japan becoming more and more accessible through fare deals and award availability, I am getting the most questions for what to do, where to eat, etc.

Similar to my other Trip Suggestions posts, the *** denotes things I feel like are must-do’s. Of course, everyone’s interests are different, but hopefully this will give you a good starting point. This post will be a constant work in progress, as I input more experiences of my own each time I go, and collect those of my friends and readers.

General Info

  • www.japan-guide.com – Almost everything you need to know, from top-rated attractions, opening times, entrance fees, how to get from A to B, learn about the differences between the types of transportation, view cherry blossom schedule, etc etc. This is by far my favorite and the most comprehensive guide I suggest to everyone for planning your own trip to Japan. I wish every country had such a thorough and detailed free guide like this on the internet!
  • www.tabelog.com – The premier food guide to Japan. Anything above 3.5 (out of 5) is going to be amazing by our standards because the Japanese are very very critical. However, the only problem is this site is in Japanese, so it may be a bit difficult to navigate.
  • www.tokyocheapo.com – Japan doesn’t have to be expensive. Get lots of ideas from here.
  • Japan Rail Pass – 7/14/21-day passes available for unlimited rides on the JR system, including one of the bullet trains. Weigh the advantages/disadvantages against just flying with Avios. JR pass would be more flexible and efficient (i.e. don’t have to go to the airport, not tied down to specific flight times, no delays, etc).
    • Rail Pass Calculator – Use this site to calculate whether you will save money with a rail pass vs. just buying individual tickets. (Thanks for pointing this one out Dawn! See, japan-guide.com is amazing!)
  • Suica card – Transportation card for subways/trains. Definitely get one! This blog post contains lots of photos on navigating the machine to buy one.
  • Department store food courts
    • Go to the basements of any large department store like Isetan or Hankyu and you will find a wonderful world of amazing food. Great for when you are out wandering and are hungry and don’t have time for a sit-down restaurant or to wait in line at some popular ramen joint.
  • Money:
    • Japan is a cash-based society. Make sure to withdraw plenty of cash with your bank debit card at the airport (for good rates). Good debit cards are Schwab and CapitalOne.
    • Most ATMs in Japan will not work with your American debit card. You’ll need to find a 7-11 (they’re everywhere), a post office, or an American bank like Citibank in order to withdraw more cash.
    • Good general tip is to not use a money exchange counter. Use an ATM.

Seasons

Sakura (cherry blossom) season:

Fall colors season:

  • To be added

Winter (snow) season:

  • To be added

 

Tokyo

Stay

  • Hyatt:
    • *** Andaz Tokyo!!!! *** – Toranomon, HIGHLY recommended. Great cocktail hour, even more amazing breakfast. Just a few blocks from the station (on flat ground) on the convenient Ginza line. Great pool area (famous for their carbonated hot tub), and if you like free massage chairs, the private ones in the locker rooms are excellent. 😀
    • Park Hyatt Tokyo – Shinjuku, highly recommended but inconvenient to the super busy/confusing Shinjuku station (uphill walk from the station for 15-20 min, there is a shuttle but we hardly used it due to the timings).
    • Grand Hyatt Tokyo – Roppongi, easier chance of getting a suite upgrade if you’re Globalist.
    • Hyatt Regency – Shinjuku, decent hotel, convenient to Shinjuku station (few blocks walk on flat ground).
  • SPG/Marriott/Ritz-Carlton:
  • Hilton:
    • Conrad – Shiodome, very beautiful hotel with great views and close to Tsukiji market (at least before it moves).
  • Other:
    • First Cabin Kyobashi – great “capsule hotel” with segregated men’s and women’s areas, very cheap but super modern and clean. Great proximity to Tokyo Station, Kyobashi Station, and Takaracho Station (direct access to HND), and walking distance from Ginza. Book it on hotels.com with discounted gift cards. Was around $30-40 per night when booked it, great for a one night stay before an early flight. 

Transportation

NRT:

  •  Consider taking Keisei Skyliner into town (41 min from NRT to Ueno for around US$20). If you buy the tickets online in advance you can get a discount. Consider getting the bundle with the unlimited Tokyo subway pass.
  • My friend Kenneth does not recommend taking the airport bus – traffic, slow, not comfortable (see comments for another opinion, but it is more expensive)
  • Definitely do NOT take a taxi (US$300+!)
  • Narita offers free tours of the town if you have a long layover: http://www.narita-transit-program.jp/ (from my friend Dawn at ShareTraveler.com, thanks!)

HND:

  • Take the subway (<30 min). Super easy, and awesome airport.

Food

Tokyo Food Map compiled by Michael’s friend: A map of hype restaurants in Tokyo, curated off of Tabelog and RamenDB. Keep in mind that these are popular restaurants, so there will likely be a line!

Sushi

  • *** Uobei *** – Bullet train sushi! Order from a touchscreen, and your choices zoom out to you on a little bullet train. Take your plate off, press a button, and the cart zooms back into the kitchen. Plates are about Y100 each, very high quality fresh sushi. I usually spend around Y1000 per person. Wait times <20 min due to fast turnover (on my last trip I went at 1 or 2 pm and only waited 5 min). Located by Shibuya station.
  • *** Ichiyanagi *** (tabelog) – In Top 10 sushi restaurants in Tokyo. Around Y10,000 for omakase. Must make a reservation (use your hotel concierge). Located near Ginza Station.
  • *** Sushi Dai *** (tabelog) – Long wait times. Located at Tsukiji Fish Market.
  • Daiwa – Long wait times. Located at Tsukiji Fish Market.
  • *** Miyaba *** (tabelog) – Excellent more affordable sushi, lunch around Y6000, dinner around Y30,000. Recommended by @infernorice.
  • *** Ichikawa *** (tabelog) – 1 Michelin star. One of the top 20 sushi restaurants in Tokyo. Tabelog users say better than Jiro. Get a reservation via hotel concierge.
  • *** Sushi Saito *** (tabelog) – 3 Michelin stars, #1 sushi restaurant in Tokyo. Get a reservation via Park Hyatt concierge (difficult).
  • Sukiyabashi Jiro (tabelog) – ’nuff said. 3 Michelin stars, but still ranked below many other restaurants on Tabelog (top 30). Get a reservation via Park Hyatt concierge (difficult). Located near Ginza Station. His son has a 2 Michelin star Jiro restaurant in Roppongi Hills.
  • Sushiya (tabelog) – More affordable, lunch around Y10,000.
  • Sushi Tsu (tabelog) – Lunch around Y5000, located conveniently across from Grand Hyatt.

Ramen/Udon (NOODLES!!!)

  • *** Tomita *** – Currently #1 ramen shop in all of Japan, be prepared for 5 hour waits (but based on a timed ticket system so you don’t have to actually stand in line for 5 hours).
  • *** Itto *** – Currently the #2 ramen shop in Japan.
  • *** Fuunji *** (tabelog) – Famous for dipping ramen (tsukemen). Order the one on the top right of the vending machine. About Y1000. Always has a line but fast turnover. Located by Shinjuku Station.
  • Ramen Row – Many ramen restaurants in Tokyo Station. Most famous of them is Rokurinsha for tsukemen.
  • *** Ginza Kagari *** (tabelog) – First ever Michelin-starred ramen restaurant. Famous for the creamy tori paitan chicken ramen. About Y1000. Always has a line but fast turnover. Inside Ginza Station.
  • *** Udon Maruka *** (tabelog) – Around Y1000. Always has a line but fast turnover. Near Jimbocho Station.

Kaiseki (multi-course Japanese food)

  • *** Den *** (tabelog) – One Michelin star, highly rated “Creative Cuisine” recommended by my friend Tim. Get a reservation. Near Gaiemmae Station. Around Y20,000.

Sukiyaki (iron pot hot pot; sweeter, more intense flavor)

  • To be added

Shabu shabu (Like Chinese Hot pot; more savory than sukiyaki)

  • Kozue – 40th floor of Park Hyatt. Wagyu shabu shabu. Book a window seat to enjoy the amazing view (you might be able to see Mt. Fuji).

Izakaya (Small Plates, like tapas)

  • To be added

Yakitori (Grilled Skewers)

  • *** Bird Land *** (tabelog) – 1 Michelin star. Around Y10,000. Make a reservation. Near Ginza Station.
  • *** Hachibei *** (tabelog) – Around Y6000. It’s a chain, you can find one in Roppongi Hills. There’s even one of these in Hawaii Chinatown now too!
  • For yakitori, go to a yokocho (alley) at night! These alleyways along train tracks are filled with tiny eateries serving ramen, soba, sushi, yakitori, kushiyaki, izakaya, beer. Not fine dining, more like cheap hangout dining, where businessmen go after work to drink.
    • *** Omoide Yokocho *** (Shinjuku)
    • *** Nonbei Yokocho *** (Shibuya)
    • Ameya Yokocho (Ueno)
    • Golden Gai (Shinjuku)
    • Ebisu Yokocho (Ebisu)
    • Sanchoku Inshokugai (Yurakucho)
    • Kurobe Yokoho (Tokyo Station, Marunouchi Underground North)
    • Yokozuna Yokocho (Ryogoku)
    • Iiyo Yokocho (Tokyo Station, Marunouchi Central)
    • Okazu Yokocho (between Asakusabashi and Naka-Okachimachi)
    • Harmonica Alley (Kichijoji)
    • Amazake Alley (Ningyocho)

Yakiniku (like Korean BBQ)

  • *** Yoroniku *** (tabelog) – Check the blog post for photos on how to get there (it’s a bit hidden and has no sign). Around Y10,000. Need reservations. Near Ometesando Station.
  • Jumbo Shirokane (tabelog) – Around Y10,000. Near Shirokane Takanawa Station.

Steakhouse

  • *** Shima Steakhouse *** (tabelog) – Famous for wagyu steak. Lunch around Y20,000, dinner around Y30,000.
  • Kawamura Steakhouse (tabelog) – Most famous for wagyu steak but very difficult to get reservations (“toughest reservation in the world”). Try via your concierge but good luck, you probably won’t get it. Dinner only, around Y30,000. Near Ginza Station.
  • Hirayama Steakhouse (tabelog) – The third most famous for wagyu steak. Get reservations. Lunch around Y150000, dinner around Y30,000. Near Ginza Station.

Mochi (Dessert)

Unagi Don (BBQ Eel On Rice)

  • Unagiirokawa (tabelog) – Well established unagi restaurant. Around Y2000-3000. Near Asakusa.
  • Hatsuogawa (tabelog) – Around Y2000-3000 lunch. Near Asakuasa.
  • Obana (tabelog) – 1 Michelin star. Around Y5000-6000 lunch. Near Minami-Sneju.
  • Nodaiwa (tabelog) – 1 Michelin star. Around Y3000-34000 lunch. Multiple locations.
  • Hashimoto (tabelog) – Around Y3000-4000. Near Edogawabashi.
  • Chikuyoutei (tabelog) – Around Y2000-3000 lunch. Near Tsukijishijo.

Kushiage (Fried skewers)

  • To be added

Themed Cafes

  • Owl café
  • Harry Hedgehog café
  • Totoro cream puff café
  • Hello Kitty cafe

Other

  • Mosburger – Rice bun burgers. Cheap fast food chain.
  • Gyudon (thinly sliced marinated beef over rice):
    • Yoshinoya – Cheap fast food chain.
    • Matsuya – Cheap fast food chain.
  • Oyakodon (chicken and runny egg over rice):
  • Kare-yasan Little Shop (tabelog) – Delicious Japanese curry with katsu over rice. Around Y999. Near Shibuya. There’s one in Osaka too.
  • Hidemi Sugino (tabelog) – Desserts. Everything is always sold out by 2 pm. Near Kyobashi.
  • Akasaka Kitafuku (tabelog) – King crab, many ways.
  • Ometesando Koffee – Highly recommended coffee shop.
  • Sembikiya – Most expensive fruit ever. Should be fun to gawk. They have good parfaits that won’t break the bank too. 
  • Nenriya (tabelog) – Baumkuchen (cake) that tastes like egg roll. Near Ginza Station. Get these.
  • Other cuisines (b/c “the Japanese do every cuisine baller” – my friend Mo)
    • Ristorante Hamasaki (tabelog) – Italian. Lunch prices about half of dinner prices.
    • Quintessence (tabelog) – French. Lunch prices around Y15,000, dinner around Y30,000.
    • Choyo (tabelog) – Chinese Sichuan. Around Y30,000 for dinner.
  • Other things to look out for, make them their own category above if you’d like:
    • Nagasaki champon noodles (pork broth with egg noodles and seafood)
    • Onigiri (triangular seaweed-wrapped rice and stuffings) – found at any convenience store, great for a snack
    • Butadon (pork rice bowl)
    • Oyakodon (chicken rice bowl)
    • Takoyaki (octopus balls, more of an Osaka thing)
    • Okonomiyaki (savory pancake, more of an Osaka thing)

Do (by district)

Shinjuku

  • *** Tokyo Metropolitan Government Building *** – One of the best views in Tokyo, and FREE! Only open on weekdays. Has a really great and cheap cafeteria too. You might even get a free tour of their government offices and meeting rooms too. On top of Tocho-mae Station or near Shinjuku Station.
  • *** Shinjuku Gyoen *** – Most people say this is their favorite city park. A must-visit any time of the year!
  • Shinjuku station is THE most confusing station in Japan. Read this guide to help you understand it better so you won’t get confused or lost.

Ikebukuro

  • Sunshine City – First city within a city. Aquarium, theme parks, museum, planetarium, shops, restaurants, skyscraper with observation deck. Great place for kids.
    • Namja Town – Fun indoor theme park to bring kids. Lots of games, small rides and attractions, food corners like gyoza stadium.

Shibuya

  • *** Shibuya Crossing *** – Hachiko exit of Shibuya Station. Fun to people-watch from the second floor of Starbucks overlooking the crossing (above the Tsutaya sign).
  • *** Yoyogi Park *** – Nice huge park, fun for people watching and sakura picnics (hanami). Between Harajuku and Shibuya. Free.
  • *** Meiji Shrine *** – Next to Yoyogi Park, beautiful shrine in a forrest. Free.
  • Dog Heart – play with puppies and dogs, you can even rent one to take to the nearby Yoyogi Park for an hour!

Harajuku

  • *** Takeshita-dori *** – Fun people watching, small street for shopping, seeing interesting things, and eating Marion Crepes.
  • Ometesando Hills – High end shopping, also some high quality local shops (but if you’re going to Kyoto, save your souvenir shopping for there!)

Ebisu

Tsukiji

  • Tsukiji Outer Market – Lots of great street food, try the tamago (egg) on a stick.
  • Wholesale Market – Can’t go in before 10 am.
  • Tsukiji Fish Market – The famous fish market that will be moving (and closing to the public) soon. Go while you can and check out the tuna auction (research online for times/ticket info). Then eat breakfast at one of the famous sushi restaurants nearby like Sushi Dai or Daiwa.

Shiodome

  • Shiodome City Center – Check out the Panasonic Living Showroom (free) to see some innovation and technology and the Ghibli clock on the Nippon TV Tower.
  • *** Hama Rikyu *** – One of my favorite Japanese gardens in Tokyo. Has a nice teahouse. Y300 admission, near Shiodome Station or via the Tokyo Water Bus.

Marunouchi/Tokyo Station

  • *** Tokyo Station *** – Beautiful from the outside and fun to explore all the underground shops and restaurants.
  • *** Imperial Palace / East Gardens / Kitanomaru Park *** – Free public gardens. Walk around the moat to Chidorigafuchi and view the romantic couples rowing their boats under the trees (especially beautiful when they’re in full bloom during sakura season).
  • Tokyo International Forum – attend one of the exhibits or events here.

Ginza

  • Shopping – upscale shopping district with really beautiful architecture, most of the nicest restaurants are located here. Visit on a weekend when the central street is closed to traffic.
  • Kabukiza Theater – Awesome architecture. Consider watching a play.
  • *** Sony Building *** – Huge showroom (multi-story) with the latest products to play with. Fun for kids as well. Free.

Roppongi Hills

  • *** Don Quijote *** – The largest Don Quijote, open 24 hours, 8 stories of interesting shopping. Tax-free for tourists (just check out at the correct desk).
  • Mori Garden – Japanese landscape garden and great place for sakura.
  • Mori Tower – Skyscraper with observation deck.

Akihabara

  • Go electronics shopping
  • Check out a Maid Cafe (you will definitely be solicited for one while you’re walking around, but list any here that you’d particularly recommend)
  • Tokyo Anime Center

Asakusa

  • *** Nakamise Dori & Shin-Nakamise Dori *** – The historic and beautiful shopping street that leads up to Sensoji Temple.
  • *** Sensoji Temple *** – Possibly the most famous/touristy temple in Tokyo, it is beautiful. Free.
  • *** Sumida Park *** – Walk along the river and enjoy the sakura and skyline.
  • *** Tokyo Water Bus *** – Cruise in the futuristic Himiko boat down the river from Asakusa Pier underneath all the awesome bridges (best one is Rainbow Bridge, esp at night) to Odaiba! 50 minutes, Y1560, 2-4 boats per day, from Sumida Park.

Sumida

  • *** Tokyo Skytree Town/Tokyo Solamachi *** – Tallest tower in Japan, has an aquarium, lots of shopping around here (great palace to look for gifts). Instead of paying for the observatory, you can go up to the highest floor where the restaurants are, and just walk around for your own view.

Odaiba

  • You can easily spend a WHOLE day here on this futuristic island.
  • Tokyo Big Sight – Exhibition and convention center. Cool architecture.
  • *** Panasonic Center *** – Free showroom for the latest products and technologies. 3rd floor has a hands-on math & science museum.
  • Palette Town / Venus Fort Shopping Mall / Leisureland – Shopping and entertainment. Ninja illusion house, haunted house.
  • *** Toyota Mega Web *** – Fun/free showroom showing off Toyota’s latest models and technologies, has a museum and free rides, and a Pikachu car you must see. 🙂 You can test drive cars on their track if you have a Japanese driver’s license or go during their English times.
  • DiverCity Mall – Life-size Gundam statue!
  • Museum of Maritime Science – Looks like a giant cruise ship, you can board a real icebreaker ship. Free.
  • National Museum of Emerging Science – Awesome science museum. Y620.
  • *** Fuji TV Building *** – Iconic architecture, observation deck inside the sphere is only Y550.
  • *** AquaCity and Decks *** – Amazing shopping/entertainment malls, has a SegaCity Joypolis (tons of fun rides), Legoland, and Trick Art Museum. Beautiful views of Rainbow Bridge from the wooden deck (amazing at night). Go to the Ramen Museum on the 5th floor of AquaCity and Takoyaki Museum on 2nd floor of Decks (these are not actually museums, they’re themed food courts. The Takoyaki one is especially fun with all the octopus decorations!).
  • *** Oedo Onsen Monogatari *** – OMG MUST VISIT. Allot at least 2-3 hours here. Pick out your yukata from a dozen designsand explore the wonders of this Edo-themed onsen. Really fun for families as well. Note, it’s open all night but not all the features are available after midnight. Still a good place to spend an overnight layover in Tokyo.
  • Miraikan – Science and technology museum

Ueno

  • Ueno Park – Nice pond in the middle, has food stalls somewhere in the middle. A lot of stuff to explore. Gorgeous especially during cherry blossom season. Many temples, museums, and a zoo.

Other

  • Go karaoke!
  • Maricar – Dress up as a Nintendo character and drive a Mariokart around town! Read my full review here.
  • Kurand Sake Market – All you can drink sake for 1 day for Y3000! Multiple locations.

Day Trips

Hakone/Fuji Five Lakes

Stay

  • Hyatt:
    • *** Hyatt Regency Hakone *** – highly recommended. Amazing breakfast. Fairly short walk to one of the cable car stations, which connects to the Hakone Ropeway. Free hotel shuttle to Odawara Station.

Transportation

Food

Do

  • Hakone Open Air Museum
  • Yunnesun – awesome unique onsens like red wine, green tea, coffee baths
  • Hakone Round Course
    • Hakone Ropeway
      • Stop at Owakudani Station and walk up to Kurotamago Teahouse (famous for sulfur and black onsen eggs)
    • Lake Ashi pirate ship sightseeing cruise = 30 min to Hakonemachi-ko
      • Walk to Hakone Check Point and explore
      • Walk to Onshi Hakone Koen Park and explore
    • Walk Cedar Avenue between Hakonemachi and Motohakone – beautiful cedar trees
    • Motohakone-ko
      • Hakone Jinja Shrine (free)
      • Hotel Yamano for the azaleas (Y800)
      • Ashinoko-chaya (discount available with Fuji Hakone Pass) famous for udon/soba with tofu skin (right next to the port)
    • Walk Old Tokaido Road (or take bus line K) from Motohakone to Amazake Chaya
      • Amazake Chaya – oldest teahouse, famous for hot, sweet rice wine and snacks
  • Kirin Fuji-Gotemba Distillery Tour – free tour of whisky distillery (reservations required)
  • Fuji Five Lakes – Kawaguchi-ko is the most developed
    • *** Kachi Kachi Ropeway *** – view of the lake and Mt. Fuji from a gondola. Can take gondola up and hike 30 min down, or vice versa, or just take it roundtrip. Discount available with Fuji Hakone Pass.
    • *** Arakura Sengen Shrine/Chureito Pagoda *** (beautiful pagoda with backdrop of Mt. Fuji. In the spring, you’d also have sakura blossoms in this view)
    • *** Fuji Subaru Land Doggy Park *** – hundreds of dogs to play with, rental dogs available. You can also play with goats. Lots of other attractions here too, check out their website and click on Play. Great for kids. Discount available with Fuji Hakone Pass.
    • *** Kawaguchiko Natural Living Center *** (free)
    • Wind/Ice Caves
  • *** Fuji Shibazakura Festival *** – beautiful pink moss flowers with a backdrop of Mt. Fuji, this festival is usually in May. Check the bloom status on their Facebook page, they will post a photo daily so you can decide whether or not to go. Nice festival food as well, like wagyu on a stick!
  • Tulip Festival at Grinpa – best seen in late April/early May. Check the bloom status on their Facebook page before deciding to go that day.
  • *** Oshino Hakkai *** (8 ponds)
  • Yamanakako Hananomiyako Flower Park (free) – check flowering status on their Facebook page. The bus stop is Hananomiyako Koen (5 min from Oshino Hakkai).

Nagoya

Stay

Transportation

  • Shinkansen

Food

Do

  • Yamazaki River – Amazing sakura viewing path, lined for nearly 1 km, one of Japan’s top 100 spots. (exit from Mizuhoundojohigashi Station).
  • Satsuki and Mei’s House – The super detailed recreated house from My Neighbor Totoro at Morikoro Park. Y500 adults, Y250 children.
  • *** Toyota Kaikan Plant *** – Free museum and tour (tour reservations required).

Kyoto

Stay

  • Hyatt:
    • *** Hyatt Regency Kyoto *** – highly recommended, very nice
  • SPG/Marriott/Ritz-Carlton:
    • Westin Miyako – decent
    • *** Ritz Carlton Kyoto ***

Transportation

  • Rent a bike!

Food

Udon

  • Yamamotomenzo (tabelog) – Around $1000-2000. Near Higashiyama.

Other

  • Kyoshumi Hisaiwa (tabelog) – Amazing bento boxes to go, great to order before the train ride.

Do

Central Kyoto

*** Esther’s Evening Walking Map for Shijo-dori area (~2-3 hours to enjoy) ***

  • *** Nishiki Market *** – Amazing bustling fresh market experience. Many free samples. Must come here early though since the market closes early, I’d suggest starting at like 4 pm.
  • *** Teramiachi & Shingyoku Shopping Arcades *** – Covered shopping and restaurant streets, really great for buying local gifts.
  • *** Kiyamachi-dori *** – After shopping, walk down the canal lining this street. It is beautiful illuminated at night especially if the sakura are in bloom. Walk as far as you’d like, then turn right and find yourself in Pontocho Alley.
  • *** Pontocho *** – Waterfront narrow cobblestone alley, beautiful walk, many great restaurants. Even if you don’t eat here, be sure to walk down this street, especially in the evening.
  • Cross the bridge into Gion and make your way to *** Tsujiri Matcha Cafe *** (10a-10p). Their matcha ice cream is amazing!
  • *** Gion District *** – Explore this beautiful area, and you might catch a glimpse of a geisha.
  • *** Maruyama Park *** – Yasaka Shrine is the beautiful gate to this park. Lots of street food here if it’s not too late, beautiful park with a weeping sakura tree that is illuminated at night. Free admission.

Kyoto Shijo-dori Evening Walking Map

Eastern Kyoto

  • *** Kiyomizudera *** – The most famous temple in Kyoto, best viewed during sakura and fall colors season (illuminated at night). Y400. The beautiful historic pathway leading up to it is called Higashiyama and is lined with shops and mochi.
  • Ginkakuji – “Silver” temple (not actually silver). The Philosopher’s Path starts around here. Y500.
  • *** Philosopher’s Path (tetsugaku no michi) *** – Beautiful walk, especially in sakura season or fall colors season.
  • *** Nanzenji Temple *** – The Philisopher’s Path leads here. Temple with huge grounds that are mostly free, and a lot of fun to explore.
  • *** Kodaiji Temple *** – Watch the light show here. Beautiful gardens and bamboo grove as well.

Southern Kyoto

Northern Kyoto

  • *** Kinkakuji *** – Gold-plated temple, second most famous temple in Kyoto. Has a tea garden. Y400.
  • *** Shugakuin Imperial Villa *** – Beautiful gardens and imperial buildings. Free, but requires reservations. See link for details.
  • *** Ninnaji *** – Beautiful temple with pond and rock garden, great sakura viewing. Sometimes free, check link.
  • *** Ryoanji *** – Temple with the most famous rock garden. Y500.
  • Kibune – Small town with shrine, hiking trails, ryokan, and summer kaiseki dining on platforms built over the river.

Western Kyoto

  • *** Arashiyama *** – Walk over the famous Togetsukyo Bridge, go to the Monkey Park Iwatayama (Y550), bamboo forest, Daikaku-ji Temple (Y500). View link for more sattractions in this area.
  • *** Suntory Yamazaki Distillery *** – Museum (free), whisky library, and tasting counter (Y500 per dram). Guided tours require reservations, Y1000.

Day Trips:

  • *** Amanohashidate (bridge in heaven) ***
    • One of Japan’s 3 most scenic views. Beautiful sandbar covered in pine trees. Explore beaches, temples, and shrines. Rent a bike and go on sightseeing cruises.
  • *** Himeji ***
    • Himeji Castle (Japan’s best preserved feudal castle)
    • Mount Shosha (Last Samurai temple mountain)
    • Kokoen Garden
  • Iga
    • Iga-ryu Ninja Museum – ninja show, fun for kids
    • Ueno Castle
  • Matsusaka
    • This city is most famous for wagyu (find a wagyu restaurant on Tabelog)
  • Ise
    • *** Ise Shrines (Outer & Inner) and Oharaimachi *** – awesome old street and shrines in Mie, located separately from each other
    • Meoto Iwe (wedded rocks) – Try to go there during high tide, when the rocks are actually separated by water. Even better, do so in the early hours of a fine summer day, and you will be able to see the sun rising between the two rocks. If you hit the jackpot, you get everything plus the silhouette of Mt.Fuji in the distance.

Osaka

Stay

  • Hyatt:
    • Hyatt Regency Osaka – don’t recommend, very far from things, although a very nice hotel
  • IHG:
    • *** Intercontinental Osaka *** – HIGHLY recommend, best location, beautiful hotel

Transportation

KIX:

ITM:

Shinkansen:

Food

Takoyaki

  • Takonotetsu (tabelog) – Grill your own takoyaki at your table. Near Umeda Station.

Okonomiyaki

  • *** Mizuno *** – in Dotonbori

Crab

  • Kani Douraku?

Udon

  • Byakuan (tabelog) – Curry udon. Around Y1000. Near Kanzakigawa.

Yakiniku

  • Maiyou (tabelog) – Grilled beef. Around Y2500. Near Minamimorimachi Station.

Other

  • *** Issindo 一心堂 *** – AMAZING fresh-fruit-in-center mochi! Not only do they have strawberry mochi, but they also have pear, peach, melon, mango, etc. Located in B1 of Hankyu Dept Store at Umeda Station.
  • Kirufebon (tabelog) – Great fruit tarts. “Straight up crack” (@infernorice). Near Osaka Station.
  • Tayutayu (tabelog) – Pork dishes. Around Y3000. Near Umeda Station.

Do

  • *** Dotonbori *** – Famous Glico running man and bridge
  • Hozenji Yokocho
  • Namba Walk
  • Shinsaibashi-suji Shopping Street
  • *** Grand Front Osaka *** – Beautiful mall to just explore, attached to the station
    • Tenku-no-noen Farm – Nice sky farm on top of Osaka Station.
  • *** Osaka Castle *** – Beautiful castle, especially for sakura viewing.
  • *** Umeda Sky Building & Kuchu Teien Observatory *** – Nice observatory for viewing the city at any time of the day.

Day Trips

  • Kumano Nachi Taisha & Seigantoji Temple – Beautiful shrine area with waterfall in the background (tallest waterfall in Japan) and cherry blossom trees.
    • Daimon-zaka – Cobblestone staircase hike from base of valley to the Kumano Nachi Taisha and waterfall. It is lined with centuries old Japanese cedars (cryptomeria), camphor tress and bamboo groves. Daimon-zaka means “large gate slope” referring to a gate that once stood nearby. This is an excellent short walk on the Kumano Kodo pilgrimage route. The actual staircase is about 600 meters long with 267 stairs. At the end of the slope is the impressive Meitosugi – “husband and wife cedar trees”, whose roots are entwined beneath the path. Close by is the Daimon-zaka Chaya where you can rent Heian period kimonos, great for some memorial photos. Near the top of the slope you can catch your first glimpse of the awe-inspiring Nachi falls.
  • Shirahama
    • 三段壁 (Sandanbeki) – consists of three steep cliffs with a large network of caves at water level. An elevator is taken down to the caves, which has a shrine inside and a network of tunnels. (Caves 1300Y, hours 8:00–17:00)
    • 平草原(Heisogen Park) – cherry blossoms
    • 千畳敷 (Senjojiki) – Japanese for “One Thousand Tatami Mats”, which describes the appearance of these flat, sheet-like rocks. The Senjojiki are located along the coast, and visitors can walk out onto them.
    • 崎の湯 (Sakinoyu) – an outdoor bath that is located right along the seashore, and it affords a view out across the water. It dates back over a thousand years and is mentioned in some of Japan’s most ancient texts. 420Y, hours 8:00–18:00, closed Mon
    • しらすな (Shirasuna) – This beach-side onsen has a large bath that can accommodate about 100 people. Because the bath is in plain view to pedestrians, bathing suits must be worn, contrary to regular onsen etiquette. Free Oct-Apr, hours 10:00–15:00, closed Mon.
    • 白良浜 (Beach) – The name Shirahama is Japanese for “white beach”, and refers to the resort’s other major attraction, a 500 meter long sand beach. Many large hotels are situated around the beach so that visitors will be just a few steps from the water. Nightly fireworks are held during summer.
    • 円月島 (Engetsu Island) – This uniquely shaped rock formation is situated off the western coast of the city. In the evenings of some days of the year, the setting sun can be seen through the hole in the middle of the rock.
  • Wakayama
  • Mt. Koya – Overnight at a Buddhist temple. Many hiking and walking trails around here.
  • Mt. Yoshinoyama – The most famous place in Japan to view cherry blossoms.
  • Nara – Nara Park with aggressive wild deer, some of Japan’s oldest and largest temples, National Museum, Japanese gardens, and Heijo Palace.

Hiroshima

Stay

Transportation

Food

Do

Day Trip

  • Miyajima – Small island most famous for its giant torii gate in the water at high tide. One of Japan’s 3 most scenic views. Y300 admission.

Fukuoka

Stay

  • Grand Hyatt Fukuoka

Transportation

Food

Do

Day Trip

  • *** Kawachi Fujien Wisteria Garden (more photos) *** – Ridiculously gorgeous for wisteria season and fall colors season. Need advance tickets for peak season. Y500-1500 depending on season.
  • *** Takachiho Gorge *** – Gorge-ous (haha) waterfalls into the gorge. Rent a boat and row down the gorge to view the waterfalls (Y2000 for 30 min). Walk along the trail above to the Takachiho Shrine. The gorge is illuminated during summer.
  • Amano Iwato Shrine – Beautiful pathway to this shrine inside a cave with thousands of stacked stones. Free admission.
  • Kumamoto Castle – One of the most complete castles in Japan with large castle grounds and variety of buildings, popular sakura viewing spot. Due to the 2016 earthquake, the inner grounds are currently closed to the public.

Okinawa

Stay

  • Ritz Carlton Okinawa

Transportation

Food

Do