Given the nation’s mouth-watering food, natural wonders and buzzing cities, how do you choose what to experience and explore if you have two weeks in Japan?
Also known as the ‘Land of the Rising Sun’, Japan is a fascinating and diverse country with a rich cultural heritage, modern cities, stunning natural landscapes, and a unique blend of tradition and innovation.
Home to numerous historical sites and landmarks, including ancient temples and shrines, castles, and traditional villages like Kyoto’s Gion district, it’s no surprise that Japan has a deep and ancient cultural heritage that is still very much alive today.
While traditional arts such as tea ceremonies, ikebana (flower arranging), calligraphy, and traditional theatre like Noh and Kabuki are known as major draw cards for tourists, other modern Japanese cultural staples like manga, skiing and even Disneyland bring millions of visitors to the island nation every year.
With so much to do on what is usually a limited time frame, how do you make the most of two weeks in Japan?
Is it worth going to Japan for two weeks?
Absolutely! Spending two weeks in Japan is the perfect amount of time when you’re visiting for the first time. It allows you to see a few cities and it gives you a great first impression of this beautiful country without having to rush.
This is also particularly relevant for Australians. In the Land Down Under, an overseas holiday usually means multiple layovers and at least a full day of travel each way – even if you’re looking to visit nearby Asia.
Therefore, it’s easy to understand the appeal of cheap flights to Japan when the options are usually direct, and can take you to your final destination in under ten hours from most of the major cities on the East Coast.
However, making the most of two weeks in Japan does require a bit of forethought if you want to avoid spending a small fortune and letting exhaustion ruin your holiday – so how do you get it right?
How to plan the perfect two weeks in Japan
Two weeks in Japan is plenty of time to immerse yourself in cultural experiences, attend festivals, visit temples and shrines, and engage with locals.
However, much like travelling to any other destination, it’s important to consider the time of the year, your budget and personal preferences if you want the final experience to match your vision.
Don’t try and fit it all in
Japan offers a wide range of attractions, particularly for historical sites, cultural experiences, natural wonders and modern cities. If you have a well-planned itinerary that covers the places and activities you’re interested in, two weeks can provide a comprehensive experience if you don’t try and squeeze in the whole country.
Consider your budget
Is Japan expensive for Australian tourists? Well, it can be – particularly if you’re prone to leaving things until the last minute. Japan travel deals are rarely ever available for last minute bookings, and things like accommodation, transportation and tours can quickly add up if you’re paying a premium. Instead, get organised and try to have as much as you can booked before you arrive.
Use public transport
While fast and comfortable, the famous Japanese bullet trains don’t come cheap. In fact, individual tickets can cost hundreds of dollars during peak travel times. To get around this, consider purchasing a Japan Rail Pass, or for the thrifty traveller, go by bus. Some Japan holiday packages with flights will often include transport, so be sure to read the fine print.
Our sample two week Japan itinerary to get you inspired
So you found cheap flights to Japan – now what? If you’re struggling to map out a two week Japan itinerary that makes the most of the country’s extensive and efficient train network, beautiful landscapes, cultural sites, and vibrant cities while avoiding air travel, we’re created one as a sample to help get you started.
Day 1 – Arrive in Tokyo
As most of the cheap flights to Japan fly in and out of Tokyo, it makes sense to start our adventure here. Keep in mind that Tokyo is also home to two international airports: Haneda and Narita, with the former being much closer to the city centre. Regardless, both have great options for public transport, which you’ll likely use to get to your hotel in downtown Tokyo.
Day 2 – Senso-ji, Shibuya Crossing and Sushi
Be sure to get up early and beat the crowds to see the magic of Senso-ji, Tokyo’s most famous and colourful buddhist temple. Next, jump on the thirty minute train back down to Shibuya. Once you arrive, take the Hachiko exit and walk across the famous Shibuya Crossing and up into one of the city’s best shopping districts. After some sushi, explore the nearby ‘hood of Harijuku.
Day 3 – Take a day trip to Nikko National Park
Nikko is a peaceful respite from the hustle and bustle of Tokyo, and as such, is one of most iconic places to visit in the North Kanto region. Well-known for its natural beauty, which includes verdant forests, rolling hills and breathtaking waterfalls to raging rivers, streams and a beautiful lake, Nikko is roughly two hours away from Tokyo and well worth a visit.
Day 4 – Do Tokyo your way
You’ve got a jam packed two weeks in Japan, so take this day to do as much or as little as you like. Many travellers like to squeeze in a second day trip whilst in Tokyo, particularly to local icons such as Tokyo Disneyland or a Studio Ghibli tour. If not, consider doing a culinary deep dive and sample local delicacies like ramen, tempura vegetables, and yes, more sushi.
Day 5 – Tokyo to Hakone, relax in a local onsen
With beautiful views of Mount Fuji, countless onsens and a volcanic valley, Hakone has a lot to offer. The best part? It’s only 90 minutes away from Tokyo via bullet train, which means that travellers don’t have to give up a whole day to get here. After you’ve settled in, take a dip and relax in one of the area’s many hot springs, locally known as onsens.
Day 6 – Explore Mount Fuji and Fuji-Hakone-Izu National Park
Hakone is part of the Fuji-Hakone-Izu National Park, which means that almost everywhere you look, Mount Fuji is hanging out in the background. While scaling Japan’s biggest mountain is not for the faint of heart and usually requires more than a day of planning, travellers can still soak up a slice of nature by taking one of the many cable cars or exploring nearby Lake Ashinoko.
Day 7 – Hakone to Kyoto, spot geishas in Gion
Konichiwa! It’s early morning today, as you’ll need to catch the 3.5 hour bullet train from Hakone to Kyoto. While you don’t technically have to arrive before lunchtime, it’s a good idea as this means having a local lunch kaiseki style, such as a bento box. After your meal, take the afternoon to explore Gion, Kyoto’s colourful geisha district filled with kimonos and teahouses.
Day 8 – Meet the deer on a day trip to Nara
Small enough to explore on foot, a Nara day trip is easily possible from Kyoto via train which takes 30-45 minutes each way. Due to its historical importance, Nara remains full of cultural treasures, including some of Japan’s oldest and largest temples – but that’s not what the city is most famous for. That would be Nara Park, and its population of Sika deer.
Day 9: Visit Fushimi Inari Shrine, Kinkaku-ji and Nijo Castle
You’ve seen the postcards, and now that you’re back in Kyoto for the day, a must see is the Fushimi Inari Shrine. Located in southeast Kyoto, it’s one of Japan’s best known Shinto shrines, and a World Heritage Site. For history buffs, don’t miss other famous local icons such as Kinkaku-ji (Golden Pavilion), Kiyomizu-dera Temple and Nijo Castle.
Day 10: Kyoto to Osaka, soak up nightlife in Namba
In contrast to Kyoto’s much more traditional atmosphere, the nearby city of Osaka is a cheaper, more modern option with notable nightlife. Just thirty minutes away by train, travellers are welcome to take it easy on arrival – or otherwise dive right in. If you want to experience Osaka’s food, shopping and nightlife after dark, then Namba is the place to be.
Day 11 – Visit Osaka Castle, Dotonbori, and Shinsaibashi
When you’re out in downtown Dotonbori or the Shinsaibashi shopping arcades, expect to get hungry. Therefore, be sure to try Osaka’s okonomiyaki – or savoury pancake – and takoyaki, cooked batter-balls stuffed with octopus. After lunch, don’t miss Osaka Castle. You don’t need to pay the admission fee into the building, as the park itself is superb and well worth the visit.
Day 12 – Osaka to Hiroshima, explore Hiroshima Castle and the museums
To fully grasp Japan’s turbulent history and why its residents value peace so much, it’s important to visit the city of Hiroshima, which was largely destroyed by an atomic bomb during World War II. 1.5 hours away from Osaka via train, a visit to the Peace Memorial Park, Atomic Bomb Dome and Hiroshima Castle are all easily accessible ways to explore the city for an afternoon.
Day 13 – Day trip to Miyajima Island
Itsukushima, also known as Miyajima, is a small island in Hiroshima Bay known for its forests and ancient temples. Just offshore, the giant, orange Great Torii Gate is partially submerged at high tide, and marks the entrance to the Itsukushima Shrine, which was first built in the 12th century. Easy access to the island makes it a must-do when you have two weeks in Japan.
Day 14 – Hiroshima to Tokyo
All good things must come to an end, and presuming that you are flying back home from Tokyo, this means making the journey back there via a four hour bullet train trip. Keep in mind that this is just a sample of what you can do with two weeks in Japan, and many Japan holiday packages with flights may already have your adventure completely mapped out for you.
What are the best places to visit in Japan?
While time in Tokyo, Osaka and Kyoto are all but essential for any first time traveller to Japan, enjoying your time in Japan isn’t so much about where you go, but what you do.
As an example, the natural landscapes found near Hakone and nearby Mount Fuji are beautiful, but the experience is only enhanced by partaking in local activities like onsens and soaking up the magic of “aki” – when the arrival of Autumn turns the leaves of the region into deep hues of red, orange and even purple.
This same philosophy applies for almost everywhere in Japan – the question is, what is the best way to travel Japan in two weeks if you’re on a limited timeframe and budget?
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