Japan may not be terribly large, but there are enough historic, natural and contemporary sights to keep you busy for months on end. Most visitors hit Tokyo and Kyoto, the capitals past and present, but the further you get from the beaten track, the more rewarding the experience. These itineraries head all over Japan’s varied landscapes and give at least an idea of what this fascinating country is all about. If you find an itinerary you like, speak to a local expert in Japan for help with booking the trip.

If you are planning your travel to Japan yourself, use these itineraries created by our travel writers as a starting point for inspiration.

Sakurajima volcano, Japan

Japan Itinerary 1 - History, Culture and Cuisine - 10 days

This trip around Japan is filled with foodie experiences – from creative cooking classes to fantastic food markets, a delightful dinner cruise and more. If you would like to see the full itinerary of this tour, click here.

1. Tokyo

Meet your transfer driver who will take you to your accommodation. Enjoy a tour of Japan with a local guide, followed by a delicious Japanese dinner.

2. Tokyo

Shop at the famous Tsukiji Outer Market. Explore the Asakusa district and Sensoji, the oldest temple in Tokyo. Visit the remarkable Tokyo Sky Tree. Spend the evening on a delightful dinner cruise.

3. Takayama

Take the bullet train to Takayama, located in the beautiful Japanese Alps. Explore the Hida Folk Village outdoor museum, and discover the impressive techniques used to build local farmhouses. Spend the night in a traditional Japanese inn. Your dinner will be a delightful selection of regional Takayama delicacies.

4. Takayama

Browse around the morning markets. Enjoy a visit to the local brewery where you’ll sample and learn about the Japanese sake-making process. Return to Takayama and sample more of the town's dining delights.

5. Kanazawa

Take the scenic train along Japan's northern coastline to Kanazawa. Head out with a guide on an orientation walk, where you’ll find a 17th-century Kenroku-en – a highly intricate Japanese garden. Visit the Chaya-Gai district and watch a traditional geisha dance and musical performance. In the evening, join your guide for dinner to sample the delectable regional food found in Kanazawa.

6. Osaka

Head to Omicho Market with almost 200 stalls to get lost in. Hop on an express train and make the journey to Osaka. Discover sprawling shopping hubs and tiny back streets full of restaurants and bars serving up local delicacies as well as street food stalls. Take a walk through Osaka’s “must-visit” Dōtonbori district to sample some amazing street food as you stroll along its neon-lit waterways.

7. Koyasan

Take the train to Mt. Koya and visit Okunoin cemetery. Enjoy an introduction to shojin ryori, or monastic cuisine, prepared by local monks. Your unique accommodation tonight is in one of the temples.

8. Kyoto

Travel to Kyoto via Osaka. On arrival, your guide will get you acquainted with the beautiful city on an orientation walk. Explore the narrow streets of Kyoto's charming Gion district. Enjoy a dinner sampling some of Kyoto's trademark cuisine.

9. Kyoto

Master the art of preparing authentic Japanese dishes. Explore the many UNESCO World Heritage Highlights in Kyoto such as Nijo Castle and Kinkakuji Golden Pavillion. Visit the Geisha district in Gion, for a special authentic tea ceremony in a local Kyoto tea-house.

10. Kyoto

Spend your last day at your own leisure before your transfer to the airport for your flight home.

You can experience this exact 10-day History, Culture and Cuisine tour with our tailor-made trips service. Or use our service to have a local expert take inspiration from this itinerary to create you a personalised version.

Japan Itinerary 2 - Tōhoku–Hokkaidō - 2-3 weeks

You could easily spend a couple of weeks winding your way up Honshū’s northern tip, full of rich heritage and timeless agricultural scenes, before making your way over into the unspoilt, wild landscape of Hokkaido, Japan’s most northernmost island which bursts with natural phenomena and wildlife.

1. Sendai

Stroll the tree-lined streets of the city and take day-trips to the Yamadera temple complex and the scenic bay of Matsushima.

2. Dewa-sanzan

Spend a few days hiking up this extinct volcano along the pilgrims route taken by the Yamabushi ascetic mountain hermits.

3. Tōno Valley

Cycle through the rural landscape of this flat valley and envelop yourself in the mysterious folk tales embedded in the region’s ancient shrines and rock carvings.

4. Aomori

Stop in at Honshū’s northernmost city and take excursions to the eerie landscape of Shimokita Hantō, populated by wandering souls, and Towada-ko, for a hike around a volcanic lake.

5. Noboribetsu Onsen

Explore the smoking, sulphurous volcanic landscape before a relaxing soak back at the inn and the delights of ryokan cuisine.

6. Otaru

Step back in time and marvel at the imposing Meiji-era public buildings and luxurious homes built on the profits of the herring industry.

7. Sapporo

From the ultimate summer evenings to or snow sculptures in February, a visit to Hokkaidō’s bustling capital is a must.

8. Daisetsu-zan National Park

Excellent skiing in winter, cherry blossoms in spring, endless fields of summer flowers or magnificent autumn colours – this national park has it all.

You can experience this exact Tōhoku–Hokkaidō tour with our tailor-made trips service. Or use our service to have a local expert take inspiration from this itinerary to create you a personalised version.

Japan Itinerary 3 - The Full Monty

Hitting most of Japan’s main sights, this itinerary loosely follows the old Tōkaidō route that linked Tokyo with Kyoto, then moves further west to within a short ferry ride of the Korean peninsula.

1. Tokyo

Japan’s wonderful capital needs no introduction – the only question is what to do with your time there, which will never be quite enough.

2. Mount Fuji

This emblematic volcanic cone, just west of Tokyo, is climbable through the summer, but visible from the Shinkansen trains all year round.

3. Kyoto

Contrary to the expectations of many visitors, Japan’s vaunted ancient ex-capital is actually a large, modern city, albeit one brimming with compelling historical gems.

4. Nara

Just south of Kyoto, Nara is a far more natural-feeling place – witness the deer merrily grazing around the temples and shrines.

5. Naoshima

Take a detour from the mainland route to this small island, home to swathes of fantastic modern art.

6. Hiroshima

The name of this city is etched quite firmly into the world’s conscience. Dark tourism it may be, but the gutted Hypocenter is a stark reminder of those tragic times.

7. Fukuoka

Way out west, this is perhaps the friendliest city in the land – its characteristic yatai stalls make perfect places in which to bond with ramen-slurping locals over a few glasses of sake.

You can experience this exact Full Monty tour with our tailor-made trips service. Or use our service to have a local expert take inspiration from this itinerary to create you a personalised version.

Japan Itinerary 4 - World Heritage tour - 10 days

Japan boasts thirteen cultural and four natural World Heritage Sites; focusing your visit on the country’s ancient wonders alone could keep you well occupied for a good ten days or more.

1. Nikkō

One of Japan’s most relaxed cities, where a clutch of dreamy temples lurk in the mountainous forests around the fabulously preposterous Heritage-listed Tōshō-gū complex.

2. Shirakawa-gō and Gokayama

The lovingly preserved villages of Shirakawa-gō and Gokayama, with their distinctive A-frame houses, give a glimpse of Japanese rural life centuries ago.

3. Kyoto

Having functioned as capital for around one millennium, it’s no surprise that over two dozen places in Kyoto have been protected as World Heritage sites; whatever you do, don’t miss the phenomenal Kiyomizu-dera temple.

4. Miyajima

Close to Hiroshima, this is one of Japan’s most famed attractions – a vermillion-red torii rising elegantly from the sea.

5. Nara

This historic city has eight sites showcasing the early development of Buddhism, as well as a Shintō shrine, a primeval forest, a park and a palace.

6. Shuri Castle

If you make it as far as Okinawa, don’t miss this castle, a fantastic relic of the Ryūkyū Kingdom that once ruled this gorgeous island chain.

You can experience this exact World Heritage tour with our tailor-made trips service. Or use our service to have a local expert take inspiration from this itinerary to create you a personalised version.

Japan Itinerary 5 - Shikoku - 2 weeks

Shikoku is the least visited of Japan’s four main islands, but it is well worth making the trip here. The following itinerary could be done in two weeks, at a push, or at a more leisurely pace over three.

1. Inland Sea journey

Naoshima and the exciting art islands offer captivating modern art and friendly people.

2. Takamatsu

This amiable city has one of Japan’s most beautiful gardens and dozens of sanuki udon restaurants serving tasty thick white noodles.

3. Tokushima

The city of the energetic Awa Odori dance festival also has a historic bunraku puppet theatre.

4. Kaifu

Thanks to big waves and warm Pacific currents, Shikoku’s eastern coast is a great place to come if you’re on the lookout for excellent surfing spots.5 Iya Valley

One of the country’s most hidden regions, with rustic mountain villages and the atmosphere of an older, slower Japan.

5. Kōchi

The hometown of Sakamoto Ryōma, one of Japan’s most revered samurai heroes, the densely populated city of Kōchi has a lively night food market.

6. Uwajima

Visit a sex museum and watch a bloodless bullfighting match in this quiet, unassuming town.

7. Matsuyama

Check out the magnificent ancient castle and historic hot spring of Dōgo Onsen in Shikoku’s largest city.

You can experience this exact Shikoku tour with our tailor-made trips service. Or use our service to have a local expert take inspiration from this itinerary to create you a personalised version.

Japan Itinerary 6 - Kyūshū

You could forget Tokyo and Kyoto entirely and still get a pretty accurate impression of Japan by visiting its third-largest island, home to active volcanoes, great food, friendly locals and hot springs aplenty.

1. Beppu

This is one of Japan’s foremost hot-spring resorts. A small, pleasingly retro place where steam billows from the streets; there are even a couple of onsens hiding away in the forested hills above town.

2. Fukuoka

Start your trip in the island’s main city, where you can expect tasty meals, boisterous nightlife and a thoroughly enjoyable vibe.

3. Nagasaki

Like Hiroshima, this city has rebounded with phenomenal gusto from the atomic blasts that left the place in tatters. Head on a trip to intriguing Battleship Island – a Bond-villain set so otherworldly that it didn’t even need to be touched up for the film.

4. Aso

This giant volcanic crater, with sulphurous steam still shooting out from the peaks at its centre, is an easily accessible place in which to get a handle on rural Japan.

5. Kagoshima

Interested in seeing a volcano explode? Sakurajima erupts several times a day, just across the bay from this unique city.

6. Yakushima

The inspiration behind certain Studio Ghibli cartoons, the richly forested highlands on this pristine island feature trees so old, nobody has yet been able to verify their age.

You can experience this exact Kyūshū tour with our tailor-made trips service. Or use our service to have a local expert take inspiration from this itinerary to create you a personalised version.

The Rough Guide to Japan and related travel guides

In-depth, easy-to-use travel guides filled with expert advice.

Travel advice for Japan

Find even more inspiration for Japan here

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Andy Turner
11/4/2020
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