13 Day Japan Itinerary

This post details my 13 day Japan itinerary and is part of my Travel Itineraries series which details my trip summaries, reflections, and tips to help you plan your trip.

Some of the things you can expect to find in these posts include:

  • Quick Overview of the Trip: Purpose, Transportation, Time of Year, etc.
  • Daily Breakdown: Sightseeing, Food highlights, etc.
  • Succinct Trip Reflections: What I would leave out, adjust, and keep
  • Links to More Information: Blog Posts, Pinterest Planning Board, Useful Websites, etc.

Overview

Purpose

After a brief stopover in Tokyo during our New Zealand honeymoon (See 13 Day New Zealand Itinerary), we knew we wanted to spend more time in Japan. We decided to go during the off-season and we found some great flight deals, which made the trip quite affordable.

Time of Year

October (Autumn)

Duration

13 days (the first and last days were transit heavy)

Getting There and Around

We took flights to get to Tokyo, Hokkaido, and Osaka. In the cities, we took public transportation. In Hokkaido, we rented a car. This required getting an official translation of my husband’s driver’s license prior to the trip. Since he is German, this was easier than me getting an International Driving Permit since I was living in Germany at the time (check this site for more information on foreigners driving in Japan).

You Should Know Thatโ€ฆ

We took this holiday after a really hectic period so we didn’t do much trip planning or great documentation during the trip (apologies in advance!). We also visited a lot of friends and that impacted our itinerary choices. They took us to great food places, which I forgot to note down so the food highlights of this itinerary are a bit light. Also, I really wanted to see Hokkaido so we spent a good part of our trip there.

Daily Breakdown

Day 1: Tokyo

We arrived in the evening and checked into our hotel, Hyatt Regency Tokyo. We then explored Shinjuku to get some food. Unknowingly, we wandered into the Kabukicho (the red light district).

Around Shinjuku
Day 2: Tokyo

We started off by feasting on Shabu Shabu for lunch. After lunch, we explored Shinjuku Gyoen National Garden. Then, we strolled through Harajuku and ate a fair amount of sweet treats. We then visited Shibuya Crossing, which is one of the busiest crossings in the world. We got drinks at the Starbucks at the crossing, which also offers solid views of the crossing. After that, we made our way to the Roppongi district to have dinner with some friends.

Around Shinjuku Gyoen National Garden
Around Harajuku
Shibuya Crossing
Day 3: Tokyo

In the late morning went to the top of the Tokyo Metropolitan Government Building to see amazing views of Tokyo for free! We then went to Maisen and had tonkatsu for lunch. In the afternoon we visited Yoyogi Park and the Meiji Jingu shrine. In the evening we headed to the Tsukiji Fish Market to have sushi with a friend.  

View from the top of the Tokyo Metropolitan Government Building
Around Yoyogi Park
Around Meiji Shrine
Tokyo Food Highlights

Yakiniku-Tei Rokkasen: We had a hearty Shabu Shabu lunch here. It’s definitely filling so come hungry. We tried to come at night for dinner, but it was booked so we made a lunch reservation for the following day.

Maisen: My husband is a huge fan of katsu curry so we had to try the tonkatsu at Maisen. He got the curry and I got the tonkatsu. It was delicious!

Zaku Zaku: The croquant chou pastry is a crispy cream puff in stick form and it is addictive. We went to Zaku Zaku twice during our visit. If you have a sweet tooth, try this dessert out.

Shabu Shabu Lunch at Yakiniku-Tei Rokkasen
Tonkatsu at Maisen
The Croquant at Zaku Zaku
Day 4: Tokyo – Utoro (Shiretoko National Park)

In the morning we took a flight to Kushiro to start our Hokkaido leg of the trip. We picked up our rental car at the airport and drove our hotel in Utoro.

Kushiro Airport
Day 5: Shiretoko

We got a late start because I had to submit a grant the night before. We decided to hike the Shiretoko Five Lakes in the early afternoon. After our hike, we quickly drove as far as we could around Mount Rausu to see the views and then headed back to our hotel to try out the onsen in our hotel.

One of the five Shiretoko lakes
A view from Mount Rausu
Day 6: Utoro – Asahidake

We had a relaxing day driving from Utoro to Asahidake (Daisetsuzan National Park). We checked into our hotel, Asahidake Onsen Hotel Bear Monte, and had a quiet evening.

Driving from Utoro to Asahidake
Day 7: Asahidake

We took the ropeway to Mount Asahidake, but the visibility was so poor that we lingered around for only an hour. Still, it was pretty amazing to see all the snow. We spent the rest of the day relaxing in the hotel.

Mount Asahidake snowy ropeway view
Mount Asahidake Base Station
Around Mount Asahidake
Day 8: Asahidake – Sapporo

As we left Asahidake for Sapporo, we quickly stopped at Chubetsu Dam. We arrived in Sapporo in the early afternoon and dropped off our rental car. We were staying with friends and since they were working, we stored our luggage in lockers at the main train station. In the afternoon we went to the Sapporo Beer Museum. In the evening, we met our friends and went for dinner at an izakaya and out for drinks.

Chubetsu Dam
Sapporo beer museum
A friendly welcome from our friends
Day 9: Sapporo

We had a relaxing day snacking and strolling around the central part of Sapporo. We met up with our friends that evening for dinner and drinks

Around Sapporo
Sapporo Food Highlights

Suage+: We really enjoyed the region’s famous soup curry here. You might have to wait in line to try this, but it’s worth it.

Soup curry at Suage+
Day 10: Sapporo – Kyoto

We had an early afternoon flight from Sapporo to Kyoto. We decided to cash in our hotel points and splurge by staying at the Westin Miyako Hotel Kyoto. I loved staying there and would totally stay there again. In the evening, we went for dinner with friends.

Day 11: Kyoto

We met one of my friends who was doing dissertation research near Kyoto and she took us around the city. In the morning we toured the Fushimi Inari-taisha Shrine. Then we rented cycles in central Kyoto and biked around to various sites including Nanzenji Temple, Jisho-ji Temple, Gokurakuji Temple, and Yoshida-jinja Shrine. I loved that we got to see a variety of temples and shrines that included popular tourist spots to less known and quieter locales. Renting a cycle allowed us to get from place to place fairly quickly.

Around the Fushimi Inari-taisha Shrine
Around Nanzenji Temple
Around Jisho-ji Temple
The cemetery at Gojurakuji Temple
Around Yoshida-jinja Shrine
Day 12: Kyoto – Osaka

We took a train to Osaka in the morning. We first toured the Osaka Castle. The views were nice and the exhibit was informative. Then we made our way to Dotonbori district of Osaka where we strolled the busy streets and snacked our way through the district. We then went to our hotel, Hyatt Regency Osaka, and had a quick dinner before heading to bed early to catch our flight the next day.

Osaka Castle
Around Dotonbori
Dotonbori River
Osaka Food Highlights

Kinryu Ramen: This ramen was delicious and a definite highlight of our trip.

Ramen at Kinryo Ramen
Day 13: Osaka

We flew out very early in the morning.

Closing Thoughts

Our trip to Japan was a much-needed vacation. It was great to see so many friends and see the country from their perspective. We wish we spent a bit more time researching places to see and where to eat beforehand, especially on legs when it was just the two of us. Here are some quick reflections

What I Would Leave Out
One National Park in Hokkaido

We had a bit of bad luck with the weather in Hokkaido, but we made the best of it. I think seeing one national park, as opposed to two during the time of year we travelled, would have freed up time for other parts of our trip.

What I Would Adjust
More Time in Kyoto

I really wish we budgeted an extra day in Kyoto. I loved the historic nature of the city. Having at least an extra day to do a bit more exploring would have been worth it.

What I Would Definitely Keep
Tokyo

Unless you have been to Japan multiple times and want to see something else, I think Tokyo is a must-see. There is so much to do, see, and eat that you could easily spend your entire trip there.

Seeing Friends

This trip was especially special because we met up with friends in most places we visited. It was great to see people we haven’t seen in a while, spend time with them, and get their perspective on the place they’re living in. We definitely had unique experiences because of our friends.


I hope our 13 day Japan itinerary helps you as you plan your trip. If you want additional resources, check out my Pinterest Planning Board for Japan Travel.

Be sure to check out my other Travel Itineraries!

Are you planning a trip to Japan? What are your must-sees? Let me know in the comments below!

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Smiti Nathan

Iโ€™m an archaeologist that travels around the world for both work and pleasure. I have a penchant for exploring ancient and modern places and the people, plants, and foods entangled in them. I write about archaeology, travel, and productivity.

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