Even Tokyo where neon lights cast futuristic shadows and digital billboards advertise the latest gadgets, even there you will find Japan’s classic character. Restaurants with exquisite handwritten menus, kimono-wearing shoppers searching for festival gifts, historic facades tucked amongst steel and glass. All of this comes together to create modern Japan. See where ancient opera still graces the stage, where flower festivals and tea ceremonies are enthusiastically passed down through the generations, and where the new world blends seamlessly into the old.
Any visit to Japan will likely begin in Tokyo. Its Edo style, art, and fashion have long enchanted travelers. First-time visitors should try to arrange four days here. As you will soon learn, Tokyo is simply enormous and the public transportation system, though comprehensive, is initially confusing. A sensible strategy is to concentrate on certain districts and wards.
Day One: Taito and Sumida Wards
Taito Ward is a great place to get acquainted with Tokyo. Here you can explore the famous Asakusa Shrine. Take some photos in front of the large gates or rent a kimono in a nearby shop for a magical experience. Afterwards wander down Nakamise Shopping Street. It’s a little touristy; but also a great place to find a souvenir or two. From here, you can head west to Ueno Park, which is a prime location for viewing the spring cherry blossoms. The many museums in the park will give you hours of things to do. Ueno Station provides convenient transportation links where you can cross the Sumida River and explore Tokyo Skytree, the world’s tallest freestanding broadcasting tower. At night, walk along the river or make for nearby Akihabara to see the epicenter of Japan’s incredible anime culture.
Day 2: Chuo and Chiyoda Wards
Start your day with a visit to Tsukiji Fish Market. The bustling market is a hive of activity. Unfortunately, the city recently moved the market’s wholesale operations to a different location; however, you can still enjoy amazing seafood in the many restaurants and small shops. Next explore the upscale Ginza neighborhood with its myriad shops and malls. Continue towards Tokyo Station and admire the classic red brick exterior. A short stroll will bring you to the Imperial Palace. The East Gardens are a must any time of year. Another great stop is the fashionable Roppongi Hills. The iconic Tokyo Tower is not far from there.
Day 3: Shinjuku and Shibuya Wards
Start from Shinjuku Station, the world’s busiest railway station. Wander the streets and alleyways around the station where you will experience some of the true flavor of Tokyo. Shinjuku Gyoen National Garden is lovely and a must if the cherry blossoms are in bloom. Consider a stop at the nearby Tokyo Metropolitan Government Building where the observation deck provides great views of the city. Afterwards, make for Meiji Jingu. This Shinto shrine is a highlight on any visit to Tokyo. Spend the rest of the afternoon and evening walking around Omotesando and Shibuya. The nightlife here is great and there are plenty of wonderful shopping and dining opportunities.
Day 4: Odaiba and the Tokyo Waterfront
The final day is less walking and more relaxation. Odaiba is a large artificial island at the entrance to Tokyo Bay. Take a selfie with the replica Statue of Liberty and enjoy the entertainment offerings scattered about. Don’t miss the Rainbow Bridge and giant Ferris wheel. Finally, treat yourself with a spa visit at the world-famous Odaiba Oedo-onsen-monogatari. You won’t regret it.
Japan’s cultural capital is full of wonderful attractions. It’s easy to spend several days exploring the many temples, shops, and artistic offerings. If you can, try to budget three days.
Day 1: Central Kyoto
Concentrate on central Kyoto. Take a bus to Kiyomizu-dera Temple in the morning. The many shrines and temples in the area mean you will have plenty to see and photograph. Don’t miss Jishu-Jinja Shrine, a favorite among young couples seeking to cement a romantic relationship. There are many paths, gates, and towers in the area that you will want to see. Take your time and explore to your heart’s content. Afterwards take a bus to Heian Shrine with its beautiful gates. Several art museums are located nearby and make a great afternoon stop, particularly on hot days. If the cherry blossoms are in bloom, don’t miss a walk along the Philosopher’s Path where you can reach Ginkakuji Temple, a famous Zen Buddhist temple.
Day 2: Southern and Central Kyoto
Start your day with a trip to the iconic Fushimi Inari-taisha Shrine. The shrine is world famous for its thousand red gates. In the afternoon, travel back to Central Kyoto for some shopping and a visit to Kyoto Imperial Palace and Nijo Castle. A bit to the south is the Kyoto Railway Museum, which I would highly recommend. The massive interactive museum chronicles the history of rail transportation in Japan. This is a fantastic stop for people of all ages. From there you can explore along the river and find some delicious food and entertainment options.
Day 3: Arashiyama and Western Kyoto
Arashiyama is a special place. The bamboo road is breathtaking. Wander along and appreciate the beauty as winds gently rustle leaves and cause the entire forest to sway. Explore around the park and through the hills. There are some truly fantastic places to snap some photographs here. Tenryuji Temple is famous for its gardens and you should certainly take a look.
Japan has much to recommend and obviously only covering two cities does not do the country justice. Nevertheless, if you’re considering a trip, these are places you will want to go. Come see why Japan is such a highly regarded travel destination. You will have memories to treasure for a lifetime.