The Anti-Tourist

I like to beat new paths for myself.

Japan in one week: A full Itinerary

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Japan: where do I even start with Japan? Traveling there has been on my bucket list for ages, so once I knew I was going, even though for a short while, I knew I had to make the most of it. 

From sleeping in a traditional ryokan to spending our yen in the brightest and loudest arcade halls, from tasting some of the best ramen I've ever had to enjoying sesame seed ice cream (in the middle of November), our week in Japan was action-packed, fun and completely incredible. The itinerary below has been tried and tested and is perfect for first timers in Japan. 

Note: When traveling, I like to pack my days full, so this itinerary may be a bit tiring for the uninitiated. However, if you're like me and you love seeing as much as possible in the little time you have, make sure you pack some comfy walking shoes with you and enjoy the ride! 

Day 1: Konnichiwa, Japan! 

We flew into Narita airport with Turkish Airlines in the evening. Although this airport is the one which most international flights fly into, it isn't exactly close to Tokyo. Check out in advance which option suits you best to get to and from Narita into the city here

Upon arrival, we headed to Akihabara station, where we had booked a Willer Express overnight bus to Kyoto. Overnight buses are great for a number of reasons: they're cheaper than the JR Express, they're efficient, safe, clean and comfortable, and they'll save you one night of accommodation. We left Akihabara at around 10pm and woke up in Kyoto at around 7am - perfect! 

Day 2: Waking up in Kyoto

Once we left the bus station, we made our way to the Ryokan we were staying at - although not the cheapest, we decided to splurge a little for our one night in Kyoto to get a traditionally Japanese experience. The first thing we did after getting our rooms was to try out the rooftop onsen - for info on etiquette and how to properly bathe in an onsen, check this out

To get around, we bought a one-day bus ticket from the JR Kyoto Station for just 500 yen. Buses are the best way to get around in Kyoto, since the network is vast and reaches pretty much all the spaces you'd want to visit in town. The tourist offices are friendly, helpful and will provide you with a network map - incredibly useful to plan your day with minimum waste!

Now you've got your day pass, you're all set for a full day of exploring - kicking off the day with Kinkaku-ji, the temple of the golden pavilion. This shrine is one of Kyoto's oldest, and is surrounded by beautiful forests.

A few minutes away by bus, you'll find Ryoan-ji Temple, with its traditional Japanese flat gardens. The rock garden is its main attraction, but the whole place is gorgeous and tranquil.

After Ryoan-ji, we headed west to Arashiyama to have lunch in the old town by, walk by the river and through the magical bamboo grove. This last one is always busy, but walking through gigantic bamboos is still an amazing experience!

Once the sun starts to set, head back to town for dinner, and make your way to Pontocho alley and the Gion area, and enjoy geishas strolling past. 

Day 3: A full day in Kyoto

We woke up as early as we could (the mattress beds were really comfortable) and made our way to Fushimi Inari Shrine for its legendary orange gates going all around a pretty steep hill. This place is busy pretty much all day long, but if you want some peace and quiet try hiking further up the hill.

From there, take a bus to Kiyomizu-dera Temple for a great view over the whole city and an incredibly fun atmosphere. From school children on an outing to visitors and locals in traditional costume, the place is packed, but it's the kind of packed that makes you happy to be part of the crowd. While you're there, enjoy some delicious sesame seed and matcha ice cream - it's amazing, I promise!

We then walked on to Yasaka Shrine and the surrounding gardens, then onto town again for dinner and a spot of shopping. We left Kyoto (very reluctantly) at around 10pm, once again with Willer Express, and woke up at Shinjuku bright and early the following day.

Day 4: Arriving in Tokyo

Since this was our first time in Tokyo, we checked in at the APA Hotel in Shinjuku Gyoenmae - literally just 5 minutes away from Shinjuku station and Shinjuku Gyoen and very well priced for the facilities offered. We moved around Tokyo by train, but found that it was cheaper and equally efficient to buy a ticket every time we needed one, rather than buying the JR Pass.

We spent the morning getting a feel of our surroundings in Shinjuku, then headed off to Ueno for lunch. Ueno Park is huge and houses museums, temples and shrines in its 300 acres, so plan ahead what you really want to see and stick to it.

After lunch we headed to Akihabara, where our geeky anime souls ran wild. The rest of the day flew by, and we headed back to Shinjuku laden with collectibles and giddy with excitement - if you're an anime fan, this is the one district you cannot miss out on!

A photo posted by Desiree' ✌️ (@antitouristdes) on

Day 5: Exploring Tokyo 

On this day, we spent our morning at the Meiji Shrine in Shibuya. Although right next to the busy city centre, you'll feel miles away beneath the swishing trees surrounding the Shinto shrine. Once you've reached your zen, head down to Takeshita Street for the direct opposite - an explosion of colour, chaos and the quirkiest shops you'll see. This street is well known for its Harajuku fashion and everything kawaii.

One train stop away from Takeshita Street, you'll find the iconic Shibuya crossing, the busiest intersection in the world. Enjoy the rush, then head to Starbucks for a prime view of the street.

Day 6: An afternoon at Mount Takao   

As the week drew to a close, we slowed down the pace and spent our morning in Shinjuku, grabbed lunch and headed off to Mount Takao, an hour's train ride away.

Mount Takao is the closest natural area to Tokyo, and is absolutely gorgeous, especially in autumn. If you're keen on hiking, there are eight hiking trails to choose from here, ranging from easy and short trails to trickier trails for more experienced hikers.

We went for the lazy way out and went up on the chair lift (not for the fainthearted) and walked around the top to Yakuoin Temple. There's also a monkey park up there! Make sure you don't miss the last cable car down (around 5pm), and make your way back in town for dinner.

Day 7: Travel back home

Definitely the saddest day of the whole week - we decided to kick back in preparation for the thirteen hour flight ahead by buying some goodies from the closest 7/11 and chill out in Shinjuku Gyoen, the district's largest and prettiest garden. We also snuck in a quick visit to central Tokyo and some last minute curry from Sukiya before racing to the airport.

Leave some time for Narita airport - it has some lovely shops for last minute gifts. My favourite shop was a tiny square in the departures lounge called The Traveler's Factory, which can only be found in the airport. I'd have spent hours in there if I could!


- The itinerary above is ideal for first timers with seven days or less. If you're limited on time, I really wouldn't include more things and places to see - always make sure you leave enough time to actually enjoy where you're at!

- If you're lucky enough to have more than one week in Japan, definitely invest in the JR Pass and spread out - visit Osaka, the north area of Japan and its smaller islands.

Ready to fly to Japan? What's on your must-do list? Let us now in the comments below! 

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