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10 Day Japan Travel Itinerary (As First-Timers!)

Japan is one of my most favorite places I have been to! The country is so rich in culture that is so distinctively its own – there’s really no other place like it. We had the most amazing time exploring Tokyo, Kyoto, Nara, Osaka, and Hakone. Looking back to our visit in April 2023, I recall how excited yet nervous my husband, L, and I were as first-time visitors to Japan.

When we were first planning our trip, we were so worried that we were not going to have enough time exploring all the places we wanted to see, or that we would stretch ourselves too thin trying to see as much as possible. Thankfully, after hours of research, planning, and talking with friends who frequent Japan, our 10-day itinerary was PERFECT for me and L – thoughtfully planned with a little breathing room for spontaneity and leisure exploration.

Scroll down to learn more about our trip, food recommendations, and all the tips and tricks to maximize your visit to beautiful Japan!

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Before I get down to all the details, there is one HUGE tip that I wanted to share from my Japan trip: WEAR COMFORTABLE WALKING SHOES. Wow, I just can’t stress this enough! Speaking from (very painful 🥲) experience, I had to learn the very, very hard way that you should wear your most comfortable travel shoes while visiting Japan. Make sure your shoes are comfortable for extended periods of walking because you WILL be walking a lot in Japan.

ALSO… if you’re looking to eat at the most delicious/popular food spots, there WILL BE long wait times and you will be standing around waiting. So trust me when I say, your travel shoes WILL make or break your trip!

Check out my FAVORITE cute and comfy travel shoes – tried and tested!


Wondering what to pack for an international trip to Japan?

Check out my Top Travel Essentials (The Ultimate Game Changers) so you can travel like a pro!

  • Before you travel to Japan, get your Japan Rail (JR) Pass. It will get mailed to you so make sure to order ahead so that it arrives in time before your trip. It is so much more convenient and gives you unlimited access to all Japan Rail National trains (including Shinkansen bullet trains), bus services, ferry services, and airport transfers. We got the 7-day standard pass and after exchanging it at the center, we chose to activate ours specifically on our 3rd day there so we could use it for 7 consecutive days till the end of our trip
  • Google Maps is very reliable in Japan. We used it to plan our train rides and general mapping of how to get around each city
  • We liked using both TripAdvisor and Google Reviews to plan our meals because there are restaurant reviews and menu pictures by other travelers like ourselves
  • We used the Google Translate app to point our cameras at Japanese words to instantly get an English translation. It’s not perfect, but it’s good enough to get the general gist on-the-go
  • We downloaded the Converter app on our phones to easily calculate the currency conversion before spending
  • Rent a pocket wifi at the airport (so worth it especially since you’ll be on your phones the whole day using Google Maps and Google Translate, taking pictures etc). At the end of your trip, you can easily return it at their designated drop-off spot
  • Carry a mini portable charger with you so that you can keep your pocket wifi and phones alive the whole day. You will be using your phone to navigate, translate, take pictures, and more – so this will be your lifesaver
  • Get a Suica or Pasmo card and don’t be afraid to fill it up with a higher balance. You can use it to buy train tickets and even use them at vending machines and convenience stores like 7-11, Lawson, and FamilyMart
  • You can reserve seats for upcoming Shinkansen tickets through machines at the train station or through JRP reservation online. Reservations are free with your JR pass
  • Wear layers and consider wearing water-resistant shoes (if possible). Also consider bringing a portable travel umbrella. If not, you can easily buy one at convenience stores
  • Bring some cash because some stores won’t accept cards. If you are using credit cards, make sure to use one without foreign transaction fees – we love our Chase Sapphire Card
  • Consider bringing a coin purse to store loose change – we used ours a lot more than we thought we were going to
  • Consider bringing a smaller and lighter luggage bag. Hotel rooms (especially in Tokyo) are quite small and you will be using the train and carrying your bags up and down many flights of stairs 🥲 lol
  • Check out the bottom floor of department stores for a whole floor dedicated to delicious foods you can buy (we got so many beautiful and yummy pastries and cakes)
  • Do not consume your food and beverage while walking around as it is considered rude
  • Tipping is not necessary and is generally considered rude
  • Consider bringing a small plastic bag to store your own trash. We barely saw any public trash cans while out and about


As first-time visitors to beautiful Japan, our 10-day itinerary covered: Tokyo, Kyoto, Nara, Osaka, and Hakone. This trip starts off in Tokyo, then to Kyoto, a quick day-trip to Nara then back to Kyoto, followed by Osaka, Hakone, and back to Tokyo for our return flight back to Los Angeles. When you’re choosing your flights, make sure to check whether your plane lands in Haneda or Narita. We chose to fly into Haneda since it is closer to the Tokyo city area, and a shorter distance to our hotel in Shinjuku, compared to if we were to fly into Narita.

We also visited Japan mid-April, which was the tail end of peak season (especially for the Sakura blossoms). We personally found this to be the perfect time to visit since we wanted to see some Sakuras, but didn’t want to deal with major crowds. Our tour guides also told us that we came at the perfect time; just one week prior to our visit, everything was absolutely packed and even private tour groups had trouble carrying out their tours with the crowds. Plan ahead and know what to expect if you are going during peak season!

Days 1-2: Tokyo (Flew into Haneda Airport)
Days 3-5: Kyoto (With one half-day trip to Nara)
Days 6-7: Osaka
Day 8: Hakone
Days 9-10: Tokyo (Flew out of Haneda Airport)


Tokyo is my favorite city in Japan! It’s clean, efficient, has a great transportation system (so convenient as tourists), and has a ton of things to explore, and delicious food to try. On our first day, we arrived at the Haneda International Airport and easily took the monorail from the airport to our hotel in Shinjuku. We chose Shinjuku since we wanted to be in the city, and be close to train stations for easily exploring. I recommend taking it easy the first day to try to shake off the jet lag and get used to your general surroundings.

If you’re itching to start exploring, there’s Zojoji Temple, Senso-ji Temple, Meiji Temple, Tokyo Tower, Ueno Park, Sumida Park, or Hachiko Statue. You also might also want to check out other attractions like Shibuya, Shinjuku, Akhibara, or Harajuku – we opted to leave these for the last two days when we were back in Tokyo before flying home.

If you’re looking to shop, walk around, and get souvenirs, Tokyo has a vibrant shopping scene including: Shibuya LOFT, Shibuya 109, Muji Ginza, Miyashita Park, Shibuya PARCO (make sure to check out the cool anime floor!), MEGA Don Quijote. Also make sure to take a look around the convenience stores like 7-Eleven, Lawson, or FamilyMart – there’s tons of goodies and hidden gems here (I love the egg sandwiches and waffles here).

I also recommend checking out the Tsukiji Outer Market if this is your first time to Tokyo. The place was swarming with tourists like ourselves, but you’ve gotta visit the place at least once to experience it for yourself. We had higher expectations for the food there, but we did enjoy the daifuku mochi and egg on a stick.

You’ve probably also seen teamLabs Borderless Museum all over social media. I highly recommend purchasing tickets in advance as they will sell out. It’s definitely worth your time – each room gives you a whole new experience and the visuals everywhere are so pretty! The flower mirror room is my absolute favorite, though you’re allowed in there only for a short time so make sure to take as many pictures and videos as you can quickly. There’s also a whole segment where you’ll be walking around in water (unless they’ve changed this), so be sure to wear shorts or pants that roll up to the knees. Before the experience starts, you can store your belongings in a locker (they had us go completely barefoot so you’ll have to leave your footwear behind before you start your experience).


On Day 3, you’ll want to activate your 7-day JR pass so that you can use it every day till the end of your trip. You’ll be using the Shinkansen Hikari line to get from Tokyo to Kyoto, so make sure NOT to get on the Nozomi or Mizuho line since those aren’t covered by your JR pass. We arrived at our hotel early and reception was kind enough to allow us to store our bags at the front desk while we went out exploring.

What struck me most about Kyoto was how much more traditional everything felt compared to Tokyo. It was as if we traveled back in time to get a glimpse of beautiful Ancient Japan! That and… we found it more difficult to get around the city with public transportation compared to Tokyo. We didn’t use any taxis there so we had to rely on trains, buses, and ✨ our good ol’ legs ✨ to get around. Definitely come prepared with your best walking shoes!

Popular Kyoto attractions include Kyoto National Museum, Gion District, Nishiki Market, Kinkakuji Temple, Nijo Castle, Kyoto Imperial Palace, Kiyomizu Temple, Philosopher’s Walk (for sakura blooms), Arashiyama Bamboo Forest (go early!), or ride the Sagano Romantic Train. To maximize our time and learn more about Kyoto from local experts, we had pre-booked some private tours. When we went in mid-April, everything was pretty booked up since we were at the tail end of peak season, but we got lucky and were able to get these two tours: one for general Kyoto sight-seeing, one to learn more about Geishas and Traditions.

The standout experience for us was renting a kimono/traditional attire and taking pictures in front of Kiyomizu Temple. It was such a unique experience for both of us and we have beautiful pictures to remember our trip by. We made Okamoto reservations online, but when we got there, people were just walking in to rent, so the staff was too busy to help us pick anything. We just wandered around the store and chose whichever outfits and accessories we liked. After that, the staff helped dress us, and then I was ushered into a room where I picked my hair accessories and then got my hair styled. Once my entire look was complete, there is a small little courtyard where you can take pictures before you venture out to the explore the area.

We also chose to visit the famous Fushimi Inari Taisha Shrine at 7:30am to avoid crowds, and even then there were still groups of people ahead of us. And this was during off-peak season in mid-April! If you’re going during March-early April, make sure to arrive even earlier. We then opted to stack the morning with a day trip to Nara since we had already started the day early and wanted to maximize our afternoon in Kyoto. Nara Deer Park is nice to just walk around and feed biscuits to the deer, but the deer were much more persistent and food-aggressive that I had expected (lol). Make sure you bow to them, because they’ll bow back… and immediately expect food in return.


Osaka was a fun visit – everyone just seems generally happier, more relaxed, and living life a little louder here. We also really enjoyed our hotel stay at The Lively Osaka Honmachi.

We spent the day visiting Osaka Castle and its large park and leisurely exploring the city, shopping around the Shinsaibashi-suji area, before enjoying all the bright lights at night visiting the famous Dotonbori Glico Running Man sign. Some other attractions to consider include Universal Studios Japan, Minami (Namba), Tsutenkaku Tower, Shinsekai, or even GoKart-ing in costumes!

Compared to our Tokyo and Kyoto itinerary, we chose to add a little more breathing room while visiting Osaka so that we could really just enjoy wandering around without a tight schedule for this leg of the trip. It was really nice to just walk around the streets at night, trying different foods as we came across them, and stumbling upon different stores like the Don Quijote Dotonbori (trust me, it’s not the same as the stores in Hawaii!).


After being really immersed in the hustle and bustle of Tokyo, Kyoto, and Osaka city life, we were really excited to experience a traditional Ryokan (Japanese inn) in Hakone. When we were booking onsen hotels for our trip, everything was pretty much booked up, but we were lucky to get the last room for the season at Hananoyado Fukuya!

This was the most unique and cherished experience of our Japan trip – I simply can’t recommend this enough! Getting to the inn was a little more cumbersome than expected (we had to take a ~40m taxi ride after our Hikari Shinkansen train from Osaka), and the inn was a little harder to find because of how steep up the hill it was, but I really appreciated the privacy of the location! Hakone is a quiet little town where you can get those epic Hakone Shrine pictures, visit the Hakone Ropeway, and even get a peek of Mount Fuji if you’re lucky (like we were!). We also proudly stumbled upon a “hole-in-the-wall” restaurant that served the most delicious pork katsu we had ever tasted (see food recommendation section below)!

We were there to experience the onsen, and our stay at the inn exceeded all expectations. We didn’t bump into any other guests during our stay, which was one of our main concerns since you have to “reserve” the public onsen with all the private ones booked up during our visit. But while we were there, we were able to reserve our own onsen room (that came with both an indoor and outdoor one). Our stay also came with this elaborate meal service that I highly recommend! I told the staff that I didn’t enjoy raw fish, and they surprised me by serving me an entirely new menu to cater to my preferences! It was such a pleasant surprise – I got delicious beef, cooked fish, and other meats, while my husband was served the raw fish menu dishes. Every course was presented so beautifully and the entire meal service was SO lovely!


After our quaint little stay in Hakone, we felt so recharged to end out our entire trip back in modern Tokyo. This time, we stayed at a different hotel compared to our first two nights in Tokyo, and much preferred the newer one. Now that we were back in Tokyo, our priorities were to visit anywhere else we had missed on days 1 and 2 in Tokyo. We ended up exploring Akhibara, Harujuku, Ginza, and Shibuya.

I know many people tend to advise against shopping in Ginza (due to higher prices), but I actually really enjoyed just walking around the different stores – not the branded ones, but the local Japanese ones. Shopping in Shibuya was also so fun! My favorite is Shibuya LOFT!! All over Tokyo, there are also department stores everywhere, and the bottom floor is filled with desserts, pastries, and sweet souvenir goodies to bring home. Also check out the Ghibli Museum, Pokemon Centers, go vintage shopping, or if you’re interested, you can even visit mini pig cafes or hedgehog cafes.

Tokyo is really what you make of it – so make sure to maximize your last days in Japan and go see what you really wanna see, and eat what you’ve always wanted to eat!



  • 5daime Hanayama Udon Ginza – I enjoy wide noodles and thought that the udon here was more unique than the typical ones, so we waited 1.5 hours to get a taste. It’s definitely delicious and we even brought some prepackaged ones to take home with us, but would only go again if the wait wasn’t so long.
  • Udon Maruka – So good, we had this twice! The line might seem intimidating but it moves really fast. The kitsune udon and beef udon were SO delicious! We recommend this to all our friends visiting Japan, especially if they are udon-lovers like myself. We will definitely return whenever we visit Tokyo again.
  • Gyukatsu Motomura Shibuya – Good, not great. They have a few locations but we went to the Shibuya one. The wait was over an hour long and our legs were so sore from just standing around in the cold.
  • A Happy Pancake The Shibuya – Overhyped IMO. Didn’t taste particularly yummy, though they were fluffy.
  • Tsukiji Fish Market – Definitely a tourist trap but you gotta experience it at least once. We ended up trying (1) Daifuku mochi; (2) Egg on a stick; (3) Soft-serve matcha; (4) Eel on a stick
  • Tonkatsu Maisen Aoyama – Looked really popular with locals and tourists alike. We picked it because of the short wait line outside, but then once the line moved into the restaurant, there was an even longer line inside (lol). Food was okay, would not return.


  • Ramen Miyako – Gion Main Shop – Hands down the best ramen we had the entire trip. We saw this highly rated on Google while we were in the area and we waited an hour in the cold, but man this was SO SO SO worth it. If we ever visit Kyoto again, we will absolutely be coming back here!
  • Kara-Kusa Curry – The most amazing curry!! We saw this on the Michelin guide and wanted some warm curry on a rainy day and this place was 110% worth the visit. We arrived 20 minutes before opening and were the first ones in. Very quiet place where locals just come in, eat, and leave. We each got the half red and half black and honestly both were so good!!
  • Kobe Beef NIYAMA TEPPANYAKI – Good, not great. Service was nice but the beef wasn’t mind-blowing. We made dinner reservations so we didn’t have to wait, but the restaurant wasn’t too busy.
  • Arrow Tree Kyoto Sanjyo – After our beef teppanyaki at Niyama, we wandered over to this dessert shop just in the area. Everything here looked so good, but we ended up ordering this tall strawberry parfait and a strawberry cake as well. Delicious and perfect to end the night on a sweet note.
  • Okonomiyaki Mr Young Men – We couldn’t decide on which Okonomiyaki restaurant to try so we just settled on the one closest to us. Worth a try, but I would not return.


  • Matsusakagyu Yakiniku M, Hozenji Yokocho – Make reservations early – the one we visited was completely booked up but we searched for another branch in the area and got really lucky snagging the last table (we even got our own little private room!). Cuts of beef here were high-quality and absolutely delicious!
  • Tonkatsu Daiki – Well worth its spot on the Michelin guide. We waited over an hour in the rain, and by the time we were seated, one of the dishes was already sold out. Luckily, the chef made some recommendations after asking us each whether we preferred fattier or leaner cuts.
  • Hokuto GEMS Namba – Food was good, but not too memorable. The dining experience here, however, made it worth our visit. The staff didn’t speak any English, but they were SO nice and SO animated and made our meal so enjoyable.


  • Hiroshiya – Our proud “hole-in-the-wall” and “mom and pop shop” gem that we stumbled upon in this little town. Restaurant choices here are limited, so we just picked this restaurant to try out the soba, but ended up being super lucky to try their pork cutlet with egg over rice. We were SO amazed that this humble little place served the most delicious katsu we’ve tried on our trip (especially amongst the other super popular ones). HIGHLY recommend!
  • Hananoyado Fukuya – We stayed at this Ryokan Japanese Inn for the onsen experience and it came with this elaborate meal service that I highly recommend! I told the staff that I didn’t enjoy raw fish, and they surprised me by serving me an entirely new menu to cater to my preferences! It was such a pleasant surprise – I got delicious beef, cooked fish, and other meats, while my husband was served the raw fish menu dishes. Every course was presented so beautifully and the entire meal service was SO lovely!

I hope this 10 Perfect Days in Japan (As First-Timers!) was useful in helping you plan your Japan trip! You’re going to absolutely love Japan – no matter where you choose to visit.

If you found this guide helpful, feel free to share with your friends and family!

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