Written by Hershey Neri and Joshua Young
Hi, guys! :) Hershey and Josh here.
Last July, the two of us traveled in Japan with my [Hershey’s] parents. While it was my folks’ third time to The Land of the Rising Sun, Josh and I were first-timers, and we wanted to make the most out of our 10-day trip.
If you’re planning to see as many spots and attractions as possible during a week-and-a-half visit, you’ve come to the right place, er, article. Ahead, we’ve shared a detailed itinerary for Japan that’s *kinda* budget (P54k or $1,048). (BTW, *kinda* budget means it’s not too expensive, but a budget traveler can definitely do the same itinerary, but even cheaper!)
(Spoiler alert: This itinerary is pretty intense! If you don’t mind commuting a lot--mostly on trains, then this is perfect for you. But if you prefer taking in the sights on a more leisurely pace, we suggest that you prioritize one or two cities on this list, paired with a day trip or two.)
Air fare (Cebu Pacific): P4,100 or $79.60 (round trip from Manila to Cebu to Tokyo, and Tokyo to Manila, with baggage allowance)
7-Day JR Pass (Klook): P12,800 or $248.50 (The JR Pass gives you unlimited travel on all JR lines across Japan, including some local/city train lines)
A JR Pass is an unlimited pass you can use on major forms of transportation in Japan. It comes in three options: 7, 14, and 21 days. If you’re looking into hopping from one city to another, we recommend you get the JR Pass! But do the math first: check out this link to see if the JR pass will pay off on your trip itinerary. https://www.japan-guide.com/railpass/
We rented Airbnbs for most nights, and booked hotel rooms for others, splitting the costs. It came up just P10,000 ($194) per person for the four of us!
We opted to rent a pocket WiFi at the Narita airport (it’s cheaper that way, as long as you decline the optional insurance). P4,000 ($78 or around ¥8,000) gets you 10 days of unlimited WiFi around the country!
The two of us also had a budget of P20,000-P25,000 each for pocket money. We didn’t shop much—we opted to spend on food and activities instead.
THE ULTIMATE 10-DAY ITINERARY FOR JAPAN FIRST-TIMERS
Day 1: Manila to Cebu to Chiba
Day 2: Chiba (DisneySea)
Day 3: Nikko
Day 4: Tokyo (West)
Day 5: Fujikawaguchiko
Oishi Park (viewing spot of Mt. Fuji)
Day 6: Osaka
Day 7: Nara
Day 8: Kyoto
Shirakawa Ippon Bridge
Day 9: Kyoto to Tokyo (East)
Fushimi Inari Taisha (Kyoto)
Bamboo Forest (Kyoto)
Day 10: Tokyo to Manila
Day 1: Manila to Cebu to Chiba (<½ day in Chiba)
Here’s a hack for budget travelers: sometimes, air fares are cheaper when you fly outside the box! We booked a flight with the route Manila-Cebu-Narita. During that time, it was way cheaper than flying from NAIA straight to Japan! And because it was also piso sale season, our round trip Cebu Pacific tickets cost only P4,200 (around $80). Awesome!
It was also our first time to see the new Mactan Cebu International Airport, where we spent a two-hour layover. It’s indeed the most beautiful airport in the Philippines! We love how they incorporated Filipino touches like the parol (a Filipino Christmas lantern) into the architecture.—Hershey
Upon arriving at Narita, we first took care of the logistics. Aside from renting the pocket WiFi, the JR Passes needed to be claimed at the station. We handed in the Exchange Order we got from Klook, and the staff put in the start and end dates on our passes before issuing them to us.
Afterwards, we hopped on a bus and headed to Chiba, just an hour way from the airport.—Josh
We stayed at APA Hotel in Chiba, a city in the outskirts of Tokyo. It was a very quiet place—we were literally the only group of people walking around the streets at night! We had ramen, went window shopping for a bit, and headed back to the hotel to get some rest.
Day 2: Tokyo Disneysea (Chiba)
We are huge Disney fans, so we didn’t pass on the chance to visit Tokyo DisneySea—the only DisneySea in the world! Compared to Disneyland, the latter offers more adult-themed rides—they even serve beer and whiskey!
A must-try of course is their famous flavored popcorn—each section of the theme park features a unique flavor. We got to try the curry popcorn from Arabian Coast, and the shrimp popcorn from Main Street. Make sure to try the turkey leg—a classic Disney snack!—Hershey
As with previous Disney theme parks, we maximized our time by using Fast Passes and avoiding the lunch crowds. Despite the drizzle, we were able to enjoy several intense roller coaster rides and chill out on other attractions.—Josh
One character to watch out for is Duffy the bear! Duffy is so popular among the Japanese—even more famous that Mickey and Minnie themselves! Tokyo DisneySea even has spots where you can place your Daffy stuffed toy and take a photo of it.
Day 3: Nikko - Imaichi
We were quite tired out from the day before, so it was a late start for us. To start our 7-day JR Passes, we took a train out of town bound for Nikko, two and a half hours away from Chiba.
After dropping off our bags at the Airbnb, we headed to the Nikko town center to purchase Nikko World Heritage Passes for ¥500 (P250 or $5), which gave us unlimited transpo to the various UNESCO World Heritage Sites in the historical area. —Josh
Nikko is a peaceful city located in the mountains of northern Tokyo known for its historical shrines and temples. Nature-lovers will also love Nikko for its lush green and breath-taking scenic spots! In fact, there’s a Japanese saying, "Never say 'kekkō' [“I am satisfied”] until you've seen Nikkō". —Hershey
Since we arrived late in the afternoon, we opted to walk around and sightsee instead of paying to enter the different shrines and temples (btw, the former is usually Shinto, while the latter are Buddhist).
We started at the Rinnoji Temple, the main Buddhist site in Nikko starting from the 8th century, with 3 big Buddha statues inside.—Josh
A short walk away was the Nikko Tōshō-gū, the tomb of the first Tokugawa Shogun. (Basically, shoguns were military dictators who ruled the country. Though Japan still had emperors, the shoguns were the ones with real power.) Close by is an earthquake-resistant five-story pagoda.—Josh
We moved on to the Futarasan Shrine, a hilltop Shinto place of worship (also 8th century). The shrine had a similar vermillion (bright red) color scheme as the previous places, but it was less over-the-top. Overall, the common theme of the town, coupled with the cool weather, made it a sort of Tagaytay for the Japanese living in Tokyo. —Josh
We ended the sightseeing at the sacred Shinkyo Bridge, considered one of the most beautiful bridges in the country. The bridge was also the boundary to the Futarasan shrine, and only the emperor or his imperial messengers could use it. Legend has it that people who cross the Shinkyo Bridge will get good fortune.—Hershey
Our Airbnb was located in Imaichi, a short train ride away from Nikko. We were so glad we chose this place--it was this quaint traditional Japanese house, complete with its own indoor stone garden and private onsen. To top it off, the airbnb was located just off a quiet avenue lined with 400 year old cedar trees! In previous times, pilgrims used this avenue to travel from Tokyo to pay their respects at Nikko.—Josh
Day 4: West Tokyo
In the morning, we rode the train back to Tokyo. Commuting in the metro area was very easy because everything was close by! We opted to stay in the west side of the city.
Our first stop was the Meiji Shrine (free admission)—a Shinto shrine dedicated to the late 19th century emperor and his wife. (Remember the first Tokugawa shogun buried in Nikko? His descendant finally turned resigned the shogunate, giving renewed authority to the Emperor in the Meiji Restoration.)—Josh
Inside the complex stand the Husband and Wife Trees, two trees connected by abaca rope. The Meiji Shrine is also a famous spot for traditional weddings, though we weren’t able to witness one.
We skipped Yoyogi Park because it wasn’t cherry blossom season (it was the first week of July when we visited). Instead, we hopped on the train again and got off at the next stop—Shibuya, a colorful district with bright lights, huge screens, and thousands of people. It was an overwhelming feast for the senses! It also reminded us of New York City’s Times Square, but with more locals.
We lined up for around five minutes to snap a photo with the statue of Hachiko, the loyal Japanese dog revered in pop culture. —Hershey
Afterwards, we stepped up to the famous Shibuya Crossing—the busiest pedestrian intersection in the world.
Tip: To get an awesome view of the Shibuya Crossing, head to the 2nd floor of Starbucks!
If you’re on the lookout for delicious, authentic sushi, visit The Standing Sushi Bar in Shibuya. It’s across ABC Mart and beside Burger King. True to its name, there are no chairs in this mini restaurant—because sushi was originally eaten standing. The chefs in this restaurant roll your sushi in front of you with their bare hands. They also encourage you to eat your sushi with your bare hands! We absolutely enjoyed the authentic experience.—Hershey
We also headed to Ichiran Ramen to grab bowls of their popular ramen. Here’s another tip: because Ichiran Ramen is so good, the line can get pretty long. To avoid waiting long hours, visit the Spain-Zaka branch. Because it is slightly hidden, it has relatively less customers. We got a table in just 10 minutes!—Hershey
If you’re into Japanese pop culture, Harajuku is a must-visit. Harajuku is the kawaii (“cute”) kingdom of Japan. It's known for quirky street fashion, crepes, and purikura photo booths which instantly photoshops faces with doll-like features!
Tip: For the ultimate purikura experience, visit Purikura Land Noa along Takeshita Street in Harajuku.—Hershey
Day 5: Mt. Fuji
Before setting out on a two-hour train ride, we befriended the staff in the hotel/Airbnb we stayed in. The Holiday View Inn in Tokyo was managed by Filipinos, so we asked if we could leave some of our luggage behind, so we wouldn’t carry these bags around Japan. Thankfully, they said yes!
After a loooong commute, we arrived in Fujikawaguchiko.
Tip: Try leaving Tokyo early with the limited express Fuji Excursion train (reservations needed, additional ¥1140 on top of the JR pass). This option costs a bit more, but saves time that could be used for sightseeing. Visit this site for more info: https://www.jrailpass.com/blog/fuji-excursion-train
The Fuji Five Lakes area is nice, though the biggest lake, Kawaguchi, had a very tourist-trap feel. LOL. But though everything was expensive, the silver lining was the nice view of Mt. Fuji—even visible from our hotel room window!—Josh
We bought a 2-day bus pass for ¥1500 (P750 or $15), which took us all the way to Oishi Park, on the opposite side of the late. In winter, photographers come here to take in Mount Fuji and its reflection in the tranquil lake. Though the waters were not that calm, we were still lucky--the lavender were in full bloom!
Tip: We had a hard time getting to our hotel using the bus pass. For short rides, consider calling a taxi to get around.
We stayed in the park for a couple of hours, slowly exploring, taking pictures, and waiting for Mt. Fuji to peek out of its blanket of clouds. We also wanted to try blueberry picking and buy a cone of lavender ice cream, but alas, we arrived at the Kawaguchiko Natural Living Center around 4PM, just after the stores closed. —Josh
After we were done exploring, we rode the bus back to town to grab supper. We went to Koushu Houtou Kosaku—a traditional Japanese restaurant that serves the BEST TEMPURA EVER! We also ordered two bowls of hearty hoto—thick wheat noodles in a miso-based stew. Hoto is a popular local delicacy, and the soup came with pumpkin, meat, and mushrooms. Though there were four of us, two bowls were just too much--it was very filling.—Hershey
Day 6: Osaka
We were already very tired by the sixth day, but pressed on because all our accommodations were booked already. Osaka turned out to be SIX (yes, you read that right) hours away from Fujikawaguchiko, a series of train rides that, at one point, had us standing in between two carriages, ‘cause we forgot to reserve tickets on the Shinkansen (bullet train). Oops!
Tip: If you really want to visit Fuji, divide your trip into two parts:
Kanto region (Tokyo, Nikko) with a side visit to Fujikawaguchiko, then back to Tokyo
Kansai region (Osaka, Kyoto, Nara)
Another option would be to opt for Hakone instead of Fujikawaguchiko. But some attractions in Hakone were closed due to volcanic activity when we visited, so we opted for the lake. Do your research!—Josh
Tip: Compared to other regions in Japan, commuting in Osaka was more confusing, because they had a lot of train lines. They had the JR line, the subway line, the Metro line, and the Kintetsu line. When commuting, Google Maps is your best friend.
Anyway, after the extra-long commute, we finally made our way to Osaka. Our first stop was the historical Osaka Castle—one of the most beautiful castles in Japan. It was smack in the middle of a peaceful park! Unfortunately, because it was quite late when we arrived, we weren’t able to enter the castle anymore.—Hershey
Osaka Castle was first built by Toyotomi Hideyoshi, who wanted a castle that projected strength and wealth befitting his status (thus, the gold leaf decor on some walls). However, after his son was defeated by the Tokugawa shogun (the same guy buried in Nikko), the castle was burned to the ground. To this day, some stones in the outer moat still have black marks from fire!
There’s a lot more history to Osaka Castle (it was destroyed in the wars during the Meiji Restoration, and bombed in World War 2). The final version you see today is a reconstruction from the 1990s. (I’m already geeking out, so I’ll stop here.—Josh)
After strolling around and relaxing amidst nature, we went straight to Dotonbori—an energetic, lively neighborhood along the Dotonbori canal. Stalls that offer regional delicacies line the famous area, with signs lit in neon and featuring moving parts. Dotonbori is one of the most popular tourist attractions in Japan—however, we found the place far too crowded, and most of the deep-fried/grilled street food overpriced. (But then again, maybe we just visited the wrong stalls. So we’ll come back next time, perhaps in the off-season.)—Hershey
One thing we really enjoyed was the river cruise! We booked a small boat and it felt really exclusive, with just 8 of us on board. (We avoided riding the huge boats with live entertainment, preferring a quiet trip down the canal.) The company also let us bring our own food and drinks to eat on board. We paid ¥1,000 per person (P500 or $10) for a 20-minute ride. (Our cruise started on the far side, at Nihonbashi Pier south side. Check out their website for more details: https://indy-watercruise.com/course/) —Hershey
Another can’t-miss activity in Dotonbori is shopping in Don Quijote! It’s a 6-floor building that sells everything at a steep discount, from food and clothes to gadgets and luxury selections. Everything you’d ever need is inside—underwear, skincare, cameras, watches, snacks, souvenirs, and more.—Hershey
We also rode the famous Don Quijote ferris wheel, a 15-minute ride that lets you view the magnificent Osaka skyline. This cost us ¥600 (P300 or $10) each.
Day 7: Nara
After living the city life in Osaka, we moved on to Nara (about 1 hour away) for a whole day of relaxation. We absolutely loved Nara because of its serenity, beauty, and of course, its deer!
There are over 1,200 deer that freely roam around Nara, peacefully coexisting with humans. These deer are considered sacred—legend has it the thunder god rode to Nara (the newly constructed capital of Japan at the time) on a white deer, taking up residence in the Kasuga Taisha/Shrine. —Hershey
The deer in Nara Park are very friendly, warm animals. One can buy a pack of “deer biscuits”called shika senbei for ¥150 (P75 or around $3). Hide your biscuits and dole them out little by little!
Tip: Before feeding the deer, take a bow—and notice that the deer will bow for you, too. How polite!—Hershey
Watch this video to see them bow!
After spending our morning with the deer and a quick bento lunch at Yamatoan, we visited Tōdai-ji, the Buddhist temple in Nara. As huge as the building was (it was the largest wooden building in the world until the 199os), we found out that the original was 30% bigger. Supposedly, over 2.5 million Japanese citizens donated or assisted in its creation. Talk about 8th century crowdsourcing! —Josh
Next up was Yoshikien—a private garden that you can enter for FREE when you present your foreign passport. Since it was actually three gardens combined into one, my senior citizen parents enjoyed appreciating the different trees, flowers, and landscape architecture.—Hershey
We got on the bus again (¥500 for a bus pass) and got off at Kasuga Taisha. Hundreds of stone lanterns with deer motifs lined the path up, and every so often, an inquisitive deer stepped closer. Inside the shrine itself, bronze lanterns prevailed. With all these lighted up during the festivals--one in early February and another in mid August—the shrine must be a spectacle.
Tip: Take the bus to the Kasuga Taisha museum/treasure hall. The shrine itself is behind the modern building. Afterwards, you can walk all the way out (the pilgrimage route) or just take the bus back. —Josh
In case you’re wondering why the first permanent capital of Japan had both Shinto and Buddhist religions, and what the difference is: Shintoism is the home grown religion of Japan, while Buddhism was adapted later on from the Chinese. The two constantly vied for power in the imperial court. Supposedly, the emperor moved the capital to Kyoto to remove the court from the influence of the Buddhist sects in Nara.
Finally, try the local specialty, kakinoha sushi. It’s basically hand-pressed sushi wrapped in persimmon leaves. We got ours from Tanaka to go, although they usually have dine in service. This was recommended at the tourist center--we’re glad we went for it!—Josh
Day 8: Kyoto
In 784, the emperor moved the capital from Nara to Kyoto. It may have taken a while for them to get there, but for us, it was an hour’s train ride away. A beautiful mix of old and new, Kyoto has an abundance of traditional temples, tea houses, and gardens. One of its most famous spots is the Gion district, where geisha (Japanese hostesses trained to entertain through ancient traditions of art) can be spotted.
We decided to immerse in Japanese culture by renting yukata (summer kimonos) at Kimono Rental Wargo. We availed of the couple package, which is ¥8,462 (P4,135 or $83) for one male and female yukata. This was super fun because we got to choose our own outfits—from the kimono and slippers to the bags and hairstyle. We’ll be writing a separate blog post for this experience! —Hershey
We also hired SweetEscape, a destination photographer that you can book for your travel. (Lucky for us, we got to try this service for free. A few weeks before this trip, I attended a SweetEscape event—and won their raffle! This was such an amazing experience for us, and we’ll surely be booking SweetEscape on our future trips.)
During our 2-hour shoot with the local photographer, we got to visit the Gion district, the Shirakawa Ippon Bridge, and the Yasaka Shrine. She showed us around and took us to spots with fewer people! Watch out for our blog post on our SweetEscape experience soon.—Hershey
I wasn’t too eager to don a yukata at first, but it was fun to have one morning just for a photo shoot! (Thanks Hershey for the treat!) The scariest part was crossing the stone bridge, which was less than 2 feet wide. Locals still use this shortcut, so we had to pause the shoot to let people pass. —Josh
When we visited Yasaka Shrine, it was just a few days before the lively Gion Matsuri festival. The shrine itself is close to 1400 years old, but the festival started centuries later, when locals paraded their god around the city to fight an epidemic. The shrine itself is typical, except for the stage—a platform in the center of the compound, with lanterns all around, ready to be lit come evening. Written on each lantern is the name of its donor, usually a local business. —Josh
After the shoot, we headed to the Nishiki Market—a fresh food market with over a hundred shops. Food lovers would have a blast here—they have everything from baby octopus and puffer fish, to Snoopy-inspired dumplings and cheesy takoyaki. To be honest, we had way more fun here than in Dotonbori—mostly because it offered more affordable food choices and had way less people.
Tip: Make sure to drop by this stall inside the Nishiki Market. They serve the best takoyaki ever!—Hershey
As night fell, we tried to visit the Arashiyama bamboo grove, but couldn’t see past our hands. Fortunately, Daddy was able to find the Kimono Forest—one of Kyoto’s best-kept secrets. It features 600 colorful pillars inspired by kimono textiles. It is located in the Randen Arashiyama Station—and the best part is, admission is free! It was the perfect way to end the evening.—Hershey
Day 9: Kyoto - Tokyo
For our last full day in Japan, we got up really early (all for the ‘gram), arriving at the famous Fushimi Inari Taisha, the shrine with thousands of vermillion gates. All these were donated by businesses or individuals, starting at a cool Y400,000 for a small gate. Inari is basically the god of rice, so worshippers used to come here in ancient times to pray for good harvests. Businesspersons come here to pray, too--since kitsune (foxes) are messengers of inari, intelligent creatures that grow wiser as they age. —Josh
Next up was the bamboo grove that we missed the night before. It was still extremely quiet when we arrived--aside from us, it was just gardeners, crows, and the wind rustling through the bamboo.
Tip: Kyoto’s most popular attractions (Fushimi Inari Shrine, Arashiyama Bamboo Grove, Golden Pavillion, etc.) can get very crowded! For the first two, try visiting very early in the morning or just before sunset.—Josh
We wanted to stay longer in Kyoto, but our time was up. So around lunch, we took the shinkansen back to Tokyo, buying some ekiben (sushi bento boxes for commuters) to snack on.
This time around, we stayed in Ryogoku (east Tokyo). The neighborhood is known for its sumo wrestler training camps, and we even heard a local banging on a huge traditional drum. (Was he summoning wrestlers to dinner? We’ll never know.)
The irony is that despite staying in the east side, we didn’t do much here. Our plan was to visit Asakusa (for Sensoji, a Buddhist temple, and Tokyo Skytree), but as you might expect, we were feeling pretty templed-out at this point.
We did get to drop by Akihabara, the electronics capital of Tokyo. (Think Gilmore, multiply it by 100, and add in bright neon signs and a giant Gundam.) Afterwards, we moved on to some pasalubong shopping and a couple of clothing purchases at GU.—Josh
Next, we lined up for dinner at Konjiki Hototogisu (located in Shinjuku). One of only three Michelin-starred ramen joints, we had high hopes after waiting over an hour.
(Hershey got the shoyu, while I got the shiyo. She still preferred Ichiran Ramen, and while I tend to agree, the shiyo was worth trying out.)—Josh
Day 10: Tokyo
Originally, we planned to have sushi breakfast at the old Tsujiki fish market, but decided to rest and take it easy instead. So my revised game plan for Hershey to taste truly life-changing sushi was to drop by Kyotatsu, located in Terminal 1 of Narita Airport. (Anthony Bourdain called it the “Best. Airport. Meal. Ever.”, although for me, it was probably the best meal of my life.) Unfortunately, Cebu Pacific is located in the other Terminal, and we couldn’t enter because the restaurant was gate-side (after passport control).
On to Plan C—any sushi. We settled on Sushi Yuraku, ordered lunch sets and were pleasantly surprised at the quality. It was the perfect way to end the trip!—Josh
For a return trip, what would we do differently?
For a second trip to Japan, we’d plan to explore Kyoto and Tokyo more thoroughly, visiting the sites we missed before. That means we’d probably skip on the JR pass, and take a single journey Shinkansen instead. We’d love to pay more attention to food—less FamilyMart (not that it’s a bad thing, because convenience store food in Japan is the bomb!)—but we could plan our itinerary around dining in top rated restaurants (cheap Michelin eats, here we come!)
We’d also start planning earlier. We were still booking accommodations on the trip itself! Our biggest challenge in trip planning was that Japan is overwhelming (that’s an understatement). There’s so much to do, so many experiences to try, so many places to be. But if you sit down with your travel partners and identify what you want to do, that’s a great start.
That’s all, guys. Thank you for reading! :) We hope that this can help you plan your first trip to Japan. For more travel-related articles, click HERE.