Ultimate 21 Day Japan Itinerary
In my opinion, 21 days in Japan is the perfect amount of time to spend in Japan. Sure with 14 days you could see all the highlights, but with 21 days you can really delve into the cities, as well as visit some of the more “off the beaten path” destinations, away from much of the tourists. Check out this ultimate 21 day Japan itinerary to see how to best spend your time!
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- Before You Go
- 21 Day Japan Itinerary
- How Much Should I Budget?
- Additional Information
Before You Begin
If this is your first time traveling to Japan, I highly recommend doing some research into the country’s transportation system, customs, etc. I believe you’ll find it much easier to put together a Japan itinerary if you sort of know what you are getting yourself into.
- Top Japanese Phrases for Travel
- Best Japan Travel Apps – Directions, Food, & More
- Navigating Japan’s Train System: Tips for Traveling Japan by Train
- Is the Japan Rail Pass (JR Pass) Worth It?
21 Day Japan Itinerary
Day 1: Travel Day
You’ll likely spend your first day in Japan just getting settled. Depending on whether or not your purchased any discount passes, as well as a phone SIM card or pocket Wi-Fi, you may have to pick them up and/or get them activated. Between that and getting to your hotel in Tokyo, you’ll likely find that a good chunk of your day is gone. If you are lucky, you may have some time to explore the area around your hotel in the evening.
Days 2-5: Tokyo
Four days in Tokyo gives you enough time to really delve into the city, instead just seeing the highlights.
I recommend spending the first day just exploring the Shinjuku area. There is so much to do there, from strolling around Shinjuku Gyoen (one of my favorite gardens in Tokyo), to visiting Hanazono Jinja (a shrine hidden away in the chaos of the city), to shopping in downtown Shinjuku.
With your second day, you can delve more into Japanese culture in the eastern districts of Tokyo. Take a tour of the Imperial Palace, and then head over to Senso-ji, Tokyo’s oldest temple. Also in that area is Tokyo Skytree, he tallest tower in the world. If that’s not enough, I recommend taking a ride on the futurist Himiko and Hotaluna boats.
With your third day, its back to the hustle and bustle of the big city in the Shibuya District. Quite literally. Shibuya Crossing, also sometimes called the Shibuya Scramble, is the busiest intersection in Japan (and possibly the world). Also in this area are popular shopping areas like Shibuya 109 and Don Quijote. Once you’ve had enough of the city, take a stroll around Yoyogi Park and stop by Meiji Jingu.
With your last day, you have to stop by Harajuku. You just can’t miss the wild street fashion, especially common around the Takeshita-dori shopping street. Then, in the afternoon, head over to Akihabara the center of tech and anime culture in Tokyo.
Days 6-9: Tokyo Day Trips
Just outside the city are some truly spectacular places that make for a great day trip from Tokyo, such as Lake Kawaguchiko, Hakone, Kamakura, and Nikko.
Lake Kawaguchiko is one of the Fuji Five lakes. Not only does it offer fantastic views of Mt. Fuji, but it’s also one of the most accessible Mt. Fuji viewing spots. Some popular spots include Chureito Pagoda as well as Music Forest.
One of the most unique activities in Hakone is Hakone Kowakien Yunessun Spa and Resort. It has traditional style onsen (hot springs), but it also has a water theme park with themed onsen such as wine onsen and coffee onsen. It’s definitely a unique experience if nothing else.
Next is Kamakura, the former capital of Medieval Japan. It’s a city full of history and contains several sites of importance. You can take a stroll around Meigetsuin, which is particularly known for their hydrangea flowers, or check out Zeniarai Benten, a temple hidden away in the side of the mountain. Most importantly, make sure to stop by Kotokuin, which is known for housing the second largest Buddha statue in Japan.
I’ve always considered Nikko to by like a mini-Kyoto. It’s a great place to take a deep dive into Japanese culture and history without all the crowds. It’s home to a UNESCO World Heritage Site as well as the mausoleum of a historic political leader.
Day 10: Yamagata & Sendai
It’s a bit of work to get there, but one of my favorite stops in Japan is Yamadera. Yamadera, which literally translates to Mountain Temple, is aptly named due to its unique location up in the mountains just outside Yamagata City. You’ll have to climb 1,000 steps to reach the top, but the view at the end is 100% worth every step.
About an hour east of Yamadera is Sendai. Founded by Date Masamune, much of his history is present within the city’s attractions, such as Zuihoden Mausoleum and Osaki Hachimangu.
If you have time in the afternoon, you can also head up to Matsushima Bay area, considered one of Japan’s three most scenic views. Otherwise, head to the train station and head off to your next destination: Nagoya!
Day 11: Nagoya
Nagoya is a bit off the beaten path, but makes for a great stopover on your way to Kyoto (the next destination on this 21 day Japan itinerary). Checking out places like Nagoya Castle, Tokugawa Garden, and Osu Kannon Dori is a great way to spend a day and get a bit of break from the hustle and bustle. In my opinion, Nagoya Castle pales in comparison to some of the other castles included in this Japan 21 day itinerary, but it warrants a visit, if only so you can check out the exquisite paintings on the sliding doors in Honmaru palace.
Days 12-14: Kyoto
Kyoto was probably one of my favorite destinations in Japan. If you have an interest in traditional Japanese culture, customs, and history, you likely will too. The city is full of countless historically significant structures, and has plenty of fun activities to help you delve into it all.
The first thing I recommend doing while is renting kimono in Kyoto for the day. What better way is there to experience Japanese culture first hand? If you do rent kimono, I recommend keeping the itinerary for the day simple and making sure it doesn’t include a lot of walking, as you’ll find it a bit harder to get around in the kimono. Taking a bus to popular temples such as Ginkakuji, Nanzenji, Shorenin, and Kiyomizudera.
Any trip to Kyoto needs to include a stop at Fushimi Inari. It easily topped the list of my favorite shrines and temples in Kyoto. With over 1,000 bright orange torii gates, it’s definitely a sight to see. Plus, it’s set on the side of the mountain, making for a great place to do some hiking. A bit further south you’ll find Fushimi Momoya Castle. It’s a bit off the beaten path, making it a great place to get some pictures and relax without any crowds. To the east of Fushimi Inari and Momoya Castle is Daigoji, which is a UNESCO World Heritage Site.
On your last day in Kyoto, I recommend starting off at Arashiyama Bamboo Grove. If possible, I’d get there early so that you can enjoy the tranquility of the walk and forest without all the other people. From there, hop on the Sagano Scenic Railway, where you can sit back and enjoy the relaxing views of Kyoto’s natural beauty. Also, don’t forget to make a stop at Kinkakuji, arguably one of Kyoto’s most famous temples, due to its bright gold color. Then, finish off your time in Kyoto by watching a Kembu demonstration, a traditional Japanese sword art practiced by ancient samurai, and maybe even take some lessons!
Days 15-17: Kyoto Day Trips
Similar to Tokyo, there are a lot of different places that make for great day trips from Kyoto. However, the main three I recommend are Osaka, Himeji and Nara.
With 19 million inhabitants, Osaka is the second largest metropolitan area in Japan. It’s well known for its shopping streets, modern architecture, and bountiful activities. Some of my favorites included Osaka Castle, Dotonbori, and the observatory atop Umeda Sky Building.
Himeji is home to one of Japan’s most famous castles. Himeji Castle, also nicknamed the White Heron castle due to its color and shape, has not only been designated as a national treasure but is also a UNESCO World Heritage Site. Nearby the castle is also Kokoen, a great place for a stroll in a Japanese garden.
Nara is likely most famous for being the home of Todaiji, which houses Japan’s largest, bronze Buddha statue. The second thing it’s most famous for is arguably its people friendly deer. If you have some deer treats, you may even be able to get them to bow to you!
Day 18: Okayama
Not only is Okayama the capital of Okayama Prefecture, but it’s one of those “hidden gem” cities. It’s not nearly as crowded with tourists as say Tokyo or Kyoto, but definitely has its claim to fame with iconic landmarks such as “Crow Castle” and Korakuen Garden, one of the three great gardens in Japan.
Day 19: Hiroshima
Hiroshima is one of those places that I personally feel every person should visit. It’s home to the Atomic Bomb Dome, also called the Genbaku Dome or Hiroshima Peace Memorial, which is one of the only buildings to survive the atomic bomb dropped on Hiroshima at the end of World War II. The Hiroshima Peace Memorial Museum is probably the most impactful, but also heart wrenching places to visit, because you can actually see the true extent of the damage of the atomic bomb. Also in the area are the Children’s Peace Monument, the Cenotaph and Peace Flame.
Day 20: Hiroshima Day Trip: Miyajima
You could spend one this day exploring more of Hiroshima, but I personally believe your time would be better spent taking a ferry over to the island of Miyajima for a day. One of the most popular attractions here is Itsukushima, known for the way its torii gate seems to float in the water when the tide is in. For some spectacular views of the island as well as the distant Hiroshima, head over to Mount Misen for some hiking.
Day 21: Travel Day
If you made it all the way to Hiroshima during this 21 day Japan itinerary, and you are flying out of Tokyo, you’ll likely loose most of your last day to traveling. If you take the bullet train, you can likely make it back to Tokyo in about 4 hours, which may give you some extra time to do some last minute sightseeing depending on how late your flight is. Otherwise, take the time to explore the airport and pick up any last minute souvenirs for friends and family.
How Much Should I Budget?
How cheap or expensive the Japan trip is totally up to you. It really comes down to how cost-conscious you are. Do you prefer lodging that simply has a place to sleep for the night, or do want comfort and simple luxuries? How involved do you want to get with some of the activities. These types of questions will be the biggest driving factors of your budget.
Conversion Rate at time of writing: $1 USD = ¥110.71 JPY
Transportation & Discount Passes
For this 21 day Japan itinerary, I HIGHLY recommend buying the Japan Rail Pass (JR Pass). Depending on the routes you take, you could spend anywhere from ¥89,662 ($810 USD) to ¥112,050 ($1,012 USD) just in transportation costs. The cost of a 21-day Japan Rail Pass, plus the cost of trains and busses not covered by the Japan Rail Pass comes out be ¥67,990 ($614 USD). By purchasing the Japan Rail Pass, you could save between ¥21,672 and ¥44,060 ($196 and $398 USD).
Assuming you’re not looking for the ultimate fine dining experience, you’ll likely pay about ¥1,000 ($9.01 USD) for a breakfast or lunch meal, and closer to ¥2,000 ($18.02 USD) for dinner. If you’re a nightlife person, I’d add an extra ¥2,000 – ¥3,000 ($18.02 – $27.03 USD) for drinks at an izakaya (Japanese pub).
For 21 days in Japan, a food budget of ¥84,000 – ¥105,000 ($759- $949 USD) should be plenty.
Most standard, western-style, 3 star hotels in cities like Tokyo, Osaka, and Hiroshima will likely be about $90 – $120 USD a night. Hostels and capsule hotels can range anywhere from $20 – $70 USD a night, depending on how fancy the place is and how close it is to downtown. On the luxury end, you can get as fancy as you would like. You could go from simple luxury around $250 USD a night, to over the top fancy at $920 USD a night.
If you get the opportunity, I recommend staying in a ryokan, or traditional Japanese Inn. These style inns typically feature the traditional tatami mats, shoji paper sliding doors, and traditional Japanese clothing for guests to borrow. Depending how fancy of a place you want to stay at, Ryokans typically range from $70 – $200 USD per night.
Overall, you’re looking at about $1,400 to $2,700 USD in lodging expenses.
Thankfully, most of the activities and sightseeing in this 21 day japan itinerary are free. However, many of the temples and shrines have an admission fee, and there are a handful of activities that require tickets or reservations. Depending on what type of package you purchase for some of the activities, you can expect to spend about ¥27,000 – ¥39,000 ($244 – $353 USD).
Souvenirs & Shopping
Chances are, you’re going to want at least one souvenir from Japan, especially if this is your first time. Thankfully, there are lots of places along this Japan 14 day itinerary to pick up some souvenirs. Shopping districts such as Shinjuku and Shibuya in Tokyo as well as Dotonbori in Osaka are great places to start. Also, most shrines and temples sell small trinkets such as omamori (good luck charms), small Buddha statues, and other souvenirs. For more traditional Japanese handicraft, keep your eye open as you walk around Kyoto for shops selling more traditional Japanese products such as kokeshi dolls, furin (japanese windchimes), and similar items unique to Japan.
Like food, budgeting for souvenirs comes down to personal preference. Most smaller souvenirs like Japanese fans, chopsticks, maneki-neko (beckoning cats), Japanese towels, and such will likely be about ¥1,000 ($9.01 USD) or less per item.
As a general rule of thumb, I typically budget about $100 USD for souvenirs if the trip is less than a week. However, for 14 days in Japan, I would probably budget closer to $200 – $300 USD. Just remember you have to fit all your souvenirs in your suitcase when you go home!
When you combine the estimated costs of transportation, food, hotels, activities, and shopping, the total budget for 14 days in Japan comes out to be….
- For budget travelers: $3,000 USD
- For mid-range travelers: $4,500 USD
- For luxury travelers: $7,000 USD
Figuring out where to go, what to do, and how much it all will cost is a big part of planning a trip to Japan. Unfortunately though, it’s not everything. Here are a few more articles that can provide even more helpful information when planning a 7 day trip to Japan.
If you’re looking for some alternatives to the activities listed above, you can check out my in-depth itineraries.