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7 Days In Japan: The Ultimate One Week Itinerary

7 days in Japan goes by quick, but is just enough time to see the highlights of Tokyo, Kyoto, and Nara. Through following this itinerary, you’ll experience ancient shrines and temples, the high energy of modern life in Japan, and the country’s stunning natural landscape.

I know many people that visit Japan for a week either as part of a longer trip through Asia or as a great standalone vacation. The country is packed with places to go and foods to eat, but seven days is just enough time to experience a taste of the different facets of Japan. I’ve recommended and done this exact itinerary with friends who visited Japan for the first time and believe this is the ideal plan for a one week visit.

In this guide, I’ll share my recommendations for how to spend an incredible 7 days in Japan.

A collage highlighting the sights from this 7 Days in Japan itinerary

A sneak peak of the highlights you’ll see from this itinerary

Be sure to review my Japan Travel Tips for key information ahead of your trip, including guidance about whether you should consider purchasing the Japan Rail Pass.

What is the best 7 day Japan itinerary?

A pink and green graphic of Japan showing Tokyo, Kyoto, and Nara

This seven day itinerary gives you a tour of Japan’s current and former major capital cities: Tokyo, Kyoto, and Nara. You’ll spend the first three days exploring the busy, modern life of Tokyo, then take the Shinkansen to Kyoto, the cultural heart of traditional Japan. Next, you’ll take a day trip to visit Nara’s deer and see some of the most ancient temple grounds in the country. Finally, you’ll take the Shinkansen back to Tokyo before heading back home.

Looking to extend your trip? Check out my guide to 14 days in Japan.

Day 0: Arrival

Getting To Tokyo

Tokyo has two main international airports: Narita International Airport and Haneda International Airport. If possible, fly into Haneda International Airport as it is significantly closer to the city.

For comparison:

Where To Stay In Tokyo

  1. Shibuya

  2. Daikanyama, Nakameguro, or Ebisu

  3. Harajuku, Omotesando, or Aoyama

  4. Roppongi or Nishiazabu

These four areas are extremely central with many major train lines passing through them. Additionally, each of the areas are close to one or more major tourist destinations so they will make your few days in Tokyo more convenient.

My Tokyo neighborhood guide gives suggestions for hotels in each area, but below are a few highlights:

Check out my recommendations for the best luxury hotels in Tokyo.

Days 1-3: Tokyo

Your first few days will be spent exploring the highlights of Tokyo. Whenever my friends visit the city for the first time, I recommend that the first full day is spent discovering the modern side of the city in Harajuku and Shibuya while the second full day is focused on the historical landmarks.

The Tokyo portion of the ideal 7 day itinerary in Japan borrows heavily from and builds on my 2 days in Tokyo guide, so feel free to take a look at that more detailed itinerary for inspiration.

What To Do In Tokyo

Day 1: Harajuku, Meiji Jingu Shrine, & Shibuya

Your first full day in Japan begins in Harajuku, the birthplace of Japanese kawaii culture. Walk through Takeshita Street to get the full force of touristy Harajuku (expect lots of crowds, fun fashion, and snack options!). However, if you venture even a few blocks in either direction away from Takeshita Street, you’ll quickly discover that most of Harajuku is much more relaxed.

The entrance to the main hall of Meiji Jingu Shrine

Empty sake barrels on the road leading to the main hall of Meiji Jingu Shrine

Once you’ve gotten a feel for Harajuku, walk to one of the largest Shinto shrines in Tokyo: Meiji Jingu Shrine. Meiji Jingu Shrine and its grounds feel like a sudden escape from the city life of Japan’s capital. Enjoy walking under the towering trees and feeling like you are worlds away.

After finding some tranquility at Meiji Jingu Shrine, walk (or take the JR Line train one stop) south to Shibuya. I suggest walking through the iconic Shibuya Crossing once during daylight and once at night to experience how the city lights change the feel of the area. You can absolutely amuse yourself in Shibuya simply by wandering around, but popular destinations in the neighborhood include visiting the Statue of Hachiko or shopping at MEGA Don Quijote, Shibuya Loft, and Miyashita Park.

Day 2: Sensō-ji, the Imperial Palace, & Tokyo Tower

Since you saw the ultra modern parts of Tokyo on Day 1, on Day 2 I recommend visiting the east part of the city to see the more historical attractions.

The main area of Sensō-ji

Start your morning at Sensō-ji, a massive Buddhist temple in the northeast part of the city. There are many souvenir and snack shops on the road leading to the main entrance of the temple, so give yourself time to browse and look for things to eat or bring home.

From Sensō-ji, take the train for about 30 minutes to the Imperial Palace (enter through Hirakawa Gate). Takebashi Station is the nearest station to the Hirakawa Gate entrance. The Imperial Palace is the main residence of the emperor of Japan.

Tokyo Tower at dusk

Tokyo Tower at dusk

If you still have the energy, head south to Tokyo Tower via a 20 minute train ride. Tokyo Tower is one of the most iconic symbols of the city and is stunning both during the day and when it lights up at night.

Day 3: Museums & Tokyo Skytree

An ancient Dogu clay figurine at the Tokyo National Museum

An interactive exhibit at teamLab Planets.

Start your third day in Tokyo with a visit to one of the city’s many fantastic museums.

For first-time visitors, I generally recommend a trip to either Tokyo National Museum or teamLab. The museums are both fantastic, but couldn’t be more different from each other. Tokyo National Museum is a large museum dedicated to Asian art, particularly with a focus on ancient Japanese art. teamLab is a modern, digital art experience that is extremely trendy on social media. teamLab has rotating locations with unique exhibits, but through the end of 2023, teamLab Planets Tokyo is the only location in Tokyo.

After visiting one of the museums, take the train to Tokyo Skytree, the tallest structure in Japan. Go all the way to the top to see views stretching over the horizon of Tokyo and beyond.

What To Eat In Tokyo

Tokyo has absolutely everything when it comes to food. Whether you want to eat exclusively Japanese dishes or prefer a variety of international cuisines, you can find it.

For a distinctly Tokyo experience, try one of the city’s many Kaitenzushi (conveyor belt sushi) or casual ramen shops where you can place your order through a vending machine. Tokyo also has some of the most high-end dining experiences in the world, so book ahead in advance if you’re hoping to snag a seat!

If you’d like more ideas for what to do in Tokyo, check out my five days in Tokyo itinerary.

Day 4-5: Kyoto

View of blue skies over Kyoto through the interior of a temple at Kiyomizu-dera

A view of Kyoto from Kiyomizu-dera

Getting To Kyoto

From Tokyo, the Shinkansen (high-speed bullet train) is the most common way to travel to Kyoto. The Shinkansen takes just over 2 hours and departs Tokyo from from Tokyo Station and Shinagawa Station (via the Tokaido-Sanyo Shinkansen line).

A one-way ticket to Kyoto Station from Tokyo will cost about ¥14,000 (~USD $110). The Shinkansen departs around every 20 minutes.

Pro Tip: Book a reserved seat on the Shinkansen Even with departures every 20 minutes, the Shinkansen route from Tokyo to Kyoto is one of the most highly frequented lines in Japan. As a result, the trains can be quite crowded. When you buy your ticket at the window, you can elect to either book a “reserved” or “non-reserved” seat. If you are traveling as a couple or in a group and care to sit together, I strongly suggest booking a “reserved” seat.

You can also fly into Osaka International Airport (Itami Airport). From this airport to Kyoto Station, it takes about an hour by train or limousine bus and will cost about ¥1,100 (~USD $9) one-way.

Where To Stay In Kyoto

I recommend staying in either Higashiyama Ward or Shimogyo Ward (I personally prefer Higashiyama Ward for its location). Both areas are in the center of Kyoto and have either walking or train routes to reach the main attractions of the city.

Futons in a darkened room lit by a small lamp

Futons laid out for sleeping at Seikoro ryokan

Staying at a ryokan (traditional Japanese-style inn) is an absolute must during your 7 day visit to Japan. You’ll get to sleep on a futon (floor bedding) and, in most places, have access to a private onsen (spring water bathhouse). The hospitality and quaint charm of ryokans are second-to-none and will likely be a highlight during your Japan trip.

I stayed in Seikoro, Yuzuya Ryokan, and Kagihei (all are ryokans) during my recent trips to Kyoto.

What To Do In Kyoto

Day 4: Arrival & Kinkaku-ji

Since this is a travel day and it takes 2-3 hours from Tokyo to Kyoto, begin your visit to the former capital of Japan in the afternoon. Either drop off your bags at your accommodations or in one of the coin lockers at Kyoto Station before heading to Kinkaku-ji.

Kinkakuji Temple in Kyoto, Japan at sunset

Kinkaku-ji at sunset

Kinkaku-ji is an iconic, golden, Zen Buddhist temple on the north part of the city. From Kyoto Station, it takes roughly 45 minutes by bus to reach this temple. As a result, I suggest visiting it on your arrival day instead of with the other attractions on Day 5 (the other attractions are geographically much closer together)

Kinkaku-ji is one of the most visited spots in Kyoto and is on most visitors “must-see” lists. The temple grounds are not very large, so you can walk through and see the main pavilion in about 30-45 minutes.

Day 5: Fushimi Inari Taisha, Rengeoin Sanjusangendo, Kiyomizu-dera, & Gion

Heads up in advance that the schedule for this day will require a lot of walking. If you want to shave off some extra steps, I suggest skipping out on Rengeoin Sanjusangendo or not climbing all the way to the summit of Fushimi Inari Taisha.

A couple in kimonos walking through the lacquered, orange gates of Fushimi Inari Taisha

A couple walking under torii gates at Fushimi Inari Taisha

Fushimi Inari Taisha is a major Shinto shrine and one of the most photographed places in Japan. The shrine is characterized by its many pathways framed by lacquered, orange-red torii gates. The pathways lead to the summit of Mount Inari; it will take around 2-3 hours to walk to the top. I recommend climbing at least half way up so that you can experience Fushimi Inari Taisha with fewer crowds (most people tend to congregate near the entrance of the torii gate pathways).

Take the train about 15 minutes from Fushimi Inari Taisha to reach Rengeoin Sanjusangendo, a Buddhist temple best known for its 1,001 statues of Kannon, the Buddhist goddess of mercy. I particularly enjoyed the lovely Japanese garden outside of the main hall.

The balcony of the main hall at Kiyomizu-dera surrounded by many green trees

The iconic balcony of the main hall at Kiyomizu-dera (this photo is atypical – usually the balcony is packed with people!)

From Rengeoin Sanjusangendo, take a 5 minute bus ride then walk about 10 minutes to reach Kiyomizu-dera. Kiyomizu-dera is a mountainside Buddhist temple with a history of over 1,000 years. Although the temple complex includes thirty different buildings, arguably the most famous is the main hall and its wooden balcony. From this balcony, you can see incredible views of Kyoto and the surrounding landscape.

Lastly for the day, stroll through Gion, the geisha district of Kyoto and one of the best places to see traditional Japanese architecture. Gion is composed of a maze of pedestrian streets with the most well-known being Ninenzaka and Sannenzaka. The streets are full of souvenir shops, restaurants, and boutiques and are typically packed with visitors.

What To Eat In Kyoto

Kyoto cuisine is known for its usage of traditional Japanese ingredients such as tofu, sake, and matcha. Without even trying, you’ll stumble upon many restaurants specializing in these ingredients or trendy cafes serving matcha products.

Many restaurants in the city serve kaiseki, a style of traditional Japanese cuisine with many small dishes served as part of a set course. I highly recommend trying a kaiseki meal at least once during your visit to Japan. It’s a great opportunity to taste a variety of flavors and experience Japanese cuisine beyond more popularized dishes like sushi or ramen.

For more inspiration, see my guide about how to plan the perfect Kyoto itinerary.

Day 6: Nara & Return To Tokyo

A deer in Nara, Japan standing beside a statue

Nara, Japan is the location of the country’s first permanent capital and has an incredibly rich and storied history. Today, you can see the city’s many ancient temples, incredible natural landscape, and hundreds of adorable wild deer. I’ve been to Nara several times, but being near so many deer never gets old.

Nara is a fantastic day trip destination to wrap up your visit to the Kansai Region before you head back to Tokyo. In stark contrast with the Tokyo metropolis, Nara is surrounded by lush forest and has a serene atmosphere.

Getting To Nara

From Kyoto Station, it takes about 35 minutes on a direct train (Kintetsu Limited Express) to reach Kintetsu-Nara Station. Kintetsu-Nara Station is conveniently located just a few minutes walk from the main attractions in the city.

Pro Tip: Leave Your Baggage At Kyoto Station If you head to Nara directly from Kyoto, leave any large baggage in one of the many coin lockers at Kyoto Station. The route back to Tokyo from Nara involves a transfer at Kyoto Station, so you can save yourself the hassle and leave any extra luggage in a locker for about ¥500-¥700 (~USD $5).

What To Do In Nara

During this day trip, I suggest visit Tobihino Park, Tōdai-ji, and Kōfuku-ji. Give yourself 2-3 hours in Nara to comfortably explore the area.

Tobihino Park is an open field park where many of Nara’s famous deer congregate. It’s an excellent location to get some photos with the deer as well as relax in the sunshine. You can purchase special wafers at the park to feed the deer if you’d like, but be warned that they can get aggressive once you have food in your hand!

The interior of Tōdai-ji

Past Tobihino Park and through Nandaimon Gate lies Tōdai-ji, one of the oldest and most historically important Buddhist temples in Japan. Inside the temple’s main hall lies a massive Daibutsu (Buddha statue) flanked by two Bodhisattvas. This temple is a popular school trip destination for children in Japan, so expect to see large throngs of kids during your visit.

Back toward Kintetsu-Nara station lies Kōfuku-ji. This temple complex has several halls and pagodas that you can explore, including a 50 meter tall pagoda that is Japan’s second tallest wooden pagoda.

Both Tōdai-ji and Kōfuku-ji have histories spanning back over a thousand years and are some of the most revered Buddhist temples in the country.

What To Eat In Nara

The road between Tobihino Park and Asajigahara Enchi Park has many vendors that sell traditional Japanese snacks. My personal favorite snack is always some form of dango, which is a Japanese dumpling made from rice flour.

Nara is known for narazuke, or various types of pickled dishes. If you see this on a menu, give it a try!

For more details and ideas about what to do in Nara, visit my article about how to experience the ideal day trip in Nara.

Getting Back To Tokyo

From Kintetsu-Nara Station, return to Kyoto Station before transferring to the Shinkansen (Tokaido-Sanyo Shinkansen line). Get off at either Shinagawa Station or Tokyo Station.

Day 7: Tokyo

On your final full day of your seven days in Japan, take a day trip out of Tokyo and end the night in Shinjuku.

If you love hiking, I suggest heading to the nearby Okutama mountains for an escape into nature. The area has several shrines and temples along with a great network of hiking trails.

If you prefer a beach getaway, visit Kamakura, a lovely coastal city with one of the most famous Daibutsu (Giant Buddha statues) in Japan.

Finally, end the night in the neon-lit neighborhood of Shinjuku. Pay a visit to Golden Gai, a cluster of winding alleys with many tiny bars and restaurants. Personally, I enjoy walking through Golden Gai but given how crowded it can be, prefer to actually eat or a have a drink in one of Shinjuku’s countless other restaurants.

Want to learn more about easy day trips from Tokyo? Try one of my ideas for the best day trips from Tokyo.

Day 8: Head Home!

I hope that this guide helps you enjoy an incredible 7 days in Japan. Tokyo, Kyoto, and Nara are all iconic Japanese cities that deserve to be part of a quick, but rich, trip to Japan.

During your next trip to the country, I suggest adding Kanazawa or Nikko to your itinerary. Japan has countless places to visit, so hopefully you’ll be back again soon!

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