planning a trip to Japan for the first time - Osaka Castle Park

5 Days In Japan – Guide For Planning A Trip For Your First Time

Our first time in Japan left us wanting more. Hopefully, we can return again one day and spend more than just five days there.

However, even in the short stay that we had, the experiences were plentiful. We visited Japan in November, which is one of the best times of the year to visit aside from the springtime.

While we list the things to do in the autumn, you can really do any of these activities and sightseeing all throughout the year.

Our Japan itinerary is a good one to follow if you are planning your first visit because it includes a variety of popular attractions and “must-dos.”

planning a trip to Japan for the first time - Osaka Castle

So where do you start?

Planning a trip to Japan for the first time can be a daunting task.

I can say that, without exaggeration, you will need more than 5 days in Japan to really see and do the amazing things in this country.

However, if you do have a chance to visit Japan you can experience some great fun and get some major sightseeing done in just 5 days.

What do you need? some good planning! That’s where we come in with this article.

There’s so much one can experience in Tokyo alone!

But if you want to include some time in Kyoto and Osaka you really have to do some homework so that you don’t miss anything in the five days that you have in Japan.

when is the best time to travel to Japan - Osaka in November

Luckily, we have the best itinerary right here for you! We were able to check out some of the top attractions in Japan following this five-day guide.

Hopefully, you can use this as a model for your travel planning to make your visit as memorable as ours.

We provide some basic budget information in this article as well as tips on where to eat and what foods to try while you’re in Japan.

Keep reading for all of the insider tips and some budgeting information.

Note: If this is your first time traveling abroad, check out what we recommend doing to get ready for your trip.

1. Day One In Japan – A Day In Osaka

Spending a day in Osaka is a must when you’re visiting Japan. Osaka is about three and a half hours from Tokyo if you take the Nozomi train line.

Riding the bullet train (Shin Kansen) is an unforgettable experience itself. The trains are clean, comfortable, and cost-effective.

Oh, and did I mention? We had amazing views of Mount Fuji on our train ride down to Osaka!

when is the best time to travel to Japan - November

Our day started in Tokyo. During our time in Japan, we mostly ate breakfast at home. Our Airbnb all had a small kitchen, but we were lazy and just bought some stuff at the Family Mart.

I highly recommend grabbing snacks from any of the convenience stores while in Japan. We saw a lot of Family Marts all around and they had a great variety of snacks and drinks.  

We are both the type of people that have to have something for breakfast, otherwise, we just can’t function.

We would grab some small sandwiches and iced tea or coffee the night before so that we could have a quick breakfast and be on our way in the mornings.

Getting a pocket WiFi was one the best things we did while traveling in Japan.

We were able to stay connected and keep in touch with each other even when we were apart! No sim card needed since we used other apps to make calls or send messages!

How to plan a trip to Japan - guide to what you must see Osaka

We used Google Maps to help us get around and navigate the complicated train lines (it’s not that complicated, really. You just have to follow the lines and colors).

There were about three train changes that we had to make before we arrived in Osaka.

Naturally, by the time we got there, we were hungry. The amazing thing about Japan is that you can get great food just about anywhere. That includes the train stations!

Looking for a fun tour? Below is one we recommend:

I just had to try out a Bento box and the train station in Osaka was the perfect opportunity. It did not disappoint!

Enough about the food, here’s what you must do in Osaka: Check out the castle!

Osaka Castle is located inside a beautiful park. To get there it’s about a 15-minute walk from the Morinomiya Station (you can also take a taxi, but we love walking!)

There’s no fee to enter so take a stroll around and enjoy the beauty!

which cities to visit in Japan - Osaka

This is an enormous park and the best time to visit is in the fall or spring. We were there in November and the Autumn colors were in full effect everywhere.

I can imagine the cherry blossoms in the Spring would be equally gorgeous.

As you walk around the park and moat, you may run into some street food vendors so this is another opportunity to grab a snack. The best part are the great views of the castle.

must visit places in Japan - Osaka Castle

There is a fee to get into the building and museum (600 yen/person).

We weren’t much in the mood to linger in the museum for long and just made our way up to the top as quickly as possible.

We got up to the top of the castle just in time to see the views of Osaka City from all around the top before the city lights came on.  

As we walked around, the sun was setting, creating a perfect glow before the arrival or the dark night.

For dinner, we were lucky to have our local friend treat us to an Osaka-specialty “soul food”: Okonomiyaki (お好み焼き).

Okonomiyaki is a savory pancake (may be referred to as Japanese pizza at times) with a variety of ingredients that you can get mixed in.

It is cooked over a hotplate (similar to how teppanyaki is done). The server brings in the ingredients and mixes them in right in front of you.

How to plan a trip to Japan - Okonomiyaki Food in Osaka

The sauces are what really add to the flavors! And don’t forget to try the sake! (wink, thumbs up emoji).

Since we had a local with us, we used his expertise on what to buy as souvenirs to take back home. He suggested we head to the supermarket to get the best prices.

Some items we purchased as gifts (and for ourselves, of course!) to take back home include: sake, green tea, matcha, Japanese sauces, seaweed snacks, and rice topping flavor packs.

If you have a couple of days in Osaka, there’s so much more to do! So, if you can manage another day, you’ll get a better taste of this amazing city.

2. Day Two In Japan – Full Day Of Top Places To See In Kyoto

You’ll want to get an early start at (I’m talking, like, 8 am) to be able to get as much as you can out of one day in Kyoto.

Personally, I would probably want to stay in Kyoto at least three days. Since we were on a time constraint, we had to make sure to pack in the essentials while in Kyoto.

The major attractions to see were our top priority, but we got a bonus from our local friend when he took us to a shrine we had not heard of before.

More on this in a bit.

Our breakfast in Kyoto was a bit different than the usual Family Mart collection of snacks. Nevertheless, it was still quick and gave us a great start to the day.

We were taken to breakfast at fast food chain called Yoshinnoya. The menu is simple and surprisingly tasty!

I had the traditional Japanese breakfast of Salmon, rice, and miso. It was a combo menu item.

First trip to Japan - what to do and eat

Normally, I’m not one to have anything other than the western breakfast foods, but this was a treat I could not pass up. I was not disappointed with my choice.

The food was all very delicious and filled me up for a few hours!

Fushimi Inari Shrine – Must See On Your First Time In Japan

Our first stop: Fushimi Inari Shrine. We wanted to get here as early as possible to avoid the crowds, but even at 10 am the place was bustling.

November is high season for Japan travel so this was expected. We made the best of it because this was a shrine we didn’t want to miss.

first trip to Japan - Fushimi Inari Shrine

The shrine is free to enter, which seems to be typical in Japan (in contrast to visiting some temples in Thailand).

I had no idea that the shrine continued so far up the hills.

If you want to complete the whole thing, you’ll be in for a hike! It can take over 3 hours!

Some parts are steep steps so make sure to watch where you’re going. As you make your way farther up, it will be less crowded and a better opportunity for photo taking.

There is a breakpoint that splits the paths.

If you want a “shortcut way back with some “behind the scenes” areas, check out this path.

You’ll run into an area of stones with fox statues that is very fascinating to walk through. This is also a faster way back down and a more peaceful option with about a fifth of the crowds.

How to plan a trip to Japan - 5 days

Once you go back down to the entrance, look over to the other side of the courtyard for an alley of food vendors. This is a fun little pathway filled with street food vendors on both sides. 

Get the mochi and orange juice in an actual orange. The food is good but way over-priced!

Other First Time Travel Itineraries:

How to plan a trip to Japan - mochi in Kyoto

Sanju Sangen Do Shrine – If You Want A Unique And Underrated Experience In Japan

After checking out just a portion of the Fushimi Inari Shrine, we headed over to Sanju Sangen Do Shrine. This was our friend’s recommendation and turned out to be a great idea.

This shrine is somewhat underrated and a must-see.

must visit places in Japan - Sanju Sangen Do Shrine Kyoto

We were lucky to have a local suggestion added to our sightseeing plan!

The 15-minute drive and no admission fee make it easy to visit if you don’t have much time to spare in Kyoto. We were able to fit it into our travel plans easily and it was well worth it!

planning a trip to Japan for the first time - Sanju Sangen Do Shrine Kyoto

The shrine is surrounded by beautiful gardens all around. Inside the wooden building there are rows upon rows of metal warriors.

There are no photos allowed, so you’ll just have to take my word for it: it’s absolutely captivating.

Arashiyama Bamboo Forest – Crowded But Good For Your First Visit

Arashiyama is a small town with shops and restaurants – a quaint little place with a lot of charm.

If we had more time, I would have liked to walk around the river and take in the views of the surrounding mountains.

Aside from the Bamboo Grove, Arashiyama is a good place to get souvenirs and sweet snacks.

planning a trip to Japan for the first time - Bamboo Grove Kyoto

Here are some tips on visiting the Bamboo Grove:

  1. The locals love to visit this place, so it will be very crowded in peak season (Fall and Spring)
  2. It’s free to walk through
  3. The bamboo grove is short and crowded, there is a separate path if you hire a private rickshaw (maybe better for pictures)
  4. If you have the time, rent a kimono for the day and do a photo shoot
  5. What to eat for lunch: soba noodle (cold or hot) and tempura at Ozuru (on the main road in town: Sagatenryūji Susukinobabachō)
which cities to visit in Japan - Kyoto
must visit places in Japan - food in Kyoto

Downtown Kyoto – Upscale Shopping And Foods To Taste Test

We were dropped off in downtown Kyoto so that we could catch the train back to Tokyo.

Since we had just a bit of time before sundown, we decided to check it out and strolled around for a while.

This is a perfect activity to do if you happen to be visiting Japan in the winter time.

We recommend getting off the main road (Shijo-Dori) and going down the alleys to do some shopping.

We happen to just stumble on Nishiki Market which is known as “The Kitchen of Kyoto.”

If you love trying food (like on Sundays at some big wholesale warehouses…you know what I’m talking about) make your way around the little shops and you’ll get offered some snacks.

You might even be tempted to buy some if the taste test turns out to be good!

How to plan a trip to Japan - what to see in 5 days

3. Days Three To Five In Japan – Make The Best Of Your Time In Tokyo

Tokyo has a lot to see and do (not that the above places don’t) and it’s only fair that more time would be dedicated to seeing everything this big city has to offer.

With only 5 days in Japan, these were the plans we made on our first visit.

To be honest, we were going to stay the entire time in Tokyo, but our friend convinced us to make a visit to see him in Osaka.

When he offered to take us around and show us around Kyoto, we just could not refuse.

Adding Osaka and Kyoto to our Japan itinerary was a last minute decision, but we think it definitely enhanced our first visit to Japan.

In a nutshell here are the top things to do in Tokyo:

  1. Shibuya Crossing Scramble
  2. Hachiko Dog Statue
  3. Center Gai
  4. Meiji Shrine
  5. Tokyo Skytree
  6. Robot Restaurant
  7. Golden Gai
  8. Piss Alley
  9. Themed cafes
which cities to visit in Japan - Tokyo

I won’t go into too much detail on everything in this article because we wrote a full post dedicated to what to plan on your first visit to Tokyo.

You can check out our other post here. See the full guide of what to do in Tokyo here.

Pro-Foodie Tip: If you want to grab a bite before your flight out of Tokyo, check out Miso Kitchen at the airport (Narita). We recommend trying the katsu, sushi, miso, and gioza there (4158 yen total cost for us).

At the airport: buy banana dessert and cheesecake for souvenirs. These are yummy little dessert gift boxes that will be a big hit back home for those with a sweet tooth!

I joined Grabr to earn money by bringing people stuff they want. I found out about these desserts because I had to purchase a few boxes to take for someone that had requested them on Grabr.

Resources For Your Trip:

Want To Explore More Destinations Around Asia? Check out:

How To Spend 5 days in Japan - The Ultimate Guide For Planning Your First Visit

Family Travel Planning Resources

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🏨 Scoring the Best Deals 

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  1. Agness of Run Agness Run Avatar
    Agness of Run Agness Run

    Japan is simply magical and your plan seems exceptional, Taiss! Enjoy Japan and let us know your highlights from your trip!

    1. Taiss Nowrouzi Avatar
      Taiss Nowrouzi

      Yes! We loved Japan and hope to go back someday and spend more time there. The food and people are amazing and so are all of the sights! Kyoto was probably my all-time favorite there!

  2. Hang Around The World Avatar
    Hang Around The World

    We are going to plan a trip to Japan and your guide looks like perfect for us! What we love about this country is the food and the people so sociable. Saved your post for the future :)

    1. Taiss Nowrouzi Avatar
      Taiss Nowrouzi

      That’s awesome! Glad it was helpful to you! Your points are right on about Japan! Enjoy your trip! Let us know if we can help in any way!

  3. Lisa Avatar

    Japan looks like an amazing country to visit. Love the itinerary and tips for first timers! The food and scenery is beautiful and riding the bullet train would be a blast!

    1. Taiss Nowrouzi Avatar
      Taiss Nowrouzi

      It’s a place we would go back to for sure!

  4. Kelly Avatar

    It’s very convenient you can buy prettily packaged cake at the airport! I love it you included that little detail ????

    1. Taiss Nowrouzi Avatar
      Taiss Nowrouzi

      Hi Kelly! Thanks for your comment! I normally don’t buy stuff at the airport but those packages and snacks are really good! :)

  5. Christina Avatar

    Great opening photos to the post. Love the colors of the trees. The Japanese pizza looks pretty cool and I know we want to try it. I like that a lot of the attractions are free. I want to visit every shrine when I visit. Your right 5 days is definitely not enough time in Japan.

    1. Taiss Nowrouzi Avatar
      Taiss Nowrouzi

      Thank you, Christina!I’m so thankful we knew a local to introduce us to that food otherwise I would not have known to try it!

  6. Amrita Sen Avatar
    Amrita Sen

    Japan is such a beautiful country! And you have given a concise guide for any first-timers to Japan. I know months are required to get to know any country, but still, how many days do you think is required to visit Japan? What do you recommend?

    1. Taiss Nowrouzi Avatar
      Taiss Nowrouzi

      I think ten days would have been really nice…if you can stretch it to two weeks, even better!

  7. Kellyn Avatar

    Thanks for sharing. This is definitely the ultimate first-timers guide. There’s so many places I want to visit here. I was also happy to see the food. Eating some amazing food is certainly at the top of my list for Japan, especially where street vendors are concerned.

    1. Taiss Nowrouzi Avatar
      Taiss Nowrouzi

      We always love including the food because it’s a huge part of our experience when we travel!

  8. Sandy N Vyjay Avatar
    Sandy N Vyjay

    Japan is a wonderful country that has such a varied range of experiences for the traveler. Culture, nature, and technology merge together into a fascinating cocktail of experiences. Have never been there but would love to get there someday. This post is a ready reckoner for first-time visitors to Japan and is sure to stand in good stead.

    1. Taiss Nowrouzi Avatar
      Taiss Nowrouzi

      Thank you! Hope you make it to Japan, it’s great!

  9. Ami Avatar

    No doubt Tokyo is interesting but I would spend more time in Osaka and Kyoto. I loved the description of all the shrines and the palaces there and that Bamboo garden does look amazing. A photographer’s paradise and I bet if I go in the right season, I will even see the cherry blossoms. Cheers

    1. Taiss Nowrouzi Avatar
      Taiss Nowrouzi

      Kyoto is certainly very dreamy and perfect for photos!

  10. Dee Avatar

    What a great post for people headed or living in Japan! Im excited to go and your pictures and suggestions have me looking at flights! Is it bad to say I really want to go for the food and that pancake! Haha
    Thanks for the ideas!

    1. Taiss Nowrouzi Avatar
      Taiss Nowrouzi

      H! So happy you were inspired by our photos! To be honest, food is always a huge motivation for our travels, so go and enjoy that pancake! :)

  11. Selena Avatar

    Hi Taiss! Thank you for the great guide! I’m also a Cali girl (typing from my current location in Koh Samui!) and planning to visit Japan for 5 days in November! So your recommendations are perfect! Can you provide a little more detail on transportation costs? Did you purchase a Japan Rail Pass? If so, where’s the best place to buy it? If not, any particular reason? Thanks much!

    1. Taiss Nowrouzi Avatar
      Taiss Nowrouzi

      Hi Selena! Koh Samui is not a bad place to be! From what I recall, getting around on the trains was the most cost-effective way, though we did take a taxi once in Tokyo and it came out to 1484 Yen ($13) for a 20-minute ride (We used Uber). For instance, we took the train in Tokyo to see the Skytree and it was 240 Yen per person (a little over $2USD). We did buy the roundtrip Narita Express Train at 4000 Yen a person ($35) to get to and from the airport in Tokyo. We did not get the Japan Rail Pass. I remember trying to calculate our general costs and realizing that because of how many days we were staying and the limited places we would visit, it was not cost-effective for us. I think it is a good purchase if you stay in Japan for a week or more and plan to go to a lot of places. We also had a friend who has a car in Osaka and took us around there as well as Kyoto so that helped us a bit. I hope that helps your Japan trip planning. Let us know if you have any other questions and we’ll try to give you good answers!

      1. Selena Avatar

        Thank you! This is really helpful 😊❤️

        1. Taiss Nowrouzi Avatar
          Taiss Nowrouzi

          That’s really great to hear! Thanks for the feedback!

  12. Paulo Moura Avatar
    Paulo Moura

    Awesome guide! I went to Tokyo for 3 days and it was not nearrrrrrly enough time! There was soooooo much to see! Japan is definitely a country I will return to and Tokyo is somewhere I want to explore more of ??

    1. Taiss Nowrouzi Avatar
      Taiss Nowrouzi

      Thanks! I would agree that going back to explore more is something we’d love to do too!

  13. Aileen Avatar

    Thank you for this itinerary. It will be my first time traveling solo in Japan for 5 and a half days in May 2024. This is very helpful!

    1. Taiss Nowrouzi Avatar
      Taiss Nowrouzi

      Great! Japan is awesome for solo travel so I think it will be a good time for you!

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Rob and Taiss

Hi! We’re Rob and Taiss. We set off to live a life in as many places as possible. To actually live in locations around the world long enough to get to know the locals, the culture, and the food, not just a taste of it.