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 spring time. 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."
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.
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.
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.
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 convenient 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.
YOU WILL NEED ONE OF THESE! 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!
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!
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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!
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.
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!
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.
Here are some tips on visiting the Bamboo Grove:
- The locals love to visit this place, so it will be very crowded in peak season (Fall and Spring)
- It's free to walk through
- The bamboo grove is short and crowded, there is a separate path if you hire a private rickshaw (maybe better for pictures)
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!
Three Days In Tokyo - How To Make the Best of Your Time
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:
- Shibuya Crossing Scramble
- Hachiko Dog Statue
- Center Gai
- Meiji Shrine
- Tokyo Skytree
- Robot Restaurant
- Golden Gai
- Piss Alley
- Themed cafes
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
- Get the best flight deals from Skyscanner. We use this site on almost all of our airline bookings. You can find some amazing deals!
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About the Author
Hi! I'm just a California girl addicted to travel and adventure with a passion for art and dance on the side. Born in Iran, but I consider myself a citizen of Earth, adhering to the belief that "The world is but one country and mankind its citizen." I strive to make a positive impact on everyone I meet and learn as much as possible from them. My degree out of college is in Marketing. However, I entered the hospitality business at an early age and worked my way up to hotel management. After about 13 years in that industry (5 of which I was a hotel assistant manager), I made the decision to move to Thailand and leave the 9 to 5 grind behind. My husband and I set off for a life of living abroad and hopes to continue traveling the world, just 3 months after our wedding. It all started with the two of us, along with our cat, together in Thailand. Can't wait to see where life takes us next!