This 9 Day Japan itinerary will take you from west to east, or from east to west if you want to reverse it it. Japan is a solo-travelers paradise, and great for couples and families. Check out this itinerary for the perfect mix of foodie delights, historical sights, and everything inbetween!
Days 1-2: Fukuoka – 9 Day Japan Itinerary
This might sound like an odd place to begin your trip, but Fukuoka actually has a lot going on. As the birthplace of Zen Buddhism and Tonkatsu ramen, you’re sure to have a relaxingly delicious time. Here’s a full guide to Fukuoka, but let’s talk about the highlights.
Fukuoka doesn’t just have the oldest Zen Buddhist Temple, Shofukuji, it has an entire temple quarter. There are three beautiful temples, and then a shrine, all within walking distance of each other. Tochoji features bright red Shingon Buddhism styles, and Jotengi has a famed Zen Garden.
Once you’re done walking you can stack to your heart’s content at the Ramen Stadium. Here, you’re certain to find your perfect ramen match!
If you can, get an early morning flight into Fukuoka. The sun lighting up the harbor truly embodies Japan’s nickname “The Land of the Rising Sun.”
Days 2-3: Osaka
Osaka is Japan’s second largest city, and it’s home to Japan’s foodie scene. There are so many great restaurants here that are worth your time. And on the alcohol side, there are tons of sake tasting venues to find the perfect drink to bring home with you.
Definitely don’t miss the main shopping streets of Dotonbori and Amerikamura. Here, fantastic street food, bar hopping opportunities, and fun purchases await you.
Osaka does have some history outside of the bright flashing lights. Of course there is the famed Osaka Castle, which houses a lovely museum. If you head to the top you’ll also get some of the best views of Osaka.
But the Mozu tombs are also worth a visit. These tombs are a UNESCO World Heritage Site with the burials laid out in the shape of a keyhole (cool!). For more things to do in Osaka, check out this list of Everything to See in Osaka.
Day 3: Half Day in Nara
Nara really deserves more time than just 4-6 hours, but this schedule is already pretty crammed! It’s worth the rush though.
Nara is known for its famous “friendly” sacred deer that you can feed. They’re really only somewhat friendly…I witnessed a little girl get mobbed and run away screaming as she tossed the cookies over her shoulder.
While the deer are great fun, there’s more to see. The Gardens of Isui-en are some of the absolute prettiest in all of Japan. Whatever the season, the moss is
Days 3-6: Kyoto
Kyoto is massive. There is simply too much to do here. Like NYC, London – or even Tokyo, you might have to live there to even begin to compile a mental map.
Kyoto is the old capital of Japan, and it’s often here that you will find out what kind of city person you are – Tokyo or Kyoto. Most everyone prefers one over the other. Will it be Kyoto with temples upon temples, or Tokyo with crazy city lights and nighttime hijinks?
You kind of need an entire separate itinerary for Kyoto, and luckily I have one for you – Kyoto Itinerary. In Kyoto you will want to pick different neighborhoods to visit. Here’s a quick sample:
This neighborhood has the famed bamboo forests (although you can learn about less crowded options in my Kyoto guide!), and gorgeous temples and zen gardens. Some highlights are:
- Jajakko-ji, my personal favorite temple
- Gioji Temple, has amazing varieties of moss that are a sight to behold
- Adashino Nenbutsuji Temple, with hundreds of stone grave markers that were misplaced over the centuries
Kibune & Kurama
This area is in the north of Kyoto, and is home to some of Kyoto’s most famous and varied sites. For those looking to eat, exercise, or relax, there’s something for everyone. Here’s a small glimpse into your options:
- Kurama Onsen, a gorgeous outdoor onsen with misty views of the mountainous Japanese countryside
- Kifune Shrine, the Inari gates leading up to the shrine are one of the most photographed sights in Japan
- Kawadoko Restaurants, restaurants where you can be served directly on top of a river, or next to a rushing waterfall
Downtown Kyoto is where all the best traditional stuff, whether its food, drinks, or souvenirs, is to be had. Here are some of the best souvenir items to consider:
- Handmade paper postcards from a traditional workshop
- Purchase quality matcha, otherwise known as ground green tea
- Attend a traditional tea ceremony and take home a beautiful bowl
- Sample and buy traditional sweets known as wagashi
Days 7-9: Tokyo
Tokyo can be very overwhelming, so the most important thing to do is make sure you are staying near most of the sites you want to visit. Getting from one place to another in Tokyo can take you over an hour (!!) so careful itinerary planning will be key.
Personally, I recommend taking things as casually as possible if you only have three days in the biggest city in the world. For instance, consider cafe hopping. Much like Korea’s cafe culture, Japanese citizens love to cafe-hop.
One of my favorite cafes that I went to was the fantastically creative Sakurai. If you’re more into alcohol, don’t worry because this place caters to that with fun tea cocktails (and if you’re not their tea is incredibly high quality) =. There are tons of cafes in the same building and along the street, so it’s a great jumping off point.
I find attending some kind of workshop when visiting a new country to be super immersive. Not only are you meeting someone from the actual country, you’re learning about something they value. I found this incense crafting experience to be pretty amazing!
Of course, you shouldn’t leave Tokyo without experiencing something crazy and technological. The Team Lab Borderless museum is just that! Even if you’re not a museum fan, you’ll enjoy yourself in the crazy creative projections and displays.
And that’s your 9 day Japan Itinerary!
How to Extend Your 9 Day Japan Itinerary
This 9 day Japan itinerary is truly too short to fully experience this gorgeous country. So, if you can I have a few recommendations for extensions. If you can, giving yourself a full day in Nara and extra full day in Kyoto will keep things from being too rushed, and Nara is totally worth the extra time.
For adding new places, a trip to Mt. Fuji should be on any bucket list. Hokkaido is perfect for winter sports enthusiasts. And Okinawa is a paradise with an unusual culture that’s unique to Japan.