Two Weeks in Japan: An Itinerary for Your First Time in Japan

The beautiful orange tori gates at Fushimi Inari Shrine in Kyoto, Japan.

Traveling to Japan as a First-Timer

I recently spent a little over two weeks in Japan. This was my first time in Japan, so there was a lot to see. Of course you have to accept that you can't see it all, but I was determined to see as much of Japan as possible.  

I've shared a number of photos and videos from my trip, which has prompted many people to ask about my itinerary for two weeks in Japan. At a glance, you can tell that I covered a lot of ground when traveling around Japan, and I know there's still so much that I didn't get to see. 

Some people prefer to travel slow and really get to know a place, while others like to travel around super fast and cover as many cities and countries as possible. Personally, I've done both styles of travel and like to switch it up depending on what part of the world I'm traveling to, which places I'm just dying to see, and how much time I have to work with.

If I had to classify this two-week Japan itinerary, I'd say it falls somewhere in between the two extremes. I definitely could've spent more time getting to know certain cities, but I've also traveled much faster and spent even less time in places than I did on my Japan trip.

It took a lot of strategic planning to figure out what my perfect itinerary would be for two weeks in Japan as a first-timer. Overall, I'm incredibly happy with how my Japan itinerary worked out. While I understand my pace of travel might not work for everyone, I'm going to share exactly what my two-week Japan itinerary looked like—where I went, where I stayed, how I got around, and the highlights of each city.

TWO-WEEK JAPAN ITINERARY FOR FIRST-TIMERS

DAY ONE IN JAPAN: Land in Fukuoka

Our flight to Japan landed in Fukuoka. This is the one part of the itinerary that I'll show two options for, due to a special circumstance in the beginning of my two-weeks in Japan. The first stop in Japan for me was my boyfriend's grandma's house near the city of Beppu. So I'll present the option of visiting Beppu, or you can substitute my days in Beppu by staying in Fukuoka, which is what some of our friends did while we went to grandma's house.

Drive to Beppu

Upon landing in Fukuoka, we rented a car and drove about two hours away to the city of Beppu. As I mentioned, my boyfriend's grandma lives there so we would be visiting with her for a few days before continuing on with the rest of our two-week Japan itinerary. 

OR...

Stay in Fukuoka

Fukuoka is a large city with plenty to see and do. While I didn't spend much time there, since we left to Beppu, two of our friends stayed there for a few days waiting to meet up with us.


DAY TWO IN JAPAN: Beppu

Explore Beppu

Even if you don't have a grandma to visit in Japan, there is still plenty reason to consider traveling to Beppu. Beppu has a population of around 120,000 and enough to keep you entertained for a few days. The city is know for it's incredible hot springs—it's home to over 2,000 of them!

OR...

Explore Fukuoka

If you don't feel like making the journey to Beppu for a few days, you can surely find plenty to do in Fukuoka. The Fukuoka Castle is one of the many popular sights for visitors. 


Baby monkey at Mt. Takasaki Wild Monkey Park in Beppu, Oita, Japan.

DAY THREE IN JAPAN: Beppu

Explore Beppu

On our last full day in Beppu, we ventured out to Mt. Takasaki Wild Monkey Park. Over 1,300 wild monkeys reside in the forested mountain. You can get a close-up view of the monkeys when they gather for feeding times.

OR...

Explore Fukuoka

Make the most of the last full day in Fukuoka and check out popular sights like Ohori ParkKushida Shrine and Fukuoka Tower.


 

DAY FOUR IN JAPAN: Travel to Okinawa

On the morning of our fourth day in Japan, we woke up bright and early to make the road trip back to Fukuoka Airport. We had a flight to catch at noon to Okinawa—time for a little island R&R. It was my first time in Japan, but even my boyfriend and his mom (who grew up in Japan) had never been to Okinawa, so this was an exciting, first-time Japan travel experience for all of us.

Traveling to Okinawa from Fukuoka

The flight from Fukuoka to Okinawa is quick and painless. Flight time is about an hour and a half and there are multiple daily flights doing this route. We traveled with Peach Airlines, which was an affordable and pleasant experience. 

Arriving in Okinawa

Flights land in Naha, the capital of Okinawa Prefecture. Naha is a bustling city with a population of around 300,000. The city of Naha is busy with a visible U.S. military presence. While it appears lively, we didn't travel to the islands to stay in the city. Bring on the beaches, clear blue water and lush green nature, please!

Getting around Okinawa

Public transportation in Okinawa isn't the most robust. We knew we'd want to explore much of the island, so we chose to rent a car at the airport to use throughout our four days here. I highly recommend renting a car in Okinawa if you want the freedom and ease to explore all of the beauty the island has to offer.

Staying in Okinawa

Since we wanted to get away from the city scene, we rented an AirBnb in a more remote location. Our rental was located in Onna, Kunigami District, about an hour drive from the airport. Within minutes we could reach multiple beaches and felt like we were immersed in a true, local community—it was perfect! [Save some cash on your first AirBnb rental with this link!]


Warm bowl of Okinawa soba noodles at a small roadside restaurant in Okinawa.

DAY FIVE IN JAPAN: Okinawa

Okinawa is a tropical paradise! If you've ever been to Hawaii, there are many similarities, but things in Okinawa were much more affordable, comparatively. We spent our first full day on the island exploring multiple beaches in our local neighborhood (within the Kunigami District.) Later in the afternoon, we took a 45-minute drive to visit beautiful Sesoko Beach.

On the drive back from the beach, we stumbled upon a hole-in-the-wall Okinawan noodle restaurant. Foodie alert: Okinawan noodles are a must-try if you are traveling to Okinawa. Okinawa soba (these are the noodles I'm talking about) resemble a bowl of ramen at first glance, but the recipe, and noodles, are culturally unique and only made in Okinawa. 


Water play park at Manza Beach in Okinawa.

DAY SIX IN JAPAN: OKINAWA

Another full day in Okinawa means more time at the beach. The weather in Okinawa is tropical and unpredictable. Rain appears when you least expect it, because it might be warm outside, but that doesn't mean it's going to stay dry. Our first day was really hit and miss when it came to sunshine, so when we saw a day full of sun in the forecast we knew we had to take advantage of it. 

We spent nearly the entire day (like I said, taking FULL advantage of the sun) playing and bronzing at Manza Beach. The beach is located on a peninsula in the Eastern China Sea and was only a 15-minute drive from our AirBnb.

I won't lie, we totally got suckered into this beach. The day before we were in the area and saw that there was an awesome inflatable obstacle course floating in the water along the shore. You have to pay to play, and it wasn't necessarily cheap. It was $30 USD for all-day play, but the men of the group couldn't resist. We got our money's worth though, we were out there all day having a blast. And if the play park isn't your thing, you'll find comfort in the crystal-clear, turquoise water you're surrounded by. 


Large whale shark in tank at Okinawa Churaumi Aquarium.

DAY SEVEN IN JAPAN: Okinawa

The rain was off and on for our last full day in Okinawa, so we thought it would be a good time to hit up an indoor activity. After breakfast at a local cafe, we took a road trip up the coast to Okinawa Churaumi Aquarium. What a cool place! This aquarium can keep you entertained for a few hours and is the third largest aquarium in the world. 


Lively night scene at Dotonbori in Osaka, Japan.

DAY EIGHT IN JAPAN: Travel to Osaka

After four days of island life, it was time to travel from Okinawa to Osaka. The goal set forth in our Japan itinerary was to make our way to Kyoto, but since we had to fly into Osaka to get there, we figured we would spend a day in Osaka.

Traveling from Okinawa to Osaka

We drove our rental car back to Naha Airport first thing in the morning to catch our 11 a.m. flight to Osaka. Again, we flew with Peach Airlines and had a great flight experience. The total flight time from Okinawa to Osaka is two hours. 

Arriving in Osaka

Our flight landed in Osaka at Kansai International Airport, located about 30 miles from the city center. There are numerous train options to get you from the airport into Osaka, ranging from 35-60 minutes in travel time. You can decide which train option is right for you, depending on where you are staying in Osaka. The trains are easy to navigate and depart regularly.

Getting Around Osaka

Unlike traveling in Okinawa, there was no apparent reason to need a car in Osaka. The trains are incredibly efficient, timely and plentiful. We took the train from Osaka's airport to Namba Station and were able to walk to our lodging.

Staying in Osaka

We rented an AirBnb in the lively Dotonbori area, allowing us to get around on foot.

Explore Osaka

When it comes to food, Osaka is top notch. The streets are lined with food vendors and it's hard to go wrong with anything you choose. Osaka is known for okonomiyaki  and takoyaki, so make sure both of these items are on your Japan food itinerary.


Friendly, free-roaming deer at Nara Park in Nara, Japan.

DAY NINE IN JAPAN: Day Trip to Nara

We were only able to squeeze in one night in Osaka en route to Kyoto, but one is better than none! Our one night in Osaka gave us enough time to taste a number of Osaka dishes, explore the Dotonbori area and get a sample of Osaka nightlife. I will note that I would've loved to have another day of eating in Osaka, but we head out around 10 a.m. for a day trip to Nara.

Traveling from Osaka to Nara

Nara is an easy train ride from Osaka. You have a couple of train lines to choose from and the trip is 40-50 minutes long, depending on which train line you select. We took the Kintetsu Nara Line from Osaka's Namba Station.

Arriving in Nara

The train from Osaka dropped us off at Kintetsu Nara Station. The station is centrally located in Nara and within walking distance of everything we planned to see.

Exploring Nara

Another moment of honesty—we were inspired to come to Nara for the deer. After seeing many photos of hundreds of free-roaming deer at Nara Park, we decided to take the detour on our way to Kyoto. Nara Park is a short walk from the train station and is adorned with temples, beautiful blossoms (depending on the time of year), and many free-roaming deer. Vendors sell "deer cookies" for visitors to feed the animals, which kept us thoroughly entertained for a bit. We finished our time in Nara by grabbing lunch and browsing Higashimuki Shopping Street, which leads back to the train station.

Traveling from Nara to Kyoto

 The trip from Nara to Kyoto was another easy train ride. The train ride is about 40 minutes and we were dropped off at Kyoto Station.


Early morning walk through the orange tori gates at Fushimi Inari Shrine in Kyoto, Japan.

DAY TEN IN JAPAN: Kyoto

On the first full day in Kyoto, there was one bucket list item that needed to be tackled on my Japan itinerary: Fushimi Inari Shrine. The stunning photos of thousands of orange tori gates had been haunting me for years on Pinterest—I needed to see it for myself. Because I'm a photography nerd, I woke up super early to arrive before the tour buses and crowds. Getting that out of the way early in the morning freed up our afternoon to check out Higashi Hoganhi temple and Nishiki Market (a foodie heaven!!)

Getting Around Kyoto

Public transportation in Kyoto is solid. You can get just about anywhere you need to go via bus or train. I will say that the city is a lot larger and more spread out than I anticipated, so sometimes bus rides from one side of the city to the other would take longer than I would've liked. But the option is there, nonetheless, which is better than having to rely on cabs. Kyoto is also a very bike-friendly city and I observed many using bikes as their chosen form of transportation.

Staying in Kyoto

As with the other cities, we opted to stay in an AirBnb. The home we selected was tucked away in a quiet neighborhood and felt really cozy and local. The architecture and style of homes in Kyoto felt really authentic, so I'd recommend staying in a quiet neighborhood if you're looking for something that looks and feels characteristically Japan.


Woman riding bike through Kyoto, Japan.

DAY ELEVEN IN JAPAN: Kyoto

Time to get moving on our two-week Japan itinerary. This morning was our last in Kyoto and we'd be leaving in the afternoon to Tokyo. In the meantime, we still had a few hours to soak up as much of Kyoto as possible. We ventured towards the general area of Kyoto Station since we'd be leaving from there to travel to Tokyo. By the way, Kyoto Station is huge and filled with good food. In the U.S. I feel like food options in train stations and airports are generally bad. Note that is not the case in Japan. Some of the best food options lie within train stations.

Traveling from Kyoto to Tokyo

Now for one of the most exciting parts of our two-week Japan itinerary—the bullet train! But seriously, we were all really pumped to take the high-speed Shinkansen train line to travel from Kyoto to Tokyo. The train we took, the Nozomi, reaches speeds up to 186 mph. To put that in perspective, Tokyo is around 290 miles from Kyoto. The trip would take six hours by car, but the train ride only takes two hours and 20 minutes.  So yeah, do the math—that's crazy fast. 


Busy street scene in Shinjuku, Tokyo

DAY TWELVE IN JAPAN: TOKYO

Tokyo—the city of all cities—is modern, yet historical, and so many other things at once. It's easy to feel overwhelmed when you first enter a city of over nine million people, but traveling in Tokyo was easy, sensible and organized (yay for Japanese efficiency!)

Getting Around Tokyo

I'm sure it goes without saying, but Tokyo's public transit is webbed throughout the entire city. You can get anywhere and everywhere by utilizing the public transit system.

Staying in Tokyo

There are so many choices when it comes to deciding where you want to stay in Tokyo. For our first few nights in Tokyo, we had a group of friends staying with us and chose to stay at an AirBnb in Shinjuku, Tokyo's bustling business and entertainment district. Shinjuku is perfect for nightlife.

Exploring Tokyo

There's so much to do in Tokyo! Our first day in the city included a morning spent in the Harajuku district, a awestruck viewing of organized chaos at the world-famous Shibuya crossing, and an evening spent with Japanese izakaya and the Shinjuku nightlife scene. 


Fresh tuna sashimi for lunch at Tsukiji Fish Market in Tokyo, Japan.

DAY THIRTEEN IN JAPAN: Tokyo

Time to start a new day on this first-timer's two-week Japan itinerary. For the second full day in Tokyo, we had a full agenda (as expected.) The morning began with a trip to the famous Tsukiji Fish Market. Make sure you show up hungry, there is so much goodness to be eaten here! 

In the afternoon, we wandered Tokyo's Akihabara district, known for electronics and gadgets, before ending the night at a professional Japanese baseball game at Meiji Jingu Stadium. The baseball game wasn't pre-planned as part of our two-week Japan itinerary, but it ended up being one of the most fun experiences we had. Go Tokyo Giants!


Street art in Shimokitazawa, Tokyo, Japan.

DAY FOURTEEN IN JAPAN: Tokyo

After three nights at our AirBnb in Shinjuku, we moved to another Airbnb in Shimokitazawa. In case you're wondering why we moved mid-stay in Tokyo, it was part of our plan all along. We had a few friends traveling with us and they left home a few days before we did, so we decided to go experience short-term "living" in a new part of Tokyo. 

Shimokitazawa is what some would call a "hipster" 'hood. This part of the city felt like we weren't even in Tokyo anymore, when we really only traveled a few train stops away. The area is filled with cute shops, intimate bars and more delicious food, of course. After movin' and groovin' all around the vast city for the last few days, we were happy to slow down a bit and spent the day wandering the streets of our funky new neighborhood.


Mt. Fuji in Japan, surrounded by pink flowers during the Shibazakura Festival.

DAY FIFTEEN IN JAPAN: Day Trip to Fuji

On our last full day in Japan, we decided to wing it and go on an impromptu day trip to the Mt. Fuji Shibazakura Festival. Yeah, I know—my two-week Japan itinerary for first-timers is actually two weeks plus a couple days. 

Have you ever seen photos of a landscape carpeted with thick pink flowers, while Mt. Fuji sits perfectly as a backdrop? That's the Shibazakura Festival. It's another scene I had scene photos of over the last few years and dreamed of seeing, but I honestly never imagined I'd actually get to experience it. The festival only takes place during a six-week time period each year. When I realized we were in Tokyo while the festival was occurring, we decided to go for it. It was about a three-hour journey from Tokyo, after having to transfer trains three times, but it was beautiful and the perfect way to spend our last full day in Japan.


DAY SIXTEEN IN JAPAN: Wrapping up the first-timer's two-week Japan itinerary

With an early afternoon flight departing from Narita International Airport, we didn't have much time before we had to head to the train station. The journey to the airport from the city is no small feat, as it's an hour and forty-five minute train ride from Shinjuku


Two-Week Japan Itinerary for first-timers = Success!

As you can see, my first trip to Japan was quite a whirlwind! After hearing what the itinerary entails, I usually get a number of common follow-up questions, which are all really valid so I'll address some of those here:

  • If you could do it all again, would you still follow this itinerary? Yes! I love how I got to experience so much of Japan in just a little over two weeks. I realize there is so much more of the country left to see, but this two-week Japan itinerary was the perfect introduction.
  • Do you feel like you had enough time to really get to know/see the cities you visited? I feel really good amount the amount of time that I spent in Okinawa and Tokyo. With four days in each of these places, I felt like I was able to see a lot. Of course there is always more I can see in a city like Tokyo—it's huge! But it would take months, if not years, to conquer that entire city. As for Osaka and Kyoto, I would've gladly spent an extra few days in each, but I'm not at all disappointed by the time I did have there.
  • Which city in Japan was your favorite? That's such a tough question! Okinawa's beaches are a dream. I've never seen such clear, turquoise water. Osaka is an incredible food city, which is a really important aspect of travel for me. Kyoto is where I felt the most authentic and historical Japanese vibes—it's quite magical! Tokyo was the largest, most- organized and well-mannered city I've ever been to. The order and efficiency in Tokyo is like nothing I've ever seen—so impressive!

Quick Review of TWo-WEEk ITINERARY FOR YOUR FIRST TRIP TO JAPAN:

DAY ONE IN JAPAN: Land in Fukuoka

DAY TWO IN JAPAN: Beppu

DAY THREE IN JAPAN: Beppu

DAY FOUR IN JAPAN: Drive to Fukuoka airport, Fly to Okinawa

DAY FIVE IN JAPAN: Okinawa

DAY SIX IN JAPAN: Okinawa

DAY SEVEN IN JAPAN: Okinawa

DAY EIGHT IN JAPAN: Fly to Osaka

DAY NINE IN JAPAN: Day trip to Nara en route to Kyoto

DAY TEN IN JAPAN: Kyoto

DAY ELEVEN IN JAPAN: Kyoto; Bullet train from Kyoto to Tokyo

DAY TWELVE IN JAPAN: Tokyo

DAY THIRTEEN IN JAPAN: Tokyo

DAY FOURTEEN IN JAPAN: Tokyo

DAY FIFTEEN IN JAPAN: Day trip to Mt. Fuji Shibazakura Festival

DAY SIXTEEN IN JAPAN: Tokyo; Flight home from Narita

Have you ever been to Japan? What was your first-time itinerary like? I'd love to hear what worked best for you. Tell me in the comments below!

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