Japan is one of my favorite countries I’ve visited. I've been in Tokyo a few years ago, but a few months ago I was able to go back and better experience this wonderful land.
For all of you that want to visit Japan but don’t think you have enough time, follow in my footsteps and you'll discover how much you can see in just 1 week!
Just consider this few tips before getting there:
Buy a Japan Rail (JR) Passes
Japan Rail (JR) Passes are available to anyone visiting Japan on a short-term tourist visa. They provide a fantastic discount on regular rail travel. Buy one before going to Japan. If you plan to visit Tokyo and Kyoto and land in Narita, the pass should be mandatory for you. It is incredibly useful and cost-effective.
Buy the Lonely Planet Guide to Japan
Lonely Planet Japan is your passport to all the most relevant and up-to-date advice on what to see, what to skip, and what hidden discoveries await you. A must-have!
Book Hotels close to main stations
If you plan to move often, finding a hotel close to a main rail station will be incredibly wise. I booked the Hyatt Regency close to Shinjuku Station in Tokyo and Kyoto Tower Hotel in Kyoto.
Day 1-3 Tokyo
Tokyo is Japan’s capital and one of the most vibrant cities I’ve ever been to. There is so much to do and see in Tokyo and each corner is unique and you could easily spend a day in every single metro stop.
I would recommend staying in Shinjuku to move around easily and enjoy the nightlife close to your hotel.
Shinjuku is one of the 23 city wards of Tokyo, but the name commonly refers to just the large entertainment, business and shopping area around Shinjuku Station.
Shinjuku Station is the world's busiest railway station, handling more than two million passengers every day. It is served by about a dozen railway and subway lines, including the JR Yamanote Line.
Northeast of the station lies Kabukicho, Japan's largest and wildest red light district, while department stores, subterranean malls and electronic shops surround Shinjuku Station on all four sides, including the redeveloped Southern Terrace.
If you want to eat something traditional go to the Omoide Yokocho.
Omoide Yokocho (lit. memory lane), also known under its more colorful nickname Piss Alley, is a small network of alleyways along the tracks northwest of Shinjuku Station. The narrow lanes are filled with dozens of tiny eateries serving ramen, soba, sushi, yakitori and kushiyaki. Many restaurants consist of just one counter with some chairs, while others have a couple of tables.
Tokyo Metropolitan Government Office
Want to see Tokyo from the sky? The view from the southern tower is considered one of the best in the city, and best of all, it's free!
You can’t leave Tokyo without experiencing the world famous Robot Restaurant in Shinjuku.
Ask your hotel concierge to call to make reservations or you probably won’t be able to get in. My advice is to eat before or after as the food doesn't look very appealing. You can buy small snacks during intermission between acts if you get hungry.
Yoyogi Park is one of Tokyo's largest city parks, featuring wide lawns, ponds and forested areas. It is a great place for jogging, picnicking and other outdoor activities.
Although Yoyogi Park has relatively few cherry trees compared to other sites in Tokyo, it makes for a nice cherry blossom viewing spot in spring. Furthermore, it is known for its ginko tree forest, which turns intensely golden in autumn.
Located in the Shibuya district of Tokyo, the Meiji Shrine is in the famed Yoyogi Park. The shrine was built in 1920 and destroyed during World War II, but rebuilt not long thereafter. There’s definitely a tranquil feel when you’re walking in the park around the shrine, and it’s a nice break from the constant bustle of Tokyo. Not to mention, the shrine itself is beautiful and worth visiting for its history alone. If you’re lucky, you might get to watch a traditional Japanese wedding procession!
Harajuku refers to the area around Tokyo's Harajuku Station, which is between Shinjuku and Shibuya on the Yamanote Line.
It is the center of Japan's most extreme teenage cultures and fashion styles, but also offers shopping for adults and some historic sights.
The focal point of Harajuku's teenage culture is Takeshita Dori (Takeshita Street) and its side streets, which are lined by many trendy shops, fashion boutiques, used clothes stores, crepe stands and fast food outlets geared towards the fashion and trend conscious teens.
Arguably one of the most famous intersections in the world, the Shibuya Crossing is worth visiting even if you walk only one way across the street. When the stop lights turn red, thousands of pedestrians cross the roads from every direction. I would suggest to view it from above from one of the main stores that face the square.
While in Shibuya you can't skip a good old fashioned shopping session.
My warmest suggestion is 109. Shibuya 109 is basically a mall, but it is full of young japanese aged probably 15 to 25 who love dressing extravagantly. Can't be missed.
Akihabara, also called Akiba after a former local shrine, is a district in central Tokyo that is famous for its many electronics shops. In more recent years, Akihabara has gained recognition as the center of Japan's otaku (diehard fan) culture, and many shops and establishments devoted to anime and manga are now dispersed among the electronic stores in the district.
I lost a whole afternoon here.
When in Tokyo you must go to a maid cafè where waitresses dress up and act like maids or anime characters. It's a weird experience that must be tried.
I went to the @Home Cafè in Akihabara and was not let down. Very funny and entertaining.
Day 4-6 Kyoto
Kyoto served as Japan's capital and the emperor's residence from 794 until 1868. It is now the country's seventh largest city with a population of 1.4 million people and a modern face.
Over the centuries, Kyoto was destroyed by many wars and fires, but due to its historic value, the city was dropped from the list of target cities for the atomic bomb and spared from air raids during World War II. Countless temples, shrines and other historically priceless structures survive in the city today.
From Tokyo you can reach Kyoto in just 2 hours with the Shinkanzen.
There are many things to do and see, I've highlighted for you some of the most interesting sights.
The mountain path is lined with thousands of orange torii gates. It is seriously impressive. The walk is not strenuous and, although there are tons and tons of people there, you will have the opportunity to take some really beautiful pictures.
Gion is Kyoto's most famous geisha district, located around Shijo Avenue between Yasaka Shrine in the east and the Kamo River in the west. It is filled with shops, restaurants and ochaya (teahouses), where geiko (Kyoto dialect for geisha) and maiko (geiko apprentices) entertain.
The most popular area of Gion is Hanami-koji Street from Shijo Avenue to Kenninji Temple. A nice (and expensive) place to dine, the street and its side alleys are lined with preserved machiya houses many of which now function as restaurants, serving Kyoto style kaiseki ryori (Japanese haute cuisine) and other types of local and international meals.
Interspersed among the restaurants are a number of ochaya (teahouses), the most exclusive and expensive of Kyoto's dining establishments, where guests are entertained by maiko and geiko.
Kinkakuji (Golden Pavilion) is a Zen temple in northern Kyoto whose top two floors are completely covered in gold leaf.
The surrounding gardens are beautiful and it's worth spending some time mesmerised by the nature.
Arashiyama Bamboo Grove
Walking into this extensive bamboo grove is like entering another world – the thick green bamboo stalks seem to continue endlessly in every direction and there’s a strange quality to the light. If you're craving to take incredible pictures you'll find yourself giving up an entire afternoon in the activity.
Sannen-zaka and Nizen-zaka
Lined with beautifully restored traditional shophouses and blissfully free of the overhead power lines that mar the rest of Kyoto, Sannen-zaka and Ninen-zaka are a pair of pedestrian-only lanes that make for some of the most atmospheric strolling in the whole city.
Day 6-7 Tokyo part 2
Roppongi & Ginza
Roppongi and Ginza are the most famous upmarket shopping and entertainment districts in Tokyo.
The Roppongi Hills building complex features offices, apartments, shops, restaurants, a hotel, art museum, observation deck and more. The Tokyo City View observation deck is one of Tokyo's best. When the weather permits, views can also be enjoyed from an open-air deck on the rooftop. Also located on Mori Tower's top floors is the Mori Art Museum, a modern art museum with a focus on new artistic ideas from all over the world.
Tsukiji Fish Market
The world’s largest seafood market. Yes, there are other fish markets, but this is on a different level. The sheer amount of fish you’ll see is astonishing.
I can't wait to go back in Japan and visit the north or the south islands. In a matter of fact, I would go back only to Tokyo since there are so many other things to discover and do that a week would never be enough.
Excerpts by http://www.japan-guide.com