Asia Japan Travel Guide

The Best Japan Itinerary for First Time Visitors (2024)

Just booked a trip to Japan and don’t know where to start your planning? Then, you have come to the right place! There’s a sample 10-day Japan itinerary for first time visitors in this post so please read on!

In 2015, my friends and I booked round-trip tickets to Japan. It was a trip of a lifetime but I was hesitant to take because I know Japan is an expensive destination. I know there are ways to stretch my budget but it will still be expensive compared to other Asian countries I visited. However, the thought of celebrating my birthday in my dream country and seeing cherry blossoms for the first time was so tempting, I could not resist.

Since that trip, I visited Japan once a year. I have covered 6 out of 8 regions and over 10 cities, and I don’t think it will end there! I still have a lot of places that I want to see so I might start planning my next trip soon! Now that the borders have finally opened, I hope this travel guide will help you plan your own dream Japan trip.

PS: Get ready, this is quite a long read!


How to get a Japan Tourist Visa

Depending on your passport, it might be necessary to obtain a visa and other essential travel documents to enter Japan. Visit the official website of the Ministry of Foreign Affairs of Japan for detailed requirements and the visa application process, if applicable.

For Philippine passport holders, getting a Japan Tourist Visa is pretty easy and cheap. First, you must complete the requirements set by the Japanese Embassy. Second, choose among the accredited travel agencies to lodge your application. I chose Universal Holidays Inc. and paid PHP 1,200 (USD 25). If this is your first time in Japan, check out my detailed post about Japan Visa Application.

flowers in full bloom at the park
Hitachi Seaside Park

How much does it cost to travel to Japan

I’ve been asked this question many times. So, let’s talk money. The currency in Japan is called Japanese Yen (JPY). Like other countries, prices depend on the season. The type of travel has a huge impact to your budget as well.

Based on my previous trips, I created this estimate for various budget ranges. If you are a budget traveler, you can manage with around 5,000-10,000 yen per day. This covers all essentials like budget hostels, meals, and public transport.

For a more comfortable experience, consider a budget of 20,000 yen per day. This allows for business hotels, mid-range hostels or ryokans, more dining options, and paid activities.

For those seeking luxury, plan for 50,000 yen or more per day. This includes top-notch hotels in the city centers, diverse dining options, private transport, and activities.

BudgetJPY 2,000 – 5,000JPY 500 – 1,000JPY 500 – 1,000JPY 0 – 500
Mid-rangeJPY 6,000 – 15,000JPY 2,000 – 3,000JPY 1,500 – 3,000JPY 500 – 1,500
Luxuryover JPY 15,000over JPY 3,000over JPY 3,000over JPY 1,500
*This is a daily estimate

The photo on the right shows my actual travel expenses from my recent Japan trip during Taylor Swift’s Eras Tour. My budget for the entire 11-day trip, starting in Osaka and ending in Tokyo, was 120,000 pesos, but I ended up spending 113,712 pesos (USD 2,000 or JPY 311,000). Although exchange rates have fluctuated over the past few months, this should still be relevant. It can be useful if you want to see where the major portions of the budget go when planning a trip to Japan.

How to get to Japan

From the Philippines

Travelers from the Philippines can choose from several airlines that operate direct flights to Japan. Airlines like Philippine Airlines, Cebu Pacific, Jetstar, and All Nippon Airways (ANA) offer direct connections to popular Japanese cities such as Tokyo and Osaka.

Japan round-trip tickets can go for as low as PHP 5,000 (USD 100) during seat sale promos. To get these cheap flights, check any airline’s website (Cebu Pacific, Philippine Airlines, Jetstar and AirAsia) during holidays (on or before 12 midnight). Make sure to follow their social media pages and sign up for their newsletter for seat sale announcements. I have also found cheap flights just by scouring Skyscanner whenever.

For my first trip in Japan, I got my tickets from Jetstar, which costs PHP 13,183.85 (USD 230) round-trip without baggage allowance. It was expensive, but worth it because the travel date was just in time for the sakuras. For my trip in 2024 (Eras Tour in Tokyo), I got my tickets again from Jetstar, which costs PHP 15,000 (USD 270) round-trip with baggage allowance and seats selection.

Shiroyama Viewpoint
Shiroyama Viewpoint in Shirakawa-go

From the US

For travelers from the United States, direct flights to major cities in Japan, such as Tokyo and Osaka, are readily available from various international airports. Major airlines like Japan Airlines (JAL) and All Nippon Airways (ANA) operate frequent flights, offering convenience and accessibility.

From Europe

Travelers from Europe can reach Japan through direct flights from major European cities, including London, Paris, Frankfurt, and Amsterdam. Airlines like British Airways, Air France, Lufthansa, and KLM provide efficient connections to cities like Tokyo and Osaka. Connecting flights are also available through various hubs, offering flexibility in travel options.

How to get around Japan

Japan’s railway map with god-knows-how-many different colored lines looks intimidating. However, the railway and bus systems in Japan are remarkably easy to master. And because it is so well-connected, there are very few places in the city that are not located close to a train station. Tokyo’s JR Yamanote line is a good example. 

Japan Official Travel App is definitely useful to figure out your route. It’s covers all sorts of public transportation including Japan Rail (JR), subway lines, airlines, taxis and ferry service.

Osaka Castle
Osaka Castle

JR Pass

If this is your first time in Japan, you should know about the JR Pass. Minna, this is your ticket to see the entire country. This pass can be purchased outside/inside Japan and need to be exchanged in one of the JR offices upon your arrival. The ordinary 7 day Japan Rail Pass is currently priced at JPY 50,000 (PHP 19,800 or USD 350).

Hokuriku Arch Pass

Hokuriku Arch Pass is a rail pass similar to the JR pass. It also provides unlimited travel on JR trains (Hokuriku Shinkansen, limited express trains and local trains) between Tokyo and Osaka but via the less traveled Hokuriku Region. The pass is valid for seven consecutive days. For only JPY 30,000 (cheaper the JR pass), it stands out as a budget-friendly alternative for hassle-free travel in Japan. It would be of great value if you will do a round trip between Tokyo and Osaka via Kanazawa.

Shinkansen (Bullet Trains)

Traveling between Osaka and Tokyo, you should consider riding a bullet train. The Tokaido Shinkansen, covering over 500 km, is the most popular among the network’s 9 lines, connecting Tokyo to Nagoya, Kyoto, and Osaka at speeds up to 285 km/h. If you are not going to get a JR pass, opt for an individual Shinkansen ticket, granting access to the bullet train, including Nozomi (the fastest bullet train). For just $100, enjoy a swift 2-hour, 20-minute journey from Osaka to Tokyo.

Travel Tip: Book your bullet train tickets with Klook and get up to 5% off when you use my code PROJECTGORAKLOOK.

Best Places to Stay in Osaka

  • For Solo and Budget Travelers: Hostel Mitsuwaya Osaka is just a brief 6-7 minute walk from the metro station. Aside from providing easy access to the city’s most famous attractions, it also has plenty of dining options around. Notably, this hostel boasts a small rooftop where you can bask in the fresh air and sunlight. Highly recommended for those seeking an affordable and solitary escape.
  • For Couples: Hotel Cordia Osaka Hommachi is one of the newest hotels in Osaka. The hotel is centrally located, just a short walk from Dotonbori and Hommachi Subway Station. While the hotel lacks onsen facilities, the impressive bathtub more than made up for it.
  • For Families and Groups: Mimaru Osaka Namba Station offers easy access to numerous attractions and dining options, all within walking distance from Namba Station and Nippombashi Station. I particularly enjoyed the thoughtful amenities, such as the drink station, a warm welcome after a day of exploration. There’s an in-room games where kids can be entertained. Without a doubt, I highly recommend this place, especially for those traveling with kids.

The Best Places to Stay in Kyoto

  • For Solo and Budget Travelers: Piece Hostel Sanjo is located between Sanjo and Karasuma Oike stations. There’s a PiPPA bike rental, which is located right out front for those looking to explore Kyoto by bicycle, all at an affordable daily rate of just 1,100 yen. Having stayed here before, I can say it’s one of the best places to stay in for exploring Kyoto.
  • For Couples: Sowaka is a luxury ‘ryokan’ located in Gion, one of Japan’s most enchanting locales. This hotel seamlessly blends the timeless traditions of a Japanese guesthouse with contemporary luxury. It is the epitome of romance, a dream destination for couples and a perfect spot for special occasions like anniversaries.
  • For Families and Groups: Mimaru Kyoto Station is one of the best hotels in Kyoto. This Mimaru property offers immediate access to diverse dining options, as well as effortless rail and bus connections to neighboring regions, making day trips to Osaka and Nara a breeze. Their rooms provide ample space compared to typical Japanese hotels.

Best Places to Stay in Tokyo

  • For Solo and Budget Travelers: Almont Hotel Nippori is just a short walk from JR Nippori Station, the station with direct airport access (Skyliner). Having stayed here before, I can say that it offers superb value at less than 13,000 yen for two. Their breakfast buffet is great!
  • For Couples: Shibuya Stream Excel Hotel Tokyu is nestled in the heart of Shibuya, the hub of business, fashion, and entertainment. This hotel provides direct access to JR Shibuya Station (3-minute walk), connecting you to Tokyo’s major attractions. If you’re taking the airport bus from Narita or Haneda Airport, you can get a free taxi transfer from Cerulean Tower Tokyu Hotel to Shibuya Stream Excel Hotel Tokyu.
  • For Families and Groups: Mimaru Tokyo Shinjuku West is a 10-minute walk from Shinjuku Station and 2-minute walk from the Washington Hotel airport limousine bus stop. What sets it apart is the spaciousness of its rooms, a rarity in typical Japanese hotels, making it an excellent choice for families. My previous stay with friends (a group of four) was nothing short of fantastic so I highly recommend this hotel.

What Activities to do in Japan

view of Mt. Fuji from Chureito Pagoda

Mt. Fuji Day Trip from Tokyo

I highly recommend visiting Mt. Fuji to first-time visitors in Japan. Aside from the Fuji Five Lakes region, don’t miss the awe-inspiring view from Tenku-no Torii (Torii gate in the sky), a serene spot built for prayers to Mt. Fuji. Accessible by a short drive or a scenic 30-minute walk from Kawaguchi Asama Shrine, it offers a unique perspective of Japan’s highest peak.

Japanese chef

Breakfast Tour in Tsukiji Market

As a frequent traveler in Japan, I highly recommend this experience for first-timers. Indulge in the freshest sushi, savor unique Japanese flavors, and witness the lively market atmosphere. It’s a culinary adventure that captures the essence of Japanese culture and sets the perfect tone for your day of exploration.

Visit Osaka Castle

If you’re a first-time visitor to the Kansai region in Japan, Osaka Castle is an essential stop. While the castle stands as a marvel, the surrounding parks are worth visiting especially during cherry blossom season or autumn. It’s a perfect blend of historical richness and natural splendor.

Tokyo DisneySea

One of the best things to do on your trip to Japan as a first time visitor is to spend a day or two at Tokyo DisneySea. I wasn’t a big fan of theme parks until I got to visit DisneySea in 2017 with my friends. The dialogue in performances, pre-show videos and such were in Japanese, so it might be confusing at first. Still, every attraction is worth going into!

woman in front of a shrine

Self-Guided Walking Tour in Kyoto

Kyoto is an absolute must visit for any first time visitors in Japan. If you have limited time, 2-3 days will give you a glimpse of the city’s timeless beauty and cultural richness. Lots of tourists flock Kyoto daily so make sure to start really early, or better yet, book your hotel so you have more chances to explore when the day trippers depart.

Food Trip in Osaka’s Dotonbori

I am pretty sure you’ve seen all those TikTok videos about Osaka’s Dotonbori street. Some will probably say it’s too touristy, but for me, it’s a great introduction to Osaka’s food culture. If you book you hotel in Osaka, I suggest to spend all your evenings here. There are lots of food choices and shopping options here!

Maiko Transformation in Kyoto

One of the most memorable things I did in Japan was becoming a Maiko for a day. If you are curious to know what’s it like being one, then experience the traditional maiko makeover process inside a Maiko studio in Kyoto! Stroll through the streets of Kyoto in style while getting your picture taken. Channel your inner Sumire from The Makanai: Cooking for the Maiko House (Netflix) or Chiyo from Memoirs of a Geisha!

Kimono Rental in Kyoto

If Maiko Transformation is a bit too much for you, then wear a kimono while strolling around the historic streets of Kyoto! Most of the rental shops in Kyoto are near the temples or shrines so it won’t be a problem to get around on foot. You can avail a basic kimono package or go all out and have your hair and make up professionally done too.

Hogwarts Castle

Universal Studios Japan

If you are a Potterhead, then you should definitely include Universal Studios Japan in your itinerary. The Wizarding World of Harry Potter is inside USJ, so you should spend a whole day here. Tickets are from JPY 7,315 (JPY 7,900 with tax) per adult and JPY 5,000 per child ages 4-11 (JPY 5,400 with tax). A timed-entry ticket may be necessary for the Wizarding World of Harry Potter during peak season.

Where to Shop in Japan

Despite having a reputation as an expensive destination, Japan offers tax-free shopping for foreigners. Don Quijote, aka Donki, amazed me with its wide range of stuff from pharmacy supplies to costumes. Daiso, with most items priced at 100 JPY, is a treasure trove spanning food, skincare products, and more. My personal favorite, Seria, offers a classy 100 Yen Shop experience with skincare, accessories, ceramics, and scrapbooking materials. For skincare and cosmetics, Japanese pharmacies are a must-visit, and thrift stores hold vintage treasures.

Where to Eat in Japan

The average food budget per meal is JPY 500 – 1,000. We decided to splurge on authentic Japanese meal once a day only. My usual breakfast is Onigiri which costs around JPY 100 per piece. Surprisingly, it was more than enough. If you are on a tight budget, Bento boxes from 7 Eleven, Family Mart and Lawson are also pretty good. 

sushi platter

10-day Japan Itinerary for First Time Visitors

Here’s a sample 10-day Japan itinerary for first time visitors. This assumes you’re flying in Osaka and flying out in Tokyo. If you will be flying in and out of Tokyo/Osaka, make sure to allocate some time for traveling back to the city.

Osaka and Kyoto (Days 1-4)

Osaka’s Tennoji and Abeno Area (Day 1)

Osaka Castle and Osaka Bay Area or Universal Studios Japan (Day 2)

Kyoto’s Southern Higashiyama District and Fushimi-Inari (Day 3)

  • Kiyomizu-dera Temple
  • Sannen-zaka Hill
  • Ninnen-zaka
  • Maruyama-koen Park
  • Chion-in Temple
  • Nishiki Market
  • Fushimi-Inari-Taisha Shrine
  • Gion

Arashiyama, Kinkaku-ji and Downtown Kyoto (Day 4)

  • Arashiyama
  • Kinkaku-ji Temple
  • Downtown Kyoto (Pontocho Alley)

Shirakawa-go (Day 5)

Osaka to Shirakawa-go then Tokyo (Day 5)

  • Take the earliest limited express train from Osaka to Kanazawa (6:30 AM)
  • Bus ride from Kanazawa Station to Shirakawa-go
  • Explore Shirakawa-go
  • Travel from Shirakawa-go back to Kanazawa then to Tokyo

Tokyo (Days 6-10)

Western Tokyo (Day 6)

  • Meiji Jingu or Yoyogi Park
  • Harajuku Takeshita Street
  • Shopping at Omotesando
  • Shibuya Scramble and Hachiko Statue
  • Sunset at Shibuya Sky (¥2,500) or Tokyo Metropolitan Government Building

Tokyo Disneyland or DisneySea (Day 7)

  • Whole day at Tokyo DisneySea or Tokyo Disneyland (¥7,700 1-day Disney Passport)
  • Late night ramen fix at Ichiran Ramen (Shibuya Branch) or any 24-hour ramen restaurant near your hotel

Mt. Fuji day trip from Tokyo (Day 8)

  • Join a Mt. Fuji Group Tour from Tokyo (¥10,980) or a do-it-yourself Mt. Fuji day trip
  • Dinner at Golden Gai or Omoide Yokocho (northwest of Shinjuku Station)

Central Tokyo (Day 9)

Departure (Day 10)

  • Check out early and leave your luggage in the hotel reception/coin locker at the station (if you plan to do some last minute shopping or sightseeing)
  • Ueno Park
  • Ameyoko Shopping Street for omiyage shopping
  • Take a train or airport limousine to Narita or Haneda International Airport (if you booked an open jaw ticket)
  • Take a bullet train back to Osaka (if you booked a roundtrip to Osaka)

Travel Tip: Book your activities with Klook and get up to 5% off when you use my code PROJECTGORAKLOOK.

With this itinerary, is a Japan Rail Pass worth it?

If you are going to follow this itinerary (arriving in Osaka and departing in Tokyo or vice versa), then JR pass will not pay off. If you are going to different prefectures within a week (multiple bullet train rides), then it may be worth it. I highly suggest coming up with an itinerary first then calculate your train ticket costs using the JR pass calculator.

Which pass is useful for this 10-day Japan Itinerary?

For Osaka and Kyoto

I recommend using an IC card (like Icoca, Suica, or Pasmo) along with day passes such as the Osaka Amazing Pass (Osaka e-Pass) and Kyoto Sightseeing Pass. These make getting around super easy and cost-effective. If you’re planning to venture from Osaka or Kyoto to Kobe, Himeji, Nara, or Mount Koya, the Kansai Railway Pass (formerly the Kansai Thru Pass) is a great option. It provides unlimited travel on non-JR trains and subways and can be used on non-consecutive days.

For Osaka to Shirakawa-go then Tokyo

Consider getting a Hokuriku Arch Pass if you’re making a round trip from Osaka. It costs 30,000 yen and provides unlimited rides on JR trains, which can be a great value. If you’re ending your journey in Tokyo, you can book individual tickets for the JR Thunderbird Limited Express and the JR Hokuriku Shinkansen at the station or online. 

For Tokyo

If your accommodation is near a subway station, the Tokyo Subway Ticket is your best bet, covering all Tokyo Metro and Toei Subway lines for 24, 48, or 72 hours. If you’re closer to a JR station, go for the Tokunai Pass (JPY 760) for unlimited rides on local and rapid JR East trains within the 23 Special Wards of Tokyo. However, I still recommend getting an IC card such as Suica, Icoca, or Pasmo in case you need to take a train not covered by your pass.

There you have it guys! I hope this Japan Itinerary for first time visitors will help you when you plan your trip to Japan!  Let me know if you have questions and I will try to answer as soon as I can.

Pin for future reference!

By Project Gora

Hey there! My name is Milet Miranda, and I'm a full-time corporate employee during weekdays and a traveler during weekends (and get the picture). I'm a foodie at heart and I love joining food tours. When I'm not traveling, you'll find me walking my dogs or biking around my neighborhood.

25 replies on “The Best Japan Itinerary for First Time Visitors (2024)”

Good day! Would you mind if I share your blog with my facebook group? There’s a lot of folks that I think would really appreciate your content. Please let me know Thank you.

Waah! Mommy you found my blog! 🙂 Download nyo po yung excel kasi nandun lahat ng expenses namin. Also, use Hyperdia to calculate transpo costs. PM nyo lang po ako if you have questions. Miss you mommy! ^_^

Milet! We're planning to go there next spring. Good thing you have this blog as my guide from expenses to practically everything!

I’m loving you blog. Beautiful pictures and you look super cute in that outfit. Gah. Japan. I haven’t seen it. 🙁

Aww sayang naman! Why not try this coming autumn? I bet it would be magical with all the maple leaves 🙂 And they say autumn season is less crowded compared to spring 🙂

nakakainggit! we were suppose to travel to japan too with my inlaws but unfortunately, we were unable to make it in time, we lacked time with the preparation of docs. I love your harry potter adventure! im a fan too but im more excited to see hp than the cherry blossoms. hehehe

Great post, very informative!
Thanks for sharing this helpful info.

Glad this will help Edelweiza! 🙂 It's actually best to go now or just reserve Japanese yen because the exchange rate favors PHP compared to previous years. Last year, 7-day JR pass costs around 13-14K and now it only costs 11K. 🙂

Thank you for this! I want to go to Japan also (but not in the very near future) and this very detailed and informative budget guide will surely help me plan for it. 🙂

sis! super helpful! we’re planning our japan uss too for harry potter haha! 🙂

Shirakawa-go is one of the highlights of our trip. I actually had no idea this village existed if not for Japan Guide website. And when I saw your pictures of the Winter Light-up, I got excited and determined to include this in our itinerary. This part was the most challenging to plan but it was easier than I expected when we got there. 🙂

Hi Milet! 80K for the whole trip is not bad at all, considering all the places you’ve visited! Looking forward to reading your travel entries! 🙂

Hello Milet! I’m so happy that you included Shirakawa-go and Takayama on your itinerary. Not a lot of travelers visit those places! I can’t wait to see you post soon!

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