21 days in Japan itinerary
When I was planning my 3-weeks trip to Japan I tried to use other itineraries as example. I knew about some famous spots like Bamboo Grove in Kyoto, Memorial Park in Hiroshima or Mount Fuji but larger part of Japan was great mystery for me. Unfortunately it turns out there aren’t that many itineraries for 3-week long trips (but there are plenty for 2-week trips). So here’s mine 21 days in Japan itinerary. I hope that if you will ever plan your trip to Japan it will come in handy. Here and there I put some links to pages where I write about specific place in more detail.
Please note, however, that my girlfriend and I were focused on seeing sakura season. So you might want to swap a few points to optimize your travel times.
Day 1 to 4 – Tokyo. We arrived to Tokyo Narita Airport early in the morning and despite being exhausted after long travel decided to walk around the city a little bit. In Tokyo we visited some popular tourist spots like Ginza district, Shibuya crossing, Asakusa with Senso-ji Temple, Imperial Palace Gardens and famous Tsuki-ji fish market.
Apart from walking around Tokyo, during those days we made 2 side-trips to:
- Kamakura – old capital of Japan is a place full of temples and shrines. There is also huge statue of Buddha (Daibutsu). We spent in Kamakura almost whole day. You can read more about Kamakura here.
- Nikko – is a beautiful mountain town full of temples and also great spot for some landscape photography as there are several beautiful waterfalls in the area, with Kegon Falls being the most famous and arguably the most beautiful one.
Day 5 to 6 – Kumano Kodo. From Tokyo we went to Kii Peninsula, largest peninsula in Japan, to see the Kumano Kodo, which is a network of ancient pilgrimage trails. These sacred routes were used, and still are in fact, by pilgrims travelling to sacred sites like the Three Grand Shrines of Kumano: Hongu Taisha, Nachi Taisha and Hayatama Taisha.
On day 5 we visited tuna auction very early in the morning and spent rest of the day trekking on the trails accessible in the area (especially Daimon-zaka). I spent day 6 on wandering around, taking photos and also on travelling to Hiroshima.
Day 7 – Hiroshima and Miyajima. I arrived to Hiroshima in the early afternoon on day 7 so I had plenty of time to visit Hiroshima Castle, Memorial Park and Atomic Bomb Museum as well as to have a short walk through the city. In the evening I moved to Miyajima island where I photographed The Great Tori.
Day 8 to 10 – Yakushima Island. Yakushima island is a magical place although not very popular among tourists. Lush green ancient cedar forest trees, high mountains, numerous small rivers and waterfalls make this place a real paradise for landscape photographers.
- Most of day 8 was spent on travelling. First I had to get to Kagoshima by train and from there to fly to Yakushima. So I haven’t seen much on that day.
- On day 9 I walked through Shiratani Unsuikyo. It took me almost whole day to do 2 out of 3 trails there.
Day 11 – Osaka. From Yakushima I took late afternoon flight to Osaka and I spent evening of Day 10 photographing Osaka Castle and walking through city streets. In the morning of Day 11 I went to a few parks to photography cherry blossoms. I especially liked Kema Sakuranomiya Park in which several thousand of cherry trees are lining Okawa River.
Day 12 to 17 – Kyoto. In Kyoto I spent one day visiting the temples in northern and eastern parts of the city (including famous Golden Pavilion and Kiyomizu Dera) and one day in Arashiyama district where I photographed Bamboo Grove and some temples. In Kyoto I also visited famous Fushimi Inari Taisha. While you’re in Kyoto you might also consider spending one night in a traditional ryokan.
During my stay in Kyoto I made side-trips to:
- Himeji Castle – kings of all castles in Japan. Known as White Heron Castle this building is probably the most spectacular castle in Japan. What’s more unlike most of the other castles, it was never destroyed by wars, fires or earthquakes.
- Nara – Nara, former capital of Japan is most popular for its park inhabited by more than a thousand wild deers.
Day 18 – Koyasan – in Koyasan the most interesting place is Okuno-in cemetery where more than 200.000 tombstones are located making it biggest cemetery in Japan. Also in Koyasan we slept in a temple (shukubo).
Day 19 to 20 – Fuji. Days around Mt. Fuji were quite lazy. We wandered around, took some sunrise and sunset images of Mt. Fuji, visited Chureito Pagoda. We also tried some local cuisine especially Yamanashi style noodles and local grilled beef.
Day 21 – back in Tokyo. On the last day I spent some time in Tokyo, visited traditional Kabuki theater, walked around Ginza district and took some photos I haven’t managed to capture earlier.