Visiting Japan for the first, second or even third time can be scary. It is not an easy task to get around in Tokyo or figure out what to see from the countless number of giant temples, beautiful parks, large shopping streets and fresh restaurants.
That is why we have prepared our top “7 days in Japan” itinerary and recommendations so that you can travel, see and explore the greatest sights of the country with your Japan Rail Pass.
Table of Contents
- 1 Day 1: Tokyo
- 2 Day 2: Tokyo and Kamakura
- 3 Day 3: Tokyo
- 4 Day 4: Kyoto
- 5 Day 5: Kyoto
- 6 Day 6: Nara
- 7 Day 7: Back to Tokyo
Day 1: Tokyo
Arriving at Narita or Haneda Airport
Refer to our three days in Tokyo article for more detailed information on how and where to exchange your Japan Rail Pass, take the Narita Express (or the Tokyo Monorail from Haneda) and arrive at the city center of Tokyo.
Odaiba, Hama Rikyo and the Edo-Tokyo Museum
- Start your trip off by visiting Odaiba, one of the newest, most vibrant shopping and entertainment centers of Tokyo.
- While there, take advantage and visit the Tokyo Tower, a communication station, which is known to be the Japanese replica of the Eiffel tower, offering fantastic views of the city from above.
- Escape from the busy Tokyo life visiting Hama Rikyu, a small but lovely park, offering beautiful walks among 300-years old trees and curious pond fish.
- And for a piece of history, the remarkable Edo-Tokyo Museum is the place for children and adults to discover the past of Japan, specifically focusing on the Edo period between the 1603 and 1868.
Day 2: Tokyo and Kamakura
Taking a trip to Kamakura
Just an hour away from Tokyo, the Kamakura region has plenty to offer. You can get there with your Japan Rail Pass, by taking the Tokaido Line from Tokyo Station and making one connection at Totsuka Station, by changing to the Yokosuka Line, until you arrive at Kamakura Station.
Once there, make sure not to miss:
- The Giant bronze Buddha statue – located on the lands of the Kotokuin temple, it is the second largest Buddha in Japan. It is 13,35m tall and originally built to stand within the grounds of a 13th-century temple. However, natural disasters have destroyed the temple more than once, so the locals decided to let it stand in the open air.
- Zeniarai Benten Shrine – a magical place, where people (local as well as foreigners) go to wash their money. This means not money laundry but a spiritual experience, a place where the saying goes that whatever you wash in the shrine’s spring, it will double.
- The Kamakura Beaches – whether you are going in the summer and wish to experience the cultural difference between your home beaches and those of Japan, or you are visiting in the autumn/winter seasons, you shouldn’t miss on the sandy cost Kamakura has to offer.
Day 3: Tokyo
Shibuya, Yanaka and Ueno
- The Shibuya Crossing – the number one most famous place in all of Tokyo. Despite the endless amount of crowds, crossing the traffic lights every minute, people are attracted to Shibuya with the desire to experience what being a part of Tokyo means.
- Yanaka – Just a 40 minute ride away (take the Yamanote line), Yanaka will fascinate you with its fully reconstructed temple, narrow streets and tiled-roof houses. Yanaka is not the most touristic place, which makes it perfect for a peaceful walk, filled with history and past stories.
- Ueno – Within walking distance from the Yanaka area, the gorgeous and never-ending Ueno area includes the Ueno Park and Zoo, Tokyo University of Arts, National Museum of Nature and Science, National Museum of Western Art, Tokyo Metropolitan Art Museum, Tokyo Bunka Kaikan concert hall and more.
Day 4: Kyoto
Arashiyama, Iwatayama and Tenruy-ji temple
- Arashiyama Bamboo Grove – Conveniently located at just ten minutes walking distance from the Saga Arashiyama Station (JR Sagano line), the bamboo grove will take you deep into the wonderland of this magical forest. Perfect for a romantic escape or just a quiet walk with you family and friends, where you will find peace and serenity.
- Monkey Park Iwatayama – For nature and animal lovers, this will be your one and only – breathtaking views from the top of the mountain (just a 20min walk up). You can freely go around the area, where monkeys live and play. It is safe to give them food and watch how mothers and their little ones walk around and study you, just like you are studying them.
- Tenruy-ji temple – a world heritage site, this is one of the most beautiful Zen temples in Kyoto, especially during the cherry blossom season (last week of March – first week of April). The gardens are even more gorgeous with the surrounding rising mountains, located to their north. A spectacular view, especially when the sun rises.
Day 5: Kyoto
Nanzen-ji, Fushimi Inari and Kinkakuji (Golden Pavilion)
- Nanzen-ji – This Zen temple is just like the very perfection of Japanese temples. With its Zen gardens, giant entrance doors, and some smaller temples, the Nanzen-ji has everything there is to offer to the Japanese culture lovers.
- Fushimi Inari-Taisha – The thousands of vermillion torii gates are some of the most photographed in the area and one of the greatest places in Kyoto. The Japanese come to this site to pay their respects or to pray for good fortune and success.
- Kinkakuji (the Golden Pavilion) – A different Zen temple with top floors covered in golden leaves. Visitors are not allowed to the first floor of the building, where historical Buddha statues lay. However, the windows on this floor are usually open, so tourists can look through and enjoy the ancient ambiance of the temple. Close to the exit, you can sip on traditional tea and tasty treats.
Day 6: Nara
Take the JR Nara Line from Kyoto Station for less than an hour journey to Nara – the first permanent capital of Japan and one of the few cities packed with so much cultural heritage.
- Isuien Garden – Gorgeous ponds fed by the nearby river meet and give life to the incredible nature surrounding the gardens, making you feel welcome and at peace. Isuien has actually two different parts, each offering tea houses and authentic Japanese atmosphere.
- Todai-ji Temple – The all-time Nara and Japan-must-see! Home of the Great 16 meter tall Buddha (Daibutsu) this temple will leave you breathless, while you are walking by the marvelous architecture of the building, which seems to be part of the skyline due to its immensity.
- Hōryū-ji Temple – Do not miss out on some of the oldest surviving wooden buildings in the world! Founded by Prince Shotoku in 607, this temple was announced world heritage in 1993. Many might miss out that this was built in the ancient times, while Mohamed was alive, the Mayan calendar was being written, the Roman Empire had just fallen, and meanwhile the Japanese were building wooden structures that would stand still centuries to come.
Day 7: Back to Tokyo
Take the Shinkansen train back to Tokyo and get ready for your trip back home. Depending on your schedule, you can check out the districts of Asakusa and Harajuku, the first stops on our 14-day sample itinerary. Otherwise, you can say goodbye to the city with the views from the top of the Metropolitan Government Building in West Shinjuku.
Note: Do not forget that your can use your Japan Rail Pass to take the Narita Express or the Tokyo Monorail to Haneda airport for free. Make sure to reserve your seats before boarding.