Things to do in Japan: Tokyo, Kyoto, Osaka, Takayama

japan things

Many people have been asking me to share my itinerary from my Japan trip, so here's a post on the key places to visit and foods to try in Tokyo, Kyoto, Osaka, and Takayama!

TOKYO

Tsukiji Fish Market
Tsukiji Fish Market

Tsukiji Fish Market

  • Fresh sushi!! Morning/lunch activity
  • Outer Market: typically 5:00 to 14:00; Wholesale Area: open to visitors after 9:00am ; Tuna Auction: open to visitors from 5:25am to 6:15am (restricted to 120 visitors/day. Should arrive by 2am to get in – P.S. we didn’t wake up to do this lol)
  • Closed Sunday and Wednesdays

Shibuya

  • Trendiest shopping, people watching
  • Hachiko Exit at Shibuya Station
    • Hachi dog statue!
    • Shibuya crossing
    • Tokyu Food Show – amazing food court in the department store basement
  • Shibuya 109 – women’s fashion dept store
  • Center Gai – narrow crowded street where you will find Tokyo’s cutting edge fashion and boutiques
  • Meiji Shrine

Harajuku

  • Younger, eclectic shopping, cosplayers
  • Takeshita Dori – busiest street in Harajuku, younger crowd, counterculture
  • Harajuku crepes
  • largest Daiso store (4 floors)

Shinjuku

  • Shopping & nightlife
  • Shinjuku Gyoen (giant park & gardens)
  • Tokyo Metropolitan Government Building – free observation deck
  • Kabukicho Area
    • Japan's largest red light district features countless restaurants, bars, nightclubs, pachinko parlors, love hotels
  • On the northwest side of Shinjuku Station is Omoide Yokocho, a small network of alleyways colloquially known as Piss Alley. The narrow lanes are filled with dozens of tiny eateries serving mostly yakitori, but also ramen, soba or kushiyaki.
  • Taito Station – multiple floors of arcade & purikura (Japanese photo booth)
  • Try: Mo-Mo Paradise (AYCE sukiyaki & shabu shabu)

Asakusa

  • Sensoji Temple
    • traditional tourist place w/ marketplace of desserts & souvenirs
  • Tokyo Skytree
    • tallest observation deck, night view of Tokyo, mall

Akihabara

  • electronics & anime area

Ginza

  • upscale, luxury shops – “rodeo drive” of Tokyo

Ueno

  • Ueno Park – museums & parks including Tokyo National Museum, Tokyo Metropolitan Art Museum, the zoo, etc.

RyoGoku

  • Sumo Wrestling Village w/ Kokugikan Sumo Stadium
  • Try: Chanko – sumo stew

Hakone (Day Trip)

  • 2 hr train ride from Tokyo, famous for its onsens/hot springs
  • Went to Hakone Yuryu onsen
  • free 3 min shuttle ride from the station
  • indoor & outdoor baths and sauna in nature
  • Try: Hakone pudding

There’s also an onsen theme park in Odaiba in Tokyo (we didn’t go, but in case you're interested)

Odaiba

  • Oedo Onsen Monogotari – Onsen Theme park

KYOTO

Fushimi Inari Shrine
Fushimi Inari Shrine

Eastern Kyoto

Full day Itinerary (bolded = what we did)
  • Ginkakuji – Silver Pavilion; a Zen temple along Kyoto's eastern mountains (Higashiyama).
    • tons of street food around here; try the mochi (especially matcha green tea, black sesame, white sesame flavors)
  • Philosopher's Path – Sightseeing walk
  • Nazenji Temple
  • Keage Incline – Trail
  • Heian Shrine – shrine & huge gardens
  • Yasaka Shrine – Sightseeing
  • Kodaiji
  • Higashiyama Streets – Street shopping
  • Kiyomizudera Temple – great view of Kyoto

Central Kyoto

  • Kyoto Imperial Palace
    • 9:00-15:30 (Last admission at 15:30)
    • ** No walk-ins. Need to go to their office to sign up for a guided tour time slot **
  • Nijo Castle
  • Nishiki Market – food market, day time
  • Gion – Geisha area, restaurants, fun night place
  • Pontocho – long narrow alley of restaurants, historic
  • Round 1 – huge 24 hr arcade & purikura

Southern Kyoto

  • Fushimi Inari Shrine
    • temples & hike with red gates

Northern Kyoto

  • Kinkakuji – golden pavilion
  • Ryoan-ji Temple – Japan's most famous rock garden

Kinkakuji Golden Pavilion

OSAKA

Osaka Castle
Osaka Castle

Sightseeing

  • Osaka Castle
  • Osakajo Pier – river cruise in the city (by Osaka Castle)
    • Aqualiner bus 1 hour – 1700 yen
  • Umeda Sky Building Floating Garden – tall unique building with observation deck
  • Sumiyoshi-taisha shrine (south) – Purely Japanese shinto shrine

Shopping, Food & Nightlife

Most of these shopping/food neighborhoods are clustered together & super walkable. It’s hard to tell where one area ends and another begins.

  • Namba – downtown, dining & shopping
    • Try: Okonimiyaki – Chibo, restaurant in Namba
  • Dotonburi – “times square” for food, shopping, night lights
  • Shinsaibashi – for shopaholics, tons of food (north of namba)
    • Enjoy a leisurely breakfast as most of the Shinsaibashi's shops open between 10-11am
  • Kuromon ichiba – Seafood arcade, cheap fresh seafood food vendors
  • Umeda (Osaka Station area)
  • Kitashinchi District
  • TenjimBashisuji shopping arcade
Dotonburi
Dotonburi

TAKAYAMA

Scenic views from Nagoya to Takayama

  • The Nagoya-Takayama train is one of the most scenic, beautiful rides ever
  • Moriyama morning market
  • Jinja morning market (smaller)
  • Hidanosato (Hida Folk Village)
    • gorgeous old folk village – 15 min bus from Takayama station
  • Higashiyama walking course – 2+ hr walk through Takayama's temples and shrines
  • Foods to try: Hida beef, shabu shabu/yakiniku, beef croquette (street food)
  • B&B: We stayed at Pension Hida No Mori, an adorable, peaceful bed & breakfast cottage
Hida Folk Village

I hope these notes can help you in your travels. I want to note that I did not have one bad meal in Japan—ALL the food was amazing and unforgettable. I especially love sushi, soba, ramen, udon, mochi, sukiyaki, shabu shabu, yakiniku, okonomiyaki, rice bowls, onigiri… and Japanese snacks! Try matcha green tea flavored everything. Have fun exploring!

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