A Magical One-Week Japan Itinerary: Exploring Tokyo and Rural Japan

japan travel itinerary 7 days

Updated January 2023

I’ve always considered Norway my second home, but there’s another country that holds a special place in my heart – Japan! Having spent a significant amount of time living in Japan, I realized that I hadn’t written much about my travel experiences in this captivating country. So when the Tokyo Metropolitan Government offered me the opportunity to embark on a one-week trip to Japan, I couldn’t resist – especially after glimpsing at the itinerary.

Japan is a country of immense beauty and cultural richness; exploring it within a limited time frame can be daunting. However, I believe that seven days is an ideal duration to enjoy a taste of what this enchanting country has to offer. Even if you can’t see everything, I guarantee that one week in Japan will leave you with magical memories.

Japan’s allure lies in its unique blend of ancient traditions and cutting-edge innovation. While Tokyo represents the epitome of modernity, experiencing the tranquility of rural Japan is equally essential. With this in mind, my one-week itinerary focused on Tokyo and Yamaguchi prefecture, allowing me to witness both aspects of this incredible nation.

One Week in Japan Itinerary

Days 1, 2 & 3: Tokyo

You could easily spend your entire week in Japan exploring the vibrant city of Tokyo alone. In fact, I’ve done that in the past. However, considering the limited time available, two days in Tokyo should be sufficient to visit the main attractions.

My exploration of Tokyo began with a stroll around the bustling streets of Shinjuku, followed by a visit to Roppongi Hills, a renowned expat neighborhood, to catch panoramic views of the city from Tokyo City View. The sight was simply breathtaking! I highly recommend this experience, especially on clear, sunny days.

tokyo city view

While exploring Roppongi Hills, I stumbled upon a charming coffee shop called Gorilla Coffee, where I sat and savored a cup of coffee while gazing out at the magnificent cityscape. It was a moment of pure bliss.

During your time in Tokyo, I suggest considering the following activities:

  • Hato Bus: If you’re new to Tokyo and want a quick introduction to the city, hop on an open-top Hato Bus for a guided tour. It’s a fantastic way to familiarize yourself with the layout of the city and its famous landmarks.

  • Sushi Ikki: Don’t miss the opportunity to indulge in a delightful sushi lunch at Sushi Ikki. Their generous portions and mouthwatering flavors are sure to leave you satisfied.

  • Shibuya: Make sure to spend some time in the vibrant district of Shibuya, famous for its iconic pedestrian crossing. Explore the multitude of shops and restaurants, immersing yourself in the energetic atmosphere.

  • Kyuemon: For a unique dining experience, consider having dinner at Kyuemon, a traditional izakaya nestled in the Kabukicho area of Shinjuku. The cozy ambiance and authentic Japanese cuisine make for an unforgettable evening.

Throughout my stay in Tokyo, I chose to reside at the Keio Plaza Hotel, an expansive and centrally-located hotel that offers various room types, including Hello Kitty-themed rooms. It always feels like a home away from home whenever I’m in the city.

Day 4: Iwakuni, Yanai, and Yamaguchi

Accompanied by a journalist named Noam, we embarked on a morning flight to Iwakuni City, marking the beginning of our Yamaguchi adventure.

For exploration within Yamaguchi, I recommend renting a car as the train lines do not cover all areas of the prefecture, and buses might not be frequent enough to maximize your time. Driving on the left side of the road may feel unfamiliar at first, but it quickly becomes second nature.

Our first stop in Yamaguchi was the awe-inspiring Kintaikyo Bridge. This wooden arch bridge, originally built in 1673, has been meticulously maintained throughout the years, showcasing the region’s architectural expertise. Adjacent to the bridge lies the Iwakuni Art Museum, housing an impressive collection of samurai armor and swords.

kintaikyo bridge yamaguchi

We then proceeded to Irori Sanzoku, a sprawling roadside restaurant complex that served mouthwatering grilled chicken and gigantic Sanzoku musubi rice balls. The atmosphere, with outdoor seating under kotatsu tables equipped with heaters, offered a cozy and memorable dining experience.

Irori Sanzoku

Our journey continued to Yanai, renowned for its well-preserved Edo Period neighborhood called Shirakabe No Machi. The district boasts old family homes and warehouses, reflecting the architectural charm of bygone eras. We couldn’t resist participating in a workshop at Yanai Nishigura, where we learned to create mesmerizing goldfish lanterns.

goldfish lanterns

As I strolled through the streets of Yanai’s Edo Period district, I couldn’t help but transport myself back in time, imagining life in 17th-century Japan. The tranquility of the area, with hardly any tourists in sight, allowed me to immerse myself in the ambiance of centuries past.

yanai edo period

Our final destination for the day was Ruriko-ji Temple, an absolute marvel. This Japanese National Treasure rivals some of the most magnificent temples in Kyoto, without the usual crowds and bustling souvenir shops. The serene atmosphere enveloped me as I marveled at the temple’s beauty.

Ruriko-ji Temple Pagoda yamaguchi

For an authentic Japanese experience, consider visiting Yamaguchi City Saiko nearby. Dressing up in a traditional kimono or warrior outfit adds an extra layer of charm to your journey. Capture stunning photos amidst the temple’s picturesque surroundings.

We spent the night at Hagihonjin Hotel, a delightful hilltop establishment overlooking Hagi. The breathtaking views in the morning and the indoor and outdoor hot spring baths provided the ultimate relaxation after a day of exploration. The traditional Japanese cuisine served for dinner and breakfast was a culinary delight, leaving us thoroughly satisfied.

Day 5: Hagi, Nagato, and Shimonoseki

Hagi captured my heart with its fascinating blend of natural beauty and historical significance. If you have limited time in Yamaguchi, I highly recommend prioritizing a visit to this captivating city. Nestled amidst mountains and the sea, Hagi exudes a sense of tranquility and a strong connection to its rich history and traditions.

hagi yamaguchi japan

During our time in Hagi, we explored the Hagi Uragami Museum, which showcases a collection of traditional and contemporary art. Additionally, we discovered the Meirin School Building, a museum that traces Yamaguchi’s role in Japan’s Meiji Period. This historical era witnessed the country’s transformation from an isolated feudal society into a modern nation. The school building itself provided an immersive experience, allowing us to delve into Japan’s fascinating past.

IMG_7893.jpg

As I wandered through Hagi Castle Town, I marveled at the beautifully preserved traditional homes and picturesque Japanese gardens, reminiscent of what one might find in Kyoto. The absence of crowds heightened my immersion in the ambiance of ancient Japan.

hagi castle town

The highlight of the day was undoubtedly Motonosumi Inari Shrine. Situated along the edge of the sea, this shrine boasts a breathtaking collection of torii gates, rivaling those found in Kyoto and Miyajima.

Motonosumi Inari Shrine

Climbing the 123 torii gates to reach the shrine was an exhilarating experience, made more challenging by the offertory box at the top, renowned as one of Japan’s most challenging donation boxes. I attempted multiple times to donate my 10 yen, but my efforts were in vain!

Motonosumi Inari Shrine

To conclude the day’s adventure, we crossed the awe-inspiring Tsunoshima Bridge. Stretching over a mile long, the bridge offers captivating views of the ocean, showcasing one of Japan’s hidden treasures – its pristine and often deserted beaches. Although the weather was too cold for swimming during my visit, the crystal-clear waters beckoned me to return.

tsunoshima bridge yamaguchi japan

We spent the night in Nagato at the Yamamura Annex, a traditional Japanese ryokan. The peaceful walk along the riverside, accompanied by the soothing sounds of flowing water, provided a serene atmosphere. I even stumbled upon hot spring foot baths along the river, offering weary travelers a chance to rest and rejuvenate.

Day 6: Akiyoshidai, Shimonoseki, and Ube

Our penultimate day began with a visit to the Akiyoshidai Caves, a natural wonder that surpassed my expectations. The sheer size and grandeur of these caves left me awestruck. The enchanting entrance added immense beauty to the experience.

Akiyoshidai Caves

Next, we explored Karato Market in Shimonoseki, a bustling fish market that rivals Tokyo’s famous Tsukiji. The market offers an incredible selection of seafood, with stands allowing you to handpick your favorite sushi. The flavors were exceptional, and the generous portions left me craving more.

Karato Market

Our journey continued to Nagayama-honke Shuzo Sake Brewery in Ube. Although I’m not a sake enthusiast myself, the brewery tour and tasting session were undoubtedly thrilling for sake lovers. Witnessing the sake-making process firsthand and sampling their various offerings provided a deeper understanding of this traditional Japanese drink.

Nagayama-honke Shuzo Sake Brewery

To return to Tokyo, Noam and I boarded a flight from Yamaguchi Ube Airport, reflecting on the incredible experiences we had gathered throughout our journey.

As my departure flight was scheduled for the early morning, I chose to stay at Keikyu Ex Inn, conveniently located near Haneda Airport. The free shuttle service provided seamless transportation, ensuring a stress-free end to my trip.

Day 7: Return Home

It was time to bid farewell to Japan and embark on my journey back to New York. This trip marked the first time I had flown directly to Tokyo, and the convenience it offered made the journey significantly smoother. The direct connection between Haneda Airport and JFK, facilitated by ANA airlines, proved to be a game-changer. No longer would I have to endure early morning layovers in bustling airports like Los Angeles or Chicago. Lesson learned – direct flights are the way to go!

As I reflected on my one-week adventure throughout Japan, I couldn’t help but feel immense gratitude for the remarkable experiences I had garnered. From the bustling streets of Tokyo to the tranquil beauty of rural Yamaguchi, each day held something extraordinary. Japan’s rich history, stunning landscapes, and warm hospitality left an indelible mark on my heart.

If you’re planning a trip to Japan, I urge you to consider this itinerary. Within a week, you’ll witness the harmonious coexistence of tradition and modernity, allowing you to immerse yourself in the captivating beauty of this remarkable country. Whether you’re a history enthusiast, a nature lover, or a culinary connoisseur, Japan has something to offer everyone.

So, pack your bags, embark on this one-week Japan adventure, and prepare to be mesmerized by the enchanting charm that awaits you!

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