So you’re planning a 2 week trip to Japan? Once you learn about the kawaii fashion, colorful treats, and fascinating history, it’s hard to stay away! After my two weeks in Japan, I was already planning my next trip back to this amazing country. Next time, I’ll plan to spend 3 weeks in Japan– there’s just so much to see and do! The country is easy to navigate through public transportation and the locals are incredibly welcoming and friendly. And yet, it’s one of the rare destinations in the world that still feels truly foreign. If you’re looking for a Japan 2 week itinerary to help you have the best Japan trip, you’ve come to the right place!
Join me on a verbal voyage through the Land of the Rising Sun. We’ll visit the tourist hotspots every first-time visitor to Japan must see, while also visiting regions many Japanese have never even seen!
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The very best 2 weeks in Japan: traditional food, kawaii desserts, matcha, kimonos and more!
A few things to know before you go:
- Internet: In Japan, pocket WiFi is the way to go! I used Japan Wireless’ Pocket Wifi, which was delivered directly to my hotel along with charging cables and a portable charger. To return the best pocket wifi Japan has to offer– just drop it in the mailbox at the airport before you leave! Visit Japan Wireless’ website to find an internet package that works for you– The Sweet Wanderlust readers get ¥1000 off their purchase (not including sim cards) by using the Japan Wireless discount code: JWTSWL.
- Public transportation: Buy a flat rate 7, 14, or 21-day JR Pass for inter-city travel throughout Japan. The JR Pass works on some city transportation, but it’s good to get a SUICA or PASMO card for travel in the cities. Bonus: you can use your SUICA or PASMO card at 7-eleven and at many vending machines across the country.
- Money: Most places require cash, but many ATMs don’t take foreign cards. 7-Eleven is a reliable place to get cash from the ATM.
- Insurance: When things go wrong– whether it’s an airline delay, lost luggage or an unexpected injury, it’s good to be protected. I use Safety Wing for my travel insurance, because I’ve found it to be one of the most affordable options at just over $1/ day with coverage on activities I love.
Day 1: Arrive Tokyo
Welcome to Tokyo! It’s a thrill for the senses to touch down in a country that is ultra-modern while still being respectful of their deeply rooted history and culture. You’re probably ready to hit the ground running… ramen, karaoke and fighting robots await! But first… you’ve got to get out of the airport!
To get into Tokyo from Narita Airport, you have a couple options. If you’re living the good life — budget be darned— you can book a private transfer for door to door service. If you’re saving your yen for kawaii desserts and kimonos, you can save big by taking the Keisei Skyliner for direct access from the airport to Nippori Station OR save even more by taking the regular Keisei Line train (this train will make multiple stops and you’ll be sharing with locals, which can make for a packed train during rush hour). You can buy your tickets online in advance or in person at the airport. The staff is extremely helpful and will ensure you know where you need to go. Or, for a super budget option, book a limousine bus with wifi! Drop your bags at your hotel and get out and explore!
If you’ve seen photos of adorable Japanese girls in colorful clothes, platform shoes and wild hair, this is where it all begins. Takeshita Street in Harajuku is where you’ll find fun outfits, unique souvenirs and the cutest desserts in the country. I first saw rainbow cotton candy from Totti Candy Factory in a Japan travel blog, and that’s exactly what brought me here. For more in depth descriptions of each dessert, check out my post on the best desserts in Tokyo.
For a little taster (see what I did there?!), check out this video from the Totti Candy Factory.
And whet your appetite with these photos of the street’s most adorable and most POOP-ular treats!
If you’re feeling warm, visit a pharmacy for cooling foot patches. These were a game-changer when I visited…. Shout out to Honeybird Travels for saving the -very hot- day! Stop into Daiso to load up on Japanese sweets and snacks. And pay a visit to WeGo for the latest in Harajuku fashion. I was in absolute rainbow unicorn paradise and immediately regretted packing so much stuff. If you’re reading this while you plan for your trip, pack your bag, then remove at least 1/3 of what you packed. You’re going to want all the space for souvenirs!
When I picture Tokyo, I think of Shinjuku. Bright lights, karaoke rooms, and great shopping are a treat for the senses.
Watch Godzilla roar
“See! There it is again! It knocks out everything electrical for miles! It’s what caused this whole thing, and it’s happening again! IT’S GOING TO SEND US BACK TO THE STONE AGE!”
From noon until 8pm, the Godzilla on the 8th floor of the Hotel Gracery Shinjuku lets out an enormous roar, complete with smoke! Take the elevator to experience it up close and personal, or watch from the street below.
Shop for souvenirs at the world’s greatest store
If you can dream it, it’s at Don Quijote. From beauty supplies to sweets to products of a more… adult… nature, this shop offers multiple levels of discount goods and multiple hours of fun. If you want to bring a bit of Japan quirkiness home with you, this is the place to get it!
Go wild for gyoza
Located in Shinjuku Kabukicho, just steps from the Robot Restaurant, Kakekomi Gyoza is a tasty and affordable lunch option for a pre-show meal. Meals can be ordered directly from their tablet menu (in English), so you get exactly what you order!
I had gyoza karaage with edamame, all for less than ¥700.
Have your mind blown at the Robot Restaurant
The Robot Restaurant defies description. There’s literally nowhere in the world quite like it. The exterior combines the showiness of Vegas with the kitsch of a state fair. Inside, the waiting area feels like a bit of UAE opulence, mixed with a slot machine. And upon descent down the overwhelmingly stimulating staircase, you’ll enter a black box stage, with only three rows of seats, ensuring every seat is a great one.
Over the course of the three hour performance, you’ll experience robot fights, glow dances and floating mermaids. You really have to see it to believe it. It’s a pricey experience at ¥8,000, but if you book here, you can get a discount, a souvenir, and a chance to cut the line!
After the show, you’re likely to experience a comedown from the adrenaline and jetlag. Call it an early night with a trip back to your accommodation. Need a snack? 7-Eleven might just become your favorite place in this country. They offer cheap meals (try the onigiri), a reliable ATM for foreign cards, and a plethora of Japanese junk food.
Day 2: Tokyo
Learn to make a cute character bento box
When I was growing up, my mom would make sandwiches for my lunch, accompanied by fruit and veggies and a small treat. To my awkward, preteen embarrassment, she’d often include a sweet note in my lunchbox to tell me she loves me. In Japan, mothers show their love by making labor-intensive bento boxes for their children, often designed to look like the child’s favorite character. In fact, one Australian mother was pulled aside and told the sandwiches she packed for her child’s lunch weren’t appropriate.
While I don’t have children whose lunch need packing, I’m always down to increase the “cute factor” in my life, so I joined a character bento box class with Traveling Spoon. You can read all about the experience here, but check out the photo evidence that I would make a really awesome Japanese mom.
From modern day lunches to the Tokyo of days gone by… Asakusa is the historic capital of Tokyo and a perfect escape from neon lights.
Wander Nakamise shopping street
The road to the temple is lined with shops. From traditional melon pan, filled with ice cream to intricate chopsticks and delicate folding fans, the 89 shops will satisfy any craving. The shopping street is on the temple grounds, so you’ll notice temple gates at either end of Nakamise. Could this be considered a religious shopping experience?
Visit Sensoji Temple
Sensoji Temple is the oldest Buddhist temple in Tokyo, dating back to the 7th century. The temple is dedicated to Kannon, the Buddhist goddess of mercy. Throughout its history, the temple has been destroyed and rebuilt many times. However, the buildings were destroyed during the war, so the current temple is the most recent reconstruction and a symbol of Tokyo’s rebirth after WWII.
Enjoy a free view
You’ll often hear Japan is expensive. And that’s a valid point. But if you know where to look, you’ll find free or very cheap gems along the way! At the Asakusa Culture Tourist Information Center, you can collect pamphlets on the ground floor and take in the view of the area from the top floor for free!
Eat dinner on the floor
No, really! All the cool kids are doing it! Head to Sometarō for an okonomiyaki experience you won’t soon forget! Established in 1937, Sometarō uses a secret recipe for their okonomiyaki (savory Japanese pancakes) that have both locals and foreigners flocking to this rustic restaurant. The sign on the door reads “No air conditioning, very hot inside” and they weren’t kidding. But if you can stand the heat, you’ll get to cook your own Okonomiyaki on the griddle. Not quite sure what to do with the raw ingredients arriving at your table? Your server can help you with the first one!
Day 3: Tokyo to Shizuoka
It’s time to leave Tokyo behind (for now) and west! Many tourists make the mistake of planning a day trip in Shizuoka, passing through to see Mount Fuji on their way to Osaka or Kyoto. But the Shizuoka Prefecture is so much more than the country’s tallest mountain. Hop on the Shinkansen for three nights in Shizuoka and you’ll see what I mean! There’s SO much to see and do (check out this list of awesome things to do in Shizuoka), but here’s an attempt at distilling it all into a manageable and relaxing three days!
Zipline with a view of Mount Fuji
Let’s get right down to it… you want to see Mount Fuji! And if the conditions are right, you will! Your first stop in Shizuoka is the Mishima Sky Walk, where you can tick three of Japan’s #1s off your list. Walk over the country’s longest pedestrian suspension bridge as you take in views of Suruga Bay (the deepest bay) and Mount Fuji (the highest mountain).
On the other side of the bridge, you can check out the cutest dogs at the dog park and go for a forest adventure on an off-road segway. If you want to take in the most unique Mount Fuji viewing experience, harness up for a high-speed zip line adventure!
Once you’re safely back on solid ground, reward your bravery with a local lunch and a visit to the Sky Garden, where hanging flowers bloom year-round. Treat yourself to a sweet treat with rich vanilla ice cream made from the milk of cows who live at the base of Mount Fuji topped with colorful Konpeitō candies.
Want to leave your mark on the area? Purchase a wooden charm with an embedded flower seed to toss off the bridge, where your flower will bloom for years to come!
Taste cherry blossom sweets
Not visiting during cherry blossom season? You don’t have to miss out on all the fun! Pay a visit to luxury confectionary, Togetsuen, where Pastry Chef Takeshi Ayabe is famous for his Mishima Sakura, a special blend of shiso, grated chestnut and brown sugar covered with a sweet white bean bun.
Enjoy the treat with a salted cherry blossom tea for a sweet and savory combination you’ll be dreaming about for months!
Learn how to pray at a Shinto shrine
The Shinto shrine in the city, Mishima Taisha Shrine, dates back to at least the 8th century. The rich history is everywhere you look. While you’re visiting, take a moment to learn how to properly purify yourself and pray.
Did you know:
1. The middle of the road is reserved for the gods, so never walk directly under a gate.
2. Before praying, you should purify yourself using a ladle of water at the temizuya (fountain).
3. I learned to pray by following these simple steps. First, toss a ¥5 or ¥50 yen coin for luck. Next bow two times, clap your hands two times, say a prayer, and bow a final time.
Visit the wind chime cart
To say Japan is warm in the summer is a bit of an understatement. It’s hot and humid and a bit uncomfortable at times. Logically, a wind chime can’t make you cooler, but if you ask any locals, they’ll tell you the simple tinkle of a fūrin (wind chime) makes them feel instantly cooler.
Visit the Nikko Factory Shop to choose a blown glass wind chime hand-painted with local scenery. This is one souvenir sure to make you smile for years to come!
Sip from a motion-activated water pump
Don’t run off too quickly! If you turn left out of the wind chime shop, you’ll soon come across the “Tsurebe-ko” water fountain, operated by characters activated by your motion. The water is fresh and clean and began its life as snow atop Mount Fuji! Bring your water bottle and fill it up with delicious spring water!
Eat great food at FOODO
You’ve been in Japan for five whole days and haven’t had sushi yet? It’s a travesty. Lucky for you, FOODO offers amazing sushi using high quality and expertly prepared fresh fish.
Be sure to kampai (cheers) with some sake made using spring water from Mount Fuji!
Day 4: Shizuoka
If sweet and spicy delights with a side of stunning scenery is your desire for Atami, Cooking Holiday Izu should be your first call! Nina planned an amazing day that left both my belly and my memory card full.
If you didn’t see the elusive Mount Fuji yesterday, you’ve got another shot this morning! Take the gondola up to the Izu Panorama Park, where you can see Suruga Bay and Mount Fuji from the luxury of a private sofa.
Make your way around the park, where you can rest your feet in the free Fujimi no Ashiyu footbath overlooking Mount Fuji. Or continue along the path to the Hyakutai Jizouson (100 Statues of Jizo Buddha) and Katsuragi Shrine— significant spiritual destinations since the Kamakura Period (1185–1333).
The Japanese love their karaoke. But they’re not scream/singing Spice Girls like some backpacker friends and I did in Australia a few years ago. No— they’re classier than that.
Pay a visit to Joren Falls, where you can see a patch of wasabi growing in water, a breathtaking waterfall, and enjoy a cool respite from the summer heat. It’s this very place that inspired one of Japan’s most famous karaoke songs “Amagi-goe.”
The lyrics include:
If you had to be stolen away
I’d rather kill you myself
Sleeping together at a secret retreat
The long and winding path to Joren Falls
Soaring up and falling down―over your shoulder
I can see burning mountains
I don’t care what lies ahead
Treading through the blazing fire
I want to go with you down the Amagi Pass
Here’s hoping your trip is a little less murderous!
If you think sandwiches are boring… you’re not doing it right. Pikiniki is an adorable, chic cafe near Joren Falls. And they’re serving up delicious, gourmet sandwiches with premium coffee. Lunch is served in a picnic basket (of course!), but it’s what’s on the inside that matters! Try the spicy pork or pancetta sandwich for a flavor explosion that’ll have you rethinking the humble sandwich!
Learn to make wagashi at Chaki Chaki
After a tasty lunch, it’s time for something sweet! Head to Chaki Chaki for a wagashi-making class that will make artists out of even the least creative souls. Ms. Asuka is the owner and confectioner who will teach you to make the traditional kawaii sweet bean paste treats in a seasonal motif. Once you’ve finished creating, you will have the opportunity to enjoy the fruits (er… beans) of your labor while Ms. Asuka performs a traditional tea ceremony and teaches you how to properly drink the matcha.
Prefer to let someone else do the hard work? Chaki Chaki is open Wednesday – Saturday. Be sure to try the wagashi, served with matcha tea from the Shizuoka Region or hand-dripped coffee – all made with water from an old gold mine. Now that’s rich!
Visit Strawberry factory
If your sweet tooth still isn’t satisfied, pay a visit to any pink-loving Instagrammer’s dream— Bon Bon Berry. The shop has Instagram-girl swings, complete with wigs and props and the strawberries and strawberry-themed treats are picture perfect!
Try the strawberry cheesecake in the shape of a gorgeous and humongous strawberry!
Test your ability to handle spice
You probably know wasabi as the sinus permeating paste on the side of your plate of sushi, but in Japan, it’s revered. In fact, when presented as a gift to the first shogun, Tokugawa Ieyasu called it “a delicacy from heaven.”
At Yamamoto Foods, your spice tolerance will be put to the test! Walk through a wasabi tunnel, where the scent of the spicy root overwhelms your nostrils. Then, try out three different wasabi graters: a metal grater, traditional shark skin, and a special metal grater created by Yamamoto Foods to aerate the root and enhance the flavor and creaminess. Did you know the correct way to grate wasabi is from the stem side?
Use the extra aerated wasabi to create a dish which has earned the nickname “crying rice.” Can you make it to the bottom of the bowl without teary eyes or a runny nose?
There’s one more challenge headed your way! Try wasabi ice cream, topped with fresh wasabi and super concentrated wasabi seasoning to kick it up a notch or 10.
Day 5: Shizuoka
Get ready for a foodie’s dream day… we’ll be eating our way through Shizuoka City! Spend the morning walking around the city— you can visit Sunpu Castle Park, Shizuoka Sengen Jinja, or enjoy stopping into shops for souvenirs, like Masashi Mizutori’s fashionable modern wooden GETA shoes!
Meet the master of soba
When hunger strikes, it’s time to head to Tagata, a popular soba noodle shop in Shizuoka City. Mr. Osamu Tagata is the lead artisan and chef who’s making history as he brings historical and indigenous buckwheat into popular dining. He uses buckwheat from Sashima, in the west side of the Nagasaki prefecture that is the same strain brought over from China 6,000 years ago. Soon, though, you’ll be able to try indigenous soba from Shizuoka here, too!
The shop is small and popular, so make sure you arrive early to get a seat!
Try the most intense matcha ice cream in the world
You’re almost one week into your Japan trip and you’ve learned how matcha is made, experienced a traditional tea ceremony, and tasted matcha soft serve. My friend, your matcha journey is about to hit the next level. At Nanaya in Shizuoka City, you can experience the most intense matcha ice cream in the entire world! The ice cream case contains flavors ranging from a level one to level seven. But, let’s be honest. It’s a go big or go home situation. Level seven is intense (no false advertising here), but definitely worth a try!
If you’re looking for souvenirs, their 7 levels of chocolate (and a bonus hojicha chocolate) make a great gift!
Dinner at Kakuya Bessyo
Whether you’re celebrating something special or just celebrating being alive, Kakuya Bessyo is a must-visit.
I celebrated my birthday at this stunning restaurant and was amazed by the care taken with every course. Enjoy sushi atop an ice bed designed to look like Mount Fuji, beef from the Izu Peninsula cooked atop lava stone, and smoked duck served still smoking inside a glass bell jar.
And of course, the dessert is to die for! I can never choose just one, and Kakuya Bessyo’s tasting platter allows for sweet tooth like me to indulge in many different sweet treats! This was my favorite meal in Japan… so be sure to make a reservation so you won’t be disappointed if the restaurant is full!
Not ready to call it a night yet? Make your way to the super Instagrammable and happening Aoba Koen Oden Alley for after dinner drinks!
Day 6: Shizuoka to Kyoto
Enjoy green tea tasting
Let’s start with the green tea basics by taking a big step back in history! Keep going all the way to 1781. That’s when Chikumeido first opened its doors.
If tea is what you’re after… this is the spot you need to visit for tea you can bring home to share with good friends and family. Created by accident but loved by many, be sure to try the warakake tea, which is a hybrid of gyokuro tea (premium refined green tea) and sencha tea (ordinary tea).
Green tea gets cooler for a younger generation
In the past, the Japanese would drink 4-5 cups of green tea every day. But in the words of Bob Dylan, times they are a changin’. The younger generation has replaced green tea with coffee, which is bad news for the number one green tea-producing region in Japan.
Since many people’s livelihoods depend on those little leaves, the innovative people of Shizuoka decided something must be done to elevate the status of green tea for a modern generation. The response: kakigori, a shaved ice treat that’s the new, cool way to enjoy green tea. Pay a visit to Chagama for their signature two flavored kakigori.
I’m a huge fan for two-for-one… especially when there’s dessert involved! You’ll get one cup of green tea shaved ice and one cup of hojicha (roasted green tea leaves), both topped with mochi and sweet red bean paste. Which flavor do you prefer?
Take the bullet train to Kyoto
Say goodbye to the incredible prefecture of Shizuoka… it’s time to head west once more to Kyoto!
Stroll down Nishiki Market and try a tako tamago – if you dare
After you’ve dropped your bags off at the hotel, it’s time for a little adventure- first food, then training for ninja combat. Nishiki Market is the place to be if you love to eat. Known as Kyoto’s Kitchen, kiosks on this little thoroughfare sell street food, kitchen utensils, spices and souvenirs. The first shop here opened in 1310, and hopefully these stalls will be in business for many centuries to come.
As you stroll past the vendors, you’ll see takoyaki and other Japanese street food delicacies. But the one food you must try here is the tako tamago. It’s a miniature octopus, stuffed with a quail’s egg. It looks like a savory lollypop and — if you can get past its looks— it’s quite delicious.
Take ninja lessons
The first rule of being a ninja? Don’t tell anyone you’re a ninja.
But when you take ninja training lessons at the Ninja Dojo and Store in Kyoto, it’ll be hard to keep it a secret! In their one-hour lesson, you’ll learn to throw stars, blow darts, and be very, very sneaky! If you’re considering becoming a ninja, you can read abut the full ninja training here.
The best days end with donuts, and today has been a pretty great day! From the Ninja Dojo and Store, it’s a short walk to Koe Donuts, a shop with a clean and modern interior. Pick up a tray and choose between several flavors including lemon meringue, red shiso, and five-colored bean (the topping looks like jelly beans but these beans are of the legume variety). Whatever you choose, you can be assured these donuts are high quality— with healthy and ethically sourced ingredients.
And while donuts and coffee are a match made in heaven, I recommend branching out to try one of their cheese teas. It sounds a little weird, but once you try it, you’ll miss the creamy, tangy topping the next time you have a plain ol’ tea!
With a sugar high and a completed ninja training, you’re sure to crash soon!
Day 7: Kyoto
Visit Fushimi Inari
Fushimi Inari is quite possibly the most popular spot in Kyoto. My evidence for this statement comes from the sheer number of Instagram posts from this location (441K with the tag #FushimiInari) and the overwhelming number of tourists. In order to have the best chance of experiencing actual peace at the shrine, I suggest arriving in the morning when temperatures are cooler and many tourists are still in bed.
Green Tea Tour in Uji
Since you had an early start, you probably need a little pick me up. Matcha offers a ridiculous amount of antioxidants and a clean caffeine hit… so let’s head to Uji— the epicenter of the tea movement. Eat green tea soba and matcha ice cream. And just when you think you’ve had too *matcha*, visit the tea store once responsible for delivering matcha to the shogun— a two-week journey on foot. There, you’ll learn to grind matcha and whisk up your own mug of frothy tea.
Take a walk down Pontocho Alley and visit a “not suspicious” bar
When you travel, the goal is to stay away from suspicious bars and shady characters. Which is why it’s so great that Suipon Bar in Pontocho Alley has a sign, printed on computer paper, with the words “NOT SUSPICIOUS.” Follow that not suspicious staircase and get yourself into the bar… your mom would be proud!
Inside, the delights continue! Try your hand at retro Japanese games as you sip on Japanese gin with a viking-esque horned helmet on your head. Not suspicious at all.
Eat burnt ramen (on purpose)
When burnt food comes out of my kitchen, it’s a total accident— and it tastes like one. But at Kyoto Gogyo, you’ll be rewarded for ordering burnt ramen with a delectably smoky, rich, umami broth. I’ve eaten a lot of ramen. I’ve tried it cold (not good) and ordered it from a vending machine (quirky), but burnt ramen is my absolute favorite. You’ll pay a seating charge, but don’t let the fee scare you away. It’s worth it!
Day 8: Kyoto to Tokyo
Go old school with a kimono photo shoot
You’ve seen robots, eaten kawaii food, and endured sensory overload in Tokyo. Now, it’s time to leave futuristic Japan and pay homage to the country of yesteryear. At Yumeyakata Oike Bettei in Kyoto, you can play dress up in a traditional furisode kimono or summer yukata with full hair and makeup done by a professional for a photoshoot. I chose the flirty furisode, designed for young single women. Here’s a photo to show just how flirty I can be…
Check out the full experience by reading my blog post about the best kimono rental in Kyoto!
Kick up the kawaii a notch at an instagram cafe
From tradition with a hint of kawaii, we vacillate wildly in the opposite direction with a visit to MASHOLA. This is the very definition of an Instagram cafe. With a hostess out front monitoring the entries and exits, it feels exclusive. And there’s a special menu available for MASHOLA Instagram followers.
I ordered from the Instagram menu— naturally— as it offered the most visually appealing options. Say hello to my iridescent unicorn-colored drink in a container I just had to have and is now taking up room in my already overstuffed suitcase. (Remember what I said about not packing too heavily?)
If the Instagrammable glittery drinks aren’t enough for you to hightail it to MASHOLA, maybe this Boo lookalike will. This little dude is feisty— he was NOT up for cuddles— but if you catch him at a good moment, he sure is cute!
Gacha catch them all!
If you’ve waited this long to stick some coins into a capsule toy machine… what are you waiting for?! These machines offer everything from erasers, keychains, and stuffed animals to 18+ anime capsules. Here in Japan, these capsules are called gachapon, which is onomatopoeic for the cranking “gacha” sound of the machine and the “pon” of the capsule landing in the collection area. I got a grumpy bear keychain zipper pouch, which now lives in my purse and holds all of my charging cables. A perfect use of a few yen.
Take the fastest bullet train to Tokyo
It’s time to say goodbye to the city of tradition as you go back to the future once more.
Go vintage shopping in Shimokitazawa
Perhaps I was a bit hasty in that whole back to the future thing. Let’s live in the past a bit longer with a visit to Shimokitazawa— a mouthful of a neighborhood, but it’s the center of vintage shopping in Tokyo. Shop for candy-colored dresses, reimagined denim jackets, and plenty of US- vintage, one creatively named New York Joe Exchange.
Take a shopping break for the most adorable latte
Shopping can be tiring. Perk up with a cute character latte from Ballon D’Essai! The only downside? The inevitable destruction of the kawaii foam art.
Eat some cute donuts on your back to Shinjuku
By now, you’ve seen some of the most kawaii desserts in Japan! Would you believe that there’s even more adorable to come?! At Floresta Donuts, deep fried dough not only looks good… it’s good for you! The owners of Floresta Nature Doughnuts are committed to sourcing healthy ingredients so you can feel good about devouring these sweet (and sweet-looking) treats.
If you want to get a character donut (and really, why wouldn’t you??), be sure to visit early in the day in case they sell out.
Did someone say free massage?
Even with Japan’s amazing public transportation system, you’ve been walking like a maniac on this 2 week tour of Japan. Take a load off your feet at BIQLO and head to the electronics section. Test out the massage chairs for a free 15 minutes in heaven!
There’s no need to get angry! That’s not the kind of pissed we’re talking about here. Tokyo’s Omoide Yokocho (or Memory Lane) earned itself the nickname Piss Alley after WWII. This street was the spot for illegal drinking… and we all know that after a few drinks, a restroom is imperative. In those times, the lack of toilet facilities in the area meant patrons had to get a little more creative with their—ehm— relief efforts. A short walk to the nearby train tracks and the name Piss Alley stuck.
Follow your nose as the smell of smoke, charcoal, and grilled meat becomes more enticing with each step. Duck inside a tiny restaurant for a meal of yakitori— grilled skewers of meat, vegetables, and eggs. Feeling adventurous? Asadachi (translation: morning wood) offers dishes said to have stamina increasing properties. If you’re up for it, try the horse penis, snake liquor, or raw pig testicles. I’m not sure whether I’m relieved or disappointed we couldn’t find this restaurant in Piss Alley.
Day 9: Tokyo
Head to the station this morning, grab a vending machine coffee (or my personal favorite: an iced banana chocolate) and head for Tama-Center Station. It’s a 30-minute train ride from Shinjuku Station, and you’ll know you made it from the moment you enter the station. Hello Kitty is an excellent greeter, and she’s everywhere– from the clocks to the train platforms. A stained glass-style ceiling features KEIO conductor Hello Kitty and her friends at what just might be the cutest station in Japan!
Experience ALLL the kawaii at Sanrio Puroland
If you’re a product of the 90s, you’ll experience a tsunami of nostalgia at the mention of Sanrio. My friends and I loved collecting pencil cases, notebooks, and other trinkets from the local Sanrio Surprise store. As I grew up, Hello Kitty popped up on my radar from time to time, but I had no idea a Sanrio theme park called Puroland was making kawaii dreams come true in Tokyo.
The shows, rides and other entertainment is all in Japanese, so you’ll have to use your imagination and context clues to figure out what’s going on. No matter the language, though, this park is a total hit! You can get a sweet discount if you book your ticket here.
Eat sweet treats featuring your favorite character, ride the Sanrio Character Boat Ride, watch the Miracle Gift Parade, and clap along to the Kawaii Kabuki show, and you’ll leave feeling like a child again.
Grab a Hello Kitty Pablo mini tart and hop on the train at Tama-Center Station to Shibuya— a neighborhood that holds not one –but two!– of the world’s busiest railway stations.
Walk the busiest crosswalk in the world in Shibuya
Come back to the real world with a visit to the Shibuya Crossing. When the pedestrian light turns green, it’s organized chaos as thousands of people cross in every direction. During rush hour, you could be crossing the street with 3,000 people!
After you experience the madness for yourself by foot, watch it from above to get a feel for the unique blend of chaos and order. Head to Mag’s Park, the rooftop terrace of MAGNET by Shibuya 109, for the best aerial view of Shibuya Crossing.
Eat dipping noodles with an audience
Fuunji is one of the best dipping noodle restaurants in Tokyo. Guests order at a vending machine and sit on bar stools with a great view of the artistic chef, slinging noodles into bowls. The chef will ask if you want a normal or large portion— for most the normal is more than enough!
The meal to try here is tsukemen, a DIY noodle dish invented in 1961 by Kazuo Yamagishi. Noodles and a soup made of thick and creamy fish and chicken stock topped with smoked fish powder are served separately. To eat it, dip the noodles in the stock and slurp it all together. Hungry patrons line the wall behind those eating noodles and snake out the door. This dining experience with an audience guarantees no one takes too long to eat!
Visit another “not suspicious bar”
If at first you don’t succeed, try, try again. And if at first you DO succeed— you’d better try it again to make sure it wasn’t a fluke! So, let’s head to Shinjuku’s Golden Gai for a second attempt at a “not suspicious bar.” You’ll know it when you see it, as the handwritten note on the door proclaims its not suspicious status. As you climb the stairs, signs warn it may—in fact— be a little suspicious. But don’t get scared! It’s *mostly* harmless. Order a suspicious shot and draw a picture on scraps of paper to hang on the wall. Look around for a paper with an outline of Texas… that’s mine!
Sing your heart out!
Hopefully your suspicious shot has started to kick in! As you wander the narrow alleys of Golden Gai, you may feel the urge to sing. You’re in luck because some of the bars in this area offer karaoke! Listen for the best (or worst) singers and most enthusiastic crowd and put your name in to sing a tune.
Day 10: Tokyo
One visit to Harajuku isn’t enough. So today, we’re heading back to the land of colorful desserts, cutting edge fashion, and kawaii souvenirs.
Start your kawaii day with a 3D latte
If you’re the kind of person whose life is powered by coffee, prepare to enter your very own caffeinated slice of heaven. At Cafe Reissue, coffee is an art… literally. Choose a 2D latte with an image of yourself, your pet, or your favorite celebrity. If you want to take things to a new dimension, select a 3D latte from a menu of options or show them a 3D latte in a photo and prepare to be amazed!
I saw a corgi latte on Instagram and needed to see its wiggly foam butt for myself. Cafe Reissue did not disappoint. If you visit, be sure to tag @thesweetwanderlust on Instagram… I’d love to see your latte!
Amp up the kawaii with an Instalicious food tour
Since you’re buzzing in the best way possible, it’s time to start the most Instagrammable food tour in all of Japan. Meet your guide from Foodie Adventure Japan for their #Instalicious Harajuku tour and prepare to up your Instagram game!
The next few hours will be full of sweet and savory treats, a history of the neighborhood, and insider info on the celebrities who like to shop on Takeshita Street.
Spoiler alert: there are no cats on Cat Street
The tour will leave you feeling comfortably full, so take this time to continue walking around Harajuku and its backstreets, Uruhara.
Take a stroll down Cat Street for some great shopping — be prepared, though. The likelihood of seeing any 4-legged furry creatures is pretty slim. Continue your shopping adventure in Laforet, where you can visit a shop dedicated to Sailor Moon. Even if you don’t spend a single yen, the shopping displays are gorgeously curated and you won’t find fashion like this anywhere else in the world.
Monster Cafe (Closed as of 2021)
What’s that you say? You still haven’t had your fill of Harajuku’s fashion and food?! That’s great news! Head on over to the Kawaii Monster Cafe (prebook your tickets here— it sells out!) for an evening sure to make all of your Harajuku dreams come true. Each night offers a different themed experience— from, the bright and fun Pop Culture Night to the adult-only Tokyo Underland Drag Night and Burlesque Night. Check out their schedule to make sure you choose a theme you’ll enjoy.
I visited for the Tokyo Pop Culture night. Think: Harajuku dancers, wild songs and flashing lights. With shows every 30 minutes, it was a Harajuku dream come true. The food here is cute… but it’s not delicious. If you’re committed to the ‘gram, order away! If you’re looking for good food, eat before or after and just order a drink or two at the Kawaii Monster Cafe.
Day 11: Tokyo to Ibaraki
By now, you’ve likely tried the sushi and sashimi of Japan that’s garnered fame all around the world. Have you ever stopped to wonder where the fish was caught or thought about the fish auction which results in the perfectly cut piece of fish on your plate?
Something’s fishy in Tokyo
If visiting a fish market is on your list, Going Awesome Places has a comprehensive guide on how to visit the Toyosu Fish Market (which transitioned from the Tsukiji Fish Market). In this guide, you can learn all about how to apply for the lottery to see the tuna auction from the observation deck and how to watch the seafood or tuna auction from the observation windows without winning the tuna auction lottery.
If you miss out on the lottery or don’t feel like a 5am start to your day, you can enjoy the spoils of the market at the Tsukiji Outer Market, near the old auction site, where sushi breakfast is available from 5am to early afternoon.
From fishy to fancy in just a few seconds flat! Ginza is best known for its upscale shopping scene. Prepare to spend some yen— even coffee is more expensive here! Window shopping is free though, and it’s fun to browse the displays highlighting the attention to detail Japan is known for!
Shop like a millionaire in Ginza
My favorite shop in Ginza is Itoya, a century-old stationary shop. With 12 fabulous floors of greeting cards, stationary, pens, and souvenirs, you could stay occupied in this shop for hours! Don’t dilly-dally too long though— it’s time to head east once more!
Where Tokyo is modern and flashy and you’re just as likely to get your coffee from a robot or vending machine as you are from a trained barista, Ibaraki is a breath of fresh air– literally. Ibaraki Prefecture is the agricultural heart of Japan, just an hour away from the big smoke. To book any of the activities in Ibaraki, send a Facebook or Instagram message to the Ibaraki Prefecture and one of their English-speaking team members will happily assist you in making any bookings!
The town of Oarai is best known for its role in the anime, “Girls und Panzer” (Girls in Tanks). The entire town is digitally reproduced— from the streets and buildings to the shape of the trees— as the setting for high school girls in short skirts to practice tank warfare as a sport.
Eat lunch overlooking the surfers in Oarai
Surfs up dude! Stop one in Ibaraki is lunch at Tsuki Cafe. Tsuki means moon in Japanese, and this meal with a view is sure to leave you with stars in your eyes. Try the wood-fired pizzas, a selection of sushi or sushi bowls, salt-crusted fish, or attempt to snag one of only five bento boxes sold each day.
All meals are served in handmade pottery, made by the husband and wife owners of the restaurant. The whoosh of the waves and the wind in your hair enable you to let loose in a region where you feel separated from the crowds of Tokyo by light years instead of just 83 miles.
Visit Kamiiso-no-Torii gate in the Pacific Ocean
The Kamiiso-no-Torii is the outermost gate of the Oarai Isosaki-jinja shrine. The shrine was first built in 896AD, destroyed in the mid-1500s and rebuilt in 1690. The name of the gate is translated “gate at the beach of the gods,” and it’s said this is the spot where the gods came down.
There’s a 1/365 chance you’ll get to experience the awesome phenomenon of the sun rising directly between the two arms of the gate. Visiting on January 1? Lucky you!
This torii gate is sacred and the outcropping of rock is surrounded by strong waves and surprisingly strong currents. Maintain your distance behind the stone marker to avoid disrespecting the locals or experiencing a fall into the ocean.
At the Oarai Isosaki shrine, be sure to take note of the prayers written on wooden charms. You’ll see many intricate anime drawings— prayers from the faithful anime-lovers who come to petition the gods at this shrine.
Day 12: Ibaraki
Learn to make Oyaki at an old schoolhouse
It’s time to get schooled in the art of oyaki! Oyaki are a Japanese stuffed dumpling, created to preserve food in areas like Daigo, where winters are a frozen affair. Here, you can taste oyaki filled with locally produced ingredients like mushroom, cheese, red bean, radish, pumpkin, apple or eggplant. Or, you can join a class and learn how to make your own at Daigo Oyaki School.
The building, built in 1882, was once an elementary school. However, with the increasing age of residents and low birth rates, the school closed its doors. Thankfully, with the birth of Daigo Oyaki School, the building is still fostering a fun learning environment for adults and children who come here on school trips.
Experience jaw-dropping beauty at Fukuroda Falls
Fukuroda Falls is also called “Yodo-no-Taki (Four times Falls)”. The falls cascade in four different stages, but I’ve also learned the name may hold an alternate meaning. I was told each season is so beautiful here that a person must visit the falls four times in their lifetime— spring, summer, autumn, and winter. Each season holds something new and beautiful!
Try the famous apple pie
Did all that beauty make you hungry? Happens to me all the time! Stop off at the apple pie stand outside Honen Mansaku ryokan and pick up a piping hot serving of pie. I told you Ibaraki is the country’s agricultural heart, and you’ll taste the quality in the apple pie. The apple filling is sweet, the flaky pastry is melt-in-your-mouth good, and it’s all topped with a sweet apple glaze. Don’t spoil your appetite, though, there’s more foodie fun ahead!
Cool off with gelato in local flavors
A roadside station in the United States is a place to fill the car up with gas, use the restroom, and grab a cup of coffee. In Hollywood, it’s usually the site of an abduction or another terrible crime. But in Japan, you can throw all those preconceived notions out the window!
Hitachiomiya Kawa Plaza, like other roadside stations in Japan, is a culinary destination… not a mere stop of necessity. Fresh fruit and veggies shine from their displays and local products adorn the shelves. Japanese tourists can get any souvenirs they need at this one stop!
And while produce is great, it’s the ice cream cone from Gelato & Smoothie I’m still dreaming about! The creative team at this ice cream shop combine local and seasonal ingredients with a base Ibaraki milk from Mizuho Farm to create memorable flavors. When I visited, I tried tomato and lemon, wild sesame harvested from the banks of the Kuji River, and banana chocolate chip! I’ve heard other flavors include corn, local milk and green tea, and pumpkin! If you get a chance to visit, let me know what you try!
Visit a sake factory
Pass under the sugidama (cedar ball) at Kikusakari for a deep dive into how sake is made. Did you notice whether the sugidama is green or brown? A fresh, green ball is hung when a new vintage of sake is released. If the ball is brown, you’re buying the previous vintage.
This family-owned brewery has been making sake since 1823. At this location, the master brewer is responsible for the process that will turn tiny grains of rice into 50,000 bottles of sake. After you visit the factory and learn the ins and outs of polishing, steaming, and fermentation… it’s time to taste the sake!
If you like drinking sake, you’ll love the on-site soba restaurant, where the menu is created to pair with Kikusakari sake!
Hitachino Nest Beer is the other arm of the Kiuchi Brewery. Their 190-year-old secret recipe has been called some of the best beer in the world! Want to put your own spin on this adult beverage? Join their beer making experience to learn the process of making beer and adding your favorite flavors before handing your brew over to the master brewer, who will complete the process. Then, 2-3 weeks later, your beer is bottled and shipped to your home. What a cool souvenir to gift yourself!
Enjoy a not-quite-midnight snack
Before Japan, I though ramen was limited to dried noodles in square packages, brought to life with a little hot water. Jeez, was I wrong! Hotel Crystal Palace fed my soul and my stomach with a late night ramen snack bar! Don’t miss this unique bonus!
Overnight: Hotel Crystal Palace
Day 13: Ibaraki to Gunma
The seaside town of Hitachinaka is home to the Hitachi company and many of its factories are located here. The city also draws visitors from all around the world for the gorgeous flowers of Hitachi Seaside Park and the annual rock festival held at the park.
Get a taste of Japan with soy sauce ice cream
All the best days start with ice cream and this one’s no different. Head to Kurosawa Soy Sauce Factory to try their unique soy sauce ice cream. If you like the sweet and salty combination of salted caramel ice cream, you’ll love this!
Live your Insta-girl dreams at Hitachi Seaside Park
In the space of approximately 654 football fields, millions of flowers bloom at Hitachi Seaside Park. No matter the season, this park is immaculately kept and brilliantly colorful. Fluffy balls of nearly-neon kochia turn bright red in autumn, only to be replaced with more than 4.5 million nemophila or baby blue eyes in the spring.
Power up with a Shogun Coffee
The final shogun was responsible for bringing coffee to Japan. And Saza Coffee is responsible for bringing that very same recipe to the masses. Mr. Suzuki, the founder of Saza Coffee, is friends with the grandson of the last shogun, who graciously gave him the recipe and his blessing to share shogun coffee with the world. This liquid link to the last shogun is rich and strong, and when you order it at a Saza Coffee café, it comes in a golden carafe with a non-alcoholic Brandy sweetener.
Visit a Saza Coffee Cafe to try the coffee being hailed as a frontrunner in the fourth wave coffee movement. This is your chance to be a trendsetter!
Take the train from Ibaraki to Tokyo and Tokyo to Gunma
Prepare for a bit of a journey this afternoon as you ride the train west from Ibaraki to Tokyo in order to catch another train back east to Gunma.
Visit the Niagara of the Orient
On your way to your accommodation for the night, stop by Fukiware-no-taki Falls, a V-shaped waterfall created by 10,000 years of erosion. This unique natural site is called the Niagara of the Orient by those who have stood in wonder at this beautiful waterfall.
Relax at a traditional ryokan
After a long day of travel, you deserve a break! Thankfully, Ryokan Umeya offers relaxation in a serene setting. Slip out of your street clothes and into the yukata kimono— which you can wear to dinner, breakfast, and throughout the ryokan. What’s not to love about a place where comfy clothes can be worn outside the bedroom!?
Overnight: Ryokan Umeya
Day 14: Katashina Village to Tokyo
Prepare for a whirlwind adventure through Katashina Village today! This region is best known for its ski resorts, but even in summertime, it offers plenty of activities to get your heart pumping! Read all about the outdoor activities Gunma Prefecture has to offer here.
Marunuma Kogen is a ski resort with fun activities year-round! Challenge yourself with their Tree Adventure, where you’ll overcome obstacles among the treetops. Start with the beginner course and work your way to expert. Be sure not to wear white today, because the zip line landing can get a little dirty if it’s been raining.
Who needs snow to ski?
I always assumed snow is necessary for skiing… but you know what they say what happens when you assume things. Marunuma Kogen offers summer gelände– a sport which utilizes real ski equipment and special self-watering mats so you can ski over the grass.
Their summer slope is a beginner slope with a maximum incline of 15° over a 1,300ft course. If you love summer as much as me, you’ll love the chance to ski without feeling cold.
From the slopes to Sugenuma Lake, life (and SUP) is all about balance. Get suited up and head out on Sugenuma, the clearest lake on the island of Honchu, with up to 50 feet of visibility. Local adventure enthusiast, Kensuke Numano, recently opened High Five Mountainworks for stand up paddle boarding and kayak excursions on the lake. A peaceful experience is guaranteed on this private lake. The only sounds you’ll hear are fish jumping, birds chirping and your paddle as it slices through the water.
Once you make it to the third segment of the lake, it’s time for a break on a secluded beach with hammocks. If you’ve worked up an appetite, you’re in luck! The owners of the lake built a second home by the shores of Sugenuma and the patriarch of the family, being a foodie, dreamed of eating of fresh seafood. He didn’t let a little thing like not being near the ocean stop him from achieving his dream, so he began breeding lobsters in the lake. Thanks to him, Ken is able to catch and cook the lobsters on tour for guests.
Take the train from Gunma to Tokyo
Say goodbye to one of the most adrenaline-fueled prefectures in Japan and head back to the city. Get a good night’s sleep at a hotel near Disney… your last day might just be the biggest day yet!
Day 15: Tokyo
Tokyo Disney Sea
I hope you’ll forgive me if I promised a lot of “best days ever” in this itinerary. Hyperbole certainly wasn’t my intention. I just really, truly loved Japan. And I’ve got one more best day ever– this time at the happiest place on earth.
Avoid long lines for tickets at the gate by pre-booking here. You’ll pick up your ticket at the train station the morning of your Disney adventure, and then you can waltz right on through the gate to the most magical place in Tokyo!
Tokyo DisneySea food
Tokyo DisneySea is unlike any other Disney parks… because it’s not actually owned by Disney. It’s franchised by the Oriental Land Company, which pays royalty and licensing fees to Walt Disney. The result is a park that’s Disney-level magical, clean, and fun– at prices that truly make this place happier than most. In fact, I brought $100 with the goal of eating as much as I possibly could, and finally tapped out before even spending half my cash.
Try the alien mochi, Fantastic Flight lychee tapioca, pineapple churros, and more! The Disney parks in Japan are known for their special flavors of popcorn, so be on the lookout for garlic shrimp, honey, and curry flavored popcorn throughout the park.
Tokyo DisneySea rides
Check out the heart-pumping Indiana Jones, Raging Spirits, and Journey to the Center of the Earth rides– all three are worth the wait! At DisneySea, you can get FastPasses for free, just by using your park ticket. When you get to the park in the morning, head straight for the ride you most want to ride, and sign up for your FastPass. In two hours, you’ll be eligible to request another. Want to stay on top of FastPass availability, wait time and upcoming shows and parades? Use the TDRAlert app on your iPhone.
While you wait, visit King Triton’s Palace where you can ride Flounder’s Flying Fish Coaster and watch King Triton’s Concert. Then head to The American Waterfront where you can tap your feet to the Big Band Beat show and meet DisneySea’s exclusive character, Duffy.
Finish the day with a nighttime spectacular! The summer water show in the Mediterranean Harbor, Fantasmic! was a perfect way to end a perfect day.
Day 16: Depart Tokyo
And just like that, your two week japan itinerary has come to an end. You’ve eaten traditional Japanese food, tried many Instagrammable desserts in Tokyo, paid homage to the Japanese culture by wearing the kimono and learned to pray in Shinto shrines. Is this the best itinerary for Japan? I’m not sure. But I have tried everything in this itinerary and out of 60 countries visited, Japan has earned itself a solid spot in my top 3 favorite countries in the world. I hope you’ll fall in love with it just like I did.
PS. At Fa So La in the International terminal of Narita Airport, you can try the famous Cremia softcream. It’s made with 12.5% milk fat instead of the typical 8%, promising the creamiest ice cream you’ve ever tried.
Some fun activities to think about for next time:
Note: Some of the activities and accommodations mentioned in this post were hosted. As always, all opinions are my own and I’ll never recommend anything to you that’s not awesome!
Don’t forget to book your JR Pass for easy, discounted travel across Japan!
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