Do you need a 3 week Japan itinerary?
Are you intrigued by the bright lights of Tokyo or the serenity of Japanese bamboo forests? Planning a trip to Japan but don’t know where to start? Fret not, for this 3 week Japan itinerary will guide you!
Traveling to Japan can seem intimidating at first. The culture is incredibly unique, and the country itself is made up of 6852 islands. This means Japan has so much to offer – from big city life, charming ancient villages to breathtaking natural wonders.
You could easily spend three weeks in Japan, and it might still not be enough!
The right Japan travel itinerary for 3 weeks will allow you to experience a bit of everything.
WWB Writer Alea has created an epic 3 week Japan itinerary which includes the must-see highlights, while also exploring some off-the-beaten-track places:
- Day 1 – 4: Tokyo
- Day 5 – 6: Lake Kawaguchiko at The Five Fuji Lakes
- Day 7 – 9: Nagano, Yudanaka, Matsumoto
- Day 10: Kanazawa
- Day 11 – 13: Kyoto
- Day 14: Nara
- Day 15 – 17: Osaka
- Day 18 – 19: Hiroshima, Miyajima
- Day 20 – 21: Fukuoka
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The Best 3 Week Japan Itinerary
Day 1 – 4: Tokyo
- Experience the bustling Shibuya Crossing and iconic Hachiko Statue
- Visit Yoyogi Park and Meiji-jingu Shrine
- Submerge yourself in Japanese pop culture at Harajuku
- Go to Shinjuku for great views at the Tokyo Metropolitan Observatory
- Experience Tokyo nightlife at Memory Lane (Omoide Yokocho) and Golden Gai
- Explore Japanese culture at The Imperial Palace
- Watch a once-in-a-lifetime show at The Robot Restaurant
- Eat your heart out at Tsukiji Outer Market
- Visit Asakusa for Tokyo Skytree and the historic Sensoji Temple
- Go to Odaiba for a fun immersive experience at TeamLab Borderless
- Go to Akihabara for the latest in electronics and Japanese anime
- Watch a Sumo match
- Go Park Hyatt’s New York Bar for a movie star experience
Tokyo is the natural place to start a Japan three week itinerary as most international flights will arrive at either Narita International Airport or Haneda Airport.
This makes Shibuya a great place to stay during your trip to Tokyo.
A short walk away from Shibuya is Yoyogi Park, a huge green lung that offers a nice respite from the crowds. If you happen to be there on a Sunday, watch out for the rockabilly dance crew who dance to 1950s rock and roll while dressed up like Elvis.
On the edge of the park is the Meiji-jingu Shrine, a grand shrine that was built in 1920 as a memorial to the country’s first modern-day rulers.
Harajuku is another quintessentially Tokyo area that you shouldn’t miss.
A stroll along Harajuku’s main street Takeshita Street will open your eyes to the latest Japanese pop culture and teenage fashion trends.
While you’re there, line up at one of the many crepe stores for some famous Harajuku crepes, or visit a cat cafe!
Head to Shinjuku for towering skyscrapers, vibrant nightlife, and bright neon lights.
Visit the Tokyo Metropolitan Government Building Observatory for a free birdseye view of the city. Then spend your evening exploring Memory Lane (Omoide Yokocho) and Golden Gai, atmospheric little alleyways crammed with tiny yakitori restaurants and bars.
Other attractions to visit in Tokyo:
- The Imperial Palace is located on beautiful large grounds. Guided tours are free, but pre-registration is required.
- The Robot Restaurant is a flashy, over-the-top live show with laser lights, loud music, and dancing robots. It may be touristy, but it’s a once-in-a-lifetime, only-in-Japan experience. Pre-booking tickets online tend to be cheaper than buying at the door.
- Go to Tsukiji Outer Market on an empty stomach and feast on the freshest sashimi you’ll ever eat.
- Spend an afternoon in the Asakusa area – Tokyo Skytree provides spectacular views 365 days a year (tickets start at ¥1100 or about USD 10 for adults); the Sensoji temple is a beautiful ancient Buddhist temple that will take you back to a time bygone.
- Visit TeamLab Borderless, an interactive visual art exhibition that will blow your mind (and your Instagram feed). Tickets have to be pre-booked online. While you’re in Odaiba, take a ride on the giant Ferris wheel or stroll along the Rainbow Bridge.
- Head to the electronic district of Akihabara if you’re a video game or manga fan! This area is also known for its maid cafes, where you get served by waitresses dressed as (yup, you guessed it) maids.
- Watch a sumo match live. If your trip doesn’t coincide with tournament dates, you can still take a guided tour to catch the morning sumo practice sessions.
- If you’re feeling fancy, channel your inner Scarlett Johansson at the Park Hyatt’s New York Bar, where the Oscar-winning Lost in Translation was filmed. It’s located on the 52nd floor, providing magnificent views and live jazz music.
Day 5 – 6: Lake Kawaguchiko at The Fuji Five Lakes
- Watch the sunrise over Mt. Fuji
- Take the Mt. Fuji Panoramic Railway for panoramic views
- Climb up to Chureito Pagoda
- Stay in a Ryokan with hot spring baths
No trip to Japan will be complete without visiting the iconic Mt. Fuji. This will be the next stop on our Japan 3 week itinerary.
Most people visit Mt. Fuji via a day trip from Tokyo to Hakone.
However, Mt. Fuji is famously shy, so a quick day trip may not guarantee a sighting. The Fuji Five Lakes region is right at the base of Mt. Fuji, promising closer and clearer views.
Spending a night there also means you’ll get to enjoy the stunning area without rushing. The best views of Mt. Fuji tend to be right after dawn or in the early morning.
Lake Kawaguchiko is the most accessible of the five lakes, with direct buses and trains available from Tokyo. Once you’ve reached Lake Kawaguchiko, you can take the Red Line Sightseeing Bus (1500 Yen or about USD 14 for a 2 day unlimited pass) to explore:
- A must-do in the area is the Mt. Fuji Panoramic Ropeway.
The cable car ascends to an observation deck near the peak of Mt. Tenjo more than 1000m above sea level, promising panoramic views of Mt. Fuji. You can choose to hike back down, which should take about 40 minutes.
- The Chureito Pagoda is a beautiful five-story shrine and peace memorial located on a mountainside. Getting to the top requires a steep climb of almost 400 steps, but it’s well worth it as it has one of the best views of Mt. Fuji!
- If you want to make the most of your overnight stay at Lake Kawaguchiko, you could consider staying at a ryokan. These are traditional Japanese inns where you’ll get to experience true Japanese culture.
As Lake Kawaguchiko is an area with natural hot springs, many ryokans in the area come with private onsens, or natural hot spring baths. Imagine taking a dip in a hot bath with open-air views of the mountainside and lakes!
Perfect addition to your 3 week Japan itinerary!
Day 7 – 9: Nagano, Yudanaka, Matsumoto
- Watch a traditional ceremony at Zenkoji Temple
- Play with snow monkeys at Jigokudani Snow Monkey Park
- Literally submerge yourself in Japanese hot bath culture at Shibu Onsen Village
- Experience history at Matsumoto Castle
From Lake Kawaguchiko, you will head back towards Tokyo where you’ll hop onto the Hokuriku Shinkansen train for Nagano.
Nagano is a laid-back small city that is also known as the entrance point to the Japanese Alps.
Nagano is less touristy than the previous stops on our 3 week Japan itinerary, so this is a fantastic way to experience a more intimate side of Japan.
There are still plenty of interesting attractions in the surrounding area, making Nagano the perfect base for day trips:
- In the city itself is Zenkoji Temple, a famous pilgrimage site that is one of Japan’s most important temples. It is known for its hidden Buddha statue from the 7th century, a replica of which is only shown to the public once every six years. If you’re an early bird, you can witness the monks conducting an ancient morning prayer ceremony at sunrise every morning.
- The Jigokudani Snow Monkey Park in Yudanaka is about a one-hour bus ride away from Nagano city. I don’t know if you’ve ever felt the need to watch snow monkeys bathe in hot springs, but…. Why wouldn’t you?
- There are also public bathhouses (for humans) nearby in Shibu Onsen village if you get inspired by the monkeys and want to experience a hot spring bath yourself. Japanese onsen water has high mineral content that is said to be beneficial for your skin and overall health.
- Matsumoto Castle is another must-see in the region. It is about an hour away from Nagano city via direct train, making it an easy day trip. Matsumoto Castle is Japan’s oldest castle as it still retains its original wooden structure. You can easily transport yourself back to the days of the samurai and ninja.
Day 10: Kanazawa
- Relax in the beautiful Kenroku-en Garden
- Visit Kanazawa Castle
- Pretend you’re a ninja at Myoryuji Temple
- Take a step back into the past at Nagamachi Samurai District
- Explore Higashi Chaya and visit a tea house
- Stop by at Kanazawa Yasue Gold Leaf Museum
- Take a food tour and visit Omicho Fish Market
From Nagano, jump back onto the shinkansen train for the next stop on our three week Japan itinerary – the charming and historic Kanazawa.
Kanazawa was not affected by the bombings during WW2, so it is one of the best-preserved old cities in Japan. It is known for its arts and crafts, samurai heritage, and world-famous cuisine:
- Visit Kenroku-en Garden. Designed by the reigning samurai family over hundreds of years, it is often recognized as one of Japan’s most beautiful gardens. It is especially popular during the cherry blossom season in spring or when the leaves change in autumn.
- Across from the gardens is Kanazawa Castle, home to the Maeda family that ruled the area. It has been restored in recent years and is free to visit.
- If you’re fascinated by ninjas, you must pay a visit to Myoryuji Temple, also known as the Ninja Temple. It has hidden tunnels, secret rooms, traps, and a labyrinth of corridors – perfect for making your 10-year-old Ninja Kid dreams come true. Pre-bookings are required.
- Understand samurai culture at Nagamachi Samurai District. The area has been preserved to look like how it did during the Edo era, with cobbled alleyways and earth-tiled houses. Visit the Nomura Clan Samurai House, which was the actual home of a wealthy samurai family.
- Take a walk through the old Geisha district of Higashi Chaya. Two tea houses are still operating, Ochaya Shima and Kaikaro, allowing you a glimpse into how geishas lived and worked.
- Kanazawa has been known for its production of gold leaves since the 16th century. Artisans continue practicing the ancient craft to this day, and you’ll be able to see gold leaf shops throughout the city. Visit the Kanazawa Yasue Gold Leaf Museum to understand the history, process, and symbolism behind this art.
- As a coastal town, Kanazawa is known for its incredibly fresh seafood, so don’t forget to indulge in some snow crab and fresh sushi! You may also opt to take a guided food tour that includes visiting the local Omicho Fish Market.
Day 11 – 13: Kyoto
- Hike up the iconic orange gates of Fushimi Inari Shrine
- Visit Arashiyama for the surreal Bamboo Grove and Togetsukyo Bridge
- Be amazed at the beautiful Kinkaku-ji Golden Pavillion
- Take a step back in time while exploring Higashiyama and Gion
- Stroll along the The Philosopher’s Path to Ginkaku-ji
- Experience a traditional tea ceremony
Kyoto is Japan’s cultural capital and a must on any 3 weeks Japan itinerary. The Limited Express JR Thunderbird train will take you directly from Kanazawa to Kyoto along a scenic coastal route.
In many ways, Kyoto perfectly represents a blend of old and modern Japan. It may be a bit touristy, but Kyoto’s heritage and natural beauty mean it’s worth taking a few days to truly experience the city’s charms:
- Fushimi Inari Shrine is home to the iconic orange torii gates of Kyoto. It is a magical experience to wander through the seemingly endless path of more than 5000 gates. The 4km hike up to the summit takes 2-3 hours but is completely worth the view!
- Arashiyama is an area slightly on the outskirts of Kyoto and known for its beautiful Bamboo Grove. Be sure to go early as it can get pretty crowded (you want to be able to take some nice photos without a horde of tourists in the background!). Then take a stroll along the district’s charming streets until you reach the picturesque riverside and the famed Togetsukyo Bridge.
- Kinkaku-ji is Kyoto’s famous Golden Pavilion, and can be visited in the afternoon after Arashiyama. The entire top floors of the temple are covered in gold leaves, and its sprawling grounds make for a stunning view.
- Higashiyama and Gion are historic neighborhoods right in the heart of Kyoto. Wander along the narrow lanes and explore the wooden shops and many temples. Alternatively, you could sign up for a free walking tour to better understand the historical context of the area.
- The Philosopher’s Path is a beautiful 2km stone path alongside a canal, named after a famous Japanese philosopher who would walk this path on his way to university. It starts near the Silver Pavilion, Ginkaku-ji. The Philosopher’s Path is particularly popular in spring when the cherry blossoms are in full bloom, but it also makes a pleasant afternoon stroll any time of the year.
- While we might think of tea as just another cuppa to get us through the afternoon, tea ceremonies are a whole sophisticated ritual in Japan. And Kyoto is at the heart of Japanese tea ceremony culture. There are several tea houses in Kyoto trying to preserve this culture, and it is worth attending one to experience this magical ritual firsthand.
Day 14: Nara
- Feed the deer at Nara Park
- See the giant Buddha statue at Todai-ji Temple
- Explore traditional Buddhist art at Kofukuji Temple
Nara is a relaxed little old town that was Japan’s first permanent capital. It’s very easy to get to via train, so many people opt to visit Nara as a day trip from Kyoto or Osaka. However, you can also choose to spend the night there as another stop along your 3 weeks in Japan itinerary:
- Nara Park is famous for having more than 1000 free-roaming deers. The deers used to be considered sacred, and today they have been classified as national treasures. You can buy crackers to feed the deers, and they’re known to bow back at visitors who bow to them!
- Todai-ji Temple is famous for its giant 15m high Buddha statue, said to be the world’s largest bronze Buddha statue.
- Kofukuji Temple and its adjacent Kofukuji National Treasure Hall are historical monuments filled with ancient Buddhist art.
Day 15 – 17: Osaka
- Experience the bright neon lights and buzz of Dotonbori
- Eat all the Osaka street food your stomach can fit
- Visit Shinsekai to be transported to a retro era
- Explore Osaka Castle
- Let your inner child out at Universal Studios Japan and The Wizarding World of Harry Potter
After experiencing the more traditional parts of Japan, we’re heading to the vibrant and bustling metropolis of Osaka!
Osaka is often dismissed as being Tokyo’s brasher, louder little sister, but it has its own character that shouldn’t be missed on a three weeks in Japan itinerary.
Osaka is well known for its street food, shopping, and vibrant nightlife:
- Dotonbori is Osaka’s main shopping and food arcade that is also famous for its vibrant neon billboards. Visit at night and don’t miss out on the iconic Glico Running Man and moving gigantic crab signs (you’ll know it when you see it). Then get some takoyaki balls from a street vendor to snack on while you absorb the sights and sounds around you.
- Osaka is known for its down-to-earth and affordable but delicious cuisine, so don’t miss out on trying kushikatsu (deep-fried skewers of seafood or meat) and okonomiyaki (grilled savory pancakes filled with cabbage and meat). Visit Kuromon Market for freshly grilled seafood and other food prepared on the spot for you – it’s not known as “Osaka’s Kitchen” for nothing!
- Shinsekai is a quirky little neighborhood known as the “Retro District”. It was modeled after Paris and New York’s Coney Island in the Post-war era, and its colorful retro shop fronts give off a sense of old Osaka.
- Osaka Castle is a symbol of the city and is considered one of the great castles of Japan. It is set in sprawling grounds, so one option is to take a bike tour to explore the whole area.
- Less than 30 minutes away from Osaka is Universal Studios Japan, one of the country’s best theme parks. It’s well known for being home to The Wizarding World of Harry Potter, so if you’re a Potterhead this is a must-do!
Day 18 – 19: Hiroshima and Miyajima
- Pay homage to the memories of the past at Hiroshima Peace Memorial Park and Museum
- Visit Miyajima for the iconic Itsukushima Shrine
- Take the Miyajima Ropeway for stunning views
Less than 2 hours away from Osaka via the shinkansen is Hiroshima. You may recognize the name from the horrific atomic bombing that happened during WW2, but Hiroshima has now rebuilt itself into a thriving city:
- The Hiroshima Peace Memorial Park is a huge tranquil park dedicated to the memory of those who perished in the war. At the center of the park is the Atomic Bomb Dome, which is the remains of a building that survived the bombing. The Hiroshima Peace Memorial Museum is located within the park to document the atrocities and aftermath of the bombing.
- Miyajima is a small island that’s a quick ferry ride away from Hiroshima that makes for a great day trip. It is famous for the Itsukushima Shrine that has an iconic floating gate out on the sea. You can also take the Miyajima Ropeway up to Mount Misen for stunning sea views. There are also multiple hiking and walking trails that cut across the island affording beautiful sights.
Day 20 – 21: Fukuoka
- Enjoy the beach at Momochi Seaside Park
- Explore Fukuoka’s gastronomical delights
- See the beautiful wisterias at Kawachi Fuji Garden
- Experience serenity at Nanzoin Temple
What better way to end a 3 weeks itinerary in Japan than at the Ramen Capital of the world? On the southern side of Japan, Fukuoka is a vibrant city that also boasts beautiful coastlines, parks, shopping, and world-famous cuisine, making it the perfect place to wrap up a Japanese holiday:
- Momochi Seaside Park is a 1km stretch of beach in the city that makes for a fun and relaxing afternoon. It’s popular for swimming, beach volleyball or just enjoying a nice meal on the patio of a seaside restaurant.
- Fukuoka is a gastronomist’s dream come true. Being closer to central Asia, its cuisine has infused elements of Chinese and Korean flavors. Go on a ramen crawl, try out a Fukuoka-style hot pot, or have some grilled yakitori (meat skewers) at a roadside yatai stall. If you’re feeling overwhelmed with options, sign up for a personalized food tour with a local guide.
- If you happen to be in Fukuoka during spring or autumn, the Kawachi Fuji Garden is a must-do. This private garden is famous for its spectacular number of wisteria plants, especially a collection of large wisteria trees that come together to form a drooping roof of flowers.
- Nanzoin Temple is home to one of the world’s largest reclining Buddha statues – at 41m long, it’s about the same size as the Statue of Liberty. Nestled amidst the mountains, the temple is a serene spot for contemplation,
How Much Does a Trip to Japan Cost for 3 Weeks?
Japan can be expensive to visit, but the cost for a 3 week Japan trip can vary wildly depending on your budget and preferences.
Accommodation and transport will take up most of your budget.
We will discuss this in more detail below, but broadly speaking a bed in a hostel dorm will start at about USD 18.
Other factors to consider include food and attraction ticket costs. Flights and travel insurance are not included in this calculation.
- In general, for budget travelers – you should set aside at least USD 90-100 per day minimum for your trip to Japan. This would mean about USD 1890-2000 for a three week trip.
- For mid-range travelers (a more comfortable private room or a whole Airbnb apartment; eating at some sit-down restaurants) you would be looking at about USD 175-200 per day, so USD 3675-4200 for your entire 3 week Japan itinerary.
- The sky’s the limit if you’re looking to splurge – there are some reallyyyyy fancy luxury hotels and Michelin-star gourmet restaurants in Japan. But if you’re planning on staying in a hotel, you’ll be looking at upward of USD 350 per day, or USD 7350 for a three week trip.
Please note that these budgets are just estimates.
The cost might also be lower if you’re traveling as a couple or in a group, as accommodation costs may be split.
Best Time to Visit
Contrary to popular belief, I think Japan is worth a visit any time of the year, as each season has its pros and cons.
- Springtime, particularly March-April, is undoubtedly the most popular time of the year to visit Japan. The cherry blossoms are out in full bloom, and the weather is lovely.
However, this also means that prices are hiked up, and you may find many attractions crowded with tourists.
- I personally really enjoy Japan in Autumn.
The weather is still mild for traveling, and the color of changing leaves more than makes up for the lack of blooms. It’s also less packed and cheaper than spring.
- Summers in Japan can be really hot and humid, which might make it uncomfortable (and sweaty) to travel. Late summer is also the peak typhoon season.
- However, summer in Japan is also known for outdoor festivals – many towns have their own fireworks festivals with outdoor food and beer gardens. Summer is also the best time to go if you enjoy hiking.
- Winter is the cheapest and quietest time of the year to visit Japan. Japan is well known for winter sports, so a Japan winter itinerary might include skiing on the northern island of Hokkaido or even smaller ski resorts closer to Tokyo.
Also, what better way to beat the winter chill than slurping on a hot bowl of ramen and green tea?
Where to Stay In Japan
There is a wide range of accommodation available in Japan.
Prices will vary based on location and amenities. I would recommend staying closer to central locations – it may be slightly more expensive but it’ll save you travel time and cost:
- Budget travelers can opt to stay in hostel dorms – a bed in a standard dorm in Tokyo will cost about USD 20.
- Mid-range travelers can opt for a private room or Airbnb apartment that might cost between USD 80-150
- Luxury hotels will set you back upward of USD 180 (but can go into the four figures as well)
However, if you want to experience something unique to Japan, here are a few other accommodation choices to consider:
- Ryokans are a truly traditional Japanese experience, complete with tatami mats, futons as mattresses, and yukata robes to wear. Most ryokan stays also include a full Japanese-style breakfast, and many have private onsens.
- Capsule hotels are little pods that are just big enough for you to sleep in. They are a cheap and basic alternative, especially if you plan to be out and about the whole day.
- Japan is home to the first robot hotel chain in the world. Yes, you read that right – this is a hotel where the receptionist, concierge, and other staff are all robots! The Hen na hotel chain has several locations all around the country.
What to Eat In Japan
Japan is truly a food haven, with Japanese culture emphasizing fresh, high-quality produce.
It is possible to eat well in Japan on any budget:
- Japanese konbinis or convenience stores are unlike anywhere else in the world. With 50,000 convenience stores across the country, they are ubiquitous on every street and are usually open 24 hours a day (the biggest ones are 7-11, Family Mart, and Lawson’s).
Convenience stores in Japan offer tasty and cheap food, like fried chicken, bento boxes, sandwiches, and rice balls. There’s also a dizzying array of drinks and desserts. It’s a great way to try a wide variety of Japanese food at an affordable price point.
- For most people, our first exposure to Japanese food is from sushi. Sushi in Japan is widely available – from conveyor belt restaurants (known as kaitenzushi) to fancy omakase restaurants where sushi is made in front of diners. Seafood and sushi in Japan are incredibly fresh no matter the budget.
- Izakayas are small Japanese bars that offer sharing plates of food and drinks. They are very popular among locals after work (think of it as the Japanese equivalent of a British pub). It’s a great way to immerse yourself in a bit of local culture.
- Japan is also well known for its beef, particularly wagyu beef.
- You can try Japanese beef in multiple ways, such as yakiniku (grilled beef slices), teppanyaki (grilled on a hot iron plate), gyudon (beef rice bowls), in a sukiyaki (hotpot), or gyukatsu (deep-fried beef cutlets). Your 3 week Japan itinerary is not completw without trying it (unless you don’t eat meat of course!)
- There are plenty of small local restaurants in Japan, many of them seating just 10-15 people along a counter. These restaurants tend to specialize in a particular food, e.g. ramen, udon, tempura, or curry rice. Don’t be afraid to walk into a random restaurant and just try something new!
How to Get Around Japan
To make the best of this 3 week Japan itinerary, I would highly recommend getting a Japan Rail Pass. JR Passes can be used on any JR Line train in Japan and are only available for foreign tourists, and can be bought for 7, 14, or 21 days.
A 21-day JR Pass for adults costs about USD 570.
While this might seem expensive, it is significantly cheaper than how much single-trip train rides between cities would cost otherwise.
This is particularly important for multi-city itineraries, but the JR Pass would also cover certain train lines within cities like Tokyo.
You must book your JR Pass online before arriving, and pick it up when you’re there. You can book it online here.
Unique Tips You Should Know When Visiting Japan
- Many people get overwhelmed by the idea of visiting a country that speaks a foreign language. Don’t be! Apps like Google Translate or TripLingo make it easy to read signs, menus, and instructions.
- You should pre-order PocketWifi or a Japanese sim card before your trip, and arrange to pick it up at the airport upon arrival. This would ensure you have internet access as quickly as possible.
- Japanese culture frowns upon eating while walking. You’ll notice people standing outside convenience stores or food stalls, finishing their food before they leave.
- You might realize that there aren’t many rubbish bins around, yet the streets are incredibly clean. This is because Japan places a lot of emphasis on hygiene, and most people will keep their trash with them until they reach home. Be sure not to litter!
- The Japanese are an incredibly polite society, so do be mindful. Bow back when you’re bowed to, and greet everyone you meet. It’s also considered rude to talk on the phone or listen to music out loud on trains.
Japan is an amazing country with so much to offer, and this 3 week Japan itinerary might just be the start!