questions & answers: itinerary check

backpacking in japan - a 15 day itinerary recommendation

Backpacking in Japan - a 15 day itinerary recommendation

So, we have flight tickets to Tokyo, landing on October 2nd at 10 a.m. And heading back on October 18th at noon. That should give us a 15 full day trip, plus half-first-day and half-last-day.

We're looking to see cities, rural areas, culture and nature (hiking!). Ideally, we'd like to spend at least 3 days of hiking (day trips or more) and use the rest for visiting cities, villages, rural areas etc.

We'd more than appreciate if you could advise us with what you may think is the best itinerary for us at this time of the year.

As we currently see it, anchor destinations would be Tokyo, Kyoto and the Japan Alps.

I understood that Nikko and Nara are also very recommended. As we're trying not to run between too many cities, we're not sure about Osaka and Hiroshima - Is there a real added value to those cities (time-wise), given that we visit the Tokyo and Kyoto? It's worth mentioning that we don't mind not seeing the memorial and ground zero thing in Hiroshima, if that's the sole/main purpose for visiting.

Seeing that we're pretty new to this Japan trip idea, we'd really like your insights and recommendations to our 1/2-15-1/2 day trip and any suggested (even roughly) itinerary would be warmly welcomed!

Thanks in advance!


Hi Ron,

Reading your plans and wishes, the first thing I can think about is: visit Kamikochi. Its a beautiful valley and there are some amazing hikes to be made. Its within the Japanese Alps and easy to access from Matsumoto.

There are also amazing hikes to be had around Kamakura and Nikko, so I would also recommend adding those in. They are easy day trips from Tokyo and would also allow you the get the best value out of the JR Pass.

As for Hiroshima, besides the peace memorial park and museum, Miyajima is a very popular visit.

Hope this helps,

Expert button 2

Hi Daniel, thanks for your quick and helpful reply!
One more question if I may - would you recommend adding Shikoku to our itinerary? For a 2-3 days trip?
It would obviously be instead of making a couple of daytrips from Tokyo as you suggested.


Hi again!

Shikoku is great too and may have better weather in October. Takamatsu, Naoshima and Matsuyama are all great visits in Shikoku.

I've done a full write up here:

Expert button 2

Seeing that we only have 15 full days, and given our Tokyo-Kyoto-Alps itinerary, would you say adding Shikoku would be too long a detour for our trip? I heard great things about Shikoku and that's why I came up with the idea of having a couple of days in the Iya Valley. The question is if it would be better for us to avoid the Shikoku detour and use this time for day trips in the geographic limits of our current intinerary as you suggested? (Nikko/Nara/etc.)
Bear in mind that our emphasize is on rural areas - traditional villages, onsen and scenery. We have Tokyo and Kyoto for the rest.

Thanks again for your kind help!


OK, so we've decided on sticking with the Tokyo-Kyoto-Alps itinerary. But we're looking for a couple of "twists" off the beaten track. We'd really like to visit some nice less-touristic places or take some beautiful hikes with less tourists in them, at least in the Alps area and Kyoto vicinity.
I'm posting our very-rough and very-preliminary itinerary (subject to changes according to your input and suggestions). Please let us know what you guys think about the timetable and suggest where we can add those less-touristic activities and when.

Day 1 - Landing (11 a.m.) + train to Kyoto
Day 2 - Kyoto
Day 3 - Kyoto
Day 4 - Hiking in the Kyoto area (Any suggestions?)
Day 5 - Kyoto
Day 6 - Nara (day trip)
Day 7 - Kanazawa (train to)
Day 8 - Gokayama - Tateyama - Kurobe Alpine Route
Day 9 - Kamikochi hikes
Day 10 - Kamikochi hikes / Shin-Hotaka Onsen
Day 11 - Extra day (any off-the-beaten-track ideas?)
Day 12 - Takayama
Day 13 - Mt. Fuji (5 lakes area, panorama dai (or other short hiking trail))
Day 14 - Tokyo
Day 15 - Day trip to Nikko
Day 16 - Tokyo
Day 17 - Tokyo (flying at noon)

Would really love to hear any thoughts you have!
Is it too much time in Kyoto?
Too little time for Tokyo?
Ideas to off-the-beaten-track things to do?
Any Onsen laid-back places to stay and rest for a day? Somewhere in the Japan alps maybe?
Ideas for hikes, cool places to see. Don't be shy to offer alternatives for some of the plans.

Thanks again!!


Hi Ron,

Its great to see your itinerary coming together, I like the amount of days spend in Kyoto. This way you can get a good appreciation of the local atmosphere. There are also great hikes to be made around Kyoto. My favorite has to be hiking between Kurama and Kibune in the northern mountains of Kyoto. Not a lot of foreign visitors visit here and its especially nice after 5 pm when the temples close and there is no one in the area.

An other short but amazing hike is going up Daimonji Yama its only 40min to the top but its great to do.

An other of my favorite hikes is around Fushimi Inari, this is a busy place but there are many small side paths where you will not meet anyone. You can walk around the surrounding area for hours and just dream away.

From Tokyo you could visit Nokogiriyama, amazing hikes and not a lot of visitors. I friend recommended this to me!

For day 11, why not explore Matsumoto city. The local castle is one of the best in Japan. There are also many small things to do and experience around the city. There are also different onsen in the area.

Let me know what you think!

Expert button 2

Hi again,
This is my updated itinerary, after doing my homework.
It is the final draft (subjected to your thoughts and insights).

Thanks in advance!

Day 1 – Kyoto (Arrive afternoon) Land in Tokyo at 11 am
JR Train to Kyoto (Narita Express + Shinkassen) (4 hours) Suggested itinerary: , Kyoto Station, Getting settled, Dinner, evening stroll at Gion district.
Day 2 – Kyoto Suggested itinerary:
(1) Southern Higashiyama: Kiyomizu-dera (Buddhist temple), Kasagi-ya (tea house), Ishibei-koji (street), Kodai-ji (Buddhist temple) Maruyama-koen (park), Yasaka-jinja (Shinto shrine); (2) Northern Higashiyama: Walking the path of Philosophy – Nanzen-ji (Buddhist temple), Eikan-do (Buddhist temple), Honen-in (Buddhist temple), Ginkaku-ji (Buddhist temple). Remarks: Do not intend to visit each and every temple on the suggested itinerary. Suggestions?
Day 3 - Kyoto
Suggested itinerary:
(1) Northwest Kyoto: Kinkaku-ji (Golden Pagoda, Buddhist temple). (2) Ararshiyama & Sagano area: Arashiyama Bamboo Groove (park), Kameyama-koen (park), Arashiyama Monkey Park Iwatayama (park); (3) Downtown Kyoto: Nishiki Market + Ponto-cho (neighborhood) Day 4 – Nara + Osaka (day trip) JR Train to Nara (1 hour) Suggested itinerary: Nara-koen main attractions walk (lonely planet itinerary, 5km, 3-4 hours).
JR Train to Osaka (1 hour) Suggested itinerary: Amerika- Mura (neighborhood), Sinshaibashi-suji (market street), Ebisu-bashi bridge, Dotombori Arcade (lonely planet City Walk – Sights of Mianami, 2.2km, 2.5 hours).
Optional: Umeda Sky Building (Kita area).
JR Train to Kyoto (30 mins) Day 5 – Kyoto (half day) Suggested itinerary: Fushimi-Inari Taisha (Shinto shrine) at Southeast Kyoto.
Optional: Go to Fushini-Inari Taisha on Day 2/3 and use Day 5 for half a day visit at the Kurama & Kibune area (Kurama-dera, Kurama Onsen, Kibune-jinja).
JR Train to Takayama (5 hours) Day 6 – Takayama Suggested itinerary: Morning Markets; Sanmachi-suji (neighborhood); Teramachi & Shirotama-Koen (neighborhood); Hida Folk Village.
Optional: JR Train to Hida Furukawa (30 minutes) to visit Seto-kawa & Shirakabe-dozo (historic district).
Day 7 – Shirakawa-go & Gokayama Rent a car for a day (1-2 hrs drive) Suggested itinerary: Ogimachi (Shiroyama Tenbodai Observation Point); Shiramizu-no-Yu (onsen); Oshirakawa Rotemburo (onsen), Suganuma (historic building); Kuroba Onsen.
Day 8 – Tateyama – Kurobe Alpine Route Train to Tateyama (JR to Toyama + Chitetsu / Unazuki to Tateyama) (4 hours) Optional: Stop at Toyoma for lunch/dinner, visit Choke-ji Temple and stroll the bayside Iwase neighbourhood.
JR Train from to Matsumoto (1 hour) Optional: Earn an extra day by giving up the Alpine Route and taking the 1 hour Takayama – Kamikochi bus (and reverse next days order: Days 8 & 9 – Kamikochi, Day 10 – Matsumoto, Day 11 – extra).
Day 9 – Matsumoto Suggested itinerary: Matsumoto-jo (castle); Nawate-dori (street); Nakkamachi (neighbourhood); By bus / rental car – Utsukushi-ga-hara-Kogen (Plateau, 1 hour); Dai-o-wasabi- Nojo (Daio Wasabi Farm) (30 mins) Utsukushi-ga-hara Onsen (15 mins).
Optional: Adding a day trip to Hakuba (hiking & onsen) (1 hour JR train).
Day 10 & 11 – Kamikochi (not on weekend!) Bus to Kamikochi (1 hour) Suggested itinerary: Sightseeing (Kappabashi, Myojin Pond, Taisho Pond); Hiking trails & Onsens (Shin-Hotaka Shirahone, Hirayu, Fukuchi).
Day 12 – Magome Bus to Matsumoto (1 hour) + JR Train to Nakatsugawa (1 hour 30 mins) + Bus to Magome (30 mins) Optional: Stop at Kiso-Fukushima (on the JR route) for lunch and stroll at the Ue-no-dan historic district.
Suggested itinerary: Transport to Magome (3-4 hours) + afternoon at the village
Day 13 – Magome – Tsumago Trail (7.8 km, 3-6 hours) Bus from Tsumago to Nagiso (10 mins) + JR Trains from Nagiso to Otsuki (3 hours) + Fujikyuko Line to Kawaguchiko (1 hour) Day 14 – Around Mt. Fuji (5 Lakes Area) Suggested itinerary: Kawaguchiko (onsen village), Maple Corridor & Tokyo Tunnel (route by bicycle), Panorama-dai (short hike), Koyo-dai (short hike).
Optional: Kachi-Kachi Ropeway, Mt. Tenjo to Mt. Mitutouge hike.
Fujikyuko Line to Otsuki (1 hour) + JR Train to Tokyo (1 hour) Day 15 – Tokyo Suggested itinerary: Takeshita-dori (bazar), Harajuku Gyoza Ro (lunch), Omote-sando (architecture), Tokyo Metropolitan Government (city view – best), Shinjuku NS Building / Shinjuku Center Building (more nearby city views), Isetan (department store), Shinjuku Golden Gai (evening/night stroll).
Day 16 – Tokyo Suggested itinerary: Tsukiji Fish Market, Daiwa Sushi, Hama-rikyu Onshi-teien, Sony Building, Ueno, Tokyo National Museum, Yanaka Neighborhooud, Shibuya (evening/night stroll).
Optional: Bunkyo Civic Center (city view).
Day 17 – Tokyo (Flying at noon) Packing, breakfast, bye…
Train to Narita airport


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