To some travelers, a one week Japan itinerary is a fool’s errand. The country is simply too rich in destinations (and too large, in spite of how it may look on a map) to see any of it in a week, even if you stick to one or two cities.
I offer a different perspective, having taken many a fulfilling short trip to Japan. Several facts about Japan make such trips not only feasible but ideal, from the lightning-fast Shinkansen bullet train, to the country’s many sub-regions and secondary islands. If you have only a short time for your holidays, spending one week in Japan is completely doable – and you can still make the most of it.
Whether you narrow your focus to specific or unique Japan destinations, or simply pack your schedule fuller than a sushi roll, you can definitely visit Japan in just the week you have at your disposal. Here are some ideas as to how.
Why You Can Spend Just One Week In Japan
Although a one week Japan itinerary makes no sense for many travelers, it’s a perfect fit for others. The most obvious reason for this is if you simply lack the annual leave to spend two weeks, three weeks or even a month in Japan, even though you might prefer doing so.
The next main reason relates to the question of where to go in Japan. Obviously, if you want your trip to Japan to be comprehensive or even all-encompassing, a week is just not enough time. However, if you’re interested in a specific experience (climbing Mt. Fuji or skiing in Niseko, for example) or want to hone in on just one or two destinations, you can make a one week in Japan break work.
One Week In Japan Itinerary Options
How many days in Tokyo do you want to spend? That’s the first question you need to answer if you want spend just one week in Japan hitting the major destinations. The longer you devote to the capital, the less time you have to explore elsewhere.
To be sure, you’ll also need to carefully curate your list of things to do in Kyoto, decide whether or not you want to visit Osaka and see Hiroshima as quickly as possible. In general, assuming you have seven full nights on the ground in Japan, I’d say to spend the first two in Tokyo, the second two in Kyoto and/or Osaka, one in Hiroshima and the last back in Tokyo, so you can easily catch your flight back home.
Japan’s other islands
The main island of Honshu is where most travelers focus their energy, but Japan’s other main islands are incredible places to visit. They’re smaller too, so whether you make a circle around Kyushu or plan a Hokkaido summer self-drive itinerary, it’s conceivable that you could take a fulfilling week-long trip to Japan by focusing on one of them.
A word of caution, however, is that you shouldn’t be fooled by the seemingly small size of these islands. There are enough things to do in Shikoku, for example, to occupy two weeks or even longer. If your week in Japan encompasses just one island, make sure to narrow your focus as much as possible to avoid becoming overwhelmed.
Japan off the beaten path
Another strategy would be to abandon “popular” destinations all together, and instead focus on discovering authentic Japan. One great place to do this is the Tohoku region, which encompasses the northern portion of Honshu island, including destinations like the city of Sendai, Mt. Zao and its famous “Snow Monsters” and Akita prefecture’s Tsuru no Yo, one of the most acclaimed onsen hot springs in all of Japan.
If you truly want to discover Japan off the beaten path, you could visit San’in, which is the northern half of Chugoku, the westernmost region of Honshu. Home to massive Shinto shrines, sparsely populated islands, forlorn beaches and even a desert, San’in is the least touristic place in Japan, though I doubt that will be the case for long.
Longer Trips To Japan
If a one week Japan itinerary still doesn’t sound ideal to you after the incredible trips I’ve described, then perhaps you’re considering extending your stay. Maybe the thought of waking up at dawn each day to catch a train has triggered your memory—you actually do have a few more days off you can take in November!
Of course, the issue of how many days you should be spending in Japan raises a whole other set of questions. In general, I’d say that about three weeks is the ideal amount of time to spend in Japan, especially if it’s your first trip. When in doubt, however, allow the parameters of your life (namely, time and money) to guide your decision-making process. If you have the time and money, go for a longer trip – travel slower, extend your stay, take in the culture, the people, the landscape and even the food.
When To Visit Japan
The best time to visit Japan is somewhat subjective, though there are a couple of obvious answers. If you only have a short time in Japan, I might actually recommend you avoid some specific seasons — which is to say, spring when sakura are blooming and at the peak of autumn colors, aka koyo.
Crowds from these seasonal spectacles will force you to move slower through the country; and prices will be so high you could spend twice as long in Japan during another time of year (specifically May, which is probably my favorite single month to visit).
Of course, there’s no other experience like cherry blossom season in Japan. Assuming you time your trip just right (and be warned: the blossoms are fickle and there is no guarantee you will see them!), you could opt to spend a week in Japan in just one destination, enjoying hanami (cherry blossom viewing) alongside locals every day. Ditto for fall colors, which peak in most parts of Japan in late November or early December.
The Bottom Line
Is a one week Japan itinerary realistic and would it be a good option for you? That really depends on how you feel, and on what your goals in visiting Japan are. If you don’t mind packing a comprehensive itinerary to the gills, or focusing on a specific range of destinations or experiences, you can absolutely make a week in Japan work. On the other hand, if your Japan trip is more ambitious or even all-encompassing, you’ll want to try and spend as long in the country as you can – Japan is also one of the best places to travel alone.
This post has been written by Robert Schrader . He has been to Japan nearly two dozen times over the past decade, having explored all the major regions of the country during all four seasons. He created Japan Starts Here in 2018 as a place where he could share his knowledge, succinctly and with flair, illustrated with beautiful images and personal anecdotes. Follow Japan Starts Here on Facebook, Twitter or Instagram.