A Week in Japan: Tokyo and Kyoto

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Tokyo & Kyoto Itinerary

By Nicole
Finding a little time on our hands, we set off for a week-long vacation in Japan. In planning this trip, I found Japan Guide very helpful for the latest logistical information about Japan and National Geographic Traveler: Japan, 4th Edition to be a great guidebook as it covered both Tokyo and Kyoto.

Duration: 7 days / 6 nights
Accommodations: Conrad Tokyo, Hyatt Regency Kyoto, Park Hyatt Tokyo
Before You Go: Confirm your passport is up-to-date, purchase a Japan Rail Pass, make dinner reservations

♦♦♦ A Must   |   ♦♦ Recommended   |   ♦ Point of Interest

Day 1 – Arriving in Tokyo

Airport, Japan Rail Pass & Narita Express. After arriving at the Narita Airport, the first stop we made was to exchange our Japan Rail Pass Exchange Order for the actual Japan Rail Pass. You will see signs in the airport to do so. Once we received our passes, we booked the next available Narita Express train from the airport to Shinagawa Station. Total travel time: 1 hour

Our hotel, the Conrad Tokyo, was located a short walk from the Shinagawa Station. The walk from the station to the hotel can actually be completed entirely underground, but unless you know where you are going (and we didn’t at first), I would highly recommend taking a taxi from the station.

♦♦ The Conrad Tokyo. After researching many hotels in Tokyo, I booked the Conrad Tokyo for our first two nights in Japan using Jetsetter’s Secret Hotel promotion, which included breakfast. The hotel was gorgeous, and upon check-in we were also upgraded to a corner suite! The room was huge and had stunning views of Tokyo Bay – highly recommend!

DAY 2 – TSUKIJI FISH MARKET, ASUKAKA, & TOKYO SKYTREE

After a long day of travel, we decided to sleep in on our first day in Tokyo and take advantage of the amazing breakfast buffet at Cerise in the hotel. In addition to having access to the buffet, we could also order entrees from the a la carte menu (and of course we did). The food and service was excellent.

♦♦♦ Tsukiji Fish Market. I was hesitant about staying at the Conrad at first as it is a bit out of the way from the districts I wanted to explore, but it turned out to be a great choice for a few nights due to the proximity to the Tsukiji Fish Market. Following breakfast, we walked from our hotel to the market, which took about 15-20 minutes. Yes, we skipped the fish auction, but we weren’t too late to still wander around all the stalls and see more types of fish than I thought even existed. Tip: Don’t forget to bring cash!

♦ Hamarikyu Gardens. Once we had explored the fish market, we walked to the Hamarikyu Gardens located 5 minutes away. An oasis of calm in an otherwise buzzing city, the park was a great spot to relax. At the teahouse located in the middle of the pond, visitors can enjoy matcha and Japanese sweets in a tea-ceremony style. Located in the back of the gardens is the terminal for the Sumida River Cruise, which we took to our next destination – Asakusa.

♦♦ Asakusa. Temples, shopping, food, culture – Asakusa has it all. At the heart of it all is Sensoji, a Buddhist temple built in the 7th century. Leading up to it is the Nakamise Shopping Street, which is lined over 50 shops, where we found local snacks and souvenirs.

♦ Tokyo Skytree. From the restaurant. we walked to the Skytree, which took about 20 minutes. The retail center on the ground level was quite impressive itself, with plenty of shopping and restaurants. Tip: To avoid the long lines for the Skytree, buy the tickets in advance!

  • Tsukiji Market

    Tsukiji Market

  • Fresh Fish at Tsukiji Market

    Fresh Fish at Tsukiji Market

  • Hamarikyu Gardens

    Hamarikyu Gardens

  • Sumida River Cruise

    Sumida River Cruise

  • Asakusa

    Asakusa

DAY 3 – Off to Kyoto

After enjoying the breakfast buffet at the Conrad one more time, we were off to Tokyo Station to catch our train to Kyoto. We used our Japan Rail Passes to purchase the tickets at the station. Tokyo and Kyoto are connected by the JR Tokaido Shinkansen, and there are three types of trains between the two. Nozomi trains are the fastest (140 minutes one-way), Hikari trains just slightly behind (160 minutes one-way), and Kodama trains (four hours one-way). The Japan Rail Pass is valid for the Hikari and Kodama trains, so we booked Hikari tickets.

From the train station, we took a taxi to the Hyatt Regency Kyoto. We opted to head out right away to begin exploring the city, starting with the Nishi-Otani Mausoleum, Kiyomizu-dera, Jishu Shrine, and the Higashiyama District.

♦ Nishi-Otani Cemetery. While walking to Kiyomizu-dera, we passed through the many tombs of the Nishi-Otani cemetery, where rows and rows of tombs blanketed the hillside.

♦♦ Kiyomizu-dera. After a short uphill hike, we reached Kiyomizu-dera, a Buddhist temple established in 778. The main hall of the temple is a national treasure and houses a wooden stage that provides breathtaking views of the cherry and maple trees below. Located at the base of the main hall is the Otowa Waterfall, where the water is divided into 3 different streams, each representing either longevity, love, or knowledge.

♦♦ Jishu Shrine. Just behind Kiyomizu-dera’s main hall is the Jishu Shrine, dedicated to the deity of love. Here, visitors may worship various gods for different love requests or try their luck traversing blindly between two fortune-telling love stones, which completed successfully is said make all their love wishes come true.

♦♦♦ Higashiyama District. Upon exiting the Kyomizu-dera, we walked through the Higashiyama District, which was one of my favorite things to do in Kyoto. It was here that I first experienced the charm of what life must have been like in traditional old Kyoto, especially while wandering through the narrow streets and exploring the quaint shops and cafes.

  • Nishi-Otani Cemetery

    Nishi-Otani Cemetery

  • Deva Gate at Kiyomizu-dera

    Deva Gate at Kiyomizu-dera

  • Jishu Shrine

    Jishu Shrine

  • Gion

    Gion

DAY 4 – Exploring Kyoto

We woke up in the morning to heavy rain, but we didn’t let the downpour dampen our spirits! The hotel provided umbrellas for us to take for the day, and we were off.

♦♦♦ Fushimi Inari Shrine. We took the Keihan Main Line from Shichijo Station to Fushimiinari Station, which took approximately 20 minutes. Following the tourists and signs, we were able to make it to the entrance of the shrine in five minutes. We knew Fushimi Inari was famous for its vermilion toriis – what we didn’t realize is how many there were and that the entire trail up the mountain behind it would take two hours to hike! Along the way, we found several restaurants and smaller shrines. Approximately 30-45 minutes into the hike, we reached the Yotsutsuji intersection. We chose to continue past this point to complete the loop of the mountain, but note that this takes at least an hour. Tip: Don’t go too late in the evening as it gets dark and becomes difficult to hike.

♦♦ Nishiki Market. Over one hundred shops and restaurants line these five blocks where we found lunch for the day. This market is full of foods and kitchen supplies. Remember to arrive with empty stomachs – there are plenty of delectable meals and snacks to be enjoyed along the way.

♦♦♦ Golden Pavilion (Kinkaku-ji). One of the most iconic zen temples in Kyoto, the Golden Pavilion (or Kinkaku-ji) is quite a sight to behold. It was raining when we visited, but that only enhanced the mystical splendor of it all. The gold leaf covering the temple reflected just as fiercely off of the lake as it did the building itself, contrasting perfectly with the greenery surrounding it. As one of the most popular sites in Kyoto, it will undoubtedly be crowded, but even so it is hard to deny the Golden Pavilion’s awesome beauty.

♦♦♦ Arashiyama Bamboo Grove. Stepping into the Arashiyama Bamboo Grove for the first time, I felt like I was being transported into another magical world. The pictures of Arashiyama were one of my main sources of inspiration for this Japan trip. Definitely a must-see in Kyoto.

  • Fushimi Inari Shrine

    Fushimi Inari Shrine

  • Nishiki Market

    Nishiki Market

  • Golden Pavilion Kyoto

    Golden Pavilion

  • Arashiyama Bamboo Grove

    Arashiyama Bamboo Grove

DAY 5 – Back to Tokyo – Shinjuku & Shibuya

We set off early to the Kyoto train station to catch a Hikari train back to Tokyo, transferring at Tokyo station and arriving at Shinjuku Station. From the station, we were whisked away by the complimentary Park Hyatt Tokyo shuttle to our hotel.

♦ Park Hyatt Tokyo. Made famous by Lost in Translation, the Park Hyatt Tokyo is often heralded as the pinnacle of luxury and hospitality for accommodations in Tokyo, so is it blasphemous for me to say that I didn’t completely enjoy my experience there? We booked our stay with points, and the staff made sure we knew it. The atmosphere just felt uncomfortably pretentious. I’m thankful to have been able to stay at such a revered establishment, but I would probably not recommend it over others for a stay in Tokyo.

♦♦ Shinjuku. It was finally time in our trip to explore Shinjuku, a huge business, commercial, and entertainment center located atop the world’s busiest railway station complex. In busy Shinjuku, you’ll find some of the tallest buildings in Toyko, as well as tons of shopping malls, bars and clubs.

♦♦ Shibuya. The Japanese have a reputation for being orderly, and this characteristic was on full display at the Shibuya crossing, perhaps Tokyo’s most famous intersection. The traffic lights turn red simultaneously in all directions, allowing the thousands of pedestrians to traverse the crosswalk in organized chaos. Catch the best view of this on the second floor of the Starbucks in the Tsutaya building.

♦ Harajuku. Before heading back to the hotel, we stopped by Harajuku, home to Japan’s famous teenage fashion trends. Take a stroll down Takeshita Street for some shopping and snacking – and don’t forget to try a famous sweet crepe.

  • Shibuya Crossing

    Shibuya Crossing

  • Takeshita Street

    Takeshita Street in Shinjuku

  • Crepes in Harajuku

    Crepes in Harajuku

DAY 6 – Tokyo Imperial Palace & Ginza

Our last full day in Japan was a low-key one. We were able to knock the last two things off of our list: the Tokyo Imperial Palace and Ginza.

♦ Tokyo Imperial Palace. Serving as the main residence of the Emperor of Japan, the Tokyo Imperial Palace is built upon the site of the old Edo Castle, which used to be the seat of the Tokugawa shogun who ruled Japan between 1603 and 1867. We walked around the park-like grounds, but found some of the best views outside of the palace, which is surrounded by moats and walls.

♦♦♦ Ginza. It was time for me to get my shop on, and my favorite place to do this was in Ginza. With streets lined with the largest department stores and flagship designer shops, I had my pick of the latest clothes, cosmetics, and electronics. I would also stay in this area the next time I visit Tokyo.

  • Tokyo Imperial Palace

    Tokyo Imperial Palace

  • Ginza

    Ginza

DAY 7 – Homeward-bound

We filled our week with as much as we could, and we were ready to relax but not before our trip would hit one last snag. Thinking 3 hours would be enough to get from our hotel to the airport, we left our hotel and arrived at Shinjuku Station, only to find that the next Narita Express train was completely booked and the next train would not depart for another half an hour. It hit us then that we might not make our flight, so we scrambled to the taxi stand. The taxi ride only took about 45 minutes, but we were left with a $300 bill! Expensive lesson learned.

Overall, we had an amazing time in Japan. During our week-long trip , we were able to experience the warm hospitality and diverse culture of the Japanese people, leaving us with the desire to visit again soon.

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