This is the ultimate tour for first-time visitors in Japan and includes a mix of classic activities and lesser-known surprises. Kick off the adventure with several days in Tokyo, and then make your way south by bullet train—using your Japan Rail Pass. You'll stay a night with a small-town family in Izumo, explore UNESCO-listed temples in Kyoto, and ferry to remote islands known for caves and beautiful beaches. Fly back to Tokyo for one more night in the exciting capital to end the tour.


  • Watch a sumo practice, taste sake, and learn the ancient art of calligraphy in Tokyo
  • Take a memorable walk through paths lined with tall, swaying bamboo groves
  • Visit a shrine in Kyoto with 10,000 gates followed by a forest hike and geisha tour
  • Enjoy some relaxing time on Fukue Island and dine on the catch of the day

Brief Itinerary

Day Highlights Overnight
Day 1 Arrive in Tokyo, Visit the Japan Sake & Shochu Information Center Tokyo
Day 2 Kimono Experience, Evening Food Tour Tokyo
Day 3 Sumo Practice Viewing, Visit the Edo-Tokyo Museum, Shodo Experience in Tokyo Tokyo
Day 4 Day Trip to Kamakura Tokyo
Day 5 Free Day in Tokyo, Transfer to Izumo Izumo
Day 6 Countryside Homestay in Izumo City Izumo
Day 7 Transfer to Kyoto, Explore Arashiyama, Tea Ceremony Kyoto
Day 8 Hiking at Fushimi Inari Shrine, Geisha Tour Kyoto
Day 9 Scenic Train Ride to Mount Koya, Evening Tour in Kyoto Kyoto
Day 10 Day Trip to Nara & Uji Kyoto
Day 11 Train to Fukuoka, Explore Fukuoka
Day 12 Train to Fukuejima, Explore the Goto Islands Fukuejima
Day 13 Train to Nagasaki, Explore  Nagasaki
Day 14 Explore Nagasaki & Visit Hashima Island (Gunkanjima), Fly to Tokyo Tokyo
Day 15 Depart Tokyo  

Detailed Itinerary

Day 1: Arrive in Tokyo, Visit the Japan Sake & Shochu Information Center

Tokyo Bay at dusk

Welcome to Japan! Upon arrival, a driver will be waiting at Tokyo's Narita Airport to take you to your hotel, where you'll receive your Japan Rail Pass (or JR). After some rest, you can pay a visit to the Japan Sake & Shochu Information Center, which opened its doors to the public in 2016. This is a great place to learn about over 100 different types and flavors of traditional Japanese alcohols, like sake, shochu, and awamori, made from rice, potato, and barley. The center also features a small museum with plenty of visuals, including a ceiling with a large wooden barrel similar to the one used in a sake brewery.

The beverages available for samples are on a regular rotation allowing different breweries from across Japan to be featured. To taste them, either pick one glass or a tasting trio. Food is not served at the center, but staff members are also more than happy to give recommendations for nearby eateries.

Day 2: Kimono Experience, Evening Food Tour

Wear a traditional kimono as you sightsee today
Wear a traditional kimono as you sightsee in Tokyo

Kimonos are one of Japan's most iconic pieces of traditional clothing. Today you'll have a chance to visit a local shop and rent one for the day as you sightsee around Tokyo. In the afternoon, you'll return your kimono and can pick one out to take home as a souvenir if you wish.

In the evening, meet a local guide for a three-hour food tour in Shinjuku, an exciting commercial area of Tokyo. Your first stop is a restaurant known for its Wagyu beef cooked on a shichirin (charcoal barbecue grill). This Japanese delicacy has soft fat that gives it a low melting point allowing for wonderful texture and exquisite flavor. The next restaurant will teach you how to grill the beef yourself. For dessert, wind down with sweet treats at a charming café.

Day 3: Sumo Practice Viewing, Visit the Edo-Tokyo Museum, Shodo Experience

You can easily spend a few hours at the Edo-Tokyo Museum

This morning you can attend a sumo training session in Ryogoku, where you'll witness the skill and power of these traditional athletes. More ceremony than sport, sumo wrestling is a tradition that began centuries ago as a ritual to entertain the gods. Witnessing the strength and smarts of these famous wrestlers is a unique experience, especially if you are an avid sports spectator. 

Next, spend some quality time at the Edo-Tokyo Museum—a fantastic place that houses life-size replicas of buildings, machines, and other historical pieces from the Edo period to modern times. Through interactive exhibits, visitors can discover different aspects of the former Tokyo. Learn about the architecture, cultural heritage, political climate, and economic situation of the Edo period on your own or with a volunteer English-speaking guide.

If you have energy left, you can join a 90-minute small group activity that teaches you about the ancient art of shodo or calligraphy, where you can put your artistic skills to the test. Your instructor will show you how to write certain characters and your name in Japanese on a fan or colored paper, which you can take home as a souvenir. You'll also learn more about daily Japanese life since the activity takes place in the instructor's home.

Day 4: Day Trip to Kamakura

Tsurugaoka Hachimangu
 Kamakura's main shrine: Tsurugaoka Hachimangu
This morning, you'll make your way to the seaside city of Kamakura, located less than two hours south of Tokyo by train. Kamakura has many temples and shrines where you can learn about the city's extensive history as a political center during medieval times. A good place to start is by heading to Tsurugaoka Hachimangu, the city's main shrine, and Kotoku-in, which is home to the Great Buddha—a 42-foot (13 m) bronze statue from the 15th century. After some culture, walk around downtown Kamakura where you can shop for souvenirs and try local dishes such as fish cakes and shrimp dumplings.

Day 5: Free Day in Tokyo, Overnight Train to Izumo

Explore more of Tokyo today, including its lovely city parks

Today you'll have a free day to explore Tokyo at your own pace. Perhaps you'll want to visit the world's tallest tower, the Tokyo Skytree, which offers spectacular views as far as Mount Fuji from its 360-degree observation deck. Afterward, take a walk through the grounds of Senso-ji, the city's oldest and most historically significant temple. The neighboring Asakusa Shrine also highlights the stark differences between Shinto and Buddhist belief systems. You can also stroll around several public parks, like Ueno Park in central Tokyo.

You'll be transferred to a train station at the appointed time to board a comfortable overnight train to Izumo using your JR Pass. 

Day 6: Countryside Homestay in Izumo City

Izumo-taisha is one of the most important Shinto shrines in Japan
Izumo-taisha is one of the most important Shinto shrines in Japan

Rise and shine! Upon arrival at Izumo's train station, you'll meet your Japanese host family and begin an authentic homestay. This is your chance to experience small-town life in Japan, especially considering that Izumo is vastly different from the fast-paced lifestyle of Tokyo.

There's plenty to see and do in Izumo. Some of the last surviving katana (sword) makers call Izumo home. In addition, the area is also home to Izumo-taisha, which boasts one of Japan's most important shrines, as well as beautiful beaches and relaxing natural hot spring bathhouses.

Day 7: Train to Kyoto, Explore Arashiyama, Tea Ceremony

Explore Arashiyama
Explore castles and temples near Kyoto on your first day

You'll take a bullet train to Kyoto this morning using your JR Pass. The train you need to take is called Tokaido-Sanyo, and the trip will take around 4.5 hours to arrive. Don't forget to purchase a special traveling bento at the station! Upon arrival, you'll have the rest of the day to explore Arashiyama in the western region of Kyoto. Start at the UNESCO-listed Nijo Castle, built in the 1600s as the residence of the first Edo-era shogun. Its buildings are some of the best surviving examples of Japan's feudal-era castle architecture.

Later, visit the Arashiyama Bamboo Grove and walk among paths lined by tall, swaying bamboo. Another must-see attraction in the Arashiyama area is the tranquil Zen Tenryu-ji Temple, a UNESCO-listed site that dates back to 1339, dedicated to the emperor Go-Daigo. Animal lovers, for their part, will enjoy a trip to Iwatayama Monkey Park to watch a troop of playful macaques roaming freely.

In the late afternoon, you'll learn the process of making and serving tea along with traditional sweets. Meet your local expert at a machiya (wooden house) and let them explain the significance of different steps in the ceremony and tea preparation. If there's time after the ceremony, you can visit the nearby temples of Kiyomizu-dera, Kodai-ji, and Chion-in. Then, take a walk in Maruyama Park through Yasaka-jinja Shrine and continue to the geisha and entertainment district called Gion.

Day 8: Fushimi Inari Shrine Hike, Geisha Tour 

There are 10,000 red Torii gates at this shrine
There are 10,000 red torii gates at the Fushimi Inari Shrine

This morning you'll set out early to explore Kyoto—known for its temples, palaces, and wooden architecture—before the crowds arrive. Your first stop is the Fushimi Inari Shrine, which has 10,000 red torii gates and is featured in the movie "Memoirs of a Geisha." You can also hike the moderate 3-mile (5 km) forested trail from the temple that winds through beautiful scenery.

From here, walk to Nishiki Market to taste Kyoto's traditional food—this is the perfect place to try local snacks and sweets. Finish your day with a trip to Nijo Castle, where you'll learn about Kyoto's history as the former capital of Japan. If there's time, visit Kiyomizudera Temple for sweeping views of the city or take part in a tea ceremony performed by a master.

In the evening, you can take an optional two-hour geisha tour. Your maiko (geisha in training) will host you on a visit to a traditional geisha studio, where you'll sip green tea and learn about the practices. Come away from this unique experience with stunning vacation pictures (emailed to you) and a deeper knowledge of Japanese culture. 

Day 9: Scenic Train Ride to Mount Koya, Evening Tour in Kyoto

Kongobuji Temple on Mt Koya
Kongobuji Temple on Mount Koya

Today's adventure begins by boarding a local train to Osaka, where you'll travel along the scenic Nankai Railway to Mount Koya, a tranquil valley filled with cedar trees. Mount Koya has been a sacred place of ceremony and religious devotion since the ninth century, high in the mountains of the Kii Peninsula. The area is home to over 100 monasteries, so you can pick and choose. Spend the afternoon walking around the surrounding forest trails or stroll through the vast Okuno-in Cemetery, home to thousands of graves and memorials to feudal lords. When ready for a break, dine on beautifully prepared shojin-ryori (Buddhist vegetarian cuisine). 

Tonight is an excellent opportunity to stroll the narrow stone-paved alleys in Kyoto after sunset at your own pace, especially in the Higashiyama area, where you can hear the gentle echo of your footsteps as you walk. Stop to enjoy food and drink at various bars and eateries along your route.

Day 10: Day Trip to Nara & Uji

Nara Park
Gentle deer can be found roaming Nara Park

Today you'll explore beautiful Nara and Uji at your own pace on a day trip from Kyoto. Both destinations are known for their scenic gardens, parks, temples, and shrines. First, take a train from Kyoto Station and begin at Nara's Todai-ji temple, home of the world's largest bronze Buddha statue. In the manicured temple grounds, you'll find tea houses, a museum, and the roaming deer of Nara, tame enough to be fed by hand. Walk around the temple's peaceful, manicured garden, which features tea houses and a museum with Korean and Chinese collections. 

Next, head to Uji, located 40-50 minutes away by train on the Nara Line. The Byodo-in Temple here is depicted on the back of 10 yen coins. Nearby, you'll find traditional stores offering quality green tea (try the green tea ice cream), as well as noodles and sweets. Then finish in the Byodo-in Omotesando neighborhood for dinner and souvenir shopping.

Day 11: Train to Fukuoka, Explore

Riverside Fukuoka
Head to riverside Fukuoka for stalls selling steaming bowls of ramen

This morning it's time to continue the adventure with a train trip to Fukuoka, which takes just under four hours. Upon arrival in Fukuoka, you'll have the rest of the day to explore independently. A good place to start is visiting Oohori Park, where you can take a leisurely walk along a lake. Later, it's worth visiting Canal City and the surrounding area, characterized by small shops and traditional restaurants. In the evening, you should try the region's specialty, Hakata tonkotsu ramen, a rich noodle soup served at many yatai (small stalls) along the river.

Day 12: Train to Fukuejima, Explore the Goto Islands

Goto Islands
Spend a day on the picturesque Goto Islands

Today you'll head to the port and take a four-hour ferry to Fukuejima (Fukue Island). You'll begin a day trip to the Goto Islands upon arrival, starting first in Oshima (O Island). This fascinating island was once heavily populated during the whaling boom in this region. However, the population has dropped from 1,500 to approximately 40 people (there are more cats than humans nowadays). While abandoned schools, homes, and boats are a common sight here, this small fisherman's island is still alive in its own way.

You'll have time to explore the island before making your way to a cave on the opposite end to discover a hidden secret. Since Oshima is mainly flat, unlike the surrounding islands, the terrain is easy and enjoyable to navigate. Then make your way back to Fukuejima, where you'll have some free time to explore the main island. In the evening, have dinner at the island's best restaurant, where everything is freshly prepared, and the menu depends on the daily catch.

Day 13: Train to Nagasaki, Explore 

Nagasaki at dusk
Since the past few days have included quite a bit of hiking, today is an excellent chance to rest on your train journey from Kumamoto to Nagasaki. Upon arrival, you'll have time to explore the city at your own pace. A great place to start is by visiting a peace park that commemorates the victims of the atomic bomb attack. In addition, the Kofuku-ji and Sofuku-ji temples are worth seeing—especially because of their unique architecture. You can also ride a cable car that takes you up to Mount Inasa and enjoy a stunning view from the summit of the city and the magnificent surroundings.

Day 14: Explore Nagasaki & Visit Hashima Island (Gunkanjima), Fly to Tokyo

Walk around Hashima's ghostly environs on an excursion

While in Nagasaki, you might consider an excursion to the abandoned island of Hashima. This small island is a former coal mine that was shut down in 1974, and the buildings of the deserted city create a ghostly atmosphere and unique experience. After returning to the harbor, you can continue exploring Nagasaki with a guided tour. Historically, the city was once Japan's most important port, influenced by trading partners and missionaries from Europe. A local guide will explain the history of the area and its role in the development of modern-day Japan.

Later in the day, you'll be picked up and transferred to the airport for your two-hour flight to Tokyo. Upon arrival, enjoy one more night in the capital city!

Day 15: Depart Tokyo

Tokyo skyline
Until next time, Tokyo
It's time to say goodbye to Japan! Enjoy your last few hours in Tokyo with a walk and some last-minute shopping in the Shibuya area before heading to the airport. Safe travels!

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Map of Highlights of Japan - 15 Days
Map of Highlights of Japan - 15 Days