Two years ago, I could check a long-awaited trip off my bucket-list: Japan. It is one of the countries that I had wanted to visit for the longest time, but it required a lot of planning and saving. The day finally came and in June, two years ago, when I went on a 10-day-long trip to Japan with my sister. We mostly stayed in Tokyo but went to Osaka for a short weekend, with a friend.
To plan our trip, we used different guide books and marked each place we wanted to see. We bought metro cards and basically spent most of our days walking, admiring every single thing that we saw. I loved this trip so much and didn’t want to leave when the trip got to its end. I feel like there are still so many things I want to see in Japan, but also in Tokyo and Osaka.
In this post, I will try to draw an itinerary of the things we saw and did during this incredible trip, and I will probably write more specific, separate posts to add some details.
Day 1: arrival and first glance of Tokyo’s night life
After a very long flight to Tokyo, we arrived at Tokyo’s International Airport and took the train to get us to the city centre. We stared through the window during the whole train ride, feeling like we were in a Japanese animation movie. It’s crazy how nature and the countryside change when you are in a different part of the world!
Then, we arrived at Shinjuku station, where our accommodation was. Our first steps in Tokyo’s streets were some of the most memorable, especially since Shinjuku is one of the city’s most vibrant and lively areas. We left our bags in our Airbnb, then ventured out in the evening, in the never-sleeping, always-buzzing Shinjuku: neon lights, endless flows of people roaming around, restaurants everywhere. Very tired from the trip, we walked around and found a delicious place to eat ramen, then went back to prepare for the following days!
Day 2: picnic in a park and shopping mall
We started our exploration of Tokyo in Shinjuku and walked around the neighbourhood in the morning, stopping for a really nice lunch in Shinjuku Gyoen park, which is a huge Japanese park, exactly how you would imagine it, with small temples and cute bridges. If it weren’t for the huge skyscrapers in the background, you could have forgotten you were in Tokyo!
After this nice stroll we went to Ikebukuro, another very dynamic neighbourhood, with a lot of shops and restaurants. We stopped at a huge mall called Sunshine City, completely amazed by literally everything, and ate from delicious street-food stores. Our dinner was a soba bowl, eaten in a metro station, but it was one of the best meals we’ve had!
Day 3: world-famous dog and Japanese fashion street
We visited Shibuya neighbourhood in the morning, a world-famous district, thanks to the Shibuya crossing, its huge tv-screens and the statue of the dog Hachikō. I have to say that it was a bit overwhelming and not exactly how I pictured it, but an incredible experience!
In the afternoon we explored Harajuku, the birthplace of kawaii culture. It is famous in the whole country – and the world – for its shopping streets and especially its “fashion”. Walking around many different streets, we went in pretty much every shop and stopped for a snack at the “Pompompurin café”, which theme was Sanrio’s character Pompompurin. That day, we also took endless purikuras in photobooths and had a delicious dinner in a gyoza restaurant!
Day 4: traditional and ultramodern Tokyo
In the morning we visited the wonderful Rikugien gardens, one of the highlights of our trip, that I would highly recommend to anyone going to Tokyo: you really feel like Totoro might suddenly appear in front of you, while you walk in the gardens. Then, we headed to Asakusa, an iconic temple complex where we could see our luck and experience a lot of Japanese traditions.
Finally, after a stop in Ueno where we ate a delicious panda-shaped bread, we finished our day in the high-tech area of Akihabara, filled with tech and IT shops, showcasing the latest Japanese technologies, while also being home to the otakus of the world (gaming, manga and anime lovers). A bit like in Shinjuku, it seems like this part of town never sleeps!
Day 5: fish market and imperial palace
The Tsukiji fish market used to be the most famous fish market in the world, and we were incredibly lucky to be able to visit it, before it closed at the end of 2018. There, we walked around the food (fish and sea food) stalls, admiring the incredible displays, and trying all the freshest fish that Tokyo had to offer. We ate an amazing sashimi dish, some fried calamari, fish skewers, etc. Everything was delicious!
In the afternoon, we headed to see the imperial palace, which was sadly closed, so after a stroll in the area, we walked to the train station to see the Character street, a “street” inside the station with a lot of stores that sell merchandise of popular Japanese characters (from movies, mangas, animes, etc.). Note that it is almost impossible to go there without buying something!
Days 6 and 7: a weekend in Osaka
At the weekend, we took the shinkansen, the Japanese high-speed train, to go to Osaka for a weekend. I will write a separate post about it and link it here!
Day 8: Japanese shrines and shopping
Back in Tokyo, we only had two whole days left, so we decided to go back to the places we liked, do some shopping and see the things we hadn’t seen yet. After a short visit to the Hanazono-jinja shrine, we went back to Asakusa to go to an onigiri restaurant, which was closed the first time we visited. It was incredibly good!
Then, we went back to some shops in the Character street and walked around, fulling immersing ourselves in the vibrant atmosphere of the city.
Day 9: vintage stores and last-day activities
A visit to the Meiji-jingu shrine, one of the most visited in Tokyo, was a must-do for our last day, and we enjoyed a nice walk in the forest nearby. It was incredibly beautiful, though not my favourite! After that, we stopped to eat some fluffy pancakes in Harajuku. Absolutely delicious yet super filling!
Finally, we went to the district called Shimokitazawa, which has a lot of small independent shops and vintage stores. The atmosphere was completely different than the one in Harajuku and it really felt like we were in a small city. To finish the day, we had dinner in a standing barbecue restaurant, which served delicious meat, one of the best I’ve ever had!
Day 10: going back to Europe
The flight back to Europe being 12 hours, we took a whole day for it too, and came back with stars in our eyes, amazed by all the things that we saw, already planning our next visit!
Going back to my pictures of Japan and the pages dedicated to it in my travel journal definitely brought back some amazing memories and now I want to go back even more! Tokyo is an incredible city that is so different from everything I know, and I can’t wait to discover it even more, as well as some other parts of Japan!
Have you ever been to Japan? Is it on your list?