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  • Writer's pictureDanae Bianco

Japan - The ultimate 4-week itinerary

Updated: Feb 21

The best of Japan for your first visit to the land of the rising sun. The perfect blend of tradition and modernity, bustling metropolises and serene villages, adventure and culinary delights, so that you enjoy your trip to Japan as much as we did!


We had 4 weeks to travel through Japan, and I have to confess: it wasn't easy at all!


Planning this trip wasn't easy, finding the time and money to go to Japan wasn't easy, and getting there wasn't easy either.


But it was worth every penny and every minute.


(And, in the end, it wasn't easy at all to go back home 😉)


It was worth all the challenges, the countless hours on flights that seemed endless, the twelve-hour jet-lag, and so on. If all of this scares you (and yes, it scared me too!), just know that the moment you start to savor the flavors of Japan, you - just like me - will find yourself thinking, "I should have come here earlier!"


Templo Kiyomizu-dera, Kyoto, Japão
Kiyomizu-dera Temple, Kyoto
 

Other posts about Japan:




 

ITINERARY - JAPAN IN 4 WEEKS


I have to admit: I'm really proud of this itinerary! It turned out great (modest, yes, I am 😉😂)


In 4 weeks, we managed to explore a lot of this incredible country: big cities with skyscrapers and neon signs, historic big cities, "regular" big cities, historic small towns, tiny towns nestled in the mountains, mountains, snow-capped mountains, waterfalls, distant views of Mount Fuji (twice!), theme parks, lessons about wars, and, most importantly, lessons about peace, delicious food, cold beer, and friendly people. I couldn't ask for more.



Castelo de Matsumoto, Japão
Matsumoto Castle

Here we go:


Days1️⃣ to 9️⃣ Tokyo, with day-trips to Nikko, Kamakura and Kawaguchi-ko

Day 1️⃣0️⃣ Travel to Magome (Japanese Alps)

Day 1️⃣1️⃣ Nakasendo Road to Tsumago and train to Matsumoto

Day 1️⃣2️⃣ Matsumoto and train to Shinano-Omachi

Day 1️⃣3️⃣ Tateyama Kurobe Alpine Route, overnight in Toyama

Days 1️⃣4️⃣ to 1️⃣6️⃣ Takayama, with a day-trip to Shirakawa-go. On the last day, take a train to Hiroshima

Days 1️⃣7️⃣ to 1️⃣9️⃣ Hiroshima, with a day-trip to Miyajima, and on the last day, take a train to Kyoto with a stop in Himeji

Days 2️⃣0️⃣ to 2️⃣5️⃣ Kyoto, with day-trips to Nara and Lake Biwa

Days 2️⃣6️⃣ and 2️⃣7️⃣ Osaka


This itinerary was done in July, during the peak of summer. It can be done at any time of the year, except for the Tateyama Kurobe Alpine Route, which operates only from April to November (check specific dates and details at https://www.alpen-route.com/en/).


Torii do Santuário Itsukushima, Miyajima, Japão
Torii at Itsukushima Shrine, Miyajima



HOW TO GET THERE


At the time we went to Japan, we were living in São Paulo, Brazil, which is located exactly on the opposite side of the world. This meant a long journey to reach Japan.


There's no secret: traveling from Brazil to Japan is time-consuming, expensive, and can be a bit challenging. It involves hours and hours of flights and connections. But believe me, it's worth it!


Since there are no direct flights, the best option is to take two long flights, with the connection happening in various locations: Europe, the Middle East, Africa, or North America.


In our case, we opted for the combination of price ̶+̶ ̶b̶e̶s̶t̶ ̶f̶l̶i̶g̶h̶t̶s̶ (that moment when you feel like you won the lottery because the flight with the best price had one of the best connections). We flew with Emirates with a layover in Dubai: about 14 hours and 30 minutes from São Paulo to Dubai, and then another 10 hours from there to Tokyo Narita. In Dubai, we had approximately 4 hours of layover, both on the way there and on the way back.


We had previously flown with Emirates once when we traveled to Southeast Asia, and the experience was excellent on both occasions. The aircraft used for these routes are A380s, which are super modern and comfortable, and Emirates' service is one of the best I've ever seen.




GETTING AROUND IN JAPAN


The best way to get around in Japan is by rail.


Subways, regular trains, and the Shinkansen (bullet train) can take you to (virtually) all the places you need to go.


The subway network in major cities, especially in Tokyo, is incredible: extensive, punctual, clean, well-organized, and easy to navigate with the help of Google Maps.


We purchased the JR Pass - a rail pass that allows unlimited travel within Japan for a specified period on all JR-operated train lines (JR East, JR Central, JR West, JR Shikoku, JR Kyushu, and JR Hokkaido).


There are 7, 14, and 21-day passes available, which are valid for the specified number of consecutive days from the activation date.


The JR Pass must be bought outside of Japan (before entering the country), and you can activate it at any JR station ticket counter on the day you want it to start. For example, we were at Tokyo's central station one day, and since we had some spare time, we activated our JR Pass for two days later.


It's highly recommended to make train reservations in advance, and there is no additional cost for doing so. All trains have specific carriages for reserved ticket holders and some carriages for passengers without reservations. You can try the non-reserved carriages, but we decided not to take chances - since it's free to reserve, why not?


On the day we activated our JR Pass, we made reservations for the trains we would take in the first week. When we arrived in Takayama, we made reservations for all the trains for the rest of the journey, and believe it or not, some trains were already fully booked!


For our itinerary, we purchased the 21-day pass with the assistance of a travel agent in Brazil.





WHERE TO STAY IN JAPAN


The cost per square meter in Japan is among the highest in the world, especially in major cities, so don't be surprised: accommodations in Japan can be both expensive and small.


We traveled with 2 adults and 2 children, aged 10 and 12. In many places, we had to book 2 double rooms, and these double rooms are indeed quite compact.


Tokyo: We stayed in Ginza, which, after exploring the city extensively for more than a week, seemed like the best area to stay. Our choice was Tokyu Stay Ginza: we booked two rooms, they were small but far from being the smallest we saw while researching. Each room had its own washing machine (a dream for light travelers). The breakfast was really good, with both Oriental and Western options, and the location was excellent, in the best part of Tokyo and close to multiple subway lines.

But Tokyo has many other cool areas to stay, and I have great suggestions for where to stay in Tokyo in this post.


Magome: In this historic town along the Nakasendo Road from the Edo period, we stayed at Magome Chaya, a ryokan in traditional Japanese style with tatami floors and futon beds. It was the simplest accommodation of the trip but the most special. Since the town is incredibly small and everything closes at night, we booked dinner and breakfast at the ryokan, and it was perfect: a typical Japanese meal, very well-served and delicious.


Matsumoto: We also stayed in a ryokan, Mitsubikiya, where our room was a blend of traditional Japanese and typical Western styles. We enjoyed it quite a bit, and the breakfast was excellent!


Shinano-Omachi: We stayed at Hotel Route Inn Shinano Omachi Ekimae, with a perfect location right in front of the train station. Rooms were small but adequate, and the breakfast was decent. We stayed there to embark on the Tateyama Kurobe Alpine Route, a journey on various modes of transportation across the Japanese Alps, passing through Mount Tate, one of Japan's three sacred mountains. It's a quite different experience from the traditional activities one usually engages in while in Japan!


Toyama: Toyama Chitetsu Hotel is literally on top of the train station but surprisingly quiet. It had the largest double room we booked - 2 double beds, American-style hotel.


Takayama: Voted the best hotel of the trip, we got a free upgrade at The Machiya Hotel Takayama and stayed in the villa they maintain in the historic part of town - Vila Hanare. A house with 2 rooms (one with tatami flooring and futons), a kitchen, 2 bathrooms, and its own onsen (bath with a view river view). Simply perfect!


Hiroshima: We stayed at FAV Hotel Hiroshima Heiwa Odori, in the coolest room of the trip: it had 2 double beds and 2 single beds on a sort of mezzanine above the double beds - needless to say, the kids loved it! The room also had its own washing machine. Overall, it was one of the top 3 accommodations of the trip. We opted to stay in Hiroshima and do a day-trip to Miyajima, since the train and boat to get there are covered by the JR Pass.


Kyoto: Our choice was ORI Kyoto, with a very convenient location and easy access on foot to the city's bustling area.


Osaka: We opted to stay in one of the hotels managed by JR Group - Hotel Granvia Osaka - as we wanted something close to the central train station, and this hotel was right on top of the station, with super easy access to the subway and the trains and Shinkansen (bullet train).


Check hotel availabitily and rates here:







DETAILED ITINERARY WITH MAP


Here's the Google MyMaps map with our detailed itinerary. Just click and save it to your Google account. When you're planning your next trip to Japan, you'll already have a starting point ;-)


In the map, you can find all the details of what we did, where we stayed, and the best places we visited. There are different layers, each with different colors, representing each area we explored.


In this post, I explain how to create and use one of these maps - it's a great resource for trip planning, saving places, calculating routes and distances. It's worth getting to know!




Other posts about Japan:


Where to stay in Tokyo - our post with the the best areas in the city for your first trip to Japan




And here's more about other destinations in Asia:




Before you go, save this pin to your Pinterest account to easily find this post with the ultimate 4 week Japan itinerary whenever you need it!


Japan 4 week itinerary - www.danae-explore.com


Japan, complete 4 weeks itinerary - PIN IT! www.danae-explore.com


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