Discover the many faces of Japan on a 10-day trip to some of the country’s unmissable highlights.
As you’ll discover as soon as you step off the plane, Japan is a country with many sides to it. It’s a country that’s capable of producing futuristic gadgets while continuing to embrace ancient traditions such as the tea ceremony, where bullet trains co-exist with geisha, and where skyscrapers are juxtaposed against extraordinary natural landscapes. See our 10-day Highlights of Japan tour here, which introduces you to this land of contrasts by way of some of Japan’s greatest highlights.
Ten days in Japan map and itinerary.
Days 1-3: Tokyo and Hakone
Don’t miss Hakone, known for its views of Mount Fuji as well as hot springs
As Japan’s capital city, Tokyo is the place to begin your journey with a tour on foot through its busy streets and peaceful gardens. Touring Tokyo, you’ll discover that the cutting edge technology for which Japan is rightly famous sits side-by-side with traces of the country’s past, from the majestic grounds of the Imperial Palace and hidden Shinto shrines to the buildings that once housed Samurai warriors.
For a bird’s eye view of this sprawling metropolis, head to the top of the Tokyo Tower; you might even be able to spot Mount Fuji in the distance. See a different side to Tokyo with an early-morning visit to Tsukiji, a fish market of epic proportions that supplies all manner of exotic-looking fish to the city’s restaurants.
Leaving the city behind, Hakone is the ideal next destination. After the bustle of the city, you’ll be able to explore this picturesque town and take a relaxing dip in its famous hot springs. Don’t leave Hakone without a cruise on Lake Ashi-no, which offers incredible views of Mount Fuji from a somewhat closer viewpoint than Tokyo Tower.
Days 4-5: Takayama
Home to many traditional craftsmen, Takayama is a city best explored on foot
No trip to Japan would be complete without a ride on the iconic Shinkansen, or bullet train. Grab a bento box for the journey and whiz through the countryside to the historic city of Takayama, in the remote mountains of the Hida Region. Sake breweries abound in this charming city, which is also home to numerous traditional craftsmen. Takayama’s Old Town is best explored by wandering the streets on foot, which will give you the opportunity to peruse the local shops, markets and museums - in particular the splendid (and free) Takayama Museum of History and Art.
Days 6-10: Kyoto and Hiroshima
Geisha steal through the backstreets in Kyoto
One thrilling Shinkansen journey never seems enough, so hop on it again and journey down to Kyoto, the former capital. Kyoto has a huge choice of beautiful temples, teahouses and gardens for you to explore, the best-loved of which is the Golden Pavilion, Kinkaku-ji. Kyoto is also famous for the enigmatic geisha of its Gion District. With their distinctive white make-up, these female entertainers are a classic symbol of Japan, and you can learn about their lives by enjoying an exclusive performance by a Maiko, or apprentice geisha.
Kyoto is also a good base for some interesting day trips, including Hiroshima, recently in the news for the 70th anniversary of the atomic bomb that all but wiped out the city in 1945. These days the only reminder of this terrible chapter in the city’s history is the remains of the exhibition hall, now known as the ‘A-Bomb Dome’ and surrounded by a memorial park.
The Kyoto Gion festival
On a less sombre note, Miyajima Island - noted for its photogenic scarlet torii gate and inhabited by tame sacred deer - is easily accessed from Hiroshima via a ferry that’s handily part of the Japan rail network. Another worthwhile day trip from Kyoto is Nara, which has another famous deer park - set among World Heritage listed temples - which will make a memorable end to your trip.