3 Week Japan Itinerary: Expectation Vs. Reality

3-week-japan-itinerary

3 WEEK JAPAN ITINERARY: EXPECTATION VS. REALITY

Of all the international trips I’ve taken, Japan was the most overwhelming to plan. I say that about every trip, but Japan really was the hardest because of the time of year we went. Essentially, it was my first cold winter vacation, which opens up a lot of opportunities considering Japan’s extreme humidity and constant rainfall in warmer seasons.

Because I can work from anywhere, I usually like to buy one-way tickets on vacations. I don’t know why I do this. There’s no hack to it, but maybe it’s just exciting for me to not know when I’m coming back. For the most part, it has worked in my favor, financially speaking. My one-way ticket to Barcelona from Beijing was $345, and the return was about the same. To me, that’s a very affordable international flight and possibly just pure luck.

But this time, when I decided to buy a one-way at about $250 to Kyoto, I didn’t consider that I wanted to fly back during one of the busiest times of year. Most of my trip was very flexible, except for two things:

  1. We knew we needed to be in Japan on December 15th for our birthday (yes, my boyfriend and I share a birthday) for the tickets we purchased to see Deerhoof.
  2. We knew we wanted to spend New Year’s Eve in Tokyo.
Kiyomizu Dera Temple, Kyoto

Kiyomizu Dera Temple, Kyoto

What we didn’t consider is that we weren't flying directly into Kyoto. We had to fly to the nearest airport, Kansai, which is about one hour outside of the city, and much longer if you got lost, like Lloyd and Harry over here. That means we had to be in Japan on December 14th to be sure that we’d make it in time to see Deerhoof. 

The other thing I didn’t consider is that while Japan doesn’t require Americans to pay for a visa for the first 90 days of their trip, you do need a return flight to prove you’re not just going to hang around. That said, I had to quickly book a return flight which I hoped would be at least for the 1st. Naturally, all of those flights were sold out so I had to book for the 2nd. Fares after that became unjustifiably expensive. That, plus December being a longer month put our trip at a total of 19 days, even though we usually just prefer two weeks so we don’t cause maximum damage to our business and our bodies.

And if you eat like I do on a trip, you know what the fuck I’m talking about.

A quiet day at Shibuya Crossing, TOKYO

A quiet day at Shibuya Crossing, TOKYO

I spent hours planning my itinerary, while also trying to keep it relaxed. As I mentioned, it’s incredibly humid in Japan in warmer seasons, which doesn’t sit too well with the boyfriend, who sweats like a 300lb man in a compact car with no AC. 

Winter in Japan is slightly more bearable than winter in Beijing, so being able to brave the cold permitted us to get about 20,000 steps a day, which was our key to stumbling upon whatever, like good eats, good beer, and good shopping.

The trick to understanding itinerary planning is to be flexible and take a few things into consideration, as follows:

  • getting burnt out from sightseeing 
  • food poisoning 
  • getting lost
  • seasonal hours 
  • weather
  • Not wanting to go to the next destination, perhaps because you're loving where you are

Through my "expectations" of my 3 week Japan itinerary you'll notice lots of links to places I hoped to go to. I planned using Evernote, which was actually really useful for editing between my phone and laptop. I could also share it with my boyfriend so he could edit.  

Prayer incense at the Golden Pavilion , Kyoto

Prayer incense at the Golden Pavilion , Kyoto

Anything that didn't turn out as expected will be bolded with an * next to it, which is mostly everything. For all of Tokyo I had almost nothing planned because I know what it's like living in a tourist capital city. Meaning, it's just best to go wherever the path leads you. 

All of that said, here is my 3 week Japan itinerary with what I planned for vs. what actually went down. Starting in Kyoto, to Arishiyama, Osaka, Nara, Lake Kawaguchi near Mt. Fuji, and finishing in Tokyo. 

*Please view on a laptop/desktop for a side by side comparison of the itineraries.

3 WEEK JAPAN ITINERARY: EXPECTATION VS. REALITY

REALITY

DEC. 14TH-18TH: KYOTO

14TH

  • Arrival, 2:00pm 
  • Check in 5:30pm 
  • Eat 6:00
  • Snacks at Lawson’s
  • Drink at our Airbnb and watch Japanese talk shows

15TH

  • Kiyomizu-Dera Temple (closes at 6pm)
  • Lunch (2pm)
  • Walk to Kyoto tower 
  • Got lost looking for Deerhoof venue
  • Deerhoof (arrive at 6:30-7)
  • Late dinner and drinks

16TH

  • Hangover
  • Eat
  • Walk to Golden Pavilion 
  • Explore Malls
  • Dinner and Drinks

Dec. 17TH ARASHIYAMA

  • Head to Arashiyama around 2pm (20 min by train)
  • Small hike up Monkey mountain 
  • Snacks
  • Head back to Kyoto
  • Dinner 
  • Packed for Osaka

DEC. 18TH-23RD: OSAKA

18TH

  • Head to Osaka at 10am (40 min by train)
  • Check in around 11
  • Eat
  • Explore Tenjimbashi area 
  • Got lost looking for a taproom for two hours
  • Drank a bottle of whiskey

19TH

  • Lunch
  • Aquarium 
  • Meet with a friend, go to two taprooms
  • Late dinner

20TH

  • Sick day
  • Walk around tenjimbashi area
  • Eat

21ST

  • Head to Nara around noon
  • Lunch
  • Deer park 
  • Check out temples 
  • Head back to Osaka

22ND

  • Walk around Tenjimbashi 
  • Pack

DEC. 23RD-26TH: FUJI FIVE LAKES (LAKE KAWAGUCHI)

23RD

  • Head to Fuji around 10am 
  • Get lost for over an hour during a transfer
  • Check in around 6pm
  • Dinner
  • Watched Home Alone because everything was closed

24TH

  • Bike ride around Lake Kawaguchi 
  • Lunch
  • Onsen at our Ryokan 
  • Moose Burger and drinks

25TH

  • Food poisoning all day
  • Everything was closed anyway 

26TH

  • Check out around noon 
  • Got separated at train station for an hour
  • Got in late, ate around Shinjuku

DEC. 26TH-JAN. 2ND: TOKYO

27TH

  • Explored Shinjuku 
  • Boyfriend got food poisoning

28TH

  • Got a view from Tokyo municipal government building
  • Took it easy
  • Ate pizza and drank at Devil’s Craft 

29TH

  • Shopping in Harajuku
  • Ate Taco Bell (I know)

30TH

  • Luke’s Lobster (one hour of waiting)
  • More shopping in Harajuku
  • Beer at Smoke House
  • Explored Jingumae area
  • Baird Brewery in Harajuku 

31ST

  • Watched Rousey fight in Roppongi
  • Ate lunch
  • Brew Dog for one beer
  • Two Dogs Taproom for NYE

1ST

  • Walked around Harajuku area
  • Visited Shibuya Crossing
  • Sushi dinner
  • Packed 

2ND

  • Fly back to Beijing

EXPECTATION

DEC. 14TH-17TH: KYOTO 

14TH

  • Arrival, 2:00pm*
  • Check in 3:30pm* 
  • Eat 4:00*
  • Explore *

15TH

16TH

Extra Time: Free things to do in Kyoto

17TH

  • Check out*
  • Head to Arashiyama (40 min by train)*

Dec. 17TH-18TH: ARASHIYAMA

17TH

18TH

  • Head to Osaka (1.5 hours by train)*

DEC. 18TH-23RD: OSAKA

19TH

  • Check in (noon)
  • Eat
  • Explore Minami Namba*
  • Craft Brewery (suggestions?)*

20TH

  • Aquarium (closes at 8pm)
  • Eat
  • Osaka Castle for sunset*              

21ST

  • Day trip to Nara
  • Deer park 
  • Eat
  • Explore (recommendations?)
  • Head back to Osaka 

22ND

  • Day trip to Himeji Castle (1.5 hours by train)*
  • Eat near Himeji*
  • Head back to Osaka*
  • Drink/Walk Around*

23RD

  • Head to Oshino Hakkai (3.5 hours) *Take a direct Hikari train on the JR Tokaido Shinkansen from Shin-Osaka Station to Mishima Station (two hours, 12,000 yen, one direct train every two hours) and transfer to a Fujikyu bus to Kawaguchiko Station (1.5 hours, 2260 yen one way, see timetable) in the Fuji Five Lakes region.*

DEC. 23RD-25TH: FUJI FIVE LAKES (OSHINO HAKKAI)

23RD

  • Check in*
  • Eat*
  • Explore*

 24TH

  • Catch a view of Fuji*
  • Onsen?*

 25TH

DEC. 25TH-JAN. 2ND: TOKYO

25TH

  • Check in*
  • Eat*
  • Explore*
  • Brewery/Bars*            

26TH

27TH

?

28TH

  • Day trip to Yokohama*

29TH

?

30TH

?

31ST

  • NYE at Trader Vics*

 1ST

  • Hangover, lazy day*

2ND

  • Fly back 

 

 

 

 

 

It's clear that no matter how much you plan, shit happens. I still loved my trip and saw so much of Japan. At one point I was there for so long I started to feel like I had moved there.. 

A few things did bum me out, like not getting to see either of the castles I planned for, or not going to an official Trader Vics to bring in the new year. Japan is a place where making reservations is just the norm, so definitely do that for any bars, restaurants or venues you plan to visit. 

Most importantly, listen to your body. We spent significantly more time outside than we normally would in cold weather, causing us to have flu-like symptoms for a lot of our trip, in addition to food poisoning. Blah. We decided to take time resting at our Airbnb's, which are their own experiences in themselves. 

Mt. Fuji 

Mt. Fuji 

Do I think I'll go to Japan again? No fucking doubt. It's super close and a great escape. What did I miss? What season will you go to Japan? Leave questions/comments below!

3 WEEK JAPAN ITINERARY: EXPECTATION VS. REALITY