Fly from Heathrow to Osaka Kansai Airport, arriving next day. Departures from Birmingham, Manchester, Glasgow and other UK airports are also available.
On arrival in to Kansai airport, I would head straight for the Japan Railways (JR) Ticket Office, located just outside the main terminal building, in the station complex. Here, you can collect your JR Pass for your week’s train travel around Japan – don’t actually activate the Pass today, the helpful staff will arrange this to happen on day 4 as you will make the most of the 7 days this way (there’s no need to extend to a 14 day pass!) You’ll also be able to make seat reservations for your onward journeys throughout your time in Japan. Then buy a ticket separately and hop on a train to Kyoto (approx. 75 minutes) and make your way to your hotel.
I’d start off my sightseeing in Kyoto at the incredible Fushimi Inari Taisha, a magical Shinto temple where thousands of wooden gates dot the hillside – this has to be one of my favourite places in the whole of Japan. From here, I would head to the Southern Higashiyama district, home to dozens of temples, shrines, gardens and streets that will leave you mesmerised – my favourites include the temple of Kiyomizu-Dera (keep an eye out for the entrance to Tainai Meguri, which is one of the oddest experiences in Kyoto!) and the traditional streets of the Sannen Zaka district – really pretty. I’d finish off the day by heading to one of the bars in Ponto Cho (Japanese beers are very good, but I’ve never got in to Sake - it will help weary feet, though!)
Continue exploring Kyoto’s amazing sights today – I’d head out to Arashiyama for the incredible bamboo groves and the beautiful gardens at the Tenryu Ji temple – as you come out of the station turn right and follow the path until you start to see bamboo! Don’t forget that your JR Pass can be used on all JR lines in the area, so I would then hop back on the train and head to central Kyoto to round off my sightseeing – next door to the station is the Kyoto Tower, which gives you great views across the city, and close by is the Higashi Honganji Temple. If you still have the energy return to your hotel via Nijo-jo Castle and Nishiki Market – I have no idea what half the foods for sale here are, but it looks fascinating! For me a stay in Kyoto is completed by taking in a traditional Geisha show – and probably a few more beers! Certain attractions require an entrance fee to be paid locally.
It’s around a 2 hour journey from Kyoto to Hiroshima (quick change in Shin Osaka) so I would catch a late morning train as I would want to spend the afternoon around Hiroshima’s Peace Park. Kyoto station sells a huge range of bento boxes, so you won’t go hungry on board.
Today I would head to magical Miyajima - this beautiful temple and small island is also one of my favourite places in Japan! Take the JR line from Hiroshima to Mijayimaguchi station, then it’s a five minute walk to the ferry - if you hop on the JR ferry this is also covered by your JR Pass! Miyajima is easy to explore on foot and a half day here works well for me - the highlight is definitely the beautiful temple gate, which seems to float on the water at high tide.
Make your way back to Hiroshima JR station for your Shinkansen ‘bullet’ trainto Osaka. On arrival I would head to Shinsaibashi and Amerika-Mura, two adjacent neighbourhoods but with different feels. From here it’s a short walk to the bright lights of Osaka’s Dotonbori District, and nowhere screams ‘Japan’ to me more than Dotonbori!
I’d continue my sightseeing in Osaka at the wacky Umeda Sky Building, one of Japan’s landmark buildings and a fascinating piece of architecture - the viewing platform is accessed by a rather hairy escalator! From here head to nearby Ohatsu Tenjin Shrine, and on to Osaka Jo Castle - modern to ancient in one go!
Make your way back to Shin Osaka station for your Shinkansen ‘bullet’ train to Tokyo, a journey of around 4 hours 30 minutes – when I’m making my seat reservations on this route I would ask for a seat on the left hand side of the train, as hopefully you’ll great views of Mount Fuji.
On my first full day in Tokyo I would head straight to the Tokyo Sky Tree, the tallest structure in Japan and with great views across the city – the queues can be a little long so try to avoid it at the weekend, or look out for the fast lane! From here it’s a short walk to the Asahi Beer Headquarters (there’s a great bar on the 22nd floor – definitely recommended!) and the more cultural Senso Ji Temple. From here I would head to the lively Akihabara district, with its colourful billboards and even more colourful characters – sensory overload! Continue to Shibuya to see the crazy Shibuya Crossing, where thousands of people cross at every change of the lights – as the evening starts the lights come on, and you can only be in Tokyo! Don’t forget that your JR Pass can be used on all JR lines in Tokyo, cutting the cost of getting around. Certain attractions require an entrance fee to be paid locally.
Today continue exploring Tokyo – your 7-day JR Pass has now expired, so you’ll just need to buy subway or train tickets as you go. I would start in the city centre, where you can catch a glimpse of the Imperial Palace (for me the best view is at the corner of Harumidori and Uchiboridori) and take in the upmarket Ginza district – if you get off the train at Tokyo’s main station to the west side all of this can be done on foot. Then head to Harajuka, where the beautiful Meiji Jingu Shinto shrine contrasts with the surrounding streets incredibly – the district is popular with Japan’s youth culture, so you’ll find lots of zaniness here. It’s then a short hop to Shinjuku, home to the world’s busiest station and Tokyo’s bright lights & buzzing nightlife. I’d take in a show at the renowned Robot Restaurant – it’s like nothing I’ve seen anywhere else, ever!
Buy a ticket at the station and make your way to Tokyo’s Narita airport for your flight back to the UK.
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