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A 3-Week Travel Itinerary for Japan

Updated: Jun 17

In this Japan 3-week itinerary we will go over everything you need to know to help you plan your trip to Japan, making sure to include a combination of iconic attractions and off-the-beaten-path areas!



About Japan

Japan is an extremely popular choice for tourists, with some 30 million people visiting this far-flung island chain every year.

I would go as far as to say that the West has somewhat fetishised Japanese culture, whether it’s the cuisine, the traditions, the mod-cons, or the little bizzarrities, people over here really just dig Japanese stuff!

Japan is a truly beautiful country, and due to its wild geography, most of the population is clustered in the cities, where you WILL be one of the herd.

Because of this, my 3-week itinerary for Japan includes a mix of cities and countryside, so that you can experience all that Japanese culture has to offer.

A Nigiri selection in a Japanese restaurant
That's some premium Nigiri right there!


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When to Go to Japan

When planning your 3-week Japan itinerary, choosing when to go is going to have a big effect on your trip.

The best time of year to visit Japan weather-wise is March to May (Spring) and September - November (Autumn). This avoids the extreme heat and humidity of summer and the harsh cold of winter.

HOWEVER. Springtime and cherry blossom season is the most popular time of year for tourism in Japan, and it also coincides with Japanese School Holidays, so if you want perfect sunny, crisp weather and a glimpse at those iconic pink Sakuras - plan the exact dates of your trip carefully.

You can check the cherry blossom forecast for 2025 on the Travel Japan Website.

I Dream of Mangoes posing in front of a field of cherry blossom trees
The last of the cherry blossoms in Kyushu


FOR TRAVEL INSURANCE for Japan, do what I do and have a browse on Travel Supermarket - choosing a cheap policy with a high Defaqto rating.


Deciding Where to Visit in Japan

Planning a trip to Japan can be daunting, and my suggestion would be to not bite off more than you can chew.

For this 3-week Japan itinerary, we have chosen 4 stops, plus several day trips. They are:

Tokyo - 1 Night

Beppu - 4 Nights

Osaka - 6 Nights (Kobe, Kyoto + Hiroshima Day Trips)

Shikoku - 4 Nights

Tokyo - 5 Nights

You are definitely going to want to hit up Tokyo, Osaka, and Kyoto; the famous tourist trio. But knowing these places are extremely popular with visitors and that they are three big cities, for this 3-week Japan itinerary we interspersed these stops with some off-beat rural locales.

Shikoku is a beautiful and rugged island with exceptional surf and hiking, and Beppu is on the mostly volcanic island of Kyushu, with stunning landscape and steam rising from the pavements!

This 3-week itinerary for Japan does not include Hokkaido, the home of Sapporo and Snow - because that's a whole other trip (and season.) If you have more than 3 weeks, you may want to consider adding on a leg to the tropical corals of Okinawa in the South China Sea.

Steam rising from Aso Volcano
Steam rising from Aso Volcano


Some travel tips to help you prepare for a trip to Japan

  • We strongly suggest that you purchase a SIM card when you arrive, you can do this at the airport or in most 7/11 corner shops.

  • Cash is still king, so bear that in mind when you exchange money for your trip.

The snow atop Mt. Fuji
Mt. Fuji from the plane window!


A 3-Week Travel Itinerary for Japan:

TOKYO - 1 Night

After a long flight, you may want to rest up close to Tokyo Narita Airport. especially if you arrive quite late. We chose to stay in Nine-Hours Capsule Hotel within the airport terminal. It was awesome!

Male and female capsule rooms are separated completely, and after a shower and change into the provided pyjamas that make you feel like you're a clone from The Island, you can chill in your pod, which is so comfy.

I loved every second of it and it was the perfect place to rest and recharge after a flight, before getting stuck into our 3-week travel itinerary for Japan.

My pod at the capsule hotel in Narita Airport
My pod at the capsule hotel in Narita Airport


BEPPU - 4 Nights

From Tokyo you can take a short flight to Oita, where you start from the most southerly point on your 3-week travel itinerary for Japan, and work your way northwards, finishing in Tokyo and doing it properly!

We rented a car from Oita airport and drove the 40 minutes to our base for the next few days, a beautiful house in the town of Beppu (booked on Airbnb) Being a volcanic town it's a regular sight to see steam rising from the pavements, and the whole place smells very strongly of sulphur!

As fewer tourists come to this area - the local people are genuinely curious and we had some really nice exchanges.

The best thing about this area is the landscape - so we really enjoyed driving around to the local sights and admiring the scenery, with regular stops for walks along forest trails. We were really lucky to catch a full field of cherry blossoms here too!

Places we visited around Beppu:

  • Mt Aso - a short hike to the crater of an active volcano.

  • Lake Shidaka - where we wandered amongst the cherry blossoms.

  • Mt Tsurumi Cable Car - trails of various lengths through pretty hillsides.

One of the many shrines along the walking trails near Mt. Tsurumi
One of the many shrines along the walking trails near Mt. Tsurumi


OSAKA - 6 Nights

Now, it would definitely be quicker to go straight to Shikoku next, using the ferry from Usuki to Yawatahama, which takes a little over 2 hours. However, for this 3-week Japan itinerary, we wanted to split up the city-time so we chose to go to Osaka next.

That meant dropping the car back at Oita Airport and activating our Japan Rail Passes at Kitsuki Train Station, which was fairly straightforward, in fact, we found all transport arrangements to be really accessible during our time in Japan.

We then caught two trains with a change in Kitayushu, including our first bullet train, to our bonus stop in Hiroshima. I strongly advise booking all trains in advance, especially if you have luggage.

A bullet train
The world famous bullet train


DAY TRIP - Hiroshima

As Hiroshima is just a short stop on the way to Osaka, this is the perfect opportunity for a day trip. Luggage can be stored easily in big lockers in the main train station.

Hiroshima is a nice city, and in only a few hours we did all the usual stuff:

  • A-bomb dome - a UNESCO World Heritage site and a sombre reminder of the 140,000 lives lost by one hateful act.

  • Hiroshima Peace Memorial Museum - whilst the museum itself was very interesting, they do not monitor the number of people allowed in and it was completely jam-packed. There was no space to read the information and it was borderline claustrophobic.

  • Eat Okonomiyaki - a delicious savoury pancake from Hiroshima.

A-bomb dome Hiroshima
A-bomb dome - Hiroshima


Back in Osaka

After exploring Hiroshima, you can hop on the train for the hour-long journey to Osaka, which was our base for the next 6 nights in this 3-week Japan itinerary.

We chose to base ourselves in Osaka over Kyoto and I feel that was the right decision.

Kyoto and Kobe are easily reached from Osaka, which is only 30 minutes away on the train. Osaka is cool! It has a 'grittier' feel and some really awesome food.

Shinsekai couple arm in arm neon lights

Things we did in Osaka:

  • Deep Osaka Food Tour - This was the best thing we did in Japan.

  • Osaka Castle - Get there early!

  • Osaka History Museum - Only a few of the displays are in English but it was still nice to walk around.

  • Stroll around Shinsekai

  • Bar hop Dotonburi

  • Inc and Sons for cocktails.

  • EAT - nigiri, ramen, udon, tempura, katsu, yakitori...

Osaka Castle
Osaka Castle


DAY TRIP - Kyoto

Kyoto is a very pretty place to walk around, but be warned, it is crowded.

If I could give you one valuable tip for avoiding the crowds on your 3-week Japan itinerary it is to start early in Kyoto!

By 10am, the swarms arrive, and any chance of enjoying something beautiful is toast.

Things we did in Kyoto:

  • Inami Fushimi Shrine - definitely an Instagram vs reality moment. It's quite a long walk up the hill, and most people give up about halfway. If you persevere you will be rewarded with a few moments of tranquility at the top.

  • Kodaiji Park

  • Maruyama Park - this was a really nice place to spend a few hours, especially with a glass of bubbly Rosé from a cute local bar.

  • Stroll around Gion District

  • Japanese tapas at one of the many Bib Gourmands in Kyoto.

the illusion of peace at Fushima Inari Shrine
The illusion of peace at Fushima Inari Shrine



Kobe is a cosmopolitan city nestled between the Rokkō mountains and the inland sea of Osaka Bay. It's a very walkable place with great dining options, and it's well worth making a day trip here from Osaka.

Things we did in Kobe:

  • Sone Jazz Club - make sure to reserve your table ahead of time. The food and drinks are average but the performance is pretty cool.

  • Take a cable car up Mt Rokkō and hike around enjoying the scenes.

  • Eat Kobe Beef - This we did not do (£££) - but when in Rome.

A typical street in Kobe city centre
A typical street in Kobe city centre


SHIKOKU - 4 Nights

After the fast-paced city life, you will be ready for some chilled time in the Japanese countryside, and I could think of nowhere better than Shikoku. IT IS SO BEAUTIFUL.

You can jump on a train from Osaka to Matsuyama, and this is actually where we rented a car (completely necessary) and drove two hours up a winding mountain path to our Airbnb in the area of Uchiko.

We really enjoyed the woodland trails, yoga by the river, the sounds of nature, and the stillness. If you're looking for undiscovered Japan, this is it.

If you're up for a bit more driving, you can head to the vibrant city of Kochi on the east coast, which is not too far from some of the best surf spots in Japan.

I Dream of Mangoes in the forest in Uchiko
Rural scenes in Shikoku


TOKYO - 5 Nights

After dropping the car off in Matsuyama - get ready for your longest journey yet, on two bullet trains totalling 7 hours to get to Tokyo.

As a backpacker, I have been on some long-ass journeys in my time, and none have been comfier than the long-distance trains in Japan. Enjoy the ride!

Things we did in Tokyo:

  • Ebimaru Ramen - A lot of the time on our travels in Japan we just dropped in to eat anywhere that looked busy, but this one restaurant is worth mentioning, and absolutely worth the wait outside! Their lobster bisque ramen was my most memorable meal from the entirety of my 3-week travel itinerary around Japan.

  • The Sky Top Bus Tour - Whilst it was a nice way to see the city, it was incredibly long with an uninspiring audio guide.

  • Imperial Palace grounds - A beautiful place to spend a few hours.

  • teamLab Planet interactive art museum - This was so bizarre but really fun, be sure to book ahead.

  • Stroll around Shibuya crossing - Iconic.

I Dream of Mangoes at teamLab Planets Tokyo
One of the visuals at teamLab Planets Tokyo

Lobster Bisque Ramen at Ebimaru
Lobster Bisque Ramen at Ebimaru


So here is my 3-week travel itinerary for Japan! I know it is missing some of the 'big hitters' but hopefully it offers you something a little bit different from other itineraries.

Check out my post on Observations from the Far East to read about the little curiosities I noticed during my time in Japan.

After Japan, we flew to LAX and travelled in California for 10 days. Read about that in my blog post: San Francisco to San Diego on a Shoestring.


If you have any questions please hit the comments, or consider subscribing to this blog, where I publish articles every 1-2 weeks about my current one-year backpacking trip around the world.

Happy Travels




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