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First timer going to Japan,


I hope all is well.

I'm going to Japan for three weeks in May, and have only gotten a ticket.

I was wondering if people had any recommendations or insider's guide on how to go about seeing Tokyo, Kyoto, and Osaka.
These are the three cities I plan on visiting.

I'm going by myself, and I plan on staying at hostels, but I'm open to anything. I want to get a real feel for Japan, and don't mind touristy stuff as long as it's worth it. I love food, in fact if it came down to food or seeing something cool I'd most likely go for the food.

Any advice or suggestions would be great because I'm pulling my hair trying to figure out how to organize my itinerary.

Thanks, and happy travels.

Posted by
5586 posts

If your focus is Tokyo, Kyoto and Osaka, then you will want to ride the shinkansen (bullet train) between them. Check out the JR rail pass options (must buy from USA before leaving for Japan). That may or may not save you money over simple point-to-point tickets, depends on how many times you will be riding.

With three weeks, you should have plenty of time to go beyond those three cities. Consider a trip to the Hakone/Mt Fuji area (in the main train station in Tokyo's Shinjuku neighborhood, you can easily buy complete tour packages to this popular area).

You will find plenty of incredible food. Incredible everything, actually - my first impression of Japan was that everyone - from the guy running the bullet train, to the cook in a little ramen shop, to the guy sweeping up trash in the park - everyone takes their job seriously and is totally dedicated to being the best they can at whatever they're doing. It shows. Everywhere.

Japan is an amazing country. You will be wowed.

Check out the Japan Guide website - a wealth of info on Japan.

Posted by
5491 posts

We loved Japan.

Kyoto is a must, plan on two full days to visit its many sights. Don't miss the Golden Pavilion.

Tokyo (do a city tour) and the surrounding area are great, make sure you go to Kamakura as well as Nikko.

Posted by
3307 posts

It's been 30 years since we visited Japan, so my memories are a little hazy. However, with that caveat, I'd say Osaka is not all that interesting. You should include Nara, the ancient capital, in the your itinerary. The town of Himeji has a beautiful castle and is close to Osaka. With the amount of time you have, you could get to the opposite side of Honshu. There are amazing temples, monasteries, and gardens to visit. Kanazawa is one place that pops to mind.

Posted by
380 posts

Hi, George

Firstly, I hope your dates are not 4/29 - 5/5. That is Golden Week in Japan. A major holiday week that tourists should avoid.

As you like food, I suggest you buy Yukari Sakamoto's Food, Sake Tokyo from Amazon. Not only will she give you an intro to Japanese food, she breaks down Tokyo into neighborhoods with maps of restaurants and food shops. This would be a good guide for you. Also, she includes the Japanese characters (kanji) so you can just show that to the Japanese for directions.

For Kyoto, you might think about staying at the temples which are fairly inexpensive and would give you "a real feel" for Japan. Try,, Ninna-ji, or Shunko-in.

Another option would be to stay near Kyoto Station, then you can go to the station and eat. The Isetan department store on the 11th floor has some very fine restaurants: Tenichi for tempura for about $40, ask for a seat at the counter. The chef will fry up your food and place it directly onto your plate. How fresh is that?!. Wakuden offers modernish Japanese cuisine but very good, about $60 and up depending on what you chose. Again sit at the counter, you will be facing the window and see the Kyoto night light. Restaurants there that we didn't get to but on our wishlist were: an all tofu restaurant, Kyohyakusai-a buffet of Kyoto home-style cooking. I recommend going here because the staff speaks English and you will not have any problems making reservations. These places are busy. Chairs are lined up outside for people to sit and wait.
On the 10th floor are a series of ramen noodle shops from various parts of Japan. There is a similar one at Tokyo Station too.

At Kyoto Station, outside by the taxi stand, go downstairs to the Porta, another shopping complex. There is a restaurant that serves okonomiyaki - sort of a pancake/omelet, unique to Osaka/Kyoto area. A must eat. Inexpensive and good. You can get okonomiyaki at other restaurants too.

If you go to Nijo Castle, then have lunch at Muten Kura Sushi, which is just two blocks west of Nijo Station. This is a fun conveyor belt sushi place at 100 yen/plate. You can google YouTube to see how it is like.

If you go to Gion, across from the Yasaka Shrine is Izuju which serves Kyoto style sushi. What we know as sushi is Edo style (Tokyo style). Kyoto is not close to water, so its sushi has more vinegar for preservation. Not everyone's taste, but worth a try.

If you go to Arashiyama, there is a one Michelin star grilled eel restaurant. Or, you could have a Buddhist temple meal at Tenryu-ji.

There are lots of Japanese chain restaurants that are very good: MosBurger - order the beef rice burger. Skip the fries, nothing special. CoCo ichibanya - Japanese version of curry, nothing like the Indian. Yoshi Beef Bowl - very tasty and inexpensive.

For something fun and not touristy, try taking a Taiko drum lesson either in Tokyo or Kyoto. There is an English website to register.

Of course there is Tsukiji Market in Tokyo and Nishiki Market in Kyoto for more food.

Personally, I would leave Tokyo as my "big" city experience and minimize the time in Osaka. You can take some day trips out of Tokyo and/or Kyoto. Or go to Hakone on your way to Kyoto. Stay at a ryokan and get to soak in an onsen.

For more food information, look at YouTube: Trails to Tsukiji, Begin Japanology, and Core Kyoto.
Also look at Tokyo and Kyoto forums on

Have fun.

Posted by
380 posts

Jiro Dreams of Sushi is a nice movie. But, don't go there to have sushi. Read all the negative reviews on TripAdvisor. There are better places to have a more positive sushi experience in Tokyo.

Posted by
13093 posts

Chun---your information about Japan is so helpful! I take a screenshot of your posts and add them to my Japan travel folder for future use. Thank you.

Posted by
5586 posts

I agree that the film is very good and helps give one a better understanding of Japan and Japanese culture (especially around food).

That said, I think it's probably a really bad idea for most American tourists to go eat at that particular sushi restaurant. Why? Because most of us would be hard-pressed to appreciate the difference between the $400 lunch we might have there and a $40 lunch we might find at another sushi place. Personally, I love Japan and I love sushi. But I have no need to go to Jiro's place. There are plenty of excellent sushi joints everywhere (I really liked the one outside Osaka's fish market - wow! - but it was not a fancy/famous/expensive place - well, it wasn't cheap, but really good!).

And FWIW TripAdvisor reviews are notoriously unreliable for many reasons not worth mentioning here...

Posted by
2472 posts

I agree with Lola, Chun, your post is so informative. Japan is the first place we are going when we retire! George, please write a trip report when you return, would love to read it.

Posted by
380 posts

Thank you Lola and Barbara. I actually enjoy writing the posts. It brings back great memories of our wonderful trip.

By the way, if any of you are American Airlines frequent flyers try to book your flight with JAL as the operator under AA partnership. We flew LAX - Osaka round trip non-stop with JAL on a Dreamliner. The food and service were really great.
And spacious bathroom, for an airplane, in economy.

Even the check-in was different. There was a Japanese tour group in front of us in line. To begin, the JAL staff first lined up in front of the counter and bowed to the passengers. The passengers bowed back. With US carriers, the next available agent would be yelling "next" and waving at you to come to him/her. JAL had a person who escorted you to the next agent and helped with your luggage.

On board when you get the first drink and the little package of snack, with the US carriers they usually just quickly hand you the nuts/pretzels or put it on your tray. The flight attendant held the package with two hands like she was giving you a gift. She made eye contact with every person and said "rice crackers ?" Needless to say, our trip started on the right tone.