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First Time in Japan: Where To Go And What To Do

If it is your first time planning a trip to Japan, you may feel confused about where you should go and what you should do. I think it is important to note that Japan varies widely between prefectures and even cities making it such a unique country. With this guide, I hope to give people of various backgrounds and interests some insight in order to ease your planning process.
However, before I get started, I think it is important to let you know a brief summary of my background and why I have recommended these places. I think I have a pretty good understanding about everywhere in Japan as I have literally been to all 47 prefectures in Japan via a project through Odigo called the odigo47. I have been to the islands of Okinawa to the main touristy areas like Kyoto and Tokyo, to the cold north, Hokkaido and even the smaller lesser known prefectures, such as Yamagata or Saga prefectures. So whatever your interest may be, I hope that all of you can find some useful points within this article and if you have any other areas not mentioned, please leave a comment and let me know where you would recommend.

Tokyo (4-5 days)

Easily the most recognizable name within this list, if you come to Japan, Tokyo has to be on your list for a variety of reasons.  There is just so much to do and see crammed into a small area where the vast majority of the Japanese population resides. Whether you are into fashion, history, pop culture, craving delicious food or anything else that you may think of, Tokyo has it all. From the crazy street fashion of Harajuku, to the temples of Asakusa to the gorgeous scenery of the Odaiba area, despite what your interests are, there is something for everyone.
Tokyo
Shibuya:
Probably the most notable name within the Tokyo Area, the famous Shibuya crossing has been showcased in many Hollywood movies and is definitely one of the most iconic spots here. Within this area, you can witness a younger local crowd, do tons of shopping at the Tokyu Department Store, the Shibuya Hikarie Department Store, or you can visit a bunch of the smaller shops within the area. There is also a good amount of nightlife and many people come here for a nice restaurant, bar or nightclub. It is also conveniently located having good access with many train lines. 
Shibuya (Shibuya Crossing)
Harajuku:
Next to Shibuya, Harajuku is also a very popular spot for people of all ages. A lot of fashion seen in global fashion shows supposedly originate from this area, especially on the Takeshita Street. Whether you are into funky fashion or not, it is pretty interesting to see the different types of fashion trends worn by both Japanese women and men walking about. However, don’t think Harajuku is only about funky fashion trends, it is also a very popular spot for shopping, and is directly connected to the Omotesando area as well. Here you can find global brands, such as Hugo Boss, Coach, Prada, etc.  If you like to venture off the beaten path, you can also find some very trendy cafes and restaurants within side streets in this area.
Harajuku (Kawaii Monster Cafe)
Shinjuku:
Shopping, late night dining, bars, funky shops, a huge Gozilla replica, these are just some of the things that Shinjuku has to offer. As the busiest station in all of Japan, Shinjuku is the most convenient for all people living within the Greater Tokyo area for work, hanging with friends or some nice nightlife. Just don’t get lost in the train station before you can experience everything this area has. I know I have gotten lost countless times. There is a huge Lumine Department Store as well as probably the biggest Yodobashi Camera Store with many different departments all to meet your electronic needs.  There are also a bunch of crazy shops and bars that you can venture off to as well if you want something different from your usual scene. The infamous Kabukicho Street is a prefect way to end your night fulfilling all of your late night needs. Just be careful of scammers along the street!
Shinjuku (Around Shinjuku Area)
Ginza:
For you high-class diners and shoppers, Ginza is the place for you. Hosting some of the most expensive and delicious delicacies, Ginza is the place to go to for some awesome sushi restaurants and other very popular Japanese dishes. Along the streets are also many famous global brands, including Channel, Prada, Harry Winston, Dior, Gucci, Wako and many more. However, for those of you who would rather shop at a more reasonable price range, there is also a huge GAP, Uniqlo, GU and many others as well.
Ginza (Mitsukoshi Department Store)
Akihabara:
Fitting all of your anime, manga and electronic needs, Akihabara, aka Akiba, is quite a different scene from most areas within Tokyo. It definitely stands out from the crowd with young girls wearing maid costumes lining the streets promoting their individual maid cafes. Yes, a café that reconstructs a theme where your waitresses are all wearing maid costumes and treat you like a king accompanied by a live music performance. This actually exists in Japan along with many other crazy themed cafe ideas. Once finished there, head over to some of the side streets and witness some of the most amazing electronic inventions sold at private vendors. If that doesn’t satisfy you, try out the shop called Super Potato for any old video game consoles that you wish you could play again and remember the good old days.
Akihabara (Small Vendor Side Streets)
Asakusa:
If you want to feel a little tradition in the Tokyo area, then Asakusa is the place to go. Lined with local street vendors and a gorgeous temple, Asakusa is one of the main tourist spots for people of all countries.  Here you can rent kimonos at the many shops within the area and walk around dressed up as a Japanese beauty. Most of these shops rent them for quite cheap as well, for around 5,000 yen (~$50), you can take pictures for your Instagram or to keep as precious memories while feeling like you are back in ancient Japan. As you venture off towards the temple, you will be greeted by a street full of local vendors selling souvenirs and delicious Japanese food for you to nibble on.
Asakusa (Outside Senso-ji)
For a more detailed look on guides about Tokyo, check out the article written by the team at Odigo here

Kyoto: (3 days)

 A very different feel from Tokyo, Kyoto offers the beauty that you probably imagined after seeing some Hollywood movie. Some of my favorite spots not in any particular order include, Heian Shrine, Kinkaku Temple, Kiyomizu Temple, Fushimi Inari Shine, Arashiyama Bamboo Grove and many others. There are actually so many different beautiful shrines and temples where you really can’t go wrong with any one of them. The ones mentioned above are simply the most popular and touristy. Kyoto is only about a 2.5  hour bullet train ride away from Tokyo so if you have the time, I would definitely make your way down there and experience a completely different feel from Tokyo.
Kyoto
Heian Shrine (In Japanese: Heian Jingu)
Heian Jingu
Golden Temple (In Japanese: Kinkaku-Ji)
Golden Temple
Kiyomizu Temple (In Japanese: Kiyomizu-Dera)
Kiyomizu Temple
Fushimini-Inari Shrine (In Japanese: Fushimi Inari-Taisha)
Fushimi Inari Shrine
Arashiyama Bamboo Grove
Arashiyama Bamboo Grove
For a more detailed look on guides about Kyoto, check out the article written by the team at Odigo here.  

Osaka: (2 days)

Only a stones throw away from Kyoto, also located in the Kansai region, Osaka is most notably famous for its food, shopping and friendly locals. Osaka has a nice balance between Kyoto and Tokyo. Head to Namba and Umeda for shopping, nice restaurants and some awesome nightlife. Yes, the Osaka nightlife is definitely one of the best in Japan. The clubs and bars are most definitely popping. People in Osaka tend to go a tad harder than Tokyo people from my experience. 
Osaka
For a more detailed look on guides about Osaka, check out the article written by the team at Odigo here

Nara: (2 days)

Famous for its deer, tradition and ancient temples and shrines, Nara is a must if you have the time after visiting the above mentioned areas. If you enjoy the traditional side of Japan and wouldn’t mind visiting Nara on top of Kyoto, I would cut down your time in Tokyo and allocate a few days to spend in this area. It is pretty awesome that Nara is so close to Kyoto, Osaka and Hyogo, each with its own culture and unique places to visit and experience. Some of my favorite spots in Nara include, Todai-Ji Temple, Kasuga Grand Shrine and Nara Park.
Nara
Todai Temple (In Japanese: Todai-Ji)
Todai Temple
Kasuga Grand Shrine (In Japanese: Kasuga Taisha)
Kasuga Grand Shrine (Side shot)
Nara Park
Nara Park
For a more detailed look on guides about Osaka, check out the article written by the team at Odigo here
 
Well that rounds up my list for the areas to go to within Japan if it is your first time. I will also be uploading an article for repeat visitors after you have probably visited the above mentioned areas. The next list will be a little less generic and more specific to different types of travelers and interests. If you guys enjoyed this piece, please leave a comment down below and let me know other areas that you guys would recommend for first time visitors. 
 

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30 comments

Nice city love it very much

Hello Guy follow me due

exactly as my schedule!

Great article ! Super Helpful :)

Thank you for the tips!

Glad you liked them!

Thanks for sharing.

This is great! Now I know where should I go and plan what to do 😊 I'm so excited!!

Great sharing👍🏻👍🏻

Great post!

Awesome post! Do follow me thankss :))

Awesome post! Thank you!

Great photos! Most of the places you mentioned above I have visited, I didn't visit Kinkaku-ji during that time. I should go there in next visit.

Thannks so much for this article and this is awesome. Hopefully this will guide me in my next japan trip! Arigato!

Woww these place sound sooo fantastic!Btw my family n i planned to go to hokkaido soon, abt 8 days on june. They've ard plan where to go but i hope to know more abt hokkaido.So can u please tell me more abt this place? Like some interesting places or something need to note before going to jp?Thanks hahaO(≧∇≦)O

Sure! I did leave that one out but I'll try and upload one about Hokkaido soon

Great photos ! And very useful article :) Thank you !

Wow, so much great information! Thanks so much :)

Hi Chris,

We are going to Japan on 6 April till 18 April '2017.
First 2 day we will stay in Tokyo then friend will bring us around in Shizuoka the we will go to Ogikawa on Monday 10 Apr'2017 (we bought the 7 days JR Pass) and take sightseeing train.
After that we plan to go Mt Fuji / Osaka / Kyoto / Kakegawa / Numazu, please advice which place should come first then after etc.

If you create an Itinerary on this site, it will tell you travel time between stops.

Great advice and stunning photos!

Thank you so much!

Damn! Osaka and Kyoto sound ridiculous. I'm definitely going to miss out as I planned on doing a northern loop between Tokyo-Hokkaido for my 3 week visit.

And now I realize after watching your video that the description for Ginzan Onsen is a pack of lies as the inspiration came from Dogo Onsen.

I will spend a week in Hokkaido, mainly for skiing and seafood, but I will also hit Lake Toya-ko, Otaru and Mt. Hakodate. I'm going to a few other places, but aside from Tokyo I'm super stoked about Yamagata. I can't miss the Spirited Away referenced Ginzan Onsen.

Aww don't worry too much about it. What do you have planned for the northern prefectures?

Excited to visit Nara soon, looks so fun there!

It is absolutely gorgeous there :)

Great summary! A lot of those places were ones that I had on my list when we first moved to Japan, as my must see places.

I haven't yet been to that Kawaii Monster Café, but it looks like so much fun!

haha you should definitely go to that cafe at least once...its quite the experience