Are Japanese cheesecakes overrated

Adventure Japan: Highlights and the most beautiful places on our tour

Travel report Japan round trip individually by train

How about a tour of Japan? Japanese culture seems alien to us and so completely different. Nevertheless, everything is somehow familiar and structured. You absolutely have to experience that. Between skyscrapers and traditional temples, I discover the country on a longer round trip of almost four weeks.

There is hardly any other country where modernity and tradition meet so closely: I experience this contrast every day on our trip. State-of-the-art structures, a well-functioning local public transport network and of course the super-fast Shinkansen trains. In contrast, I explore ancient temples, see geishas scurrying through the alleys of Kyoto, visit Japanese gardens and discover them great japanese cuisine.

Getting around is really easy thanks to super fast Shinkansen and local trains. thanks to Japan Rail Passin addition very relaxed. We also use buses, ferries and of course the metro. We eat our way through markets and local Japanese specialties. We just test everything and can't get enough of it.

We stay in Hotels, private accommodation and in traditional Ryokan. We experience them Japanese cherry blossom and see the top of the Mt Fuji not until our departure. All of that is Japan. We love it from the first moment!

More travel tips for Japan:

Travel guide with tips for places in Japan:

I hope that you can plan your individual Japan tour stress-free with our tips:

Why go to Japan?

Japan is different and exciting! The trip is a great adventure: High-tech as much as possible. Of heated talking toilet seats started over robotwho talk to you or Gambling dens in Akihabara.

With the Shinkansen express trains ("Bullet Train") do they exist most punctual trains in the world. Traveling around is nowhere as easy as in the Land of the Rising Sun.

There is holy mountain Fuji, rarely seen in full glory. In this region around the Fuji Lakes, the dominate Onsen everyday life: nothing is more relaxing than a bath in one hot spring. Attention: Entrance to public onsen is only allowed without a tattoo.

Then "5. Season of "Japan's Hanami, the Cherry Blossom. Months in advance there are forecasts of when the cherry blossoms will bloom. When the time comes, everyone goes crazy. Celebrate on blue plastic ceilings in parks and snap pictures as much as you can. A great spectacle for us!

Be fascinated by the Discipline of the Japanese: Always stand in line, don't jostle. Even at rush hour in Tokyo's metro. Very good at that too Shibuya crossing What can be observed in Tokyo: more than 15,000 people change sides of the street at the same time during each traffic light phase It is the most frequented traffic light intersection in the world!

In addition, there are these ornate lanterns everywhere, geishas wrapped in silk kimonos, scurrying through the alleys. Ancient temples and castles can be found in almost every region. In Kyoto alone you can visit more than 1,600 temples!

Not to mention this beautiful landscape Volcanoes, Pine forests, Lakes and the sea. The further south it goes, the softer, greener and rounder the tops of the hills become.

We are sure: Japan will cast its spell over you and totally blow your mind! We will be back.

Route Japan round trip 21 days

Due to the long journey, I recommend traveling to Japan for at least 3 weeks. In 21 days you will get the really most important highlights that you would like to see on your first trip to the land of the rising sun. Of course there is so much more to see.

We were in Japan for a total of 23 days, including arrival and departure. After that I was "stunned" by the many impressions.

I have visited these places

Tokyo (4 days) - Hakone (1 day) - Kawaguchiko (Fuji Lakes) - Kanazawa (2 days) - Kyoto (4 days) - Nara (1 day) - Osaka (2 days) - Himeiji Castle (as a stopover) - Hiroshima (2 days) - Miyajima (day trip from Hiroshima) - Tokyo (1.5 days).

All other places I wanted to see (including Takayama and the islands of Okinawa), I put on the next trip due to time constraints.

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Tokyo

(東京 or Tōkyō)

We start our journey in the capital of Japan: Tokyo. 35 million live here in the metropolitan region.

In the early afternoon we land on Narita Airport outside of the city and thus in a different world.

We can hardly cease to be amazed in the first few days. The cosmopolitan city of Tokyo has many faces. New impressions are hidden around every corner.

Great food, friendly people (except for Chinese tourists who are very annoying) and exciting neighborhoods. Each of them has its own character.

In Shibuya Pop stars and advertisements flicker on huge screens. In Akihabara we can see the latest technological advances. In Ginza everything is pretentious, because the most expensive shops are in the banking and business district.

We explore Tokyo for four full days. Bit by bit.

We have:

  • climbed all views of the metropolis
  • wandered around the imperial palace garden
  • visited many shrines and temples
  • fought our way through the subway in rush hour
  • Seeing robots "in action"
  • in parks watched the Japanese celebrate the cherry blossom
  • Bullet Train Sushi tested
  • Ate and drank in an izakaya (pub) with locals
  • tried a maid café
  • Gambled in a gambling den in Akihabara
  • defeated the ramen ordering machine
  • Shibuya Crossing, the most frequented crossing in the world, crossed with approx. 3,000 people at the same time
  • survived the world's busiest train station Shinjuku (accidentally) at rush hour
  • Visited a great antique flea market
  • "Takeshita Dori" visited a completely overcrowded shopping street (and of course bought)
  • rewarded us with matcha ice cream
  • Crepe eaten with cheesecake and strawberries
  • and much more viewed ...

Quickly realize that we won't be able to do everything and decide to explore the capital of Japan for another whole day at the end of the trip.

Danger: There are two airports in Tokyo. Pay attention to which one you land on.

More tips for Tokyo:

  • Recommended length of stay: At least 3 days, better a week or more.
  • Accommodation: 1. Accommodation: Airbnb (Akasaka), later Park Hotel Tokio (Minato)

Since Tokyo is huge, we have written separate detailed articles here:

Hakone

Hardly out of Tokyo we are caught freezing by a bad weather front. When we step on the Shinkansen to Hakone we are still very euphoric: We want to see the holy Mt. Fuji in dreamlike landscapes.

The closer we get to Hakone, the darker the sky gets. It gets cold. From the summer 26 degrees in Tokyo we land at 10 degrees and an ice-cold wind. We are lucky that the gondolas are still going up the active Owakudai volcano at all. Thanks to the gondolas, we can drive directly over fields of sulfur that flow from the inside of the volcano to the surface.

The highlight on the “summit”: eggs boiled in sulfur, the shell of which turns black when cooked with sulfur. The eggs taste completely normal. They say you live seven years longer per egg. We will see.

Then it goes back down to Lake Ashi. Boats drive across the crater lake in Fuji-Hakone-Izu National Park. As Asians like unusual things, these are not normal boats but pirate ships! So it goes from Togendai to the other bank to Hakone-Machi.

Unfortunately, the weather didn't play along either and instead of fantastic views of Mt. Fuji there is only fog.

We visit the villages (Moto-Hakone and Hakone-Machi) by the lake, a replica of the last checkpoint before Tokyo (Hakone Sekisho) and a beautiful Torii shrine with Hakone-jinja temple on foot.

The Torii Shrine in the water is a popular photo opportunity, so expect a snake here. We visit the Hakone-jinja temple belonging to it and walk back to Moto-Hakone.

The buses are completely overcrowded. So we almost miss the last one back to the property. Keep an eye on the time!

In the evening the real highlight: a swim in the private onsen. Our accommodation, the Fuji-Hakone Guest House, has an indoor and outdoor onsen, where you can relax for 30 minutes on your own. There is no better way to end the day. Just great!

The next morning we get a private tour of the region from our host.

Then it goes by bus to Kawaguchi-ko at one of the five Fuji lakes. The next chance to catch a glimpse of this mountain ... !?

More tips for Hakone

  • accommodation: Fuji Hakone Guest House with private onsen (a great alternative to public onsen for everyone with a tattoo)
  • Recommended length of stay: 1 - 2 days (depending on the weather)
  • Getting there: With the Shinkansen and Japan Rail Pass: Tokaido Line to Odawara. Change to the Hakone-Tozan Line to Odinawa Station. From here, take the T bus for about 50 minutes to the Fuji Hakone Guest House.
  • Buy Hakone Free Pass: So we travel free of charge from Odinawa Station, including cable cars, pirate boats and buses.

Five Fuji Lakes (Kawaguchiko)

(河口湖)

TheFuji Five Lakes Above all, enable one thing: the best views of Mount Fuji. Unfortunately not on our visit. We are in Kawaguchi-ko for two nights and find that this look is proving to be a difficult undertaking. It's foggy, rains again and again and we don't feel anything from the spring-like weather in Tokyo. It has become cold.

The Five Fuji Lakes would probably only be half as popular if it weren't for the Fuji volcano - Japan's highest mountain - to the north. With its enormous height of 3,776.24 meters, it towers over the landscape tremendously.

From all lakes you have a great view of Mount Fuji. The view should be particularly good in spring and autumn. Unfortunately not during our stay. Our view is blocked until we sit on the bus to continue our journey. Then suddenly it is free of clouds. The snow-covered summit is gigantic beautiful. Unfortunately the camera is packed. The picture from the cell phone didn't look very good.

The most popular of the Fuji Five Lakes is located in Kawaguchi.

You get the most beautiful view of Mount Fuji with its pagoda from the Chureit Pagoda. Also seen on the 1000 yen note.

More information for Kawaguchi-ko:

  • Accommodation:Mt. Fuji Hostel SAMURISE
  • The best way to explore the region is by bike. It's raining here. No bike for us, at least this time.

Kanazawa

(金 沢 市)

The city by the sea is not a must-see destination in Japan for every tourist. The only city that was spared from the destruction of the Second World War apart from Kyoto is still one of the most beautiful places we have seen in Japan so far. The weather remains bad. Lots of rain, thunderstorms and a wet cold, which makes us several times wet and also shivering in a cafe.

Nevertheless, we stroll through small alleys with original wooden houses.

In Kanazawa we ate the best sushi in Japan, visited an old geisha house, wandered through one of the most beautiful gardens in Japan and visited the 21st Century Museum of Contemporary Art.

At the market we “ate” our way through the delicacies of Kanazawa.

By the way, Kanazawa means "Golden March" which means that there is ice covered with gold leaf, among other things. A magnet for tourists from all countries. I also tried such an ice cream. With a view of Kanazawa Castle and the many cherry blossom trees. Beautiful!

More information about Kanazawa:

Kyoto

(京 都市 or Kyōto)

Above all else, Kyoto is one thing: COLORFUL! Everywhere the red temples, pagodas and torii shrines glow.

The old imperial city of Kyoto should not be missing on any tour of Japan. Four days are far too little. We feel right at home here. Unfortunately the weather is not always good. We explore the traditional Gion district (the geisha district) and look with big eyes after geishas scurrying through the alleys. Simply fascinating.

Actually we wanted to Explore Kyoto by bike, decide against it due to the tourist crowds.

We spontaneously buy two tickets for one Geisha show in the evening.

We particularly like it Philosophers way. You can walk comfortably along this path and enjoy nature a little. In the end there is a lot of delicious food to try.

We got up early in the morning to escape the tourist crowds and also visited temples and places further outside Kyoto (not always easy during the cherry blossom season).

What else did we do in Kyoto? The list is endless, here are a few highlights:

  • Ate shabu shabu, kaiseki and kobe beef
  • Visited the famous Fushimi Inari Taisha and hiked through the thousands of red toriis to the top
  • Visited Kinkaku-ji Golden Temple
  • Arashiyama Bamboo Forest viewed (early in the morning)
  • Visited Daigo-ji Temple and escaped the crowds
  • Kiyomizu-dera Temple (The main building is currently under restoration and is completely covered)
  • Spontaneously attended a geisha show
  • Otagi Nenbutsu-ji Temple with thousands of stone Buddhas
  • Visited Nishiki Market in Kyoto and tried some more food
  • Ride on the Romantic Train
  • Viewed more temples, shrines & toriis

More tips for Kyoto:

  • Accommodation: Airbnb
  • eat at the Nishiki Market
  • Shabu Shabu: At Moritaya in Kyoto Central Station with a view of the city and Kyoto Tower
  • Kaiseki food at Kamikura in Kyoto
  • Eat Kobe beef: Premium Pound Sanjo Kiyamachi

The highlights are so numerous here that we'll be writing a separate article for Kyoto.

Nara

(奈良 市)

Many only visit Nara as a stopover of several hours on the drive from Kyoto to Osaka. We do it differently and stay here in a ryokan. A good decision, because here we experience the most beautiful evening of our trip.

We land in one after a long day of sightseeing traditional izakaya. If you don't understand a word that is being spoken, order "Gut Glück" and are invited to drink sake by a Japanese musician. Communication with a mixture of broken English and sign language. Gorgeous!

This place was so authentic that you will find it if you search on TripAdvisor on pages 4-5. We don't want to reveal this tip. There are no pictures of that evening either. We only received one postcard as a souvenir.

You can also read our detailed experiences in Nara on your own in our Discover Nara in 24 hours.

Nara herself is very cozy and we like it a lot!

The temples have been declared a World Heritage Site by UNESCO. The deer made the place even more famous. Asians are really freaking out here. We less. Anyone who feeds animals knows how aggressive they can become if they smell food in their backpack and cannot get any of it.
Shortly before we left, there was an article about it on Spiegel online. It said how dangerous it was to visit the deer. Total nonsense. Anyone who feeds has to expect ...

Places you must visit in Nara

Todaiji Temple in Nara Park. It is considered to be the largest wooden building in the world. Inside is the Nara-Daibutsu, Japan's largest Buddha statue.

Nara Park is only a 5-minute walk from Kintetsu Nara Train Station. During the cherry blossom season you will find over 1,600 cherry trees in the park, which, together with the roaming deer, are a popular photo motif. After a short walk through the forest to the beautiful Kasuga Taisha Shrine with its many stone lanterns that line the path.

At the Nara Prefectural Goverment Office you can go to the top and enjoy the free view of Nara.

A special tourist magnet is the fastest mochi maker in the world! Be sure to stop by Nakatanidō. You can't miss it because there are always enough spectators in front of it.

Read all the highlights and tips for Nara here

More tips for Nara:

  • Accommodation: Guest House Iki
  • Recommended length of stay: 1 day
  • Try nakatanidō mochi
  • Food: Somewhere in a Japanese pub (Izakhaya)

Osaka

(大阪 市)

We hardly had any expectations for Osaka. Surprisingly, we liked the fact that we would have liked to have stayed here longer.

We visited the Umeda Sky Building and enjoyed the view from above. Visited the Hep Five Shopping Mall and rode the red ferris wheel there. Here, too, you get panoramic views of Osaka - unfortunately the windows are not that clean and very scratched.

We went to see Osaka Castle and of course we went to the shops on Tenjinbashi Shopping Street. We couldn't miss the oldest shopping street, Shinsaibashisuji Shopping Street.

In America Mura we found Osaka's hipster and art district with great cafes, shops and colorfully dressed people. The best thing: there is a shop in a department store where you can play on over 100 pinball machines. Here we had to take a little break.

We visited Dotonbori, the entertainment district and highlight for foodies, every day. Here you will find everything your heart desires. Particularly ingenious: the shops have huge animals on the outside. So you can see what there is to eat there, even without knowing the Japanese language.

For foodies, we couldn't get past one of Osaka's highlights: Rikuro Ojisan no Mise has the famous wobbly cheesecake. Unbelievable how long the line has been here. Of course we got in line and bought a cake ourselves (and then ate it completely).

Other highlights in Osaka are the Tsutenkaku Tower, the Shinsekai entertainment district, the Kuromon Ichiba Market and the Sennichimae Doguyasuji Shotengai. Here you can find everything you can imagine in terms of kitchen accessories. But: You can buy great knives here and have your name or Japanese characters added by hand. The perfect souvenir from Japan.

See tips of sightseeing for Osaka

More tips for Osaka:

  • Accommodation: Airbnb
  • Recommended length of stay: 2 days
  • At Rikuro Ojisan no mise try the wobble cheesecake
  • Eat: Yakiniku & Horumon (Japanese BBQ), Tako Tamago (mini octopus with quail egg at the Kuromon Market) and make your own mochi at the Kuromon Market!

Himeji Castle

(姫 路 城, Himeji-jō)

Himeji Castle is ideally located on the way from Kyoto or Osaka to Hiroshima. Like almost all tourists, we simply made a stopover. The ideal thing is that there are lockers in the Himeji train station in which you can lock your luggage.

You can walk to the castle (approx. 20 minutes). However, there is also a bus for people who are not in the mood for a walk.

Himeji Castle has been newly renovated. And actually everything is completely renewed. But it's beautiful. In rank and file it goes up to the top. There is a lot going on, the view of the castle and from above is still worth it. It's just a shame that you are not allowed to drink anything inside (or sometimes you shouldn't get caught). Even chewing gum is prohibited.

Hiroshima

(広 島 市)

We experience Japan's turbulent past up close in Hiroshima. We visit the Peace Park with the Atomic Bomb Memorial, the Peace Museum, and Hiroshima Castle.

Here, too, we eat the local specialty: Okonomyaki. Every day. Delicious! The best are in the Okonomi-mura. More than 25 stands serve variants of the local specialty on three floors. Just pick a floor, find an empty chair and order your okonomyaki.

What else should you know about Hiroshima? The city's residents are baseball crazy. We would have liked to have been there live in the stadium. The otherwise calm Japanese freak out at the baseball in Hiroshima. While eating okonomyaki, everyone was watching the TV and watching the game. Really interesting.

Continue reading: See all the tips and highlights in Hiroshima here

  • Recommended length of stay: 3 nights with a day trip to Miyajima.
  • Hotel:Hiroshima Washington Hotel, just around the corner from Okonomi-mura.

Miyajima

(宮 島)

Miyajima Island is ideal as a day trip from Hiroshima by train.

After arriving at the port, you will first find the main shopping street, Omotesandō. This is full of souvenir shops and restaurants. The highlight of many tourists: the largest shakushi (rice spoon) in the world.

We relaxed and explored the beautiful island for a day. You could also spend the night here, unfortunately we didn't have the time.

See all the in-depth tips for Miyajima Island here

Further highlights:

  • Itsukushima-jinja Shrine
  • Momiji-dani-koen Park (bridge)
  • Take the Miyajima Ropeway up Mt. Misen and walk back into the valley. Enjoy the view from above. We feel like we are in the Caribbean. So beautiful!
  • Daisho-in Temple
  • Senjō-kaku & Pagoda
  • Daigan jii
  • Try the grilled hand-sized oysters in the shopping street (local delicacy). It was too fishy for me. I prefer the smaller oysters.
  • Arriving from Hiroshima: With Japan Rail Pass from Hiroshima Station to Miyajimaguchi (about 30 minutes), then by ferry to Miyajima in 10 minutes. Thanks to the JR Pass, the ferry is also free.

Tokyo and return

Thanks to Shinkansen, we travel very quickly from Hiroshima to Tokyo in 4 hours. We then have a full day to explore other places in Tokyo. We saved the fish market for the last day.

But getting up at 3 a.m. for the fish auction is too early for us. At around 7 o'clock we go to the "old" fish market Tsukiji, which has since moved, and explore the area. We are disappointed and at the same time appalled that the Chinese are actually wandering around with wheeled suitcases.

Then we go to the Hamarikyū Garden to the tea house with a view of skyscrapers. Here tradition and modernity are very close. The weather is summery, so we lay down on the grass and relax.

The final exploration is with Shimokitazawa just a short distance from Shibuya and Shinjuku. The neighborhood is relaxed, we enjoy the small cafes, bars and shops with vintage clothes, music shops and stroll through the streets.

We soak up the last moments and views on the Sky Deck, Tokyo City View Observation Deck (Roppongihills). Since the pub was so awesome on the very first night in Tokyo, we're going back here to end the trip.

Sayonara Japan, I'll be back soon for sure!

You will soon find all the tips for Tokyo in detail!

More tips on the Japan tour

Best travel time

The best time to travel is from May to mid-September. The months December to March are ideal for skiing.

If you want to go to Japan for the cherry blossom season, read our experience report here.

My dream month for the next trip is autumn. In my eyes the cherry blossom is overrated, all parks stink of alcohol.

Popular destinations we didn't have time for

  • Okinawa
  • Japanese Alps (bad weather and snow, that's why we skipped this highlight)
  • Naoshima: the island is famous for its numerous modern art museums, architecture and sculptures. Especially those of the well-known architects Ando Tadao.
  • Tohoku region
  • Shirakawago
  • Kiso Valley
  • Sapporo in winter

FAQ: Frequently asked questions about Japan

What should I definitely see in Japan?

1. The cities of Tokyo, Kyoto and Osaka
2. Grab Hakone and glimpses of Mt. Fuji
3. Stay overnight in a traditional ryokan
4. Visit a (private) onsen.
5. Let yourself drift through Tokyo
6. Visit the many temples in Kyoto
7. Visit Miyajima Island
8. Experience the cherry blossom (and tell me if you like it)
9. Experience the Shinkansen trains and travel through Japan quickly, on time and in comfort.
10. Visit the markets and eat your way through the various local specialties.

Packing list Japan: what do I have to pack?

Depending on the season: onion look. Dress in layers. Otherwise comfortable shoes and clothes for 7-10 days. You can wash anywhere on site.

How long should we go to Japan?

The flight is long. Therefore, I advise you to plan at least 3 weeks for the fascinating country. If you have less time, then limit yourself to the region around Tokyo.

How much money should we plan for a trip to Japan?

Do you book early? Then you can book cheap accommodation and save a lot of money. We booked too late for the cherry blossom. Plan around 3000 euros per person for 3 weeks. We weren't thrifty on site and, above all, tested everything from a culinary point of view.

Conclusion on the trip