3 Nights in Japan

Zen Garden, Kyoto, Japan / Wynn Myers

3 Nights | June 16-19, 2023

This is a really short trip, but I’m super excited for y’all. We want to minimize travel time, so I think this leaves only a few options focused around Osaka or Tokyo. Which way you choose depends on what activities you want to emphasize, and I’ve tried to outline them below.

I’ve also included a rough estimate of train travel times in each option. These times do not include time at the station or subways cabs around town for activities. I’ve also included links to some of my travel videos or relevant websites when possible within the copy.

1. Osaka to Kyoto

This itinerary is weighted towards food, culture, and shopping. However, there are some great little hikes around Kyoto. It also has the least travel time. You could easily spend the whole three nights in Kyoto. That was my original plan. It may be worth considering spending a little time in Osaka though, because it is known as the food and shopping capitol of Japan.

Kyoto is the quintessential stop in a Japan itinerary. It’s a charming smaller city with a lot of history. As a result there can be a lot of tourists, but it’s worth it. You have to be strategic visiting the more popular spots. There are some onsen hotels around town, but I need to talk to my contact about them. Most have small tubs in the rooms instead of a traditional larger communal bathhouse.

Kyoto Activities

  • Kyoto’s central mall is great for food and shopping. Lots of other good restaurants around town as well.
  • If you get up early enough, you can see the famous Arashiyama Bamboo Grove before it gets crowded and then take a short hike up a mountain to visit a colony of monkeys.
  • There more temples and zen gardens to visit here than you can squeeze into any trip. We really liked the Daitoku-ji temple gardens.
  • Walk through Torii gates at the Fushimi Inari Shrine.
  • Slightly longer hikes can be made to beautiful temple complexes in the mountains surrounding Kyoto. Walks include Daigoji Temple, Kurama to Kibune, and Mt. Hiei.

My favorite memory from our time in Kyoto is eating an a Michelin starred tempura restaurant, before drinking a flight of sake at an incredible bar, and then walking through the Fushimi Inari shrine at night when hardly anyone was there.


Osaka Activities

  • Neon lights of the Dotonburi neighborhood.
  • Lots of cheap/good food and a range of shops.
  • Osaka Castle is also impressive.

Travel Time: 2.5 Train Hours (round trip)

It takes almost an hour from Kansai Airport to central Osaka because the airport is on a manmade island outside of town. You can get from central Osaka to Kyoto on the Shinkansen (bullet train) in 15 minutes. There is also a direct train to Kyoto from the Osaka airport that takes 1hr 15min.

2. Tokyo to Hakone

This itinerary is weighted slight more towards the outdoors and spa because of the inclusion of Hakone, a famous vacation spot outside of Tokyo. However, there is plenty of food and shopping in Tokyo. Hakone is an hour from central Tokyo and a great destination for high quality hot spring hotels.

Tokyo Activities

  • You will get to walk the famous kawaii Takeshita Dori, and can take pictures in a cute photo booth before buying a ton of souvenirs. There is also good shopping throughout the surrounding Harajuku neighborhood that isn’t pink.
  • For another visual treat, visit an immersive team lab art exhibition or find a tall building to look out over the city.
  • The Meji shrine and Imperial palace are impressive pieces of Japanese history and architecture if you need less stimulation.

Hakone Activities

  • I like a full day here walking and riding the Hakone round course. It starts with a gondola ride up a volcano with views of Mount Fuji. Then you cross a Lake on a pirate ship and hike down the old stone highway that ran from Tokyo and Kyoto before arriving at 500 year old tea house.
  • The evening can be spent soaking in a hot spring and dining at your hotel.

The Hakone round course is the perfect active day out in Japan before soaking in a hot spring back at your hotel.


Travel Time: 4.15 Train Hours (round trip)

Narita Airport is also outside of Tokyo, so it takes about an hour train ride to get to Tokyo Station in central Tokyo. From Tokyo Station it’s a 35 minute Shinkansen ride to Odawara where you transfer to the Hakone transit system. It’s another 35 minute train ride from there to the hotel area.

Hakone, Japan / Kunal Sahu / Unsplash

3. Osaka to Kyoto to Tokyo

Is it possible to do both? Almost, if you fly into Osaka and out of Tokyo, the bullet train makes it a similar travel time to the multiple short train rides in the Hakone itinerary. I would start with two nights in Kyoto and then finish with one night in Tokyo with some of the activities outlined above. I think this would only be worth doing if you ended with a night at the Hoshinoya Tokyo, the only luxury onsen in the city.

Travel Time: 4.15 Train Hours (one way trip)

There is a direct train to Kyoto from the Osaka airport that takes 1hr 15min. From Kyoto you can get to Tokyo on the Shinkansen in 2 hours. It’s another hour from Tokyo to the airport.


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