My first trip to Japan was a fifteen-day adventure that took place in May of 2015. It was my first time planning a real vacation, my first time abroad, and my first time ever aboard a plane. My fiance and I packed up our clothing and the bare essentials in two mid-size internal frame packs and off we went, luggage-less, following an itinerary I constructed with the help of google. The itinerary looked like this:
9: Mt. Koya
In hindsight, there are things I would change about this itinerary. The first would be our initial stay in Narita. We weren’t sure how long it would take to get through immigration at the airport, and I was afraid of going into Tokyo proper in the late evening – concerns that I now know are pretty silly if you’re landing mid-day or earlier. Traveling from the airport to the city is a cinch!
The second thing I would change was on day five. We stayed overnight on Miyajima Island at a small inn called Guest House Kikugawa. The experience was lovely, but I now know that Miyajima can be done as a day trip, and recommend it as such unless one is working with an itinerary longer than mine. We left Hiroshima desperately wishing for more time to explore.
The same can be said of Kyoto. Three nights just doesn’t feel like enough! I managed to see most of the big-name temples and shrines, but I left the city with a large list of places I vowed to come back and visit. On this trip I missed Gion entirely. Though I enjoyed traveling to Mt. Koya after our stay in Kyoto and staying at a Buddhist temple, when I rewrote my itinerary I left Mt. Koya off. With only fifteen days to work with, it took way too much time to travel up and down a mountain for a single overnight stay.
If time allows, I also recommend setting aside a brick of days dedicated to the greater Tokyo area. On my first trip this was four nights and five days. After wandering from location to location with our large and unwieldy frame packs, it was divine to wander across Tokyo without carrying the entirety of our worldly possessions on our backs.
When I created a new 15-day itinerary for my next trip to Japan, it was significantly more concise. I enjoyed backpacking and staying at hostels in 2015, but I planned my second trip with a ‘base of operations’ mentality, and picked accommodations from which we could comfortably explore. My new itinerary for Japan, which I used in March of this year, ended up looking like this:
Though this itinerary may look plain in text alone, by limiting the numbers of places I stayed I actually felt less restrained by looming check-in and check-out times. I did not have to rush from hostel to hostel, or find a way to kill time between check-in and check-out with heavy luggage in tow. Instead, I tried to pick strategic accommodations in areas from which my fiance and I could comfortably access a number of appealing sites.
Ultimately, I learned a great deal from my first trip, and adjusted accordingly for my second. I recommend figuring out your own travel style and altering your itineraries based on what you like! Some people prefer to wander from place to place and pick a variety of accommodation types to experience in a single vacation, while others try to simplify their trip as much as possible. After all, there is no ‘wrong’ way to see Japan!