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A Spectacular Japan 3-Week Itinerary (+Valuable Travel Tips!)

Planning a Japan 3-Week itinerary might seem daunting.

Maybe this is your first time travelling abroad solo for three weeks, and you have zero ideas about Japan travel.

Or maybe you are planning for your very first, massive 6-month Asia exploration, wondering how much the trip will cost with Japan as the starting point.

Or maybe you are unsure how many of the 800 Japanese cities to visit within 21 days in Japan, plus how many days should you allocate for each city.

Tokyo 5 days? Osaka 6 days? Perhaps Nara for 10 days? Or spend 3 weeks long at Hakone? 

Well, you can get a breather because most of the Japan 3-week itinerary-related questions you might have can be found in this comprehensive article.

So make sure to read this Japan itinerary until the end to learn more about the must-explore places, must-try food, the breakdown travel budget, and valuable tips when visiting Japan for a spectacular travel experience.

Let’s get into it!

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what should I do 3 weeks in japan: summary

Day 1-5: Tokyo (Day trip alternatives: Mount Fuji, Hakone & Nikko)

Day 6: Nagano

Day 7: Matsumoto

Day 8-9: Takayama

Day 10-11: Kanazawa (Day trip alternatives: Shirakawago & Noto Peninsula)

Day 12-14: Kyoto

Day 15: Nara

Day 16: Hiroshima

Day 17: Miyajima

Day 18: Kurashiki

Day 19: Himeji

Day 20-21: Osaka (Day trip alternative: Kobe)

Here are the shortcuts to the links of useful resources for your upcoming Japan trip:

Day 1-5: Tokyo

Tokyo is the capital city of Japan—and also the most populous prefecture in the country.

A city that never sleeps, Tokyo is easily accessible thanks to its convenient and advanced public transportation systems.

Start Day 1 to Day 5 of your Japan 3-week itinerary by exploring Tokyo and its vicinity. 

Getting To Tokyo From Airports

To get to Tokyo city from Haneda Airport, take: 

  1. Tokyo Monorail
  • Line: Via JR Yamanote Line to Hamamatsucho Station in Tokyo
  • Fare: US$5 (500 yen) one way
  • Duration: 20 minutes
  • Japan Rail (JR) pass: Covered 
  1. Limousine Bus
  • Fare: US$9 (950 yen) one way
  • Duration: 55 minutes

To get to Tokyo city from Narita Airport, take: 

  1. Train
  • Operator: JR Narita Express
  • Fare: US$28 (3000 yen) one way
  • Duration: 1 hour
  • Japan Rail (JR) pass: Covered 
  1. Limousine Bus
  • Fare: US$26 (2800 yen) one way
  • Duration: 100 minutes

Things To Do In Tokyo

Here are some of the major highlights in this metropolitan city that you can visit during your Japan 3-week itinerary:

  • Visit Tsukiji Outer Market – Explore the local market that sells various fresh and processed seafood. You can also get the freshest sushi for breakfast here as the fish products are sent directly from Toyosu Market. 
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  • Watch the live tuna auction at Toyosu Market – Wake up early to participate in the live tuna market auction from the observation deck in this newly built building. You will need to apply it here at least 1 month in advance. 

Note: The old Tsukiji Inner Market (where the tourist-flock tuna auction market was in operation until 2018) has moved its base to Toyosu Market since 2019. 

  • Have an Instagrammable photo-taking session at teamLab Borderless – Immerse yourself into the fascinating artistic lights and other captivating artwork exhibition in this intriguing museum. 
  • Visit Sensoji Temple – Admire the intricate architecture of Tokyo’s oldest temple. You can also get some local souvenirs from Nakamise, a 200-metre shopping street within the temple compound.  
  • Admire the city panoramic view at Tokyo Skytree –  Enjoy the stunning panoramic view from one of the world’s highest observation decks.
  • Have a stroll at Ueno Park – If you are looking to visit Tokyo’s popular hanami (cherry blossom viewing) spot donning kimono, Ueno Park is one of the top options. This enormous park also houses several national museums.

You an introvert? Get yourself a camera tripod and take beautiful photos of yourself to your heart’s content while in Japan!

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  • Have a blast at the Robot Restaurant – Have the time of your life by watching the wacky and entertaining robot performances in the Robot Restaurant. This is one of Tokyo’s tourist bucket lists that you need to cross out! 
  • Explore Kabukicho (Shinjuku) – Explore this neon-filled, lively entertainment district at night to experience the city nightlife. 

Note: Kabukicho is also Japan’s largest red-light district.

  • Wander around Shibuya – Your Japan itinerary will not complete without a trip to the Shibuya Crossing—one of the busiest pedestrian crossings. Wander around this district featuring shopping outlets and entertainment hubs. Make your way to Hachiko Statue too, a loyal dog that waited for his demised master every day for 9 years at Shibuya Station. 

Check out my comprehensive 4 Days Tokyo Itinerary to know more in-depth about unmissable things to do in Tokyo!

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  • Have a drink at the maid cafe in Akihabara – If you would like to get into Japan’s manga culture, make sure to head over to Akihabara’s maid cafes where the waitresses dress up as maids or anime (Japanese animated works) characters.  
  • Explore Harajuku – Harajuku is the teenage and cosplay fashion centre in Tokyo. There are 2 shrines in this district that you can visit—Meiji Shrine and Togo Shrine.
  • Visit Ghibli Museum – If you are a big fan of Studio Ghibli’s films, getting to Ghibli Museum is a big must. The museum consists of a small theatre, exhibition, cafe, rooftop garden, and a souvenir shop. Any Spirited Away fan here? 

Travel tip: Save money and time by booking attractions ticket online!

Fun Tours & Activities In Tokyo

There are plenty of things to do in Tokyo. If you would like to opt for some extraordinary experiences while in Tokyo, consider getting any (or all!) these tours:

 

Day Trips From Tokyo (For Double The Fun!)

Here are some of the popular day-trip destinations from Tokyo:

1. Mount Fuji

Your Japan 3-week itinerary will not complete without a trip to Mount Fuji

One of the great spots to enjoy the mesmerising view of Mount Fuji is Five Fuji Lakes

Note: Mount Fuji visibility is at its best during autumn and winter. 

If you want to include the stunning red pagoda in your photo with Mount Fuji as the backdrop, head over to Chureito Pagoda

To save yourself the hassle of planning, you can opt for this private bus tour with a local guide to Mount Fuji. 

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2. Hakone

Hakone is one of the famous day trip destinations from Tokyo. 

There are so many things to do in Hakone, including taking a dip in the hot spring, enjoying the beautiful view of the misty volcanic zone, visiting famous shrines and temples, and museum-hopping

Check out this detailed day trip to Hakone from Tokyo article to learn more about things to do in this beautiful mountainous town.

Or consider booking this Hakone private day tour if you prefer to explore Hakone under an experience guide!

3. Nikko

Popular for its stunning natural splendour, Nikko is about 2-hour drive away from Tokyo.

Among the must-visit main highlights in Nikko are Kegon Falls and Ryuzu Falls.

If you can’t get enough of Japanese temple, make sure to to make your way to Toshogu Temple and Rinnoji Temple while you are at Nikko.

Sounds exciting? Consider booking this scenic Nikko day trip bus tour in your Japan 3-week itinerary.

Where To Stay In Tokyo: 4 Accomodation Types!

With millions of visitors travelling to Tokyo annually, there are plenty of types of accommodations available in this lively metropolitan. 

Nevertheless, it is still best to book your hotel early especially during peak seasons, such as spring and autumn. 

 Here are some recommended places to stay in Tokyo

What To Eat In Tokyo

1. Sushi

Of course, you can’t miss out on sushi from your to-eat-list in this capital city!

You can enjoy eating sushi at standup stalls, fish markets, conveyor belt restaurants, or even Michelin star awarded premium eateries—depending on your budget!

Kura Sushi is one of the popular places in Tokyo to have sushi.

2. Ramen

Another food that you need to try before leaving Tokyo is none other than the slurpy, chewy noodle ramen!

This dish can be found in almost every corner of the streets in Tokyo, and there is a great variety of ramen available over here. 

If you are keen to try this soupy dish, head over to AFURI.

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Day 6: Nagano

After spending 5 days exploring Tokyo, it is time to travel to the charming city around the mountainous Japanese Alps on Day 6 of your Japan itinerary 3 weeks—Nagano. 

Apart from being a popular destination among tourists for its natural hot spring and onsen during the cold season, there are also fascinating temples and interesting museums that you need to visit in Nagano. 

Things To Do In Nagano

Below are some of the must-do activities in Nagano during your Japan 3-week itinerary: 

  • Explore Zenkoji Temple – This famous Buddhist temple is the first temple to receive a Buddhist statue in the 7th century. Spend at least 2 hours exploring the temple grounds where you get to visit some major monuments, including the Main Hall, Zenkoji History Museum, Sanmon Gate and Niomon Gate. 
  • Admire Togakushi Shrines – You can visit 3 main shrines at Mount Togakushi. Each shrine is located about 2km away from each other so you can expect some hiking here, or you can opt for a bus service to get to the shrines. 

Most temples and shrines in Japan require visitors to remove their shoes before entering into the buildings.

Therefore, it is best to buy yourself a pair of lightweight slip-on shoes for convenience before visiting Japan.

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  • Learn more about ninja’s history at local museums – If you are intrigued with ancient Japanese ninja skills and equipment, you can head over to Togakure Ninpo Museum. Alternatively, you can visit Kids Ninja Village for some interesting ninja obstacles training. 
  • Visit the snow monkeys at Jigokudani Monkey Park – Watch the wild snow monkeys playing around and soaking in the hot spring all year round. If you prefer to explore the park with a great snowy mountainous backdrop, it is best to visit the snow monkeys during winter (January to February).  
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  • Soak up the Olympic vibes at the remaining Olympic Winter 1998 – These world-class sports facilities are located sparsely around Nagano city where you can reach them conveniently by bus.
  • Have a stroll at Gondo Covered Shopping Arcade – If you are looking for things to do at night in Nagano, you can have a walk along Gondo Covered Shopping Arcade. You can also shop for souvenirs or try delicious local street food here. 

Where To Stay In Nagano (For All Traveller Types!)

Here are some recommended places for a night stay at Nagano: 

What To Eat In Nagano

  • 1. Oyaki Dumplings

Invented in Nagano, Oyaki Dumplings are the must-eat food when you are in this beautiful city. 

The dumplings are mainly made with vegetables such as pumpkin, eggplant, or radish and you can have it either steamed or fried!

You can get this delicious snack at Nagano’s Oyaki Shichifuku Inshokuten.

  • 2. Basashi

Basashi is a unique type of sashimi. But instead of indulging in seafood, it is prepared using horse meat

If you are up for the unusual food challenge, head over to Nihommatsu for a plate of basashi. 

How To Get To Nagano

To get to Nagano from Tokyo, you can take:

  1. Shinkansen 
  • Operator: Hokuriku Shinkansen 
  • Fare: US$73 (8000 yen) one way
  • Duration: 80 to 100 minutes
  • Japan Rail (JR) pass: Covered 

Day 7: Matsumoto

On Day 7 of the 3 week Japan itinerary, it is time to travel to Matsumoto—located 50 minutes away from Nagano by train. 

Home to one of the remaining original castles in Japan, Matsumoto offers a unique, harmonious blend of both historic and modern travel experiences to visitors.

Things To Do In Matsumoto

Here are some of the main highlights that you can visit in Matsumoto for a day: 

  • Visit Matsumoto Castle This ancient castle has an observation deck on its sixth floor, providing a great scenic view of the city against the backdrop of the grand Japanese Alps. 
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  • Explore Daio Wasabi Farm – If you are a big fan of Japanese wasabi, make sure to make your way to Daio Wasabi Farm. Remember to get your own share of wasabi ice cream before leaving the farm! 
  • Enjoy Kusuma Yayoi’s colourful sculpture at City Art Museum – This art museum has a showcase of stunning artworks of the local-born artists. And one of these artists is none other than the bold-looking Kusuma Yayoi.
  • Mingle with local farmers at Nakamachi Street – A former merchant district, you can visit the bustling farmers’ market from May to December. Over here, you get to see the local crops, mingling with the farmers, or even asking for a tip or two for cooking Japanese dishes. 
  • Stroll along Nawate Street – A pedestrian-only street filled with cafes and local shops, you can find an interesting Shinto deities shrine in this street. Yohashira Shrine is exceptionally packed on New Year as it is believed to grant the people wishes and make them come true. 
  • Fill up your bottle with the natural groundwater from the city’s wells – The locals have been drinking the well water for years. Some cafes are serving their customers with this water source too. 

Some of the wells that you can find in Matsumoto city include Genchi Well and Iori Reisui Well

Tap water in Japan is safe for consumption. Consider bringing a collapsible bottle when travelling to this country (save luggage space & money!)

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Where To Stay In Matsumoto (Spoiled for Choice!)

Here are some of the recommended places to stay in Matsumoto: 

What To Eat In Matsumoto

  • 1. Sanzokuyaki

Sanzokuyaki is a native dish to Matsumoto. This special fried chicken is prepared by marinating the chicken breast meat with garlic and other spices before getting deep-fried. 

You can have a taste of sanzokuyaki at Karaage Centre Matsumoto.

  • 2. Shinshu Salmon

This reared salmon is among the popular foods to try when you are in Matsumoto. 

You can order this dish at any izakayas (Japanese tavern), such as Sakaba Yamazato

How To Get To Matsumoto

To get to Matsumoto from Nagano, you can take: 

  1. Train
  • Operator: JR Shinano Limited Express 
  • Fare: US$30 (3100 yen) one way
  • Duration: 50 minutes
  • Japan Rail (JR) pass: Covered 

Day 8-9: Takayama

Located at Gifu Prefecture, Takayama is among the fascinating rural cities of Japan that you need to go to break away from the hustle and bustle of city life. 

Spend Day 8 and 9 of your itinerary Japan 3 weeks exploring Takayama’s old town and surrounding highlights to experience the beauty and calm side of this Japanese rural city. 

Things To Do In Takayama

Here are the main activities that you can do during your 2-day stay in Takayama in your Japan 3-week itinerary: 

  • Get your breakfast at local asaichi – Start your day at Takayama by visiting the asaichi (morning markets)—Miyagawa Market and Jinya-mae Market. Over here, you get to see local fresh produce, handicraft, street foods, and snacks. 
  • Enjoy sake tasting at sake breweries – Takayama is famous for the sake and you ought to visit one of the old sake breweries when you are in the city. You can easily identify a sake brewery by looking for the presence of sugidama (cedar branches made balls) at the store entrance.
  • Learn more about Takayama’s history at local museums – If you are a history buff, then you must make your way to Fuji Art Gallery and Takayama Museum of History and Art

Some of the old artefacts that you can see here include precious paintings, brushes, and household items. 

  • Temple-hopping along Higashiyama Walk Course – About a dozen temples, shrines, and Takayama Castle ruins are found within this 3.5 km long walking course. You can spend about 2 hours strolling along this peaceful trail while visiting some of the old temples, such as Hokkeji Temple. 
  • Participate in the captivating Takayama Festival – Held on 14-15 April and 9-10 October annually, about 11 to 12 beautifully decorated festival floats are paraded around the Old Town and eventually stored in museums for public view. 
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  • Admire the delicate festival floats replica at Matsuri no Mori – This museum contains both miniature and life-sized replicates of festival floats with intricate designs that took part in the grand Takayama Festival. 
  • Be blown away by real-life festival floats at Matsuri Yatai Kaikan – Some of the Takayama Festival’s festival floats are kept in this museum. The great, detailed craftsmanship shown on the floats will definitely leave you in awe. 
  • Explore Hida Folk Village – This fascinating open-air museum showcases 30 traditional houses that are at least 150 years old. Get ready to be blown away by the impressive wooden architecture and the great condition of the century-old exhibits. 
  • Create your own souvenir at Hida Takayama Crafts Experience Centre – To learn more about the local culture, you can also learn to make the local handicraft at Hida Takayama Crafts Experience Centre.

Where To Stay In Takayama

Here are some places that you can consider staying at during your Takayama visit

What To Eat In Takayama

  • 1. Mitarashi Dango

This local traditional savoury snack made from mashed rice balls is first grilled and glazed with sauces, such as sesame or soy sauce. 

One of the best places to get Mitarashi Dango in this city is Jinya Dango

  • 2. Hida Beef Sushi

Raised in Gifu prefecture, Hida beef is one of the top premium wagyu beef choices in Japan. 

Check out Sakaguchiya for a sushi beef treat in Takayama!

How To Get To Takayama

To get to Takayama from Matsumoto, you can take: 

  1. Bus
  • Operator: Nohi Bus 
  • Fare: US$32 (3500 yen) one way
  • Duration: 2.5 hours

Day 10-11: Kanazawa

Next, spend Day 10 and 11 of your 3 weeks itinerary in Japan exploring another charming cultural city of the country—Kanazawa.

Highlights ranging from beautiful gardens, ancient samurai residences, contemporary art museums to scrumptious local food, be prepared to experience another mesmerising part of Japan in Kanazawa. 

Things To Do In Kanazawa

To fully make use of your time in Kanazawa during Japan 3-week itinerary, here is the list of recommended things to do: 

  • Have a nice walk around Kenrokuen Garden – This tranquil garden is one of the country’s most beautiful landscape gardens. If you are looking to enjoy the cherry blossom and autumn foliage, Kenrokuen Garden is the place that you need to be at. 
  • Explore Seisonkaku Villa – Head over to one of the few remaining well-preserved samurai villas in the country and admire the ancient building structure and interior design.
  • Immerse yourself into the enchanting streets of Higashi Chaya District – Wander around this famous geisha district in kimono and visit the old teahouses to learn more about geisha performance and tea ceremonies. 

Not a big fan of your mobile phone battery running low, especially when you are trying to capture all those travel memories in Japan?

Well, make sure to include a portable charger into your Japan travel planner list!

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  • Learn more about samurai’s lifestyle in Nagamachi Samurai District – Spend some time exploring this former samurai district where few museums showcase the historic samurai residence and their precious exhibits. 
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Day Trips From Kanazawa: 2 Awesome Options

It is also possible to have a day trip to Shirakawago or Noto Peninsula from Kanazawa on Day 11 of this 3 weeks Japan itinerary.

1. Shirakawago

Shirakawago is a tourist-flocking UNESCO World Heritage site attributed to the traditional farmhouses called gassho-zukuri. Some of these farmhouses are at least 350 years old

Apart from observing the unique, sturdy architecture of gassho-zukuri, you can also admire the mesmerising remote mountainous scenery. 

You can sign up for this Shirakawago day trip from Kanazawa where transportation and an English speaking guide are included—which means more relaxing time and less stress planning!

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2. Noto Peninsula

If you would like to enjoy the coastal view, then it is recommended to have a day trip to the Noto Peninsula. This less touristy site of Japan offers an interesting glimpse into a slower pace of rural resident life. 

Some of the things that you can do in the Noto Peninsula are having an onsen session while looking out on the blue sea, besides experiencing the magnificent view of rice fields during sunset. 

You can sign up for this underrated Noto Peninsula Full Day Driving Tour (Private) that includes stops at several other major highlights in this picturesque peninsula. 

Where To Stay In Kanazawa

Here are some recommended accommodations in Kanazawa that you can consider in your Japan 3-week itinerary: 

What To Eat In Kanazawa

  • 1. Kabura Zushi

Kabura Zushi is made from a salted turnip, salted buri (yellowtail fish), and koji (fermented rice). Some even come with carrot slices. 

Among all the stalls in Kanazawa, Shijimaya Honpo is the place that you should go for a piece or more of Kabura Zushi!

  • 2. Jibuni

This signature dish of Kanazawa is a thick, brothy soy-based dish cooked with sliced duck meat, mushroom, and carrots and topped with wasabi for additional flavours. Can you imagine the richness of the dish already? 

To have the authentic taste of Jibuni, make sure to head over to Yoshihisa.

How To Get To Kanazawa

To get to Kanazawa from Takayama, you can take: 

  1. Train
  • Operator: Limited express trains and shinkansen  
  • Fare: US$60 (6500 yen) one way
  • Duration: 2 hours (Change station at Toyama)
  • Japan Rail (JR) pass: Covered 

Day 12-14: Kyoto

Your Japan 3-week itinerary will not be complete without a trip to Kyoto, a fascinating city filled with ancient temples, beautiful shrines, and picturesque scenic views of nature. 

Make sure you rest your legs well because there is lots of walking and sightseeing involved from Day 12 to 14 when exploring Kyoto! 

Things To Do In Kyoto

Kyoto is home to 1600 ancient temples so you can expect some popular temple-hopping within three days. 

For a more in-depth post on how to navigate around this beautiful city wearing kimono, places to visit, and useful tips when exploring Kyoto, you can check out this comprehensive Kyoto 2-day itinerary

Here are the major highlights to visit in Kyoto: 

  • Visit Kitano Tenmangu Shrine – This ancient wooden shrine is popular among students particularly during the examination period as this famous landmark is dedicated to Shinto God for education.

If you are visiting Kitano Tenmangu Shrine on the 25th of every month, you will get to experience the local flea market known as Tenjin San’s festival too! 

  • Marvel at Kinkaku-ji and Ginkaku-ji – These two stunning temples are among the few temples that you need to visit in Kyoto.

Apart from having impressive building architecture, you can wander around their respective lovely gardens to enjoy the beautiful view and have a peaceful zen moment. 

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  • Wander around Arashiyama Bamboo Forest Expect to spend 30 minutes in this dreamy bamboo forest in Kyoto for photo taking and complete the walking trail.  
  • Explore Nijo Castle – Walk around Nijo Castle’s complex grounds and admire the stunning architecture of Karamon Gate.

If you can’t get enough of Japanese gardens, you will be delighted to know that Nijo Castle has two gardens that offer lovely scenic views of trees and ponds. 

Keep yourself warm with a pashmina while you are at outdoor during the chilly season in Japan.

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