The Ultimate Introduction to Japan – 20 Day Itinerary (Interview)

Welcome to the 8th edition of Travel Chats!

Travel Chats is a monthly interview series where I invite fellow female travelers and bloggers to share their latest adventures.

The goal is to inspire you to discover new destinations and get to know our contributors through their stories. The best part? They share their practical tips & advice (the good stuff you won’t find in a guidebook) to help you plan your trip.

In this interview, Sydney shares the highlights of her 20-day trip in Japan – her itinerary is the perfect introduction to the best of this charming country.


Travel Chats: Japan 20-Day Itinerary 

Tell us a bit about yourself

My name is Sydney and I’m 22 years old. I’m currently working full-time and working on my master’s degree in global public health, all while trying to fit in plenty of trips to explore the world. I’ve always had a dream to travel the world and when I left the United States for the first time at age 18 to study abroad in Ireland, I became hooked on exploring new cities and countries.

How would you describe your travel style?

My travel style is a mix of several different travel styles. As a grad student, budget travel is a priority as my disposable income is pretty limited. When I go on a trip I prefer to spend all of my time in one country so I can get to know it the best that I can – I love exploring a country and getting a feel for the local culture, trying ALL of the local foods, and of course seeing all the top sights you read about in guidebooks.

Tell us about your trip to Japan and why you wanted to visit

My boyfriend and I knew we wanted to go on a big trip this summer, but we weren’t sure where we wanted to go. We both live by the motto of “chase the deal, not the destination” – we’re open to going pretty much anywhere, so we let cheap flights dictate where we’re going next. When a $600 flight to Tokyo came through our inbox, we decided to go for it! Japan is somewhere we both had wanted to visit, so it ended up working out perfectly.

We spent a total of 20 nights in Japan: we started off by staying 7 nights in Tokyo before taking the bullet train to Kyoto for four nights, Osaka for three nights, Hiroshima for three nights, and then back to Tokyo for three more nights. We also added in a day trip to Nara and one to Miyajima Island; we wanted to take one to the Fuji Five Lakes region, but the views of Mount Fuji were poor on the days we had free to take the trip.

What was the most memorable moment of your trip?

Japan was incredible and there were SO many memorable moments of the trip. Highlights of our time in Japan included:

  • Exploring Odaiba, the futuristic district of Tokyo, and visiting teamLab Borderless, an incredible (and very Instagrammable) digital art museum)
  • Exploring as many beautiful shrines and temples as we could
  • Hiking to the top of a mountain in Kyoto to hang out with wild macaque monkeys
  • Seeing Kyoto’s beautiful and historic Gion district
  • A somber visit to the Hiroshima Peace Memorial Museum and Park
  • Seeing one of Japan’s most scenic spots: the seemingly floating torii gate at Miyajima Island
  • Eating ALL of the ramen we could get our hands on (Ichiran, a nationwide chain with customizable ramen, was our favorite)

What resources proved most helpful when planning this trip?

I found our amazing flight deal through Scott’s Cheap Flights (SCF), which is a newsletter that sends out flight deals to international destinations around the world. There is a free version and a paid version, but I am a huge advocate of the paid version. It’s $49 a year and if you book one flight found through SCF, you’ll save way more than that.

We booked all of our hotels through Booking.com. All of the hotels we stayed at were business hotels, which are very common in Japan. These hotels are simple yet comfortable and very affordable. APA is a big chain of business hotels that can be found all around Japan. The rooms and beds tend to be smaller than what we’re used to in the United States, but they’re perfect for a couple traveling together or a solo traveler who prefers having a private room and bathroom.

Getting around Japan was very easy. We purchased a JR Pass that allowed us to use most of the Shinkansen (bullet train) lines as well as the JR subway lines, JR buses, the ferry to Miyajima, and the Narita Express to and from Narita Airport. To get directions for public transportation around the cities, we used the Google Maps app; HyperDia is another app that comes highly recommended for more accurate train schedules. Make sure to pick up a Suica or Pasmo contactless card for the subway and buses!

Other resources that came in handy were the Lonely Planet Japan guide (it’s included with Kindle Unlimited if you’re a subscriber), the Strictly Dumpling YouTube channel (for food and restaurant tips and recommendations), and TabeLog, a website which is essentially Japan’s version of Yelp (don’t download the English app – get on the Japanese site and have your browser translate the page. The English app doesn’t have as many reviews!).

What advice would you give to someone thinking of doing a similar trip?

It’s understandable why Japan is a dream destination for many travelers. It’s an amazing country with so much to see, do, and eat! Here’s my advice for someone considering a trip to Japan:

  • Don’t worry too much about the language barrier. Japan is very friendly to English speakers, especially in the major cities on the tourist trail. In big cities like Tokyo, many people speak English. Also, most signs in train stations are in both Japanese and English. Brush up on some common Japanese phrases with an app like DuoLingo (free) or Babbel (paid) and download Google Translate in case you encounter a situation where charades won’t suffice.
  • Japan is not a cheap country, but it’s not as expensive as many make it out to be. Budget hotels often run in the $40-$60/night range and most of my meals were $10 or less.
  • Japan is a cash-based society and many places, especially smaller restaurants, are cash only. Look into getting a checking account with Charles Schwab before your trip. They have no foreign transaction fees and they refund all your ATM fees at the end of the month – I ended up getting over $20 in ATM fees refunded after my trip!

What’s your next adventure?

I don’t have anything big set in stone yet other than a small trip to Cincinnati and a trip to Florida later this year. Other than that, I hope to sneak in a few weekend trips around the United States in the coming months. My friends and I are also working on planning a trip to Europe for the New Year – we’re thinking London or Paris!

Follow along on Sydney’s adventures

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Special thanks to Sydney for sharing her experience!


Read more articles from the Travel Chats Series

Traveling to Japan? Check out these travel guides to help you plan your trip!

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