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12 Days in Japan: 4 Best Itinerary Ideas for First-Timers

12 Days in Japan: 4 Best Itinerary Ideas for First-Timers

By Vicky LengUpdated Aug. 11, 2023

Japan is a dream destination, known for its geishas, ryokans, hot springs, anime, food, and more. It’s being a perfect destination for families and couples as a bucket-list trip, annual holiday, children's birthday, graduation gift, or romantic celebration.

Spending 12 days would give you the chance to experience the best of Japan: from prosperous Tokyo and Osaka to tradition-filled Kyoto, from the picturesque small town of Takayama to the peace memorial city of Hiroshima. We could arrange plenty of hand-picked activities for you based on your interests and trip theme.

Let’s get started… Discover the best 12-day Japan itineraries:


1. 12-Day Traditional Japan Itinerary: Explore Major Highlights of Japan; Perfect for First-Timers

try on kimonos for a photoTry on kimonos for a memorable photo
  • Tokyo–Kyoto–Hiroshima–Osaka

If this is your first time to Japan, you probably have some places on your Japan must-visit list like Tokyo, Kyoto, and Osaka. Spending 12 days in Japan would give you an introduction to the most famous destinations and the chance to experience plenty of fun hands-on activities. We could customize this itinerary based on your requests, and we could also reserve some free days for you to rest and relax or do some exploring on your own.

Here is the suggested itinerary:

map of Japan
  • Days 1–4: Tokyo (Meiji Shrine, Asakusa, sushi-making, and Mount Fuji)
  • Days 5–8: Kyoto (geisha, ryokan, Kinkakuji Temple, sake, and feed deer)
  • Days 9–10: Hiroshima (Peace Memorial Park)
  • Days 11–12: Osaka (Osaka Castle, street food, and Cup Noodle Museum)

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Days 1–4: Tokyo

sushi-making sushi-making

The capital city Tokyo is the obvious place to start and spend 3 or 4 days for lots of sights and fun activities in any season. 

Feel the old vibe in Meiji Shrine and Asakusa old district, experience sushi-making with your family or spouse/partner, meander around Hamarikyu Garden to see a charming Japanese garden environment. Perhaps have one or two day-trips outside of Tokyo to soak in onsens in Hakone or visit spectacular Mount Fuji and Lake Kawaguchiko.

Days 5–8: Kyoto

Gion District Gion District

Immerse yourself in the charming ancient capital of Kyoto. For a special experience, we can arrange many unique and authentic activities: try on kimonos for a memorable photo, see geishas in Gion District, visit historically-significant Kinkaku-ji Temple and Nijo Castle, stay at a traditional ryokan to experience an old-style tatami bedroom and sample sake at a brewery.

Great day-trip ideas include feeding the lovely deer in Nara or wandering through the lush bamboo groves in Arashiyama.

Days 9–10: Hiroshima and Miyajima

Peace Memorial Park in Hiroshima Peace Memorial Park in Hiroshima

Hiroshima, notoriously, was the first of two Japanese cities bombed with an atomic bomb at the end of World War II. Visit Peace Memorial Park and cherish the post-war peace. Take a short ferry ride to Miyajima to see the famous “floating torii gate”.

Days 11–12: Osaka

street food in Dotonbori Street food in Dotonbori

Osaka is a flourishing trade city. Sample authentic street food in Dotonbori and visit outstanding Osaka Castle.

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2. 12-Day Japan Private Family Vacation Itinerary: Experience Hands-On Activities

Our clients are having a good time with us Our clients are having a good time with us
  • Tokyo–Takayama–Hiroshima–Osaka–Kyoto

A memorable family trip to Japan should include opportunities to feel its rich history, immerse yourself in its youth culture, breathe in fresh mountain air, participate in hands-on activities, and enjoy quality time together at world-class theme parks. If you have other requirements, contact us and we can make it happen.

Here is a well-organized itinerary with all of the above:

japan travel guide
  • Days 1–3: Tokyo (Tokyo Tower, Samurai Museum, making sushi, and anime)
  • Days 4–5: Takayama (well-preserved townhouses and Hida beef)
  • Days 6–7: Hiroshima (Peace Memorial Park)
  • Days 8–9: Osaka (Universal Studios and Super Nintendo World)
  • Days 10–12: Kyoto (geisha, ryokan, try on kimonos, sake, and feeding deer)
Click here to plan your tailor-made tour now. Your 1:1 travel consultant will reply within 1 working day.

Days 1–3: Tokyo

Pokemon Center in Tokyo Pokemon Center in Tokyo

Tokyo is perfect blend of historical and modern. Head to the plaza gardens outside of the Imperial Palace — Kokyo Gaien, get a full-city view from Tokyo Tower, and explore Samurai Museum. You could enjoy making sushi and doing ninja crafts with your family, satisfy your kid’s anime interest at the Pokémon Center, and visit Disney Sea to create happy family memories.

Day 4–5: Takayama

folk village in Takayama Folk village in Takayama

With its beautiful natural scenery, well-preserved townhouses, cozy ryokans with onsens (inns with hot springs), and delicious Hida beef, Takayama is a small town that offers a lot to enjoy.

Days 6–7: Hiroshima

Hiroshima was the site of the first atomic bombing during World War II. Visit Peace Memorial Park to cherish a peace that was won with unprecedented-and-hopefully-never-to-be-repeated devastation.

Days 8–9: Osaka

Super Nintendo World Super Nintendo World

Osaka has some cultural and uniquely-fun things to do for families: make cup noodles to your own design at Cup Noodle Museum, make your own woodblock print at Kamigata Ukiyoe Museum, and have fun at Super Nintendo World theme park.

Days 10–12: Kyoto

geishas Geishas

Kyoto is the cultural and historical hub of Japan. You can experience unique Japanese traditions deeper there…

  • Have an afternoon tea with beautiful geishas in Gion District.
  • Participate in a classic tea ceremony and enjoy a cup of truly Japanese tea.
  • Stay at a traditional ryokan and enjoy high-class kaiseki (the finest dish-by-dish feast).
  • Visit famous Fushimi Inari Shrine and Kinkaku-ji Temple to understand the history of Japan.
  • Try on kimonos for a family photo.
  • Feeding the lovely deer in Nara has made many a happy family moment.

We can adjust this itinerary to your preferences and add or remove destinations/activities as needed. Contact us for more suggestions based on your interests.

Get your family to the heart of Japan's beauty:

3. 12-Day Japan Itinerary of Picturesque Countryside Views

Takayama Folk villages in Takayama
  • Tokyo – Nagoya – Takayama, Shirakawa-go, and Kanazawa – Kyoto

Discover Japan’s most charming and less-crowded small towns with this itinerary, enjoying fresh mountain breezes, unique Japanese farmhouses, and serene green bamboo groves.

Here is a well-planned itinerary for a great experience:

Japan tour map
  • Days 1–3: Tokyo (Tsukiji Fish Market, Asakusa old town, Samurai Museum, and Japanese garden)
  • Days 4–5: Nagoya (Ghibli Park and technology museums)
  • Days 6–8: Takayama, Shirakawa-go, and Kanazawa (charming farm/townhouses)
  • Days 9–12: Kyoto (geisha, ryokan inns, bamboo groves, and friendly deer)

Start your incredible trip in Tokyo, the energetic and exciting capital of Japan. Explore Tsukiji Fish Market and Asakusa District to get a feel of the local culture, experience sushi making, and shop for anime products.

Over the next two days, head to the industrial city of Nagoya to visit some technology museums for both educational and fun experiences. Ghibli Park is a cute animated-movie theme park that both children and adults love.

Starting on day 6, you would spend three days to discover amazing countryside views in Takayama, Shirakawa-go, and Kanazawa. Visit well-preserved townhouses, traditional gassho-zukuri farmhouses, and taste delicious Hida beef.

Finish your trip in wonderful Kyoto. See geishas in Gion District, stay at a traditional ryokan for a night, feed deer in Nara, and walk leisurely through bamboo groves in Arashiyama.

Contact us to customize this itinerary for you.

Recommended Itinerary

4. 12-Day Japan Itinerary with Fun Outdoor Activities

biking ride along Lake Kawaguchiko Biking ride along Lake Kawaguchiko
  • Tokyo – Lake Kawaguchiko – Karuizawa – Nagoya – Kyoto

If you want to visit Japan’s main highlights and also enjoy some interesting outdoor sports, then this itinerary is perfect for you. Take a bike ride along Lake Kawaguchiko to enjoy postcard-worthy views of Mount Fuji, go for a light hike at the national park in Karuizawa, and enjoy yourself in adorably animated Ghibli Park.

Here is a well-crafted itinerary that takes it all in:

japan travel guide
  • Days 1–3: Tokyo (Meiji Shrine, sushi-making, ninja crafts, and samurai museum)
  • Days 4–5: Lake Kawaguchiko (Mount Fuji and biking)
  • Days 6–7: Karuizawa (light hiking)
  • Days 8–9: Nagoya (Ghibli Park and technology museums)
  • Days 10–12: Kyoto (geisha, shrines, ryokan, and sake)

This journey through Japan begins in Tokyo. In 3 days there, you’ll visit famous sightseeing spots and experience some interesting activities, such as sushi-making, ninja crafts, or wearing samurai armor.

The following 2 days at Lake Kawaguchiko, you can take a bike ride around the lake to enjoy the spectacular sight of Mount Fuji and stay at a ryokan with an onsen (hot spring bath). Head to the mountain town of Karuizawa to enjoy more of Japan’s natural beauty. Take a light hike in the national park to experience green forests, clear lakes, and wildlife.

Continue your trip to Nagoya to visit industrial and technological museums for educational and fun experiences. Immerse yourself in the lovely animation world of Ghibli Park. And end your memorable trip perfectly in Kyoto, known for its centuries-old culture, including geishas, shrines, sake, and ryokans.

Check out the summer bestseller for Japan

How Much Does 12 Days in Japan Cost?

japan costs

Japan rivals Europe both in terms of facilities and service standards, which means that travel in Japan costs more than in China or in Southeast Asian countries. 

US$400 (and above) per person per day is the typical cost for a private tour with 4-star hotels, based on a group of 2–4 people. This includes a private guide, private car, full-day itinerary, tickets for attractions, all intercity transport within Japan, and hand-picked 4-star hotels. An extra US$100 or more per day is required if you’re looking to stay in 5-star hotels. Thus, the total cost for 10 days in Japan starts at about US$4,800 or so per person (international flights not included) 

Recommended Itinerary
Recommended Itinerary

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