Seeing Japan in 10 days is too short of a trip to understand the country and its culture on a deeper level. But every curious traveller will find this time enough to begin a journey of discovery; to reveal the gentle veiling covering an ancient culture so different from everything else you have seen or experienced.
Each city included in this post will give you a different experience. From the lively modern life in Osaka to the ancient historical places in Kyoto, and back to the skyscrapers of the largest city in the world. They are very different and yet represent the Japanese lifestyle in its totality.
Osaka is a surprisingly enjoyable city. Its lively nightlife and young face will let you charmed and well entertained. This is the first reason why you should visit Osaka. The second, a practical one, is that from here you can take one-day trips to a few interesting places. Kyoto, Nara, Kobe and Hiroshima are just at a train ride away. Use Japan Rail and its well-developed network to travel to your destination for the day. Rail is the best and fastest way to travel in Japan. Plan 3 or 4 days stay in Osaka.
Sightseeing in Osaka:
Dotonbori was previously Osaka’s theatre district and even nowadays keeps the theatrical atmosphere. It is one of the most visited tourist places in the city and the reasons for that are many. The district is situated in the city’s heart, along the Dotonbori Canal. At night, you will find it is busy. Thousands of people are strolling around among which the most interesting is the local youth in vogue outfits. Both locals and tourist are enjoying the cheap but tasty food at street restaurants and colourful facades illuminations are enchanting. The shops are opened till late at night and the karaoke bars attract customers in a noisy fashion. It might be best to join a local in this walkabout food tour.
The aquarium is one of the largest in the world and exhibits species from the Great Barrier Reef, Antarctica, the Ecuador Rain Forest and many others. You will walk through beautiful and sometimes scary sea creatures and probably will be surrounded by unusually excited for the local temperament Japanese children and their patient teachers. Admission tickets here.
Umeda Sky Building
– this spectacular building rises above the city and the 360-degree view from its rooftop is amazing, especially at night. The two towers of the building are connected by a “Floating garden observatory” and you can enjoy the view from it against 700 Yen admission fee.
Visiting Kyoto is the main reason why you should travel to Japan. The old capital is the place to learn about history. Here you can start to understand why the Japanese are what they are today. With a culture so different from the Western one, and the Japanese concept of life and all connected with it.
Sightseeing in Kyoto:
It is known as the Golden Pavilion. Probably the most beautiful and at the same time surrealistic place in Kyoto. Seen during a gray, rainy day, Kinkakuji looks like décor of a Japanese theatre, not a real building. Its proportions are so perfect and the gold so shining that it is difficult to believe it is real. In the past, this Zen temple was the retirement villa of one of the shoguns (lucky guy!) but later was transformed into a temple.
The Silver Pavilion. Its construction was inspired by the Golden Pavilion. Even if it is not so impressive as the covered with golden leafs Kinkakuji, Ginkakuji is worth visiting because of its beautiful garden. In fact, the Silver Pavilion was never covered with silver but its name probably came as an alternative to the Golden Pavilion. Unfortunately, the two pavilions are constructed on both sides of the city. If you don’t have much time for exploring Kyoto, you will need to choose which one you want to see.
– the Shogun’s Palace. For me, this place has some unexplainable atmosphere which probably is closely connected with the heavy and sweet smell of old wood that you can feel all over the palace. Everything, from the floor to walls and selling, is covered with dark wooden panels. As it is the Japanese custom, the rooms are empty and just the floors are softened by tatami mats. In the past, it was used as an imperial palace but now the only governor here is the silence that even the tourists don’t dare to disturb.
The Geisha’s district is probably the part of Kyoto that every woman wants to see. I understand that curiosity and share it myself. The mystery around geiko and maiko traditions are well described in books and movies like “The memoirs of one geisha”. But are somewhat misunderstood by our Western culture. It will be good if you read a bit more about this old tradition before you visit the place in order to really understand what do you see and not to interpreted it wrongly.
And please, don’t be one of these foreigners that follows the geishas like a wolf on a hunting spree, just to snap a photo. Be respectful and remember – they are human beings, not plastic Barbies. Instead, if you want to learn more about their world, join this night walk in Gion.
It’s one of the places I have to admit I didn’t have time to visit. It is the first permanent capital of Japan and because of that, it is full of historical sights. The city is part of the trio Osaka-Kyoto-Nara which is located within a close range from each other and can be visited easily from Osaka by railway.
The most interesting sites in Nara:
Todaiji Temple is one of Japan’s most famous temples that it is also the landmark of Nara. It is one of the oldest Buddhist temples in Japan and known also for its deers’ park. Check this afternoon tour from Osaka.
Except being one of the oldest temples in the country, this place is also the oldest surviving wooden construction in the world.
The Japanese gardens represent the art of harmony in its purest form. This garden is divided into two parts and all around there are spread out teahouses. I can’t imagine better scenery for enjoying my matcha tea. Can you?
Together with Osaka, Kobe is one of these cities where you can see the real, contemporary life of the Japanese people. It is a city much less frequented by tourists and thus very nice and pleasant to visit. It is an industrial but very clean place, with modern skyscrapers, wide boulevards, some neoclassic architecture and very friendly people. In this city, you will see an industrialized environment well balanced with nature. I just loved to walk around Kobe because the city is so peaceful and yet full of life.
What to see and do in Kobe:
Nunobiki Waterfalls, Nunobiki Herb Gardens
It is unexpected and pleasantly surprising to walk out of the Shin-Kobe Station (the railway station where you will arrive if you visit the city by train) and after just a few hundred meters to hike between greenery and mountain streams.
Right behind the station, is the Rokko Mountain chain. Climbing the path, you will reach first the waterfalls that, even not impressive by their size, are very beautiful. Your next stop will be at the Herb Garden. The largest in Japan, the scent of chamomile will fill your nostrils. After the walk, you will probably want to taste the lavender ice cream offered at the stall in front of the garden. But what you can enjoy for free from this point, is the amazing view of the city. It is shocking to see the modern industrial construction in the bay through the lush green mountains.
By this point, you can continue to enjoy the beautiful view from a ropeway. The station is at the front of the gardens and it will take down to the city. A quick way to get back but also very spectacular!
Nankinmachi – Kobe’s Chinatown
Once you get used to the relaxed atmosphere of Kobe downtown, the appearance of the Chinatown will be a little bit shocking. In a good sense. The splendour of colours, odours, and noises is indescribable. The abundance of food on the street is enough reason to stop for lunch here.
Walk along the Kaigan-dori street. In the past, this part of the city was home to the European and American expatriates and probably that’s why the buildings on this street are in European style. It is a beautiful and very clean area where you will feel as you are not in Japan anymore.
It is easy to become overwhelmed by Tokyo’s size and over construction. Tokyo is the largest, most populated, city in the world. Not only now, but in human history in general. So, there are a lot of interesting sites to be visited and you can choose from various activities. Bear in mind that transportation from one place to another in Tokyo takes time and organize your days by going to nearby places like Shinjuku-Tokyo Metropolitan Government building-Kabukicho.
Some of the interesting sites in Tokyo are:
Ginza is Tokyo’s fashionable district where all the fashion brands have their stores. It is somewhat the Champs-Elyse of the Japanese capital. Best time to visit is at weekend afternoons because the area becomes a pedestrian zone. Ginza is not only good for shopping but also for dining and night outs.
Shibuya is a popular area around one of the busiest stations in Tokyo. The place is famous mostly for two things: Shibuya Crossing, large intersection where all the vehicle traffic stops and a large flow of pedestrians are crossing in different directions; and the statue of Hachiko – the dog from the heartbreaking movie about its story where he was waiting for his master every day at this place, even years after the master passed away.
Shinjuku is the business district of Tokyo. Near is the skyscraper’s district where the beautiful building and wide boulevards will remind you of New York and Manhattan. It is a good idea to position yourself in this part of the city while you are in Tokyo because you have good transport connections and choice of international hotel chains to stay at. Shinjuku Station is the busiest rail station in the world and from here you can take city buses too.
Tokyo Metropolitan Government
Buildings 1 & 2 – it is free to visit the huge buildings of Tokyo’s government. The high-speed elevators will bring you to the top of the building and from there you can see Tokyo from a bird’s eye view.
Meiji Shrine and Yoyogi Park
This park and the temple located in its heart will give you a very different experience from the rest of the modern city. Entering under the tall trees on both sides of the alley, you will let the fuss of the huge city behind you. The silence is natural, nature is green and looks like that these trees are here from a very long time. After a not long walk, you will reach the entrance to the Shrine and if you are lucky enough will become a witness of a traditional Japanese wedding.
PRACTICAL TIPS ON VISITING JAPAN IN 10 DAYS:
When speaking about culture and local customs, Japan is a country like no other. Read my blog post about things to know before visiting Japan.
How to travel around
The railway network in Japan is one of the best. It is the most convenient way to travel in the country and in order to save money you can buy Japan Rail Pass before arriving. Opt for a 7-day rail pass or even a 14-day rail pass if you stay longer in the country.
Most of the places that you will want to visit have entry fees.
Experience the Local Food
Japanese cuisine offers vast choices. Everything you taste will be new for you, be enough courageous to try different meals. For me, a soup served for breakfast is an unacceptable choice, but all the rest is delicious and one-of-a-kind experience. The different regions have different specialities and if you do not know what to order, ask the locals. Often, restaurants display sample foods (in plastic) on their windows. It doesn’t really look tasty but gives you an idea of what you can expect.
When to Travel
If you want to see the blooming cherries, the best time is at the end of March. Otherwise, every season is beautiful but also the climate varies depending on the region. The winters can be very cold and summers are hot and humid. The spring may be the best period to travel to Japan, but better try to avoid the ‘Golden Week’. It is the period from 29th April to 6th of May when there are Japanese national holidays and many people travel and as a result, the prices will be higher.
The citizens of all these 67 countries do not need a visa prior to their arrival. They will be allowed to stay in the country for 90 days. Citizens of other countries need to obtain a visa before their arrival.
To visit Japan in 10 days is enough to learn about the country from a personal perspective. We all see the places we visit in a different way, depending on where we come from or how we have been brought up. I would say – use your ten days well, learn and try to understand the people and their background as much as you can. It is the only way to go back home with great memories and newly acquired knowledge about the world we live in.
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