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12 Days in Japan


Tokyo, Hakone and the Cultural Capital of Kyoto
© Mark Caunt/Shutterstock

Few countries in the world are as fascinating as Japan. Besides spectacular monuments, museums and scenery, there is a deep culture of excellence and refinement that informs daily life. Helpfully for the traveler, more Japanese people than ever speak English, and new English-language signage has appeared in airports and train stations. The following 12-day itinerary would be ideal for an introduction to Japan, combining stays in two important cities with respites in the beguiling countryside. The destinations can all be easily linked by train, making long and inconvenient treks to airports unnecessary.

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Highlights
    • Visit the famed Tsukiji fish market
    • Take the train to Hakone, a popular resort for locals
    • Stay at a ryokan, a traditional Japanese inn
    • Explore the crystalline Lake Ashi
    • Visit Kyotos most celebrated temples

Day 1 - 3 : Arrive in Tokyo

Arrive in Tokyo and check into your hotel. Andrew Harper's newest recommendations are the Andaz Tokyo Toranomon Hills, Aman Tokyo, Park Hyatt Tokyo and the Peninsula Tokyo

To recover from your long flight, consider having a restorative massage or exfoliating scrub (or better yet, both).

Spend these days exploring Tokyo, visiting diverse sights such as the Meiji Shrine, the new Roppongi art district and the famous Tsukiji fish market. Plans for the market to move have been in the works for a while. Right now, it is slated to move to a new location in fall 2018, so this is your last chance to enjoy the atmosphere and animation of a place that’s been in business on the same site for centuries.

Day 4 : Trains to Hakone

Take the Shinkansen high-speed train from Tokyo to Odawara. Change to the narrow-gauge line to Hakone, a popular resort for Tokyoites in need of fresh air and some greenery.

Check in at Hakone-Ginyu or longtime favorite Gôra Kadan. Both properties are ryokans, traditional Japanese inns, often intended for rest, reinvigoration and contemplation. And both properties offer kaiseki dinners, comprising about a dozen Japanese dishes that are as beautiful to look at as they are to taste.

Day 5 : Explore Lake Ashi region

Spend today leisurely exploring crystalline Lake Ashi, which has heart-stopping views of Mount Fuji (when the weather cooperates), and the Hakone Open-Air Museum, which has a remarkable collection of international sculpture, with 26 rotating pieces by Henry Moore, the English master sculptor, alone.

The cozy Gyoza Center restaurant, a 10-minute walk from the museum, presents more than a dozen varieties of homemade gyoza, or light Japanese dumplings, served steamed or in broth.

Day 6 : Train to Kyoto

After breakfast, continue by train to Kyoto, Japan’s cultural capital, with no fewer than 17 UNESCO World Heritage sites and roughly a quarter of the country’s National Treasures (historical monuments and landmarks).

Andrew Harpers two newest recommendations here are Suiran, a fine base from which to explore northwestern Kyoto, and The Ritz-Carlton, which ranks as the best address in Kyoto for anyone who wants a full-service hotel. Alternatively there are two exquisite ryokans in Kyoto’s center, Tawaraya and Hiiragiya.

Day 7 - 8 : Exploring Kyoto's Temples

Kyoto is set in a bowl of wooded hills and was built on a grid pattern, which makes finding your way around unexpectedly easy. Start with some of the city’s most celebrated temples, such as Kiyomizu-dera, a magnificent wooden temple supported by pillars on the slope of a mountainside; Kinkaku-ji, the Temple of the Golden Pavilion; and Ryōan-ji, famous for its Zen dry garden of raked gravel.

Take time to stroll along the Philosopher’s Path, a beguiling walkway that skirts the eastern foothills and traces the route of a canal from Ginkaku-ji, the Temple of the Silver Pavilion, in the north to Nanzen-ji temple in the south, passing several other temples as well as an alluring collection of small shops and restaurants.

Those who enjoy cooking will want to stop in Aritsugu, a knife shop in Kyoto’s Nishiki Market founded by Fujiwara Aritsugu in 1560. The elegant little store offers a vast variety of knives, the uses of which are patiently explained by English-speaking staff. Knives can be personalized with your name — in Japanese characters, of course — and come with a brochure in English that details their care.

Day 9 - 10 : The peaceful town of Takayama

Move on to the peaceful old town of Takayama. After a brief journey aboard a high-speed Shinkansen, transfer to a local train for a two-and-a-half hour trip, with panoramic views of forests and gorges.

Check in at Wanosato, so long as you are prepared to be a little adventurous and don’t mind sleeping on futons, as Western-style beds are not available here. Andrew Harpers other recommendation in Takayama, Honjin Hiranoya Kachoan, does have Western-style beds.

Spend a full day in Takayama, visiting the Hida No Sato Folk Village and tippling in the sake distilleries. The historic San-machi Suji district is filled with dark-wood houses dating from the 18th century.

Day 11 : Return to Tokyo by Train

Take the train back to Tokyo and check into your hotel.


This afternoon, do some shopping along Kappabashi-dori, a street in the Asakusa neighborhood where local chefs come when they need cookware and kitchen equipment. There are over 150 shops to choose from, selling everything from lacquer soup bowls to steamers, as well as an amazing variety of utensils and pots and pans.

Day 12 : Depart Tokyo for home

Return to Tokyo’s Narita Airport and depart on your flight home.

Day 1 - 3 : Arrive in Tokyo

Arrive in Tokyo and check into your hotel. Andrew Harper's newest recommendations are the Andaz Tokyo Toranomon Hills, Aman Tokyo, Park Hyatt Tokyo and the Peninsula Tokyo

To recover from your long flight, consider having a restorative massage or exfoliating scrub (or better yet, both).

Spend these days exploring Tokyo, visiting diverse sights such as the Meiji Shrine, the new Roppongi art district and the famous Tsukiji fish market. Plans for the market to move have been in the works for a while. Right now, it is slated to move to a new location in fall 2018, so this is your last chance to enjoy the atmosphere and animation of a place that’s been in business on the same site for centuries.

Day 4 : Trains to Hakone

Take the Shinkansen high-speed train from Tokyo to Odawara. Change to the narrow-gauge line to Hakone, a popular resort for Tokyoites in need of fresh air and some greenery.

Check in at Hakone-Ginyu or longtime favorite Gôra Kadan. Both properties are ryokans, traditional Japanese inns, often intended for rest, reinvigoration and contemplation. And both properties offer kaiseki dinners, comprising about a dozen Japanese dishes that are as beautiful to look at as they are to taste.

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12 Days in Japan

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