Asia Japan

One Week in Japan – Off the Beaten Path

What do you think of when you think of Japan?  A land of isolation?  The devastation of World War II?  Domo arigato mr. Roboto?  Do you think of geishas or do you think of men in smart suits rushing off to work? Do you think of population time bomb, economic success or the ancient art of sumo wrestling?  Whatever answer you gave, each one of those is accurate but not complete.  Japan manages to flawlessly combine all those concepts and so much more in one, relatively small, place.  Mostly mountainous and isolated for much of its history, Japan is unique, exhilarating, frustrating and very much worth a visit.  Japan is an extremely diverse land of unique experiences and culture. Yet I notice many of my fellow western tourists come to Japan to only visit one, relatively small triangle.  The traditional tourist 7 days in Japan itinerary takes you to Tokyo, Kyoto and Mount Fuji.  However, there is so much more to Japan than those three places. I wanted to create an off the beaten path itinerary that could show a tourist a different perspective on this island nation. Follow me on my journey to a much wider triangle – a 7 day Japan itinerary that takes you to Tokyo, Hirosaki, and Kanazawa in April, Sakura season– and explores a different side of Japan.  And don’t forget to check out my article –  Things to do in Japan for the ultimate Japan bucket list ideas.  

Before you get to Japan
Quick Itinerary Overview
Where to Stay in Tokyo – Asakusa 
Things to do in Hirosaki, Japan
Things to do in Kanazawa, Japan
Where to stay in Tokyo – Shibuya 
The cost to visit Japan 

A big thank you to my friend Tomoko K for all her help in planning this trip.  

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things to do in hirosaki - visit during cherry blossom season
Hirosaki – Cherry Blossom Season.

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Before you get to Japan

Getting around Japan is easy with the help of Shinkansen – high-speed bullet trains.  A trip that might take 7 hours by car will take around 4 hours by bullet train. This means you can explore far-flung parts of the country on a short trip.  The JR pass was created especially for tourists.  You must purchase your pass outside of Japan, so the first thing to do when you plan your trip is to buy the pass.  There are many areas online where you can get it, I purchased from JTB USA which gave me the option of picking up the pass in person and saving on shipping fees. Do not purchase the pass more than 3 months in advance of your trip, as they do expire. 

Asakusa temple at night, Tokyo.

If you are traveling during a busy week, like I was, be sure to book your train tickets online in advance.  You can visit JR East to buy your tickets.  Prior to booking tickets, plan your trip using google maps.  For instance, if you want to go to Hirosaki from Tokyo, put in Tokyo as your starting point and Hirosaki Station as your ending point. Be sure to change the dates and the times you want to travel to reflect the actual dates of your trip.  Google maps will provide you with a detailed itinerary of the routes you can take, pick a route that says “JR” next to it and book the itinerary online.  You will need to provide a credit card when booking, but you do not get charged.  You can cancel tickets if you change your mind or if you make a mistake while booking.  Once you get to Tokyo you can change tickets at no charge.  If you prefer, wait to book all your tickets until you get to Tokyo, but keep in mind that if you are traveling during busy season you are unlikely to score window seats without a prior reservation.

things to do in hirosaki
Hirosaki, Japan

Second, prior to your trip, be sure to arrange all your hotel or hotel alternative reservations.  There are many different types of overnight arrangements in Japan, and depending on your preferences you can pick what works best for you.  There is a wide variety of western style hotels available in most areas.  Hostels are also widely available, are clean and comfortable and of course very affordable.  Capsule hotels – a mix of hotel and hostel are an affordable and unusual option. Instead of a bed in a joint room, you sleep in a little capsule, some a quite sophisticated with a safe or a tv, and other amenities.  Capsule Hotels were invented in Tokyo and have since been adopted all over the world – a fun and affordable option.  A Ryokan is a traditional Japanese guest house.  These offer a wonderful breakfast, a beautiful environment and some have a hot spring on premises – even private hot springs are available in some high-end Ryokan. This is a great option if you are looking for a higher end trip as they don’t come cheap.  And finally, Airbnb is quite prevalent in Japan and gives you an opportunity to really get to know how the modern Japanese live – another great option. As I was traveling during golden week, a week many Japanese go on vacation, I mostly stuck to hostels and one Airbnb.  I would love to stay in a Ryokan during my next visit.  If you are visiting Japan for longer than seven days, check out the two week Japan itinerary.

Rent a real hand painted Kimono in Kanazawa – keep reading for more.

Quick 7 days in Japan Itinerary Overview

Day 1 – Arrive to Japan – Tokyo Asakusa
Day 2 – Tokyo to Hirosaki
Day 3 – Hirosaki
Day 4 – Hirosaki to Kanazawa
Day 5 – Kanazawa 
Day 6 – Kanazawa to Tokyo Shibuya
Day 7 – Tokyo Shibuya – Leave Japan 

A mural in Asakusa

Where to Stay in Tokyo – Asakusa 

7 days in Japan, Day 1 –  Morning – Arrive in Tokyo

If your itinerary is similar to mine you will be flying into Tokyo sometime in the morning or early afternoon. 

Upon your arrival in Tokyo, proceed to the JR office information area, located in the terminal.  Here, pick up your JR pass, your tickets and make any additional train arrangements.  Here too, you can pick up a free pass for the train that will take you into Tokyo.  Remember – you can’t use JR pass with some metro lines in Tokyo but you will be able to use it pretty much everywhere else.  Here is a list of the metro lines you can use for free in Tokyo with a JR pass.  Once you get into the heart of Tokyo via your pass, you can take the Ginza line to Asakusa.  I did not utilize the ATM machines in the airport which usually have higher than normal fees.  Instead after getting off at Tokyo station, and during my walk to the Ginza line (use google maps to help you navigate), I stopped by an ATM machine at a bank and picked up 32,000 yen which is a little less than $300.   Although most people will say that Japan is very expensive I did not think so at all. It is far cheaper than northern Europe in my experience.  I would even say Japan can be a very affordable destination if you prepare well. Armed with a few hundred dollars and google maps, make your way to Asakusa and check into your hotel or hostel. I stayed in Asakusa Smile, where for about $22 I got a tiny private room (spotlessly clean) and the use of joint facilities such as bathroom, showers and laundry.  

A mural in Asakusa

The hostel did not accept credit cards, and neither did any of other hostiles I stayed in.  Be sure to have cash with you.  

Day 1 Afternoon – Welcome to Asakusa

Now that you are in Asakusa, enjoy this gorgeous area.  Take a walk outside to the riverfront.  Here you will find a great view of the Tokyo skytree (the sun rises right above this landmark, and if you are a photographer it’s a terrific spot for early morning pictures).  After you check out the riverfront keep walking to the heart of Asakusa – the temple and the surrounding traditional streets.  This area is so beautiful, I recommend visiting here twice – once at night and once early in the morning.  For now, with the sun slowly setting behind the temple, take a walk through the shop filled streets.  This area is very lively and full of tourists all aiming for the best shot.  During the blue hour (time right after sunset) when the sky is deep blue, you will be able to catch gorgeous shots of the lighted temple.  Walk around here and visit the shops. This is a great spot to people watch too, as it seems the entire world descends on Asakusa.  If you feel like it walk into the park, where enormous carp swim in the tiny river, and Japanese design sensibilities are prominently on display.  After you explore the neighborhood its time for dinner.

7 day Japanese itinerary - Tokyo Asakusa day 1
Waterfront, Asakusa, Tokyo

Each Tokyo neighborhood is famous for a certain type of cuisine, and Asakusa is no exception.  This area is famous for Tendon (Tempra on a bowl of rice).   The most famous restaurant in this area serving tendon is Daikokuya restaurant, located just 2 minutes walk from the temple.  I used google maps to get to the restaurant, but the maps did not work and took me to another restaurant which was closed.  Ask a Japanese passerby to direct you, and they will help you find the actual restaurant which is only around the corner from where the maps say it is located.  Enjoy your dinner here for an affordable 1550 yen (about $15).  There is plenty of nightlife in this area, and you can always check out some Japanese bars if you feel like it.  As I need to wake up in the early morning for pictures, and after spending so many hours flying, I made my way back to my hostel for a well deserved night of rest. 

Tendon in Asakusa
7 days in Japan, Day 2 Morning – Asakusa and Edo Tokyo Museum  

Wherever I go, one thing remains the same.  In every city, town, and village in the world, a unique way to get to know a place is to wake up at dawn. To watch a city come to life gives you a perspective most tourists will miss.  Tokyo is no exception.  Wake up with the sun to watch people rushing off to work, and children marching off to school.  See shopkeepers setting up for the day, get to know the Tokyo tourists rarely witness – and enrich your experiences. Of course, one big advantage of waking up early is you will get a beautiful light guaranteed to make any pictures extraordinary – and no tourists in the shot.

Asakusa temple early morning.

On day 2 of your 7 day Japan itinerary I suggest starting your day with a walk to Asakusa temple.  You will find a very different place, almost deserted.  This morning you will see no tourists – only locals who showed up to pray at early morning services.  Watch the service for a few minutes and enjoy the atmosphere.  This is also a great time to photograph the temple, the park and the surrounding area.  Only a few locals will appear in the background, giving your pictures an authentic feel and a beautiful look.  Afterward, walk around the shops.  The shops are closed now, but in their place, you will see hundreds of murals.  These works of art decorate and promote the spaces.  Visiting these streets is similar to visiting an outdoor museum. You can wander here studying the murals for hours. 

After you’ve had your fill, stop by a coffee shop for an early breakfast.   There are many little shops that line the streets and serve a set breakfast.  One of the great bargains in Tokyo a breakfast can be had for a few hundred yen.  A set breakfast includes an egg sandwich (or a hot dog) and a coffee.

The murals of Asakusa.

Around 9 am, make your way back to your hotel and pack up for the next leg of your trip.  You aren’t leaving Tokyo yet – we have one more stop to make and learn lots more about the history of this city.  As the front desk to hold your bags and take the 20-minute walk to the Edo Tokyo Museum.  Located right next to sumo wrestling ring, this 6-floor museum is another great bargain and a fascinating place worth a visit.  Walk along the river, adding an extra 5 minutes to your trip, take in the gorgeous views on a quiet stroll. 

Edo Tokyo Museum Building – Creative Commons – Naoya Fujii

Tokyo first became famous when it was Edo.  The Edo period starts at the beginning of the 17th century.  In 1603, a small, sleepy town next to Kyoto got a new ruler.  The Tokugawa Ieyasu, a 60-year-old man who had served the emperor faithfully his whole life finally got his dream.  A town of his own, a place to rule.  He was a bit old to begin such a venture, but at 60 the shogun (feudal lord) was also smart and sophisticated.  He was diverse in the knowledge of medicine, politics, and finance.  After just 2 years of rule, Edo was thriving.  Although officially resigned from his job after 2 years, with an heir taking over, the Shogun continued to rule until his death at 75.  The city grew by leaps and bounds and the Edo period brought with it 250 years of peace.  By 1850, Edo was the largest city in the world.  Bigger than Paris or London or New York this thriving cultural center had transformed itself into the center of Japanese power. An amazing accomplishment for the original ruler.  The residents of Tokyo celebrate Tokagaway Ieyasu and his genius – even to this day.   

Edo Tokyo Museum – Kristan on Flicker – Creative Commons

There is much more to the history of Edo, its cultural and religious practices, the life of its working class and the emperors.  The museum is a wonderful place to begin your journey.  Come here in the morning around 10 am, before the crowds have made their way over.  The cost of entry is only about $6.  For another $10 you can rent an audio guide, but a much better option is to ask a volunteer for a tour.  Located right across the entry on the 6th floor, the volunteers speak the many languages of the visitors.  Mine, Helen, a lovely woman of mixed American and Japanese descent spent a full hour with me.  She took me around the museum, explained the history and answered all my questions – all totally free of charge.  Be sure to take advantage of this great opportunity to discover the history of Tokyo – and its amazing past.  

Edo Tokyo Museum – Kabuki Actor Mannequin – Jessica on Flickr – Creative Commons

Now that you have learned a bit more about Tokyo and Japan, make your way back over to your hotel, pick up your bags and take the Ginza line 3 stops to the Ueno train station.  You must be hungry by now, but don’t worry you won’t be for long.  Once you get to the station if you have time to spare stop by in one of the little restaurants inside the station.  Normally I would never recommend eating sushi at a train station, but of course in Japan everything is different – including the sushi.  Train station sushi in Japan is just as good as anywhere else, it’s also quick and inexpensive.  Grab yourself the lunch special for the best deal and enjoy a lunch standing up at the counter as the chef lines up the pieces in front of you. I can guarantee you this is some of the most delicious sushi you will ever try.  If you are tight on time, instead pick up a bento box.  Many varieties are available, and it is totally customary to eat on the train.  Find something that catches your eye and wait until you board to enjoy.  If you are very tight on time you can purchase a bento on the train itself – for a slight premium.  As my friend Tomoko who helped me plan this trip said: “Having a bento on the train is one of the great joys of a journey across Japan.”  So be sure to indulge!

One of many Bento Box selections available in every station.

Things to do in Hirosaki, Japan

Now that you are ready to board proceed to your terminal (if you get a little confused approach one of dozens of workers in white gloves who will happily show you the way).  You’ve had a long and exciting two days, so the four-hour high-speed train ride is your time to relax and enjoy the scenery as you travel to the next leg of your journey – Hirosaki.  To get to Hirosaki take a train from Tokyo to Shin Aomori (reserve in advance if possible) and then a local train to Hirosaki (no reservation needed). 

Day 2 Afternoon – Hirosaki

Upon arrival at Hirosaki, get off at the train station and proceed downstairs.  Here you will be greeted by a dozen bus stops. If you are not sure which bus you need, show the address in Japanese to the station attendants who will direct you. 

things to do in hirosaki
Hirosaki cherry blossom festival.

If you are visiting Hirosaki for cherry blossom (Sakura) season enjoy your first, striking, impression of the park.  I bet you have never seen anything like Hirosaki in full bloom.  Row upon row of flowering trees surround miles of waterways.  This is just the entry to the park, and as beautiful as this view is, much more awaits you inside.  At Hirosaki, I stayed at an Airbnb, where my hosts welcomed me as an honored guest.  My Airbnb was located right across the street from the park, and although this accommodation was more costly than some other options it was definitely worth it.  If you come to Hirosaki for cherry blossom book at least 2 months in advance – more if possible.  And of course, I can recommend staying with the same hosts I did, a wonderful experience. 

After you have checked in – and hopefully you are staying as close to the park as I was, go ahead and make your way into the park.  Here, wander among thousands of cherry trees of dozens of different varieties.  The park is very large – occupying many square miles and at every turn, you will discover more trees in bloom.  There are several areas in the park where you must visit, but you can leave that for tomorrow and instead wander around aimlessly to see what you can find on your own.  When you’ve had your fill its time for dinner.

Hundreds of vendors set up shops in many areas through the park. At the Sakura festival, you will find no shortage of interesting and unusual food options.  Some vendors offer signs in English but many do not.   It adds authenticity to the experience – you will probably feel like a bit of an explorer.  I took my chances and tried something very different – a selection of tofu cooked in different broths and made with different textures.  Whatever you are interested in, you are likely to find a vendor that sells it.  Afterward, for desert pick one of the unusual snacks and try something you haven’t tried before.  I really enjoyed these pink rice balls colored with cherry blossoms– although at the time I did not know what was in them.

Continue your walk through the park.  All the lights are on now and as you wander you will find the park has transformed into a magical garden, the kind that can only exist in Japan.

Day 3 Morning – Hirosaki

If you enjoy photography, today is the day to wake up early.  Hirosaki, during cherry season, is packed with photographers.  But most don’t come out until later in the day when the light is harsh and you have to fight for the best picture spots.  Instead, beat the rush by waking up very early today. I was out by 4.30 but even at 6 am you will still get gentle light and good pictures.  However, if you can come out very early (perhaps with a little help from jetlag), be sure to do so.  As the light slowly turns from dark to blue, before the sun is up, you will find a magical new world.  The night lights are off now and the white blossoms glow a gentle blue light, set against a light blue sky and dark water. Even if you are not into photography try to make it out very early today.  You will see a world few get to witness, and do so in a way far from the maddening crowds.  As you walk through the park, start your way to Hirosaki castle.  This area is paid after 7 am, but you can walk right in at any other time.  Here you will find the castle perched on a hill.  Walk up the wooden set of stairs directly next to the castle and right behind it, you will see the snow-covered peak of Mount Iwaki, Hirosaki’s answer to mounting Fuji. The sun rises directly above the mountain and this too ads to the special feel of this place. 

Hirosaki Castle with mount Iwaki in the background.

After Hirosaki castle make your way into the Sakura tunnels.  My favorite area of the park, the tunnels line a large river.  Here too you can rent a boat (after 9 am).  Be sure to visit all the bridges in the river and take your time in the tunnels, if you are here very early they get super crowded later so enjoy the solitude – and the pictures. 

Once you are done, make your way back into town for breakfast or hit one of the vendors in the park. 

Afterward, stop by an information booth for a map of historical areas.  These can be found at most gates, and they have maps in English.  There are many historical buildings in Hirosaki, my favorite was the samurai house.  All the historical buildings are free – one of the reasons why Japan is an incredible budget trip. 

Samurai house in Horisaki

Before you check out the historical buildings walk over to the university hospital bus stop (you can put university hospital into google maps).  This stop is located right next to the park, and you should check the schedule for a bus that can take you to the Iwakiyama Shrine.  The bus schedule is naturally in Japanese but ask one of the other people at the station “Iwakiyama” and they will show you where you can check the bus schedule for your options.  There should be a bus around 1.10 pm and another at 3.10 pm.  Now that you know the bus schedule, spend the rest of the morning visiting the historical houses or browsing vendors in the historical neighborhood and do some shopping!

Once you have had your feel of the historical buildings, stop by one of many restaurants in Hirosaki for lunch.  Hirosaki is famous for several cuisines.  These include Iga Menchi – Chopped Squid and Seasonal Vegetable balls. Kaiyaki Miso – a big scallop shell is used as a pan to grill a beaten egg with miso and stock.  And Tsugaru Soba – Buckwheat Noodles.  Many of the small restaurants serve all three dishes, so be sure to ask for the one you’d like to try (simply put the name above into an English to Japanese translator and show it to your waiter.  Alternatively, proceed to the Hirosaki Chuo Shokuhin Ichiba – the local food market and enjoy a variety of dishes. 

Day 3  Afternoon – Iwakiyama Shrine and Ryokan

After lunch catch the bus to Iwakiyama Shrine.  Getting there is part of the fun.  The shrine is located in the mountains and on the way here you will pass little villages and rice fields.  Did you realize there are still rice fields in Japan? I know I didn’t.  I loved seeing the contrast of the countryside, with the gleaming Tokyo far behind.  Upon exit from the bus be sure to take note of your bus trip back – you will likely have about an hour and a half until your ride back.

The shrine itself is a place of peace and beauty.    Surrounded by an ancient forest, you can wander here and explore the symbols of the Shinto religion.  The entire mountain is considered to be a part of the shrine – so you will likely not be able to explore all of it on foot.  However, the hour and a half are more than sufficient to walk the immediate grounds.  The foundation of the shrine predates the historical period, and Mount Iwaki was a holy mountain for the original Japanese tribes.  Rebuild in 800 the shrine is a crucial symbol for the religion.  You can’t help but feel a sense of calm here.  There is no way to describe a visit here that doesn’t involve some sort of impossible symbolism.  So, I am not even going to try.  But come and see for yourself what I mean. This is a special place.   

Once you make your way back to Hirosaki, stroll around the park some more or see if you can visit a local Onsen.  I was lucky – I asked my hosts how to get to an Onsen and they offered to drive me.  Generally getting to one in this area would involve taking a taxi or a private car. If you do have an opportunity to go here, I suggest going in Hirosaki rather than in a more crowded and western Tokyo.  The peaceful countryside onsen is something you should experience for yourself.

Nyuto Onsen – Creative Commons – Isriya Paireepairit

An Onsen is a Japanese hot spring that has become a part of an important ritual in Japanese society.  Before you go into an Onsen, you will scrub and wash from head to toe.  To this end, women around me brought large baskets full of body washes, soaps, shampoos, and other cleaners.  I came only with my small travel sized cleaners. They also brought a few towels, including a small one as a washcloth.  Leave everything (including your clothes) but the small washcloth and your cleaners behind.  Walk in and you’ll see rows of small stools.  Here, sit down and wash from head to toe, make sure to include your feet and hair.  Once all soap is totally gone from your body, you are ready to enter the Onsen.  Make sure that your hair is either tied on top of your head or that your washcloth is on your head – the washcloth and hair are not allowed to touch the water.  Now, you can walk into the clean hot springs.  There are many different baths here with different temperatures.  Be sure to step outside – that’s where the best ones are.  Enjoy the peace and quiet and a hot soak with the birds chirping around you – and experience you will not get in Tokyo.  I got quite a few strange looks at the country Onsen I went to, only a few western tourists have ever come here – but I love being an explorer in a strange land.  An authentic Onsen experience is something you should try for yourself. 

If you are quite tired after the Onsen I can’t blame you – I certainly was.  Enjoy a great sleep after your soak.

Day 4 Morning – Hirosaki to Kanazawa 

Start your day off again with a walk in the park.  There really isn’t anything like Hirosaki in full bloom.  Be sure to enjoy your last few hours here.  Perhaps pick up a cup of coffee or an ice-cream cone and enjoy exploring the hidden areas of the park, places you haven’t been yet.  After a stop in a local restaurant for lunch, take the bus back to the train. It’s time to move to your next location – Kanazawa. 

Things to do in Kanazawa

Day 4 Afternoon – Welcome to Kanazawa

Kanazawa is very far south and to the west of Tokyo.  This means it will take you much of the day to make the journey from Hirosaki to Kanazawa.  By the time you get here, its likely to be dark.  However, even in the dark, you will be impressed with the beautiful and architecturally interesting Kanazawa train station. Before you step outside you will see a large information office inside the station.  If you’d like to get a city map and some information step in here – there are helpful English speaking clerks who can answer any questions or make suggestions. 

Kanazawa train station – Creative Commons – Jpellegen

After you check into your hotel or hostel (I stayed at the clean and well located Shaq Big House), make your way to the Omicho market for dinner.  It is a well-known fact that Japan is the home of sushi, and all Japanese will tell you – Kanazawa has the best sushi. The Omicho market in Kanazawa, is where fresh fish is delivered daily, is the home of the freshest sushi in the world.  There are dozens of restaurants inside the market – any one of them is amazing, but usually, the restaurants with the longest lines offer great deals.  After you’ve had your fill walk over to the Kauzemachi Chaya district, one of several historic districts in Kanazawa.  Here, grab a green tea ice cream (absolutely delicious) and stroll the historic streets as you watch the sunset over the horizon.  Tomorrow you will explore the beautiful Kanazawa some more.

Day 5 Morning – Kanazawa

There is so much to do in Kanazawa, I could have easily stayed here for 2 or 3 days.  Unlike Hirosaki, which primarily attracts visitors in cherry blossom season, Kanazawa is a year-round tourist attraction with plenty to do in all weather. In Kanazawa, you will find 4 historical districts, a Castle, the most famous garden in all of Japan, the most famous fish market in all of Japan – and much more.  There is no shortage of things to do here, but if you are here for just a day and a half like I was, here is the itinerary I followed.

Entrance to Kanazawa park.

In the morning, make your way back to Omicho market for more sushi.  One of the restaurants in the market opens at 7 am, and even early in the morning, you will find a line here.  Don’t worry, it moves fast.  Ask to sit at the bar (the electronic reservation system is in Japanese but ask one of the other guests to help).  As you use a modern iPad ordering system to place your order, you get to watch the ancient Japanese art of sushi making from some of the greatest chefs in the world – a truly Japanese experience. 

A vendor setting up in Omicho market.

After you’ve had your fill make your way over to the world famous Kenrokuen garden.  These picturesque gardens open at 7 am – but if you’d like to come here early to watch the sunrise just keep walking until you find an open entrance, you can get in for free at that time too.  The best time to come here is before 10 as it gets filled up and the harsh sun will make it harder to take great pictures.  Take a few hours to stroll this classical Japanese garden.  Many consider the Kenrokuen gardens to be the most beautiful in the world – and I must confess I don’t disagree.  They are the most beautiful I’ve ever seen. 

7 days in Japan - Kanazawa

If you are here after 7, buy the combination ticket – the castle and garden combination for a bit of a discount upon entry.  After the gardens make your way to the nearby castle.  Here, learn about the history of the town and country as you walk around in the historically significant site.  The castles are beautiful but a bit hard to take great pictures here – so the gardens is definitely a better bet for amazing photographs. 

Kanazawa castle at sunrise. You can access it free prior to 7 am.
Day 5 – Afternoon – Kanazawa

Now that you’ve had lots of history and beauty, make your way to the Higashi Chaya district.  As you stroll among the beautifully preserved old homes, and the tiny streets, find a great little sushi place to enjoy lunch.  Afterward – a green tea ice cream is a must.  If you are strolling around in high season like I was you’ll probably see quite a few women in a kimono.  Most of these are tourists, and most only rented a kimono for the day.  But if you hang out here long enough you might see a geisha or two as well – you’ll recognize them by the high-quality kimonos, the beautifully coiffed hair, and the dainty walk. 

Higashi Chaya District – Creative Commons – Andrew Schaffer

Speaking of kimonos if you are interested in renting one for yourself, finding a real kimono shop is not easy.  There are plenty of shops that will easily rent you a mass produced (not a handmade kimono).  But Kanazawa is famous for handmade, hand decorated kimono – Kagayuzen.  You can rent them too, but it’s much harder to find.  My friend Tomoko found a shop that rents, and the entire experience including getting dressed, hair and having the kimono for an hour, long enough to take pictures, cost me $45.  If you’d like to get beautiful pictures of your trip I can think of no better ways to do it.  If you are on a budget or just want to have a little fun, you can find many simple kimono rental places in all the Chaya districts. To rent a kimono in the high-end shop you’ll need to make reservations at least 24 hours in advance. 

The grounds at Oyama Shrine

After you have strolled the district or possibly got your own kimono photos, walk to the Oyama Shrine.  This lovely old Shinto shrine also hosts a beautiful garden.  If you are lucky you might catch a free musical performance here as well – I did.  Traditional performances often take place here on weekends and sometimes on weekdays during the busy season.  Afterward, make your way over to the nearby Gyokusen garden.  This gorgeous garden is free to stroll.  A classical Japanese garden its an unmistakably beautiful stop. 

Finish your day with dinner at the Nagamache Buke Yashiki District.  The walls in this district are lined with straw, and if you are here in the winter it’s a beautiful sight to see.  There are small restaurants here as well – and there is more variety if you are getting tired of sushi. 

Day 6 Morning – Kanazawa

If you are up for it, walk back to omicho market for another plate of great sushi for breakfast.  Otherwise, you can walk straight to the Nishi Chaya district, another historical district worth visiting. Here, after breakfast enjoy strolling for a few hours before you prepare to go back to Tokyo.

Dried fish is a delicacy to try with beer.

Get to the train station early.  Before you get on your bullet train, stroll the huge stores inside the station.   You will see stalls as far as the eye can see, all lined up with carefully arranged food and goods.  Here you will find an endless variety of bento boxes.  Pick up one that catches your eye for your trip back. Here too, you’ll find an amazing variety of Japanese sweets – a great place for an unfamiliar treat. 

Cute Japanese Sweets – Creative Commons – Sanmai

Things to do in Shibuya

Day 6 – Afternoon – Tokyo Shibuya

If you are closely following this itinerary you only have a few hours left in Japan.  On my last day, I decided to stay in the Shibuya area.  If you’ve ever seen images of Tokyo on tv it was probably of this neighborhood.  Japan’s answer to Times Square, Shibuya is bright, crowded, packed to the brim with activities and lots of fun.  The famous Shibuya crossing is in this area too – although I have to say, for myself having grown up in NYC I don’t quite get what the fuss was about.  Still, Shibuya is worth a  visit as you stroll this quintessentially Tokyo part of town.  The busiest time at the crossing is from 5 to 7 pm and the best place to see it is from a rooftop of a nearby hotel. However, keep in mind that the hotel doesn’t like random visitors so sneaking up there might be your only option. 

Shibuya Crossing – Creative Commons – Thomas

Afterward, stroll the neighborhood and stop by one of many noodle shops for a great dinner. 

I hope you have enjoyed this itinerary.  If you are visiting Japan for longer than seven days, check out the two week Japan itinerary. Here is how much my trip cost me – and some tips on saving money. 

The cost to visit Japan

Japan is probably not as expensive to visit as you would expect.  Here is a list of my costs – and how you can save money

  • Cost of airfare for me from NYC was only $450.  My simple trick to getting low faires is to follow many deal reposting sites on Twitter and to pounce on a deal as soon as I see one.  The key here is flexibility – and speed.  You can see everyone I follow on my twitter account as I repost many of the deals I see.  To score the best deals be sure to follow everyone I repost and check regularly (once a day is ideal).  Most of the best deals are gone within 24 hours.  
  • Next largest cost was the Japan rail pass $263 for the week.  This is a great bargain as purchasing these tickets in Japan would cost approximately $150 for just my trip to Hirosaki.  If you are on a very tight budget, bus passes are available too.  The bus takes much longer than the bullet train but is a great option if you are backpacking in Japan for several months as the days don’t need to be used consecutively.
  • Airbnb in Hirosaki was significantly more expensive than any of my other accommodations at $216.  Staying next to the park was definitely worth the splurge.
  • I paid for food, hostel stays and all other expenses with cash.  Very few businesses in Japan take credit cards, so be sure to have cash on hand.  The cheapest way to access cash is through an ATM machine at 7-11.  All together I spend $400 in cash in Japan.
  • Food in Japan is very inexpensive.  The only expensive food is the kind that has to be imported – fresh fruit, vegetable, and coffee. 
  • Combined, my trip was just over $1300 – a great bargain.  

I hope you have enjoyed this article and found it useful.  Please leave a comment and feel free to share on social media!  If you’d like to support this blog, please check out my art work below: 

Viktoria aka Traveltipster
May 2018

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