Planning a trip to Japan: The storybook version

Last updated on July 17, 2019

Instagram Japan - Steve walking in Kyoto

Last week, we shared our full Japan itinerary, a mega 5,000-word post with every detail to help you plan your trip to Japan. Not everyone is going to want to read such a hefty post so this week it’s time for the storybook version – our Japan trip in photos. Here are 65 photos showing the madness, calm, beauty and magnificence of Japan – just looking at them is making me want to return!

65 photos to inspire your trip to Japan

Japan itinerary - Tokyo

It began in Tokyo, the neon capital.

Japan itinerary- Robot cafe

It’s a place with the philosophy “never too much”…

Planning a trip to Japan - Robot cafe

….where you can see inexplicable shows…

Japan itinerary- Robot cafe

…in dazzling technicolour.

Instagramming Japan - Hagashiyama

When the razzmatazz gets too much, Tokyo has its softer side, with ancient parks…

Planning a trip to Japan - cabbage flowers

…cabbage flowers…

Instagramming Japan - streets of Tokyo

…and unexpected spots of history.

Instagramming Japan - Jimbocho

There’s a whole area, Jimbocho, devoted to books…

Japan itinerary - Tokyo - Owl Cafe

…and if you like owls, there’s even an owl cafe.

Planning a trip to Japan - curry shop

Cheap vegetarian food can be found in the curry shops…

Instagramming Japan - smallest milk in the world

…and in Café de l’Ambre you’ll find the smallest pot of milk you ever did see (see this guide to what to eat in Japan).

Japan itinerary- arcade machines

Japan is paradise for game lovers. There are whole multi-storey emporiums devoted to play. You have to have a go! (Here are some ideas for things to do in Tokyo with kids.)

Planning a trip to Japan - cocktails in Tokyo

And when evening comes, try some Japanese whiskey – best sampled in a cocktail bar like Ishinohana.

Mount Fuji

You can take respite from the city in Hakone – 34 minutes on the shinkansen and you’re in nature, backed by the mighty Mount Fuji.

Pirate Ship in Hakone

Ride the pirate boat…

Instagramming Japan - Meal in Hakone

…stop for lunch…

Instagramming Japan - caravan cafe in Hakone

…and don’t miss the coffee in a caravan.

Japan itinerary-4

A ryokan is the quintessential place to stay…

Instagramming Japan - Tea set

…to take some tea…

Japan itinerary - Hakone food

…a multi-course meal…

Planning a trip to Japan - Hakone hotel

…and moments of contemplation in an onsen.

Japan itinerary - Hakone

The Hakone Open Air Museum is an arty delight…

Instagramming Japan - Hakone Opan Air Museum

…with world-class sculptures…

Instagramming Japan - Hakone Opan Air Museum

…that you can walk inside of.

Instagramming Japan - Hakone Opan Air Museum

Some are for kids…

Instagramming Japan - Hakone Opan Air Museum

…like this rather big one.

Planning a trip to Japan - Shibu onsen

Next, it’s time for a traditional onsen town in a little place named Shibu Onsen.

Japan itinerary - Shibu Onsen

Dress the part…

Japan itinerary-8

…and collect stamps for every onsen you visit – good fortune is said to comes to those who go to all nine.

Japan itinerary-7

Stay at Sakaeya ryokan and get cosy beneath a kotatsu.

Japan itinerary - shibu onsen food

…before dining on an incredible feast.

Instagramming Japan - vending machines

In the morning, grab some refreshments from Japan’s famous vending machines…

Instagramming Japan - steve

…play the fool…

Instagramming Japan - one the way to snow monkey park

…and take a walk through the forest…

Japan itinerary - Snow Monkeys

…to the famous snow monkey park.

Instagramming Japan - snow monkeys

It’s like a little monkey spa.

Instagramming Japan - steve with the snow monkeys

Take some photos…

Instagramming Japan - snow monkey park

…and be delighted by the monkeys…

Planning a trip to Japan - snow monkey park

…but don’t think that you’ll be alone!

Planning a trip to Japan - Kyoto

Kyoto is up next, the land of temples and shrines.

Instagramming Japan - Golden temple Kyoto

See Kinkaku-ji, the Golden Pavillion…

Japan itinerary-13

..take a walk through the Fushimi Inari Shrine,

Instagramming Japan - Kiyomizu dera temple

…and catch sunset at Kiyomizu-dera.

Japan itinerary - Kyoto

When in Kyoto, Japanese tourists love to dress up in traditional costumes…

Instagramming Japan - costumes in kyoto

…and Western tourists love to take photos of them 🙂

Instagramming Japan - small museum

This is my kind of philosophy –

Instagramming Japan - Snacks in Kyoto

..but this was not my kind of snack – I thought it was going to be sweet!

Instagramming Japan - sweets in Kyoto

At least I had these instead…

Japan itinerary - Kyoto

…and this extravagant delight!

Instagramming Japan - Nara

If you haven’t had enough temples, then there’s a particularly special one just outside of Kyoto, in a place called Nara.

Instagramming Japan - Nara

The temple was built to house a giant bronze Buddha.

Instagramming Japan - Giant buddha at Nara

It’s a rather impressive sight…

Japan itinerary- Nara statue

…but I also liked this charismatic guy outside.

Planning a trip to Japan - Nara

Nara has another special feature…

Planning a trip to Japan - Nara

…it’s the only place you’ll ever see a sign like this.

Japan itinerary - Koya San

From Nara, there is a beautiful train trip through the mountain valley…

Planning a trip to Japan - Train ride

….a place to dream and ponder before you reach a very special destination.

Japan itinerary - Koya San

It’s Kōya-san, a sacred mountain, home to Shingon Buddhism and over 100 temples.

Japan itinerary - Koya-san

We stayed in one, waking early to listen to the monk’s chants…

Japan itinerary-18

…dine on shojin-ryori…

Instagramming Japan - Koyasan graveyard

… and take a walk through the Buddhist graveyard…

Instagramming Japan - Koyasan cemetery

… while marvelling at the ancient trees.

Instagramming Japan - nara selfie

Oh what a trip! We loved every minute!

Planning a trip to Japan - Koyasan funicular

(Even thought this photo suggests otherwise!) Japan can be hazardous for tall people 🙂

If you think you’d like a similar trip, be sure to read our full Japan itinerary post, which has all the details to help you plan your Japan holiday.

Some other useful Japan posts:

Our 10 days in Japan itinerary

The Best Tokyo AirBnBs

The best hotels in Japan (as chosen by travel bloggers)

Useful Japanese phrases for travel

Things to do in Tokyo with kids

Book a JR Pass

18 thoughts on “Planning a trip to Japan: The storybook version”

  1. I love the style of this post. I’m always curious about the best way to present photo essays, and I really liked the ongoing story that you presented here. Initially I thought 65 might be too many photos but I was carried along to the end by your quirky, cute and funny comments.

  2. I love all your photos – I think we wandered around the same grave yard and I have some cool pictures too, although I am yet to share them on my blog. I have recently done a 14 day itinerary though 🙂

  3. I am looking into traveling to Japan soon and came across your blog. Beautiful pictures! thanks for sharing your experiences. What time of year did you visit?

  4. What a great post! I always take so many pictures on my trips – this gave me ideas on how to present them going forward. This made me really excited to take our trip to Japan!!

  5. These are gorgeous!

    I love that you included Nara. I used to work in a building that overlooks Todaiji (that massive wooded building that houses the buddha.) It’s always lovely to see it.

    You know the charismatic guy, he is meant to cure illnesses. You are meant to touch the statue in the place where you are poorly, and he’ll fix you. 😉

  6. What great inspiration – your photos are perfection! I LOVE this post and photo essay! I am planning a trip to Japan this summer to celebrate a milestone birthday and am eager to stay in Hakone. Can you provide any suggestions for a Ryokan or Onsen in this area? It’s hard to choose!

    Many thanks,


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