Twin Shinkansen trains (Inga Aksamit)

Japan is a relatively small country (California is a bit bigger) but is packed with so much history, culture, and natural beauty that it’s difficult to narrow down the choices. There’s so much to appeal to so many different interests that there are plenty of opportunities to personalize an itinerary. Our three weeks in Japan included a loose plan, but now I can share a complete itinerary with you. My husband and I wanted to balance our time between cultural activities in the cities and hiking in the countryside, with a strong dose of food-related activities and plenty of train travel in between.

Fresh delectable sushi (Inga Aksamit)

We spent roughly one week around Tokyo, one week on the northern island of Hokkaido, and one week traveling around lower Honshu, the main island of Japan. The last week included Kyoto, Hiroshima, the Nikko area and Mount Fuji. I loved the contrast of the pulsing megacity of Tokyo with the pastoral scenes and rugged mountains of sparsely populated Hokkaido. This set the tone for an itinerary that evolved into cultural activities in cities followed by hiking through forests with breathtaking views in natural surroundings.

Our itinerary was 25 days but could easily flex to a 21-day or 28-day trip.

Gekkekian Sake Brewery, Kyoto (Inga Aksamit)

Initial Planning

For this three-week trip to Japan, we blocked out chunks of time in the three geographic areas we wanted to visit, including Tokyo, Hokkaido, and the southern half of Honshu. We noted a few things we wanted to do based on what we gleaned from our preliminary research and suggestions from friends but didn’t make any reservations other than the first few nights in Tokyo.

Lonely Planet guidebook


Are guidebooks outdated? I still use Lonely Planet guidebooks to get itinerary suggestions and to have a centralized place to gather reliable information. I like the digital version of guidebooks, so I don’t have to carry a brick. Lonely Planet Japan (Amazon affiliate link: if you click and buy, I get a few cents!) had good information on the places we were headed to, and I enjoyed reading about the next place on our list the night before.

Internet Sources

I don’t use guidebooks for things that change quickly, such as transportation schedules or prices for lodging—the internet shines for this. So much of what is available on the internet comes from commercial sources offering tours or from blogs (like this?) that vary in quality (doing my best to make mine useful!). I used several apps for planning, including the following:

  • Google Flights (flight times and prices)
  • Rome2Rio (ground transportation)
  • (lodging)
  • Get Your Guide (activities and tours)
  • AirKitchen (cooking classes)
  • Tripit (trip organizer)
  • Timeshifter (jet lag tool)
  • Google Translate (language translation)

See my article, These 10 Apps Make Travel Easier, and my review of the Timeshifter app for more information.

Inga at the Imperial Hotel, Tokyo (Steve Mullen)

Artificial Intelligence

I’ve started using Chat GPT, an artificial intelligence tool, to get a rough idea of a potential itinerary. It helps to see an example of how to divide the time between the days we have in a trip, and I provide a detailed prompt that includes our interests, so it won’t include things like nightclubs or Disney activities or shopping, activities that not of interest to us. It might sound odd for a travel writer to suggest using ChatGPT, but I believe artificial intelligence can be a useful in addiditon well crafted blogs.

I used this prompt:

“Please suggest an itinerary for a three-week trip to Japan. I like hiking, hot springs, food, and architecture. I would like to include Tokyo, Hokkaido, Mt, Fuji, Kyoto, and Hiroshima. What else should I do?”


Here’s a quick look at our itinerary. Details for each area are covered in articles listed at the end, but this provides the overall view. Lodging is listed in parentheses.

  • Day 1: Tokyo (Hotel Metropolitan, Tokyo Station)
  • Day 2: Tokyo
  • Day 3: Tokyo
  • Day 4: Tokyo
  • Day 5: Hokkaido-Sapporo (MyStay Aspen)
  • Day 6: Hokkaido-Sapporo
  • Day 7: Hokkaido-Asahikawa (JR Inn)
  • Day 8: Hokkaido-Asahidake Onsen, Daisetsuzan National Park (Daisetsuzan Shirakaba-so Ryokan)
  • Day 9: Hokkaido-Asahidake Onsen, Daisetsuzan National Park
  • Day 10: Hokkaido-Hakodate (JR Inn)
  • Day 11: Kyoto (Mercure Kyoto Station)
  • Day 12: Kyoto
  • Day 13: Kyoto
  • Day 14: Kyoto
  • Day 15: Kyoto
  • Day 16: Hiroshima (The Knot)
  • Day 17: Hiroshima
  • Day 18: Hiroshima
  • Day 19: Nagoya (Sanco Inn)
  • Day 20: Nagoya
  • Day 21: Lake Kawaguchiko (Hotel Regina)
  • Day 22: Lake Kawaguchiko, Mount Fuji
  • Day 23: Lake Kawaguchiko
  • Day 24: Tokyo (Hotel Metropolitan, Tokyo Station)
  • Day 25: Tokyo

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