Zooming at 300 kilometres an hour, the world flies by. Flashes of grassy fields, traditional houses and quaint towns leave a fleeting impression and a hunger to see more. The mountains rear up in the distance, moving past at a stately pace and offering some perspective.
Japan is famous for its sprawling rail network, and with good reason. Stretching from the tip of the northern island of Hokkaido to the bottom of Kyushu, the extensive network is clean and punctual, and the bullet trains are ultra-modern. Japan Rail passes are a traveller’s most treasured companion since visitors can buy the tickets at a cut rate not available to those living in the country. For this 10-day itinerary, we recommend the 7-day pass (29.110 JPY), to be purchased before arriving in Japan. When you’re ready to hop on the bullet trains, activate the pass at a Japan Rail office, found in the bigger train stations. Once activated, the pass will be valid for seven days.
Day 1-3 Tokyo
The journey starts in Tokyo, Japan’s capital and arguably the biggest city in the world (by measures of urban area population). It shows at every step: the city is an endless sea of lights, artisan shops, cafes, bars, lantern-lit food stands, towering skyscrapers juxtaposed with quiet Zen gardens, and diverse street fashion.
Shibuya’s famous Scramble Crossing is a perfect place to people watch and get lost in the crowd. Nearby Omotesandō offers plenty of high-fashion shopping, and if that’s not really your kind of bag, hunt for some unorthodox styles in neighbouring Harajuku. Dive deep into the contemporary art scene at Mori Art Museum, or go the traditional route with woodblock prints at Ōta Memorial Museum of Art.
The Tokyo Metropolitan Government Building, a massive skyscraper inspired by Notre-Dame, offers sweeping city views. The best time to visit is either in the early morning for a glimpse of Mount Fuji or after dark for a twinkling nightscape. Don’t leave town without experiencing some of Japan’s most beloved sports: go for some sumo wrestling in Ryogoku or a baseball match at Tokyo Dome. Lastly, get in one of Tokyo’s famous landmarks such as the lively Yoyogi Park and adjacent Meiji Shrine, dedicated to Emperor Meiji and his wife, Empress Shōken.
Day 4-5 Kanazawa and Osaka
It’s time to come down from the big city buzz. Early on day 4, validate your Japan Rail Pass and board the Hokuriku Shinkansen to Kanazawa (2.5 hours), taking a route that skirts the Japan Alps.
Located on the west coast of Japan, this medium-sized city is home to lovely castle grounds, Kanazawa Castle Park, and the perfectly serene Kenroku-en Garden. Regarded as one of Japan’s most beautiful gardens, Kenroku-en is an expansive classical Japanese garden boasting a pond, small hills, a stone lantern, a fountain and various flowers and trees changing colours throughout the seasons: pink plum and cherry blossoms in spring, purple irises and red azaleas in summer, and colourful leaves in autumn.
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