Planning your trip to Japan: Tokyo, Osaka, Sapporo Itinerary
Updated: Apr 10, 2019
Japan is one of my favourite places in Asia because of its amazing food! Think: the freshest sashimi, sushi, endless ramen stores, et cetera... Over the past two years, I've been fortunate enough to visit the Kanto, Kansai, and Hokkaido prefecture! There's still a lot more to explore in Japan such as the Kyushu regions of Okinawa and Fukuoka, but I'm bringing you itineraries of the more popular three cities: Tokyo, Osaka, and Hokkaido. Even if you are not heading to all three prefectures, these itineraries would also give you a good plan of what you can do for each of these cities.
How many days are needed for each city?
We did 5 days for each prefecture and felt that it was just enough to cover the sights although having more time would allow you to experience more of Japan.
However, if you are planning to travel from one prefecture to the next (e.g. Osaka to Tokyo), we do recommend you to plan for either 7, 14, or 21 days. Reason being is because the JR pass that allows you unlimited travel on the trains have passes for 7, 14, and 21. You could also slot in an extra day is necessary for your transfers to and fro the airport.
We do know that sometimes the number of days aren't quite determined by you because #worklife and it really depends on the number of leave days you can get off work. Just do keep in mind the following JR pass options and the rest of the days which are not covered by the JR pass can be spent at a particular city, using their local trains. For instance, if you can only head to Tokyo for 10 days, get the 7 day JR pass and spend the rest of the 3 days touring Tokyo.
How to get cheap tickets to Japan?
The reason why we've been to Japan so many times the past two years was that we managed to snag cheap tickets. We flew to Tokyo on Singapore Air and paid roughly 570 SGD per pax, Hokkaido was a crazy last minute Singapore to Sapporo non-stop promotion by Scoot which we paid roughly 200 SGD each, and finally Osaka was another promotion on Scoot and we paid about 440 SGD per pax.
You may also be interested in our blog post on:
Before you purchase your tickets, read also our guide on Travel Hacks to find out: How to score cheap flight tickets from Singapore?
Also, if you do really intend to take the Shinkansen and travel to various prefectures in Japan, buy a multi-destination ticket! What that means is that if you fly in to Osaka, choose to fly out either from Tokyo or Sapporo so that you won't have to make the round back to Osaka to fly out of Japan. This saves you time and allows you to use that time that you'll have to travel back to explore more of Japan. Plus, sometimes, there's not much of a difference in the prices even if you were to buy a round trip ticket.
Now that you've figured out where you are flying in to and how many days you are spending in Japan, pick from one of these travel plans: 5 days, 7 days, and 14 days itineraries.
5 Days in Japan (Tokyo vs Osaka vs Sapporo)
If you only have 5 days, you will need to choose if you are visiting Tokyo, Osaka, or Hokkaido. With only 5 days, you may also want to make these cities as base and travel only in the day. Should you wish to move from city to city, it may mean a lot of luggage moving (even if you are only travelling with one bag pack).
Read these blog posts as a form of inspiration as to which cities you should visit:
A. 5 days in Tokyo Itinerary
Day 1: Transfer to Hotel + Explore City
Airport to City
There are two airports in Tokyo, the Narita Airport and Haneda Airport. While Narita Airport is the main International Airport in Tokyo, Haneda is slightly closer to the city. Depending on your airline, you may be able to choose which airport you land in and depart from.
(Narita Airport --> City)
1. By train (approx 60 - 90 mins)
There are various trains that would take you from the airport to Tokyo Station. The JR Narita Express takes about an hour and is the fastest way to get to the city. However, ticket prices aren't the cheapest. It costs 3000 yen for a one-way trip and 4000 yen for two-way, which makes it a no-brainer that you should totally get the round trip! The other option is the JR Sobu Line, it takes 90 mins and costs less than half the price of the JR Narita Express.
2. By Bus (approx 100 mins)
Buses are a great way as a transportation to and from the airport as you will definitely get a seat, plus you do not need to worry about any transfers (should you be staying at Tokyo Station) even though it takes slightly longer than the trains. You can purchase a limousine bus ticket online, or at the ticket counter at Narita Airport. Purchase the two way tickets if you are departing from the same airport to enjoy some cost-savings!
3. Private Transfers (approx 100 mins)
Should you be feeling like a Crazy Rich Asian, try the private transfers for a whopping 519 SGD.
(Haneda Airport --> City)
1. By train (approx 30 - 35 mins)
From Haneda Airport, you can board the Tokyo Monorail to Hamamatsucho Station and change to either the JR Yamanote or JR Keihin-Tohoku Line to your destination in Tokyo. Alternatively you could take the Keikyu Railway to Shinagawa Station and change to the same JR Yamanote or JR Keihan-Tohoku Line. Both ways cost roughly the same and the Keikyu Railway is only 5 minutes behind.
2. By Bus (approx 40 - 45 mins)
Buses from Haneda Airport to the city takes about 40 to 45 minutes, depending on the traffic situation. It does cost more than the train options but especially for families with children, sometimes having a seat and the fact that you do not need to squeeze is extremely helpful!
3. Private Transfers (approx 40 - 45 mins)
Should you be feeling like a Crazy Rich Asian, try the private transfers from Haneda Airport for 231 SGD.
Where to stay in Tokyo?
Wherever you decide to stay in Tokyo, you may want to consider staying in one of the areas close to the JR Yamanote Line. The Yamanote Line is a circular line that brings you to major attractions in Tokyo. For those like being in the middle of all the 'action', Shinjuku and Shibuya are great options.
We decided to stay in Shinjuku at the APA Hotel Shinjuku Gyoemmae. We chose this hotel because of the affordable pricing (53,460 yen = 660 SGD for 5 mights) and it was in a quieter region of Shinjuku. Especially for those going during the Sakura season, you'll be a stone's throw away from the Gyoemmae Park. The room is tiny, but all the amenities are available. They even have an onsen at the basement where you can enjoy soaking in, especially during the winter season!
There's just so much to cover in Shinjuku and the night is still young whichever time you'll reach Tokyo. From its food to the countless of bars, there's always something to do in Tokyo's Shinjuku.
Day 2: Exploring Tokyo City (Tsukiji Fish Market - Sensoji Shrine - Meiji Shrine - HArajuku - Shibuya>
Start your day bright and early by visiting Tsukiji Fish Market. For those who really want to watch the tuna bidding, you'll have to be there as early as 4 am in the wee hours. Otherwise, just roaming around the outer market is really fun too!
Just look at the crowd! We were there in the early afternoon so it was already flooded with tourists and locals. If you can, you may wish to head over earlier where everyone's still in bed! When you're there, snack on the freshly shuckled and grilled seafood, or shop for the souvenirs at the variety of stores. For more of what there is to eat, head over to read our 12 must-eat dishes in Tokyo, Japan blog post!
After filling your bellies, visit the Senso-ji Shrine. The Senso-ji Shrine is recognisable by its large lantern in the middle. The shrine is extremely crowded so do be prepared to squeeze with the crowd. Nonetheless, there are still quite a bit to see and souvenirs to buy in the shrine grounds.
In the late afternoon, Meiji Shrine located at Shibuya, in Yoyogi Park. If there is one shrine to visit, you'll definitely need to head to the Meiji Shrine. there is quite a bit of walking required to reach the shrine. The start of the trail is marked by the large Torii gate. After you pass it, you'll somehow will be able to get away from the crowded bustling city sounds, and enter the forest trail. Do note, however, that the shrine is currently undergoing some renovations. As such, the treasure house is closed.
After all that walking, head over to check out Harajuku. This is where all the cool kids hang out! The popular shopping street is Takeshita Street and there's all sorts of interesting fast fashion and your Harajuku Crepes. You'll find popular eateries in the Harajuku area such as Luke's Lobster and Dominque Ansel as well.
You'll can then spend the night at Shibuya. There's the Shibuya Crossing, Hachikyo Memorial and several shopping malls like Shibuya 109 where the ladies can shop to their hearts content.
Day 3: Tokyo DisneySEA / Disneyland / Fuji-Q Highland
On your third day, you could head to popular theme parks like Tokyo Disneyland or Tokyo DisneySEA. Great for families with children, you'll have to make a pit stop to Disneyland. Otherwise, you could head to Fuji-Q Highland to try to catch a glimpse of the elusive Mount Fuji!
Read more about our Tokyo DisneySEA experience: Experience Tokyo DisneySEA.
Purchase Disney tickets along with bus transfers here.
Day 4: Day Trip to Hakone and Yokohama
For your fourth day, if you would like to get out of the hustle and bustle of Tokyo, a great day trip would be to visit Hakone. Especially for onsen lovers, you can even head to one of the onsens to get a soak. We manage to complete Hakone in half a day and decided to stop by Yokohama on the way back!
Day 5: Flying Home + Last bits of Tokyo
On your final day, you could re-explore the Shibuya or Shinjuku regions before heading to the airport. Another attraction that you could head to is the Tokyo Tower. Just like the effiel tower, the Tokyo Tower is a communications and observation tower in Shibuya and is the second-tallest tower in Japan.
B. 5 days in Osaka Itinerary
Besides being the food capital of Japan, Osaka is a brilliant place to visit the Kansai region! Get a glimpse of everything in just 5 days!
Day 1: Transfer to Hotel + Explore Osaka's Vibrant Night Life
From the Kansai Airport, take the Nankai Line Airport Express to the JR Namba Station and transfer to your respective hotels. We stayed at APA Hotel Namba-Eki Higashi which was located close to the Namba Station and was in walking distance to the Dotonburi area. It was a small room but we had everything we needed!
We chose the location primarily for us to make full use of day and to explore bits of Dotonburi and Shinsaibashi each night when we were there! After you've checked in, head over to Dotonburi for some shopping and catch a glimpse of the Glico Man at the Ebisu Bridge. If you're there in the day, you can also head to Kuromon Ichiba Market!
Day 2: Day Trip to Kyoto
Start your day bright and early and head to Kyoto. One day may not be sufficient and those who are in Japan for a much longer time should consider staying one night in Kyoto. The old capital is simply beautiful and there's just so many attractions there like:
- Fushimi Inari Shrine
- Gion District
- Nishiki Market
- Yasaka Shrine
- Kiyomizu Dera
- Togetsukyo Bridge
- Arashiyama Bamboo Forest
Read more about how to get to Kyoto from Osaka and a bit more of each of these attractions in our Summer in Japan, 8 things to do in Kyoto, Japan.
Day 3: Day Trip to Nara + Osaka Castle
Besides the deers in Nara, there's a whole lot more to see. Besides, Nara is really just a couple of hours from Osaka. It is a great day or half day trip to enjoy the wild animals!
Read more about how to get to Nara from Osaka and 6 things to do in Nara, Japan!
If you still have energy after walking the entire day, stop by Osaka Castle! The Osaka Castle is rich in history and is a convenient stop while on your way back from Nara. But, don't head to Osaka castle without knowing these 5 fun facts!
Tip: Wear good walking shoes as there's quite a bit of walking to do in both places!
Day 4: Day Trip to Kobe + Exploring Osaka
On your almost last day in Osaka, you may want to fill your tummies with good Japanese beef. Kobe makes for a good day trip as it is only a short 30 minutes from Osaka. Also, we got an amazing find: The Nunobiki Herb Garden. There's beautiful flowers and a great cafe overlooking the rest of Kobe!
Read more about how to get to Kobe and the 9 things you can do in Kobe, Japan.
You may also be interested in this article on where you can find affordable Kobe beef in Kobe!
Even though Kobe Beef is what most tourists are more familiar with, we very much prefer Matsusaka Beef! These are the creme de la creme of Japanese Beef and the service there is impeccable! JUST LOOK AT ALL THAT MARBLING! Read more about the best Matsusaka Beef in Osaka, Japan.
Day 5: Flying Home + Last bits of Osaka
On your final day, waste no time in visiting the remaining unexplored attractions. Namely, you should really check out food and shopping districts like America-mura!
Visitors with extra days can also factor in a day to popular Universal Studios Japan!
Read more about 26 things to do and eat in Osaka, Japan here!
C. 5 days in Hokkaido Itinerary (Sapporo / Otaru)
Day 1: Airport to Hotel + Exploring Susukino
To get to Hokkaido, most travellers would have to enter via the New Chitose Airport. Sapporo is the capital of Hokkaido and it will be a great stop for exploring nearby cities such as Otaru or to get to the ski slopes during winter. After getting to the airport, it is only a 45-minute ride via the Airport Express to Sapporo. You can purchase the tickets from the Airport Express counter.
You may also wish to get the JR Hokkaido IC Card - Kitaca that acts like an ezlink where you tap and pay your transport fare, instead of heading to the station every time to queue for the tickets. The card come preloaded when you purchase it and has a refundable deposit of 500 yen when you "trade-in" your card when you exit Hokkaido.
Accommodation in Sapporo?
There are many hotels in Sapporo and some of the chains in Japan include APA hotels and resorts, toyoko-inn, and Hotel Sunroute. If you're looking for Ryokan stays, you will need to visit the smaller cities outside Sapporo.
For our 4 nights, we stayed at APA Hotel Sapporo Susukino Ekimae (24,800 yen / about 300 sgd for 4 nights). The location was superb. It was only 2 stations away from Sapporo station on the Toho Line. And it is located right outside exit 3 of Hosui-Susukino subway station.
It is walking distance to Susukino, Tanukikoji Shopping Arcade, and Odori Park where the Sapporo TV tower is located. There are many amazing restaurants nearby as well! We thoroughly enjoyed staying here where we could visit Don Quixote and play at the Round 1 Arcade till late!
What to do on my first day? (Susukino - Tanukikoji Shopping Arcade - Nijio Market)
On the first day, you will likely want to familiarise yourself with your base. Take some time to explore Susukino. Susukino is Japan's largest entertainment district. Other than the glitzy bars, pachinko slot machines and the red-light districts, Susukino is home to several popular restaurants and stores. Of particular mention, the popular 24 hour Don Quixote and the Ramen Yokocho can be found here!
To get to Susukino, take the Nanboku Line to Susukino station (two stops from Sapporo Station, and one stop from Odori Park Station).
Head over to Tanukikoji Shopping Arcade in the area for some shopping! The Tanukikoji Shopping Arcade spans 1km and is a covered walking street. It houses many souvenir stores, restaurants, and even hotels. Of which, popular Don Quixote and ABC sits on this street! Our opinion is that the stores in the shopping arcade are a little too touristy. So it is worth a visit, but you can find better food and shopping elsewhere!
To get to Tanukikoji Shopping Arcade, the closest subway is the Tanukikoji station on the Toho Line.
If you are there in the day, head over to the Nijio Market to grab a snack - the freshest fish or even the famed Hokkaido Snow Crab. To get to Nijio Market, the closest subway is Hosui-Susukino station on the Toho Line.
Day 2: Sapporo City Walk + Shiroi Koibito Park + Maruyama Park (Hokkaido Shrine and Maruyama Zoo)
On your second day, get ready a pair of good walking shoes to explore Sapporo. First up, head to Odori Park.
Odori Park is a park that lies in the heart of Sapporo. It is a long stretch from the Sapporo TV Tower to the Sapporo City Archive Building. Several events are held here throughout the year and the noteworthy one is the Sapporo Snow Festival.
What's amazing about this park also is that on a clear day and at night, you can even see the Mt Okurayama Ski Jump Stadium as the park separates the city into two parts where there are no tall buildings in this entire stretch. For a better view, visit the Sapporo TV Tower! Skip the queue and get your tickets here!
We visited Odori Park in the day, and again at night as it offers different views. If you have the time, do so too!
To get to Odori Park, catch a metro to Odori Station or Nishi juitchome Station at the other end.
Not too far away from Odori Park is the Sapporo Clock Tower. The Clock Tower is a historical landmark built in the 1980s which has become the landmark of Sapporo. If you're interested, there's also a museum inside to learn more about the history of the city. Then, you can continue to head to the red brick Sapporo Government Office.
Once you're done, head over to Sapporo Station to have breakfast / lunch before heading over to the Shiroi Koibito Park.
If you love Ishiya's Langue de Chat, you definitely need to go to Shiroi Koibito Park. The Ishiya Chocolate Factory is easy to get to. Take the subway Tozai Line to the end of the line, Miyanosawa station. From there, it is a 10 minute walk to the factory. There are guides and signage throughout the station that will lead you to the Shiroi Koibito Park. You'll have to cut through Sapporo Lifelong Learning Research Center Chieria and a beautiful walk to the Park.
The park's really beautiful! You can roam around the garden for free but if you would like to check out the museum, you'll have to get a 'passport'. This costs 600 yen and you'll get one complimentary Langue de chat!
After purchasing the passport, head up to the entrance. At the entrance, you'll be able to customise your own Langue de chat tins! You can either choose to email your own photograph, or have one taken there where they will add a background to your liking. This costs 3,075 yen for the 36-cookie tin, and 4,345 yen for the 54 cookie tin. It is only a bit more than if you get the original tin, so why not purchase your own tins as a souvenir! :)
On your way back from the Shiroi Koibito Park, drop by Maruyama Park. It is also on the subway Tozai Line and you can get to Maruyama Park by getting off at the Maruyama-Koen station. It is a short walk from the station to the park. The Muruyama Park is a huge park and requires a lot of walking to complete. Inside the Muruyama Park, you can find the Hotaki and Hokkaido Shrine, Maruyama Zoo, and the Maruyama Stadium.
You may not have time to visit all of them but definitely head to the Hotaki and Hokkaido Shrine as well as the Maruyama Zoo. The Maruyama Zoo was one of the most experiential zoo I've been to, you can literally see a lion up close through a hopefully very thick glass. These will take up the rest of the afternoon and you can head back to Susukino to enjoy delicious food thereafter!
Day 3: Day Trip to OTaru
On your third day, you may want to take a day trip to Otaru!
We previously wrote an Otaru day trip guide that covers how to get there, how to get around, what to see as well as what to eat in Otaru. Read more about it: Otaru Day Trip.
This will take an entire day and you can return to Sapporo in the evening.
Day 4: Ski Trip / Onsen Trip
On your fourth day, we recommend that you take a trip to the ski resorts (if in Winter), or head to a nearby Onsen such as the Hokkaido Jozankei Resort. There is a half-day tour which grants you access to the onsen, two way transport, as well as a buffet lunch. You can purchase the Onsen Tour online. We didn't manage to do any of these when we were there because we woke up way to late for the transport to the ski park (lol). So if you really do want to visit, wake up early!
Some of the ski resorts we recommend are:
- Sapporo Kokusai Ski Resort (for beginners)