Loading ...

Japan by Train: How to Make the Most of a One Week Japanese Itinerary

Explore Japan by train. See Tokyo, Kyoto, Osaka, Hiroshima, and more via Shinkansen high speed rail. Plan a Japan itinerary with a Japan rail pass.
If you have just one week to spend in Japan, taking the high-speed train is one of the fastest, most scenic, and cost effective ways to explore the country. 

Japan is definitely a bucket list destination (snow monkeys, anyone?) and every tourist in Japan should take time for a high-speed Shinkansen rail experience. 

You must order your Japan Rail Pass from home in advance as you won't get this deal inside Japan.  For about 200 EUR, your JR Pass buys you unlimited rides for a week on JR trains, buses, and ferries.  

We used our 7-day Japan Rail Pass ticket to travel by train around Tokyo and to Kyoto, and Osaka with day trips to Hiroshima, Miyajima Island, and Nara. 

We have visited Japan twice. The first time, we visited Japan in Autumn (November to be exact). 

Japan Rail was a fantastic way to get around quickly to see some of the famous and amazing Japanese Fall foliage. Our second trip to Japan was in the Springtime for the cherry blossoms. Japan's trains were ideal for chasing the blooms from Tokyo to Matsumoto to Kanazawa. All aboard Shinkansen!
Shinkansen train in Japan

Check out Two Wandering Soles for great advice on preparing for your first visit to Japan.

Tokyo by JR Rail

The Japan Rail Pass covers the JR train lines in the city of Tokyo itself.  The Yamanote Line does a convenient loop around the city with stops in all the major neighborhoods.  

You can simply hop on and hop off with your JR Pass by flashing it to the station attendant on your way in.  We 'spent' one day of our Japan train pass exploring Tokyo.
Japan by Train: Tokyo

Tokyo to Kyoto by Train

For long distance rail trips on the Shinkansen, it's important to reserve seats before boarding the train.  We had planned our itinerary in advance and knew what trains we needed so we stopped at the JR office in Shibuya station in Tokyo to pick up our seat tickets (free but must be reserved in advance).  

Tickets in hand, we boarded the high speed train to Kyoto.  Kyoto is a gorgeous spot that gives you the opportunity to get away from the manic urban centers of Japan to experience a bit of Zen in the region's countless temples.  

As an added bonus, visit during Autumn foliage season like we did and experience some of the most vibrant colors you'll see in your life.  
Japan by Train: Autumn Foliage in Kyoto
For more on the Autumn foliage, check out my post on the top temples to see beautiful Fall colors in Kyoto.

Riding the Rails from Kyoto to Osaka

We traveled from Kyoto to Osaka with our JR Pass.  We really enjoyed Osaka as it is a foodie and shopping mecca.  It's also cheaper to stay in Osaka than Kyoto and is an excellent home base for day trip exploration.
Japan by Train: Osaka

A Day Trip to Hiroshima by Rail from Osaka

While we based ourselves in Osaka, we took the opportunity to use our 7-day Japan Rail Pass for a day trip to Hiroshima.  There is a heart-wrenching museum detailing the effects of the war and atomic bomb dropped on the area.  

The peace park is also quite moving with thousands of folded paper cranes showcasing people's hope for lasting peace.  The skeleton of the building at 'ground zero' remains a ghostly reminder of what happened here in the name of ending World War II.
Japan by Train: Hiroshima

Travel from Hiroshima to Miyajima Island by Train

Miyajima Island is not far from Hiroshima and we used our JR Rail Pass for the train and ferry required to get there.  The island (aside from the throngs of tourists) is quite serene and it's possible to find a quiet spot to reflect on the iconic Torii gate as the waves lap gently onto the shore.  
Japan by Train: Torii Gate in Miyajima

Osaka to Nara by Train for a Day

Nara is another easy day trip from Osaka with your 7-day Japan Rail Pass. The Nara area is known for gorgeous wooded temples and armies of deer.  

It's possible to buy 'deer cookies' to feed these fellows but beware, they can be quite aggressive as you can see from the warning signs posted around Nara highlighted below.
Japan by Train to see the Deer in Nara

Is a Japan Rail Pass Worth It?

If you are short on time, a one week Japan Rail Pass is an ideal way to maximize what you can see in a limited amount of time.  We really enjoyed our week being whisked away here and there around Japan on Shinkansen. The high speed rail system is the best way to explore Japan in my opinion.

SIDEWALK SAFARI SPOTLIGHT: There are so many cool things to do, not to mention unique things to eat in Japan. Looking for other ideas of places to visit in Japan where or not you use the train? May I suggest:
Let all your preconceived Japanese stereotypes be tested with these amazing destination ideas.

We saw a lot of the country in a limited amount of time. If you have the luxury of more time, here are some ideas for a 2-week itinerary in Japan.

Map of Train Destinations in Japan Accessible in 1-Week

Click on the image of the map below to open up an interactive version in Google Maps where you can see all the destinations that we visited by train from Tokyo on our 1-week Japan by rail itinerary.
Japan by train map

Did you enjoy this post about spending one week exploring Japan by train? Sharing is caring...

Japan by TrainJapan by Rail

#DrJSabbatical,38,Adriatics,5,Africa,12,Americas,52,Argentina,7,Asia,40,Asia Pacific,25,AUNZ,21,Australia,13,Austria,5,Baltics,4,Barcelona,1,Belfast,1,Belgium,13,Berlin,3,Best of,391,Best of Europe,2,Beyond Dublin,31,Bologna,3,Boston,2,Brazil,2,Bruges,2,Brussels,2,Bucharest,2,Budapest,1,Buffalo,3,Bulgaria,2,California,13,Cambodia,6,Canary Islands,1,Canterbury,2,Cardiff,1,Central America,3,Central Europe,67,Chile,7,China,5,Christmas Market,4,Copenhagen,1,Cork,3,Costa Brava,3,Costa Rica,2,Croatia,2,Cyprus,1,Czech Republic,1,Denmark,3,Dresden,1,Dublin,51,Dusseldorf,1,Eastern Europe,8,Edinburgh,3,El Calafate,1,England,18,Essen,1,Estonia,1,Europe,221,Faversham,1,Featured,5,Financial District,1,Finland,3,Fisherman's Wharf,1,Flanders,1,Florida,3,France,17,Galway,2,Gdansk,1,Germany,18,Girona,1,Granada,1,Greece,4,Greece and Cyprus,5,Hamburg,1,Hangzhou,1,Hanoi,3,HCMC,2,Helsinki,1,Ho Chi Minh City,2,Hobart,1,Hoi An,2,Hungary,1,Hurling,1,Hyderabad,2,Iceland,5,India,5,Ireland,92,Ireland & UK,120,Ireland Road Trips,16,Italy,13,Itinerary,3,Jackson Square,1,Japan,12,Kaunas,1,Kilkenny,1,Kuala Lumpur,1,Kyoto,1,Languedoc,2,Lanzarote,1,Latvia,1,Leipzig,1,Liechtenstein,1,Lima,1,Limerick,1,Lisbon,17,Lithuania,2,Ljubljana,1,Lloret de Mar,1,London,9,Los Angeles,2,Louisiana,1,Lucerne,1,Luxembourg,2,Machu Picchu,1,Madeira,3,Malaga,1,Malaysia,1,Malta,1,Marrakech,1,Marrakesh,1,Massachusetts,2,Mendoza,1,Menton,1,Miami,1,Midwest,3,Modena,2,Monaco,1,Montpellier,1,Morocco,1,Muenster,1,Munich,1,Naples,1,Netherlands,4,New England,3,New Orleans,1,New York,9,New Zealand,8,Nice,2,Noe Valley,1,Nordics,19,Norrkoping,1,North America,43,North Beach,1,Northern Ireland,1,Norway,5,Nuremberg,2,Ollantaytambo,1,Osaka,1,Palafrugell,1,Panama,1,Paris,1,Parma,2,Patagonia,3,Pennsylvania,6,Perth,1,Peru,5,Philadelphia,1,Pingyao,1,Piran,1,Pittsburgh,5,Poland,8,Porto,1,Portugal,35,Puerto Natales,2,Punta Arenas,1,Queensland,1,Recent,87,Regensburg,1,Reykjavik,1,Riga,1,Rio de Janeiro,1,Rochester,1,Romania,3,Rotterdam,1,Rovinj,1,Russia,2,San Francisco,4,San Sebastian,1,Santiago,1,Scandinavia,10,Scotland,5,Seattle,3,Segovia,1,Seoul,2,SF - Further Afield,7,Sicily,3,Siem Reap,2,Singapore,1,Sligo,3,Slovakia,1,Slovenia,2,South Africa,1,South America,19,South Beach,1,South Korea,2,Southeast Europe,14,Southern Europe,66,Spain,17,St. Petersburg,2,Stockholm,2,Strasbourg,1,Stuttgart,1,Sweden,3,Switzerland,12,Sydney,3,Taipei,2,Taiwan,3,Tallinn,1,Tasmania,4,TBEX,1,Telegraph Hill,1,Texas,3,Thailand,1,Tipperary,1,Tokyo,2,Top World Destinations,4,Torres del Paine,1,Transylvania,1,Trieste,1,Uganda,10,UK,28,Union Square,1,United States,46,Uruguay,1,Valparaiso,1,Vietnam,9,Vilnius,1,Wales,2,Warsaw,2,Washington,3,Western Australia,1,Western Europe,37,Westfield,1,Whitsundays,1,Wicklow,2,Wroclaw,1,WWI,1,Xi'an,1,Zurich,5,
Sidewalk Safari | Part-time Travel Blog: Japan by Train: How to Make the Most of a One Week Japanese Itinerary
Japan by Train: How to Make the Most of a One Week Japanese Itinerary
Explore Japan by train. See Tokyo, Kyoto, Osaka, Hiroshima, and more via Shinkansen high speed rail. Plan a Japan itinerary with a Japan rail pass.
Sidewalk Safari | Part-time Travel Blog