Japan 2024- the highs, the lows and everything you need to know

I went to Japan from March 22nd to April 5th, and here is a rundown of everything we did (and didn’t do) and some tips and tricks to make your trip more successful. The first thing to note is that this trip is actually my second time in Japan, but I redid a lot of the same activities so my family could enjoy them, and I could redo them in a different season. We picked this time for two reasons;

  1. I wanted to see the Cherry Blossoms in full bloom (which usually happens mid to late March to early April)
  2. It was outside Australia's school holidays, so I hoped for a less busy trip.

Unfortunately for us, the Chery Blossoms were late due to uncharacteristically cold weather causing the bloom to happen later. There were some Cherry blossoms, particularly in Hiroshima but not the rows lining the rivers of Kyoto that I was desperately hoping for.


Day One: Sydney → Tokyo → Osaka

Day One was just a travel day. Our plane left Sydney at 9 am, and nine hours later, we landed at 5 pm. (Tokyo time). We were originally staying in Tokyo but, at the last minute, booked accommodation in Osaka so we could have a full day for day two without the need to travel. We got SIM cards and cash from our travel cards at a 7-Eleven ATM (7-Bank).

Immediately upon landing, I found it overwhelming to navigate the train system, but a train guard pointed us in the right direction, and we got there. 

If you fly into Tokyo but intend to go straight to Osaka, I recommend flying there instead of trying to navigate the trains, as they can be a little overwhelming as soon as you step off a plane.

Day Two: Osaka

  • Breakfast at A Happy Pancake (Shinsaibashi)
  • Osaka Castle 
  • Osaka Peace Centre
  • Umeda Sky Building
  • Dontobori 

Today we moved to our primary Osaka accommodation (right off the Dontobori shopping street). We dropped our bags at the Hotel around 9:30 am and headed to ‘A Happy Pancake’ for breakfast. Although it opened at 10 and we arrived at 9:55, it was still packed, and we had to wait till 10:45 for a table. The wait was well worth it. The pancakes were fluffy and absolutely delicious (I would go back).

We then headed for Osaka Castle. I hoped to see an array of blooming Cherry blossoms in the surrounding park, but instead, I was met with bare trees with hints of buds starting to appear. The grounds were still lovely, and we went into Osaka Castle, which is essentially a museum of history surrounding the castle. I highly recommend it.

Within the park, there is the Osaka Peace Centre. We were told that it was a waste of time but decided to do it anyway, and although it was sombre, it was worth it. Why not visit? This museum focuses on the Japanese perspective of WW2, which can be seen as propaganda. Still, I personally found it interesting to read from a perspective other than the Australian side. Maybe I am just uneducated, but I believe that Japanese civilians were just as much victims of war as the Australians, and ultimately everyone was fighting for what they thought was the right thing at the time. 

We then headed up to the Umeda Sky Building. The queue seemed long, but it was fast-moving, and any wait was well worth it. This building gave us incredible views over the city from the inside and the rooftop. It has a restaurant, cafe and information on the world's tallest buildings. If you are looking for something to do at night (that isn’t shopping, clubbing or eating), this is definitely something to look into. 

Day Three: Osaka

  • Buffet breakfast at the hotel (not a slay)
  • Osaka Aquarium (nvm) 
  • Minoo Park
  • Pokemon cafe
  • Dontobori 

After a very average buffet breakfast at the hotel, we set off to the Osaka Aquarium. If you followed along with my instagram reels, you would have noticed that we didn’t go to the Aquarium. When we arrived, the lines were insane, and the entry wait was well into the afternoon. We hadn’t realised it was a weekend so the crowds were much bigger. We ended up pre-booking for the next day instead. 

We headed to the city's outskirts for a lovely waterfall hike in Minoo (Minoh) Park. It was a nice break from the hustle and bustle of the city areas, and no crowds (possibly because of the light rain). The boys continued on from the waterfall to hike the surroundings, but Mum and I went back to do something else. 

I desperately tried to get a booking at the Pokemon Cafe in advance, but after missing out, I thought it was a sign that it wasn’t meant to be. This proved to be wrong, as we joined the line of people who were waiting for no-shows. We ended up sneaking into the last session, which was amazing. I love Pokemon, so I appreciated the opportunity to do this experience again.

Day Four: Osaka

  • MaZe cafe
  • Osaka Aquarium
  • Tempozan Marketplace
  • Shiyennoji temple
  • TeamLab Botanical Gardens
  • Dontobori

We started the day at the MaZe cafe, about a 15-minute from our accommodation. This was a nice place for a more Western-style breakfast and a sleek little cafe (but it gets busy). We headed back to the aquarium, which was definitely an interesting experience. We were on the fence about going here as there are concerns over tank sizes for their larger fish and mammals (Sharks, dolphins, seals etc.). Still, we decided to go as the building layout was really interesting. The layers meant you could view animals from different perspectives and depths. After leaving with mixed feelings of love and hate, we headed to Tempozan Marketplace for a food court for lunch. We then headed to Shitennoji temple. I expected crowds, but thanks to the rain, there were no crowds. This lovely temple had beautiful and expansive grounds considering it was in the centre of a busy city. We could go into most of the buildings, which were full of stunning artworks. To finish the day, we headed to the Osaka Botanical Gardens in the evening to engage with the TeamLab interactive art display. This vivid-like experience was full of lights that interacted with your movements and touch. A lovely way to end the day and our time in Osaka.

Day Five: Kyoto via Nara

  • Nara Deer Park 
  • Kasugataisha Shrine
  • Kyoto Tower

Day 5 was our first city change. We started with a lovely breakfast at the Elk Cafe. This place gets really busy, so it is best to line up before the cafe opens if you want a spot. We then headed to Nara to explore the iconic Deer Park and its surrounds. We had our luggage with us, so we stored it in luggage lockers at the station so we didn’t have to lug it all around. It was pouring down when we first arrived but it settled down 15 minutes after arriving. We bought Deer crackers from a stand within the park. Watching fellow tourists scream and run from semi-food-aggressive deer was very funny. The deer bow for crackers, but can be a little aggressive, pulling at clothing, bags, and anything else to get your attention, but ultimately harmless if you stay calm and walk away. If you go to this park, we recommend taking the crackers out of the main park and feeding them in other areas of the park as they tend to be more chill. The lovely Kasugataisha Shrine is a world heritage site within the Nara Park area. This shrine was a lovely stroll up the hill with rows of mossy pillars and stones along the route. If you decide to have a stop in Nara, I would add this to your list. We then continued on to Kyoto. It was evening by the time we arrived, so we decided to relax a little before heading out to go up the Kyoto tower. The 360-degree view of the city was unmatched, and we could see most of the surrounding city from the lookout. Seeing the city from a height is a great way to start your time in a new city. 

Day Six: Kyoto

  • Arashiyama Bamboo Forest
  • Golden Pavillion
  • Samurai Ninja Museum
  • Shopping (Yodobashi Camera)

Today was our first full day of sunshine! I wanted to get up for sunrise to check out the Gion district but unfortunately, my alarm didn’t go off but it didn’t stop me from enjoying my time exploring other areas of the city. The boys decided to use the day to hike, but Mum and I were more interested in exploring specific sites. We started at the Arashiyama Bamboo Forest but explored the surrounding areas and small shrines. The further away from the main trail, the quieter it was. We headed the the Snoopy chocolate store, which has got to be one of my favourite shops. They have snoopy comics printed on chocolate bars- too good to eat. We then headed to the Golden Pavillion around lunchtime. The buses were packed,, but we managed to hack the system by jumping on a bus without a queue that didn’t go directly to the pavilion but was only a 10-minute walk. I would much rather a 10-minute walk than a 30-minute wait for a packed bus. My Aunty recommended the Golden Pavillion, and although it was very busy, it was absolutely stunning and well worth the visit. We met with the boys at 4:30 to visit the Samurai Ninja Museum. This was probably the only disappointing part of our trip thus far. Although the tours were in English, they felt very rushed and overcrowded, so I left feeling like I didn’t really see anything. The surrounding streets were packed with food stalls and shops (and a bouldering gym which the boys tried to tackle the next day). I also decided to check out the Yodobashi Camera store which had everything from clothes to tech gear. Although I didn’t buy anything, I definitely will in Tokyo.

Day Seven: Kyoto

  • Gion district 
  • The health system 
  • Kyōto Imperial Palace

Our last full day in Kyoto was somewhat of a trainwreck. I finally got up early enough to explore the Gion district and get “the Japan brochure photo” before the crowds got too big. I don’t know what I expected of the Gion district, but it was just a lovely niche series of old-styled streets tucked behind what looked like a typical city-suburban street. I went back with Mum to browse the shops and another Snoopy shop. Unfortunately, Mum fell off one of the small steps and ended up breaking a bone in her foot, so we spent most of the day resting and jumping between doctors and hospitals, trying to source a pair of crutches (which was way harder than expected). I did manage to quickly visit the Kyōto Imperial Palace and surrounding grounds, which had one of the cities only bloomed weeping-willow cherry blossom tree. Aside from the frustration and disappointment surrounding a broken foot mid-way through our trip, it was a good day.

Day Eight: Kyoto to Hiroshima

  • Fushimi Inari Taisha
  • Hiroshima Peace Museum & Surrounds

Today started miserably, I got up before the sun, ready to tackle the infamous Fushimi Inari Taisha gates, but it was torrentially raining. In fear for my camera gear, I gave it a pass. It didn end up clearing up later in the morning, so Mum and I went to check it out. The crowds were as crazy as expected, and we decided to do a small section instead of the full hike as we wanted to make the most of our time in Hiroshima (not to mention Mum’s broken foot). 

We then got on another bullet train to Hiroshima, where we visited the Peace Memorial Museum and surrounding Peace Memorial Park to see the Atomic Bomb Dome (an original structure left behind after the bombs) and the Children's Peace Monument. This was a tough one but if you are in Japan- I would definitely make sure you put time aside to see this. It is utterly devastating and puts war into perspective like nothing i’ve seen before. A story that stuck with me from primary school was the story of Sadako and the thousand paper cranes, and to see images and read the story of the real girl and her family just added a level of reality to the things I have been taught over the years.

Day Nine: Hiroshima (Itsukushima/ Miyajima Island)

  • Hiroshima Castle
  • Itsukushima/ Miyajima Island

Today we left the mainland and headed to the beautiful Miyajima Island in search of Cherry Blossoms or Sakuras. This magical island was just a short ferry away from Hiroshima and was one of our favourite days. Once I stepped foot on the island, I was greeted by some friendly local deer, and we wandered some of the street shops before heading deeper onto the trails in search of those pretty pink flowers, and we hit the absolute jackpot. This island is a must-see with its pretty flowers and flowing rivers. Although many people were there, it got less busy once you got off the main path. Obviously, you have to see the magical gate on the water, but to get the influencer shot, you need to line up and pay an entrance fee. Honestly, there are so many other beautiful shots to see and do.

We stayed and watched the sunset over the water before heading home. 

Day Ten: Hiroshima to Tokyo

  • Tokyo Joyopolis 
  • TeamLab Planets

The bullet train from Hiroshima to Tokyo took up a big chunk of the day but we made the most of the rest of it. After dropping our bags, we headed to Joyopolis, a tech-centered indoor amusement park. Although it was very cool, with limited time and endless queues, we didn’t experience the best of it. If you are into VR, then this is the place for you. We had to head off to our booking for the TeamLab Planets experience, an interactive art facility where we got to integrate ourselves into the natural world. We walked through milky water with light-projected koi fish that swam away from our movements and lit up passageways that felt like I was walking through Elsa’s ice palace from Frozen. 

Day Eleven: Tokyo

  • Statue of Hachikō
  • Shibuya Crossing
  • Harajuku area
  • GoKarting Tour

Our first full day in Tokyo and it was a full one. We started the day in the Shibuya area to see the Statue of Hachikō. If you don’t know the story of Hachikō, there is a movie, but in summary, Hachikō is the world's most loyal dog. He would walk his owner to the station and wait for him to get home every day, but one day, his owner had a heart attack at work and didn’t return. Hachikō continued to come to the station to wait for his owner each day for 9 years. He is a symbol of true loyalty. Adjacent to the Statue of Hachikō is the famous Shibuya Crossing, which was chaotic but not as chaotic as I thought (probably too early in the morning). We then walked to Harajuku the explore the Takeshita street- starting with the street crepes. This street was full of quirky and kawaii fashion, and I loved walking up and down. We pretty much spent the day on the street and around the area.

We then jumped in a GoKart for a tour around the city of Tokyo (yes, on the actual roads). You must have at least your P2 licence, but it is worth it. I was incredibly nervous, but it was easy peasy and sooooo much fun. We did the 2-hour tour, and any shorter would be a massive mistake. We got to see the Rainbow Bridge, Akihabara, and surrounding areas, even stopping for photos.

Day Twelve: Tokyo

  • Mount Fuji and Hakone day tour
  • Tokyo SkyTree

Today, we adventured out to Mt. Fuji and the surrounding area of Hakone with a tour group. We saw the famous volcano from all angles, including on the mountain, from the Gotemba Premium Outlets and the Hakone region, including Lake Ashi and Sky Chairs. This was such a fun and efficient way to experience Mt. Fuji. The only thing I would change is that I would love to actually stay in the region overnight to get the opportunity to explore more. 

Although it was a long day, Mum and I decided to continue our escapade and head to the Tokyo SkyTree to view the city. Seeing Tokyo from that height was probably my favourite of the tower experiences. Seeing a city that is so full, looks so organised, and is layered with nightlights was just beautiful. It was a perfect way to end a perfect day.

Day Thirteen: Tokyo

  • DisneySea

If you are as much of a Disney Girlie as I am, then you need to check out DisneySea. DisneySea is the most unique of the Disney Parks. It is surrounded by water and moats and is just a very different park to the other Disney ones. The rides tend to be better for older kids and adults versus your traditional ‘it’s a small world’ rides in Disneyland. We had the worst weather, which rained endlessly the entire day, but we made the most of it. Aside from walking in soggy shoes all day, our only other disappointment was that we needed to make a reservation to go into some of the main shops, which meant we missed out on the limited edition merch that I usually collect, which was really disappointing. 

However, we did get to experience all the main rides that we wanted to do, and none were affected by the weather.

Day Fourteen: Tokyo

  • Tokyo Fire Museum
  • Sunshine City 
  • Hedgehog Cafe
  • Harajuku area 
  • Akihabara area

We packed our final full day in Japan with activities. We started the day by visiting the Tokyo Fire Museum, which is really interesting if you are into that sort of thing. It wasn’t my cup of tea, but my brother is really interested in fire brigades and found Japan's system really interesting. We then headed to Sunshine City, which was an epic shopping area, so that I could buy some cute clothes. I find the styles available in Japan better than in Australia, but the sizing is not generally very inclusive. I am usually a smaller size but I found even their “free” sizes (one-size-fits-all) too small. Although I did some shopping, I felt that I spent more time looking under time pressure than buying. 

We then headed to the Hedgehog Cafe in Shibuya to feed some hedgehogs, and then we continued back to Harajuku to pick up some little things we wanted to return to from the other day. It was much quieter than the daytime, but things were starting to shut. 

To end the day, we headed to the chaos of the Akihabara area. We played arcade games and claw machines. We even visited a Maid cafe, which was the most uncomfortable experience of my life. I called it a night and grabbed a pizza to share back at the hotel but at least I can say I have done it. 

DAY Fifthteen: TOKYO

  • Sunshine City

I had some serious cash to splash, so I returned to Sunshine City to pick up some cute outfits and blouses (which I am sure will grace the gram at some point). Then it was home time.

Tips and Tricks

IC cards (Umeda Station)

The last time I went, I bought a JR rail pass, which was incredibly helpful, but the prices have skyrocketed. After doing the maths, I realised that it is way cheaper to pay as you go. The easiest way is to get an IC card (which you can get from most larger JR stations, such as Umeda in Osaka). These are very similar to our Opal cards. The only time this doesn’t work is for the bullet trains between cities, which you must book from a ticket counter in advance.

Day passes to save money. 

Some cities like Osaka have day passes and tickets for their train lines which help you save money if you intend to take 3-4 trains on any given day. These are bought through the ticket machines in any station in Osaka. It is only a small piece of paper, so ensure you have a safe spot to keep it.

Avoid Peak times (especially with luggage)

The trains get unbearably busy at certain times of the day. This is typically between 8:00 and 10:00 a.m. and 4:00 and 6:00 p.m. on work days and most weekends. If you can avoid travelling with luggage at these times, I would.

Book bullet trains in advance.

It is essential to book bullet trains in advance, particularly if you have luggage, as they fill up quickly. The last thing you want is to be stuck at a train station all day waiting for your train. You can do this online, but we did it in person the day before. After being split up and forced to be on the bad times, we recommend trying to book a few days in advance. 

Luggage storage

It is important to have a plan for what will happen with your luggage when transferring locations. All of our accommodations allowed us to drop bags early or leave them after check out. This gave us the freedom to move around the city without our luggage. It surprised me how many people showed up to busy areas and streets with huge luggage bags. If your accommodation doesn’t allow this, I would definitely find a luggage locker (which can cost 400-1000 yen (depending on size) to leave your luggage for the day. 

When should you do things

It is important to note that Japan is a very busy place with so much tourism, so there are lots of people wanting to do the exact same things as you. Be aware of opening times and try to be the first ones to walk through the door. Most shops and attractions don’t open until after 9:30, so fill up the morning with free and open activities (such as shrines and walks) to avoid the crowds. 

Go with a plan

I rigorously planned this trip, but we rarely followed my itinerary exactly and that is okay. Coming into a trip with a list of things you really want to do and a general plan will help give you guidance and reduce the mental load of figuring it out each day. Japan is full of so many cool and beautiful things, but trying to figure it out on the fly can be overwhelming, and there is no way to fit it all in two weeks. With some plans (even loose ones), you will be able to walk away satisfied that you made the most of your time.


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