Visiting Japan during Sakura Season is both wonderful and stressful; hotel rooms are in extreme demand, with sky-high prices, and popular attractions are swarmed by visitors. Although planning ahead is a good idea when it comes to traveling, it’s more important to keep an open mind and be accommodative to any last-minute changes. After all, the full bloom only lasts for about a week, and the dates can be quite unpredictable based on temperature.
Hopefully, my itinerary will help you make plans and enjoy the most beautiful time of the year in Japan.
Date: March 28th to April 9th
Day 1: Arrive in Tokyo
Day 2: Tokyo
Day 3: Tokyo
Day 4: Tokyo
Day 5: DisneySea
Day 6: DisneySea
Day 7: Train to Hakone
Day 8: Train to Kyoto
Day 9: Kyoto
Day 10: Day Trip to Nara
Day 11: Train to Osaka
Day 12: Osaka
DAY 1-2 | TOKYO
Arrival in Tokyo
Tokyo has two airports: Haneda(羽田) and Narita(成田). Narita airport, where we landed, is farther away from the city center, but has more international flights and transportation options.
There are numerous ways to get from Narita airport to the city. Taxies can be tremendously expensive; expect to pay about $200 to get to the city center. The Narita Express (N’EX) train is probably the fastest and easiest option, if your destination is close to a major train station and/or you have less luggage.
Since we’re not staying near a major train station, we decided to take the Airport Limousine Bus directly to the hotel, in order to avoid transfers with luggage.
Chidorigafuchi (千鳥淵): Possibly one of the best Cherry Blossom viewing areas in Tokyo; hundreds of Sakura trees surround the moats of former Edo Castle, creating a stunning sight that can be enjoyed along the riverbank or on a rental boat. It does get quite crowded, so make sure to get there early in the morning if you want to avoid the crowds.
Senso-ji (浅草寺): Although the temple itself isn’t as impressive as the ones in Kyoto, the Asakusa area is what makes it fun. Alongside the street leading up to the temple’s main hall are the many touristy shops offering products ranging from typical souvenirs to traditional snacks and crowd-pleasing desserts.
Gonpachi Nishiazabu: If you’re familiar with Kill Bill Vol.1, you must remember the classic fighting scene “the Bride VS the Crazy 88s”; this is the restaurant that inspired its set design. Because of that, Gonpachi is definitely more of a tourist attraction, with a menu more catered towards a foreigner palette (even a lot of the waiters here are westerners).
Omoide Yokocho (思い出横丁): Right outside of Shinjuku Station lies a network of narrow back alleys, packed with tiny yakitori grills and izakayas. Seating is extremely cramped here, but has a uniquely charming feel to it, especially in a warm breezy night.
Torikizoku (鳥貴族): A yakitori chain restaurant, with everything on the menu costing ¥321 (the one we visited is near Shinjuku Station, on the 9th level of a building). Order on an iPad tablet, so get yourself a glass of Oolong High (oolong tea + shochu), and let the fun begin. All the grilled skewers are delicious, but the chicken meatball, beef and mochi are especially memorable.
DAY 3 | TOKYO
Meiji Jingu Shrine (明治神宮): Walking through an evergreen forest, you’re instantly transported to a peaceful oasis, in the middle of the chaotic Harajuku (原宿) area. The main complex of the shrine hosts many ceremonies and celebrations throughout the year; you may even witness a traditional wedding ceremony during your visit (we saw three in one afternoon!).
Isomaru Suisan (磯丸水産): A 24-hour seafood grill restaurant in Shimbashi (新橋) and many other areas, with a casual but lively atmosphere. You can cook many kinds of fresh seafood on a small grill in front of you: clams, scallops, and their amazing miso crab.
Taiyaki Kanda-Daruma: Their signature Taiyaki, the freshly-baked, fish-shaped pastries, filled with red bean paste or custard, are the perfect dessert while exploring the busy Shimbashi nightlife.
DAY 4 | TOKYO
Kiyosumi Shirakawa (清澄白河): Contrary to the ultra busy and chaotic feeling of central Tokyo, this neighborhood feels much quieter and more genuine. It’s the home of many art galleries and third-wave coffee shops, from the modern and clean Blue Bottle to the cramped and quirky ARiSE Coffee Roasters. You can also find a walkway by the small river near Blue Bottle, which doubles as a private Cherry Blossom viewing spot.
Tsukiji Market (築地市場): A historic wholesale fish market, but now a tourist spot for snack stalls, retail shops and sushi restaurants along the crowded tiny alleys. Many sushi restaurants here are only open for lunch, and often have long lines. They can be fairly pricey, but the sushi we got from Tsunao (築地 つな男) is super fresh and satisfying.
Shiba Park (芝公园): Right underneath the Tokyo Tower, this spacious park is a perfect place for a relaxing evening stroll, or a picnic party to experience the local life.
Tonkatsu Wako (和幸): A popular tonkatsu restaurant chain in many areas, including Odaiba, an artificial island just off Tokyo Bay. Their signature tonkatsu – deep-fried breaded pork cutlets, served with unlimited rice, cabbage, and miso soup – are so crunchy and airy on the outside, yet tender and juicy on the inside.
DAY 5-6 | DISNEYSEA
DAY 7 | HAKONE
Traveling from Tokyo to Hakone
The train system in Japan is famously convenient. They depart so frequently that there is no need to book tickets in advance unless travelling during extreme peak season, though checking the timetable beforehand on websites like HyperDia can still be helpful; it gives you detailed timetables, route information and ticket prices.
However, because of the sheer amount of trains and routes, it does get quite confusing to pick the right one. There are so many ways to get from Tokyo to Hakone, depending on your origin location, time frame, and budget.
We took Shinkansen (新幹線), the bullet train, from Tokyo Station to Odawara in 35 minutes, then transfer onto the Hakone Tozan Railway to Hakone-Yumoto for another 15 minutes. If you’re starting from Shinjuku Station, you can take the Limited Express Romancecar directly to Hakone-Yumoto. It takes about 80 minutes, but will cost a lot less than the Shinkansen train, plus no transfer needed.
The most famous and popular activity in Hakone is Onsen – Japanese natural hot springs. The small town of Hakone Yumoto (箱根湯本) is the gateway of the Hakone area and a lovely mountain village with lots of Onsen hotels, souvenir shops, and restaurants in beautiful setting along the forested valley.
Most of the Onsen resorts will provide guides for how to use the Onsen properly. The most important rules are: always wash yourself before entering the hot spring, shower while sitting down on the stools, and never wear bathing suits. Most onsens separate men and women, but you can also rent private ones to share with family.
Yumoto Fujiya Hotel (湯本富士屋ホテル): Located right across the river from Hakone-Yumoto Station, the hotel is very easily accessible for guests with luggage. They have a public hot spring with both indoor and outdoor pools, free for hotel guests.
Yama Soba (山そば): Hakone is known for their soba, buckwheat noodles served either hot or cold, in a savory broth or with a rich dipping sauce. They are all delicious, but cold soba with dipping sauce is especially refreshing. An order of assorted tempura on the side is the perfect companion.
DAY 8-12 | KYOTO, NARA & OSAKA
See Part 2.