This is a fast paced 14 day itinerary for Japan. It includes Tokyo, towns in the Japanese Alpes and Kyoto. Attraction description are mostly taken from Japan Guide and Wikipedia.
Day 1 - Tokyo
Shitamchi Museum - The Shitamachi Museum is dedicated to the traditional culture of Tokyo's Low City, the unofficial name given to the Tokyo flatlands. It includes life-size replica of a merchant's house and small tenement house. In addition there are toys, dolls, photos, kitchen utensils, board games, card games, plus exhibits related to festivals and other events.
Ueno Zoo - Japan's oldest zoo, opening on March 20, 1882. The zoo is home to more than 3.000 individuals representing over 400 species. The Sumatran tiger, western lowland gorilla and Giant Panda head the list of the zoo's population. he zoo is also home to zebras, Japanese macaques, red-crowned cranes, white-tailed eagles and king penguins, along with goats, sheep, pigs, llamas, ostriches, and rabbits.
Tokyo National Museum - the largest art museum in Japan and one of the largest art museums in the world. The museum collects, houses, and preserves a comprehensive collection of art works and archaeological objects of Asia, focusing on Japan. The museum holds over 110,000 objects, which includes 87 Japanese National Treasure holdings and 610 Important Cultural Property holdings (as of July 2005).
Ameya-Yokochō - an open-air market in the Taito Ward of Tokyo, Japan, located next to Ueno Station. The market is approximately 164,227 square feet in area. The market is home to over one hundred and eighty one shops, which sell products ranging from fresh food and fish to clothing and time pieces.
Akihabara - the area around Akihabara Station in the Chiyoda ward of Tokyo, Japan. Akihabara is considered by many to be an otaku cultural center and a shopping district for video games, anime, manga, and computer goods. Icons from popular anime and manga are displayed prominently on the shops in the area, and numerous maid cafés are found throughout the district.
Day 2 - Tokyo - Nikko - Tokyo
Shinkyo Bridge - stands at the entrance to Nikko's shrines and temples, and technically belongs to Futarasan Shrine. The bridge is ranked as one of Japan's three finest bridges
Nikkō Tōshō-gū - a Shinto shrine which is part of the "Shrines and Temples of Nikkō", a UNESCO World Heritage Site. Tōshō-gū is dedicated to Tokugawa Ieyasu, the founder of the Tokugawa shogunate. Five structures at Nikkō Tōshō-gū are categorized as National Treasures of Japan, and three more as Important Cultural Properties. The stable of the shrine's sacred horses bears a carving of the three wise monkeys, who hear, speak and see no evil, a traditional symbol in Chinese and Japanese culture.
Tamozawa Imperial Villa - Tamozawa Imperial Villa is one of the largest remaining wooden buildings in Japan. Throughout its 106 rooms the interior of the villa is a curious mix of Japanese and Western styles. Many floors are carpeted, and elaborate chandeliers hang from the ceilings. Yet the villa's Japanese elements, such as sliding paper doors and tatami flooring are prominent as well.
Ginza District - Tokyo's most famous upmarket shopping, dining and entertainment district, featuring numerous department stores, boutiques, art galleries, restaurants, night clubs and cafes. One square meter of land in the district's center is worth over ten million yen, making it one of the most expensive real estate in Japan. It is where you can find the infamous $10 cups of coffee and where virtually every leading brand name in fashion and cosmetics has a presence.
Roppongi - A district in Tokyo that is well known as the city's most popular nightlife district among foreigners, offering a large number of foreigner friendly bars, restaurants and night clubs.
Day 3 - Tokyo
Koishikawa Korakuen - One of Tokyo's oldest and best Japanese gardens. It was built in the early Edo Period (1600-1867) at the Tokyo residence of the Mito branch of the ruling Tokugawa family. Like most traditional Japanese gardens, Koishikawa Korakuen attempts to reproduce famous landscapes in miniature, using ponds, stones, trees and manmade hills to replicate both Japanese and Chinese scenery
The Tokyo Metropolitan Government Building - In Shinjuku is often visited by tourists for its free observation decks which provide good panoramic views of Tokyo and beyond. The 243 meter tall building has two towers, and each houses an observatory at a height of 202 meters. It had been the tallest building in Tokyo until it was overtaken by the Midtown Tower in 2007. With favorable weather conditions, famous landmarks such as Mount Fuji, the Tokyo Skytree, Tokyo Tower, Meiji Shrine and the Tokyo Dome can be seen from the observatories. Each observatory has a cafe and a souvenir shop.
Shinjuku - One of the 23 city wards of Tokyo, but the name commonly refers to just the large entertainment, business and shopping area around Shinjuku Station. Shinjuku Station is the world's busiest railway station, handling more than two million passengers every day.
The Ghibli Museum - The animation and art museum of Miyazaki Hayao's Studio Ghibli, one of Japan's most famous animation studios. Located in Mitaka, just outside of central Tokyo, the museum is a must-see for fans of the films. The museum itself is whimsically designed in the distinct style of the studio's films, and many of their famous characters are there, including a life-sized robot from "Castle in the Sky" in the rooftop garden.
Day 4 - Tokyo - Hakone - Tokyo
A popular and attractive way of visiting Hakone is by circling the region with five different means of transport (train, cablecar, ropeway, boat and bus), using the Hakone Free Pass. The round course outlined below starts and ends in Hakone-Yumoto and circles the Hakone region in a clockwise direction. The Hakone Free Pass by Odakyu Railways is a discount pass for exploring Hakone. It provides unlimited use of Odakyu-affiliated buses, trains, boats, cablecars and ropeways in the Hakone area and discounted admission to selected tourist attractions on two or three consecutive days. Optionally, the pass also includes a discounted round trip from Tokyo's Shinjuku Station.
Cedar ave. of Hakone - One of the great historic site of Tokaido Road. It was built in 1619 by Tokugawa Ieyasu. These Cedar are also planted by Tokugawa Ieyasu. He planted to provide the shade to the travelers. There are 420 cedar trees still remains. Many famous Samurai used this road to travel between Edo and Osaka. The view of this road is still preserved in a great condition.
Hakone Checkpoint - Hakone used to be an important checkpoint to control traffic along the Tokaido, the highway which linked Tokyo with Kyoto during the feudal Edo Period. The checkpoint now appears true to its original form, including gates, fence, housing for officers and foot soldiers, a prison chamber and a lookout tower. The Hakone Sekisho Shiryokan, a small museum with various related exhibits, stands nearby.
Lake Ashinoko - Two companies, Hakone Sightseeing Boats and Izuhakone Sightseeing Boats, operate boats between Moto-Hakone and Hakone-machi at the lake's southern shores and Togendai and Kojiri at the lake's northern end. A boat cruise from one end of the lake to the other takes roughly 30 minutes and costs 1000 yen. The Hakone Free Pass is valid on the pirate ship shaped Hakone Sightseeing Boats but not on boats operated by Izuhakone.
The Hakone Ropeway - Part of the Hakone Round Course, a popular way to visit Hakone. It connects Togendai Station (at the shore of Lake Ashinoko) with Sounzan Station (at the terminus of the Hakone Tozan Cablecar) and stops at Owakudani and Ubako stations on the way. The ropeway is fully covered by the Hakone Free Pass.
Owakudani - The area around a crater created during the last eruption of Mount Hakone some 3000 years ago. Today, much of the area is an active volcanic zone where sulfurous fumes, hot springs and hot rivers can be experienced. Additionally, Owakudani has good views of Mount Fuji on clear days. A short walking trail (about ten minutes one way) leads from the ropeway station into the volcanic zone to a number of steam vents and bubbling pools. Here you can purchase eggs, cooked in the naturally hot water, whose shells are blackened by the sulfur and which are said to prolong one's life by seven years.
Hakone Tozan Railway - A ride on the Hakone Tozan, Japan's oldest mountain railway, is a treat for more than just railway fans. The small trains wind themselves through a narrow, densely wooded valley over many bridges and tunnels, stopping at small stations along the way and changing directions at three switchbacks.
Day 5 - Tokyo
The Edo-Tokyo - Housed in a unique looking building in the Ryogoku district. The museum's permanent exhibition vividly illustrates the past of Tokyo (known as Edo until 1869) through its exhibits and covers many features of the capital from the Edo Period to relatively recent decades. In an interactive way, visitors are able to experience and learn about various aspects of earlier Tokyo, such as the way of life of people, Edo Period architecture, cultural heritage, political climate, commercial situation and more. Through numerous models of towns, figurines and life-sized figures, the museum makes it interesting to find out about how towns were constructed in the past.
Venus Fort - Part of the Palette Town complex in Tokyo's waterside Odaiba district, Venus Fort is Tokyo's answer to the European Renaissance. The boxy exterior of this three-floor shopping, dining and entertainment complex belies a vast, airy, grandiose and elaborately ornate interior, replete with Italianesque statuary, architecture, painting, and scenery. And, of course, as much shopping as you can handle, much of it duty-free for the tourist. Venus Fort offers all visitors a free Wi-Fi connection throughout. The most omnipresent visual in the time-warp that is Venus Fort is its lofty "sky" above, a constantly morphing play of Old Master ethereal blues and sunset pinks on a domed ceiling. The play of clouds and various flavors of light takes place over a repeating one-hour cycle.
Miraikan - The National Museum of Emerging Science and Innovation is a museum created by Japan's Science and Technology Agency. It was opened in 2001. It is situated in a new purpose-built building in the Odaiba District of Tokyo. Some highlights include real-time displays of data from a huge array of seismometers across Japan which shows the country gently vibrating. The occasional earthquakes for which Japan is noted show up as larger movements. Visitors can search the on-line database of recent earthquake activity. Asimo, the Honda robot is one of the star attractions along with the model maglev train.
Harajuku - The area around Tokyo's Harajuku Station, which is between Shinjuku and Shibuya on the Yamanote Line. It is the center of Japan's most extreme teenage cultures and fashion styles, but also offers shopping for adults and some historic sights. The focal point of Harajuku's teenage culture is Takeshita Dori (Takeshita Street) and its side streets, which are lined by many trendy shops, fashion boutiques, used clothes stores, crepe stands and fast food outlets geared towards the fashion and trend conscious teens.
Shibuya - One of the twenty-three city wards of Tokyo, but often refers to just the popular shopping and entertainment area found around Shibuya Station. In this regard, Shibuya is one of Tokyo's most colorful and busy districts, packed with shopping, dining and nightclubs serving swarms of visitors that come to the district every day. Shibuya is a center for youth fashion and culture, and its streets are the birthplace to many of Japan's fashion and entertainment trends. Over a dozen major department store branches can be found around the area catering to all types of shoppers. A prominent landmark of Shibuya is the large intersection in front of the station's Hachiko Exit. The intersection is heavily decorated by neon advertisements and giant video screens and gets flooded by pedestrians each time the crossing light turns green, making it a popular photo and movie filming spot.
Day 6 - Kanazawa
Omicho Market - Kanazawa's largest fresh food market since the Edo Period. Today, it is a busy and colorful network of covered streets lined by about 200 shops and stalls. While most shops specialize in the excellent local seafood and produce, you can also find flowers, clothing, kitchen tools and more on sale.
Kanazawa Phonograph Museum - Audio buffs will dig this museum of old-time phonographs and SP records, with daily demonstrations at 11am, 2pm and 4pm.
Kanazawa Castle - From 1583 to the end of the Edo Period, Kanazawa Castle was the seat of the powerful Maeda Clan, lords of Kaga, a feudal domain ranking second only to the Tokugawa possessions in terms of size and wealth. The castle burnt down several times over the centuries, and the most recent fires of 1881 were survived only by two storehouses and the Ishikawa-mon Gate. The gate dates from 1788 and faces Kenrokuen. A project is underway to rebuild the castle's former buildings. In the meantime, most central structures are standing again and make a visit more interesting.
Kenrokuen - Justifiably classified as one of Japan's "three most beautiful landscape gardens". The spacious grounds used to be the outer garden of Kanazawa Castle and were constructed by the ruling Maeda family over a period of nearly two centuries. Opened to the public in 1871, Kenrokuen features a variety of flowering trees which provide the garden with a different look for each season.
Myoryuji Temple - Commonly known as Ninjadera ("Ninja Temple"), was built by the Maeda lords, rulers over the region during the Edo Period. While not actually associated with ninja, the temple earned its nickname because of its many deceptive defenses. Since the shogun imposed strict building restrictions as one way of weakening his regional lords, Myoryuji was designed to circumvent the restrictions and serve as a disguised military outpost. It was built with considerable defenses and escape routes, so that its defenders could alert the castle in the event of an attack. The temple's defenses aimed to guard against intruders or attack, and include hidden tunnels, secret rooms, traps, and a labyrinth of corridors and staircases. These can be viewed by guided tour (reservations recommended) held in Japanese, although good English guidebooks are available.
Day 7 - Takayama
Hida Folk Village - Hida Folk Village is an open air museum exhibiting over 30 traditional houses from the Hida region, the mountainous district of Gifu Prefecture around Takayama. The houses were built during the Edo Period (1603 - 1867) and were relocated from their original locations to create the museum in 1971.
Takayama's old town - Takayama's old town has been beautifully preserved with many buildings and whole streets of houses dating from the Edo Period (1600-1868), when the city thrived as a wealthy town of merchants. The southern half of the old town, especially the Sannomachi Street, survives in a particularly pretty state with many old homes, shops, coffee houses and sake breweries, some of which have been in business for centuries. The shops in the area are typically open daily from 9:00 to 17:00.
Matsuri no Mori - Located outside of Takayama's city center, the Matsuri no Mori showcases the key aspects of the Takayama Festival. At the main exhibition space, a number of magnificent, life-sized replica floats are displayed, offering visitors a close view at their elaborate designs, decorations and karakuri dolls.
Morning Markets (Asaichi) - Two morning markets are held in Takayama on a daily basis from around 6:30 (7:00 in winter) to noon: the Jinya-mae Market in front of the Takayama Jinya, and the Miyagawa Market along the Miyagawa River in the old town. Most stands sell local crafts, snacks and farm products such as vegetables, pickles and flowers.
Day 8 - Kamikochi
Kamikochi is a popular resort in the Northern Japan Alps of Nagano Prefecture, offering some of Japan's most spectacular mountain scenery. It is open from mid/late April until November 15 and shuts down during winter. Kamikochi is a roughly 15 kilometer long plateau in the Azusa River Valley, about 1500 meters above sea level and is surrounded by tall mountains. The simplest way to enjoy a day in Kamikochi is by hiking the trails along Azusa River from Taisho Pond to Myojin Bridge. It is a mostly flat terrain and requires no hiking experience and only a few hours of time. Kamikochi is particularly beautiful during the autumn foliage season, which usually peaks in mid-October. A wide range of alpine flora can be viewed from May through October, with the best time being mid-May through July. Among the wildlife to be observed are monkeys and various birds. Bears are rarely encountered.
Day 9 - Kyoto
Fushimi Inari Shrine - An important Shinto shrine in southern Kyoto. It is famous for its thousands of vermilion torii gates, which straddle a network of trails behind its main buildings. The trails lead into the wooded forest of the sacred Mount Inari, which stands at 233 meters and belongs to the shrine grounds.
Tofukuji - A large Zen temple in southeastern Kyoto that is particularly famous for its spectacular autumn colors. The temple was founded in 1236 at the behest of the powerful Fujiwara clan. Tofukuji has historically been one of the principal Zen temples in Kyoto, and is a head temple of one of the schools of the Rinzai sect of Zen Buddhism. In autumn, people come from all over Japan to see Tofukuji's autumn colors. The most popular view is of the Tsutenkyo Bridge, which spans a valley of lush maple trees. The view from the bridge is equally spectacular, and the 100 meter long, covered walkway becomes extremely crowded when the colors reach their peak, usually around mid to late November.
Higashiyama District - The Higashiyama District along the lower slopes of Kyoto's eastern mountains is one of the city's best preserved historic districts. It is a great place to experience traditional old Kyoto, especially between Kiyomizudera and Yasaka Shrine, where the narrow lanes, wooden buildings and traditional merchant shops invoke a feeling of the old capital city.
Day 10 - Nara
Todaiji - One of Japan's most famous and historically significant temples and a landmark of Nara. The temple was constructed in 752 as the head temple of all provincial Buddhist temples of Japan and grew so powerful that the capital was moved from Nara to Nagaoka in 784 in order to lower the temple's influence on government affairs. Todaiji's main hall, the Daibutsuden (Big Buddha Hall) is the world's largest wooden building, despite the fact that the present reconstruction of 1692 is only two thirds of the original temple hall's size. The massive building houses one of Japan's largest bronze statues of Buddha (Daibutsu). The 15 meters tall, seated Buddha represents Vairocana and is flanked by two Bodhisattvas.
Nara Park - A large park in central Nara. Established in 1880, the park is home to hundreds of freely roaming deer. Considered in Shinto to be messengers of the gods, Nara's nearly 1200 deer have become a symbol of the city and have even been designated as a natural treasure. Nara's deer are surprisingly tame, although they can be aggressive if they think you will feed them. Deer crackers are for sale around the park, and some deer have learned to bow to visitors to ask to be fed.
Day 11 - Kyoto
Nishiki Market - Nishiki Market is a narrow, five block long shopping street lined by more than one hundred shops and restaurants. Known as "Kyoto's Kitchen", this lively retail market specializes in all things food related, like fresh seafood, produce, knives and cookware, and is a great place to find seasonal foods and Kyoto specialties, such as Japanese sweets, pickles, dried seafood and sushi.
Nijo Castle - built in 1603 as the Kyoto residence of Tokugawa Ieyasu, the first shogun of the Edo Period (1603-1867). His grandson Iemitsu completed the castle's palace buildings 23 years later and further expanded the castle by adding a five story castle keep. Nijo Castle was used as an imperial palace for a while before being donated to the city and opened up to the public as a historic site. Its palace buildings are arguably the best surviving examples of castle palace architecture of Japan's feudal era, and the castle was designated a UNESCO world heritage site in 1994.
Kinkakuji (Golden Pavilion) - A Zen temple whose top two floors are completely covered in gold leaf. The temple was the retirement villa of the shogun Ashikaga Yoshimitsu, and according to his will it became a Zen temple of the Rinzai sect after his death in 1408. Kinkakuji is an impressive structure built overlooking a large pond, and is the only building left of Yoshimitsu's former retirement complex.
Day 12 - Kyoto
Ginkakuji (Silver Pavilion) - A Zen temple along Kyoto's eastern mountains (Higashiyama). In 1482, shogun Ashikaga Yoshimasa built his retirement villa on the grounds of today's temple, modeling it after Kinkakuji (Golden Pavilion). Ginkakuji consists of the Silver Pavilion, half a dozen other temple buildings, a beautiful moss garden and a unique dry sand garden. It is enjoyed by walking along a circular route around its grounds, from which the gardens and buildings can be viewed.
The Philosopher's Path - A pleasant stone path through the northern part of Kyoto's Higashiyama district. The path follows a canal which is lined by hundreds of cherry trees. Usually in early April these trees explode with color, making this one of the city's most popular hanami (cherry blossom viewing) spots.
Nanzenji Temple - One of the most important Zen temples in all of Japan. It is the head temple of one of the schools within the Rinzai sect of Japanese Zen Buddhism and includes multiple subtemples that make the already large complex of temple buildings even larger. Nanzenji's central temple grounds are open to the public free of charge, but separate fees apply for entering temple buildings and subtemples. The Hojo, the former head priest's residence and Nanzenji's main hall. The Hojo is most famous for its rock garden whose rocks are said to resemble tigers and cubs crossing through water. Also highly regarded are the paintings on sliding doors (fusuma), which include a more realistic depiction of tigers on gold leaf.
Day 13 - Arashiyama
Bamboo Groves - The walking paths that cut through the bamboo groves make for a nice walk or bicycle ride. The groves are particularly attractive when there is a light wind and the tall bamboo stalks sway gently back and forth. The bamboo has been used to manufacture various products, such as baskets, cups, boxes and mats at local workshops for centuries.
Monkey Park Iwatayama - Located in the Arashiyama mountains, the entrance to the monkey park can be found just south of the Togetsukyo Bridge. After hiking uphill for about ten minutes, visitors will find an open area with over a hundred monkeys roaming freely. There are also nice views down onto the city.
Day 14 - Osaka
Osaka Aquarium - Osaka Aquarium Kaiyukan is located in the Tempozan Harbor Village of Osaka's bay area, and is one of Japan's most spectacular aquariums. It introduces various forms of life inhabiting the Pacific Rim in a well-organized and impressive way. Marine life is displayed in 15 tanks, each representing a specific region of the Pacific Rim. The central tank, representing the Pacific Ocean, is nine meters deep and home to a whale shark, the aquarium's main attraction.
Namba - Located around Namba Station, Minami (南, "South") is one of Osaka's two major city centers. It is the city's most famous entertainment district and offers abundant dining and shopping choices. The district is easily accessible as it is served by three train companies as well as three subway lines and a highway bus terminal. The other major city center is Kita (北, "North") which is located around Osaka and Umeda Stations.