Visiting Japan in 14 days during Autumn foliage

A proposal for your travel itinerary during 14 days during Autumn foliage in Japan. Intrarail Japan experience for 14 days for first time Japan travelers.

Japan will always be one of my favourite destinations, especially during Autumn when its beauty is enhanced.
The contrast between the ancient and modern, the breathtaking gardens and architecture, zen moments are features which make Japan an unforgettable destination and a must in your Bucket List. I visited it in the Autumn which is simply a Wonderland: can you image beautiful gardens and temples with the Autumn foliage and night illumination shows and on top of that, cute Christmas decorations? This is Japan in late November – make sure you go before the beginning of December, because the garden illumination shows only last from mid-November until the beginning of December. Kodai-Ji Garden Illumination in Kyoto will always be kept in my memory, because the moment the lights are turned on you are taken back to your childhood and are visiting the Fantasy World (check photo above).

How long and how should I travel in Japan?

The longer the better! I would say for a first time Japan traveler, a minimum of 14 days is needed if you wish to explore beyond Tokyo and Kyoto. I will share with you with my 14-day travel itinerary , which was based on my Lonely Planet travel guide and I have adapted it to my needs.

In order to experience travelling by Shinkansen, you definitely should buy the Japan Rail Pass. You can read more about it here. Since it is one of our affiliate partners, you can buy it directly here without additional fees.

14-day Japan Intrarail itinerary:

describe itinerary

14-day Japan itinerary

For a more complete guide on Tokyo, visit my post.

For the series of posts on Japan go to my Instagram

Is there any memorable experience to recommend?

Kimono rental. I did in Himeji, but you can do it at any kimono store in Japan.

As you know, kimonos are a traditional piece of clothing in Japan which can be used on a daily outfit or for special occasions.

Prices vary according to the material they are made of and their purpose. If you want to have the experience of a photo shooting with kimono or even having a tea ceremony with it, you can rent one for a whole day at any kimono store. Average price for the whole day is €50.

Take a look at my video, so that you can see the steps needed when putting on a kimono:

Did you also know Japan is an awesome destination for foodies?

I was amazed by their gastronomical variety – every region has its specialty ranging from sushi, to okonomiyaki (Japanese pancake style) – the best ones for me are the Hiroshima ones with noodles on the top, juicy Kobe beef, udon noodles and oysters in Miyajima.
I will share with you below some of my  secret foodie spots in Tokyo and Kobe for you to enjoy superb meals.

What is so impressive about the Autumn foliage in Japan?

I am very fond of hot and intense Autumn colours, such as red, orange and yellow. As you know, Japanese gardens are something particularly unique and when the landscape around me has these colours, I think it gives a particular magic. Furthermore, the night illumination shows I mentioned before are just out of this world. So far I have never seen anything similar to it -it only lasts a couple of minutes, during which the gardens are illuminated at night and you feel you are in Wonderland and in a world of magic.

Japanese garden during Autumn in Tokyo

Autumn foliage in Himeji

The Fancy Explorer in Kyoto

Kinkaju Temple in Kyoto

The most distant place I visited in Japan – Miyajima island

How is communication in Japan?

I was extremely well-impressed at how well and relatively easy it was to communicate in English in Japan. The metro can sometimes be challenging, but in Japan all directions are so well explained and in major metro stops, even the most direct exit to visit a particular sight is indicated, so do not be afraid, you will never get lost! Even when the command of English was not that great, people are kind and will always make an effort with their own means to help you. When it comes to restaurants, some may not be totally English-speaking but there would always be an English menu which you could order without troubles.

A very particular feature I admire in Japan: Smartphones are for free! You heard that right – at least in the accommodations I stayed at throughout Japan (from 3 to 5 stars), a free smartphone was always available. It contains Google Maps and you can even make some free international calls to a limited number of countries.  Hence, you will never get lost in Japan!

How does sushi taste like in Japan?

You may laugh at the question, but that was of the very first questions everyone asked me when I arrived back home. There is nothing like eating sushi in Japan. Sitting at one of the many restaurants close to the fish market (Tsukiji) in Tokyo is quite an experience – until today I have never eaten such an amazing tuna (maguro) like in Japan. Actually sushi is like an appetizer in Japan: when you have a fancy meal at a restaurant (Kaiseki), sashimi and sushi are served as appetizers with the catch of day. Afterwards follows the real meal – one of my favourites were Kobe beef, Rice with salmon eggs and Alfonsino. Did you know nigiris are eaten with the hand? Becoming a sushiman is an art and craft which requires a lot of skills and years of practice – I could see how precise and detailed the cuts were, the combination of amazing pre-studied flavours with the fish, as well as creativity to produce new balanced gastronomic combinations. It is pure joy to observe it, so book a meal at a Kaiseki (haute cuisine) restaurant in Japan to have this gastronomic pleasure! At this kind of restaurants, the chef is right in front of you listening to any food intolerances you have and preparing with the the love and precision a superb meal deserves. I know it must have hurted a Japanese heart to listen that the Fancy Explorer does not like wasabi, but I was still extremely well-received with a smile and enjoyed some of the very best meals in my life!

Japan Foodie Heaven

As you know, I am a 100% foodie and in Japan I felt in heaven. It did not matter if it was a fancy kaiseki menu, izakaya (pub) or even okonomiyaki from a street restaurant, the food is simply amazing. Japanese food is a combination of exotic and unique flavours which you will at first strange and then love it. Believe me – I never thought a dessert with beans could work, but it is actually one of the best treats I tried. Not to mention the 1000 varieties matcha tea is used for – from drinks to dessert. One tip – enjoy a tour to a Japanese supermarket, you will find the most unusual and amazing sort of things which you will find nowhere else in this world, for example Matcha-flavoured Kit Kat chocolate!
I traveled from Tokyo to Miyajima and the list of my favourite food stops is quite long, so I will share with you some meals of a lifetime I had.  Note: When travelling the Shinkansen, buy the very famous Bento Box (lunch boxes for train rides) available at the stores of any train station in Japan. Some are so exquisite, extremely well-prepared and with an unbelievable set of combinations. My favourite store was Ekiben at Tokyo Main train station (Marunouchi).

Fruit in Japan

One important thing to note: Fruit is extremely pricey in Japan, as everything is imported. There it is considered a luxury product. The normal kg prices in Europe correspond to a unit price in Japan – really €0,90 cent for 1 banana and so on.

Bento Box from Ekiben at Tokyo Main train station

Oysters are Miyajima’s specialities

The best okonomiyakis (Japanese pancake) I have eaten were in Osaka

Best restaurants in Japan:

Tokyo – Ginza Maru

Having a memorable meal at a kaiseki restaurant (traditional Japanese meal composed of several courses with several finesse techniques and skills – haute cuisine) at a relatively reasonable price (around €50/pax) can seem a daunting challenge. Right in the middle of Ginza after googling on Michelin guide restaurants and a friend recommendation, I came across Ginza Maru. It is a small restaurant, so reservation is quite advisable, the staff is very attentive, speak relatively good English and the chef is very friendly and will give you a detailed explanation of all the dishes which consist on the menu.

My menu was the following:

  • Set of Sashimi and sushi of the catch of the day – (I liked tuna, salmon and sea urchin)
  • Rice with salmon eggs
  • Grilled Alfonsino with vegetables
  • Green tea matcha dessert

Kobe – Kobe Grill Kobo

Unfortunately it seems it has closed, but I had for sure the most amazing Kobe beef in my life. You have surely heard of Kobe beef and is a delicacy all over the world. However, did you know Kobe beef has different grades, depending on the quality it is served? Make sure when in Japan you eat A5 category, as it is the purest, the most tender and the most tasteful one.

At Kobe Grill Kobo I opted for a Kaiseki menu and consisted of:

  • Mackerel vegetable salad
  • A5 Kobe beef with grilled vegetables
  • Sweet potato cake, macarron and orange sorbet

Kobe beef at Kobe Grill Kobo

Sweet potato cake, macaron and orange sorbet at Kobe Grill Kobo

Presentation was just beautiful and the service remarkable (though we arrived late for lunch, were always received with a smile and could enjoy this fantastic meal).

Kyubey Tokyo – Life time sushi

Kyubey is one of the best sushi restaurants not only in Tokyo, but also in the whole world. I mean seriously!! There is one restaurant in Ginza district, however I went to the one located on the beautiful 5* hotel New Otani Tokyo the Main (the most beautiful gardens ever).
Expect to pay around €140-150, but I promise you will not regret, as it will be the sushi meal of your life. As usual, I had the kaiseki menu and had an incredible gastronomic experience:

  • Radish apple vegetable salad
  • Salmon eggs
  • Sashimi and sushi catch of the day: Something I will never forget –  one of the nigiris included the one with shrimp. The chef shows me and asks if I wanted nigiri from raw or grilled shrimps. I opted for grilled  ones and it was the best nigiri in my whole life, so incredibly fresh and a pure pleasure!
  • Grilled mackerel
  • Dessert with green tea

Grilled mackerel at Kyubey Tokyo

Sushi catch of the day at Kyubey Tokyo

Sashimi catch of the day at Kyubey Tokyo

Salmon eggs at Kyubey Tokyo

Raddish apple vegetable salad at Kyubey Tokyo

This was my last meal in Japan and since I mentioned already the hotel I stayed at, let me tell you that in terms of rooms, I did not find fantastic compared to other five star hotels I had the privilege to stay at. But the gardens are something extraordinary and it has so many diverse restaurant and breakfast options, staff is extremely friendly and for me a highlight was the panoramic bar on the last floor with a view over Tokyo!

I hope you write these foodie tips down and let me know what you think of them!

November is coming, so why not book a flight and appreciate the awesome Autumn foliage in Japan?