I visited Japan in April 2015 for under 1500 dollars (USD). Here's my itinerary, which is a more free and easy style. Suitable for:
  • First-timers to Japan. 
  • Budget travellers that don't mind a healthy amount of walking and travelling by train and bus. 
  • Those who want to cover the must-visit and most popular places within a short time. 
  • Those who want to spend more time in one place rather than touch-and-go. 
  • Ideal for spring or cherry blossoms season. It works for other seasons as well, it's just that I didn't include places that are ideally visited during other seasons like autumn. 
If you're curious about costs, it's at the very end of this post in the Cost Breakdown section. Everything you need to know — accommodation, daily meals, JR pass, pocket wifi etc.



Day 1: Tokyo (Central & Northern)
Itinerary: Tsukiji → Ueno Park → Sensoji


Remarks:

  • Visit Tsukiji directly from Haneda airport (luggage can be stored in the lockers found in train station) and have breakfast there (Recommended Tsukiji restaurants: Daiwa, Okame, Zanmai). 
  • Check in to guest house in Arakawa before visiting Ueno Park and Sensoji.
Accommodation: Airbnb guesthouse in Arakawa

Special costs: RM86 (transportation), RM120 (Tsukiji breakfast)

What I would have done differently:
  • Take a walk around Ginza after having breakfast at Tsukiji.
  • Instead of ending the trip at Sensoji, walk to the nearby Sumida Park and board the Tokyo Water Bus to Odaiba. That's where you can see the giant Gundam statue and visit some pretty cool malls.


Day 2: Tokyo (Outlying Areas & Western)
Itinerary: Ghibli Museum → Owl Cafe → Shinjuku → Shibuya


Remarks: 
  • There are several owl cafes If you're planning to go to the Ghibli Museum, best get your tickets at least a month before. Otherwise, your chances of getting your hands on the tickets are close to none. The cheapest way to get them is from a Lawson store in Japan (so if you have any friends there, you can get them to help) but the most foolproof way is to get them through a reseller like Govoyagin. 
  • There are several owl cafes in Tokyo itself. I went to one that was close to Ghibli Museum but you can always choose another that's convenient for you. 
  • If you're a sneakerhead, atmos in Shinjuku and Shibuya is a must-visit.
Accommodation: Airbnb guesthouse in Arakawa

Special costs: RM60 (transportation), RM170 (Ghibli tickets from Govoyagin), RM60 (Owl Cafe + a meal there)

What I would have done differently: 
  • Nothing, but that's because I'm a Ghibli fan and I also happen to like owls. If you aren't interested in the first two places, you can use this day for one of the suggested places or side trips below:
    • Disney Sea
    • Akihabara, Imperial Palace, Ginza (if not visited on Day 1)
    • Kamakura (has to be a one-day trip due to the travel time)
    • Fuji Five Lakes (also a one-day trip, you can see Fuji from here)
  • Oh and probably to visit Shibuya before Shinjuku just so you can watch the crossing at a busier hour (the golden hour).



Day 3: Tokyo (Western)
Itinerary: Meiji Shrine → Shibuya


Remarks: 
  • Wear comfy shoes to Meiji Shrine, you'll be walking on pea gravels for a while before actually reaching it. 
  • I didn't do much today because I was dealing with the JR Pass issue, but you can always use one of the suggested trips from Day 2 or the ones below.
Accommodation: Airbnb guesthouse in Arakawa

Special costs: RM36 (transportation)

What I would have done differently: 
  • Visit Shinjuku Gyoen in the morning. It's especially beautiful and a must-visit in spring. Bring a mat and some food for hanami, you'll love it! 
  • Before or after visiting Meiji Jingu, spend some time exploring Harajuku. Takeshita Dori is a fun street — try the Marion Crepe and take some purikuras. For more high-end and luxurious shopping, try Omotesando. 
  • If you want don't want to visit Shibuya two days in a row, consider visiting the Tokyo Tower. If you are a One Piece fan, it might be better known as One Piece Tower. ヾ(o✪‿✪o)シ



Day 4 - Kyoto (Eastern)
Itinerary: Shinkansen ride → Philosopher's Path → Gion


Remarks: 
  • Take the Shinkansen aka bullet train in the morning from Tokyo to Kyoto. If you want a chance of seeing Mount Fuji, sit on the right side. It's better to book your tickets in advance, just make sure to tell the ticket counter to book you the mountain-side. If weather permits, you'll see Mount Fuji 50 minutes into the ride.
  • It's easier to travel around Kyoto by bus instead of train. Consider getting a day pass that allows unlimited bus rides.
  • Entrance fees for temples and shrines are more expensive compared to Tokyo — the average being 500–600 yen (RM20–25) each. 
  • I started with Philosopher's Path because it's 2 minutes walk away from where I stayed. Usually, it is best visited with the other temples and shrines in Eastern Kyoto.
  • If you're interested in performing arts, try the Geiko and Maiko (or better referred to as Geisha) performances catered for tourists. If you were to hire one for real, it will cost you a fortune (at least RM2000 for an hour or so, excluding dinner). If you're in Kyoto during spring, attend a Miyako Odori performance.
Accommodation: Airbnb women shared room, Northern Higashiyama

Special costs: RM515 (Shinkansen), RM20 (bus pass)

What I would have done differently: 
  • I took it easy my first day here in Kyoto and spent more time just wandering around. If you prefer to really fit more places into this day, I recommend the following places in Eastern Kyoto:
    • Ginkakuji, Philosopher's Path, Nanzenji, Keage Incline, Maruyama Park, Kiyomizudera



Day 5 - Kyoto
Itinerary: Ryoanji → KinkakujiArashiyama


Remarks: 
  • Ryoanji is famous for its dry zen garden but what I personally appreciate more are the other gardens in the grounds. 
  • Kinkakuji is the place to be for shutterbugs, not so much those who want immersive experiences.
  • When in Arashiyama, the bamboo groves or bamboo forest is a must-visit. The Monkey Park is not for those who can't take a light hike. 
Accommodation: Airbnb women shared room, Northern Higashiyama

Special costs: RM20 (bus pass), RM75 (entrance fees)

What I would have done differently: 
  • Visit Arashiyama early in the morning. Nothing beats a still morning among the bamboo trees and of course you want that signature bamboo grove photo without random tourists in it. 
  • If you're willing to walk more and stray away from the commercialised areas, you can discover the hidden gems of Arashiyama — Saga-Toriimoto Preserved Street, Gioji and Otagi Nenbutsuji Temple.
  • Keep Ryoanji for last, about an hour before it closes. It should be less crowded by then and you'll be able to really appreciate the gardens.



Day 6 - Kyoto (Southern & Central)
Itinerary: Kyoto Station's Ramen Street → Fushimi Inari Taisha → Nishiki Market


Remarks: The full hike at Fushimi Inari Taisha can take about 2–3 hours but you can choose to just turn back at any point. If you managed to make it to the peak, you'll be rewarded with a view of Kyoto. Generally, the night activities in Kyoto are limited but Fushimi Inari Taisha actually opens all day all night — night visit anyone?

Accommodation: Airbnb women shared room, Northern Higashiyama

Special costs: RM20 (bus pass), RM11 (transportation)

What I would have done differently: Visit more of central Kyoto. Besides Nishiki Market, the Nijo Castle is also worthy of visit. It is open for night time sakura viewing in spring and if you're dressed in your yukata or kimono for it, you get in free!



Day 7 - Osaka
Itinerary: Shinkansen ride → Pokemon centre → Mint Bureau night sakura viewing


Remarks: 
  • In spring, I highly recommend going for the night time sakura viewing at Mint Bureau and eat at the neighbouring night market after.
  • You can probably fit more stuff into the itinerary, see below for suggestions.
Accommodation: Airbnb shared room in Namba

Cost: RM122 (Shinkansen), RM11 (transportation)

What I would have done differently:
  • After arriving at Osaka Station or after shopping at Pokemon Centre, visit the neighbouring Grand Front Osaka. When in Grand Front Osaka, visit the Knowledge Capital for cool stuff and the Coca-Cola lab for exclusive collectibles.
  • Visit Umeda Sky Building in the evening and watch the city come alive from the roof. Just remember that Mint Bureau closes at 9PM and last entry is 8.30PM.



Day 8 - Osaka (Kaiyukan)
Itinerary: Osaka Aquarium Kaiyukan → Joypolis → Umeda Sky Building


Remarks: 

  • If you plan to visit Kaiyukan, get the Osaka Kaiyu pass which includes entry to Kaiyukan and train/bus rides in the city. Best to get it a day before at train/subway stations. Note that it's not sold at Kaiyukan itself.
  • Even though Joypolis is branded as an "amusement park", it is more like an oversized arcade. Unless you're crazy about claw (aka UFO) machines, give this place a pass.
  • Since I recommended to visit Umeda Sky Building on Day 7 (because it makes more sense convenience-wise), see below for the recommended replacement.

Accommodation: Airbnb shared room in Namba

Cost: RM103 (Kaiyu pass)

What I would have done differently: Visit Shinsekai after Kaiyukan. If you're an onsen person and want to experience Spa World there, allocate at least 3–4 hours for it.



Day 9 - Osaka (USJ)
Itinerary: Universal Studios Japan


Remarks: Need I say more? This is another must-visit. Besides the usual Universal rides, it is also home to The Wizarding World of Harry Potter and Japan-exclusive attractions which are updated seasonally (Attack on Titan, Monster Hunter etc.). Read this entry for USJ tips if you haven't!

Accommodation: Airbnb shared room in Namba

Cost: RM280 (USJ one-day pass), RM190 (Universal Cool Japan Express Pass 4), RM30 (transportation)

What I would have done differently: I wouldn't have it any other way but if you're not keen on visiting USJ (WHY??!?), consider taking a side trip to Nara or Kobe.



Day 10 - Osaka
Itinerary: Osaka Castle → Nipponbashi (Den Den Town) → Dotonbori


Remarks: Try to arrive at Dotonbori in the evening. See how the street looks under the sunlight and decide on what to have for dinner (it's difficult). Come back to the street after dinner to see it alive.

Accommodation: Airbnb shared room in Namba

Cost: RM32 (transportation)

What I would have done differently: Save more stomach space for Dotonbori food.



Costs & Breakdown

TOTAL SPENT: RM5913

This amount is inclusive of:

Flight - RM1000
Got my tickets from AirAsia X. You'll usually get a good deal if you book at least 3 months before. If you want to save more money and forgo the flatbed, I understand —  I'm the same. But at least try to get yourself a seat in the Quiet Zone — I promise you it's worth it. Not convinced? Just imagine sitting near a tantrum-throwing baby for 8 hours.

Accommodation (10 nights) = RM1320
Tokyo: RM120 * 3 nights = RM360
Kyoto: RM160 * 3 nights = RM480
Osaka: RM120 * 4 nights = RM480

Meals (10 days) - RM1220
How much is a meal in Japan? How much will I be spending on food and drinks daily? 
Average cost of a meal is about 1000 yen and that's what I usually spend for lunch and dinner. But of course, there will be snacks and drinks in between so I'll throw in another 1000 yen for that.
1000 yen (lunch) + 1000 yen (dinner) + 1000 yen (snacks) = 3000 yen a day (RM122)
3000 yen * 10 days = 30000 yen (RM 1220)

Pocket wifi (10 days) - RM237 
21 Mbps pocket wifi from Global Advanced Comm for 10 days @ 5850 yen (RM237). That's less than 600 yen (RM25) per day. I'm a cheapo and went for the slowest model but you can always go for a faster one, up to 187.5 Mbps. Please rent an external charger or power bank as well if you don't have one already. It's only 150 yen (RM6) a day.

JR pass (7 days) - RM1030
Price changes with exchange rate. I purchased mine in person from Japan Travel Bureau (JTB) in KL. Read this entry if you need to know more about JR pass. I used my JR pass from Day 1 to Day 7. To make the most out of your pass, make sure it's activated just right to cover your long distance trips. If you're not travelling long distance, a JR pass might not be worth it.

Tokyo Metro subway 72-hour Ticket - RM61
I got the subway pass in addition to the JR pass because subway rides are not covered by JR pass and sometimes the subway can be more convenient. Subway pass is available in the form of 24-hour Ticket, 48-hour Ticket and 72-hour Ticket. You can get them at the tourist information centre (including the one at the airport). I recommend to forgo this if you already have the JR pass. Try to take more rides that are covered by JR pass and just pay the difference if you really have to travel by subway.

Kyoto City All-day Pass (3 days) - RM60
This is worth it because Kyoto is best travelled by bus and this gives you unlimited rides, rather than paying RM9.30 each time you ride (regardless of distance). You can get it from a tourist information centre or just ask from the bus conductor when you get on.

Transportation not covered by passes - RM62

Special costs - RM923
This excludes transportation because I just sorted them out above. They're mostly special meals and entry passes to attractions.


Shopping, of course, is not included in the calculation because that's entirely up to you! I personally spent most on Studio Ghibli and Universal Studios stuff.

Note: Remember that these numbers may be inaccurate and I might have left some things out. This was 2 years ago after all! It's only meant to serve as a rough guide.




ALL JAPAN 2015 POSTS:
Day 0.5 - Getting There. And Tsukiji.
Day 1 - Ueno Park. “Hana Yori Dango”.
Day 1 - Sensoji. And an Adventure at Night.
Day 2 - All Things Ghibli (Museum).
What to do when you lose your JR Pass.
[SHORTS]: My First Airbnb Experience.
Day 4 - Hello Kyoto! (Intro).
Day 4 - Eastern and Downtown Kyoto.
Day 5 - Ryoanji and Kinkakuji.
Day 5 - Arashiyama and HORSE SASHIMI?
Day 6 - Fushimi Inari-taisha and Nishiki Market.
Day 7 - Gotta Catch 'Em All in Osaka (Pokemon Center) and Mint Bureau's Nighttime Sakuras.
Day 8 - Osaka Aquarium Kaiyukan.
Day 9 - Universal Studios Japan.
Day 10 - Osaka Castle, Den Den Town, Dotonbori.
Day 11 - 10 Days Japan Itinerary (Tokyo, Kyoto and Osaka).

Today we're going to visit the must-see places in Osaka. If you only have a couple of days in Osaka, these are the places to check off the list. 



April 16th, 10.30AM - Osaka Castle (大阪城, Ōsakajō), Osaka.
Getting to Osaka Castle is a walk in the park, both figuratively and literally. You'll need to walk through a park surrounding the castle before actually reaching the castle grounds. 

The castle moat. That building there is one of the many turrets in the area.

The stone walls are more than 20 metres tall and consist of 500,000 to 1,000,000 stones.

The castle and its surrounding structures have gone through several wars since the initial construction in 1583 but look what fine condition they are in today — thanks to their original sturdiness and restoration works here and there.


Entrance to the grounds is free and you can just sit around to enjoy the view. While you're at it, you'll most likely see some locals walking their dogs, kids on school trips and tourist groups.

The main castle tower is a sight to behold.

You can choose to go inside at a fee of ¥600 (MYR 24). Be warned though, the interior has been renovated into a modern castle museum — even comes complete with elevators and stuff. The top floor is an observation deck where you can get a panoramic view of the castle park with city landscape in the background.

I chose to stay outside because museums just aren't really my thing.

Another area where you'll need to pay to access is the Nishinomaru Garden (¥200–¥350). It's a popular hanami spot thanks to its many cherry trees. I didn't go there too because... I guess I was just feeling lazy and cheap that morning. (★ ̄∀ ̄★)

There's also a plum grove (Ume Grove) in the castle grounds which you can access for free. Plum trees blossom in February and marks the coming of spring. Spring and sakura season feels overcrowded for you? Try the plum season, it's cheaper too!

Also located in the castle grounds is the Hokoku Shrine (豊國神社, Hōkoku-jinja). It is dedicated to Toyotomi Hideyoshi — the one that had the Osaka Castle built.



Lunch time came and I continued my search for the best soba in Japan. Nothing beats the one that I had in Kyoto so far.



 April 16th, 1PM - Nipponbashi (日本橋) Den Den Town, Osaka.

"Akiba in the East, 'Ponbashi in the West"

Nipponbashi — or more specifically Den Den Town — is often referred to as the "Akihabara of West Japan". It is home to the biggest Super Potato store, Gundam's, Mandarake, Animate, Joshin, Sofmap, maid cafes, cosplay cafes, hobby shops etc. Well, what do you know, just like Akihabara. 

Some say it's better and more practical than the popular Akihabara. It has fewer shops compared to Akihabara but whatever you can find in Akihabara, you can find it here too. The shops are laid out in a straightforward manner, making navigation a breeze. 


It is also less crowded and has a surprisingly small amount of tourists.

Doesn't matter which kind of geek you are, you're bound to find your own stairway to heaven here.

A favourite find of mine, Super Potato retro game shop. You know you're in the right place when you see a gigantic Super Mario figurine outside and hear 8-bit music coming from inside. 

These older generation consoles are treasures to some. What's your favourite game or console from the past?

8-bit in all its glory. 

So after hours of fangirl-ing and shopping, it's time to visit another place — the famous Dotonbori of Osaka.

The best way to get from Nipponbashi to Dotonbori is by walking through Sennichimae. Most of the streets are covered and you'll pass by lots of shops and restaurants along the way.

Also, pachinko parlours. I've never tried playing it myself but it doesn't interest me much — super loud and everyone inside is glued to their own pinball-like slot machine.

Don't be afraid to walk through the back alleys and stuff. 



 April 16th, 5PM - Dotonbori Street, Namba, Osaka.
At the end of the Sennichimae walk, you'll emerge from the covered streets and find yourself greeted by this view:

Yes, you're finally here at Dotonbori Street

Just to make sure, turn around. Whoa, see that giant dragon? Yup, you're definitely at Dotonbori.

Osaka is known as the "kitchen of Japan" or the "nation's kitchen" (天下の台所 Tenka no Daidokoro) and it must be because of all the good food here at Dotonburi. I kid, it's because Osaka used to be a merchant city and was the centre for rice trade in the past. But it's also true that there are good food at Dotonburi — lots of them!

Besides food, Dotonbori is also famous for the outrageous sign boards or signages found here. This place really takes it to the next level. Majority of the shops on this street have over-the-top signages and mascots. Some are gigantic, some creative use of 3D, some light up brighter than the rest, some are even mechanised! It's like every single shop here is fighting for attention and trying to outdo each other.


Many would say that night time is the best time to be here. In my opinion though, it's best to come here in the evening, right before the sun sets. That way, you can see the shops crystal clear in the day and all lit up at night.

Blow fish or puffer fish lantern! There are a couple on the street but the original one came from Zuboraya. And like good lanterns, they light up at night.

This is Kuidaore Taro or the Kuidaore Ningyo, the mechanical drum-playing clown. Besides the hands, the head moves too!

This Kani Doraku crab — not to be confused with the one you saw earlier though they're both the same restaurant — is six and a half metre long! The arms and eyestalks move.

I like this Takoyaki one. Look at those monstrous eyes!

Dotonbori-gawa Canal and the buildings that line it. Here's where the magic happens at night. 

Do you spot the iconic sign board of Dontonbori?

It's the Glico Man sign! It has been there since 1935 and has obviously undergone several cosmetic and tech improvements since. In this photo, the sign hasn't light up yet.

So, let's have a soft serve while we wait!

And imitate the Glico Man while we're at it — it's a tourist must-do after all. Ψ(`∀`)Ψ

The place is slowly starting to come alive.

Instead of just waiting, we can have dinner while waiting! Oooooh just thinking about having dinner at Dotonbori is already exciting. So many restaurants, so little space in the stomach!

Puffer fishes (Takifugu rubripes) ready to be made into fugu dishes. If you try to cook this fish yourself, you'll most likely die because the fish is more poisonous than cyanide. Fugu chefs have to undergo many years of training and pass a test (70% usually fail) in order to prepare the dish for consumption. 

Don't worry too much though, farm-raised puffer fishes are on the rise thanks to the increasing demand for fugu dishes. The farm-raised ones are usually toxin-free and safe for consumption. Still going to cost you a lot though.

I went on and on about fugu but that wasn't what I had for dinner. I walked around having a tough time deciding where to dine at but I finally ended up here:

(pic source)
Sex Machine (Sekkusumashin). It's a yakiniku joint + bar, not whatever you think it was. Expect lots of beef, parts (horumon), DIY BBQ and beer. 

These are ox tongue slices. I tried to confirm this dish by Googling "sex machine tongue". Worst mistake of my life.

Onto the grill they go!

The "Deluxe Machine Set" — a platter of their recommended cuts.

Japanese Black Wagyu.

An average meal here costs about ¥5000 (MYR 200) which is a steal because these are beautiful beef slices we're talking about.

It's time to pay Glico Man another visit.

Neon (actually LED) lights galore. Same place but looks so different now doesn't it?

Glico Man finally completes the picture.

Everything looks livelier.

Now you see why this is the place to be in Osaka?

And... This concludes the last night of my Japan 2015 trip. 

Good job guys, we did it! I know it has been painfully slow, so thanks for sticking around. The next post will bid Japan 2015 goodbye and yes there will be an itinerary round up. Till then!



ALL JAPAN 2015 POSTS:
Day 0.5 - Getting There. And Tsukiji.
Day 1 - Ueno Park. “Hana Yori Dango”.
Day 1 - Sensoji. And an Adventure at Night.
Day 2 - All Things Ghibli (Museum).
What to do when you lose your JR Pass.
[SHORTS]: My First Airbnb Experience.
Day 4 - Hello Kyoto! (Intro).
Day 4 - Eastern and Downtown Kyoto.
Day 5 - Ryoanji and Kinkakuji.
Day 5 - Arashiyama and HORSE SASHIMI?
Day 6 - Fushimi Inari-taisha and Nishiki Market.
Day 7 - Gotta Catch 'Em All in Osaka (Pokemon Center) and Mint Bureau's Nighttime Sakuras.
Day 8 - Osaka Aquarium Kaiyukan.
Day 9 - Universal Studios Japan.
Day 10 - Osaka Castle, Den Den Town, Dotonbori.
Day 11 - 10 Days Japan Itinerary (Tokyo, Kyoto and Osaka).