Prepare a trip to Japan in 10 steps

Here are some steps I would follow in order to prepare a trip to Japan:

1.- Choose when
Japan is a country with country with a big difference between each season. If you come in August it will be terribly hot, if you come in winter it will be COLD. The best time to come is in spring or the begining of autumn. From the the 1st of March until the 25th of April, or between the 10th of May until the 1st of June are the best timeframes. The last week of April and the first of May are a really bad time to come here because it’s the Golden Week, when all Japanese have holidays and travel all around Japan. From the second week of June until the third of July is the rainy season, that’s not good neither. October and november are probably also a good time, but it is posible that a typhoon would spoil some days of your holiday time. If you don’t mind about hot or cold, February and August are two month when the probability of precitiations is really low. Conclusion: don’t come in the rainy season or during Japanese National Holidays (Golden Weeks and the end/beginning) of the year.

2.- Buy the ticket plane
Buy it at least two or three months before coming. The reason is because you also have to reserve the hotels that in Japan usually get full REALLY fast. The ticket plane from Europe is around 800 and 1.200 euros depending on the season, and from the USA between 1.300 and 2.000 dollars depending from which coast do you come from and also the season. From Europe I recommed using Alitalia, KLM, Air France or British Airways and from the USA I think United Airlines has always the cheapest flights to Tokyo. I recommend coming for 10 or 12 days.

3.- Think about the route
Once you have the ticket and you know exactly which days you are gonna be in Japan it’s time for fun, it’s the time to select which places do you want to visit. Here there are my suggestions depending on how many days do you have:

  • One week: with only one week I would divide the trip into Tokyo and Kyoto, staying 3 days in one city and 4 in the other one. The days in Tokyo I would visit Shinjuku, Shibuya, Harajuku, Asakusa, Roppongi and Odaiba. In Kyoto I would visit Ryoan-ji temple, the Golden Temple and the Kiyomizu-tera.
  • 10 or 12 days: I would add Nara as the third place to stay. There I would visit the Todaiji temple and all the mountains around having fun with the bambies. While staying in Tokyo I would also visit Nikko (One day trip from Tokyo), or I would even stay one day in a ryokan in Nikko. Being in Tokyo I would also go to Kamakura and Yokohama, both are one day trip days from Tokyo.
  • 15 days: the same as the previous one plus Hakone (One night stay from Tokyo) or I would go until Hiroshima and visit the city and also Miyajima. Going to Hiroshima I would stop by Okayama and visit the gardens. I Kyoto I would visit more temples and castles and I would go also to Osaka from Kyoto.
  • Twenty days: that’s a lot! I would go iría hasta Kyushu, Shikoku, Okinawa, Tohoku, Matsumoto, or Hokkaido. All of the are beautiful places far away from Tokyo, you need to spend at least half a day traveling to these destinations, it’s worth only if you are planning to stay two or three days i each of them

If you want to calculate travelling times I recommend this simple website where you input origin and destination and it will output the posible routes and timetables.

Japón
Modern Japan. Get Wallpaper version.

Japón
Traditional Japan.

4.- Reserve acommodation
Once you have decided how many days do you want to stay in each place, then it’s time to reserve acommodation. You should do this at least one or two months before he expected check-in dates if you want to be able to choose a nice place. There are many types of places to stay here in Japan but basically there are three main types: western hotel, ryokan (Traditional Japanese) and guesthouses. The cheapest option are guesthouses, but what I recommend is to try all types. Enjoying ofuro in a ryokan, meeting people at guesthouses, and having good views from western hotels in Tokyo should make the best combination.

  • Guesthoses: 3.000~8.000 yen per person/night.
  • Ryokan: 8.000~50.000 yen per person/night. One meal (Kaiseki) is usually included in the prices.
  • Hotel: 8.000~50.000 yen per person/night.
  • Adventurer options: love hotels(8.000~20.000 yen), capsule hotels(2.000~4.000 yen) or manga-kissa(1.000~5.000 yen).

In most of the cases you make all the arrangements through the Internet in English. One of the best ways should be to use this Japan National Turist Organization search engine where you can select which type of acommodation do you prefer and the area which is more convinient for you. Results will give you information about the place and a contact e-mail. Send e-mails written in simple english.

If you want to look through other sources, for ryokans I recommend Ryokan.or.jp and for guesthouses Japanese Guesthouses. For hotels in general Nikkanren and for Youth Hostels Japanese Youth Hostel association.

Check-in time is usually around 1~3PM and check-out time around 10-11AM.

Japón
This is me enjoying a traditional ofuro bath in a ryokan near Mount Fuji.

Japón
This is the most famous western style hotel in Japan, it is called Park Hyatt, and part of Lost in Translation was shoot there.

Japón
Con Fer-martin, Albert and Albert in a ryokan in Kyoto.

5.- Transport in Japan
Trains in Japan are amazing, you can go wherever with them. Although you don’t have to worry too much, because you will almost always have trains nearby it is good to know your destinations, the train lines you have to use and learn how to say it in Japanese. In order to know the lines, trains and timetables use this site. If you know Japanese you can even reserve your tickets using this site. Think that in Japan there are MANY train lines, and dozens of private railway companies, sometimes it can be a little bit confusing, that’s why is good to know beforehand, here you have some maps that will help you visualizing your route:

The best way to travel is to use JR (Japan Railways). The cheapest way is to buy a Japan Rail Pass, it’s a flat rate ticket that you to use with any JR train in Japan. You can ONLY buy Japan Rail Pass outside of Japan, buy it before coming! There is this website with information about different types of JR Pass, prices and how to buy it. And yes, it’s worth buying it. The only case I would not buy it it would be if I’m not planning to move from Tokyo or Osaka during my whole stay in Japan.

6.- Money
Without including transport, presents and hotels I would say between 3.000 and 5.000 yen per person, if you are not expensive. Eating lunch will cost you 600~1000 yen, but if you like good food or having a nice dinner then think about 3.000~7.000 yen. Temples and museum tickets are 300~1000 yen. Th
Sin contar alojamiento y trenes calculad entre 3.000 y 5.000 yenes por persona y día de gastos.

7.- Money exchange
You will get a better exchange rate than in your bank if you do it when arriving to Japan in the Narita airport. I usually use Xe.com to check exchange rates.

8.- Comunication
Latetly many European and US telephone companies are offering roaming in Japan, but not all, ask your provider beforehand . If you can’t roam in Japan the easiest solution would be to rent a mobile phone in the airport. There are many information offices juast after the customs control area.
In Tokyo there are many FON spots and you can also use free wifi stops with Freespot, they don’t have many but you can check exactly were are they available using this map.

9.- Japanese
Learn four words in Japanese ARIGATOU (THANKS), SUMIMASEN (EXCUSE ME), KONNICHIWA (HELLO), ONEGAI SHIMASU(PLEASE), these will be very useful to start a “conversation” and ask for an address pointing to a map or whatever.

10.- Read, learn and get inspiration
Read books about Japan, learn about Japanese culture, watch some Japanese movie, read some manga, read blogs about Japan, read some Japanese novel.. You can also go through some of the articles I wrote about particular places and travel in Japan.

Japón
Enjoy your travel! Japan is amazing!

30 Comments
  • Ekowc

    April 16, 2008 at 4:09 am

    Thanks! Interesthing article.
    I have found this http://www.mukiryoku.com/Tokyo_suburban.jpg very useful when planning trips in Tokyo.

  • kirai

    April 16, 2008 at 4:22 am

    wow, that’s a great map.

  • Dr GUID

    April 16, 2008 at 5:46 am

    Good article. I’d also add Kawasaki Dashi as a good side-trip from Tokyo. Also get the assistants at Narita to show you how to use a SUICA card, then you’ll be able to travel all over the place.

    Oh and Tokyo is massive – I spent a fortnight there and barely scratched the surface.

  • Sano

    April 16, 2008 at 7:07 am

    Wow! Thanks a lot! This is really useful information, especially the free wifi spots since roaming usually is very expensive.

    I’ll definitely look back on this article when it’s time for me to prepare my trip.

  • kirai

    April 16, 2008 at 8:48 am

    Dr GUID, yes, I’ve been in Tokyo more than 3 years and I’m still scratching 😉

  • sheerblade

    April 16, 2008 at 9:45 am

    Great guide kirai. Very well done.

  • Some Guy Who Isn't Advertising

    April 16, 2008 at 11:18 am

    This isn’t an ad in any way, but I live in Canada and booked my flight from Ottawa to Tokyo Narita through flyforless.ca (a site for a Canadian travel agency) for well under the estimated costs in this article. Always make sure to fly on a Monday or Tuesday to keep the costs down. I got mine for $600-700 CAD before taxes. If you’re in North America (Canada especially), always use this site – they tend to find better deals than the big name discount sites and always seem to be cheaper than Westjet too.

  • Jamaipanese

    April 16, 2008 at 1:26 pm

    omg this post is golden to people like me wanting to visit Japan. Thanks for the steps I am reading through now!…maybe even print it out.

  • Edward

    April 16, 2008 at 6:41 pm

    Great guide! I will be sure to pass it around to people who ask me about Japan.

  • kirai

    April 16, 2008 at 7:54 pm

    Some Guy Who Isn’t Advertising: that’s a really good trick. $600-700 CAD is cheap! Btw, I love your nickname 😉

  • idarmadi

    April 16, 2008 at 8:25 pm

    Kirai san,

    Arigatou for the article. 🙂

    I’ll buy you beer (or sake) when I got the chance to visit Japan.

  • joffaboy

    April 16, 2008 at 11:21 pm

    Absolutely wonderful article.

    I have been planning a trip to Japan for some time and hopefully visiting next April. Hopefully I will be visiting Honshu, Shikoku, and Kyushu,also visiting some smaller Islands off Nagasaki. Your information is invaluable and I will be recommending your blog to anyone wanting to vist Japan.

    Thanks for the blog, always of interest, especially for a mono-lingual Australian.

  • Ricky Tang

    April 17, 2008 at 9:29 am

    Thanks for your advice. Have been following your blog for quite some time now. This may come handy in the future!

  • chun

    April 17, 2008 at 9:49 am

    great advice! 😀 Japan IS amazing ^O^!

  • Rob

    April 17, 2008 at 9:58 am

    Great couple of recent posts, I’ve been following your blog for a few years now and never posted a comment.

    Bit of a sponge or leecher I guess. I guess I’m like most of the people viewing, interested in Japan and studying Japanese, unfortunately living in London… Love my yearly trips there though.

    Great blog, would like to know more about your story. How you got there, how did you go with jobs, etc??? I guess I need to trawl back through the early post, good start I guess.

    Thanks, Rob.

  • Paliodor

    April 17, 2008 at 10:39 am

    Thank you for this great article it will help me much when I will be preparing for the trip to Japan. And beautiful photos btw.

  • Timotei

    April 17, 2008 at 1:40 pm

    Awesome guide. Great advice, I thank you. ^^;

  • Shayne

    April 17, 2008 at 2:01 pm

    Thanks. I don’t plan on going to Japan until after college and I been searching for guides like these. One of the best guides that I found so far.

  • Sephiroth87

    April 17, 2008 at 2:54 pm

    No Akihabara?
    When I’ll finally manage to go to Japan, I’ll spend at least 3 day in there xD

  • Coco the Bean

    April 17, 2008 at 4:54 pm

    Thanks for all the great advice! I’ll keep this in mind if my family decides to take a trip to Japan in the near future.

  • Shippoyasha

    April 18, 2008 at 12:24 am

    Wow. Possibly the best Kirai article ever. Thanks a lot. I may actually use that tip.

  • James

    April 18, 2008 at 8:39 am

    Thanks for the tips! Great work here…

  • billywest

    April 21, 2008 at 8:13 am

    Very nice post. The only different advice I would give is, if money weren’t too much of an object, Kyushu should be squeezed into a 10-12 day trip, given that the shinkansen can get one there from the Kansai area in an afternoon’s time.

  • atlanta_pete

    April 22, 2008 at 9:27 pm

    wow – talk about timing…I am leaving for a 10 day visit to Japan in about three weeks and have been working for a year straight on planning, etc….and this is a GREAT overview that will help tremendously. I only hope I grabbed a decent hotel with me and my friends….we got a great deal on a cheap Tokyu-Stay in Shimbashi and figured if we can get hotel for around $90 usd a night, we can have more fun with the gadgets, eating, drinking, etc. We also plan to visit Karuizawa as well for a big automotive event. Thanks again!

  • Learn Japanese Faster

    December 3, 2008 at 11:55 am

    Very good article Kirai.
    Greetings.

  • Ranajay

    August 13, 2009 at 1:43 am

    Awesome guide bro! I’m going to Japan for 12 days in September :).

    Where was the last photograph taken btw?

  • haneen

    December 25, 2010 at 1:17 pm

    what about huis ten busch? I think it worths spending a day but don’t know about transportation & if it & Okinawa are reasonable for a trip of 12 days

  • joann sainz

    June 22, 2012 at 4:35 pm

    What a wonderful article! So short, yet so filled with important substance. Domo arigato! watashiwa anatano sukides! I am taking my grandson for a ten day trip to Tokyo, Kyoto and am trying to convince him to go on a hike up Mt. Fuji, though this probably will not be his first choice. He adores anime and has been practicing martial arts all his life. We both have studied shotokan, so he will be seeking a teacher in Tokyo and Kyoto. Please email me if you have written other articles. I am trying to watch some Japanese films. We have been to Thailand in summer so heat is not an issue. Watashiwas obasandes amerikakarakimashta! Sayonara!

  • […] Top 10 tips for preparing a trip to Japan (Part 2) – comprehensive advice from a seasoned expat […]

  • megan

    January 8, 2013 at 5:49 pm

    Very helpful, thank you!