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.
Modern Japan. Get Wallpaper version.
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.
This is me enjoying a traditional ofuro bath in a ryokan near Mount Fuji.
This is the most famous western style hotel in Japan, it is called Park Hyatt, and part of Lost in Translation was shoot there.
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:
- PDF with Shinkansen bullet train lines
- PDF with JR lines in Tokyo’s metropolitan area
- Metro Tokyo PDF
- This is my favorite one for Tokyo-Yokohama area (It has ALL lines from all companies)
- Osaka metro
- Kyoto map, with metro stations and popular sightseeing spots
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.
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.
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.
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.
Enjoy your travel! Japan is amazing!