Traveling to a brand new country can be exciting but scary at the same time. The thrilling feeling of finally crossing a destination off of your bucket list mixed with not knowing how to prepare for it.
If Japan is a place you’ll be traveling to soon, we’re so excited for you!
There is so much to see and do in Japan. The cities have a nice balance between modern technologies and timeless culture. Explore out and you’ll find plenty of off the beaten paths to natural destinations with beautiful landscapes.
We prepared this guide for the first-timers and those who don’t have much experience traveling to an Asian country. We’ll walk you through the different processes you need from choosing the best time for your trip, all the way to finally packing your bags for departure.
This post is packed with lots of information so be sure to pin it to reference later!
1. Choosing the Best Time to Go
The first step to planning any trip is to decide when to go.
This may depend mostly on your availability but other factors like ticket prices and seasons have an effect as well. Like most other countries, Japan has a tourism peak season and off-peak season as well. This not only affects the air ticket prices, but also how crowded it gets in Japan.
When is Peak Travel Season in Japan?
Japan’s peak travel season is during the seasons of spring and autumn, around March, April, October, and November. In particular, many people visit Japan during these seasons to view the sakura flowers and the fall foliage. The weather is also much nicer in these seasons compared to winter and summer.
In addition to the seasons, travel peaks in Japan during major holidays in Japan. These holidays include New Years, Golden Week(early may), Obon(mid August), and some three day weekends. During these holidays, a lot of travel happens domestically, so lots of flight and hotel prices tend to go up.
Prices and number of people may increase during the peak seasons, but there are pros to visiting during these popular times. There are seasonal events that occur throughout Japan, like the Obon festival and the summer fireworks festivals. Sakura and fall foliage seasons are incredibly popular too as the country becomes covered in different colors.
Japan During the Off-Peak Season
Off-peak travel season in Japan is any dates in between the popular seasons. This is mostly during the months of winter and summer, when the weather is not as pleasant.
The advantages of traveling during the off season are that the air fare and hotels will be cheaper and there will be less people at the destinations. Big cities like Tokyo and Osaka tend to get very crowded during peak seasons and this can lead to bad travel experiences for some, so off season might be a better time to travel for some people.
How Many Days Should I Spend in Japan?
Let’s be honest. No amount of days is actually enough to see all of Japan. However, when traveling, most people choose anywhere between 5 to 14 days to spend in Japan.
In our opinion, 1 week is just enough to get a sample for different parts of Japan and 2 weeks is a good amount of time for a much deeper Japan experience. This way, you can spend 2-4 days in the city and make smaller trips out to smaller off the beaten path destinations.
If it’s your first time in Japan, we recommend going for 2 weeks or more, but if that’s not possible, spending 7 days to get a taste of several different places in Japan may also be a great choice.
When to Book Your Flight?
We recommend booking your flight 2 to 3 months in advance. If you decide to travel during the peak seasons/dates mentioned above, we recommend securing your tickets up to 6 months in advance. You may be able to find fair prices despite the peak season!
When booking international flights, it’s a general rule of thumb to book around 2-3 months prior. However, depending on the season and the destination, the best time to buy your tickets may vary.
2. Plan out your Itinerary
Congrats! You just booked your tickets to Japan! Now it’s time to plan out your itinerary and decide which areas you want to explore.
Tokyo and Kyoto are two of the most popular destinations in Japan. Kanazawa, Kusatsu, and Okinawa are some of our personal recommendations.
How many days to spend in each location may depend on many different factors. In general, we recommend spending around 2 to 4 days per location for a 7-day trip and 4 to 5 days for a 14-day trip.
3. Booking Your Hotel/Accommodation
Once you decide on your general itinerary, we recommend looking for and confirming your accommodation ahead of time.
For most places, it’s safe to book your accommodation at least a month ahead, but if you’re traveling during peak season or decide to stay at a popular hotel, bookings can run out up to 2 months in advance. Even accommodations in convenient locations such as city centers and near stations run out of rooms quiet early on.
A personal and honest statement, we tend to use Booking.com when we can, because it allows you to make reservations for a room, which we can cancel anytime, before booking it. This is extremely useful for when you’re trying to decide between multiple accommodations.
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4. Prepare For the Trip
You have your flight booked and your hotel reserved. Now it’s time to prepare the smaller details for the trip.
Confirm Your Visa
This is one of the first things you should do after booking your flight and hotel.
For most people reading this, they can receive a tourist visa for Japan upon arrival, but for some, they may need to fill out some prior paperwork.
In this website, you can see under which category your passport falls under. The application needs to be filled out after your flight and accommodation is confirmed, but it’s better to check if you require a visa before deciding on your destination.
Check Transportation Methods
You’ve decided which areas you want to go to in Japan. Now it’s time to find out how to get there. For most places in Japan, you can get there either by bus or the bullet train (Shinkansen).
You may want to look into getting a Japan Rail Pass, as it gives unlimited Shinkansen rides that connects various parts of Japan. For more information on the pass, you can read our beginner’s guide to the Japan Rail Pass or purchase the pass here.
Get a Suica Card
The Suica Card is the universal transportation card that you can use on nearly any train or bus throughout Japan.
You charge it up with cash at train stations and you can scan it to board the train. Many stores and restaurants also take Suica as a form of payment, which allows you to go through checkout in a swift manner.
Pre-purchasing a Suica Card can be a good choice for two reasons: you can use your home currency to buy it and you don’t have to go through the hassle of using the Japanese machines to purchase one.
Pro-tip: If you have an iPhone with Apple Pay, we highly recommend registering your Suica Card to your phone. This allows you to recharge your Suica Card with your credit card instead of using your exchanged Japanese cash which is the only option. This method is not only convenient, but also saves you lots of currency exchange fees.
International Drivers Permit
Japan has great public transportation that connects most parts of the country, but for some places, renting a car can be much more convenient. If you plan on renting a car to explore the beautiful countrysides of Japan, don’t forget to get your International Drivers Permit before coming to Japan!
Google Translate is an essential item for anywhere that you travel to.
It’s convenient for when you want to say a certain phrase and also for understanding a certain phrase with voice recognition. The image translation allows you to take a picture and read signs and menus, which is extremely convenient for traditional Japanese restaurants (which has lots of difficult kanji letters).
One note of advice, the translation isn’t 100% perfect so you shouldn’t always take the translation directly.
Google Maps is another convenient app that you should get for your Japan trip. It has information on all the trains in Japan and shows you the time tables for every vehicle. It’s definitely a must to avoid getting lost in Japan!
Wifi isn’t a necessity, but it’ll definitely enhance your travel experience. There is public wifi available in stations and convenience stores, but it requires you to sign up every time you use it. If your phone service provider doesn’t have an international data plan, you can buy pocket wifi and pick it up at the airport.
More and more shops in Japan are starting to adopt a form of cashless payment, but there’s still a a good amount that only accepts cash. You can use your credit card for the most part in the cities, but in the countryside, cash is still dominant.
If you need to exchange cash once you’re in Japan, look for a Japan Post or a Seven Eleven ATM!
If you plan on going to an attraction, it can be a good idea to pre-purchase your ticket. Here are tickets you can pre-purchase for popular attractions around the Tokyo area.
Japan is one of the safest countries in the world, but it’s also one of the most expensive ones too. If something out of your control were to happen during your trip, having travel insurance can help cover various things like medical emergencies, lost baggage, sudden cancellations of trips or tours, and many other occurrences.
Budgeting For Your Trip
Budgeting for a trip is hard, especially if it’s you barely even know the name of the currency. Everyone’s spendings are different, but for the average, medium range travelers, setting aside about 10,000 yen per day is sufficient.
This is for what you would be spending for daily travels, such as going to restaurants, transportation costs, park admissions, and daily necessities. It doesn’t include alcohol cost, shopping, and other prepaid costs such as flight, hotel, and wifi.
Learn Basic Useful Phrases
Last but not least, it’s helpful to know a couple phrases.
- Arigatou gozaimasu – Thank you very much
- ___ wa doko desuka? – Where is ___?
- Kore wa ikura desuka? – How much is this?
- Osusume wa nan desuka? – What is your recommendation?
- Ohayo Gozaimasu. – Good Morning.
- Otsukare sama desu. – Used as every other greeting except good morning.
5. Pack your bags
The dates are closing in and its time to start packing your bags. This is usually the time when it hits you and you start to feel the excitement. It’s also the time when you start to search for everything to bring and constantly ask yourself the question “am i missing anything?”
To help ease some of the nerves, here is a list of some important things to pack.
The one very most important thing to pack. Keep it at an easy to find place before your travels.
Japan is a country with all 4 seasons and the weather changes drastically with the seasons. What to wear may depend on where in Japan you’re traveling to as well, but here is a general rule of thumb.
- Winter: Warm clothes.
- Spring: Warm jacket
- Summer: Thin clothes
- Fall: Thin Jacket
How Many Clothes to Pack?
For a 7-day trip:
- 3 shirts
- 4 underwear/socks
- 2 pairs of pants
For 14-day trip:
- 5 shirts
- 6 underwear/socks
- 2-3 pairs of pants
Japan has same shape as US but doesn’t have the three prong outlets and higher voltage. Having a universal power adapter is useful so that you can use it when you visit other countries with completely different shapes.
You’ll be walking a lot during your travels so it’s important to have comfortable shoes to walk in.
If your phone is several years old and the battery dies quickly, this starts to become more of a necessity when traveling. Getting a cheap one won’t do too much good.
No matter the season, Japan has random rainfalls. It’s good to keep around a small compact travel umbrella instead of buying one of those clear convenience store umbrellas only to use it once.
Keeping a pack can be good for traveling in general. Even if you don’t bring a complete set, we highly recommend bringing deodorant if you’re coming during the summer since Japan’s deodorant is known to be extremely weak.
Last but not least, don’t forget to bring a camera! This can be anything from your phone to a professional one. Japan has many beautiful places and why not take some of these images back home with you?
If you want a nice, simple travel camera, try this one! It comes with everything you need for travel including SD card, mini tripod, extra battery, and much more.
6. Enjoying Your Trip!
We hope that you have an awesome time in Japan! If you’re looking for things to do while you’re here, don’t forget to check out our other articles!