How to Plan a Trip to Japan

So you are planning to go to Japan!? Or even just considering? Good idea. It’s one of my favourite countries and can be enjoyed by everyone I believe! But, where to start? Here is my guide packed with all the information you need to plan your next trip to Japan and help you when you reach the country, too!

How to get there:

If you’re flying in from Australia, Jetstar offers crazy cheap flights every now and then. I have scored $600 return from the Gold Coast and then during cherry blossom season I snagged a $350 return fare!

You’ll commonly fly in to Tokyo’s Narita airport about an hour out of the city. Otherwise, Osaka is another popular city to arrive or leave from. It all depends on your itinerary!

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Money:

The Japanese Yen is Japan’s official currency. What I found is that Japan is not as expensive as everyone thinks. Of course it will be expensive if you make it expensive. You can find cheap and delicious food everywhere as well as budget accommodation and modes of transport.

As Japan is technologically forward, don’t stress about not having too much cash. ATMs are aplenty and many places will allow you to pay with a travel money card.

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Japan Rail Pass & Rail System:

The rail system is one of the best in the world in Japan; it’s easy to understand, quick and can take you pretty much anywhere you want to go. Unless you’re planning on sticking to one city, consider buying a Japan Rail Pass in order to save money. The Shinkansen is quite expensive, so you will find with the pass you are getting your moneys worth!

The pass also is quite flexible as you can buy one depending on how long you plan to stay in the country. They offer 7, 14 and 21 day passes. As well, you can find passes to suit your travel plans if you are just staying in certain regions or travelling across the whole country.

Buy it online before your trip and activate it at the train station when you arrive in Japan or when you want to start using it.

When it comes to planning your travel days, you can book a Shinkansen ticket just minutes before you board the train. Also, city trains on the JR lines do not need reservations.

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Accommodation:

Budget: Ryokans are a great way to experience traditional Japan. As well, you’ll find many capsule hotels that are equivalent to hostel prices.

Mid-range: On Airbnb you’ll find some amazing apartments for quite a good price. If you’re splitting the price with another person, usually you’ll find you are both paying the same price as a hostel in Japan per person. In Osaka, I stayed at an apartment for $60AUD per night, which was cheaper than a hostel at the time!

Five Star: Of course you will find five star accommodation options in every city, like every other country. Prices can range from $500-$1,000 AUD, though are great travel experience can be found in budget and mid-range accommodations, too.

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Autumn in Arashiyama, Kyoto

Which Season?

The seasons in Japan are very distinct, so it’s best to do some research and decide when the best time to visit for you is.

Spring (March-May): Many would say this is the best time to visit Japan as the weather is mild and Cherry Blossoms and flowers are out in full force. You’ll find the days are quite warm and the nights are chilly, though prices in regards to accommodation and whatnot are MUCH more expensive. As well as this, tourist attractions are packed with people.

Summer (June-August): Japan reaches high temperatures (up to 40 degrees celsius) in summer with a lot of humidity. Also, around June is when the rainy season occurs. So in all, summer is probably the least ideal time to visit Japan. Trust me, I came in summer once and never want to go back here at this time again – I just can’t handle the heat and it was just as bad, if not worse than an Australian summer!

Autumn (September-November): My personal favourite season and a prime time to visit all over Japan. October and November are the ideal time as the weather calms down and begins to get colder. The leaves turn all shades of orange and red and as well attractions aren’t too packed with tourists.

Winter (December-February): Japan’s northern island of Hokkaido receives a lot of snow fall as well as the Alps and sea coast. The weather is commonly clear and crisp while temperatures remain at about 1-5 degrees celsius. If you’re not a fan of really cold weather, then Spring or Autumn are more for you!

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Sakura season in Tokyo at Chidorigafuchi
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The most amazing colours I’ve ever seen in nature in Arashiyama, Kyoto

Where do you want to go?

What cities you will visit will depend on many factors: how long you are there for, what you want to see, your budget etc.

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Tokyo: 

Japan’s capital and the most populated city. You can’t come to Japan and skip one of the weirdest and most hectic capital cities in the world! You’ll find some amazing shopping, the latest technology, historic temples and gardens and some tasty, cheap food! This fast paced city can be enjoyed by everyone!

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Nightlife in Osaka

Osaka: 

The third largest city in Japan known for its nightlife. You can’t miss Namba by night for some Okonomiyaki and neon lights. If you’re into theme parks, head over to Universal Studios where you’ll find the Wizarding World of Harry Potter as well!

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Fushimi Inari Taisha, Kyoto

Kyoto: 

The former capital of Japan and one of my favourite cities in the world. If I lived in Japan, I would probably live in Kyoto! Rich in history, there is so much to see and learn in this amazing city. You’ll find the famous Ginkakuji (golden temple) and the peaceful bamboo grove of Arashiyama here. You can also wander Gion in the afternoon/evening to spot some Geishas. Some of the best temples and shrines are found in Kyoto.

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Deer on Miyajima Island

Hiroshima: 

Many tourists visit Hiroshima for one main reason: to see the Peace Memorial Park. You’ll find the A-Bomb dome, Children’s monument and the museum. As well, I would suggest a day trip to Miyajima Island to see the roaming deer, floating tori gate and climb Mt Missen; it was one of the best days I’ve had in Japan.

Fukuoka: 

A nice getaway from the touristy cities where you will find many expats and a great nightlife culture. It’s located in Kyushu, not too far from Hiroshima on the Shinkansen.

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Okinawa: 

The most southern prefecture that consists of many small islands. Okinawa has a subtropical climate and is home to some of the world’s most beautiful beaches. It’s a great place to visit year round as the temperatures rarely get too cold.

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Peace Memorial Park, Hiroshima

Sapporo: 

The capital of Hokkaido in the north where many skiers tend to visit. It is famous for its snow festival, beer and ramen.

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Takayama: 

A little traditional Japanese city hidden in a mountainous region near Kanazawa. The old town and folk village are great places to see traditional Japanese life.

Mount Fuji: 

The best place to view Mount Fuji is from one of the five Fuji lakes or Hakone. Pretty much every tourist will want to see this snow-capped Japanese icon!

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Lake Kawaguchiko

Day Trips: While there are some cities you’ll want to stay in for several days, there are others that still warrant a day trip! Some include Nara from Kyoto or Osaka, Nikko, Kamakura or Yokohama from Tokyo and of course the famous snow monkeys from Hakuba. These are just to name a few, though!

These are just SOME suggestions as to where you could visit. There are many more cities to explore in Japan, but these are some of the most popular ones!

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Helpful Websites & Apps: 

Japan Guide: My favourite website when it comes to planning for Japan and seeking information. You’ll find Cherry Blossom and Autumn colour updates as well as ideas on what to do in each city.

Hyperdia: For train timetables, this is the most reliable site!

Jetstar: I suggest signing up to their newsletter so you receive an email straight away when flights are on sale!

iTranslate: I rarely use this one, but if you’re stuck with a language problem, you can translate it to English or vice versa with this app on your phone.

Pinterest: One of my favourites that I use to plan trips, read other travel blogs and find unique places in my next destination!

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Ginkakuji in Kyoto

Language:

I think it is essential when travelling to a country in which they do not speak your native language, you learn just a few phrases to not only help you get by, but not be rude either! Here are some that might come in handy once you get there:

Konichiwa – Hello (daytime)

Konbanwa – Hello (nightime)

Arigatoo gozaimasu – Thank you very much

Onegai shimasu – Please

Hai – Yes

Iie – No

Sumimasen – Excuse me

Gomen’nasai – I’m sorry

Eigo o hanashimasu ka? – Do you speak English?

Tetsudatte itadakemasu ka? – Can you please help me?

Chikatetsu wa doko desu ka? – Where is the subway?

WHAT TIPS WOULD YOU GIVE SOMEONE PLANNING A TRIP TO JAPAN? ARE YOU THINKING OF VISITING?

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  • Elle Kirsten
    May 12, 2016 at 1:16 pm

    Such an in-depth piece Soph – great job! If I hadn’t have already been this would have been so handy to plan with. I must say I REALLY want to go back and explore in the autumn (especially Arashiyama) – it looks so magical.

    – Elle

    • sophmatters@hotmail.com
      May 13, 2016 at 3:03 am

      Why thank you!! Glad you think it’s handy 🙂 I hope other people can use it to plan their trips and enjoy Japan like we did! Definitely get back there in Autumn – I’ve never seen colours in mother nature quite like the ones in Arashiyama!

  • Deepika
    May 19, 2016 at 4:00 am

    Hey Sophie, you have a beautiful site. And thank you so much for the Japan blog! Japan is definitely high on my list and this article helps much! <3

    http://www.feetonthemap.com

    • sophmatters@hotmail.com
      May 19, 2016 at 5:56 am

      You are so sweet, thank you! I’m glad this is helpful and I hope you make it to Japan very soon 🙂

  • Karolina
    June 7, 2016 at 9:33 am

    Love the blog posts like this! Useful informations and beautiful photos :). Japan is on our bucket list for a long time, hope we can visit this awesome country next year.

    • sophmatters@hotmail.com
      June 7, 2016 at 1:45 pm

      Thank you so much! It’s good to hear you like these kinds of posts 🙂 I really hope you can get to Japan soon, it’s just amazing and you will LOVE it!

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    August 10, 2016 at 7:54 pm

    […] definitely be using this comprehensive guide on how to plan a trip to Japan for my trip in […]

  • Debbie
    August 12, 2016 at 12:12 pm

    Hi, what dates were you in Japan. Also, did you rent a portable wifi?

    • sophmatters@hotmail.com
      August 13, 2016 at 7:23 am

      I went to Japan from the 30th March til the 6th of April and that was prime time to see the cherry blossoms! For the autumn colours, I was there at the end of November and into December for three weeks 🙂 I didn’t rent wifi as all Airbnbs had it. Though, this year as I am with Vodafone, you can pay $5 a day and just use your normal plan, which was amazing!