Planning a trip to Japan was one of the most exciting times of my life. My husband and I loved everything about Japan, came back to live in Japan for a bit, and we even got engaged in Japan! You can see why Japan holds a special place in our hearts. Japan is a place like no other, with an ultra-modern capital like Tokyo, a Zen and well-preserved city like Kyoto and so much delicious food at every corner.
I honestly feel that everyone needs to visit Japan once in their lifetime because it really is such unique destination. Everything in Japan is different, but in a great way. Japanese language is marvellous, the food is one of the best in the world and the culture has so much history and tradition.
The Japanese culture is unique and impressive, with its traditional tea ceremony and spectacular sumo tournaments. After visiting Japan over and over again, we became obsessed to everything Japanese. We simply love the quirks of this island nation.
That's why I want to help you make the most of your first trip to Japan. Planning a trip to Japan can feel a little overwhelming, but I think the whole planning should be fun. This is the aim of this article, to really help you plan the best trip.
Visit Japan and travel on the fastest, coolest trains in the world, eat the best Japanese food and purchase snacks from the many vending machines available on every corner. Marvel at the Japanese shrines and temples and relax the Japanese way, in an onsen. Are you ready to make it all happen?
We love everything about Japan, and we know you are going to fall in love with this country too. We also know that Japan can feel so foreign and mysterious, which is why we want to help you plan the perfect trip to Japan. We put together our best travel tips, including major Dos and Don'ts. Trust me, I lived there long enough to learn about the importance of knowing how to behave in Japan. I even wrote a book about it!
Here is everything you need to know to start planning a trip to Japan.
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Japan reopend on the 11th of October 2022
We're so excited that Japan reopens to independent international tourists! We've been waiting for such a long time to be able to visit Japan again, and we're so eager to go.
Japan reopens with its normal visa waiver agreement for ordinary passport holders of 68 countries. This includes visitors from UK and USA. This means citizens of these countries won't have to apply for a visa to enter Japan.
To enter Japan, you will need to show proof of negative covid test or proof that you have been triple vaccinated.
From 1st of November 2022, international travellers must go to the official FastTrack for entry to Japan website and complete all the information.
You will need to:
- Create your account and login.
- Your Email address is required.
- Register your personal information as well as accompanying family members.
- Register your arrival schedule.
- Register required information on below arrival procedure.
- Quarantine (Fast Track）
- Immigration (disembarkation card）
- Customs declaration
I highly recommend that you do all of the above before entering Japan. By registering required certificates online before arrival, Quarantine procedure at airports can be smoothly done by just showing QR code on screen. It's much easier and you will save a lot of time.
During your Japan trip planning, we highly recommend investing in comprehensive travel insurance. We recommend getting SafetyWing Insurance.
When to visit Japan
When it's the best time to visit Japan? We visited Japan in all four seasons, and we highly recommend that you visit during Spring (March - May) or Autumn (Late September - early December). However, Japan is a year round destination and there is something unique about every season.
Japan in Spring - Spring is the most popular time to visit Japan thanks to the gorgeous sakura season. The cherry blossom season attracts tourists from all over the world, and for good reason. Major cities have large avenues and park lined with sakura trees. There are cherry blossoms festivals and the Japanese people all come out to celebrate this superb time of the year.
Good to know: Mono no aware is a key term in Japanese culture, which means "the pathos of things". It is an idiom which refers to the awareness of impermanence. The most common symbol of mono no aware is the cherry blossom.
Japan in Summer - Summers in Japan are often hot and sticky. It's also the typhoon season in Japan. The most severe typhoons usually occur in August and September. If you don't mind the heat, summers in Japan are a great time to visit as you will experience lower crowds.
Good to know: The climbing season for Mount Fuji is from early July to early September. If you intend to make the hike, then you must visit in the summer.
Japan in Autumn - Autumn is our favourite time to visit Japan. The temperatures are mild with some warm sunny days still. The viewing of Kōyō (colourful leaves) has been a popular activity for centuries and attracts numerous tourists.
Top Tip: An autumn highlight in Japan are the ginkgo trees that turn their leaves into a vibrant yellow. Tokyo is an excellent place to appreciate the ginko trees in the autumn. We highly recommend heading to Meiji Jingu which has a long avenue lined with these gorgeous trees.Jingu Gaien Ginkgo Festivalhas been celebrated annually since 1997.
Japan in Winter - Winter in Japan is a great time to visit Japan if you love snow and want to enjoy skiing in the mountains. There are many great locations to visit during winter and Hokkaido is one of them. See Sapporo Snow Festival to admire snow and ice sculptures. Head into Nagano for amazing skiing experiences and enjoy the hot springs in the Japanese alps.
Good to know: Mid-winter is the best time to visit the Snow Monkeys at the Jigokudani Yaen Koen to see the stark contrast of steamy onsen and snowy landscapes. See the forested trail covered in snow, then admire the snow monkeys relaxing in the steamy hot spring.
From our experience, we highly recommend avoiding Japan during busy seasons and national holidays. The worst times to travel are around Christmas and New Year (Dec 22 - Jan 4), during Golden Week (April 29 - May 5); and during the Obon Festival, in mid August.
How long to spend in Japan
For your first visit, we recommend spending 2 weeks in Japan. This is the perfect amount of time to discover the main highlights of Japan, including major cities as well as some off the beaten path destinations.
There are many things to do in Japan and wonderful places to visit you will want to add to your bucket list. You can easily stay longer than 2 weeks in Japan and see even more interesting locations and points of interest. Exploring Japan is such a joy and adding extra time to your visit will enable you to discover new attractions, take some hiking trips into the mountains and see a more traditional Japan.
On the other hand, we think 7 days in Japan is not nearly enough time to see more than a handful of attractions. It's just about the enough time to get a taste of how amazing Japan and make you want to come back for a longer visit.
How do I start planning a trip to Japan
We put together a timeline for your Japan trip planning to make it easier to start planning a trip to Japan.
6-12 months in advance
- Book your flights as early as possible to ensure you get a good deal. Ideally, you will want to reserve your preferred seat, too. We recommend using Skyscanner.
- Book your accommodation to get preferential prices and discounts. We highly recommend that you book your accommodation 6 months in advance if you intend to visit Japan during the Sakura season or national holidays. Our preferred booking platform is booking.com
- Plan your Japan itinerary to include any day trips and special experiences.
- Purchase your travel insurance, so you're covered for any cancellations and curtailments. Our go to travel insurance is SafetyWing.
- Check your passport and apply for a renewal if needed. Remember that it can take up to 10 weeks to receive your new passport.
- Purchase a travel planner to make it easier to organise yourself. We recommend one because you can use it as a travel journal and keepsake for when you return from Japan.
- Practice a little Japanese. I learnt basic Japanese by taking Japanese with Aimee. It's a course I highly recommend. It will definitely be helpful to understand a bit of hiragana and some often used sentences. Use YCTRAVEL when you sign up and get 10% discount on the course. It's a great deal, right?
3 months in advance
- Apply for your tourist visa if you require one. Citizens of 68 countries don't require a visa for stays up to 90 days.
- Buy your Japan rail Pass. Your JR Pass enables you to enjoy unlimited train travel around Japan. The Shinkansen (bullet train) is also included, which means you can enjoy a short trip between Tokyo to Kyoto in just 2 hours.
2 month in advance
- Book activities in advance. Many popular Japan experiences sell out closer to the dates, so make sure to book your entry tickets to popular places such as teamLab Planets, Shibuya Sky, Universal Studios and Disneyland. We recommend using Klook or Viator.
- Reserve your table at popular restaurants. Use services like omakase to find dining experiences and book your table.
- Purchase your How to behave in Japan book. Familiarise yourself with the etiquette and manners in Japan. We created this book to make it fun to learn about Japan. Besides, it's packed with manga style drawings to make it even easier to immerse yourself in Japanese culture.
- Book your pocket wifi. You will want to use your internet in Japan and having a pocket wifi is the best way to go. It's much cheaper than your roaming costs and will enable you to stay connected and use maps when you're on the go.
1 week in advance
- Purchase any last minutes items for your trip. Check our guide on what to wear in Japan and ensure you have everything for your upcoming trip. We recommend our what to pack for Japan guide, to help you figure out what you need for the trip.
1 day in advance
- Gather all documents and double check you didn't miss anything. This is it! It's time for your trip to Japan. You're going to have so much fun.
How much should I budget for a trip to Japan
The estimated total cost for 2 weeks in Japan is ¥790,000 ($5450) for 2 people.
This works out to ¥28,300 ($195) per person per day, and it includes flights, accommodation, transportation, food, activities, souvenirs, and other small expenses.
This is a for a medium-budget holiday with some luxury dinners, top attractions and occasional splurges on indulgent souvenirs.
Of course, every trip is personal, and you can choose to enjoy Japan on a stricter budget. We put together a comprehensive budget guide to give you a good idea on how much does a trip to Japan cost.
Dos and Donts in Japan
There are many dos and don'ts you need to be aware of, which is why we put together everything you need to know before your trip. We learnt most of these things during our trips so we think it's useful to be aware of them.
- Explore the local cuisine. You will want to try all the best Japanese food. Japan is home to more Michelin star restaurants than any other country. Eat ramen, sushi, dangos and all the street food. Every area has its signature dishes as well, so you're guaranteed to eat well and diverse. We recommend trying all the local restaurants to find your favourite dish.
- Enjoy an onsen. Head to an onsen town like Hakone or Yudanaka and enjoy an onsen. An onsen is a Japanese natural hot spring where you relax all naked, surrounded by nature. Some onsen are private, while others are separated by gender. Make sure you follow the rules of how to onsen properly.
- Stay in a ryokan. No trip to Japan is complete without staying in a ryokan, a traditional Japanese inn. Some ryokans are small while others are hotel like establishments. We always recommend first time visitors to stay in a traditional ryokan to experience the real Japan lifestyle and hospitality.
- Book a tatami room. Most ryokans have its floors covered with tatami. Tatamis make the floors more comfortable and are more breathable. You will get a futon mattress on top of the tatami to sleep on.
- Buy snacks from convenience stores. Head to a 7/11 or Lawson to purchase lots of Japanese snacks. Part of the joy is picking up items without really knowing what type of snack you're getting. Food and snacks in Japan are great, so chances are, you don't be disappointed with your purchase. If you're travelling to Japan on a budget, convenience stores are excellent for cheap meals like pre-packed onigiri, ramen and sushi boxes.
- Learn a few Japanese phrases. There is a language barrier in Japan and not only that Japanese it's quite different from English, but it's also written in entirely different characters. It's a good idea to learn a few phrases or to study a bit of basic Japanese before your visit. It's a lot of fun learning about this fascinating country. We recommend Japanese with Aimee.
- Rely on public transportation. Japan has sound public transport which are fast, reliable, and clean. Not to mention, they are always on time. We recommend making good use of your Japan Rail passes to take as many bullet trains between your Japanese destinations.
- Take cash out. We recommend foreign visitors to take enough cash out from 7/11 ATMs. While hotels and some restaurants accept credit cards, it's always wise to have some cash. Most off the beaten path eateries will only take cash.
- Enjoy the local culture. Japan is a wonderful country full of centuries old culture and spirituality. Enjoy tea ceremony to learn about tea history and rituals. Learn how to pay your respects when visiting a temple. Bow when someone bows towards you. Immerse yourself in the local culture and be mindful of what's expected of you. We recommend booking a tea ceremony in advance.
- Take a local guide. From our experiences, we say that the best way to learn about Japan is to take local guides. Book a pub crawl with a local to enjoy places you wouldn't know of otherwise. They will take you to the best eating and drinking spots on Memory Lane for example. Take a guide to learn about the local food or to travel to a place like Nikko and discover epic hiking trails.
- Take a cooking class. Learn how to make the best sushi rice or take a wagashi class. Japanese food is not just delicious, but is presented to perfection. Learn how to take pride in the Kaiseki presentation.
- Visit a sumo stable. Sumo is huge in Japan and what better way to learn about the life of sumo players than by taking a sumo tour. You'll get to visit the stables in the morning, see how the sumo players practice and get the chance to have some pictures with them.
- Be respectful. Familiarise yourself with the manners and etiquette in Japan. As mentioned, we highly recommend our book How to Behave in Japan. We lived in Japan and learnt about the local customs.
- Learn the restaurant etiquette. It's a good idea to learn how to use an oshibori and how to use your chopsticks. Don't worry, it's a lot of fun practising some restaurant etiquette in Japan and locals will really appreciate your efforts.
- See Mount Fuji. Both Japan's major religions Shinto and Buddhism see Mount Fuji as sacred. While you might not have the time to hike the mountain, you will want to admire this sacred Japanese symbol. Take a day trip from Tokyo to Mount Fuji and see it in all its splendour. Alternatively, book your train tickets from Tokyo to Kyoto with seats facing Mount Fuji.
- Buy drinks from vending machines. There are vending machines everywhere in Japan. In fact, there are some estimated that there is one vending machine for every 43 Japanese citizens. Everywhere you go, even deep in the mountain trails, you will find vending machines with delicious hot teas and snacks.
- Enjoy the smart toilets. Japan has the world's best toilets. These smart toilets come with several buttons, some of which sing, clean, wash, and dry your private parts. You can find them everywhere in Japan, in Western style hotels, ryokans, and capsule hotels. Familiarise yourself with what the buttons do.
- Appreciate seasonal ingredients. Japanese chefs take great pride in using the finest, freshest seasonal ingredients. Every season in Japan offers different dishes. For example, Spring is the best time to enjoy sakura treats, while winter is the best time to try fugu (puffer fish).
- Eat in a cheap Michelin star restaurant. Traditionally, Michelin star restaurants are expensive, but Japan has a few exceptions to this rule. At Nakiryu or Konjiki Hototogisu, the ramen start from ¥900. However, you do need to queue for about an hour for these tasty Michelin dishes.
- Buy heaps of souvenirs. Visit stores like Loft and Don Quijote for souvenirs from Japan. These are multi story shops with so many cool things and kawaii items. Because they don't target tourists, you can find great souvenirs at fantastic prices.
- Don't onsen with tattoos. Many public onsen don't accept people with tattoos because they are associated with gang members such as the Yakuza. Check with the onsen in advance to ensure they accept people with tattoos. For peace of mind, we recommend booking a room with a private onsen.
- Don't visit on peak holidays. Avoid huge crowds by visiting during the shoulder season. If you do decide to visit during the cherry blossom season, make sure to book your accommodation well in advance.
- Don't be rude. Japanese people are very polite and considerate, so please be the same. Take some time to observe how others act around. For example, don't be loud, don't point at people or don't play with chopsticks in a restaurant.
- Don't be impatient. Not everyone in Japan speaks English, so there will inevitably be times when you'll need to get your Google Translate out. Just take your time with everyone, and don't be offended if the person feels uncomfortable and refuses to engage further in conversation.
- Don't dress improper. You will notice that everyone in Japan dresses well and decent in Japan. People wear neutral colours and very few stand out. Dress well and smart and try to blend in. Remember that wearing tracksuit bottoms or leggings outside the gym is considered lazy and poor taste.
- Don't tip. There is no need to tip in Japan as the country doesn't have a tipping culture. This is because people in Japan take great pride in the work they do. Hospitality in Japan comes as the norm and not the exception.
Places to visit in Japan
To make sure you plan the best trip to Japan, here are a few wonderful places to include to your itinerary.
- Tokyo – The capital city of Japan is super modern, colourful and so much fun. We loved how many things to do in Tokyo there are. You just can't get bored here. Tokyo is huge, so when booking your accommodation, make sure to read where to stay in Tokyo.
- Kyoto – Kyoto is the zen pill to Tokyo's neon craze. There are plenty of things to do in Kyoto, including traditional Japanese attractions, lots of shrines and temples. Make sure to visit Fushimi Inari Shrine and the Arashiyama Bamboo Forest. Read where to stay in Kyoto to ensure you're in the best district for attractions.
- Nikko - Nikko is one of our favourite off the beaten path destinations in Japan. See Unesco Heritage Sites, hike in the forest and marvel at the Kegon Falls.
- Kawaguchiko – The first time we saw Mount Fuji in all its splendour was from Lake Kawaguchiko. It can be done as a day trip from Tokyo. A wonderful place for the bucket list.
- Osaka - Where modern cities meet fantastic street food. There are so many things to do in Osaka but eating street food is probably the most popular. Osaka is huge so make sure to check where to stay before booking your accommodation.
- Hiroshima – Venture beyond the atomic bomb dome and take the ferry to the Miyajima island. See the floating Shinto shrine and eat lots of maple leaf-shaped treats. You can easily get to Hiroshima from Osaka, for example.
- Nara - Once the Japanese capital, Nara is now known for its semi-tamed deer residents. See well-preserved streets lined with wooden houses and pay your respects to some of the oldest temples in the country.
- Yoshino - We discovered Yoshino during the cherry blossom season and honestly, it's one of the best places for sakura viewing. It can be reaches from Kyoto, Osaka or Nara and it's the perfect day trip during Spring.
More tips and information on Japan
As you can already tell, we love everything Japan which is why we made it our mission to bring you all the useful tips for planning a trip to Japan. See below more useful information on Japan:
Don't forget to check our free and complete travel guide to Japan. Happy travels!