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Going to Japan might seem like a big logistical ordeal.
I’m here to tell you that it really doesn’t have to be that way. In fact, I think it could be quite enjoyable but maybe I’m just a research nerd!
This article is part one of a (currently) two-part series on how to prepare yourself for your trip to Japan.
The second article is all about the best ways to survive your flight, something often overlooked by a lot of bloggers!
So be sure to check it out if you’ve booked a flight ^_^
Enough of the waffle, let’s get to the travel tips!
1. Plan your trip based on seasons
The very first thing you need to do before anything is choose when you want to travel to Japan. Whilst I think you’d be happy traveling to Japan at pretty much any time during the year, you may have some requirements that are only possible at a certain time.
One of the biggest deciding factors on when you should travel to Japan is the seasons.
Here in the U.K, we have pretty, ‘Mediocre’ seasonal weather. The summers aren’t that hot and the winters aren’t particularly cold.
But in Japan, this really isn’t the case.
Here’s a summary of what you can expect during each season and reasons why it may appeal to you:
Japanese translation: Haru
Best for: Sightseeing both natural and man-made Japan
This is without a doubt the most popular time to visit Japan and for good reason, too. Springtime in Japan is the stuff dreams are made of. You’ll feel as if you’re in your very own anime!
To start with, Springtime in Japan is when the Japanese cherry blossom starts to bloom.
Unfortunately, they are notorious for being hard to catch in full bloom, but as a rule of thumb, you should expect them somewhere in Japan from Mid-March to early May. If this is especially important to you, you may want to check the available cherry blossom forecast for the year you plan on going, like this one for the 2022 season.
Undecided on whether to travel during cherry blossom season? I’ve made a guide to help you figure that out!
Spring sees the best weather out of the year in Japan when it’s playing nice. I’ve been to several different places around Japan at this time of year, and let me tell you that weather conditions will absolutely vary.
Don’t be surprised if one day you’re in the city and it’s a beautifully hot 20°C allowing you to wear short sleeve tops and shorts, and the next day it plummets back down to as low as 5°C.
The moral of spring weather in Japan is indecisiveness. So pack accordingly!
Aside from the Sakura (cherry blossom) and the perfect weather conditions, spring is considered the low season in terms of plane travel.
The cheapest month to travel to Japan is usually April with return flight tickets averaging just under $1000, but cheaper tickets are available if you are willing to compromise on air carrier and flight times.
Summer (June – August)
Japanese translation: Natsu
Best for: Relaxing near water, definitely not city exploration!
Hot, Humid, Muggy, Sweaty, Gross, I can’t breathe, It’s way too hot, I miss bad weather.
These are all things I’ve said whilst wandering around Tokyo in the height of summer.
If however, you’re looking for a summer holiday destination (and preferably aren’t wandering around the streets of Tokyo) then Japan in summer is an absolutely fantastic choice!
From crystal clear waters to sand dunes, and even world-class surfing, Japan is a great choice in the summer if you’re looking for a specific type of holiday.
Japanese translation: Aki
Best for: Sightseeing of the natural landscape and cities
If you’re looking for an alternative to the Japanese cherry blossom season, Autumn might be an ideal time to visit Japan.
Temperatures and weather conditions are all-around more stable than in spring and summer making exploring cities, towns, and the countryside a nicer experience.
Autumn is also a time for viewing Japan’s stunning red leaves, almost as famous as the pink cherry blossom earlier on in the year.
Winter (December – February)
Japanese translation: Fuyu
Best for: Snow activities, skiing, winter festivals
I recently experienced Winter in Sapporo, and my goodness it was cold!
As a country that plays host to the snowiest place on earth, Japanese winters are sure to satisfy even the pickiest of winter holiday enthusiasts.
There are over 500 ski resorts all over the country and plenty of snow festivals to make it a winter holiday to remember. There are a few things to remember if you’re planning a ski holiday in Japan, but once you’ve got them down, it’ll easily be the best trip you’ve been on!
2. Check the visa requirements of your country
Sometimes, visiting Japan isn’t just as simple as turning up. Be sure to check the visa requirements before you plan your holiday, and especially before you board the plane!
The earlier you get this done, the less stress you’ll feel during the run-up to your holiday.
Do I need to apply for a visa before going to Japan?
Passport holders from all EU countries, the United States, Australia, Canada, Iceland, and 61 other countries do not need to apply for a visa before going to Japan.
Upon landing in one of Japan’s airports, you will be issued a landing card. You’ll then fill it out with some travel info, take that through to customs, and have your passport stamped.
Technically you’ll now be traveling with a tourist visa, but there’s no need to apply for one before leaving.
If you are in doubt or have any concerns about traveling to Japan with a visa I suggest contacting your local Japanese embassy.
They should be able to clear up any trouble you might have and set you on your way to a destination of a lifetime!
3. Book your flights early
Due to the constant changing of flight prices, it’s hard to give you an exact time to book flights for your trip to Japan. However, if you want a rough answer I would say around 6 months before your intended holiday is when flights will be at their cheapest.
I’ve written an article detailing why flights to Japan are so expensive (and how to get them cheaper!), so check that out to make sure you’re getting all the best deals!
That shouldn’t stop you from checking earlier though, especially if it’s a holiday you’ve been planning for a while. I would suggest signing up for a travel notification email via one of the comparison sites.
That way, you won’t have to stay up until 3 in the morning to get the best prices. Instead, you can stay up until 3 in the morning playing animal crossing on your Japanese island.
4. Grab a pocket Wi-Fi or sim card
Finding free Wi-Fi in Japan is notoriously difficult.
I remember coming out of an Airbnb in the middle of Shinjuku one time and for some stupid reason completely forgetting to use the available Wi-Fi to look up our route for the day.
After about half an hour of walking in random directions in the hope of finding an internet café (do those things even exist anymore?!) we stumbled across a Mcdonald’s, which thankfully had free wifi for us to plan things for the day.
Although I honestly love getting lost in Tokyo and would even actively encourage it, sometimes you have a destination you want to get to and time restraints can apply.
The point of the story is if I had prepared for the holiday in the first place, I would have known that getting a pocket Wi-Fi or sim card before the trip would have saved a load of time.
This is especially important if your holiday to Japan is a once-in-a-lifetime trip and you only have a couple of weeks, but equally important in any situation.
I recommend using Sakura Mobile.
They’re simple to use, give great service, and offer a variety of options to suit your travel needs.
Click on the image below if you’re interested in finding out more!
5. Don’t travel without travel insurance
Probably the single best way to prepare for your trip to Japan.
DO NOT TRAVEL WITHOUT INSURANCE!!
Yes, it can be an annoying expense that you’d rather forget about. And maybe you don’t plan on bungee jumping out of a moving plane, but no one can predict the future.
We’ve talked before about how safe Japan is as a country, but even the safest parts of the world aren’t free from crime.
Besides, you don’t just get travel insurance for Japan in case something happens to you on your trip.
Other reasons you should get travel insurance before you go to Japan include:
This could include (depending on the type of travel insurance you have) flights, hotels, car hire, tour companies, transport, and events.
Normally the higher tier travel insurance you purchase, the more you’re illegible to claim for if something was to go wrong.
Japan is a long way from a lot of countries.
As such flight times are normally pretty long, especially if you’ve got a stop or two on the way.
In fact, whilst we’re on the topic of stopovers you should seriously consider flights with 12 hours+ stops in other countries. If you don’t need visas to enter you could make it part of your holiday to Japan and consider it a mini holiday.
Though you’ll probably be super tired if you attempt it, it might save you a few bucks if you work things out properly.
Anyway, my point about Japan being so far away from other countries (a good 12 hours for most) means you’ll really want to enjoy every last second of your time there. It’s especially hard if you’ve put months into planning your dream holiday only to have a 12-hour delay that severely messes with your itinerary.
By booking travel insurance before your go to Japan you may be able to claim back the time you lost. While you cant literally recoup the time, any money you get towards it may ease the inconvenience.
We all know the drill.
Get in the car to the airport, check your passports and tickets are in the bag about 684 times.
But, sometimes they may get lost or other items may be stolen during your trip. With travel insurance, you know you’ll always be able to get home no matter what happens.
Air carrier goes bankrupt
This isn’t normally something you need to look out for when booking travel insurance, but the events over the last few years have shown us that things like this can and do happen.
So whilst you may not need it, it could be nice put your mind at rest
Final thoughts on travel insurance for Japan:
Many different travel insurance companies will also cater to your situation and the time you intend to stay in the country for.
For instance, if I’m heading out to Japan for a year then I’ll search for a specialized travel insurance company rather than if I’m going for 2-3 weeks.
Other important factors would be who I’m traveling with (whether it be by myself, with a family, or with a spouse) my age, current health, and history)
Search around for the best Japanese travel insurance for your circumstance so you can enjoy yourself whilst you’re over there and not have to worry about the repercussions if anything was to happen.
Hint: If you pay house insurance, own a credit card, or work for a company, check to see if you’re already covered for your trip. It’ll make the already easy task of finding travel insurance even easier!
Well, this turned out to be a long point… Onto the next one!
6. Grab a Japanese box
I’m one of those people who get massively excited before a holiday.
As in, can’t sleep the night before, and can’t stop talking about it to literally everyone I meet.
With a holiday destination as big as Japan, the chances are high that you’ve booked a fair amount in advance (a good idea if it’s possible!)
That leaves months or longer where you’re stuck in your hometown, gazing out of windows whilst imagining the place you’d rather be.
Unfortunately, I can’t fast forward time to bring your trip to Japan forward, but I can offer something of a compromise!
Introducing the Japanese kawaii box!
Probably the cutest way to experience Japan at home, probably.
This kawaii Japanese gift box comes Jam-packed with snacks, plush toys, and other cute Japanese souvenirs.
You can expect about 8-10 gifts in each of the monthly boxes. So you can be sure that by the end of the year your house will be filled to the brim with Japan-related goodness!
Interested? Click here to read about their latest monthly box!
And if cute Japanese gift boxes aren’t for you (who even are you!?) then maybe you’d prefer one with entirely Japanese food.
The best way to prepare yourself for your trip to Japan might well be by trying all their food before you go!
Or, if you’re looking for ANOTHER Japanese subscription box, click here for my favorite one! (It’s literally amazing…)
7. Read these travel guidebooks
Another great way to get excited about your upcoming trip to Japan is by reading a travel guidebook.
Not only will this prepare you for certain situations you wouldn’t have otherwise thought of, but you’re also extremely likely to find places to go that you haven’t heard of before.
For this reason, I like to be as specific as possible with guidebooks.
For example, a general book about Japan is far less likely to provide you with secret hidden gems than a book specifically relating to the area you’re staying in or specific to your interests.
Here are 3 of my favorite:
A geek in Japan gives an informative overview of all aspects of Japan. Culture, history, technology, and more, Hector Garcia decodes thousands of years of mystery into a concise yet incredibly interesting book.
He’s also someone who isn’t under the illusion that Japan is ‘the perfect country’. So if you’re after an unbiased opinion, this might be for you!
An extremely practical for the explorers among you. If you happen to find yourself in Tokyo, a little strapped for cash, but still want to search out the local culture then Axel Schwab’s Tokyo Maze could absolutely be the book for you.
I’m a big fan of hopping on a train in the city and then traveling to a random local stop in the suburbs. Though, I’m also a big fan of riding Japan’s last sleeper train. What an experience that was!
I would highly suggest doing this in all countries, but the stark difference between central Tokyo and some of the suburban neighborhoods is quite impressive.
If you love the idea of exploring in this way but don’t know where to start, grab this Japan travel guide!
Super Cheap Japan is a favorite of mine!
Tokyo (and Japan in general) is unfortunately not the cheapest place in the world, but that doesn’t mean you can’t enjoy your trip to Japan on the cheap.
Learn how to budget your Japan holiday in Tokyo, Kyoto, Osaka, Nara, and Hiroshima.
Hint: Stay in a capsule hotel to save those pennies!
8. Learn some basic phrases
Potentially the best way to prepare for your trip to Japan is by learning some of the local lingo.
Now it’s important to mention that I’m not fluent in Japanese but I do have a range of thoroughly researched and checked articles here.
They should help point you in the right direction and start your journey into the exciting world of the Japanese language.
If you’re looking to delve a little deeper than a few holiday phrases, I would recommend tofugu, a blog based entirely on the Japanese language and one that can explain the nuances of the language far better than I can.
9. Survive your flight to Japan
Less significant than learning some survival phrases but no less important is surviving your probably very long flight to Japan.
And what’s the best way to survive it? To prepare!
Luckily for you, I’ve written an entire article dedicated to helping you survive your flight to Japan.
It’s part two of our series and well worth a read for when you’ve booked up your flight!
…or maybe you’re just a massive Japan nerd and love dreaming about that future flight.
You’ll get there one day!
10. Stay somewhere different
Please please please do not go all the way to Japan and just stay in a chain hotel.
Prepare your dream trip to Japan by planning some of your accommodations before you go.
I say some, not all. We’ll get to why in a bit.
Look, I understand how convenient chain hotels might seem but you’re truly missing out on an entire side of Japanese culture.
The easiest way to do this is through Japan’s Airbnb network. The country is filled to the brim with traditional, unique, and sometimes truly weird places to stay and it’s super easy to book.
Take a look here for my top Airbnb recommendations in Japan ^_^
If you’re feeling even more adventurous, you may consider staying in a traditional Japanese ryokan or maybe staying a night in an ancient Japanese temple.
Japanese ryokans are by far the best way to experience traditional Japanese culture and they don’t have to cost your entire budget either.
If you did want to splurge a little, you could book yourself a night in Tokyo’s very first ryokan. It’s an urban oasis!
11. Consider the Japan Rail Pass
I won’t lie to you, sometimes transport costs can add up a little. Especially if you want to fit in as much as humanly possible during your stay.
Whilst Japan’s network of trains is considered the best in the world, it can be easy to forget how much you’re spending each time you hop on and off.
I always find that whenever I go traveling that I spend more freely than I would do if it was my own country’s currency. Almost like it’s ‘play money’ rather than actual hard-earned cash.
If like me, you plan to travel pretty much nonstop during your trip then you may benefit from a Japan Rail Pass.
The best way to prepare yourself for the cost of transport in Japan is to buy it before you go from here (their website).
But if you aren’t sure whether it’s right for you, you can use their fare calculator to see how much you could save.
It might turn out that it wasn’t as much as you’d think or maybe it’s nothing at all, but it’s still worth having a look beforehand.
Though you can buy it directly from the airport when you land, it’s always nicer to have everything before you set off so you’ll know there’s nothing to think about when you’re there.
They also offer a regional pass in case you’re thinking about traveling specifically in one area.
This could save you more money than the nationwide JR pass and end up being far more convenient.
12. Understand the culture
If you want to make the most of your trip to Japan, you’ll stand the best chance by learning about the Japanese culture before your trip.
I’m not going to tell you what you should or shouldn’t learn because that depends on what you’re looking at getting out of your trip in the first place.
Instead, I’ll point you to a couple of posts I’ve written that shed light on some of the cultural aspects of Japan you may not be familiar with.
- 63 facts about Japan you probably didn’t know
- Why does Japan have small boxy cars?
- Why is the Tokyo subway so crowded?
- Why is Japan so clean?
- Why do Japanese people sleep on the floor?
13. Read through some Japanese blogs
Another way to get you prepared and let’s be honest, excited, is by reading through a few different blogs about Japan to find out what you’re in for.
Here are a few of my favorites:
http://adayofzen.com – Who’d have thought it, my own blog about Japan is one of my favorites!
https://tokyocheapo.com – Great for location guides, and lots of free ideas
14. See more by seeing less
Obviously, you’ll be going to Japan completely hyped up and I wouldn’t be surprised if your itinerary for the trip was overly Jam-packed.
Whilst I do understand that you’d want to fit in as much as you possibly can during your (potentially) once-in-a-lifetime trip, sometimes by seeing less, you’ll understand and experience more.
Lots of Japanese tour operators will advertise the complete opposite of what I’m suggesting.
The usual route taken would be Tokyo->Kyoto->Osaka->Hiroshima->Tokyo.
I’m not saying this isn’t something you should do during your first trip to Japan, but there are some Pros to seeing less.
|Seeing More||You feel like you’ve seen more of the country||You’ve rushed your way through the sights over a few weeks|
|Seeing Less||You can spend longer in a certain place and immerse yourself in the local culture||Maybe you can’t do everything you originally planned|
Unsure what to see and where to go?
That’s why I’ve created the Ultimate Japanese bucket list for Osaka and Tokyo including accommodation options, food options, and things to do for every budget!
15. Schedule time to get lost
Japan is a big place.
Following on from the previous point, whichever direction you chose to take your trip in, make sure you have at least some time to get lost.
Getting lost in Japan has brought up countless interesting experiences and also led me to some truly awesome locations like impromptu vegan restaurants (somewhat of a rarity in Japan) and even the biggest manga shop in the world!
So, give yourself enough time to wander around without purpose because you might just find something you didn’t expect.
Hint: As a foreign tourist in Japan you, you are required to carry your passport with you at all times.
16. Take cash with you to most places
As futuristic-looking and technologically advanced as Japan is, it’s primarily a cash-based society.
That means you’ll still have to convert your current currency into JPY (Japanese yen).
You can do this through a currency exchange in your hometown or if you’re feeling brave you can wait until you’ve passed through customs after you come off the plane.
In the past, this was the best way to secure the best rate possible through currency conversion. However the rates seem to be getting closer together, so do your research beforehand!
17. Use public transport
If I got 1 yen for every time I’ve mentioned how amazing Japanese public transport is… I’d probably have about 50 yen…
BUT it honestly cannot be stated enough.
My two favorite methods of getting around in Japan are walking and getting the train. Taxis are also handy for getting to those hard-to-reach areas, but can quickly eat into your holiday budget.
Contrary to the title, the above blog post shows you how (almost) perfect Japanese transport can be!
18. Consider your souvenirs carefully
Japan is a country full of wonder and mystery, so don’t be surprised if you come away with more than a few souvenirs.
I hope that your trip to Japan will inspire you to bring some of the cultures back home to you more than some cheap plastic toy.
Whilst this is something you’ll only be able to decide once you’re in Japan, it might help to take a sneak peek at your options before you go to Japan.
That way you’ll know what to look out for when you’re out there!
Hold on! Don’t close this tab just yet! I’ve got one more piece of advice that can make a huge difference in your travel experience to Japan: How to avoid jet lag. Trust me, I’ve had my fair share of sleepless nights and grumpy mornings due to jet lag, and I don’t want the same to happen to you!