Craft Your Perfect Japan Itinerary With These 7 Must-Know Trip Planning Tips
Planning a trip to another country can seem overwhelming, but when armed with the right tips, the task can become a delightful part of the journey. A trip to Japan can surely be an unforgettable experience, but crafting the perfect itinerary requires careful planning, organizing, and some inside knowledge. From researching the top places to visit, and deciding on the perfect accommodations, to digging deep into the cultural nuances, this article provides seven essential tips to ensure your trip to Japan is seamless, rewarding, and tailored just for you. Get inspired and start shaping your dream Japanese adventure today.
Research Top Places to Visit
Japan offers a wide range of incredible places to visit. The top destinations include:
- Tokyo - The capital city of Japan, Tokyo dazzles with its neon-lit streets, historic temples, fascinating museums, and lively energy. Don't miss top attractions like the Imperial Palace, Sensoji Temple, Tokyo Skytree, and Tokyo National Museum.
- Kyoto - A historic city filled with Buddhist temples, Shinto shrines, serene gardens, and geisha districts. Visit famous sites like Kiyomizu-dera, FushimiInari Shrine, and Nijo Castle.
- Osaka is known for its vibrant food scene, amusement parks, and cultural sights. Don't miss Osaka Castle, the Dotonbori food district, and the Osaka Aquarium.
- Hiroshima - The site of the first atomic bombing, now an international symbol of peace. Visit the Hiroshima Peace Memorial Museum and Itsukushima Shrine.
- Mount Fuji - Japan's iconic active volcano and the country's highest peak. Hike up to experience unrivaled views, or admire it from locations like Lake Ashi.
With so many incredible places to explore, focus your Japan itinerary around your interests like history, culture, nature, food, and more.
Japan offers a wide variety of accommodation options to fit any budget or style of travel. Here are some top options to consider when booking accommodations for your trip:
Hotels - Japan has everything from luxurious 5-star hotels to more affordable business hotels. Hotel prices average around USD 100 per night but can range from $50-500+ depending on the hotel class and location. Some top hotel chains include Hilton, Hyatt, Marriott, and local brands like Toyoko Inn. Be sure to book early, as hotels in major cities like Tokyo and Kyoto can fill up quickly.
Ryokan - For a uniquely Japanese experience, stay at a ryokan (traditional Japanese inn). Ryokan offers beautiful Japanese-style rooms, communal baths, and often excellent multi-course Japanese dinners. Prices vary greatly but expect to pay $100-500+ per night. Top destinations for ryokan include Kyoto, Hakone, and other hot spring towns.
Airbnb - Airbnb offers apartments, private rooms, and shared rooms throughout Japan. This can be a more affordable option than hotels, with average prices around $60-100 per night. Be sure to book Airbnb that have consistently good reviews.
No matter what type of accommodations you book, make reservations at least a few weeks in advance to secure the best options for your dates and budget.
Japan has an excellent public transportation system, making getting around efficient and affordable. The main options for traveling around Japan include:
- Bullet Trains (Shinkansen): The bullet train network connects major cities in Japan for very fast train travel. Trains can reach speeds up to 200 mph. Tickets need to be reserved in advance and are more expensive than local trains but provide the fastest way to travel long distances. Some popular bullet train routes include Tokyo to Kyoto and Tokyo to Hiroshima. See the Japan Rail Pass for an affordable option to ride bullet trains extensively.
- Subways: Most major cities have subway systems, like the Tokyo Metro, that are excellent ways to get around locally. Subway systems are efficient, frequent, and affordable.
- Taxis: Taxis are readily available, especially in big cities. They can get pricey for long distances but are convenient for shorter trips.
- Walking: Cities like Tokyo and Osaka are very walkable thanks to safe sidewalks everywhere. Be ready to walk a lot when exploring cities and sights.
With an extensive public transportation network, getting around Japan is very feasible without a car. Consider getting a transportation IC card like Suica in Tokyo for easy travel across train and subway systems.
Japanese cuisine is world-famous for delicious dishes like sushi, ramen, and street food. When visiting Japan, make sure to try some of the traditional specialties to get a real taste of the local culture.
Sushi is likely the most well-known Japanese food abroad. This vinegared rice topped or rolled with fresh raw seafood can be found everywhere from conveyor belt restaurants to Michelin-starred omakase experiences. For the freshest sushi in Tokyo, head to the Tsukiji Fish Market or book a reservation along the famous Ginza Street. Regional sushi specialties like Hokkaido's sea urchin and Okinawa's tropical fish are also worth sampling.
Ramen is another iconic Japanese noodle dish with regional variations across the country. Slurp up a steaming bowl of rich, umami-packed broth with wavy noodles and sliced pork belly at one of Japan's many ramen joints. For a taste of Tokyo-style shoyu ramen, visit shops in Asakusa or Shinjuku. Or try Kyushu-style tonkotsu ramen made with creamy pork bone broth when visiting Fukuoka.
Don't miss the bustling world of Japanese street food either. Stroll through night markets like Yatai Yokocho in Fukuoka to snack on yakitori skewers, piping hot takoyaki octopus balls, and taiyaki fish-shaped pancakes filled with sweet bean paste. Trying Japan's diverse regional street food specialties lets you eat like a local.
Shopping is a top activity for many visitors to Japan. The country offers an incredible variety of stores and shopping areas to satisfy all interests and budgets. From bustling street markets to high-end luxury malls, Japan is a shopper's paradise.
Asakusa is one of Tokyo's top areas for shopping. This atmospheric district is home to Nakamise, a lively pedestrian street lined with small stalls selling souvenirs, snacks, and traditional crafts like fans and kimonos. Stop by Kappabashi nearby to shop for professional-quality kitchenware and plastic food models.
For luxury shopping, the Ginza district is a must-visit. With prestigious department stores and global flagship boutiques, Ginza sets the standard for upscale shopping in Japan. Other popular malls include Isetan in Shinjuku and Takashimaya in Nihonbashi.
Travelers are eligible for tax-free shopping on purchases over ¥5,000 when passports and forms are presented at participating retailers. Major airports also have duty-free shopping before departure.
When visiting Japan, it's important to be aware of some basic etiquette customs to avoid embarrassing faux pas. Some key things to keep in mind:
Removing your shoes is customary when entering homes, ryokans (traditional inns), and temple lodgings. There will usually be slippers provided for you to wear inside. When sitting on tatami mats, it's also respectful to tuck your feet underneath you rather than stretching them out.
Chopsticks are the main eating utensil. Don't stick them upright in your rice bowl, pass food from your chopsticks to someone else's, or point with them. When you're finished eating, lay your chopsticks parallel across your bowl.
Bowing is the customary greeting. A short 15-degree bow is polite for everyday greetings, while deeper bows show more formal respect.
Learning basic words and phrases in Japanese before your trip will help you navigate your destination and interact with locals. Focus on memorizing essential phrases like greetings, expressing gratitude, asking for help, and common questions. Some key phrases to know include:
Hello - Konnichiwa (こんにちは)
Good morning - Ohayou gozaimasu (おはようございます)
Good evening - Konbanwa (こんばんは)
Thank you - Arigatō (ありがとう)
Please - Onegai shimasu (おねがいします)
Excuse me - Sumimasen (すみません)
Do you speak English? - Eigo o hanashimasu ka? (英語を話しますか?)
Where is the bathroom? - Toire wa doko desu ka? (トイレはどこですか?)
Learning just a few basic words and phrases shows respect for the local culture and will help you better connect with the Japanese people you meet.
Stay Connected with WiFi
Having constant internet access is crucial when visiting Japan. Luckily, there are several excellent options to stay connected throughout your trip.
Pocket WiFi devices are a great choice, allowing you to get online anywhere by creating a portable hotspot. Companies like Global Advanced Communications rent pocket Wi-Fi, delivering them to your hotel before you arrive. Pocket WiFis can connect multiple devices simultaneously, perfect for families or groups.
SIM cards are another convenient option. Major providers like SoftBank rent tourist SIMs, giving you unlimited data during your stay. Just insert the SIM into your unlocked phone to get online.
For a free alternative, look for WiFi hotspots. Many cafes, fast food chains, convenience stores, transit hubs, and other public places offer complimentary WiFi. Apps like 'Japan Connected-free WiFi' and 'Wi2 300 Free WiFi' map out hotspots across the country.
With plenty of reliable WiFi options, staying connected in Japan is easy. Just secure a pocket WiFi, or SIM card, or use free hotspots to enjoy consistent access, ensuring your travels are smooth and stress-free.
When budgeting for your trip to Japan, it's important to factor in the high cost of living compared to other destinations. According to this guide, you can expect to spend around ¥4,500 - ¥7,800 ($36 - $62) per day on a low budget, ¥7,800 - ¥18,500 ($62 - $148) on a medium budget, and ¥18,500+ ($148+) on a high budget. This covers accommodation, food, transportation, sightseeing, and other expenses.
Some ways to lower your costs include traveling during the off-season, staying in hostels or capsule hotels, eating cheap street food and convenience store meals, getting a Japan Rail Pass for discounted train travel, and avoiding expensive big cities like Tokyo. Also look for free temples, parks, festivals, and other attractions to visit. With some planning, you can experience Japan for less!
When packing for Japan, the most important thing is to pack light and only bring essentials. This will make getting around via public transportation much easier. Some key packing tips include:
Bring a small suitcase or backpack that you can easily maneuver. Avoid checking bags if possible. According to the Inside Kyoto packing list, backpacks are ideal for navigating small train stations and busy city streets.
Make sure to pack comfortable walking shoes as you'll be doing a lot of walking between sights. The Japan Travel packing tips recommend waterproof shoes for rainy days.
Bring lightweight, breathable clothing that can be easily layered for Japan's variable weather. Summers are hot and humid while winters can get quite cold. Pack a lightweight jacket and sweaters that you can layer. According to the What To Wear On Vacation packing list, jeans, and pants are more common than shorts or skirts.
Don't forget rain gear! Japan's rainy season lasts from June to July. A compact umbrella and rainjacket are essentials.
Pack any essential medications, chargers, cell phone, camera, passport, and other important documents in your carry-on bag. Check the inside Kyoto packing list for other suggested carry-on essentials like hand sanitizer and extra batteries.
Making sure you have comprehensive travel insurance is essential for any trip to Japan. Travel insurance will protect you financially in case of unexpected circumstances like travel delays, lost luggage, or medical emergencies.
Some key reasons you'll want travel insurance for your Japan trip include:
- Healthcare costs - Medical care in Japan is excellent but very expensive. Having insurance will protect you in case you need emergency care.
- Cancellation protection - If you need to cancel your trip for a covered reason like illness, travel insurance can refund you for some or all of your non-refundable trip expenses.
- Evacuation coverage - If there is a natural disaster or another safety issue, insurance can cover the cost of getting you home safely.
- Lost luggage reimbursement - Japan's airports are very busy. Make sure you have backup coverage if your bags get lost or delayed.
For a Japan trip, look for a comprehensive policy that includes emergency medical coverage of at least $100,000, evacuation coverage, trip cancellation, and lost baggage. Some top recommended providers include Travel Guard and Seven Corners.
When planning a 10-day trip to Japan, it's best to focus your time on a few key destinations rather than trying to see the entire country. Here is a sample 10-day itinerary that hits some of the top spots:
Days 1-3 - Tokyo
Spend your first few days in Japan's capital city, Tokyo. Top sights include the Imperial Palace, Meiji Shrine, Sensoji Temple, and bustling areas like Shibuya Crossing and Harajuku. Be sure to sample Japanese food like sushi, ramen, and yakitori.
Days 4-6 - Kyoto
Next, take the bullet train to Kyoto to experience historic Japan. Visit temples like the Golden Pavilion and Fushimi Inari Shrine. Wander through districts like Gion and Pontocho in the evening. Consider a day trip to Nara, Osaka, or Himeji Castle from Kyoto as well.
Days 7-9 - Hakone
Travel to Hakone, which is famous for its mountainous scenery, hot springs, and views of Mt. Fujionon on a clear day. Relax at a ryokan and take the cable car for scenic vistas of Owakudani Valley. This area offers a nice change of pace from the big cities.
Day 10 - Return to Tokyo
On your last day, travel back to Tokyo. Spend any remaining time shopping, people-watching, or seeing any Tokyo attractions you may have missed. You'll fly out of Tokyo at the end of an amazing 10 days in Japan!
Japan is generally a very safe country, with low crime rates and few dangers that travelers need to keep in mind. However, it's still a good idea to practice the usual safety precautions.
In terms of crime, violent crime is extremely rare in Japan. Petty crimes like pickpocketing and purse snatching do occasionally occur in crowded tourist areas, so keep an eye on your belongings. Scams aimed at tourists are not very common but be wary of overly friendly strangers offering gifts or discount tours.
Natural disasters do pose some risks in Japan. Earthquakes are common due to their location on the Pacific Ring of Fire. Follow local guidance during an earthquake, staying away from windows and taking cover under a sturdy table or desk. Japan also experiences typhoons during summer and autumn. Check weather advisories and avoid going out during major storms. Follow any evacuation orders if issued.
In terms of medical care, Japan has excellent health facilities and medical technology. However, costs can be expensive for travelers without insurance coverage. Make sure you have adequate travel medical insurance and know where to access care if needed. It's also a good idea to bring any prescription medications you may need.
Visiting Japan is a truly magical experience. From exploring futuristic cityscapes to soaking in ancient culture and tradition, Japan offers something for every type of traveler. With its unique cuisine, fascinating history, natural beauty, and warm hospitality, it's no wonder Japan remains atop its bucket list destination.
If you've been dreaming of visiting the Land of the Rising Sun, what are you waiting for? Use the tips in this guide to start planning your own epic Japan adventure. Book your flights, secure accommodations, and get ready to immerse yourself in this captivating country. A visit to Japan is sure to be a highlight you'll treasure for years to come.
Have you visited Japan before? What was your favorite part? Share your experiences and Japan bucket list recommendations in the comments below!