Planning a trip to Japan can be overwhelming and I wouldn’t recommend traveling to Japan on a whim like other countries in SE Asia. Despite the tedious planning and all of the surprises along the way, Japan is one of our favorite countries and your trip there will be unforgettable. We want to make your planning process as easy as possible, so we’ve complied a list of helpful Japan travel tips to get you started.
*Note: 114 Japanese yen ¥ = $1 USD
Find the right time to visit
Japan is a great country to visit year round and each season offers something different in terms of things to see and do. If your travel dates are flexible and you want to choose your ideal time to visit Japan, here’s a breakdown of the seasons.
- Spring lasts from mid-March to May and it is the most popular time to visit Japan. The weather is wonderful and the cherry blossoms are in full bloom, especially in the last weeks of March and first weeks of April. Accommodation will be the most expensive during this time and will be booked well in advance, so if you want to visit Japan in the spring time, it will require you to plan much further in advance. Also be aware that the amount of tourists who visit Japan during this time increases every year, so everything will be extremely crowded.
- AVOID GOLDEN WEEK. This is a week-long holiday in Japan that occurs the last week of April to the first week of May. It’s a succession of national holidays and the Japanese people have a break from work, so they travel extensively.
- Summer lasts from June to mid-September and is the hottest and most humid season in Japan. If you’re able to handle the humidity, this time of year in Japan is very lively! Some of the best festivals in Japan take place during the summer months.
- Autumn lasts from mid-September to early December. It typically has the most pleasant weather of all the seasons, and the vibrancy of the fall foliage is absolutely stunning.
- Winter lasts from December to mid-March. It does get quite cold in Japan, especially farther North, but this is a great season to visit if you love winter activities and minimal tourists.
- Given its location, typhoons can occur in Japan. Typhoons typically take place from May to October and are most common in Okinawa and southwestern Japan. Note that your travel plans may be affected by a typhoon anywhere in the country during this time, especially if you’re flying to/from Okinawa.
Japan is known for being a very expensive country, but it certainly doesn’t have to be. Your main spending areas for your budget will be transportation, accommodation and food.
The main forms of transportation in Japan are trains, buses and flights. If you aren’t pressed for time, the cheapest way to travel around Japan is by bus. But do be warned, a 3 hour train ride to your next destination could be a 12 hour bus ride, so you will lose a day of your vacation if you choose to travel by bus. Trains and flights are more expensive, but you will be able to see a lot more of the country.
Budget hostels can cost as little as 2,000 ¥ per night while luxury ryokans (Japanese style B&Bs) can cost 70,000 ¥ or more. Book your accommodation according to your preference and budget. Since we are budget travelers, we stayed in backpacker hostels, which were some of the nicest hostels we’ve ever come across in our travels.
Food can be very cheap in Japan! You can fill up on a bowl of ramen at a hole in the wall noodle shop for 500 ¥ or grab some sushi at 7-11 for 400 ¥. On the flip side, food can also be very expensive. For example, if you decide to indulge in the famous “breakfast sushi” at Tsukiji Fish Market, it will cost at least 1500 ¥ per person for just a few pieces of sashimi.
We spent $4,054 USD on our 21 day trip to Japan, including flights and 14-day JR passes. That is less than $100 USD/person/day. We stayed in hostels and cooked some of our food, but traveled quickly and saw a lot of the country.
For more tips on how to save money on vacation, check out our tricks to traveling for cheap.
Bare minimum budget: $50 USD/person/day (finding free accommodation, cooking most of your meals and traveling by bus)
Comfortable budget: $100 USD/person/day (using quick transportation, eating out a few times and staying in budget accommodation)
Very comfortable budget: $200 USD/person/day (using quick transportation, frequently eating at restaurants and staying in nice hotels)
Entry into the country
You will need a passport and it must remain valid (not expire) throughout your stay in Japan. Japan has a long list of “Reciprocal Visa Exemption Arrangements” with sixty-six countries, meaning you will not need a visa to enter Japan as long as you don’t stay longer than 90 days and you do not earn an income. Use this link to see a list of exempt countries that do not require a visa to Japan and also how to apply for a visa if you need one.
Fly into Haneda, not Narita
This may not be possible, because there are some airlines that only fly to Narita. However, if you find flights to Haneda and they’re not a significantly higher price, book those. Tokyo is much easier and quicker to access from Haneda. For comparison, a train from Haneda to Tokyo will cost ¥580 and take 25 minutes while a train from Narita will cost ¥2,600 and take about an hour.
Determine if the JR Pass is right for you and ORDER IT BEFORE YOU LEAVE!
The train system in Japan is extensive and efficient and it’s no doubt the best way to travel around Japan. There are multiple operating companies, but JR has the most extensive routes in Japan, so a lot of people buy the JR Pass to get around quickly and hassle free. The downside is that the passes are expensive.
|Type:||Ordinary||Ordinary||Green (First Class)||Green (First Class)|
|Duration||Adult||Child (ages 5-11)||Adult||Child (ages 5-11)|
|7 Day||29,100 ¥||14,550 ¥||38,880 ¥||19,440 ¥|
|14 Day||46,390 ¥||23,190 ¥||62,950 ¥||31,470 ¥|
|21 Day||59,350 ¥||29,670 ¥||81,870 ¥||40,930 ¥|
Find out if the price will be worth it depending on your trip itinerary. Use Hyperdia to search your route and see how much each leg of your trip will cost. If you plan to span the entire country in a short amount of time, the pass will definitely pay for itself. Just a one way trip from Tokyo to Kyoto will cost 13,738 ¥ .
There are multiple websites you can use to purchase the pass. We bought ours here. The pass must be ordered online outside of Japan and then exchanged in Japan! Do not save this for the last-minute! You will receive your exchange order in the mail and will then get your actual pass using your exchange order at an office in Japan.
Start your packing list
Japan is a modern and modest city, so pack accordingly. You won’t need business casual attire unless you plan on attending formal events or eating at an upscale restaurant. You still want to steer clear from being too casual, even if you’re just sightseeing. Avoid revealing clothes at all costs! Pack quick drying clothes for the summer months and warm clothes for the winter months and don’t forget your rain jacket!
As far as shoes go, bring comfortable walking shoes and a pair of shoes that are easy to slip off. You are required to take your shoes off before you enter almost every building in Japan, so it will get annoying if you have to tie/untie your shoes each time.
Purchase travel insurance
We stress that you never leave the country without some sort of health care coverage, and Japan is no exception. Health care in Japan is expensive, so it’s best to find an insurance policy that is within your budget and risk zone.
A lot of people purchase pocket WiFi or a sim card for their travels in Japan, but we didn’t think this was necessary. Due to the 2020 Tokyo Olympics, recent measures have been made to have WiFi in all major public areas. Most of the restaurants and all of the train stations have WiFi, as well as hotspots in popular areas of town. Do note that trains do not have WiFi, though. We stayed entertained with movies and books on train rides.
If you want unlimited access to Internet with a sim card of pocket WiFi, check out this article to determine which option is the best for you.
Learn some Japanese
We made the assumption that a lot of people in Japan would speak English, but we were wrong. Communication is definitely possible with the language barrier, but knowing some basic Japanese will go a long way. Also be sure to download the Google Translate app. It enables you to hover over Japanese symbols and it will translate it for you! This saved our lives in grocery stores!
Be prepared to use cash, not credit
Despite Japan being extremely technologically advanced, they are a cash dependent country. ATMs are easy to find, but make sure you have enough cash in your checking account to get you through your trip. Also make sure you set travel notifications on your credit and debit cards before you leave! You don’t want your account to freeze, leaving you cashless. You can set travel alerts through your online banking portal or call your bank or credit card if you need assistance.
Understand that 7-11 will be your best friend
With everything from free WiFi, ATMs, shampoo, cheap Asahi beer and a huge variety of “fast food,” there’s no doubt you’ll walk into a 7-11 at least twice a day. Take refuge here. It’s okay!
Walk around with a plastic bag
Japan is one of the cleanest countries in the world, but oddly enough, it’s extremely difficult to find a trash can on the streets. If you don’t want to be stuck holding your trash all day, carry around a plastic bag to collect all of your trash and then throw it at away at the end of the day in your hotel.
Don’t let the stress of planning a trip to Japan deter you from visiting this amazing country! Use our guide and do some research and then imagine your worries being washed away in an incredible Japanese onsen. Japan quickly became one of our favorite countries and I’m confident that you will love it, too.
Leave us a comment with any other questions related to your Japan travel planning! We’d love to help!