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How to plan a trip to Japan: a step by step guide

Wonder how to plan a trip to Japan? If you don’t know where to start, or how to plan a trip to Japan, you have come to the right place.

Planning a trip to Japan, a country with a completely different culture, an unintelligible language, and several stretched-out megacities, can be a little overwhelming.

But let me reassure you immediately, it is very easy to travel independently in this country.

Japanese are welcoming, helpful, and well-organized. You will find yourself at home in this country in no time.

In this Japan travel blog post,  we will explain step by step how to get started with your Japan trip planning.

We share a lot of travel tips for Japan, how to get to the country of the rising sun, where to stay, all of the best things to do for first-timers, and everything else you need to know to craft a perfect holiday. 

We have some example itineraries to get you started, we will cover what to pack and the best travel time. 

We also mapped some things against a timeline so you know how far in advance you should take care of some of the more important things.

This step-by-step guide is also handy if you are only planning a trip to Tokyo, Kyoto, or Osaka.

Ready? Let’s start working on this amazing Japan trip!

There is a really good chance that this post contains affiliate links. If you click one of them, we may receive a small commission (for which we are deeply grateful) at no extra cost to you.

Plan a trip to Japan to see Mt. Fuji

When to visit Japan

A good item to start your planning with is to record your travel period.  Once you’ve decided on a certain period you can start looking for flights.

Below is an overview of the different seasons in Japan with the pros and cons of each season.

Best time to travel to Japan

Japan is a long and narrow, stretched-out country.   It has a mountainous region in the North that attracts skiers in winter.  The Southern island of Okinawa is a popular beach location and scuba divers are raving about its untouched colorful underwater world.

The most popular tourist hotspots of Tokyo and Kyoto are located between those two regions. 

The best time to travel to Japan obviously depends on your interests and the region you want to visit.

The best time to travel to Japan for first-time visitors who want to see the highlights of the country is Spring and Autumn.

We would advise against traveling in summer because the cities are very hot and humid in this season.

The Sakura is a bonus of traveling in Spring, the cherry blossoms are an attraction in and by themselves.

Here are some more details about the different seasons.

Philosopher's Path Kyoto, Japan
The Philosopher’s Path is the best place for lovely Sakura shots


Spring is an excellent season to visit Japan.  Certainly, if you can arrange your plans to coincide with the so-called Sakura, the famous cherry blossoms.

The cherry trees start blooming in the South of Japan and gradually transform the entire country into a colorful floral display.

The northern peninsula of Hokkaido is the last to showcase its beautiful colors.

It’s difficult to predict exactly when the flowers will bloom. 

You can check the predictions and forecasts on the site of the Japanese tourist board and the Japanese Meteorological Corporation.  The predictions become more accurate as the date approaches and they’re not really useful at this stage of your travel planning.

The period can vary a few weeks every year. It’s best to plan your trip across the country in a southerly direction.  It guarantees that you will see the blossoms at their best in at least one location.

We witnessed this glorious natural phenomenon in Tokyo, Kyoto, and Osaka.
The cherry blossoms attract huge numbers of people all over the country, the Japanese even organize Hanami in the parks. (A Hanami is a flower-viewing party)

You can see cherry blossoms all over the world, but the atmosphere in Japan during this time of year is one you won’t find anywhere else.

The Sakura blossoms draw in large crowds, so this is a busy and somewhat more expensive time to travel to Japan.

Right after the Sakura Season is another busy travel week, the “Golden Week”.  It is formed by 4 national holidays, the first of which is Emperor day on April 29.  The other days are Constitution day on May 3, Greenery day on May 4, and Children’s day on May 5.

Many Japanese take advantage of this period to explore their own country, which makes the popular tourist attractions much busier than usual. This, in turn, causes the hotel rates to increase as well.

Temperatures will range from 15 degrees Celcius to 25 degrees Celcius.  In March and April, you may experience an occasional shower, during May it starts raining more often and more heavily.

Insider tip: Did you know that we also have a travel planner that you can download and use for your trip planning? Check out our Japan travel planner! This document will help you plan your trip smoothly. 

Japan Travel Planner preview
The colorful cherry blossoms in Spring.


Summers in Japan are warm with temperatures that often exceed 30 degrees Celsius.  The humidity makes the wind chill even higher and unenjoyable if you’re not used to tropical climates.

The cities are always crowded and the combination of this bustling activity and such a high temperature can make exploring these concrete jungles unpleasant during this season.

June and July statistically know the most rainfall. This applies to most of the country, only the northern peninsula of Hokkaido is mainly spared from the downpours. 

The rainy season starts and ends a month earlier in Okinawa where most rainfall is measured in the months of May and June.

It doesn’t rain every day in the rainy season.  Some days are dry, while some days have light rain and other days come with massive downpours.

It’s difficult to predict, but as a rule of thumb, one can say that it will rain roughly every other day.

The benefit of traveling through Japan during this time of year is that the popular tourist sites, where otherwise you’d be part of a huge crowd, are much less busy.

Even after the rainy season has come to an end the weather remains hot and humid. 

The official typhoon season starts in May, but the typhoons that can disrupt everyday life are most common in the months of August and September.

Only a few severe storms reach the Japanese mainland and the storms are also very predictable.  This means that it is not necessary to avoid this period. It’s sufficient to watch the weather forecast to know when you shouldn’t go outside.

That being said, heavy rainfall does have the potential to cripple public transportation, while temples and amusement parks sometimes close during strong winds or sudden floods.

Many Natsumatsuri are organized in Summer. 

A Natsumatsuri is a summer festival.  It’s a cause for Japanese women to get their colorful Yukata out of the closet.  Huge crowds gather around the food and drink stalls and watch the fireworks together.  

If you’re in Japan during Summer you must definitely join these celebrations.

If you’re not a fan of warm and humid summer weather, you could still always go to Hokkaido. This is the only region with summer temperatures around 20 degrees Celsius (68 degrees Fahrenheit).

Oishi park Kawaguchiko Mount Fuji Japan
Beautiful Fall colors in Oishi Park


Fall is another great time to travel to Japan.

Japan is home to many expansive parks and forests, and the fall colors transform them into a gorgeous and colorful palette.

The fall foliage craze is no match for the popularity of the Sakura but that couldn’t stop the Japanese from giving it a special word: Koyo.

The best period to admire the amazing Koyo colors depends on the weather conditions and the location.  Japan is fairly big and the peak period differs significantly between the different regions.

Japan’s official tourism website has an Autumn leaves guide. You can track the Koyo predictions just like you can track the cherry blossoms.

Autumn temperatures start around 26 degrees Celcius.  When you visit Japan in October, you’ll normally still be able to enjoy pleasant temperatures that exceed 20 degrees Celsius. During the month of November, the temperature drops below 20 degrees Celcius to 15 degrees Celcius.

Although November is a bit cooler, it still counts plenty of sunny days to enjoy.

This makes both October and November pleasant and comfortable months to travel to Japan.

Cranes Hokkaido Japan Winter
Cranes in Hokkaido in Winter


Winter announces the low season in most parts of Japan.  Only Hokkaido, with its many ski resorts, experiences a peak in tourism during this season.

Temperatures in Hokkaido range around 0 degrees Celcius.  In central and South Japan it is around 10 degrees Celcius. 

Some melting snow may fall in Tokyo during January and February, but the snow typically doesn’t stick around very long.

This is an atypical time to visit Japan, but the country does have some fun things to offer in winter. Great examples are the snow monkeys that you can see bathing in the onsen. You can also visit idyllic villages such as Shirakawa-go that are very enchanting when they’re covered by a layer of fresh snow.

The Japanese brighten up these cold months with various winter festivals featuring ice sculptures and fairytale-like lights. The most famous of those is the Sapporo Snow Festival.

General Do’s and Don’ts in Japan

It is clear that etiquette is still an important element of everyday life to the Japanese. They are some of the most courteous, helpful, and respectful people we’ve come across.

That was one of the aspects that made our trip so unforgettable.

You are certainly not supposed to comply with all their etiquette rules as a tourist, but the least you can do is try to return the favor.

Soaking in an onsen is one thing you absolutely must do while in Japan, but please read a little about basic onsen etiquette before you do.

Also, try your best at learning a little Japanese so you can say thank you and please when the locals help you out when you ever get lost in one of the huge train stations. (it happened to us a few times)

If you’re staying in a Ryokan, something we also recommend, it’s also good to read a little in preparation so that you know what to expect.

A Ryokan stay is an excellent way to experience Japanese tradition but you will enjoy it so much more if you understand the typical customs that come with such a stay.

They will provide you with slippers and a Yukata to wear around the property and Ryokans usually also have an onsen.

Are you afraid to cut a silly figure? Don’t let this stop you from staying a Ryokan and remember that you can always ask the owners about their house rules.

Read Also:

Different cultures have different eating etiquette and it won’t come as a surprise that Japan also has a number of rules about eating with chopsticks. If there’s one thing you absolutely must remember, it’s that you shouldn’t place your sticks vertically in food, which is associated with death.

Did you come here expecting a list of things absolutely not to miss in Japan? We’ve got that too. Here is our Japan bucket list and famous landmarks you shouldn’t miss!

How many days in Japan

There’s no easy answer to this question. As Japan lovers, we recommend that you go as long as possible. 🙂

Japan is a country of contrasts. From the bustling city of Tokyo to the stillness of a Zen garden, from the neon-lit nightlife to the serene beauty of Kyoto. There is enough variation in the various sights so that traveling around Japan isn’t boring or repetitive.

To truly appreciate Japan, and its people, we recommend taking at least two weeks to explore this fascinating country.

We have carefully mapped out 5-day, 7-day, 2-week, and 3-week itineraries specifically aimed at first-time visitors.

If you want to make a city trip, check out Tokyo is the perfect destination for a 4 or 5-day city trip.

And if you have a week you can visit Tokyo and make some side trips to nearby places such as Hakone and Nikko or even Kyoto and Osaka.

Read Also:

Japan trip cost

Japan is not the cheapest country to explore but some good planning can save you a lot of money.  Hotels will take the largest chunk out of your travel budget.  You can save a lot of money by booking these several months in advance.

Transportation is the second-largest cost item.  Oftentimes you can save on this by using local discount passes or special tourist passes.  The most well-known is the Japan Rail Pass but we also cover other passes on our site such as the Tokyo Metro Pass (Tokyo Subway Ticket) and the Hakone Free Pass.

Food is relatively cheap in Japan.  We spent an average of €12 per day per person on food.  (That is excluding breakfast which was usually included in our hotel rate)

We go into much more detail about the cost of these  3 items in our Japan Travel Guide.

Your Japan Trip Planning

Once you know when you will be traveling you can start working on your Japan itinerary.

Here we share a complete timeline.

The timeline for your Japan Trip Planning

6 months in advance

Join our Japan Facebook group

Be sure to become a member of our Japan Travel Planning and Tips Facebook group. 

The purpose of this group is to help you plan an amazing vacation to Japan. 

You can ask questions and exchange tips with fellow travelers.

Cheap Flights to Japan

We recommend that you start looking for flights as soon as your travel dates are fixed.  Prices for flights fluctuate continuously and it’s hard to predict when is the best time to buy. 

Tickets can be booked one year out until the very last day and over the course of this period, the price follows a stretched-out U curve.

Prices start high to drop gradually to a low point, and from there on they start rising again.

Everybody knows it’s expensive to wait until the very last minute but nobody knows the exact low point.

Usually, this is 4 to 6 months out for intercontinental flights.  We recommend tracking the price of your flights before you book. 

These days such tracking functionalities are available on all major booking sites (some sites call them price alerts). 

You can also use the insights provided by websites such as Momondo to get a clue about what the price will do.

Momondo travel insights Japan
Momondo’s travel insights can help you find the cheapest flight
Here are some tips to find cheap flights to Japan
  • Use travel comparison sites such as Momondo, Skyscanner, and Kayak to instantly compare the prices on hundreds of sites.  Direct flights are almost always more expensive.  
  • Japan has 2 excellent airlines. Japan Airlines (JAL) and All Nippon Airways (ANA).  Both are recognized by Skytrax as 5-star airlines for their outstanding service.  You will notice that, because of this award, their flights are often more expensive.
  • Chinese carriers often offer rock-bottom prices to Japan with a stop in Shanghai or another Chinese hub.  We flew with China Eastern and thought the service was equally good as what we have experienced on many other European carriers.
  • Japan counts several airports.  Make sure to compare prices to all these airports when you’re looking for flights: Narita and Haneda in Tokyo, Kansai and Itami airport in Osaka, and Chubu Airport in Nagoya.
Travel Insurance

Flights to Japan are no longer as expensive as a few years ago but they still take a big chunk out of your budget. 

That’s why we recommend taking out travel insurance as soon as these are booked.

Insurances only cover accidents that occur after taking out and you don’t want to lose this money in case things suddenly turn awry. 

Such accidents happen when you least expect them.

We once couldn’t leave on vacation because one of us slipped on an icy terrace and severely bruised an ankle.

Our travel insurance saved us a lot of money back then because it was a complete family trip that needed to be canceled.

Travel Insurance is something that can be overlooked when you prepare for your vacation.

We were glad we had it back then because, in all honesty, we didn’t always think about it before then. 

Since then we always make sure that our travel expenses are covered.

Travel Insurance for Japan

Japan is a safe and civilized country. The country has an excellent healthcare system that is free for most residents but the costs of medical treatments can be extremely high for foreigners. 

Drawing up a travel insurance policy may seem expensive at first but it can potentially save you a significant sum, significantly more than the small insurance fee. 

We explain what to look for in your travel insurance policy here.  Don’t just go with the cheapest option, make sure to look at what’s covered and to what amount.  Cheaper policies usually come with low limits which can result in high out-of-the-pocket expenses for you.

Most travel insurance policies are usually aimed at residents of a specific country.

Have a look at what’s available in your country and compare this with what’s offered by SafetyWing and HeyMondo travel insurance.

Both are good and trusted insurance companies and offer really good protection for a very affordable rate!

Only a few countries require a Visa to travel to Japan
Only a few countries require a Visa to travel to Japan
Passports and Visas

Most people won’t need a visa when traveling to Japan, at the time of writing residents of 68 countries were exempt from a visa for short-term stays.   

If you’re a resident of another country, such as China, the Philippines, or Vietnam amongst others, you will need to apply for a Visa before traveling to Japan.

Your passport needs to be valid for the duration of your stay and not longer.  It needs to contain one empty page for the entry stamp.

Health Declaration

Currently, everybody who enters Japan needs to have a health declaration. This declaration can be completed online on the Visit Japan Web site. You need to create an account, enter your passport and flight details, and add proof of vaccination (or a recent test certificate).

At the time of writing Japan requires visitors to have at least 3 vaccinations or a test certificate from a test taken a maximum of 72 hours before boarding the flight. (Check the links for the full official guidelines. We always recommend checking the official website as this information can change anytime.)

In a next step you can add the customs declaration.

This will result in 2 QR codes, one for the health officer and another one to show at customs. the codes will appear at the latest 6 hours after entering the data.

The Japanese government highly recommends using the online application but it is not mandatory. Just having proof of your vaccination or test results is also OK to be allowed in the country.

We recommend using the application as there have been reports of airlines denying boarding passengers without the QR codes. This is overzealous and incorrect on the part of these airlines, but it can give you serious problems.

Plan your travel itinerary

This may be the hardest part of your Japan trip planning but it’s also the most fun and rewarding part.  

A good place to start your travel planning is our Japan Guide.  This guide contains a mix of inspirational posts about the country complemented by very practical travel information to help you explore the land of the rising sun.

Our articles will keep you busy for several hours. if you still think you miss something have a look at the wide range of books that Lonely Planet has about Japan.  

Below is our advice on the things you shouldn’t miss if this is your first trip to Japan.

We have wrapped them up in short here. More on these highlights can be found here.

Kiyomizu Dera Autumn, Kyoto
Kiyomizu-Dera Temple in Kyoto
Japan highlightsTop Japan Destinations

Tokyo: Japan’s bustling capital is an amazingly fascinating city of which you will never grow tired. You will need 4 to 5 days to get an impression of the various districts. Each district has its own appearance and charm. 

Kyoto:  Kyoto is most tourists’ favorite.  Prepare for temples galore, the city counts no less than 1600 temples.  2 days won’t be enough to visit them all but it should be sufficient to see the highlights of Japan’s cultural capital. 

You may want to add a third day if you don’t want to feel rushed.

Osaka:  Osaka is Kyoto’s neighbor.  Both cities are just 30 minutes away by train.  Despite it being so close many tourists skip Osaka and only visit Kyoto. 

We absolutely loved Osaka, it’s also called Japan’s kitchen, so we strongly recommend reserving 2 days to explore this city.

Hiroshima: A city with a dramatic past.  We were touched by the stories in the peace museum and also loved nearby Miyajima with its picturesque floating Torii gate and the free-roaming deer.

You can find more info on what to see and what to do in Hiroshima here.

Mt. Fuji:  Japan’s iconic volcano is a sight for sore eyes.  On clear days the mountain can be seen from the capital but you better not count on that to happen. 

In the following articles we explain the best ways to see the mountain with a tour or independently.

The snow monkeys: Being animal lovers this was a true highlight of our trip.  The best time to see these cute monkeys is in Winter or early Spring when they’re bathing in the onsen.  but it’s also fun to see them in Summer or Autumn. You can visit on your own or join a guided tour from Nagano Station.

Visit an onsen:  Living in Japan can be stressful.  They have long working hours, a high work ethic, and also something known as Tatemae which means you must be an upstanding, ideal citizen to everyone except maybe your close family.  Japanese like to visit an Onsen to find relief after a stressful day.  We also enjoyed the warm water after a full day of walking around in the immense cities.

The colorful Robot Restaurant

Robot restaurant: We’re still hoping that the robot restaurant will reopen in the future. It is the epitome of Japanese kitsch, you either hate it or you love it.  Attending this crazy robot show might be one of the highlights of your trip.

The Robot Restaurant didn’t survive Covid. We hope it will reopen somewhere in the near future.

Check prices and availability:
Robot tickets Klook

Kaiseki dinner: The Japanese kitchen is well-balanced and widely known to provide numerous health benefits. A Kaiseki dinner is Japan’s gastronomy at its best.  It’s a multi-course meal made of local fresh ingredients presented in a beautiful pleasing way.  It’s a real culinary treat.

Kyoto is a great place to enjoy a Kaiseki dinner. The below-mentioned tour combines a guided walk through Gion with a Kaiseiki diner.

Check prices and availability:
Kyoto Evening Gion food tour

A traditional tea ceremony: This is another enjoyable Japanese tradition.  It originated in Zen Buddhism and it is bound to strict rules.  A lot of places offer tea ceremonies, we suggest doing some homework and not entering the first tea-house you pass.  Not all ceremonies are equally good. 

This is a well-appreciated tea ceremony in Kyoto.

Check prices and availability:
Kyoto tea ceremony

Stay in a Ryokan:  A Ryokan is a traditional Japanese family hotel.  Staying in one can be a real treat as the hosts are usually very accommodating and breakfast and dinner are mouth-watering. 

Opt for a small ryokan for the best experience.

The success of Ryokans has attracted larger properties with dozens of rooms but these are nowhere as charming as the small traditional Ryokans where it feels like you’re really a guest staying with the family.

Rent a Kimono:  Ideal if you want some great pictures of your trip. Don’t worry that you will stick out, Japanese put on these traditional clothes for all kinds of festive occasions.  We counted loads of Japanese that were taking pictures of the cherry blossoms in their colorful Kimonos. 

Here is one address in Kyoto where you can rent a kimono for a day.

Check prices and availability:
Kimono rental

Example Japan itineraries

Here are some example itineraries.  You can copy them exactly or you can use them as a basis to start with.

Hotels in Japan

Accommodation in the larger cities of Japan can be expensive. 

Kyoto takes the cake with prices that can reach $800/night and higher for a standard room in a 4-star hotel in the high season. 

Prices in Tokyo and Osaka skyrocket as well in peak season, albeit slightly less.

It’s good practice to be prepared and book your rooms as soon as you’ve got your Japan itinerary fixed.

Don’t be put off by the above prices. If you plan in time and compare different hotels, you can also book very good hotels for quite a bit less. We traveled through Japan during the cherry blossom season, an expensive period to be in Japan, and paid on average €105/night for our hotels. 

We stayed in a combination of Ryokans and 3 or 4-star hotels. All were well-maintained and very clean.

Yudanaka Onsen Japan
Several hotels have their own onsen

Best Booking Sites for Japan

It’s easy to book the hotels for your trip online.  These are the sites we used:

Who doesn’t know What else do I need to say?   


Less popular but equally trustworthy is Agoda. It is also part of the group.  Agoda originated in Asia and it will sometimes show better rates for Asian hotels.  We also found some Ryokans on Agoda that couldn’t be booked on

Apartments and houses

Hotel rooms in Japan can be on the small side.  Certainly in the megacities of Tokyo and Osaka. 

If you’re traveling with children or friends it might be better to look for an apartment instead.  We recommend renting through VRBO, Booking, and Airbnb.

And don’t worry, Airbnb is completely legal in Japan.

Ryokan, Japan

Special accommodations

We already shortly talked about ryokans in this article, here are some other options for an original overnight stay in Japan.


As written above a stay in a Ryokan, a traditional Japanese family hotel can be a real treat.  In a Ryokan, you sleep on a futon on the floor, believe me when I say that it is much more comfortable than it sounds. 

Ryokans can be booked on both and Agoda.

Check prices and availability:



A Minshuku is very similar to a Ryokan. The term Minshuku is not as widely known as many people probably just refer to these hotels as Ryokans. Opinions differ as to what a Minshuku is. Sometimes you will see it described as a low-budget Ryokan. According to us, it is better seen as a small-scale Ryokan.

All Ryokans used to be small family-run properties but these days you can find some large Ryokans with dozens of rooms. These offer luxurious accommodations with top-notch service but don’t have the homely feeling of what a Ryokan used to be about.

To experience this you have to opt for a smallish Ryokan or a Minshuku.

Very few hotels call themselves Minshuku as not many tourists know this term. Usually, they are also listed on booking platforms as Ryokans.

Check prices and availability:


Okunoin, Koyasan, Mount Koya, Japan
The Okunoin Cemetery in Koyasan

Temple Stay

Here you will stay at a temple. 

The room is comparable to that found in a ryokan.   

A healthy vegetarian dinner is usually included in your stay and we suggest you retire early as you’re also invited to participate in the morning prayers that start at 6 am sharp. 

You can also enrich your stay with meditation classes offered by Buddhist monks.

Temples that offer temple stays can be found in Kanazawa and Kyoto but the most popular place by far for this experience is Koyasan.  We left our temple a little disappointed, it all felt too touristy and not authentic but your mileage may vary.

There are special sites that specialize in temple stays but you will also find these temples on and Agoda.

Check prices and availabilty:

Check prices and availability:

Capsule hotels

Capsule hotels, also known as pod hotels, originated in Japan. 

They were originally only aiming at busy businessmen that were looking for a place to crash for a few hours.

Many still only cater to men but some now welcome both genders, still strictly separated in separate parts of the hotel.

The capsules in the hotel are usually the size of a bed with just enough space to sit upright.  The capsules are stacked side-by-side and are usually two units high.  In the capsule is a small TV and power sockets, all other amenities like toilets and showers are communal.

Over the years capsule hotels have become more popular among tourists, on the one hand for the unique experience but backpackers also love them because they’re cheap. 

The tourists were the driver for them to start with Woman sections and Kiba hotel in Tokyo now even has pods with a double bed for couples.

Capsule hotels can be booked on and Agoda.

Check prices and availability:

Check prices and availability:

Staying in a Machiya can be a unique experience. Machiya are vacation rentals and ideal in case you’re traveling with friends or family. The properties almost always have a full kitchen to prepare your own meals.

What distinguishes a Machiya from a regular holiday home is that they are located inside a traditional townhouse. The townhouses have been restored, respecting all elements of Japanese traditions. Some come with some Western comforts but all have a traditional Japanese interior.

Several Machiya can be found in Kyoto.

What you should know when booking accommodation

  • Rooms in Japan tend to be small.  Certainly in the major cities.  The less you pay the smaller your room will be.  In our experience, the price is a good indicator of the size of the room.
  • Regardless of whether we stayed in cheap Ibis or Comfort Inn hotels or more expensive Hilton and Marriott properties, our rooms were always spotlessly clean.
  • Capsule hotels will require you to check in and check out every day irrespective of the length of your stay.  Your bags will also need to be stored in lockers.  Make sure you arrive prepared with all you need for the night in a separate small bag.  It’s not really practical if you need to start digging in your suitcase right there.


The fast Shinkansen trains
Getting Around Japan

Now that you know what you will be visiting in Japan it’s time to glue all this together.  There are 3 means to get around Japan.

Below is a short summary of the 3 options.  Click here for more information on getting around Japan.


The train is by far the most convenient way to get around Japan.  It’s also the most popular among tourists.  Japan’s train network consists of several companies. 

The formerly state-run JR is the largest company and also the one to offer the Japan Rail Pass. 

This pass is exclusively available to tourists and is often a good way to save on your transportation. 

See further in this article for more about the Japan Rail Pass.


Highway busses offer a cheap alternative for the more expensive trains.  Buses are a slower and less comfortable means of transportation but can save a few bucks in your travel budget.

There is a dense network of bus routes operated by several different companies. 

Not all companies have an English website, to book buses, it’s best to use the website of Japan Bus Online.

Rental Car or Campers

It’s also possible to rent a car or a van. 

While this probably won’t be more affordable than getting around by train it may offer you more flexibility.

Avoid large cities though where your car will be more like a liability than an asset.

Organized tours

These tours are great alternatives if it just won’t succeed to plan your trip or if you rather just enjoy your holiday without needing to worry about all the details.

There is a range of group tours, but there are also tours where you still travel independently according to a pre-organized itinerary.


TourRadar is the place to go for an all-encompassing overview of the available tours.

It is an online marketplace for tour operators. 

It shows an overview of all available tours and it avoids having to separately search the website of each tour operator. 

You will find tours from popular international household names as well as a broad selection of Japanese niche operators.

They have a very user-friendly website. Several filters allow you to limit the selection to your liking and the reviews can give you a good impression of what to expect from the tour.

Below is an overview of some excellent 5 and 7-day tours that can be found on TourRadar.

With the Japan Rail Pass, you can ride with the Shinkansen

3 months in advance

Japan Rail Pass

The train is a super-convenient way to get around Japan. 

I’m a big fan of car rentals as these give you a lot of freedom during your trip and even I made an exception in Japan.

When planning our Japan trip I carefully checked the train schedules and prices and compared this with what it would cost to rent a car. 

Renting a car is not cheap, Japan counts many toll roads and fuel prices are on the high side.  What won me over is how easy it was to get everywhere with the trains.

Trains aren’t particularly cheap in Japan either but they run on time and even the most secluded stations seem to be serviced several times a day.

That brings us to the Japan Rail Pass, is it worth buying one or not?  The answer is, it depends.

Those rail passes are not cheap.  It would be a shame if you draw conclusions too quickly and buy one if you don’t need it. The rail pass makes it easier to travel by train but it’s too expensive to buy it only for comfort. 

It’s only really worth buying one if you will save on your tickets or if the difference is marginal.

We explain how you can calculate if, and how much, you will save on your tickets in this article.  I really encourage you to do the math before you buy your Japan Rail Pass.

Domestic flights

The efficient Shinkansen that traverse the country in all directions make flights almost unnecessary. 

Still, there remain a few locations that are more quickly reached by plane than by train. 

Most notably is, of course, Okinawa, an island south of Japan’s main island that can only be reached by boat or plane.  Another journey, which is also faster by plane, goes to Hokkaido.  The island is north of Japan’s main island.  It’s possible to ride the Shinkansen to Sapporo but the aircraft on average cuts the travel time in half.

Japan counts a wide range of low-cost carriers.  You have Jetstar, Peach Aviation, Vanilla Air, and Fuji Dream Airlines to name just a few.  The prices for the flights are usually very good thanks to this fierce competition.

There’s also no need to book these flights long in advance. 

Somewhere between 3 months and 3 weeks in advance should be OK unless you are looking for flights in peak travel periods like Golden Week.

Use travel comparison sites such as Momondo, Skyscanner and Kayak to instantly compare the prices of all the low-cost carriers.

Check what’s included with your ticket.  Some low-cost carriers have carry-on only fares, others use 15kg as the standard baggage allowance.  (For comparison: Regular carriers usually allow 20-23kg for each piece of baggage).

Golden Temple KinkakuJi, Kyoto, Japan
The Golden Temple in Kyoto

1 month in advance

Staying online in Japan

A local SIM card or a Pocket Wifi device is an invaluable asset if you would like to discover Japan independently. 

We did use our phones intensively to avoid getting lost, to find local restaurants, and to check the train or subway schedule.

There is a whole range of other Japan apps that can help you to travel deeper.

We cover the advantages of staying online in more detail in the below articles. 

You can choose between a pocket WiFi device and a local tourist SIM card.  Both have their pros and cons which we also discuss.

Mori Building Digital Art Museum teamLab Borderless Tokyo Japan
Mori Building Digital Art Museum by teamLab Borderless
Tours and other Fun Experiences

Tourism has boomed in Japan and popular attractions can fill up several days in advance. Most notable is Teamlab Borderless where tickets are sometimes sold out several weeks in advance.  

To avoid missing out on fun experiences like these it is best to book your tickets well in advance.

In many cases, it will not only give you peace of mind but will also save you a few bucks.  Often online tickets are cheaper than the price at the door.

Most activities and tours can be booked with either GetYourGuide or Klook. 

Booking sites for Japan activities

Here is some information about the booking sites we use most for bookings in Japan.


Millions have already booked their tours with GetYourGuide. 

What we love about GetYourGuide is its outstanding customer service. 

They’re just a call or an e-mail away and will respond quickly and professionally. 

Most activities booked on GetYourGuide can be canceled for free until 24 hours in advance which leaves you with enough flexibility in case your plans might change.

Check prices and availability:


Viator is just like GetYourGuide a middleman that brings tourists in contact with local tour companies. Viator was independent until 2014 when it was acquired by TripAdvisor. It is a reputable company with a wide range of tours, even bigger than GetYourGuide.

If you can’t find what you’re looking for on GetYourGuide, maybe you should check out Viator.

Most activities can be canceled for free until 24 hours in advance. This way you can book your activity knowing that your schedule is still flexible in case your plans need a change.

Check prices and availability:


Klook is a major Asian ticket-booking site aimed at independent travelers.

They offer more activities in Japan than any other booking site.  In many cases, tickets on Klook are cheaper than the official prices at the door.

This might have you wonder if Klook is legit.  It is! 

The site is completely trustworthy, it has already been featured in several reputable business magazines (such as Forbes) and we have used it, as well as thousands of other users, without any problems. 

Not all activities offered by Klook can be canceled until 24 hours in advance.

Pay attention to this when booking if your plans are not 100% fixed.

Check prices and availability:

The colorful Robot Restaurant
Fun Activities

Here’s a list of things you might consider booking in advance:

Robot Restaurant: Tickets online are usually cheaper than at the door.  Read our review to see what this show is about.

teamLab Borderless: A very popular experience in Tokyo unlike anything else you have seen before.

Tokyo Skytree: Amazing 360-degree views of Japan’s capital.  This ticket allows you to skip the line.

Traditional Tea Ceremony in Kyoto: An introduction to the traditional Japanese tea ceremony.

Ghibli Museum: The Ghibli museum contains a world-famous collection of art pieces

Sumo Tournament or Sumo Practice: Sumo tournaments are only held 3 times per year.  If you can attend one we certainly recommend it.  If you are not in Japan during the tournaments it is still worthwhile to attend a practice session.

DisneySea Tokyo, Toy Story
Tokyo DisneySea
Amusement Parks

Tokyo Disney and DisneySea: Tokyo Disney is very much like Disneyland anywhere else in the world.  DisneySea, on the other hand, is a unique and very well-designed theme park with some amazing rides.

Universal Studios: Another amazing theme park in Osaka.  Your ticket includes access to the Wizarding World of Harry Potter and Minion park.  To spend your time efficiently you can upgrade your pass to skip the line at 4 attractions or 7 attractions.

Fuji-Q: This theme park is located at the base of Mount Fuji, one of Japan’s famous landmarks.  It has some record-holding rollercoasters and several anime-themed attractions.

Airport Transportation

Do you already know how you will get from the airport to your hotel?  We definitely recommend that you plan this in advance so that you arrive in the country stress-free. 

Tokyo Narita – Skyliner Express Ticket The N’ex train is covered by the JR Pass.  If you have no JR pass this train is a good alternative.

You can also book a private or shared transfer.


Osaka Kansai – Nankai Line rapi:t The JR Haruka is covered by the JR Pass.  If you have no JR pass this rapit train from the Nankai line is a good alternative.

You can also use the Osaka Limousine bus or a private or shared transfer.

Hakone Freepass Japan
The Hakone Freepass

Discount Passes

Hakone Free Pass A good discount pass to explore Hakone and see Mt. Fuji

Tokyo Subway Ticket (Tokyo Metro Pass) The cheapest option to get around Tokyo (unless you plan on using your JR Pass in the capital).  If you pre-order your metro pass it will be ready at the airport and you can use it to get to your hotel.

1 week in advance

What to pack for your Japan trip

We’re almost there.  It’s time to start packing.

The most important things are of course your passport and an open mind. 

Once those are taken care of you can have a look at our Japan Packing List, a handy list that covers everything from the official stuff, to travel gear to make your trip more comfortable as well as what to wear in the various seasons.


Great, you reached the end of this post!  I hope this means you’re all done and can start counting down to this amazing adventure.

Don’t forget to join our Japan Facebook group if you haven’t already done so.  In this group, you can exchange tips with fellow Japan Travelers to fine-tune those last details of your trip.

Let’s wrap it up by wishing you a Japan vacation of a lifetime!