Planning a trip to Japan? A first-timer? You've come to the right page. A lot of questions are asked from friends, families, and also our blog readers about how to plan a trip to Japan, from transporations, accommodation to little details like internet services. Below we've gathered some useful tips for planning your trip to the land of rising sun based on our actual experiences. If you're planning a trip to Japan, do not hesitate to bookmark this page or add it to your reading list! :)
If you're travelling to Tokyo, arriving in Haneda Airport is the better option to reach the city compared to Narita Airport. The transportation can be pretty expensive from Narita Airport since it's located further from central Tokyo. We've flown to both airports and both are definitely great airports, they have their own pros and cons but we always opt for Haneda Airport.
Best Time to Visit
When it comes to the question "What is the best season to visit Japan?", the answer is none other than the cherry blossom season. Cherry blossom is Japan's most iconic & most favorite season of all. Also, be aware that millions of tourists all over the world are coming to Japan to witness its beauty so the crowd can be overwhelming in this particular season.
Be sure to check on Japan's national holidays too and try your best to avoid those dates because every tourism spot will be packed with people. You may want to avoid Golden Week the most, it starts on April 29th to May 5th. Golden Week is a series of national holidays so people in Japan are all vacationing. Yes, we've been there, people are literally everywhere. It's probably best not to visit theme parks on these days. The queues will be irrationally long.
Frankly speaking, each season in Japan is beautiful on its own way, it doesn't really matter what season you'll be visiting as long as you plan everything right. In conclusion, the best time to visit Japan based on the weather is during March-April and October-November.
Where to Go
We are both cityscape lover so it's pretty obvious that our favorite city has always been the one and only, Tokyo. Each city has their own beauty aspect. If you love cityscape like us then Tokyo is recommended but if you love traditional houses or preserved historic places, Kyoto is obviously the right choice for you. On the other side Osaka is known for its foods and its unique airport which located on an artificial island.
As a former first-timer myself, I would recommend Tokyo, Osaka and Kyoto as your destination for your first visit so you can explore & experience Japanese culture as a whole. Even though we've heard so much of how beautiful Hokkaido is, we haven't got the chance to visit Hokkaido but if you have plenty of time Hokkaido is very much suggested.
Book an Apartment
Instead of booking a hotel, alternate to an apartment. Most of the time you'll get bigger space and the price is cheaper too. The hosts provide helpful facilities like washing machine, clothes iron, and a portable wi-fi which is a life saver, oh and they have kitchen too but make sure they have elevator in the building because taking the stairs can be really painful after a long day of walking.
The downside of renting an apartment is there's no cleaning service cleaning your room every morning. Breakfast isn't provided too but if you want a quick and cheap breakfast, convenience stores are everywhere and they have literally all kinds of food.
There are so many websites that allow you to find and rent apartments but we always make our reservation through airbnb.com. Other available options are homeaway.com, flipkey.com, and so on. Find further information here.
Check Weather Forecast
Weather forecast is crucial! Staying away from rainy days are important to us. We love sunny days whenever we travel to outdoor places and most of the tourism places are located outdoor. The website we use to check the upcoming weather forecast is www.accuweather.com.
AccuWeather has launched 90 days weather forecast to help you plan your activities but do not use it as a strict guide but rather look at how the weather patterns evolve, according to the website. We would check the weather forecast frequently to have more precise information. The forecasts for the first four days are expected to be more accurate than days 5-8.
Plan an Itinerary Beforehand
Based on the weather forecast, plan an itinerary as you prefer. For example if you want to go to Disneyland, pick a sunny day. It may not be 100% accurate but most of the time it is. Getting lost on trips are fun. Some of you may not want to create an itinerary by this reason but there's nothing wrong with having an itinerary beforehand. Use it as a guide and get lost, be adventurous!
I'm the kind of traveller who love to plan everything. Even though it may not go as planned I always love the whole process of planning trips, therefore, we specially made you these freebies so you can plan the itinerary of your upcoming trips. We really hope these itinerary planner will help you plan better. Enjoy!
Download Itinerary Planner
Download Itinerary Planner (Japan)
Check Transport Timetable
Hyperdia.com is a service which offers the route and the timetable of the railway and the aviation of Japan. This helpful website provides comparison between routes, prices, and any types of transportations such as land transportation (JR, Shinkansen & all the railways) and plane services. The price & time schedule is very accurate, bravo to that!
Hyperdia is easy to use, all you need to do is enter where you'll be going from and your next destination, the time will automatically set to current time but you can always change the time as you prefer.
"Should I buy a JR Pass?" This is probably the most asked question we get. If you're going to ride shinkanshen more than twice then we suggest you to buy a JR Pass but it still depends on how far the destination will be. This is the part where 'Planning an Itinerary Beforehand' take its important role. As soon as you have your itinerary done, you can estimate the approximate expenses by checking your routes & prices on Hyperdia.com before buying a JR Pass.
For example if you are going to depart from Tokyo to Osaka, it will cost you ¥14.340 for one way trip and if you'll be going round trip you'll spend ¥28.480. It's probably best to buy JR Pass since you can also use the JR services for free. There are 2 types of seats in Shinkansen, reserved seat and non-reserved seat. For JR Pass users, reserved seats are free but make sure to book your seats at JR offices in advance.
Shinkansen is expensive but by buying yourself a JR Pass, you will save a lot of money. JR Pass is specified for travellers only. The benefit from buying a JR Pass is you can ride any JR Railways and any Shinkansen, completely free, expect for Nozomi and Mizuho (the fastest shinkansen) for a certain period of time (7-day, 14-day or 21-day) without any limitation of how many times you'll board the train.
JR Railways always have 'JR' in front of its line name e.g. JR Yamanote line, JR Shinjuku line and so on, therefore, whenever you see a JR line it signifies that you're free to go. Show your JR Pass to the officer in the corner of the faregate instead of going through the automatic faregate.
This is also important (for JR Pass users only) whenever you check your schedule on Hyperdia.com, click 'more options' which available on their homepage and unselect 'NOZOMI / MIZUHO / HAYABUSA (SHIKANSEN)' because Nozomi will always be on top of the results.
One of the most crucial steps is to activate your JR Pass at the JR Offices before you use it. We learned our lesson well 2 years ago, we planned to depart from Shinagawa at 7am without knowing that we should exchange the voucher to a JR Pass so we waited for 2 hours until the office was opened at 9am, what a total waste of time.
The operating hours is varied for each JR office, there are JR offices that open at 7.30 am and some open at 9am. Click here to check the JR offices location and their operating hours. It's best to exchange your voucher at least one day before, do not worry, you can choose the starting date of your JR Pass.
Pasmo vs. Suica
Pasmo or Suica is a must when you're in Japan. Both Pasmo and Suica are prepaid digital money which can be used on railways & busses and it also can be used to buy foods, drinks and goods from vending machines and stores that accept electronic money payments. It is very helpful for travellers so you don't have to waste your time buying tickets every time you use the railways.
Pasmo & Suica requires a deposit of ¥500 and valid for 10 years. There aren't really significant differences between them except that they are sold by different companies and the location where people can return the card and receive the deposit.
Print your name on your Pasmo card on the Pasmo ticket machine just in case you lost your Pasmo, it can be reissued. If you have already buy a blank Pasmo card then just find a Pasmo ticket machine and get your name printed on it, no need to buy a new card. Unfortunately Suica Card can't be reissued if yours are lost. In this case, we decided to get ourselves Pasmo cards.
Download Useful Apps
Some of the apps are very useful so you might want to download some of these apps. Our favorite is Tokyo City Rail Map but it is now requires a purchase on iOS. If you're on iOS like us then go ahead and download 'City Rail Map' and unlock one city for free. If you'll be getting subways, this app helps a lot.
Google Translate: Download your preferred language on the app.
Google Maps: Requires internet connection or download areas and navigate offline.
Guides by Lonely Planet: Download the city you'll visit and find lots of information.
Japan Rail Map: It includes all the city in Japan that has railway system.
Learn Japanese: A very good app for beginners to learn basic Japanese language.
Japan Connected Free Wi-Fi: Helps you connect to public Wi-Fi instantly.
Tokyo, Osaka, Kyoto Rail Map: Requires a purchase on iOS and free on Android.
Get a Portable Wi-Fi or Prepaid SIM Cards
Internet service is a necessity in Japan, well, it's pretty much in wherever country you traveling to. For those of you who book an apartment, most of the hosts will provide portable wi-fi to be carried around. If you stay at a hotel, you can find them on airport or travel agencies at your countries. Public wi-fi isn't available everywhere in Japan, therefore, portable wi-fi is very useful especially when you travel in a small group.
Besides portable wi-fi, prepaid SIM Cards are also available for tourists. We used both portable wi-fi and prepaid SIM cards just in case some of us need to split up. Travellers can also buy 7-day, 14-day, or 30-day visitor SIM cards. Our prepaid SIM Cards are bought from BIC Camera in Shibuya.
Basic Information: Dos & Don'ts
There are always dos and don'ts in every country you're traveling to and as a traveller it's wise to know some of these do's and don'ts to appreciate their culture. Some of these dos and don'ts are actually quite common in our daily life as society rules. What matter most is to always be nice towards other because Japanese people are very nice & respectful towards the tourists.
- Do slurp your broth & noodles.
- Do wear masks if you catch a cold.
- Don't tip!
- Never cut in line!
- Don't put your chopstick vertically on your food particularly rice bowls!
- Don't make or answer a call in trains! If it's important, lower down your voice and make it quick.
- Always be nice & respectful towards people.
- Priorate the elders, people with disabilities, women with children and pregnant women.
- Please do not litter! Ever. Save whatever it is on your pocket and throw it away later when you find trash can.
Learn Some Japanese Phrases
By knowing some of these daily Japanese phrases will definitely help you understand better. Here are some of the important daily phrases that we always heard when we were in Japan.
Hello : Konnichi wa
Excuse Me/ Pardon/ Sorry : Sumimasen
Thank You : Arigatou
Thank You (Formal): Arigatou Gozaimasu
You're Welcome: Dou Itashimashite
Good Morning : Ohayou Gozaimasu
Good Afternoon : Konnichi Wa (also used for saying Hello)
Good Evening: Konban Wa
Good Night: Oyasumi Nasai
You can also learn more vocabularies & conversations from the app "Learn Japanese" as we shown above. It's very helpful especially for travellers.
Feel free to leave a comment down below if you have any questions and share this post to your families & friends who will probably travel to Japan. We hope this guide helps you plan your trip well and we wish you all to have an unforgettable trip. Don't forget to cherish every moment! God bless you all!
Much love, Gunawan & Melisa