Traveling to Japan: A Comprehensive Guide
For those interested in planning a trip to Japan, our website already has a lot of information in stock, with numerous posts about destinations, and "how to" or "what to do" practical guides. However, this knowledge base might seem a bit too wide or scattered, so we decided to create a shortlist on what to do / what to know before traveling to Japan.
What to decide?
The best time to go to Japan
When choosing the period for visiting Japan, seasons are an important criterion. Each season has its interest, whether you are looking for the most beautiful natural landscapes, a festive travel following the matsuri calendar, or a taste of a quiet everyday life in Japan.
Spring (mid-March to end of May) and Autumn 🍁 (October to the beginning of December) offer the best weather conditions, and vivid natural colors. Needless to say, touristic places are quite crowded at these times of the year, especially during cherry trees 🌸 blooming season.
Street festivals are mainly held in summer, and often last in the night, due to the high temperatures and humidity in the day. It can be quite wearisome to visit big cities in these weather conditions. On the contrary, mountainous areas, such as the Japanese Alps or Hokkaido island offer nice and fresh hikes in nature. The seaside is also an ideal spot to enjoy nice temperatures, swimming and the fresh marine breeze.
Winter is not tourists’ favorite season, as it is cold, and parks and Japanese gardens are less interesting to visit. However, this is the time of the year when traveling in Japan is the cheapest, and the touristic frequentation is low. Activities such as winter sports, snow festivals or dipping in onsen ♨️ hot water baths are quite enjoyable. Winter weather in Japan is rather dry and sunny.
When planning a trip to Japan, one must also consider Japan’s National holidays, as it can be difficult and expensive to find a place to stay. It might be disappointing to plan a trip on those few moments (about fifteen days only over the year) when places of interest are overcrowded with tourists.
Duration of stay
From Europe or North America, a direct flight ✈️ to Japan usually lasts about 12-15 hours long, and time difference can be of 7 to 8 hours, depending on the country of departure.
The distance and jetlag 🕓 are to be considered when deciding on a on a duration of stay: we recommend staying at least 10 days and up to 3 weeks to visit several regions at a leisurely pace. Can travel for a longer time? Good for you!
In some cases, you might also need to apply for a visa, and even if you don’t need it, the duration of your stay might also be limited by Japanese law according to your citizenship.
Passport and visa
A valid passport is generally sufficient to travel in Japan as a tourist. However, make sure to check the Japanese Ministry of Foreign Affairs Website and your local authorities as restrictions and formalities may apply.
For those who wish to stay for a longer discovery of the country and be allowed to have a temporary job, it is possible to apply for the working-holiday visa, granting a stay up to one year. For students and expatriates, there are specific visas, and administrative procedures are to be done long before departure, in collaboration with the hosting school or company in Japan. Contact your local immigration office or the Ministry of Foreign Affairs of Japan for more information.
Planning alone or with a travel agency?
Depending on your budget and the time you can allocate to this task, planning a trip to Japan by oneself is possible. Internet provides with numerous official sources of information and possibilities to book alone. Kanpai Japan!’s website, for example, collects a lot of information about destinations, with practical details on how to go there, what to visit and popular topics that can help beginner travelers as well as veterans.
A travel agency whose services are focused on Japan is the best choice for travelers with a comfortable budget, willing to have a top-notch itinerary, book in advance specific activities and be sure to get useful advice.
Unlike South East-Asia, Japan is not a budget destination. Some items of expenditure are quite expensive at any time of the year, such as airplane ticket, accommodation, and transportation. With a careful preparation beforehand, and if traveling beside touristic peak seasons, it is nonetheless possible to reduce the primary budget.
As for eating in Japan, it is always affordable, and there are multiple solutions to eat on a budget. The restaurants range is wide, and famous gourmet restaurants are mainly found in big cities.
A travel in Japan can cost about ¥15,000 to ¥20,000 (~US$136.05 to ~US$181.40) per day and per person, but the costs can quickly add up and escalate.
Safety and natural disasters
Japan is a country with a high level of public safety. Foreigners, tourists as well as expatriates, alone or in group, usually feel very safe in Japan, as it is a very well developed and urbanized country, with very few socially disruptive behaviors.
The only real risks are natural disasters: mainly typhoons 🌀 in summer, and the high seismic activity. Japan is a volcanic archipelago and countless earthquakes are recorded each day throughout the country. Most of them are unnoticed by the population, but it is likely that a magnitude 4 or 5 quake will occur during a travel. Japanese people are used to it and trained since early childhood on how to react according to the intensity of the event. In case of such a disaster, we recommend taking example on Japanese people around you, act as they do and keep calm.
Planning and booking
Flight and Airline tickets
Buying your flight ticket to Japan is the first practical step in the planning of your trip. This is the moment when you decide of your departure and return dates, of the time spent in Japan, and of the number of travelers. This first purchase can be quite expensive, so you should make sure to choose the most cost-effective flight, according one’s own preferences, which can mainly be:
- Duration: a direct flight is faster (about 11 to 13 hours) and more expensive; a stopover flight is longer but can help save a great deal of money ($200 can easily be saved with a 1 to 2 hours of stopover);
- Cabin class: an economic class flight prioritizes the price, a premium eco is about space; and business class is about the comfort of lying to sleep and maybe have some intimacy in a solo cabin.
Tourism towards Japan has been trending in the last few years, and airlines frequently offer flight deals, that are constantly relayed by Kanpai Japan!
Moreover, we recommended to frequently compare flight fares to Japan and to use the meta-search engine Skyscanner, that scans all the companies to find the best price:
Where to stay and how long for each destination is the second question to tackle immediately after booking the flight. You should already have an itinerary in mind, or at least a general idea: how many days in a city, in an area? How much to spent there?
Then, let’s narrow down the choice to the type of accommodation you are looking for: a hotel 🏨 (Expedia and Booking are often the best options), a guesthouse, renting a flat or a house? For a first trip we recommend trying various types of accommodations, and "indulge yourself" with one or two nights in a typically Japanese high-end accommodation, such as ryokan traditional inn.
Transportation in Japan
What is the best transportation method to get around Japan? There are numerous options such as bus, metro, train 🚅, car 🚙, bicycle, etc., or even a combination of several of them. We recommend you have a look at our guide to transportation in Japan before departure. If you travel in several regions, the Japan Rail Pass will certainly be necessary.
If you don’t feel like complying with train schedules and depend on train stations, a good option is to rent a car. If you choose this solution, make sure that you can legally drive in Japan: there are administrative steps to clear before going to Japan, such as the translation of your driving license in Japanese, which can take two to three weeks. Train and car have both their own advantages and downsides, and there is no best way to go around Japan when considering costs and limitations.
It is usually cheaper to change currency before the trip in order to benefit from a good exchange rate. It is recommended to have at least several thousand Yens when arriving in Japan, or at least the sum necessary to pay for transportation between the airport and your accommodation.
Carrying a large amount of cash in Japan is normal and necessary, as it is still widely used on a daily basis. Be aware that ATMs have closing hours, the same as the banks, meaning it is almost impossible to withdraw money after 4 or 5 p.m. For more information, check our guide to buy Japanese Yens.
The health care system in Japan is good, but rather expensive. There is no social welfare system for everyone, it is necessary to prove you have the means to seek healthcare beforehand. Make sure to check what is covered by your insurance, especially in case of accident and for repatriation. If necessary, do not hesitate to buy a complementary travel insurance.
Now a necessary convenience, Internet access must be easy from the accommodation naturally, but also during visits as well. For this purpose, you can rent a Pocket Wifi 📶 device, to book before departure.
Going around with an illimited Internet access on the smartphone 📱 is a must for every traveler in Japan. It allows to easily navigate to destination, looking for any information and to share the travel with friends, family or fanbase . It is the guaranty of an efficient and successful trip.
Visits and Foreign-language speaking guides
Don’t forget to plan important visits ahead! Some destinations are overcrowded on weekends or have peak periods, and it can be necessary to book several weeks and even months in advance (for example: the Ghibli Art Museum in Mitaka, or the Benesse House in Naoshima), some other places are free on some weekdays, etc. A thoroughly thought schedule can be very useful; even more for a short stay in Japan.
If you are afraid of lacking time to plan, of missing the must-see places, or on the contrary to visit only the most touristic places and missing "real" Japan, feel free to use the help of professional guides. They add to historical knowledge their empathy and friendliness, ensuring their customers a better understanding of Japanese society, with firsthand knowledge at hand and a direct translation and interpretation.
Start to pack a few weeks before departure (or a few days for the more relaxed persons). Choose your clothes according to the season and the places you will visit. Winter wardrobe is much lighter in Okinawa than summer’s one in Hokkaido, and it can be interesting to check the weather and climate of the regions and cities you plan to visit in Japan.
Don’t forget some handy items, such as: electric plug or adapter to charge your electrical appliances in Japan, a hydroalcoholic gel to wash hands without water (purchasable in drugstores or at the duty-free). Also prepare a few things to help overcome the length of the flight and the jetlag (a night mask 😷 for the flight, ear plugs), a small first aid kit (aspirin or pain relievers, antiseptic, band-aid, mouth wash, etc.)
Japan is without a doubt a very photogenic country and is well known for being an "Instagrammable destination." So, don’t forget to bring the camera 📷 you need to take wonderful pictures of the places you will visit, but also of the food you will eat, to arouse the appetite of behind the screen gourmets.
Eating in Japan
Eating in Japan can be difficult only if you are afraid of choice! From little convenience stores, to fast-food, traditional restaurants or supermarkets, everything is "good and beautiful." Do not linger on trying original dishes whose textures can be surprising, but fresh and healthy most of the time. In the unlikely event of a digestion problem, eat some plain white rice and you will be as good as new!
Learn some Japanese language
If you don’t master Japanese language yet but are willing to try it on once in Japan, start to get acquainted with it by reading books for learning Japanese, dictionaries and conversation guides. The first step is to learn the kana syllabary (hiragana and katakana) to decipher many signs and information in Japanese once in the country.
Japan, to fantasy and beyond
Is it really possible to know Japan?
A good question to think about before planning anything is: why do we want to go to Japan? Is it for discovering traditional Japan, with Buddhist temples and Shinto shrines, onsen hot springs, Geisha, or remnants of feudal Japan? To know more about its culture and its arts and visiting its numerous museums? To perform a modern times pilgrimage in the Otaku Mecca, for video games, manga or anime? Or just enjoy the passing of the seasons in Japanese parks and gardens?
Everybody has good reasons to go to Japan. When in the country, you will meet Japanese people and society, forget about clichés and bring back many interesting stories to tell. Japan is a destination as attractive as it is original, so we wish you can get the most of it!