Why you should book your trip to Japan in advance
Every year, the number of tourists increases in Japan, facilitated by the government. The 2020 Tokyo Olympic Games 🏅 also present less cheerful consequences. On site, especially in the most popular cities and attractions, enjoying them sometimes happens to be difficult which is what we were talking about in the previous post.
The other collateral damage is about the reservation part which is essential. While we could have waited for the last minute or so in the past, now that would be almost impossible and booking late is now a mistake that might cost a lot, as the range, quality and budget choices are limited the closer it gets to your arrival in Japan.
The most dense times and locations
Japan remains a specific destination for traveling, and even if it shares some good practices to know with the rest of worldwide tourism, the archipelago also has its own specifics:
- the most touristy months in Japan are April, July and August, October and December
- local peaks of tourism include: sakura 🌸 ohanami (end of March / beginning of April), Golden Week (end of April / beginning of May), Obon (mid-August), momiji 🍁 koyo (end of November / beginning of December) and Silver Week (end of September)
The advice given here mostly concerns "classic" or "touristy" travel, without being critical or pejorative. Therefore, if you are willing to travel outside the beaten tracks, you can be more flexible and relaxed about your reservation dates. Numerous are the travelers who do not book anything but their flights ✈️, in order to wander according to their moods, desires and encounters.
This philosophy of travel would be totally impossible, not only during the times of year listed above as being the busiest, but particularly for families with children and in the most touristy places, such as:
- the most visited cities *and* the less suitable (geographically) such as Kyoto and Miyajima
- must-see sights, cited in all guides, such as Kinkaku-ji temple or Kenroku-en garden
How to succeed in making your advance reservations
A trip to Japan is not usually decided at the last minute, at the least you will need to consider your budget and how many days you can take.
The first point to secure, from which will follow the complete preparation, is of course to plan your dates of availability in order to know the trip duration.
Based on the determined vacation dates, you can book your flights. There is no exact science about it, but purchasing flights about six months in advance happens to be a good average, especially for the purpose of this article.
As for promotions and discounts, there are no rules either: they can happen at the last minute as well as nine months before your departure. Depending on the chosen airplane company, remember to go online as soon as they open the selection of seats (for example 72 hours before takeoff) to be sure to have seats next to your relatives.
Then, it is good to plan the main itinerary and precisely define the cities in which you can travel around. For example, ten days in Tokyo, one week in Kyoto and then five days in Kyushu. Once you know these, accommodation can immediately be reserved.
For the main accommodation, it is always ideal to plan in advance, via convenient and effective platforms such as Booking or Hotels.com. Doing it naively a few weeks before means risking not finding what you want, in terms of type of accommodation and/or geographical location.
Since a few years ago, hospitality in Japan had an incredible increase, reinforced by the coming events. From 75% of occupation rate of rooms in 2012, it is expected to reach up to 90% in 2018!
Regarding transportation, there is a little to worry about in advance. The only reminder is about the Japan Rail Pass, for which you must possess an exchange voucher before departing to Japan: purchasing it only one week before takeoff becomes risky, as some delivery methods can be relatively slow or sometimes uncertain.
On site, take some time to book your Shinkansen 🚅 seats in advance thanks to JR counters made for this purpose in every main train station. You can also think about taking only the non-reserved cars 🚙, but you might miss the possibility to be seated next to the person you want.
The choice of guides also shows another good example of behaviors to have. The rule is always the same: "first come first served," especially because this service can remain rare and hard to find. We frequently note disappointed people because their preferred day is already fully reserved, and sometimes a long time in advance.
If you are willing to be with a bilingual guide (and you are right!), do not hesitate to book several months in advance to be sure to perfectly fit your demand.
Currency exchange and bookings
Currency exchange remains the last thing travelers think about. There are still a lot of stereotypes about it while the market is simple: in a large majority of cases, the online exchange desks will offer you the best deal. Since we often need several hundreds of thousands of Yens 💴, the commission invoice can quickly skyrocket. So change before you leave to save up to a hundred dollars or more!
Then there are also the visits with mandatory reservations, such as the Moss Temple or Ghibli Museum. Every month, there are numerous disappointed people because of booking the entrance too late, so do not forget to set an alarm for these visits!
Finally, plan a minimum of one month in advance to get your passport or visa. With all the paperwork and processes, nobody is ever certain about the delay!
Beyond these practical recommendations, it is possible to optimize even further the comfort of a trip in Japan.
The most calm and relaxed travelers will be those traveling during the non-touristy periods: January and February, for example.
In any case, you may have to plan to visit the popular sites early in the morning, at the end of the afternoon or during the evening (depending on the opening hours, especially for temples and shrines). Buses full of tourists constantly pour a large flow of Asian visitors between 9 am and 5 pm; however, beyond these times, only individuals and small groups "take the risks" to explore. You may then discover a fascinating light and charming atmosphere and at night, a very different point of view. Let’s remember it: In Japan, the sun rises and sets very early!
Also, think about going off the beaten path. Without going up to the deep countryside of Japan, numerous sites still considered as must-see locations offer splendid discoveries, yet protected from the chaos of tourists. We can think about Nokogiri, Kurama and Yoshino. We try to share them with you regularly on Kanpai, so dig into our published articles and keep on following us for updates and new articles!
Finally, do not hesitate to forget about some essentials, which might not be so unavoidable. For example, many tourists go to Hakone because it is common to hear that they have to go. However, this is not necessarily true: many leave it a little disappointed. The stereotypical travel spots are not for all of us and there is nothing to be ashamed of for not going to Tokyo Disney Sea even after half a dozen trips to Japan!
Have a good preparation and enjoy booking your next trip!