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 and this is what we were talking about in this previous post.
The other collateral damage is about the reservation part, which is essential. While we could have been waiting for the last minute or so in the past, now it is almost impossible and booking late is now a preparation’s mistake which might cost a lot, as the range, quality and budget choices are limited as you will get closer to your arrival in Japan.
The most dense times and locations
Japan remains a specific destination for traveling, and even if it obviously shares some good practices to know just like the rest of worldwide tourism, the archipelago has its own specificities:
- the most touristic months in Japan are July and August, April, October and December
- local peaks of tourism: 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 given advice here mostly concerns the "classic" or "touristy" travels, without being critical or pejorative. Therefore, if you are willing to travel outside the beaten tracks, you can be more flexible and relaxed about the reservation dates. Numerous are travelers who do not book anything but their flights, in order to wander according to their moods, desires and encounters.
This philosophy of travel remains totally impossible, not only during the previous given dates, but to 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 your advance reservations
Usually, a trip to Japan is not decided at the last minute, just even by considering the budget and the days off you can take.
The first point to secure, from which will follow the complete preparation, is of course to plan the dates of availability in order to know the trip duration.
According to the determined vacation dates, it is possible to book your flights. There is not exact science about it, but we can consider that ordering flights about six months in advance happens to be a good average, especially for the purpose of this article.
As of promotions and discounts, no rules neither: they can happen at the last minute as well as nine months before the 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 take-off) to be sure to have seats next to your relatives.
Then, it is good to plan the main itinerary and precisely define the cities from which you can travel around. For example, ten days in Tokyo, one week in Kyoto and then 5 days in Kyushu. Once you know them, accommodation can immediately be reserved.
For the main accommodation, the ideal is always to plan in advance, via convenient and effective platforms such as Booking or Hotels.com. Doing it naively a few weeks before means taking the risk of not finding what you want, in terms of sorts of accommodation and/or geographical location.
Since a few years ago, hospitality in Japan has known an incredible increase, reinforced by the coming events. From 75% of occupation rate of rooms in 2012, it should reach up to 90% in 2018!
About transportation, there is a little to worry about in advance. The only reminder to have is about the Japan Rail Pass, whose exchange voucher must be possessed before departing to Japan: purchasing it only one week before take-off becomes risky, as some deliver methods can be relatively slow or sometimes uncertain.
On site, take some minutes 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 arrived first served", especially because this service can remain rare and hard to find. We frequently note disappointed people because the chosen 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 thousand 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, you are numerous disappointed people because of booking the entrance too lately, so do not forget to set an alarm for these visits!
Finally, plan a minimum of a good month in advance to get your passport or visa made. With all the paperwork and processes, nobody is never certain about the delay!
Beyond these practical recommendations, it is possible to optimize even more the comfort of a travel in Japan.
The most calm and relaxed travelers will be those traveling during the not-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 9am and 5pm, 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 during nigh time, a fully 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 offer splendid discoveries, yet protected from the chaotic tourists. We can think about Nokogiri, Kurama, 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 no hesitate to forget about some essentials, which might finally not be so unavoidable. For example, many tourists go to Hakone because a common myth says we have to go. However, this is not especially true: many come back a little disappointed. The stereotyped travel is not made for all of us and there is nothing to be ashamed of about not going to Tokyo Disney Sea even after half a dozen travels in Japan!
Have a good preparation and bookings!
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