“By failing to prepare, you are preparing to fail.” ~ Benjamin Franklin.

So, you’re planning a trip to Japan for the first time? If you’re anything like me, just the thought of preparing for a trip to Japan makes me want to scream it from the rooftops with excitement – even better now all travel restrictions have been lifted!

But, how to plan a trip to Japan on your own? It’s understandable this can seem like a daunting (and overwhelming) task. How to travel in Japan? Where to travel in Japan depending on your travel type??

With my fictitious magical crystal ball, I know you’re going to be fine – I’ve got your back as over the past decade I’ve planned dozens of Japan travel itineraries myself and I love sharing my Japan travel tips with you. I thrive on exploring popular places as well as Japan off the beaten path to avoid the crowds, too.

Planning a Trip to Japan: 20+ Essential Tips to Know Before You Go | The Invisible Tourist

As a self-confessed Japanophile who visits a few times per year, my next Japan travel plan is always in the works behind the scenes (even after I’ve just returned!). Therefore, the information I share with you is as accurate as possible. Just consider me your Japan trip planner.

From the best time to visit, transport, accommodation, places to visit by interest, experiences, navigation, language, how much cash, overall budget and more, the following checklist is my tried-and-tested process to help you have THE best Japan vacation ever. Read on for more!

This post contains affiliate links, at no extra cost to you. I may earn a small commission if you click through and make a purchase.

20 Essential Tips You Must Know When Planning a Trip to Japan | The Invisible Tourist
Pin me to Pinterest for reference later! 📌
 

How to prepare for a trip to Japan in 2024

The best news? As of April 2023, all Japan travel restrictions were completely dropped, which means no more masks (unless you want to), no PCR tests or certificates to enter the country.

On a separate note, there are other super important things to know before travelling to Japan, let’s start with an interesting fact. According to a survey, over two-thirds of Americans have lied about how awesome their trip was.

The pressures of social media, keeping up appearances and lack of trip planning beforehand are said to have contributed to this. Visitors set unrealistic expectations and as a result, were left disappointed.

If you’ve ever thought “I want to go to Japan,” in this travel guide for Japan I’m going to outline everything you need to know and how to not look like a tourist so you can have the most amazing trip ever. 

20+ Crucial tips & things to know before going to Japan

All too often in Japan travel planning groups and online forums I see the same common tourist mistakes over and over. They may know a handful of things Japan is famous for, but that’s it. Even once they’ve returned, they mention that their trip to Japan wasn’t as perfect as they expected.

And I don’t want this for you! It’s so easy to avoid disappointment with my below travel tips for Japan and a little preparation beforehand, believe me!

Being prepared beforehand is key to a successful and enjoyable trip! Here’s what you need to know when preparing for a trip to Japan:

1. Hire a pocket wifi or buy a 4G SIM card for your phone when visiting Japan

Although there is free wifi at many hotels and at some restaurants, cafes and public spaces, it may be a good idea to hire a pocket wifi or buy a Japan SIM card to use on an unlocked phone during your trip.

It’s super handy to have access to Google Maps and GPS for navigation and much more without fear of bill shock and data roaming charges.

If you book pocket wifi in advance, you’ll be able to pick up and drop off at the airport of your choice. It’s such a great system for tourists. You can book your pocket wifi in advance here, (and read my user’s guide for how to rent and use pocket wifi in Japan).

I’ve also written a detailed answer to “is Klook legit?” if you want to learn more.

2. Don’t blindly buy a Japan Rail Pass thinking all tourists need it

I see almost every other travel blogger recommend buying a Japan Rail Pass (JR Pass) as something you ABSOLUTELY need to do when visiting Japan for the first time. Contrary to popular belief, this is simply not true.

To be realistic, it depends on what you value as a traveller – saving time or saving money. It’s hard to find a balance between both sometimes. 

What no one seems to mention about the Japan Rail Pass

  1. The Japan Rail Pass does not cover ALL types of shinkansen (bullet trains) in Japan and there are quite a few. Along with the Mizuho, Nozomi shinkansen are NOT covered by the pass.
  2. I didn’t bother with the JR Pass for my first Japan trip. By buying individual Nozomi tickets I was able to save over 5 hours of travel time during the course of my 2 weeks in Japan, so I didn’t mind outlaying the extra cost for the Nozomi trains.
  3. Privately owned rail lines (such as the Odakyu Express to Hakone) are also not covered by the Japan Rail Pass.

Consider if the pass is worth it when planning a trip to Japan

On 1 October 2023 the JR Pass price increased 77%, making it not worthwhile for the majority of tourists from a cost perspective. More details on my Instagram here

However, some tourists don’t mind the extra cost as the JR Pass allows them the flexibility of not having to queue up to purchase tickets in advance. 

TIP: My suggestion is to use the JR Pass calculator to see whether the price of the pass versus your number of days in Japan will be worth it for you.

How to order a Japan Rail Pass

  1. Is the JR Pass right for you? Make sure you buy a Japan Rail Pass in advance here and leave enough time for the exchange voucher to be posted to you at home. These are more expensive once you arrive in Japan so make a note to get a rail pass before you go!
  2. Alternatively, take a look at these regional passes for Japan if sticking to a few areas, as of late 2023 we can now purchase individual shinkansen tickets in advance which can save time queuing up.

TIP: My personal tip when planning a trip to Tokyo is there’s no need for a JR Pass, as you’re limited to the green JR Yamanote line, which runs in a big ring around the city. The Tokyo Subway Pass is better value for Tokyo alone, as the metro system is better connected. Subway Pass offers unlimited travel for 24, 48 or 72 hours at a discount.

TIP: Some people prefer to pre-purchase a Suica card (IC card) to use on the Tokyo Metro and other private lines around Tokyo (there are a few!). Due to a semiconducter shortage, tourists are advised to use the Welcome Suica or Pasmo cards instead (valid for 28 days). These cards are reloadable, save purchasing individual tickets and can be used on most transport throughout Japan.

Nishi Kyushu Shinkansen Kamome

3. Take time to read these Japan travel books for inspiration

Bookworms will have a field day! Of course, the Internet can be a great place to find inspiration for a trip. But sometimes flicking through a book can be even better! There are many types of travel books on the market, so it might be tough to decide which ones to help you plan your trip to Japan.

I’ve written this detailed guide on my favourite Japan travel books to help make the choice easier for you. Complete with dog-earred pages, I review and share the most useful books I use when planning my trips to Japan, and where you can find them.

Books for planning a trip to Japan

4. When is the best time to visit Japan? Choose your season carefully

Time for the million dollar question: When is the best time to visit Japan? Firstly, the “best” time is quite subjective because each season has its positive and negative traits. Secondly, it completely depends on your interests and preferences as a traveller.

I’ve visited in all four seasons and personally, I believe visiting Japan during the low season is quite underrated (June – September), as are early October and the second half of January. A lack of tourist crowds is a huge bonus these days, right?

TIP: Planning a Japan trip for your honeymoon? Perhaps you’ve already set your wedding date, so my 10 days in Japan itinerary will help you explore the best of each city no matter the season!

When choosing the best time to go to Japan, weigh up the pros and cons for each season:

Winter in Japan

  • Winter months are not usually busy in terms of sightseeing, but it is the ski season first and foremost.
  • Cities will be less crowded as everyone is in the ski fields, so it’s a good time to visit if you’re not planning to ski.
  • In saying that, New Year’s is a huge celebration in Japan so expect crowds in major cities.
  • December also boasts the highest chance to see Mount Fuji with a 77% likelihood due to the crisp winter air.

TIP: Read my detailed guide to unusual things no one tells you about visiting Japan in winter so you’re not surprised by some things as I was!

Spring in Japan

  • Cherry blossoms – need I say more? While the climate is still fairly cool, spring in Japan is a wonderful (and VERY popular) time to visit.
  • Although the overwhelming positive trait here is seeing the blossoms, the negative is the crazy amount of crowding in recent years, especially in Kyoto where the ancient city was not designed to handle such high visitor numbers at once.
  • You also need to book accommodation well in advance – sometimes up to 12 months to ensure you get what you want.

TIP: If you’re hoping to visit during the cherry blossom season, my detailed guide to spring in Japan is packed with tips for more places to go, alternatives to popular spots, what to pack and how to avoid the huge crowds!

Summer in Japan

  • The summer months mean typhoon season in Japan. Climate throughout much of the country ranges from warm to hot (depending on what you’re used to at home!).
  • During my multiple summer visits to Japan, the rain came and went quite quickly, which was sometimes a welcome change to the heat.
  • The typhoon season has another drawback: the extra humidity means that if you’re planning to see Mount Fuji, it’s not the best time as she is likely to be blanketed in cloud.

In saying that, there are some great benefits when visiting Japan in summer. Outside of summer break, tourist crowds are at their lowest. I also learnt that summer is actually the BEST time to visit the snow monkeys! Find out why in my guide to visiting Jigokudani Monkey Park in summer, a must for any Nagano itinerary.

Autumn/Fall in Japan

  • Stunning fall foliage starts to creep down from the north of the country, turning Japanese maples and other deciduous trees into brilliant hues of reds and oranges.
  • The weather is moderate and beginning to cool down, meaning there are still crowds although maybe not as many as during the cherry blossom season.
Mt Fuji during winter in Japan
Mt Fuji from a bullet train travelling 300km/h between Tokyo and Kyoto

5Buy tickets in advance to popular activities

In my timeline for what to prepare for a Japan trip further down this page, I outline when is the best time to buy tickets in advance to popular activities and events.

Japanese people have a unique cultural heritage and are very proud to share this with visitors. Embrace bar hopping with locals, traditional tea ceremonies, authentic cooking classes, theme parks and much more!

Playing With Reflections at Shibuya Sky, Tokyo
Playing With Reflections at Shibuya Sky, Tokyo

As sumo tournaments are only held 3 times per year in Tokyo (January, May and September), a tournament may not correspond with your trip. If you’re still keen to see the sumo, it’s possible to book a small group tour to see the wrestlers perform their morning practice with this Tokyo Sumo Practice Tour.

6. Discover hidden areas with the expertise of a local guide

Getting to know the destination with a local guide is one of my personal favourite experiences to add to an itinerary, especially when planning a trip to Japan.

  • Not only do local guides share their insider secrets, but it’s always a whole lot of fun learning about local culture.
  • I’ve taken multiple small group tours in Japan with different companies and can highly recommend the experiences. I wouldn’t have known about special RED sake exclusive to Kyoto without a guide otherwise! 
  • Local guides in Japan are friendly, knowledgeable and keen to answer questions about their hometown to help enrich your trip. It’s also a great way to meet other travellers and make some new friends.

TIP: I’ve rounded up the many and best food tours in Tokyo I’ve enjoyed and highly recommend you add to your itinerary!

TIP: Read my detailed tour reviews from all over Japan for more.

Fujinomiya Yakisoba

7. Understand the rules regarding Airbnb in Japan before you book

Prior to June 2018, Airbnb and their counterparts were unregulated homestay services in Japan. Known as minpaku, these rentals caused an overwhelming number of issues from noisy and inconsiderate tourists returning to their Airbnb in the wee hours and upsetting local residents, to driving up long-term rental prices for locals.

While minpaku can be helpful to locals and tourists in rural areas where accommodation options are limited, in the larger cities I personally do not recommend Airbnb in Japan for ethical reasons.

A safer option is reputable hotels, hostels and regulated traditional accommodation options. These include ryokan (traditional Japanese inn), minshuku (guest house) and shukubo (temple lodging), but of course the choice is up to you

TIP: If you like the idea of staying in local accommodation but don’t wish to use Airbnb’s platform, these ethical alternatives to Airbnb may be an option for you!

8. Know what to pack for Japan

Knowing how to prepare for a trip to Japan includes finding out what to pack (and what to leave behind). The climate between different seasons can vary drastically in Japan, so it’s a good idea to learn the approximate temperatures for the time of year you’ll be visiting and pack accordingly.

If you’re going to climb Mt Fuji or partake in hiking activities, it’s important to pack the correct gear and footwear!

TIP: My detailed guide to what to pack for Japan has all your essentials covered for every season, including visa (if required), the Visit Japan Web service, what to wear, plus what NOT to wear to better “blend in” – save the packing checklist for reference later!

Some items you may forget to pack for Japan

  • Correct power adaptors for your electronics to be used in Japan.
  • Charging equipment for all your devices, spare camera batteries, memory cards, etc.
  • An inflatable neck pillow like this is also a great idea because Japan is a long haul flight for most of us. No one wants a crook neck after a 10+ hour flight!
  • Investing in a set of packing cubes is also a serious game changer and makes temporarily living out of a suitcase a breeze. These babies help keep your belongings organised so there’s no rummaging about necessary.

I would normally recommend packing a small umbrella but Japan has the BEST compact ones (especially the Waterfront brand), so just buy one as a souvenir once you get there. Make sure you remember to pack your important travel documents such as your passport and Japan Rail Pass, too!

NOTE: By law, foreigners in Japan are required to carry their passport at all times (not just a copy). It’s a good idea to take a photocopy/photo of the identification page of your passport and page that was stamped by Japanese immigration when you arrived and leave it in your hotel safe as a backup.

9. Plan to wander off the beaten path

Many tourists seem to stick to the Tokyo-Kyoto-Osaka route, which is fine as everyone wants to experience these incredible cities. But there is always so much more to a city or country if you can spend time exploring further outside a touristy bubble.

Crowds will be less of a bother and visiting out-of-the-way areas makes the experience more pleasant, rather than having to compete for space and photo opportunities with swathes of other tourists, especially during busy periods.

What I mean about exploring off the beaten path in Japan extends to within major cities and also exploring cities less frequented or undiscovered by tourists. Spending your tourist dollars (read: yen) in less-popular areas means local businesses will love you!

TIP: Browse through all my articles for exploring Japan off the beaten track and my guides for hidden gems in Kyoto, hidden gems in Tokyo and how to get to them.

Kurashiki Bikan Historical Quarter, Okayama, Japan

Oshino Hakkai is a beautoful Mt Fuji day trip

Takachiho Gorge Kyushu Japan

TOP: Kurashiki, Okayama ~ SECOND: Sacred ponds of Oshino Hakkai ~ THIRD: Takachiho Gorge, Kyushu ~ BOTTOM: Kawagoe, “Little Edo” under an hour from Tokyo

10. Learn the cultural do’s and don’ts in Japan to not be an annoying tourist

With many unique cultural differences that surprise visitors who weren’t aware beforehand, it’s a good idea to know what not to do in Japan.

I won’t go into too much detail here about these differences because I believe these are do’s and don’ts for when you’re actually IN Japan, not in the overall trip planning phase (which is where you are at now).

The issue of overtourism sweeping cities like Kyoto, Nara and Miyajima inspired me to dedicate an entire article to Japanese etiquette so be sure to take a look once you’re done here.

Find out the correct chopstick etiquette, what NOT to do if you see a geisha, why you need to carry socks or slip on shoes, how to behave like Japanese people on public transport, info about the toilets, tipping and more. It’s a handy guide to bookmark so you don’t do something offensive you weren’t aware of!

TIP: Japanese people are some of the most polite in the world, so please remember to return the favour.

Don't harass the sacred deer in Nara or Miyajima

11. Find out what to buy in Japan

There are so many interesting and unique souvenirs from Japan, it can be overwhelming to know what to buy!

Aside from the obvious things Japan is famous for such as anime, electronics, matcha green tea and a crazy array of snacks, many other Japanese souvenirs are traditional and have special meanings associated with them.

TIP: My guide to what to buy in Japan goes into detail about traditional souvenirs from Japan, their meanings and where you can find them.

I’ve also written about the must-have Japanese snacks that need to make it into your suitcase, and how to get Japanese snacks delivered to your door after your trip!

Tsuko-tegata (wooden passports) from Miyajima Island (left) and Nara (right)

12. Don’t plan on rushing around to see everything

Compared to other countries like the United States and Australia, Japan seems to be a relatively small island nation where it won’t take long to get around. This is a common misconception!

  1. Japan is quite mountainous in parts meaning public transport options between cities may seem short on a map as the crow flies, but in reality can be several hours away by bus or bullet train. Take this into account when planning out your Japan trip itinerary.
  2. Another common mistake tourists make is underestimating the distance not only between cities but attractions within those cities.

Kyoto is a perfect example where famous must-visit temples such as Fushimi Inari Shrine, Kiyomizu-dera, Kinkaku-ji Golden Pavilion and Arashiyama Bamboo Forest are almost on complete opposite sides of the city with limited public transport options between them. The same can be said for many neighbourhoods in Tokyo due to the enormity of the city.

TIP:In a nutshell, allow more time than you think you’ll need to enjoy your first time in Japan. I’ve often seen in Japan trip planning forums tourists complaining they’re tired from rushing around and not having enough time. Be realistic by planning your days accordingly to enjoy it all in a relaxing way.

TIP: In a nutshell, allow more time than you think you’ll need to enjoy your first time in Japan at a relaxed pace.

When planning a trip to Japan, allow time to visit Kinkaku-ji

13. Check if construction work will impact your visit to attractions

This is one of the often overlooked tips for travelling to Japan for the first time. For example, the Grand Torii gate at Miyajima was under wraps for almost 3 years, and some visitors didn’t realise until they got there!

Be sure to take a look if any major construction works here are going to affect sites you wish to see.

TIP: Speaking of Miyajima, it’s a good idea to check the tidal information for the day of your visit. I’ve covered this and more information in my Hiroshima to Miyajima travel guide.

Miyajima restoration works, Japan

14. Use Google Maps to plan your journeys

Google Maps makes it ridiculously easy to plan your trip to Japan. Not only does it display travel alternatives such as train, bus, car, cycling, walking and flights. It also goes into detail about the exact train lines, costs, platform and travel time, too!

TIP: When to use a Suica Card or JR Pass according to the logos displayed in Google Maps? Save my helpful Instagram cheat sheet about it here.  

NOTE: You can also try Japan Transit Planner and click the “Hikari” train option if using a JR Pass. Locals also use an app called NaviTime to plan their trips.

how to use google maps to plan a trip to japan

Important rules regarding oversized luggage on bullet trains

Speaking of planning your journeys, you may need to reserve a seat on the bullet trains with an oversized baggage area, or have your luggage forwarded to your next destination rather than just showing up.

  • With the rise in popularity of tourists using the Japan Rail Pass on the Tokaido-Sanyo-Kyushu shinkansen, the trains became very overcrowded and there was not enough room for dozens of huge suitcases.
  • If your suitcase has combined dimensions of over 160cm, you’ll need to reserve your seat on the train in advance. More info from JR Central.

TIP: Alternatively, you can forward your luggage to your next hotel using Yamato Transport for a fee (approx JPY 4200). This can be done at your hotel’s reception, it usually takes 24 hours but can be arranged for same-day delivery depending on the area.

15. Create a pre-planned Japan itinerary that allows some flexibility (or use mine!)

I absolutely love being a Japan itinerary planner! There are many destinations where it’s possible to just “wing it” as a traveller, but with its many complexities Japan isn’t really one of them.

You’ll be more confident and make the most of your trip by being prepared and having some flexibility in your itinerary.

If you don’t have the time to create a detailed yet flexible itinerary for Japan of your own, never fear as I’ve done all the hard yards for you! Follow my detailed Japan itineraries and travel guides that outline things to do, how to get around, where to stay, Japan travel tips and more. I’ve got you covered every step of the way!

16. Include both traditional and modern experiences to your tour of Japan

As I bang on about in many of my Japan itinerary planning guides, this country is able to blend past and present together in an incredibly seamless way. It’s quite amazing! To make the most of your visit ensure you add both modern and traditional experiences to your Japan travel guide itinerary.

My mini-list below shares Japan travel ideas to get you started. Remember experiences in Japan certainly aren’t limited to only these:

Traditional Japanese experiences

Modern Japanese experiences

onsen in japan
Onsen in Japan are not only popular with humans!

17. Learn some basic Japanese words and phrases

The language barrier between English speakers and Japanese is a concern I frequently hear from tourists. I’m telling you, there’s no need to worry!

Learning a little Japanese for travel goes a long way and all you need to do is memorise a few words and some potential basic answers. It’s not as hard as you think, I promise! I was intimidated for a long while but finally bit the bullet before I even started planning my first trip to Japan.

It’s also immensely helpful if you’re able to read a little Japanese when it comes to food so you know what you’re ordering at restaurants or even buying a snack at a convenience store such as Family Mart, 7-Eleven and Lawson.

TIP: For your free downloadable cheat sheet and advice for learning the basics of the language quickly, take a look at my dedicated guide to Japanese phrases for tourists. I’ve also shared my favourite beautiful Japanese words and their meanings to help you learn more about culture in Japan through language!

18. Take some JPY with you and withdraw more from ATMs when in Japan

Cash in king in Japan so it’s likely you’ll need to carry some to make purchases during your trip, especially with smaller stores, ticket machines and the like.

  • Before you first land in Japan, it’s a good idea to have some Japanese yen (JPY) with you as the foreign exchange centres located within the airports won’t always give you the best deal.
  • To receive the best exchange rate when you’re out and about in Japan, withdrawing cash from the ATMs located within convenience stores such as Family Mart and Lawson are your best bet.
  • I prefer to withdraw a chunk of cash each week to save on international transaction fees and keep the majority locked away in my hotel room. Each day I take enough that I’ll need and use my credit card for larger purchases.

TIP: When paying by credit card, if there is the option to pay in your home currency, choose not to. You’ll always receive a better exchange rate if you opt to pay in the local currency, believe it or not!

Japanese Yen

19. Don’t even bother driving in Japan, unless…

The best way to tour Japan is not in a rental car. Especially if it’s your first time in Japan, there isn’t much need to drive.

The public transport systems connecting major cities and even within the cities across the country are fantastic overall. Driving in Japan has its drawbacks:

  • It may be challenging if you aren’t used to driving on the left-hand side of the road.
  • Rental cars, insurance and tolls can become expensive compared to train travel.
  • Parking at popular attractions can be difficult during busy periods.
  • The number of tourist-related car accidents have increased recently due to a lack of understanding of road rules and conditions by tourists.

The “unless” of this title refers to unless you’re planning to explore more rural areas of Japan, where it is ideal to hire a car. I have come to favour this idea in more recent years to explore off-the-beaten-path destinations that most foreign visitors overlook, such as Gujo Hachiman and when I visit Kyushu.

NOTE: You’ll need an IDP (International Driver’s Permit) from your home country before arriving in Japan. These are not possible to get once abroad.

TIP: If you think you’ll be using taxis a lot in Japan, it might be a good idea to have the name of your hotel printed out in Japanese, or readily available on a map on your phone to show the taxi driver so there’s no miscommunication or mistakes about where you need to go.

Driving from Nagoya to Gujo Hachiman

20. Check if you need a visa before you visit Japan

If you’re thinking, “What do I need to travel to Japan?”, don’t forget to check if a visa is one. Lucky tourists from these 68 countries are no longer required to obtain a visa before a trip to Japan. Visitors from those countries are able to stay in Japan for up to 90 days under the visa waiver agreement (with some exceptions). 

If you’re travelling to Japan on a passport from China, Philippines, Indonesia, Vietnam, India, Russia and a few others listed here you will likely need to obtain a tourist visa from your local embassy in the future or risk being denied entry.

21. Purchase travel insurance

As with any trip abroad, it’s super important to take out travel insurance before you leave. The islands of Japan were created by volcanic activity and it’s important to remember that unforeseen events such as earthquakes can occur from time to time.

Make sure you read the fine print to check whether your travel insurance covers these things and more.

FAQ when planning a trip to Japan

Here are some common questions most tourists ask before travelling Japan:

How long to spend in Japan?

How many days to spend in Japan varies from person to person depending on a number of factors, including how much leave can be taken from work and budget. It also depends on the type of traveller and how much they want to see!

  • Creating a 2 weeks in Japan itinerary will be a great introduction to this amazing country. When planned efficiently, it’s possible to cover a lot of ground in a relaxed way.
  • 10 days in Japan will also allow you to get a taste for the different regions at a moderate pace, too. 
  • If you can spend 3 weeks in Japan, you’ll be able to combine the best of the country’s Old & New Golden Routes – major cities as well as rural areas.
  • For a Japan honeymoon itinerary, I’d allow 10-14 days if possible. If you only have time for one week in Japan, that’s completely ok as well, but you may want to stick to only two or three cities. Obviously the longer you stay the more you will be able to see. 

How much money for a Japan travel budget?

Here are my rough costs for your Japan trip budget:

  • Accommodation: Most expensive in Tokyo, around 15,000 – 25,000 JPY per night on average for a mid-range 3-4* Western-style hotel. Ryokan will cost roughly the same as this, if not a little more, in some areas. However traditional Japanese dinners and breakfasts are usually included for the full experience. TIP: You can travel Japan on a budget by staying in capsule hotels or 2* accommodation. 
  • Transport: Will depend on the duration of your itinerary, but if you’re travelling extensively with the Japan Rail Pass you can expect to spend several hundred dollars for long-distance train trips and any internal flights. TIP: To cut costs, overnight buses are affordable options for inter-city travel (plus you’ll save a night on accommodation!)
  • Food: Super cheap in Japan compared to many countries I’ve visited! On average expect to spend between 500 – 2,500 JPY per meal (total up to 5,000 JPY per day). TIP: I grab my breakfast from a konbini the night before as most eateries won’t open until 10 – 11am. 
  • Spending money: Personally, I allow about 40,000 JPY per week for myself for incidentals such as konbini meals, Suica card top-ups, temple entries, small souvenirs, snacks etc. TIP: You can easily spend a lot more or less. 
  • Flights: Will vary wildly depending where you’re flying from. Since borders reopened in October 2022, demand has been very high so costs reflect this. TIP: From my native Sydney, Australia, direct economy flights to Tokyo Haneda Airport under 1500 AUD return are a good deal these days. 

Is there a language barrier in Japan?

As mentioned in the points above, I discuss this in more detail in my Japanese phrases for tourists guide. The language barrier in Japan can vary depending on if you’re staying in major cities or venturing long distances from major cities such as Tokyo and Osaka.

Should I consider taking an organised Japan tour package?

Depending on your travel style, Japan trip packages tour may or may not be for you. There are pro’s and con’s to taking a tour and travelling independently. In my experience, from a cost perspective travelling independently usually works out cheaper.

As mentioned previously, the negative impacts of overtourism in Japan have been coming to light recently, so if you would rather take an organised Japan tour make sure the company supports sustainable tourism by limiting the group sizes to around 12-14 people at most. This will ensure tourism in Japan can benefit both locals and visitors alike. InsideJapan Tours are brilliant in this regard if you prefer not to go it alone.

More Japan travel tips: Sample timeline for planning a trip to Japan

Wondering when to have all your things organised ahead of your trip? Here’s a rough timeline things to do before travelling to Japan:

6-12 months to go

  • As soon as you book your first flight or accommodation, take out travel insurance. This will ensure you are covered if any unexpected circumstances arise that prevent you taking your trip to Japan after you have already paid money towards it.
  • Book your accommodation in popular areas, especially if you’re planning a trip to Japan during a busy period such as New Year’s, cherry blossom or fall foliage seasons. This helps to get the best deals and avoid missing out on a property you may have your heart set on. 
  • Ensure your passport has at least 6 months until its expiry from the date you plan to arrive in Japan. It also needs to be valid for the entire duration you’re in Japan.

3 months to go

  • Ensure you apply for your visa for Japan, if you’re required to have one. This process can take a several weeks and shouldn’t be left until the last minute.

2 months to go

  • Book popular tickets in advance that are likely to sell out closer to the date, like teamLab Planets, teamLab Borderless, Shibuya Sky, Robot Restaurant and other tickets I’ve mentioned in point #5 above. 

1 month to go

1 week to go

  • Make sure you have (or ordered) things you’ll need to pack, double-check your travel documents and accommodation confirmations are all in order.

1 day before

  • Pack any last minute items you forgot (use my Japan packing list as a reminder), take a deep breath and get excited for your trip!

Concluding how to plan a trip to Japan

Now you know the ins and outs for planning travel to Japan, how much to budget for Japan trip, how long to visit Japan, tips to travel Japan on a budget, how to travel Japan to avoid disappointment and much more to ensure you have a wonderful experience!

Social media highlight reels showcase the splendour of this amazing country in all her glory. Although, the harsh truth is being unprepared and setting unrealistic expectations is likely to result in disappointment, so it’s a good idea to prepare by using my Japan travel tips first.

You’re now equipped with my best advice for the best way to travel Japan according to your interests, so I’m confident that YOU will be confident when visiting this incredible country. With a little research, knowledge and planning ahead of time, I hope these tips help make travel in Japan more simplified – and much less daunting.

Want to learn my strategies for how to “blend in” anywhere around the globe? Find out by reading my #1 Amazon New Release Book!

Have you started your Japan planning? What do you think of these Japan travel tips? Let me know if you have any questions or tips to add in the comments below. As always, if you found this Japan travel guide helpful, please share it with your friends and follow me on Facebook, Pinterest, TikTok or Instagram for more!

Until next time, 

The Invisible Tourist

Do you love Japanese sweets, snacks and candies?
Read my Tokyo Treat Review and get popular Japanese snacks delivered here, or read my Sakuraco review and get traditional Japanese sweets delivered here


Like it? Pin it! 📌

20+ Essential Tips and Advice You Must Know When Planning a Trip to Japan | The Invisible Tourist

Planning a trip to Japan? 20 Essential Travel Tips to Know Before You Go
 This guide to planning a trip to Japan contains some affiliate links, at no extra cost to you. I may earn a small commission if you decide to make a purchase and if you do, thanks for your support! This helps with the costs of running my travel in Japan blog so I can keep my content free for you. As always, I only recommend a product or service that I genuinely love and use myself!


Like what you see? ✅ Sign up for my latest updates!


How to Not Look Like a Tourist: Unlocking Your Hidden Power for Overtourism Solutions | The Invisible Tourist

35 Comments

  1. Hello,
    Thank you for creating such a detailed itinerary. It will definitely help me plan this trip. I was wondering if you could tell me which excursions from the three week itinerary we should avoid as we have someone travelling with us with mobility issues. He can walk short distances and climb a small amount of stairs. He will mostly be travelling on an electric mobility scooter that we can fold up and carry short distances. Thank you in advance.

    1. Hi Kerri, so glad to hear my 3 weeks in Japan itinerary has been helpful for you!

      For someone with mobility issues, I’d say the experiences not very suitable would be:
      – Jigokudani Monkey Park in Nagano (3 kilometre trek though the forest to get there)
      – Higashiyama Tample Walk in Takayama (lots of walking from temple to temple up a hill)
      – Inside Matsumoto Castle (the stairs are incredibly steep)
      – Climbing Mt Misen on Miyajima (take the cable car instead, but the scooter may not fit inside)

      If you have any other questions about more specific activities please let me know 😊
      Thanks so much for reading and I hope you have a wonderful time in Japan!

  2. Hi Alyse,
    I really enjoy your reading your Japan planner. I would like to get your advise on which is the best place to stay? I have KIV two places Taito City and Shinjuku City, but I’m not sure which one to pick? I only got 3 days in Tokyo.
    Thank you.
    Kind Regards,
    Patsy

    1. Hi Patsy, thanks for reading!
      Where to stay that is best for you can only be answered by you, depending on your preferences and interests 😊
      Shinjuku has more of a busy, nightlife vibe (and features the Red Light district of Kabukicho), whereas Taito (when encompasses popular areas such as Asakusa, Akihabara and Ueno) is completely different.
      Asakusa has Senso-ji, which itself is very busy during the day but surrounding streets are much ore chilled. Akihabara is great for anime fans and Ueno for those looking for a bit of zen with its nearby parks, temples and shrines (as well as Ameyo Yokocho outdoor shopping area).
      You can also read my detailed reviews of where to stay in Tokyo based on the 8 hotels I’ve personally enjoyed during my visits.
      I hope that helps and thanks for your comment!

  3. Wow, congratulatons on such and epic guide Alyse!

    Love that you opened your post with that Benjamin Franklin quote – it’s so apt when talking about visiting Japan. Although it is possible to ‘overplan’ many people also ‘wing it’ too much when coming to Japan and they miss out on so much.

    Your recommendation to “Don’t even bother driving in Japan” struck a chord with me. Neither my (Japanese) wife or I drive and yet we’ve been exploring Japan off the beaten path for more than 20 years and it’s never been a problem for us.

    I share my travels on my blog The Real Japan if anyone would like to know more about travelling in this wonderful country.

    Keep up the excellent work!

  4. What kind of budget would you suggest for a 2 week trip to Japan? I love your two week itinerary and am planning a similar trip and would like to know about how much the trip will cost on average.

    1. Hi Maddie, thanks for your kind words!
      I travel with a mid-range budget as a personal preference, so no hostels/capsule hotels or 5 star luxury (just everything in between!) so approximate costs I provide can always be done cheaper if you need.

      At the end of my 2 week Japan itinerary I had a section about approximate costs 🙂
      In case you missed it, this is what I spent with direct flights from Sydney, Australia for two people:

      Flights – USD 2,374 / JPY 252,109
      From Sydney, Australia to Tokyo Narita including a premium economy leg (this price will obviously vary depending where you’re flying in from)
      Hotels – USD 2,148 / JPY 288,286
      All 3-4 star, twin share
      Long Distance Trains – USD 1,195 / JPY 126,940
      All Nozomi shinkansen trips, express train to Hakone, Ferry to Miyajima etc

      Total for 2 adults, 2 weeks excluding spending money: USD 5,717 (approx, depends on exchange rate).

      For spending money, I usually allow around USD 400 per week for myself for convenience store meals, souvenirs, temple entry, IC card tops ups and other incidentals. That is on the splurge side and I usually come home with some spare change!

      Regarding the JR Pass, buying one will make the transport cost cheaper during your trip, but they exclude the Nozomi & Mizuho bullet trains (fastest ones).
      You can save time or money in Japan, usually not both. I hope this all helps give you an idea!

      Thanks for reading and happy trip planning 😃

    2. Fantastic tips u have! Will you be able to put up a blog on recommended places to eat in Tokyo for a family of 8? I’m always under the impression that the restaurants in Tokyo is tiny.

      1. Hi Alan,
        I’m not too sure of specific places to eat in Tokyo for large groups as I usually travel solo or as a couple.
        I’d suggest looking into yakiniku places, as you can grill meats and veggies yourself in the centre of the table. Usually a fun experience for 2 or more people, as are okonomiyaki places.

        If you give some places enough notice by booking in advance I’m sure they would be able to cater to you!
        Ask at your hotel if they have any recommendations for local eateries in the area 😊

  5. I had planned to go to Japan in December 2020 but due to our global problem, it’s not possible. I hope when the global problem has gone I will go to Japan. Thank you for these tips.

    1. Sorry to hear you had to cancel your plan for now, Joe! We’re all patiently waiting for the day when we can visit Japan again 😊

  6. Visiting Japan has been my dream since I was 18 years old. I’ve read many books. I’m so thirsty to go there but I can’t because of the global situation. Hope the whole world gets well soon and I can go to my dream country.
    Thanks for sharing your information.

    1. What an amazing dream to hope to achieve, James! I’m sure you will absolutely fall in love with Japan, the extra wait will make every moment incredibly special. Enjoy your planning between now and that long-awaited day 😊

  7. This list is really complete, you’ve covered alot of essential steps that someone like me may forget to do, like learning some basic Japanese. That can be really helpful to not be rude with locals!
    Also because Japan is so different from the western society.
    The final timeline before traveling to Japan is great as well, thanks again! 🙂

  8. This post has made my day ! I hope to visit Japan someday and this article is just what I was looking for. Thank you for sharing !

  9. My final thoughts on the outside heatwave are that you need to bring a lot more drink with you. Of course, not in every area where you travel, but where it can be really hot. For me now, there are over 35C on the trails – many people no longer drink and are far from civilization. It is worth remembering that, always have a drink.

  10. Very informative post! What websites do you suggest as far as staying up to date on travel to Japan during the pandemic crisis?

    1. Thanks so much, Leslie! i’m really glad you think so 😊

      I personally prefer to get updates straight from the horse’s mouth, links in the bold text:
      Japan National Tourist Organisation (JNTO)
      Has more info on entry bans, attraction closures, safety tips. There’s also a hotline to call if you need.
      NHK World
      An Japanese new agency in English, provides latest info on infection numbers, social guidelines and more.

      I hope that helps and you enjoy planning your future trip for when the timing is right again!

  11. I loved reading this, Alyse! I’ve ticked almost every country off my bucket list except Japan. I’m usually a shy tourist because I try so hard not to be a ‘bad tourist’, haha. This post has helped a lot. Thank you 🙂

    1. I know what you mean about being a shy tourist, Ed! It can feel that way in Japan at first but once you build up your confidence with the language basics, how to get around and knowing the local cuisine it’s not so daunting 🙂 Thanks so much for your comment and I hope you can get to Japan someday!

  12. I don’t yet visit Japan but I have a plan to visit Japan at the end of the year. I am really so thirsty for traveling because the whole world is in lockdown. So when everything is ok again 1st I visit Italy then Japan. Thank you for these helpful tips.

  13. Bravo, your article is full of good advice with beautiful pictures. A note for foreigners who to drive in Japan, they have to translate their driving licence at a JAF center.

    1. Thank you for your lovely compliment, Alssa! I love planning each of my trips to Japan, they end up being so different. And great tip about having the licence translated, too – thanks for sharing 🙂

  14. This has been my dream since I was 17 and now preparing to go in 2021 (my 30th birthday present). I’m so excited but also really enjoying even the planning phase! I’ve been reading so many blogs and watching vlogs and I have to say your entire website has been incredibly helpful so thank you so much!

    1. What a wonderful way to celebrate your 30th birthday, Iman! You’re going to have the best time 🙂 Thank you for such a lovely compliment, I’m so happy to hear. Safe travels, enjoy, and I hope Japan is everything you dreamt it would be (and more!)

  15. My dream trip is to Japan and I want to take that vacation in the next year or so. I loved reading about your travels in this fascinating country. As someone who loves to get as much information as possible, I thought this particular article was very helpful. I especially appreciate your tip about not necessarily needing the JR Pass. It is such a huge expense and some of the cities I want to visit don’t have an extensive JR system. Knowing this has opened up a lot of alternative possibilities for travel–local train passes for intracity travel and highway buses for intercity travel (I think not enough books or blogs talk about the alternatives to JR). Thanks again for writing about your exciting travels in such organized detail. I look forward to reading and gathering more information for my own travels.

    1. Thanks so much for your lovely compliment, Julie! I really appreciate that and am glad to hear you love getting as much info as possible before a trip (as I do). Yes, I agree not many other people mention that the JR Pass isn’t always necessary so I wanted to share my experiences without it. Much of the time you need an IC card in addition to the JR Pass anyway. As you say, there are plenty of alternatives to JR (lots of regional passes) and I hope to share more of my findings on this topic from my future travels to Japan. Thank you for reading my blog and I hope you see you back here again soon 🙂

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *