Planning A Trip to Japan: The Smart Traveler’s Guide

Planning A Trip to Japan: The Smart Traveler’s Guide
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    Japan has become one of the most popular travel destinations in the world recently – and deservedly so!

    Long before the coronavirus pandemic put a hard pause on global travel, Japan was already well on its way to becoming a travel hotspot. The post-pandemic travel resurgence came with a confluence of the Japanese Yen hitting multi-decade lows – as well as soaring interest in Japanese food, culture, history and more. As such, Japan has been beckoning for millions of eager travelers from countries near and far.

    A trip to Japan will reward the savvy traveler many times over, not only during the Japan travel experience itself but for a long time afterwards. 

    What’s the best way to make the most of traveling to Japan?

    The answer to that question, as it is for nearly all travel endeavors, is one word: 


    Planning your travels to Japan can be an exciting journey in itself. Moreover, good planning helps ensure that you get not only the best bang for your buck in travel to Japan, but come home with the best memories of Japan travel experiences that you'll treasure for a lifetime. 

    Here at Japanese Taste, we are thrilled that so many travelers get to experience this wonderful country. As such, it’s our pleasure to be your travel planning companion. We’re here to offer insights and tips to help you plan the perfect trip to Japan. Whether you're a first-time visitor or returning to explore more, we've got you covered, so let's dive in and start planning that Japanese adventure!

    When To Start Planning Your Trip To Japan

    Travel planning for a destination starts as soon as the idea pops into your head. 

    Whether you're an aficionado of Japanese food, a fan of anime or manga, or a curious traveler looking to explore more of Japanese society, culture and history, you really can't go wrong with a trip to Japan. 

    Maybe you’re reading this article after booking flights to Japan, or perhaps you're still thinking about when and where to go. In either case, planning a trip to Japan is best done with some thoughtful consideration and advance planning. 

    Ideally, one would start planning a trip to Japan several months before departure, especially if traveling during peak seasons such as cherry blossom season (late March / early April) or the autumn foliage season (early November to early December). This allows you to secure the best flights and accommodations, which can fill up quickly during these popular times. 

    After booking, it’s time to enjoy the planning process over a span of weeks or months, choosing the experiences and places that would best fill your holiday and fulfill your Japan travel desires. Of course, there is a vast array of information out there regarding Japan travel, and sometimes it might seem like overload. That's why it's good to start planning early, plan gradually every day; put it aside sometimes, and then come back to the planning with a fresh mind again. 

    Regardless of how much time you have between now and your departure date to Japan, why not get organized and plan out your journey to make the most of your Japan travel experience?! 

    Last-Minute Travel to Japan

    In some cases, you may be able to find “deals” by booking last-minute flights. Keep in mind that this approach requires either luck (if you want to go soon) or flexibility (if you’re willing to wait and see) – and thus may not be suitable for everyone.

    If you're not going to Japan during one of the peak travel periods (see below for details), a good deal on airfare at a relatively last minute can be rewarding. This will probably require some flexibility for your accommodations, certainly in Kyoto and likely within Tokyo and Osaka as well. But a lucrative airfare might be too good to pass up, so just know that the “deal” you found might be offset with more expensive hotels/lodging – and/or the need to be more “creative” in where and how you stay within Japan.

    When Is The Best Time To Visit Japan?

    When Is The Best Time To Visit Japan?

    Deciding when to visit Japan depends on your preferences and interests. The most popular times to visit Japan are during the spring (March to May) and fall (September to November).

    However, each season offers its own unique charm – as well as certain challenges that the traveler should keep in mind.

    Winter: Off-Season Japan Travel Has Its Rewards

    With the exception of a few dates around New Year's, winter travel in Japan can be a highly rewarding experience. 

    That's because the majority of travelers tend to visit Japan in the spring and fall months. But compared to winter in much of the US and Canada or the UK, for example, winter in central, western and southern Japan (home to most popular tourist destinations) tends to be relatively mild. 

    If you're willing to pack a sweater or two and possibly endure some cooler temperatures, Japan will greet you with trade-offs that include lower hotel rates and tourist sites that are far less crowded compared to the peak travel periods. 

    It’s worth noting that for January 1 and several days afterwards, many stores and restaurants in Japan will be closed as part of a national holiday. During this first week of January, you're still likely to find some things open in the most touristy areas, but will probably encounter shuttered establishments the further you venture off the beaten travel path. 

    For pretty much the rest of the winter, from early December through early March, you'll be rewarded with relatively dry weather and fewer tourists, meaning a much more enjoyable experience than visiting during the peak travel periods or the hot, humid summer months. 

    For those looking to include skiing or winter sports on your Japan travels, both the northern island of Hokkaido as well as the mountains of the Japanese Alps offer a wide variety of experiences and accommodations during the winter months. This can be peak season in some of those places, however, so once again it's best to book ahead and plan accordingly. 

    Spring & Fall: The Most Popular Seasons for Travel to Japan

    As we've noted already, the most popular times to visit Japan are in the spring months and fall months, specifically from March to May and again from October through early December. 

    The reasons for this include more moderate and comfortable weather, as well as highlights such as the cherry blossoms and the fall foliage. 

    Sounds like a pretty good time to visit Japan, doesn't it? Well, of course, everyone else looking to visit Japan has pretty much figured this out as well. This puts pressure on demand for flights and accommodations and drives up prices for both. In addition, if you're visiting the major tourist centers of Kyoto, much of Tokyo and certain parts of Osaka, you're likely to be sharing all of the tourist sites with a steady flow of fellow Travelers. 

    If ideal weather and/or one of the aforementioned festivals are the major reasons for your visit to Japan, there’s plenty of merit to travel during spring and fall. But if you're someone who likes to avoid the crowds and take advantage of some bargains, traveling to Japan during the winter might be your best bet.

    Summer Travel: Rainy, Humid & Typhoon Seasons in Japan

    Summer (June to August) is, in our opinion, the least desirable time to visit Japan.

    Don’t take this the wrong way – Japan is always a great travel destination. But Japan is also notorious for summers that can pose some challenges for travelers.

    From early June through mid-late July (with slight variation in dates by region and by year), most of Japan goes through what is known as “Tsuyu” or “rainy season.” That's not to say that it rains every minute of every day; but it's worth noting that most Japanese people will leave home on any given day during this season with an umbrella in hand, knowing that at some point during the day it's likely to rain (and rain significantly). 

    What does this mean for your travels? Well, the study and constant rainfall can make for wet walking conditions if you choose to travel to Japan during this time. If your Japan travel plans call for any major outdoor activities such as hiking, this rainy season can put a damper on that or at least require a backup plan to be in place. Particularly in Kyoto and in Hiroshima, many of these sites are outdoors, such as temples and shrines as well as parks, etc. the rainy season can make travel to these sites quite challenging and less than ideal. 

    When the rainy season concludes in mid to late july, the temperatures and humidity levels tend to be quite high – all the way through the end of august. How intense is the heat and humidity in Japan? Even people we know from hot, humid places such as the Philippines or India have regularly commented that Japanese summer still feels pretty uncomfortable to them. Again, that's not to say that one shouldn't visit Japan during this time; just know the challenges and make plans to allow for more comfortable travel. That includes staying hydrated throughout the day; wearing cool, comfortable clothing; and not over-planning the itinerary to the point of heat exhaustion. 

    Also from August through September and into October, Japan experiences a typhoon season. It's hard to predict when or even if a typhoon might pass through Japan, and so to those coming to Japan during this time our advice is to:

    • be aware of typhoon season
    • stay informed of the weather forecast for the coming days
    • have back-up plans and slack in your itinerary so that if a typhoon were to hit Japan during this time, you would be able to adjust your travel plans 

    On the other hand, accommodation prices can drop a bit during the summer, other than during the Obon festival period (mid-august). It is also considered the shoulder season for international visitors to Japan, with more travelers compared to the winter months but fewer travelers compared to the Cherry Blossom or Fall Foliage times. 

    If you're traveling with kids or happen to be a teacher whose vacations tend to fall in the summertime, you may be wondering whether to put off or change your Japan travel plans. We wouldn't recommend skipping Japan because of the rainy season, if that's the only time you can visit; just be aware of the potential pitfalls and plan accordingly. 

    Trip Length: How Long Should One Stay In Japan?

    Trip Length: How Long Should One Stay In Japan?

    What’s a good amount of time to spend in Japan?

    The short answer to this question is “as long as possible!” 

    Deciding how long to enjoy your travels in Japan depends on your budget and schedule, as well as what you truly want to see and experience. 

    Many North Americans, for example, have relatively limited vacation time, and often only visit Japan for a week or so. Europeans, blessed with more holiday time, tend to stay a bit longer. 

    A typical first-time visit to Japan usually lasts around 8 to 12 days. This trip length allows one to explore major cities like Tokyo, Kyoto and Osaka; and then presents possibilities for a few days in other regions (Hiroshima, Kanazawa, Mt. Fuji area, among others). The longer you stay in Japan of course, the more you can experience.

    On the other hand, if you're short on time, a week-long trip focusing on one or two cities can still provide a fulfilling experience. Anything less than a week is really not recommended for visitors to Japan, unless you happen to be in a nearby country and aren't impacted as much by flight times and prices (as well as time zones). 

    Bear in mind that, for those coming to Japan from anywhere outside the Asia Pacific region, jet lag is likely to be a factor. Thus, planning a trip to Japan for a week or less can cause some missed opportunities or fatigue during the first couple of days. This again is another reason to plan a longer trip to Japan, within the parameters of your time and budget of course. 

    Flights To Japan: The Long & Short Of It

    Flights To Japan: The Long & Short Of It

    Finding affordable and well-situated flights is important when planning a successful trip to Japan.

    Start by using flight comparison websites (such as Google Flights, Kayak, Skyscanner, etc) to compare prices from different airlines. Booking your flight well in advance can also help secure lower fares. If you're flying from Europe or North America to Japan, you might want to consider spending extra for additional legroom in premium economy or business class. Then again, many travelers opt to fly on economy fares and focus more of their budget on accommodations, food and experiences in Japan itself. 

    The major air gateways for Japan are Narita International Airport (serving Tokyo but an hour away by train) and close-in Tokyo Haneda Airport, as well as Kansai International Airport near Osaka. Many travelers fly into and out of Tokyo, and have to backtrack after visiting Kyoto and/or Osaka. But we recommend using Kansai International Airport (about an hour from Osaka/Kyoto by bus or train) as an inbound or outbound gateway, and then making an “Open Jaw” airfare combined with Tokyo. This can help save both time and money. 

    For those flying from neighboring countries in Asia, or flying onward to one of those countries as part of a longer itinerary, other airports in Japan with international service to Asia include Nagoya, Fukuoka, Sapporo and Sendai. 

    Accommodations In Japan: From Hotels To Inns & Local Stays

    Accommodations In Japan: From Hotels To Inns & Local Stays

    Once you've booked your flight, it's time to start thinking about accommodations. 

    Deciding where to stay in Japan is an important part of the trip planning process. Japan offers a variety of accommodation options to suit every budget and travel style.

    If you're looking for a unique experience, consider staying in a traditional Japanese ryokan. These traditional inns offer a glimpse into Japan's rich cultural heritage, with tatami (straw mat) floors, local cuisine and more personalized service. Many ryokan feature “onsen” (hot spring baths), either in the room and/or in communal areas of the property. 

    For those seeking more “standard” lodging, Japan has a wide range of hotels to choose from, from budget-friendly options to luxury hotels. When planning your accommodations, of course budget will be a factor, but also consider where you want to be during the daytime. This can be a considerable factor in a big city such as Tokyo, as you won't want to be spending too much of your time going back and forth on trains or by foot between sites and your accommodation. For those staying in Tokyo for more than a few days, it can even be worth splitting up your stay in two different locations within the city.

    While online travel agencies (OTAs) like Expedia or offer decent hotel prices, be sure to read all the details. Often these hotel deals come with penalties for cancellation, or are altogether non-refundable. Many travelers have found that booking directly with the hotel or inn offers better control of the booking, along with better service and more perks. 

    Gems Of Japanese Cuisine: Meals Are A Travel Highlight!

    Gems Of Japanese Cuisine: Meals Are A Travel Highlight!

    One of the highlights of any trip to Japan is the food. 

    Japanese cuisine is known for its fresh ingredients, meticulous presentation and unique flavors. Beyond the favorites of sushi, ramen and tempura, there's something for every palate in Japan.

    When planning your dining experiences in Japan, why not try a variety of regional and local offerings, from casual izakaya (pubs) to Michelin-starred establishments. Be sure to also explore markets and street food stalls for a true taste of authentic Japanese food.

    Nowadays, many Travelers take advantage of Google Maps and other review sites such as TripAdvisor or Yelp. When looking at reviews of restaurants in Japan, especially those that are outside the major tourist areas, it's important to understand the Japanese rating scale. A 3.5-star restaurant in North America, for example, is often avoided by many in the know. But 3.5 stars in Japan can get you a very good (and locally authentic) meal at a great price – without the wait time of the most popular restaurants in cities such as Tokyo and Kyoto.  

    Here’s some more food inspiration for your Japan travels:

    Some restaurants, especially those in Tokyo and Kyoto, require reservations in advance. Thus, it's best to plan your travels around the restaurants that you don't want to miss. If you happen to show up at a restaurant that appears to be half empty and are told that they are full, it's best to assume that they have reservations taken for the rest of the evening and can't accommodate you. On the other hand, a simple glance at nearby restaurants on Google Maps will find you plenty of good food. 

    Destinations Within Japan: Cities & Regions

    Destinations Within Japan: Cities & Regions

    Japan offers a wealth of destinations to explore, each with its own unique attractions and charm. 

    For first-time visitors, popular cities like Tokyo, Kyoto and Osaka are at the top of the list. Especially if you only have a week in Japan, you can travel on what's known as the golden root and experience these three cities, or at least the highlights thereof, to get a good taste and feel for Japan.

    On the other hand, nearly every other fellow traveler to Japan will look to include Kyoto and Tokyo on their itinerary, putting pressure on crowd density, accommodation prices, restaurant availability and transportation options. 

    Kyoto and Tokyo are not to be missed, especially for the first-time visitor to Japan. If you're returning to Japan for a second or third visit, or are staying for longer than a week, look at other destinations such as Kanazawa, Hiroshima, Hokkaido and/or Kyushu. Here you’ll be rewarded with fewer crowds and more “ground level” travel experiences.

    For more on destinations in Japan, check out some of our other articles:

    These are just some of the many destinations, regions and experiences waiting for you in Japan!

    Public Transportation In Japan: Bullet Trains, Local Trains, Buses & More

    Public Transportation In Japan: Bullet Trains, Local Trains, Buses & More

    Getting around Japan is easy thanks to its efficient and extensive public transportation system. 

    The Shinkansen, or bullet train, is a fast and convenient way to travel between major cities, while local trains and buses are ideal for exploring smaller towns and villages.

    Consider purchasing a Japan Rail Pass if you plan to travel long distances by train. This pass allows for unlimited travel on JR trains (except for the fastest express services)  for a set period of time. The pass can save you money if you plan to take multiple train journeys. The Japan Rail Pass has seen price increases recently, and it does not allow for travel on the fastest Sakura & Hikari trains (there are also fare add-ons for the express Nozomi and Mizuho trains). That's why many travelers opt for point-to-point train tickets, enabling them to travel faster between cities and not feel the pressure of having to “get the best bang for the buck” from the JR Pass (as some travelers seemingly feel the need to do, zig-zagging around Japan and spending more time on trains than in cities). 

    Prepaid cards, such as the Suica or Icoca card, allow convenient access to trains and buses in major cities. These cards can be used on most forms of public transportation and make travel more convenient than buying individual tickets. Many prepaid cards can be used with Apple Wallet or other smart phones.

    Apps For Traveling In Japan

    Several useful apps and platforms can enhance your Japan travel experience. 

    Google Maps is a valuable tool for navigating public transportation (including train schedules) and finding nearby attractions and restaurants. 

    For language translation, many travelers take advantage of apps such as Google Translate or iTranslate, which can help you communicate with locals and understand signs and menus in Japanese.

    As of this article’s publish date, TripAdvisor has been losing some of its luster, while the travel forums of Reddit have gained favor. Reddit’s r/japantravel, for example, has a wealth of information in its pinned FAQs, and offers visitors to Japan the opportunity to ask, answer and research all sorts of topics related to Japan Travel.

    YouTube has a breadth and depth of content related to Japan travel. Some entertaining and useful channels include:

    Social media giants TikTok and Instagram are quite helpful for Japan travel planning. Here you can get great ideas for destinations, sites, experiences, food and much more. Social media can, however, have a downside of causing FOMO (fear of missing out); it has also led to an unintended side effect of making too many international visitors look like wannabe-influencers, always looking at their phones (both screen and lens). Our recommendation: Utilize TikTok & Instagram wisely to get some great information and inspiration; then enjoy your time in Japan without getting too hung up on it!

    What To Pack For Your Japan Travels

    What To Pack For Your Japan Travels

    When packing for your trip to Japan, think about the season and the activities you plan to do. 

    In general, pack comfortable and sturdy shoes for walking, as you'll likely be exploring a lot on foot. If you're traveling during the spring or fall, pack layers as the weather can be variable.

    If visiting in the hot, humid summer months, be sure to have enough change of clothes, and include cool fabrics, especially those with moisture-wicking properties.

    With that said, don’t overpack! The less you carry, the easier you’ll be able to move around.

    And if you happen to forget something, chances are it will be readily available in Japan (a shopper’s paradise!). Also, leave some room in the suitcase for souvenirs to take home!

    Money Matters: While Cash Is Still King, Credit Is Picking Up

    Japan is still largely a cash-based society, so it's a good idea to carry some cash with you. ATMs are widely available, but can vary in their fees as well as hours.

    Credit cards are accepted at hotels, many shops and some restaurants, especially in major cities. Nonetheless, it's best to have some cash on hand. Note that Japan is one of the safest countries in the world, and carrying cash is not considered risky by local Japanese people. (Having said that, crime is not nonexistent; just use street-smarts and be aware of your surroundings)

    Mobile payment apps like Apple Pay and Google Pay are also becoming more popular in Japan and can be used at many stores and restaurants. 

    Dos And Don'ts In Japan: How To Be A Smart Traveler

    Dos And Don'ts In Japan: How To Be A Smart Traveler

    When visiting Japan, it's important to be aware of and respectful of the local customs and etiquette. Here are a few dos and don'ts to keep in mind:

    • Do take off your shoes when entering someone's home or certain traditional establishments like ryokans
    • Do be mindful of noise levels in public places, as loud talking or excessive noise is considered rude
    • Do try to speak some basic Japanese phrases, as it's appreciated by locals
    • Do bow when greeting someone, especially in formal settings
    • Don't tip in Japan, as it's not customary (and it’s frowned upon)
    • Don’t be one of “those foreigners” – think of yourself an ambassador of your country, and show the best (not the worst) for Japanese to see
    • Don’t expect Japan to be “like home” – whatever might seem ‘different’ or ‘unusual,’ it’s best to appreciate & embrace the differences that cultures can have
    • Don’t try to “do it all” – Japan has a wealth of travel experiences to be had, but it’s impossible to see and do everything on one experience; spend less time worried about FOMO and more time focused on enjoying the moment (knowing that Japan will be here for you to come back again to see more someday)

    By being mindful of these cultural norms, you'll show respect for the local culture and make your trip more enjoyable for both you and the locals.

    What Should You Book Ahead For Your Japan Trip?

    Booking ahead for your Japan trip can help ensure a smooth and enjoyable experience. Here are some things you should consider booking in advance:


    Booking your flights early can help you secure the best deals, especially if you're traveling during peak seasons.


    Popular hotels and ryokans can fill up quickly, so it's a good idea to book your accommodations in advance, especially if you're traveling during peak seasons.

    Train Tickets

    Bullet trains (shinkansen) and other long distance trains can be a hop-on type of situation on some routes and times. However, it’s best to book ahead for peak dates and times; and for peace of mind (for those who are so inclined).

    Tickets for Attractions

    Some popular attractions in Japan, such as museums and theme parks (Ghibli Park, Tokyo Disney, Universal Studios) are best experienced with advance booking. Be sure to check the website of the attraction you plan to visit for booking information.

    Pocket Wi-Fi

    Renting a pocket Wi-Fi device can provide you with reliable internet access during your trip. It's a good idea to book this in advance to ensure availability.


    Many restaurants in Japan, especially the local eateries, don’t require reservations. However, even popular local spots are best reserved ahead of time if dining on a Friday or Saturday night. For popular restaurants in tourist areas of Kyoto and Tokyo, especially those of the Michelin or similar caliber, advance booking is strongly recommended (and often required).

    Enjoy Your Japan Travels – And Your Travel Planning!

    Enjoy Your Japan Travels – And Your Travel Planning!

    Planning a trip to Japan is an exciting and rewarding experience. 

    By thinking ahead of time about where to stay, what to see and how to get around, you can ensure a smooth and enjoyable journey. 

    Whether you're exploring the bustling streets of Tokyo, taking in the history and beauty of Kyoto or relaxing in a traditional hot spring in Hakone, Japan offers a wealth of experiences for every traveler. It’s all here for you to plan out your travels, then come enjoy when it’s travel time!

    In the meantime, enjoy your Japan travel planning, and do let us know if you have any questions or suggestions!


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