Travel to Japan – F.A.Q and everything you need to know to travel to Japan

When planning a trip to Japan, it is normal to have a lot of questions and doubts about this distant country. We all have in mind the splendid images of cherry blossoms, Mount Fuji and the amazing shinkansen, the bullet trains, and many people dream of a trip to Japan at least once in their life. After 4 trips as a tourist, 4 and a half years living in the country, countless articles written here on the blog and hundreds of posts written on social media, I finally decided to collect here all the most frequently asked questions about traveling to Japan and the important things to know that I am asked more often.

I even created an Instagram Guide called #Japantraveltipsin which I grouped all the posts in which I answer the most frequently asked questions, I invite you to save it and follow my account that I update daily.

But now we come to the most frequently asked questions about traveling to Japan, I hope they can help you in organizing your trip to the Land of the Rising Sun and if you have others you can contact me via email or through my social channels: Facebook, Instagram and YouTube .

How much does a trip to Japan cost?

You will be pleased to know that the cost of a trip to Japan is not that high! Sure, it’s definitely not like traveling to Southeast Asia, but it doesn’t cost as much as other destinations like Australia. Thanks to the excellent prices generally offered by airlines and the convenient train passes reserved for tourists, the cost of a trip to Japan can really be affordable for everyone.
In addition, the wide choice of accommodation of all prices, the possibility of eating well at a low cost and many activities with negligible entrance costs, help to personalize the trip according to the possibilities offered by your wallet.

In the article dedicated to the cost of a trip to Japan (sorry it’s still in Italian only), there are all the details of each cost.

Where to exchange money?

On a trip to Japan it is important to have some yen available because although cards are increasingly accepted, there are still several places (especially temples, izakayas and small shops … but also some supermarkets!) that do not accept cards, but only cash. I generally recommend making sure you have around 50$ for each day you are in Japan.
It is cheaper to change currency once in Japan than abroad, upon arrival at the airport, even better in the city. The best exchange is at JP Post Bank: they have no commissions, they have application forms also in English and change immediately. Downside: they are banks, so open 10 am-5pm / Monday-Friday.
Generally, foreign credit cards work, even if it happened to me a few times that the Mastercard did not work, while the Visa did. The prepaid cards have a few more problems, and it may happen that they are not accepted in some places, but they generally work, while the ATMs (even if run on the Visa circuit) work very rarely. Attention, sometimes the pin may be required instead of the signature!
To withdraw, it is better to use the ATMs of 7-Eleven or Mizuho Bank, they do not apply withdrawal fees (only those of your bank and currency exchange will be applied) and usually, always work.

How many days for travel in Japan?

Of course, the more time you have to visit a country, the more things you can do and see. And often, a lifetime is not enough to visit it all. But the question “how many days do you recommend for a trip to Japan?” it is one of the most frequent. Usually this question is asked by those who are preparing to make the first trip, the numerous repeaters ask me if ever “how many days do you recommend for this single area?” 😅
For a first trip to Japan, I recommend at least 10 full days, preferably two weeks in order to have a more complete taste. Even if the ideal to be able to discover Japan and its culture would be to visit Japan in 3 weeks.

Suggested itinerary for a trip to Japan?

If you are going on a trip to Japan for the first time, you will probably opt for the classic Tokyo-Kyoto itinerary, combined depending on the time available to other cities such as Hiroshima or Kanazawa.
More details on the things to see along this axis can be found in the article dedicated to the itinerary for the first trip to Japan.
Other destinations that have been growing in popularity lately are the Kiso Valley, Mount Koya and the Kumano Kodo pilgrimage. There are also many interesting destinations, off the tourist trail, such as Tohoku (you could visit the most famous places in a week), Kyushu (I only did 6 days between two prefectures… you could dedicate 10-15 days only to that), Shikoku, Hokkaido, .
If you want to combine a few days at sea in Okinawa, consider that the internal flight will cost you about € 200 and from Tokyo to Naha are 3 hours of flight, so make sure you have enough days available.

When visit Japan?

I know, many may have the necessary vacation for a trip to Japan only in summer, which is certainly not the most recommended period… get ready for sweat, a lot. It is very humid. But it is still feasible, just think that my second trip to Japan, lasting 21 days, I did in August. So you suffer, but you resist.
If you have the possibility to choose other periods, here is a small recap of the other seasons:

The famous cherry blossom season takes place between late March and early April. Tokyo and Kyoto bloom in the same period, if you arrive late, you could consider visiting the Tohoku, there are areas where the flowering arrives even a month later! Definitely the iconic season of Japan, but be prepared for hordes of tourists and a rather cold and rainy climate. First, between late February and early March, there are early plum and cherry trees, equally sensational blooms and with fewer people. After that, a better climate and other blooms await you, such as wisteria or shibazakura.

-The rainy season runs from mid-June to mid-July, with gray skies even when it’s not raining. However, many parks, temples and sanctuaries are filled with hydrangeas and generally, it is a low season with fewer people and lower prices. After the rainy season, the deadly humid heat arrives until September, when the typhoons arrive… Definitely visit Japan in the summer only if you have no alternatives.

-From mid-October, there are beautiful clear days and pleasant temperatures. However, the autumn colors arrive in Tokyo between the end of November and the beginning of December, with in the north and in the mountainous regions, you can find them a little earlier. In this period there are fewer people and even in the Momiji period, the crowd is certainly more manageable than the sakura.

-In December it begins to cool, a dry cold that cracks the skin, but from which it is easy to fight it with hot drinks and heating patches. The New Year in Japan, however, is not recommended: there are no big celebrations because it is usually celebrated at home, with the family, eating soba and making the first visit of the year to the temple or shrine. The first three days of the year you will find everything closed, while you will find a lot of queues in temples and sanctuaries, so you can hardly visit them with the calm they deserve. However, winter is a good time to enjoy Japan in peace, but it’s a pity for the bare gardens with yellow grass.

When is the high season?

The traveling high season for Japanese holiday, is when they generally move to their hometowns or take advantage of it to take a trip in their country, often involve crowded trains and flights, very long queues in and out of cities, and heavily inflated hotel prices.
Of all, the period to pay more attention to is certainly the Golden Week, officially from April 29 to May 5, but pay attention to which days they fall because the holiday period is often extended to include the weekend.
Another rather intense period from the point of view of traffic, is around August 15th, for the Obon. In this case, however, it is not a National Holiday (or rather, it is only one day) and therefore many companies keep their employees open and use the holidays at other times of the year.
Even the New Year, or rather called the oshogatsu, is a period in which the Japanese return to their hometowns, but as mentioned, this is a “home” holiday, in which it is easy to find many attractions, restaurants and even accommodation, closed.

Where can you leave your luggage?

Very often the trip to Japan is an itinerant trip, lasting several days during which different stops are made and different accommodations are changed. Obviously, with luggage in tow. Fortunately, most accommodations allow free luggage storage (except internet cafes and other hourly accommodations), so if you change cities in the evening or arrive early in the morning you shouldn’t have any problems.

If, on the other hand, you make a “road” stop before the next destination, or you have made purchases and do not want to drive them all day, here the Coin Lockers of the stations come to your aid, wherewith a variable price of 600-900 yen depending on of the size, you can leave your luggage for the whole day.

Alternatively, especially if for example you travel the Nakasendo between Magome and Tsumago or other areas where it is better to travel light, you can send the luggage directly to a next hotel, even choosing the delivery day. Many hotels offer this service or you can ask at the convenience stores. You can also ask directly to the courrier from their english website. The cost is around € 20 per bag.

Is it possible to travel to Japan without knowing the language?

The language problem is one of the most frequently asked questions when traveling to any country. Speaking English, in general, makes life a lot easier… but in Japan there are few Japanese who can speak understandable English, so better communicating with gestures, smiles and, if necessary, using the dear Google Translate.
Spoken English is not so widespread but, you will not have major problems, as a lot of it is written in English (although sometimes not quite correct). Many places have websites and brochures in English and restaurants often offer the English version of the menu.
Furthermore, the kindness of the Japanese towards tourists is always incredible and sure you will find a way to understand and make yourself understood. The widespread use of pictograms and images helps a lot!

Is it worth using the Japan Rail Pass?

Transportation in Japan costs a lot. A domestic flight with a low cost company costs a minimum of $80 round trip and shinkansen often exceed $100 on way. But for tourists, everything changes because they can buy the Japan Rail Pass.
It is not cheap, but trust me, if you plan to visit many destinations in Japan, with this pass you’ll save a lot of money. The round trip Tokyo-Kyoto alone costs as much as the 7-day pass.

The JR Pass is convenient, however, only if you make long journeys, using the Shinkansen or the Limited Express of the JR company. Activate it only when you leave the first city (usually Tokyo), because city trains are cheap, and you would waste precious days of the pass. For example, if you take 2 weeks, break your stay in Tokyo between the beginning and end of the trip and in the middle activate the 7-day Pass and visit the rest of Japan, don’t do the 14-day one!
If you are visiting a specific area of ​​Japan, be aware that there are regional JR Passes, which are less expensive, and you should opt for those. Like the Tohoku Pass or the All Shikoku Rail Pass, if you decide to discover this island little known to international tourism.
There are also convenient Passes for certain tourist destinations, like the one I used to visit Nikko or the Hakone Free Pass.

Kiso Valley - Magome

What if I don’t like sushi?

Often there is the belief that during a trip to Japan you will only eat sushi… well, sushi is only a tiny part of Japanese cuisine and to tell the truth it is not even eaten so often by the Japanese…
So here is a small list of the main other Japanese dishes to choose from:
Ramen: probably the most eaten dish by the Japanese, a bowl of noodles in broth served with a slice of pork, onion, bean sprouts … there are many variations and the Japanese love to try them ALL.
ShabuShabu: thin slices of meat that are immersed in a hot pot for a few seconds.
Yakitori: skewers, mainly of chicken, usually eaten in izakaya, a kind of Japanese bar.
Yakiniku: the Japanese barbecue, the slices of meat are grilled directly on the grill in the center of the table.
Takoyaki: dough balls with a piece of octopus inside, to be eaten strictly hot!
Tempura: Japanese fried, lighter, usually it is vegetables or shrimp
Okonomiyaki: a sort of pancake / omelette with “a little bit of everything” that is cooked on a plate in the center of the table. You can also cook this dish yourself!
Soba / Udon: basically Japanese pasta (made of buckwheat and soft wheat respectively) that is eaten both hot in broth and cold, dipped in the appropriate sauce.

Where to overnight Japan?

Japan offers a variety of places to sleep, with a very varied range of prices. Certainly, especially in the city, it is important to choose accommodations that is close to a station preferably well connected to the others, so as not to have to waste too much time traveling.

There are plenty of hostels and guesthouses, which often also offer private rooms, and are always very clean and quiet, suitable even for less backpackers, but who want to save money. Consider that when I was in Kyoto with my and their friends, we stayed in a hostel booking a private room for us … although they were all around 60, they all had a great time, satisfied with the cleanliness, organization and cordiality.
If you are traveling alone, you could opt for a capsule hotel, a sort of “hostel with more privacy”, in which there are always common areas and dormitories with many beds, but each of these is a sort of capsule, totally isolated from the others. where you enter to sleep and “lock yourself up” inside.

Another budget option are business hotels: great prices, equipped with everything you might need, generally very close to the stations and often with buffet breakfast included. However, as they are mainly used by Japanese on a business trip for a maximum of one / two nights, they have tiny rooms and you may have difficulty with luggage!
Of course there are hotels with more spacious rooms and for all budgets, in addition to the classic, I suggest you also search on Rakuten Travel, even if it’s all in Japanese (but the automatic translator comes to your aid).

Airbnb in Japan is not very convenient because due to a law promulgated in 2019, in order to rent through the platform the owners of the apartments must register and obtain special licenses, not really cheap, and only very large apartments and for many people they are worth the expense. However, if you are traveling as a couple / family and are looking for an apartment, I would like to point out Section L which has fully equipped apartments in Tokyo, which can also be rented for a medium-long period.

In addition to the classic accommodations, there are also a series of particular accommodations that I recommend you to consider regardless of the type of traveler you are, just to try something special:
Ryokan: these are traditional Japanese inns, and although not cheap, they are an experience that I absolutely recommend to indulge in. You can learn more in the post dedicated to sleeping in a ryokan.
Minshuku: a kind of more spartan ryokan, family-run. A nice experience to get in touch with the locals and stay in a typically Japanese accommodation at an affordable price.
Shukubo: there are several temples, especially in the pilgrimage areas or mountains, where it is possible to stay overnight. In some cases you also have the opportunity to attend the prayers of the monks and the cost varies depending on the area, whether touristy such as Mount Kota or more “spartan” such as Mount Mitake near Tokyo.
Traditional houses: some ancient well-preserved houses now offer the possibility of staying overnight. Whether it’s wooden houses in some post-town along one of Japan’s ancient streets or the typical thatched Gassho-Zukuri houses in the Japanese Alps area, they are accommodations full of charm and history.

What experiences should I absolutely have on a trip to Japan?

The list would be endless, variable according to what interests you most and maybe I’ll write a dedicated article. For now, an experience that I absolutely recommend not to miss is soaking in an onsen, the Japanese hot springs of which I have explained in depth in the onsen guide.
Surely even at least an overnight stay in the aforementioned Ryokan is absolutely worth it as well as the rental of a kimono to walk in a traditional area such as Asakusa in Tokyo, in Kyoto or in one of the many well-preserved citadels that dot the lesser-known Japan.

Read also: cultural experience in Tokyo

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