We all love to travel, but I know for sure that not all of us like to take the time to plan the travel ahead. That’s what travel agencies are for, right? Yet, if you think of going to Japan, and you don’t want travel agencies to organize your holiday, below you will find a few guidelines that will ease your homework and will make your planning smooth. And, of course, they will help you save time and money!
1. Know the geography of Japan
Take a closer look at the map and decide your priorities, based on the time you plan to spend in Japan. I know it’s not as big as China, but it isn’t Monaco either! You can easily get tricked and underestimate its real size. And even if you are an adventurer, knowing the place where you go is very important.
2. Decide your route
You will get excited with the huge amount of places you want to see, but don’t overload yourself. Sometimes less is more! Don’t forget that cities like Tokyo, Osaka or Kyoto are impossible to be explored in one day. Of course, you should always expect to fall in love with places you have never thought of spending more time in. In our case, it happened with Kyoto. We allocated 2 days for this amazing city but we could have easily spent a whole week there.
3. Prioritize your “must-see” attractions
If there is something you would not like to miss for anything in the world, you should treat it as a priority and investigate it accordingly. Certain museums, gardens and other attractions are not open 7 days a week and definitely, you don’t want to be in front of your favorite gallery exactly the day it is closed. For example, the Gardens of the Royal Palace in Tokyo are not open to public on Mondays and Fridays.
4. Book your accommodation long in advance
Sometimes we tend to leave this for the very last minute, but when visiting Japan you should treat it seriously. Especially, if you are visiting during the peak season, like Sakura- cherry blossoms – the sooner you book, the better. Japan is a country that attracts tourists all over the year and besides foreigners, you will find Japanese traveling a lot themselves inside their country. I booked the accommodation for our holiday one month and a half in advance and it was quite a hard mission. For Kyoto, Booking.com sadly informed me that there was no availability in the whole city and kindly advised me to change the dates of my search. Finally, I had to reschedule the entire initial plan and book accommodation in Kobe, a city located 50 min away by Shinkansen – “bullet train” – from Kyoto.
5. Book your JR Pass pass before arriving to Japan
I am sure you all have read about the Japanese amazing infrastructure and some of the world’s speediest trains. Indeed, traveling inside Japan is very easy and time efficient, but not necessarily cheap. Once you have it clear how many days you plan to be in Japan and what places you want to reach, you can book your Japan Rail Pass on http://www.japan-rail-pass.com/. The JR Pass gives you access to the JR network inside the whole country and is a lot cheaper than buying individual train tickets. Once you place the order online, the pass will be sent to your home by post and you will have to activate it upon your arrival in Japan. For a 14-days JR Pass we have paid 377 USD (price is in Yen and recalculated daily to USD) per person, for an unlimited number of travels and it has been by far the most cost efficient traveling plan inside Japan. For the intercity routes, you can book your seat with JR at any of their points. For JR pass holders it is free of charge and unlimited. Changing a booking is also possible and free of charge.
6. Consider getting a local SIM card
If you don’t speak Japanese, English won’t always help you 100%. You might need a direction, you might get lost or you might want to make sure you know what time your train leaves. For such situations, a local mobile SIM card for internet access will be very handy. Google maps will make your life a lot easier and you won’t have to struggle to make yourself understood. If you want to have the SIM card from the very first day of your arrival, you can order it online and have it delivered to the hotel where you will stay. We have used https://www.econnectjapan.com/pricing, but you can always choose what is most convenient for you.
7. Arrange your car rental in advance
Some places, like Fuji Mountain, have no direct access by JR. If you don’t have much time available and you don’t want to be changing buses to reach your destination, the best option is to rent a car. Once again, traveling during the peak season will decrease your chances to be able to rent a car from one day to another. Driving in Japan is easy, but be aware that cars drive on the left side of the road and have the driver’s seat and steering wheel on their right side. It is very important to make sure that you possess an International Driving Permit (IDP), as they cannot be issued in Japan, but you will have to request it in your home country in advance.
8. Pack efficiently
Traveling with a lot of luggage can be extremely annoying when you have to commute. If you have decided the route you will be taking, you can start planning your baggage. While commuting from one place to another is comfortable and easy in Japan, you should consider the fact that the train stations can get very crowded, especially during rush hours. In Tokyo, most of the trains tend to get packed and too many suitcases will give you headaches. As well, not all the stations are equipped with elevators or escalators and you will have to carry your stuff.
P.S. Planning a holiday takes time and energy, but it can also be fun and challenging. Personally, organizing our trip to Japan hasn’t troubled me much and we haven’t had a single incident while there. My last advice is to read as much as you can about it and make the best of it. An amazing source of information and inspiration has been for me http://www.japan-guide.com/. I am confident you will also find it useful and inspiring.