Both Howie and I have been to Japan multiple times. I’ve been 3 times and Howie has been about 7 times since he likes to stop over on the way to Taiwan. You know from our previous posts that we learned a lot from our trips and love to share our tips with you.
About 2.6 international travellers visited Japan last year. I’m not surprised given how delicious the food is, the famous hospitality and the ease of access using the bullet trains. We both feel that Japan is a country you can go to over and over again yet you still discover new things each time.
I do think that Japan is a place that you should plan carefully for. There’s lots to eat, see and do in big cities like Osaka, Kyoto and Tokyo. Places that show up on all “Must Visit” lists are insanely popular amongst visitors and locals. For example, the famous Ghibli Museum is one of the most popular destinations. However, you would’ve needed to do your research to find out they don’t sell tickets at the door <i>and</i> they go on sale at very specific times and sell out quickly.
I’m not saying you can’t have fun in Japan without careful planning but I’ve found that it’s a country best experienced with a bit of planning. It doesn’t have to be a lot! But a general awareness can save you a lot of time and money. I know there’s a ton of stuff out there about traveling to Japan so here are 3 of my personal fave tips.
Tip #1 – Google Maps is your BFF
I always have a wish list of places that I want to go to in Japan. It’s either something cool I saw on Instagram or a place I read online. What I do is I pop all these locations onto Google Maps and save it as a separate map. This way I can easily see where each place lies in proximity to each other. I do this because it’s easy to underestimate the size of Japanese cities.
Being able to visualize the distance between places will help you group locations together and help you hit all the things you want to do in that area.
Tip #2 – It’s never too early to plan
So we bought our flights in September 2018 for a March 2019 trip because there was a flight deal. Howie still thinks this was booking way too early but I disagree since we got a great price. It also allowed for me to start planning things which is great.
For example, I love staying in Toyoko Inn hotels. I think they’re great value, clean and I won’t say no to a free breakfast. However, prior experience has taught me that the Toyoko Inns in Tokyo book up very quickly. The last time I booked 3 months in advance, the only location available was Kabuki-cho. For the uninformed, this is the red light district in Tokyo. While the experience was fine overall, it’s not something I want to redo.
So with this knowledge, I knew I had to book my hotel earlier than 3 months if I wanted to get the hotel I wanted. I set calendar reminders so I wouldn’t forget and I’m happy to report that we got a great location for our stay in Tokyo.
This planning applies to restaurant bookings as well. You’ll always want to double check when restaurants start accepting reservations so you can get a guaranteed seat. Please don’t ever make reservations and be a no-show though. It’s extremely disrespectful and the reason Japanese restaurants are more reluctant to accept foreign reservations.
Also double check if the attractions you’re going to requires ticket purchase in advance. Places like the Ghibli Museum and Teamlab Borderless exhibits are very popular and if you don’t plan in advance, you might miss out!
Tip #3 -You can make this trip as $ or $$$$$ as you like
I think my favorite part about Japan is that it can fit any budget. Want to dine exclusively at 3-Michelin Star restaurants and stay in 5-star hotels? Go for it! Want to stick to a budget by staying in capsule hotels and trying out convenience store onigiri? That’s great too!
On our trips we try to have a blend of little luxuries and careful budgeting. For example, we’ll look at Michelin Star restaurants and see if they have a lunch menu at a reduced cost. We’ll stay in budget hotels for most of the trip but splurge on a night at a ryokan to relax. There’s something for everyone and whatever you choose is greatly enjoyable.