Japan how to organise a trip on your own? Where to start and what to see?
Trip to Japan we have been planning for a long time. It’s an expedition that not only requires careful planning of the entire A to Z journey, finding price opportunities or studying maps and guides – but most of all – an adequate budget. That is why it took us almost 2 years to plan it.
Japan how to organise a trip. Where to start?
We started by choosing a date. Japan – is a “blooming cherry country”, so we immediately knew, we wanted to go there in the spring season. Thinking about the spring, April should be the best month to go, as we would like to see if Japan, in fact, is fully covered with blooming cherry flowers.
After booking our days off, and informing co-workers and supervisors about our 6 months forward plans, we could work out the exact route planning.
I do not know why, but in the beginning, we thought it is better to go there on the guided tour. We imagined, that native speaking tour guide, might be a good idea to travel with. We wanted to have a person who knows Japan well and will be able to show us the most interesting places and explain to us what we see. I started to search for the offers in the local travel agencies and found two interesting trips.
I contacted both offices and asked about more detailed trip descriptions and prices. It turned out that booking a few months in advance does not give us the guarantee that our chosen trip – will take place. In addition, it turned out that we were not allowed to book aeroplane tickets by ourselves and meet with a group on the spot, already in Japan. The flight rates offered by those offices were much more expensive than I could find on my own. In addition, I read in the forums, that during organized tours – there is always the need of waiting for someone, and people spoil the atmosphere by lingering and all-time complaining. The organized trip offer has started to disturb us.
I also got the information, that there is an office that can prepare “tailor-made” trips to various locations. When I explained to them my expectations, they told me they can organize such trips to many places around the world – but except Japan. In this situation, we have decided to organize this trip by ourselves.
When I was looking for aeroplane connections from Poland, I used skyscaner.com, so that I could check all available air connections, transfers, dates and prices. I was looking for the tickets for several weeks. I wanted to find a convenient connection, a short stopover (there are not many direct flights from Warsaw) and an attractive price. After a few weeks of searching, and sending inquiries to many air agencies – we found an interesting offer.
Japan how to organise a trip. Place
First, we had to decide what we would like to see. Of course, there are many sources where you can find descriptions of all the amazing places. How to choose what is most important to see, or how to decide what to give up (we can’t see everything at once). We wanted also to figure out, how to combine all those places in 2 weeks trip schedule and travel through Japan in a short time and in a smart way. We have decided to choose those cities, UNESCO heritage places or beautiful landscapes, which are “must-see”. When we bought a map of Japan – all “must-see” places have been marked. After that, we began to check connections between them, journey time and prices.
Local holidays and festivals
The next planning element was to check what will happen in Japan during the time we want to visit it. We were interested to check whether there are any special festivals, parades or celebrations, to be able to be in these places at the right time. For example, at the end of our trip, there will be an annual holiday called Shōwa Day (29th of April). It is also the day which starts “Golden week”, a long weekend in which several consecutive days are free. Many Japanese take paid time off during this week, and some companies are closed completely and give their employees time off.
Golden Week is the longest vacation period of the year for many Japanese workers. That means increased traffic on trains and airports, as they travel a lot during that time. Therefore we had to adjust our trip accordingly, and do not travel that day. Japanese people like to celebrate Showa Day outside of the city centres. They often spend this day in the parks and gardens, having picnics with family and friends. We want to spend that day just like the local citizens – we will organize a picnic!
Japan how to organise a trip. Plan
Our plan began to have a shape: all places on the list of “must-see” were already included in our schedule. Having that chosen, we could start to look for hotel bookings. Knowing that April is popular among tourist who visits Japan, we wanted to make hotel reservations in advance. Early booking means we could search for hotels convenient in terms of location, standard and price. When making reservations I used Booking.com service, where (from my point of view) the key element for the final decision is the opinions of other customers. There is also the possibility to make a reservation without having to pay “in advance. You can also cancel your reservation even a few days before departure, without any penalty.
Japan how to organise a trip on your own. Collecting information
After deciding: when we go, where we go, which cities we visit and what we can’t miss, I began to look for more accurate information about all details of our trip. Due to the fact, that I wanted to have everything in one place – I started to write a personal tourist guide – kind of the trip manual for our trip.
The key element of our trip will be travelling thru Japan by rail. We will use not only super-speed trains like Shinkansen but also, we will use local city trains. In Japan, there is a great offer for foreign tourists who want to travel by train. Japan Rail Pass is a special ticket available for foreigners staying in Japan on a tourist visa. You can buy it only before going to Japan. It is available in selected travel agencies, in most counties, around the world.
Tickets purchased before departure are kind of vouchers. They can be bought 3 months in advance of the departure date for 7, 14 or 21 days. Vouchers are available in economy class (Ordinary Class) and in 1st Class (Green Class). Thanks to them, we will be exempt from any booking fees and we will be able to reserve free seats.
Vouchers are exchanged for a kind of ticket in the Exchange office. You can exchange them right after arrival in Japan, and after showing passports with a tourist visa. We are going to exchange our vouchers at the Narita Airport office. This will allow us to start using them right away. As a result, we plan to get to our hotel from the airport by Narita Express Train, where Japan Rail Pass is fully valid.
Except for the trains it is possible to use them also on selected buses and ferries. Any train connection can also be checked and planned in advance. I used the Hyperdia site where, after excluding “Nozomi” and “Mizuho” trains (the only exceptions that JRP tickets can’t be used), I was able to plan all connections and transfers and compare travel times. As
Edit. 09.2022: On the www.japan-guide.com/news page, we can find below announcement:
As of April 1, 2022, the popular timetable search service Hyperdia has ceased offering timetable details on its route search service, which comes as a big shock to the many people who have relied on the free web service to plan their train journeys since the early 2000s. Hyperdia has been particularly liked by overseas tourists for its option to exclude Nozomi trains from its search results, allowing them to look up connections that are fully covered by the Japan Rail Pass (which does not cover Nozomi trains).
Now train timetables can be checked on a few websites
- 12Go – you can check the connections here as well as buy the tickets
- Japan Travel by Navitime
Below is a current Japan Rail Pass price list (2022), in Japanese yen currency.
To be able to use GPS on the spot, use an online translator, post on Instagram, or search for descriptions of visited places – it would be useful to have an Internet connection. There is a simple solution in Japan, so there are many companies that offer “Pocket Wi-Fi“. This is a portable, pocket-sized modem that can be connected to 6 to 10 devices. The modem can be booked via the internet, for a selected number of days. When ordering, you can choose wherever you want your modem to be delivered. We have chosen our first hotel where we want the modem to be delivered. It is also possible to choose from several locations, including tourist information offices located at the majority of the train stations.
The return of the device also seems to be a convenient option as the modem will be delivered with a return envelope (already addressed). On a fixed date, we will have to insert the modem into the envelope and toss it in the nearest mailbox. It will end the rental period and close the topic.
Below there are links to several companies that offer Pocket Wi-Fi rental. We have booked via the Japan Rail:
In Japan, most residents, as well as visitors are using prepaid cards. IC cards can be purchased at ticket machines and ticket counters at the main railway stations. The initial cost consists of a refundable deposit of 500 yen, and the maximum amount card can be charged is 20,000 yen. In Japan, there are 10 types of prepaid cards, but the most popular ones are Suica, Pasmo and Icoca. Different cities in Japan have different “brands” of IC Cards, but as of 2013, they are all compatible with each other. As a result, it is possible to travel on almost all trains (except Shinkansen), subways and buses in most of Japan’s largest cities with just a single of these cards. All cards are valid in Tokyo, Yokohama, Osaka, Kyoto, Nagoya and Fukuoka and several other areas. Cards can be recharged multiple times.
Rechargeable IC can also be used to buy food, drinks and other goods at many convenience stores, such as 7-Eleven, Lawson and Ministop. IC cards can also be used to pay for coin lockers and goods at vending machines or parking lots. If you want to use this card to pay for your shopping, make sure to charge it with a bigger amount of money.
When leaving Japan, you can bring your IC card to a station attendant, who can return your ¥500 deposit and the remaining balance. Worth remembering that if you wish to have the balance refunded, there is a ¥220 processing fee.
Japan how to organise the trip. Travel Guide
What to see, what are the admission hours, what are the prices, how to get there and what to see? Of course, there is plenty of information on this subject: you can choose from guides, local websites (although not always available in English), blogs, vlogs and many other sources, but for Japan I strongly recommend www.japan-guide.com. This is a great website equipped with maps, guides and descriptions of places worth visiting. You can find their current opening times, ticket prices, descriptions of monuments, photos and maps of public transport connections. On their website, you can find the following description: “Our goal is to provide comprehensive, up-to-date information on travel and living in Japan, first-hand from Japan”.
For me, it is primarily a source of inspiration, an incentive to visit many places of existence that I have not known until now. This site also has a discussion forum that also contains a lot of valuable information and popularity ranking. Thanks to this, it is easier to choose what to see if you can’t see everything. I sincerely recommend using this portal, because the information appears to be comprehensive. On my blog, I will not use any resources from this website, as it is not allowed. I can only advise you to visit it when you are planning to visit Japan.
Edit after returning from Japan:
Where to stay, what conditions you can count on? Is it possible to do laundry in Japan, and if so how to do it and how much does it cost? Answers to the above questions are worth knowing even before you go, that’s why I complete this post with additional information.
Hotels in Japan
Below is a summary of all the hotels we have stayed in while travelling thru Japan. Each of the hotel descriptions is linked with Booking.com, where you can get more detailed information.
In Kyoto, we stayed in the “Ibis Styles Kyoto Station“ hotel. We have chosen it due to its convenient location (opposite the main train station), many cafes and restaurants around the hotel, positive visitor reviews (average 8.4 out of 10), and price appropriate to the standard.
There is a very professional and always smiling reception staff in the hotel. At the front desk, there are English-speaking receptionists.
The room was small but with a double bed. An electric kettle with tea bags (replenished daily) is provided as well. The bathroom is small and very compact but in line with expectations for Japan. There is a nice city view from the room and the windows are soundproofed. Wi-fi is available for free and works well, without any obstacles. The front desk is open 24/7, you can also leave your luggage there if you arrive too early or want to leave later.
The only downside of this place is its very small dining area. In the morning, we had to stand in line to get in, then stand in line waiting for the table and then for the food. The food is spread out in a very small space, so in the morning there is a crowd. Other than that, we enjoyed our stay in this hotel and the food was tasty.
In Nagano, we stopped at the hotel “Chinsun Grand Nagano“, about a 10-minutes walk from the main station. We had a very nice and large room (even by European standards), with a nice view of the city and
the mountains that surround them. Room clean, comfortable bed. A kettle, fridge, slippers and bathrobes are available in the room. Free coffee and tea are available in the hotel lobby. Japanese-style hotel restaurant with tatami on the floor. In the morning, a tasty breakfast was served there.
I rate very high my stay in this hotel. The wi-fi available throughout the hotel works without problems.
There was a robot named Pepper, standing in the hotel reception. He was able to answer some questions in the English language. Very funny meeting:-).
Very professional service in the hotel. The right value for money.
We chose this hotel because it is very close to the JR Tokyo Shinkansen station (5 min walk). We were expecting a small room, due to Japanese standards, but the room we had was so “compact” that it was impossible to spread the suitcase on the floor.
In the room, except for the bed, there was only a small desk. Our room was equipped was an electric kettle, dryer and slippers. The bathroom was also very small, with a minimal amount of space for spreading cosmetics, or rather the lack of space. In the bathroom, a free set of disposable cosmetics was provided. Besides shampoo and hair conditioner, there was also a body lotion, hand cream and face wash foam given, which was replenished daily by the cleaning service. For unused cosmetics (sachets, which we returned at check out), on the day of departure, we received a bag of candy bars and cookies.
In the hotel, it was possible to rent a pillow with various degrees of hardness and shape. A very interesting proposition.
The hotel also has two types of city baths (two for men, and one for women), open daily from 15.00 to 10.00 am the following day.
Generally, staying at this hotel is a very interesting experience. A small room is not a minus of this hotel, but an interesting meeting with Japanese standards. It is possible to get used to it. Due to the location of the hotel in the city centre, the prices were high (according to me too high in relation to the standard).
This is the second hotel in Tokyo, where we stayed at the end of our stay in Japan. The hotel is just next to Shinagawa train station, where JR Higashi Nihon, JR Tokai trains stop, super-fast Shinkansen trains, city lines and a private railway – Keihin Kyuko. From Shinagawa Station, you can get to two international airports in Tokyo: Narita and Haneda.
Hotel “Shinagawa Prince Hotel” is a large hotel, entertainment and commercial complex consisting of several skyscrapers. We had a room reservation in the “Main Tower”, on a high floor with a view of the city, so we were expecting beautiful views.
When we arrived at the hotel, there was a long queue for check-in at the reception (about 50 people), but at the reception counter there are 10 windows where guests can be served, so we waited for about 15 minutes.
In the entire complex, there are shopping malls, restaurants, an aquarium, a cinema, and a swimming pool. Everything is connected by a network of dense corridors. Fortunately, when you are checked in, you get a map of the object and so, it is easier to get to your room.
Our room, or rather a view from the window, was one of the nicest surprises that happened to us in Japan. The view from the 35th floor was a breathtaking and unforgettable experience.
The room had slippers and an electric kettle. Wi-fi is stable, with no problems connecting to several devices at the same time.
We ate our breakfasts outside the hotel, but the restaurants where you could eat them were within a 5-10 minutes walk from the hotel.
I highly recommend this hotel! There are a super professional service and the right value for money.
Public Laundry in Japan
Public laundry is quite popular in Japan and there is usually no problem finding it using the internet. We used laundry twice. The first time it was a public laundry, and the second time we used laundry in the hotel.
A public laundry, “coin laundry”, is nothing more than the possibility of washing and drying clothes in machines operated by coins.
After entering the laundry room, you first need to know what is a washing machine and what is a dryer. At the first glance, you do not know it, as all subtitles and numerous instructions are only available in the Japanese language. In our case washing machines were painted in red and driers in yellow. If this dependence takes place, the rest will go smoothly 😊.
40 minutes of washing costs about 800 yen (7$). Washing machines can only work on coins, so it’s worth picking them up a little before you will come to the laundry. In some places, there are banknote changes, but this is not a rule, so it’s better to prepare yourself well.
Washing machines also vary in size – you should choose a washing machine appropriate to the amount (weight) of things you want to wash. This information is clearly written on each washing machine – you can read the number, so it is easy to see which weight limit is there. Add your own washing powder or laundry capsules to the washing machine. After 40 minutes the clothing is slightly dry, but if you do not want to take wet clothes with you, put them in the dryer and dry them. 10 minutes of drying costs 100 yen (1 $), we dried one wash 2 x 10 minutes.
A hotel laundry works in a similar way to a public laundry, so there is no problem with using it. If there is only one washing machine in the hotel – you must hit the moment when it is not occupied by someone else. We paid 300 yen (10 zlotys) for 40-minute washing and 100 yen for drying (3 zlotys) for 30 minutes. In addition, there was an instruction in English with the information that the powder was automatically added to the washing machine, so we did not throw it in our washing capsule.
No matter if it is a hotel laundry or a public one – this is a great solution for people travelling thru Japan. There is no need to take large suitcases or kilograms of clothes with you. Just pack yourself for a few days and plan laundry and drying during your stay. It is a quite cheap solution and it is very convenient to use.
Required applications due to Covid-19 restrictions
Before entering Japan, make sure you have all the required applications. When you enter Japan, the airport quarantine will check to ensure the apps are installed. If you have no smartphone (or have one that cannot install the apps) you will be required to rent one at the airport when you enter Japan, at your own expense.
1. Health and Location Monitoring App (MySOS). To report health conditions, report location, and verify the location. This app is required to report your location and health condition. It is also required to answer video calls from the HCO to verify your location.
2. Location Information App (Google Maps). Required to provide your location history to health authorities to track possible exposures in the event you become COVID–19 positive. For Android take Google Maps from Google Play Store. Not needed for iPhones as already installed on most phones.
3. COCOA COVID–19 Contact Confirming App. An app to notify you of possible contact with someone who is COVID–19 positive.
Local transport in Japan, tickets for trains and buses
Are you wondering how to get from Tokyo to Kyoto, or any other destination in Japan? Please check below 12Go, where you can book trains, buses and transfers. All below are affiliate links, so if you click them and order anything, I will get a small commission without additional costs from your side.
These high-speed trains are no doubt the easiest way to explore all of Japan, travelling at a speed of 320 km/h (199 mph). The network covers the whole country.
Benefits for you:
- The fastest and most convenient way to travel.
- Special pricing for children and free travel for infants.
- Rail passes are available, which will save you money and time travelling across Japan
- Advance booking period is just 3 days.
- Paper tickets. Ticket delivery options: 1. Pick up from the office. 2. Delivery to the hotel in Japan (additional charge).
- No refunds are available.
Travellers who book with 12Go can now purchase flat-fee rail passes that allow riding any train in the Japan Rail network at any time without having to pay for the tickets. This is perfect for long-distance travellers and offers great value. With the pass, you can ride:
- Shinkansen bullet train, except fastest express trains (Nozomi and Mizuho)
- All ordinary JR trains
- JR local buses, except express bus routes.
- Miyajima ferry
- Tokyo Monorail
- Duration types: 7, 14, 21 days
- JR Pass is valid for foreign tourists only, under the entry status of “temporary visitor” in the passport.
- Advance booking period: 7 days
You can choose the rail pass delivery option on the checkout page. Available options are:
- Worldwide Shipping
- Free Shipping in Japan
- Pickup in the Tokyo office
Bookings are available on the route Narita Airport <> Tokyo
- Advance booking period is just 3 days.
- Voucher tickets. Has to be changed for the actual ticket at the departure station.
- No refunds are available.
A great supplement to the train service, buses cover most cities in Japan. 12Go offers an easy way for foreign tourists to make reservations online, hassle-free.
Benefits for you:
- Advance booking period is just 1 day.
- E-tickets – hassle-free booking.
So far, my other posts about Japan:
- Japan – how to organise a trip on your own
- Japan – tailor-made travel plan
- my own gallery of Japan photos
- Himeji – White Egret Castle
- Kamakura – the seat of the first Shogun
- Kanazawa – Kenrokuen Garden and Castle
- Kyoto and Kansai region
- Matsumoto – city overshadowed by the castle
- Mount Fuji – the most popular icon in Japan
- Nagano Prefecture – the roof of Japan
- Nara -first Japan’s permanent capital
- Nikko – the light of the sun
- Tokyo – western capital