Have you ever wanted to have a mouth watering experience eating some of the best food in the world? Experience the turning of the color for fall foliage (or blooming of cherry blossoms) at jaw dropping temples in Kyoto? Shop till you drop on some of the best outlet streets in the world in Tokyo? Or club till the early morning trains open back up in Osaka? Welcome to TrekPrep's travel itinerary through one of the most incredible and historical countries in the world: Japan.
In this itinerary we will take you through a 9 day experience of traveling across Japan, starting in the frenzy filled streets of Tokyo exploring (and especially eating) through the prefectures of Shibuya, Shinjuku, Harajuku, and more. After that, you will make your way down to the hot springs town of Hakone to recharge your batteries, see Japan's tallest mountain Mt. Fuji, the Hakone Shrine, and more. Once fully recharged, you'll hop on a bullet train down to Kyoto where you will go through the towering Arashiyama Bamboo Forest, explore the temples in the surrounding area, and make a stop by a geisha show to experience the traditional Japanese culture. To round off the trip, you will make a final stop in Osaka, where you will be in the heart of Japan's young and youth clubbing till the early morning, making your way Shinsaibashi market to taste some more delicious food, and then back on your way home. Below is a map to give you an idea of what your 9 day itinerary looks like, including a day trip to Nikko from Tokyo and a day trip to Hiroshima from Kyoto:
While the above is only a sliver of what the experience is like, the rest of this itinerary will go into more details about what you can do in each city to make the most of your time. We always want to make it a point that our goal is to give you an itinerary where you wont feel rushed for time since it is limited. We will start with our "What to Know Before You Go section, followed by a break out of every city and our suggestions of what to do.
What to Know Before You Go
Japan may be a foreign place to many because of how far away it is and the unknown of what to expect. In reality, it is a really easy country to get around, having one of the best transit systems in the world, having the best technology available to tourists with pocket Wi-Fi so you're never disconnected, and having some of the friendliest and helpful people. If you have any concerns, please feel free to reach out and we would be happy to rest any concerns!
Time of Year to Visit
Popular times to visit Japan are either during cherry blossom season (early-mid April) or fall foliage (early November-early December). While visiting Japan is great at anytime of year, we recommend visiting during those two seasons because the colors of the areas are incredible. Cost's aren't inflated for accommodations or flights during those times, which is a plus, and weather during those times are respectable to what you would expect from each season.
Flight Time, Cost, and Where to Fly Into
When flying to Japan, you can expect the following:
- Direct flights being more expensive than flights with 1-2 connections, typically in Beijing
- Flight cost ranging from $500 to $1600, depending on airlines, time of year, and how far in advance you book the ticket
- A travel time of 12 hours from the west coast of the United States, and upwards of 17 hours from the east coast
At TrekPrep, we want to give you the simplest and cheapest way to get to Japan so here is what we suggest you should do:
- Search international airlines such as Air China, Japan Airlines, British Airways, and more for the best deals. For example, Air China offers deals from the low $500's and the experience is nothing short of great.
- If booking a flight for fall foliage (early November to early December) or cherry blossom season (typically in early-mid April) book several months in advance to lock in a great deal
- Airlines like Air China that offer super cheap deals only fly out of certain big cities like New York so a way to keep cost down is to book a round trip flight from that city and find another flight from your current city to New York. This would be more cost efficient than booking a round trip flight from your current city
If you are flying into Tokyo, we recommend that you fly into the Haneda Airport in Tokyo rather than Narita International Airport. The reason for this is Haneda is closer to Tokyo city center where you would be staying and has a shorter and simple train route. Most airlines give you the option to choose between the two, with Narita being the smaller of the two airports and having fewer flights there per day.
Getting Around Japan
The simplest and most cost efficient way to get around Japan is using the Japan Rail (JR) Pass. They offer 7, 14, and 21 day passes but for your trip you will only need a 7 day pass. They cost a pretty penny, as they run for around $255 per pass, but it allows you to get around on a majority of transits with no additional cost, as well as other freebee's such as getting around Hiroshima for free. Furthermore, it is cheaper to do this than buy individual tickets for every trip. You can purchase them in advance from here, which we highly suggest, and then once you get to Japan you can activate it on your 2nd or 3rd day at one of the JR Offices found in several major stations in Tokyo, with the Shinjuku probably being the most convenient. Here is an example of a map that you would find in the Haneda Airport:
In the days before activating, you will load up a local tram card which can be purchased for 1500 Yen at the airport (500 deposit and 1000 yen as a minimum to put on the card). We recommend that you put 2000-2500 Yen on your card for the entire trip, as this will allow you to cover any additional cost of transits that the JR Pass doesn't cover, which includes very local trains. If you are in the situation where you need to add more money on the card, every station has a fare adjustment machine where you can add money at anytime.
Staying Connected with Pocket Wi-Fi
While an international plan may get costly on a day to day basis with only a limited amount of calls, texts, and data available, an alternative option that Japan offers is Pocket Wi-Fi. Companies like Ninja Wifi or Global Wifi are located right outside the arrivals terminal so renting one of these devices is easy. Furthermore, you can rent one of these while purchasing your JR Pass if you would like.
Costing $10 per day for 9 days, this device provides 4G connection everywhere you go and allows for up to 10 devices at once on it. It is available for pick-up and drop-off at any airport and can be purchased upon your arrival in Japan. We suggest that you remember to charge it overnight because it takes a while for it to fully charge and don't want to get caught in a situation where it's dead!
Japanese Customs to Know Before Going
In Japan, their cultural customs are different than those in the United States and Europe. Remember the following before knowing:
- In Japan, there is no tipping after a meal. It is understood that since it is their job to serve food that any additional money makes the impression that they didn't do their job well enough or need to do more
- Majority of restaurants will use chopsticks so it is a must that you at least attempt to learn before going
- Thresholds at entrances to houses or living quarters. This one is very important, as when you walk into your hotel or hostel (depending on how traditional it is) there is an area to take off your shoes. Be sure to do this as it is a sign of disrespect to bring the crud of the day into a living area that is meant to be clean.
For more customs, check out this website for more.
While the above is general information you should know before going to Japan, we will touch on more specific things you should know specific to each city that you will visit. If you have any comments or questions, feel free to reach out and we will get back to you!