Planning my trip to Japan took a better part of 6 months – from the date I finally committed and booked my tickets to the date of departure. I didn’t plan every single day of those 6 months, but I did read up quite a bit. Japan is definitely not one of those places where you just take a plane there and wing it – although I’m sure tons of people do it that way. I’m a planner and a list-maker. It just makes me feel better to know that I won’t land in a foreign country (even one as safe as Japan) and not have anywhere to stay or not know where to go.
Two of the most invaluable resources that I used to plan my trip were –
JapanGuide.com – Japan Guide is free, up-to-date, and very informative. There are a bunch of day and half-day plans on the website that is very useful for first-time travelers.
Fodor’s Japan Travel Guide – Fodor’s has always been my travel guide of choice – it’s easy to read, colorful, and offer great tips about the culture and etiquette with an abundance of general useful information.
And now, I’ll walk you through the steps that I took in planning my 2.5 week trip to Japan.
Step 1: Pick where you want to go – Japan is much like America in the sense that going from one city to the next could take 1 hour or it could take 10 hours. Decide on which region or cities you want to visit.
Step 2: Pick when you want to go.
The best times to visit, in my opinion, are:
- Spring from March – April for Cherry Blossom Season
- Fall from late September to late October for Fall Foliage Season
The winters are harsh and cold and the summers are hot and humid – very similar to the weather on the East Coast/Mid-Atlantic area of the USA. I knew I didn’t want to go during these times because I get enough of that bad weather back home!
Step 3: Decide where you want your home-base to be – you don’t want to be packing up your luggage and traveling to another hotel, AirBnB, or hostel every 2-3 days. It’s a hassle as well as time-consuming.
For me, I picked a central location in Tokyo (Shin-Okubo area inside Shinjuku) and for Osaka/Kyoto, I picked one of the two and traveled using the train to get to the other.
Step 4: Decide what you want to do. I found the most logical method was to divide Tokyo, Osaka, and Kyoto into location pockets and then look up the attractions in each pocket. This way, you don’t waste your time taking the train to and from different areas. Take some time to get to know each area and find what interests you. You don’t necessarily need to follow the “Must-See” lists because they might not fit you.
For example, to block out my two days in Kyoto, I spent one day exploring Western Kyoto and the second day exploring Southern and Eastern Kyoto. It’s definitely “doable” to try to do all of Kyoto in one day, but you won’t get to truly explore if you’re jumping from block to block to block.
Step 5: Think about all the tickets you’ll need to buy or reservations you’ll need to make in advance. A lot of places only take reservations or sell tickets 30 days in advance – be aware of your dates and when you’ll need to make reservations. For example, the onsen I visited in Hakone only took reservations for private rooms 30 days in advance.
Step 6: And lastly, just have fun! Go with a plan so you know you’ll do the things your heart is set on doing. For me, the Studio Ghibli Museum, Tokyo Disney, and Shirohige’s Cream Puff Factory were a MUST (and none of them disappointed at all). But also give yourself time to explore and discover – have a list of things or areas that can be of interest, but don’t feel pressured to get to them all. You won’t see it all. Just think of it as a reason to return!