15 Surefire Tips for Planning Your First Trip to Japan

by Feb 15, 2024Japan, Travel

Preparing for a trip to Japan can be more overwhelming than preparing for a trip anywhere else in the world. You’ve got to book a plane ticket that is often more expensive than flying to most other places in the world, figure out all the options for accommodations (a hotel versus a ryokan versus a minshuku or a hostel versus a capsule hotel), buy a Japan Rail Pass (or not), book tours and tickets to popular attractions ahead of time, figure out how to get money from ATMs and so on and on.

But not to worry.

Here is my easy-to-follow guide for preparing for your trip to Japan. Just follow these simple 15 tips and you’ll be good to go!

BONUS: I've created a FREE detailed PDF version of this 3-week Japan itinerary. The guide also includes step-by-step instructions for buying and using your Japan Rail Pass.

Click here to get lots of great tips for traveling around Asia as well as this FREE 3-week Japan itinerary guide. 

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1. Book your Flight

Step #1 in planning your trip to Japan is booking your flight.

Flights to Asia from North America and Europe have become very expensive since the Pandemic. Japan is one of the more costly places in Asia to travel to.

It’s now difficult to find any flight to Japan for less than US$1,000, even from the West Coast of the United States.

Zip Air – Low-Cost Airline

For those flying from the U.S., Zip Air has the cheapest prices$200 – $300 cheaper than other airlines. This is a no-frills low-cost airline headquartered in Japan.

The initial price you see on Skyscanner for Zip Air is just the base price. You need to then pay for all add-ons like water, a meal, carry-on, checked baggage, and seat selection. Also, you can’t change your ticket nor can you cancel the ticket and get a refund.

Use Credit Card Points

Ideally, use credit card points. Start accumulating points a year before your trip. If you sign up for a new credit card like Chase Sapphire or Bank of America Premium Rewards, you can usually get 50,000 to 70,000 points as a signing bonus. Then charge as much as you can to your credit card to get enough points for a ticket. BUT do this ONLY if you can pay off your total balance every month.

How to Book Your Flight

For booking flights, I check mainly 2 websites: I love Skyscanner. It gives me both major airlines and local budget ones. When I’m ready to choose a flight it will give me several options for booking my flight with their customer ratings. These results include the airline’s website, Trip.com, CheapOair. and so on. Generally, I choose the airline’s website to buy my ticket. If you see an unusually cheap price for a ticket, be extra cautious. In the past, I’ve fallen for a couple of scams when trying to book one of those uber-cheap flights to Japan with an online travel agency (not talking about Zip Air here). When I tried to pay for the ticket, the price jumped. Another time I got a phone call from the online travel agency saying that the ticket I just tried to book no longer existed. Then they asked me if I wanted to book another ticket that just happened to be more expensive.

2. Research Places to Visit

If you’re super indecisive like me, there’s going to be some pain involved in the next stage in planning your trip to Japan: figuring out where you want to go.

After doing research, you’ll realize that Japan has way too many fabulous destinations: Tokyo, Kyoto, Kanazawa, Osaka, Takayama, Hakone, Sapporo, Hiroshima, Koya San, and on and on. And if you’ve only got 2 weeks or 3 weeks in Japan, you can’t visit them all. Therefore, you’re going to have to make some sacrifices.

But if you start planning out your trip early and carefully enough, you can put together a Japan itinerary that gets as many stops as possible into it.

Here’s where to get some ideas for your trip:

Travel blogs

Researching different travel blogs helped me tremendously in narrowing down where I wanted to go. Check out all my travel blog posts on Japan as well as my 3-week itinerary for Japan here. It’s got some big cities like Tokyo and Kyoto, but also some beautiful natural scenery like the Japan Alps.

Guidebooks for Japan

Despite the many complaints about the quality of Lonely Planet books, they’re still the best. They’ve got books specifically for Japan, Tokyo, and Kyoto.

Sometimes Amazon makes free ebook versions of the Lonely Planet free for its Prime members. That’s how I got the Kyoto and Tokyo books free for my trip.

Here are some of my other favorite non-Lonely Planet travel guides for Japan:

Official Local Tourism Websites

Another thing you can do to prepare for your trip to Japan is to visit the official tourism office websites for each city. They have a ton of useful travel information.

Just type in a search engine the following information: (name of the city) tourism information or tourism board such as, Takayama tourism information or Takayama tourism office.” Usually, the website comes up first in the search engine.

Japan has tons of local festivals (called Matsuri in Japanese) and it’s a real treat to be in a location when one is going on. There’s, of course, the Cherry Blossom Festival, but there’s also the Sapporo Snow Festival, Takayama Matsuri, Gion Matsuri, and many more.

These local tourism board websites can tell you how to visit the festivals as well as give you loads of other useful info:

3. Money

Here comes the non-fun part of planning your trip to Japan: dealing with how you’re going to pay for all that sushi.

But rest assured. It’s not as complicated as it sounds.

You’ll want to bring the following to Japan:

  • Debit Card – to get Japanese yen from ATMs
  • Credit Card – to pay for your hotel and restaurants or book tours online
  • Cash – whatever your local currency is in case your debit or credit cards don’t work or you lose them
  • PayPal Account – Optional

The most important thing to know about money in Japan is that cash is still King. Although more businesses are accepting credit and debit cards, cash is essential, so you’ll need to get some Japanese Yen. But you don’t need to get any BEFORE your trip. You can easily get Japanese Yen at the airport and around the city. We’ll talk about that next.

Debit Cards

The BEST way to get Japanese Yen is from an ATM, so you’ll need to bring your bank debit card.

I recommend bringing 2 cards from 2 different accounts or banks in case you lose one, your card just doesn’t work in the ATM, your bank cancels your card because of suspected fraud, or the ATM eats your debit card.

You might have read that finding an ATM is difficult. Lonely Planet guidebooks make it sound like finding an ATM that accepts foreign debit cards is like searching for the Holy Grail. It’s EASY to find them. ATMs can be found at these 3 major convenience stores:

  • 7-11
  • Family Mart
  • Lawson’s.

Plus! I don’t think there’s anything more ubiquitous in Japan than a convenience store.

However, don’t just bring any old debit card to Japan. Get one that doesn’t charge you international transaction fees or reimburses you for foreign bank fees. They can add up. Every time you take cash from an ATM, you can be charged up to US$10.

Most likely your bank card won’t do this. For Americans, Charles Schwab, though, will reimburse you for your bank fees. You can open an account with them online and transfer money from your bank to their bank without leaving your home. It takes a few weeks for you to get the actual debit card, apply for the card at least 2 months before departure.

Credit Cards

Bring at least 2 credit cards with you to Japan in case you lose one, it doesn’t work, or your bank cancels your card. So many times I’ve tried to book a tour or bus ticket online in a foreign country and the website won’t accept my credit card or my bank declines the transaction. Then I use another card and it works.


I always bring at least US$300 to $500 of my own currency (US dollars) with me when I travel abroad in case none of my cards work.

Pay Pal Account

Some websites in some countries only accept local credit or debit cards. This has not happened to me in Japan YET, but it’s happened to me in Mexico and Central America when I’ve tried booking bus tickets and adding data to my SIM card. So instead of a card, I use PayPal.

As a precaution, you might want to at least have a PayPal Account set up with your debit or credit card attached to it.

bridge over Tokyo with Tokyo skyline at night on Tokyo itinerary

4. Book Accommodations

Everyone says to book your hotels early for Japan. Hotels, hostels, and Airbnbs fill up quickly, they say.

From my experience, it’s true for some places and some types of accommodations but not necessary for others.

The good places in popular cities like Tokyo and Kyoto fill up quickly. Also, ryokans and minshuku in touristy places like Shirakawa-go, along the Nakesendo, or in a popular onsen town fill up fast. Book early for these places.

However, make sure your reservation is refundable. Booking.com and Agoda, the 2 BEST hotel and hostel booking platforms usually have free cancellations.

How to Book a Place to Stay in Japan

I usually book my hotel or hostel on Agoda or Booking.com. 

I’ve had no problems with the 2 websites in Japan. Once I had to cancel a nonrefundable booking in Japan and Booking.com helped me contact the hotel to see if I could cancel it without being charged. The hotel agreed.

Some people say that you should book directly with the hotel, but I find that it’s more difficult to cancel the reservation when you book that way. Also, if you’re dissatisfied with your stay, you have no recourse. No way to complain or no way to solve a dispute.

Types of Places to Stay in Japan

Next let’s try and make sense of all the different types of places to stay in Tokyo, Kyoto, and everywhere else in Japan.

In a nutshell here are your different options:

  • Western-style hotels
  • Capsule Hotels
  • Hostels
  • Ryokans
  • Minshuku
  • Vacation houses, apartments, and villas
  • Vacation Rentals like Airbnb
  • Couchsurfing
  • Camping

Western-Style Hotels (US$75 – and higher)

Japan, of course, has lots of Western-style hotels just like you would find anywhere else in the world.

Western hotel here means that you get a Western-style bed and not a room covered with tatami mats and a futon to sleep on.

Some hotels are geared toward tourists, others focus on business travelers, and then there are the love hotels that rent rooms by the hour.

Tourist Hotels

Tourist Hotels can be found all over Japan. Don’t expect large rooms. You might not even get a good view. 

One difference from a tourist hotel in your country is that you might have to take your shoes off at the entrance to your room. This is what my hotel room was like in Kyoto – Hotel Resol Kawaramachi.

Business Hotels

A comfortable and convenient option is the business hotel where business people stay when traveling. These are usually part of hotel chains that you can find in any city in Japan. Some of the hotel names I saw were Tokyu Stays and Hotel Dormy Inn.

The ones I stayed in were clean and conveniently located with very comfortable beds. Expect to pay around $75 to over $100.

Love Hotels

Japan also has love hotels where you can stay for as short as one hour. I’m sure you don’t need any further explanation as to what they’re used for. 

If you’re staying in Shinjuku, you’re sure to come across them.

Capsule Hotels (US$35 – $50)

Capsule hotels are a very Japanese type of accommodation. Traditionally, they were patronized by Japanese businessmen too drunk to make it home after a night out.

Today capsule hotels are appropriate for tourists and for women as well as men and a great place for budget travelers to stay. They often have separate sections for men and women.

They are similar to hostels. The only difference is that you might find Japanese businessmen staying in a Capsule Hotel. In hostels, most guests are tourists. 

You can book a bed in a capsule hotel through Booking.com or Agoda.

What to expect at a capsule hotel?

First, not all capsule hotels are the same. But I’ll start with the most typical type:

You’ll find a narrow room with a row of capsules, which is a bed that’s in a sort of box. Often there are 2 levels. You’ll have a curtain to give you privacy. The capsule will also have a bedside light, an outlet, maybe a TV, a small locker, a shelf, and a hook to hang things. 

I stayed at Hotel M Matsumoto in Matsumoto, and it was different from what I assumed a capsule hotel to be like.

Men and women were in separate sections of the hotel, but you could also stay in a mixed-gender section. I stayed in the female section, which was securely locked from the rest of the hotel.

I got a little room with a curtain instead of a door to close off from the hallway. There was a desk with a lamp, a locker with a lock, and the bottom part of a bunk bed. The person in the room next to mine got the upper bunk. My bed had another curtain over it as well as a bedside lamp, radio, and a shelf to put my things. No TV.

The bathrooms were communal but were also stocked with everything imaginable: combs, brushes, curling irons, flat irons, hairdryers, lotion, face wash, body wash, shampoo, etc.

The Hotel M was a really clean, quiet, and comfortable hotel conveniently located a couple of blocks from the train station. It costs between $35 and $50 a night. I highly recommend it if you’re visiting Matsumoto.


Japan has tons of hostels. I’ve divided them into boutique-style hostels and traditional hostels.

Boutique-style hostels (US$40 – $50)

The boutique hostels are great places to stay if you’re on a budget but you need your privacy and need more comfort than traditional hostels.

In these posh hostels, your dorm bed includes a privacy curtain, a bedside lamp, outlets for plugging in your electronics, a cupboard with a lock and key, and a bedside shelf to put your things.

The boutique-style hotels are also stylishly designed.

There’s a kitchen and maybe a lounge area that looks like they come from an Ikea catalog. The above photo is the communal kitchen of the Share Hotels Hatchi – which no longer exists.

The bathrooms and showers are also clean, stylish, and modern. 

The downside to these posh hostels is that because they offer so much privacy, you’re less likely to talk to other travelers, possibly making solo traveling even more lonely and isolated. I also noticed fewer organized activities in these boutique-style hostels.

Traditional and less stylish hostels (US$20-$30)

Traditional-style hostels are more basic and cheaper than boutique-style hostels.

Usually, you’ll find a room with simple bunk beds and a locker. No privacy curtains or bedside lights. You might get an outlet near your bed but that’s about it. 

The good thing about these more communal-style hostels is that it’s easy to meet other travelers since no one is hiding behind their curtains.

I stayed at K’s House in Hiroshima. Unlike the posher hostels, I had to pay ¥100 for a towel. They had a locker to store my things, but I needed my own lock. The facilities weren’t as new but they were still fairly clean.

K’s House definitely had more information for travelers than the other more boutique-style hostels I stayed at. They also arranged group activities, which the other hostels didn’t do.

Ryokans (US$65 – $200 – over $800)

Make sure to stay in a ryokan at least once during your trip to Japan.

Ryokans are traditional Japanese inns. Here are the key features of a ryokan:

  • Tatami mats covering the floor – You need to take off your shoes at the entrance to the room
  • Futons – You’ll be sleeping on the floor – if you don’t like sleeping on a hard mattress, you might not like ryokans.
  • Onsen – Often, but not always, you’ll find an onsen bath (hot spring); sometimes the onsen is in your room–these are very expensive. Other times there will be one or several onsens for everyone in the hotel. Some separate men and women.
  • Yukata – You get a Japanese traditional robe that you can wear around the ryokan
  • Multi-course traditional Japanese breakfast and/or dinner – Sometimes the meal is in your room while other times it’s in a restaurant.

They range from basic no-frills inns with shared bathrooms to super-luxury ones that make you feel like a queen. There are both modern inns recently built and old inns that are over 100 years old.

The BEST places to stay in a ryokan are in Hakone, Kyoto, and Nikko.

The above photos are from the Rickshaw Inn in Takayama, a traditional ryokan owned by a Brit. I had a sink in my room, but I had to go down the hall to the bathroom and shower.

The ryokan had  This inn had lots of character, and it was centrally located. They served breakfast, but it was extra so I didn’t order it.

Ryokans are great to try out at least once, but if your back needs a soft mattress, they can be a bit uncomfortable.

Luxury Ryokans

If you can swing it, try to stay in a luxury ryokan with an onsen and a multi-course dinner and breakfast

I stayed at one of these luxurious ryokans, the 120-year-old Fukuzumiro in Hakone. 


In the luxury ryokan I booked during my first trip to Hakone, I had a large room with tatami mats and a futon. However, in this room, I was given a yukata (a robe), that I wore while walking around the hotel.

I also got a multi-course dinner and breakfast. that I ate in my room.

I had my own personal room attendant who served me my meals and turned down my futon while I was out of the room.

The ryokan also had hot spring baths for both public and private bathing.

Probably the best part of my stay at Fukuzumiro was the fact that the hotel overlooked a rushing river, which I heard all night long. It was so marvelously quiet and relaxing.

How to book a ryokan?

For some cities, you can book them through booking.com or Agoda.

Some of the ryokans in smaller cities don’t accept solo travelers or they only accept solo travelers on weekdays.

Minshuku (US$55 – $80)

Another type of traditional Japanese place to stay is a minshuku, a Japanese-style bed and breakfast found in someone’s home. You’re more likely to find them in small towns like Shirokawa-go than in Tokyo or Kyoto.

Like the ryokans, your room is likely to have tatami mats and a futon. Bathrooms are also shared. You might also get breakfast but not in your room like at a ryokan. However, unlike ryokans, you’ll have to lay out the futon yourself and you won’t get a towel or yukata.

They are a great option for solo travelers.

How can you book a minshuku?

You can book minshukus through Japanese Guest House website.

House, Apartment, and Villa Rentals

Want an even more uniquely Japanese cultural experience?

Rent a Japanese home and see what it’s like to live in one.

How can you rent a Japanese home?

Probably, the website that comes to mind first when wanting to rent a house is Airbnb. Yes, that’s one website to go to.

Another one is a travel agency I’ve used a lot: Japanese Experience. They have a listing of houses to rent in Kyoto, Tokyo, Kanazawa, Takayama, and Okayama.

My go-to place for renting an apartment or house is Booking.com. They have an extensive listing for many cities in Japan. For example, Booking.com lists:

  • Over 400 houses and apartments in Kyoto
  • Over 2,000 houses and apartments in Tokyo
  • Over 500 houses and apartments in Osaka

The prices are surprisingly affordable and unlike Airbnb, you don’t need to pay a cleaning fee.

Couch surfing

For those on a super tight budget and/or for those who want to connect with Japanese people, try Couchsurfing.

You stay at a Japanese person’s home and not necessarily on their couch. In exchange, you spend time with your host. Perhaps bring them a gift or cook them dinner or take them out for a meal.

I know many people who’ve done Couchsurfing and loved it!


Yes, you can camp in Japan. While hiking at Kamikochi in the Japan Alps, I saw lots of Japanese people camping.

5. Getting Around Japan

Plan how you’re going to get around Japan at least a month in advance, especially if you’re going to buy a JR Pass.

Thanks to its extensive and efficient public transportation system, Japan is an easy country to get around in without a car. The cities have amazing bus and metro systems and the rail and bus systems between cities are convenient and comfortable. You do not need to rent a car in Japan.

Here are your options for getting around Japan:


Trains in Japan & the JR Pass

You can get pretty much anywhere by train in Japan. However, train tickets can be quite pricey especially if you’re taking the ultrafast Shinkansen or bullet train.

Japan has several rail companies:

  • Japan Rail – The biggest company is Japan Rail and they manage the JR trains like the Shinkansen bullet train.
  • Odakyu Rail It owns the trains around Hakone as well as the train from Tokyo to Odawara. You can read out about how to use the Odakyu Rail line in this FABULOUS Hakone blog post
  • Tobu Railway – It runs some trains from Tokyo to Nikko – good for doing a day trip from Tokyo to Nikko! You can read about how to take the Tobu train in this AMAZING post on day trips from Tokyo
someone holding a Japan Rail Pass in her hand

The good news is that Japan has a very easy-to-use train pass for foreign tourists called the Japan Rail Pass or JR Pass. You can buy a 7-day, 14-day, or 21-day JR Pass and hop on almost any train without buying a ticket anytime and anywhere you want for as many times as you want. So fun! And this includes the ultra-fast bullet trains.

The caveat is that you must buy the Pass outside of Japan before your trip. Then validate it once you arrive. I’ve had success with buying JR Passes online from Japan Experience and Klook.


The Bad News About JR Passes

The JR Pass used to be a very good deal—much cheaper than buying individual train tickets. Unfortunately, in October 2023, Japan Rail raised the price of the JR Pass by 50% to 75%. Now for many Japan itineraries, it’s cheaper to buy individual train tickets rather than a JR Pass.

Before you decide whether to buy one, compare the difference in price between a JR Pass and individual tickets. Here is a FABULOUS guide on how you can calculate whether the JR Pass is worth it.


Regional Rail Passes

Alternatively, you might want to do regional passes instead of a national pass.

If you’re interested in buying a JR Pass or a regional pass, I recommend booking through Klook:

  • JR National Pass – For all of Japan
  • JR Hokkaido Pass – Travel around the Hokkaido region (Sapporo) – 4 to 10 days
  • JR West Kansai Pass – Good for those traveling between Kyoto, Osaka, Kobe, Nara, and Himeji – 1 to 4 days
  • JR East Pass – Great for those traveling between Tokyo and Nagano or for those going skiing in the Japan Alps
  • JR West Pass – Kyoto, Osaka, Nara, Hijemi, Kanazawa, Hiroshima, Kobe, Toyama – 7 days
  • Hakone Free Pass – Good for the Hakone area of Japan. I used it and it’s great.
  • Fuji-Hakone Pass – An excellent Pass for the Mt. Fuji and Hakone areas. I also used this one during my second trip to Japan.

Most Popular Japan Rail Passes


Getting Around Japan By Bus

Buses are less popular than trains for foreign travelers. They’re not as fast nor as comfortable as trains but they are more economical. With the rise in price for JR Passes, more visitors to Japan might start using them.

For example, the train from Tokyo to Takayama can cost between ¥9,500 and ¥14,190 and takes 4.5 hours. However, the bus costs ¥7,500 and takes 6 hours.

I have taken the bus between Takayama and Shirakawago and between Shirakawago and Kanazawa as well as to Mt. Fuji and Hakone.

The thing I hate about the Japanese bus system is that finding bus schedules is not as easy as it is for trains. The BEST website is Navitime or Willer Buses.

Buses leave Tokyo for other parts of Japan from the Shinjuku Bus Terminal.

Renting a Car in Japan

You can rent a car from Narita Airport. You can try booking a car rental through Discover Cars, Klook or Booking.com

Hiring a Private Car and Driver

The final option for getting around Japan is to hire a private driver and car. You can book one through Klook.

6. Getting Around Cities in Japan

How do you get around Tokyo? Kyoto? Osaka?

Do what the Japanese do. They walk AND take public transportation such as buses, trains, and the subway.

Tokyo has one of the BEST but also most complicated subway and train systems in the world. But I’m not going to try to explain how to use Tokyo’s system in this post. You can check out the subway map here and some explanations of what everything means.

3 Ways to Buy Subway & Train Tickets in Tokyo

Before your trip to Japan, you want to think about how you’re going to purchase subway and train tickets around Tokyo. You have three options:

  • Buy individual train tickets every time you use the train.
  • Buy an Unlimited Train Pass – These are AMAZING passes. You can get a 1-day, 2-day, or 3-day Pass that allows for unlimited travel on most subway lines in Tokyo. This is what I used during my 4 days in Tokyo.
  • IC Pass – A card that you can store money on to pay for subway, train, and bus tickets. The most popular are Suica, PASMO, and TOICA.

IC Cards: Suica, PASMO & TOICA Cards

Japan has several types of IC cards. These are the 3 most common:

  • Suica
a hand holding a Suica card

You can use these cards for the following reasons:

  • taking public transportation in Tokyo and other cities in Japan
  • paying for things at convenience stores like Family Mart, 7/11, and Lawson’s.

Take your Suica, PASMO, or TOICA card to a machine at any subway station, upload money to the card, and then swipe the card at the gate to get on the subway.

Getting a card is the tricky part. You used to be able to get them at any subway station in Tokyo. But at the end of this year, it’s become harder to find the cards because of a global chip shortage.

Suica Cards

Suica has 2 types of cards:

  • Suica card (green) – Japanese people use but you can use too
  • Welcome Suica card (red) –  foreign visitors – good for 28 days

Foreigners can use either the green or the red one.

Where to get a Suica Card?

JR East announced that you can only get a Suica card at these places (December 2023):

  • Welcome Suica – Haneda Airport Terminal 3 (NOT Narita Airport)
  • Suica Card – JR East Travel Service Centers at these stations: Tokyo, Shinagawa, Shibuya, Shinjuku, Ikebukuro, and Ueno.
  • Digital Suica Card – You can buy a Suica Card on the Apple App Store and use a digital card

It costs ¥1,000 or ¥2,000 for a SUICA card: ¥500 issuing fee and the rest is a stored value that you can use on public transportation or at convenience stores.

You can also buy a Suica Card from a trustworthy online travel agency before your trip to Japan. Klook currently sells Suica Cards but it can only be picked up at Haneda Airport. Not Narita – but that might just be temporary.

Pasmo Cards

PASMO has 2 types of cards:

  • PASMO card (pink) – Japanese people use but you can use too
  • PASMO Passport card (Hello Kitty) – Only for foreign visitors – good for 28 days.

Where to get a PASMO card?

PASMO announced that foreign visitors can get a PASMO Passport card (good for 28 days and the service fee of 500 yen has been waved) at these locations (December 2023):

  • Narita Airport (Terminal 1, 2 & 3) – Skyliner and Keisei Information Center
  • Haneda Airport (Terminal 1, 2 & 3) – Keikyu Information Center
  • Subway Stations: Shinagawa, Yokohama, Ueno, Ikebukuro, Shimbashi, and Shibuya (for a complete and detailed list, check out PASMO’s website)

To get a PASMO Passport Card, present your passport to prove you’re a foreign visitor. A PASMO Passport Card costs ¥2,000: ¥500 issuing fee and 1,500 stored fare. That means you have ¥1,500 to spend on public transportation and even in convenience stores.


The TOICA card is from Nagoya but can also be used in Tokyo.

Where to get a TOICA card?
  • Tokyo Station
  • Shinagawa Station

7. Booking Tours and Attractions

The next thing you need to do to plan your trip to Japan is buy tickets for certain attractions like Universal Studios and the Ghibli Museum BEFORE you arrive in Japan. They sell out quickly. Book as soon as ticket sales for your dates are open.

Buying Tickets for Attractions that Sell Out Fast

Here are some popular attractions that you should book before your trip to Japan as they sell out fast. I also included when you can start buying tickets.

  • Universal Studios – 2 months beforehand
  • Disney Land – 2 months
  • Warner Bros. Studio Tour – Harry Potter – 3 months
  • Ghibli Museum – Tickets go on sale at 10 a.m. (Japan time) on the 10th of each month for the following month. They sell out quickly!
  • teamLab Borderless – Tickets go on sale January 16, 2024 for reopening; new location opens February 2024
  • teamLab Planets – 1 month (as of December 28, 2023, tickets are sold out for the first 2 weeks of January 2024 – book early!)
  • Sumo wrestling tournaments – Tournaments take place in January, May, and September in Tokyo, March in Osaka, July in Nagoya, and November in Fukuoka. Tickets go on sale around one month before the tournament start date. Tournaments last for 14 days. Here is the sumo tournament schedule for 2024.
    teamLab Borderless pink lanterns

    Popular Tours That Sell Out Fast

    Book ahead of time for these VERY popular tours! These tours often sell out at least a week or more in advance.

    Buying Tickets for Other Popular Attractions

    Here are more popular attractions and tours you can book in advance but do not usually sell out so quickly.

    Popular Food Tours in Japan

    2 Popular Tours in Japan

    8. Accessing the Internet

    Now for probably the most important question in everyone’s life: How can I access the internet?

    You’ve got 3 choices:

    • rent a pocket WiFi
    • buy a SIM card
    • Get an eSIM

    Rent a Pocket WiFi

    The 2 times I visited Japan, I rented a pocket WiFi. Loved it! Lightweight and fast!

    Pocket WiFi’s are devices that allow you to access WiFi wherever you go. They are the size of your palm and as thin as a pencil that you can put in your bag or backpack. You can connect multiple devices to it. Make sure to recharge the battery every day.

    To connect your phone, laptop, and tablet to the pocket router, enter the router’s password.

    How to order one?

    I ordered mine 3 weeks before my trip through Japan Experience. You can also order a Pocket WiFi through Klook.

    How to get the pocket WiFi in Japan?

    You can choose to have the WiFi router delivered to your hotel, or you can pick it up at the post office at the airport you are flying into.

    I picked mine up at the airport. At Narita, the post office is on the same floor the departure/check-in hall is on. Ask the Information Desk where the post office is.

    I went to the post office and showed them my receipt. They then gave me an envelope with the router inside.

    How to set up the Pocket WiFi

    The pocket WiFi came with easy-to-follow instructions. I usually have trouble with technology, but I had no trouble connecting my phone to the WiFi router.

    How to return the pocket WiFi

    When you leave Japan, pop the router into the self-addressed stamped envelope that came with it and drop it off at the post office at the airport before going through security. Make sure to give it to a post office employee.

    You’ll also get a receipt from the post office proving that you sent it. You should then get an email indicating that the WiFi router was received.

    Buy a SIM Card

    When I travel to countries other than Japan, I usually buy a local SIM card for my phone. Pop out my U.S. SIM card and put in the local country’s card.

    The problem is when your bank tries to contact you using your regular phone number.

    This is how I have solved that problem: I transfer my U.S. phone number to Google Voice so that I can make and receive phone calls and messages via the Internet from family, friends, and my bank.

    You can buy a SIM card BEFORE you arrive in Japan through Klook. Then pick it up at an airport like Narita or Haneda Airports in Tokyo, Kansai Airport in Osaka, or the Naha Airport in Okinawa.

    Buy an eSIM

    Using an eSIM for your phone is becoming more and more popular these days. They’re generally easy to set up and you don’t have to worry about picking up a physical SIM card or removing your regular card.

    Just make sure that your phone is compatible. Check out a list here of compatible phones.

    How to get an eSIM

    Buy your eSIM BEFORE your trip and install it the day before you leave for Japan.

    The day after purchase, you’ll get an email with a QR activation code. Just follow the instructions.

    You can purchase an eSIM through Airalo or an eSIM through Klook.

    Best Ways to Access the Internet in Japan


    9. Apps for your Smartphone

    The next item on your pre-departure checklist for Japan is to upload apps to your smartphone.

    • Google Maps: It’s great to use for finding your way back to your hotel and for looking up train, subway, and bus schedules in Japan. I wasn’t able to download maps of Japan to use offline when I was in Japan.  Other people said they could do it.
    • Navitime for Japan Travel: This is one alternative to Google Maps for subway, train, and bus schedules.
    • WhatsApp – This is a great App for phoning or messaging people in Japan. It’s great to use if you need to contact your tour guide to let them know you’ll be late or if you get lost, you can message your guide.
    • Google Translate – Download the Japanese dictionary for Google Translate so that you can use it offline. If you don’t understand a sign, you can take a photo and it will translate it for you. But it will use up a lot of data if you’re doing it online.

    10. Get Insurance

    Nobody wants to think about insurance when they’re planning their dream vacation. But bad things can happen, so it’s always best to be safe than sorry.

    There are many different companies offering travel insurance. The two that I’ve found that work well are World Nomads and Safety Wing.

    If you need to need to see a doctor in Japan, you’ll most likely pay the clinic or hospital after seeing the doctor. You might have to pay in cash. Save all your receipts because then you’ll need them to get reimbursed by the travel insurance company.

    You can read all about what happened to me when I had to see a doctor in Japan. How much did it cost me? Did I go to a clinic or an emergency room? Did anyone at the health care facility speak English?

    coronaviruses spinning around the globe

    11. Learn about Japanese food

    You don’t want to return home only to realize you missed out on eating something delicious like I did. My FOMO was izakaya and yakitori. 

    Plus! You want to make sure you know how to eat these dishes. It’s going to be embarrassing when you don’t know how to eat soba noodles or sushi the proper way (Don’t dip the rice part in the soy sauce!)

    Here’s the low down on what to eat:

    • Sushi
    • Ramen noodles
    • Udon noodles (both cold and hot)
    • Soba noodles
    • Waigyu beef
    • Fish
    • Yudofu
    • Unagi (eel)
    • Kaiseki meal
    • Okonomiyaki
    • Tempura (especially shrimp)
    • Tamagoyaki (egg roll)
    • Yakitori
    • Ochazuke
    • Onigiri
    • Tonkatsu
    • Curry rice
    • Donburi
    • and many more

    Here are some great resources for what to eat when traveling in Japan:

    Once you’ve done your research on what foods to try, you’ve got to concern yourself with learning how to eat them. And I don’t mean just learning how to eat with chopsticks. That’s only half of it.

    Start with learning the proper way to eat sushi.

    Note: only pour a little bit of soy sauce into your bowl and dip a little bit of the fish into the soy sauce. Don’t dip the rice part into the soy sauce. EVER!

    BTW, it’s also ok to eat the sushi with your hands.

    Conveyer belt sushi is a bit different. Instead of me explaining it, watch this video.

    The next dish that you MUST  try is cold soba noodles. But before eating, you need to learn how to eat them. Watch this video from Savor Japan.

    12. Japanese Culture and History

    Japan Planning Tip #11 is to read up on the history and culture of Japan before your trip. Knowing the story behind a temple or a street will make your experience in Japan more meaningful than if you didn’t know much about the country beforehand.

    Luckily, there are some terrific resources for learning about Japanese history and culture.

    • Start by checking out my list of novels set in Japan.
    • Visit the History of Japan Podcast to learn about Japanese history. Isaac Meyer has been putting out 30-minute podcasts each week since 2013!
    • NHK has a great website that helps visitors learn about Japanese culture and Japanese current events.
    • Empires: is a great 3-part documentary series on the history of Japan that you can find on Amazon. It’s free if you have Amazon Prime.
    • I also love the YouTube channel, Tokyo Lens. They have short videos on the culture of Japan.
    Toshogu Shrine on Day trip from Tokyo to Nikko

    13. Japanese Language

    If you stick to tourist hubs like Tokyo, Kyoto, Osaka, and Hiroshima, you should be able to survive with knowing just English.

    However, it’s respectful to know some words and phrases in Japanese. And it’s fun to speak another language.

    Knowing a few words and phrases of Japanese will go a long way.

    Here are my favorite resources for learning Japanese:

    Easy Japanese and Easy Travel Japanese: These lessons are brought to you by NHK, the Japanese Broadcasting Network.

    Learn Japanese Pod: They have mostly podcast lessons. They’re entertaining and useful.

    Duolingo: Another free website is Duolingo.

    14. Pack for Your Trip

    Do you hate packing as much as I do?

    It’s my least favorite part of travel planning. I think it’s because of how much I HATE carrying my luggage from place to place.

    I’m not going to go into too much detail here about EVERYTHING you need to pack. I’ll just give you 3 tips on packing for Japan:

    Tip #1: Use a Backpack

    Use a travel backpack rather than a suitcase.

    The main reason is that you’ll most likely be faced with stairs and no elevators or escalators when using the subway and trains in Japan.

    Try going down two flights of stairs, walking quickly to the opposite side of the train station, and then going up two more flights of stairs ALL while carrying a heavy suitcase. You have no time to look for an elevator and there are no escalators in sight!

    Which travel backpack?

    Here are my recommendations:

    Osprey Sojourn 22"/45L Wheeled Travel Backpack with Harness, Black

    Tip #2: Get Good Shoes

    You’ll most likely be doing a lot of walking in Japan—more than normal!

    That’s partly because taxis are expensive. Therefore, you’ll be relying a lot on public transportation. That means walking to and from the station, down and up the stairs, to and from your platform, and finally, between stations when changing trains.

    I did not have the best shoes the first time I was in Japan. They were an older pair of Teva’s. I ended up with a blister that got infected and I ended up going to the emergency room to get it taken care of and get antibiotics.

    Which shoes to wear for Japan?

    Just get some stable and sturdy walking shoes. I only wear Brooks Adrenaline GTS shoes because they come in wide and extra-wide sizes. You can read this AMAZING article on why Brooks shoes are the PERFECT travel shoes.

    Brooks Women’s Adrenaline GTS 23 Supportive Running Shoe - Grey/Black/Purple - 13 Medium
    Brooks comes out with new shoes each year. The 2022 shoes were still available as of December 29, 2023.

    Tip #3 Pack a Power Bank

    Most of you will be using your phone a lot—to find directions, look at train schedules, translate Japanese to English, and take photos and videos.

    Your battery could run out at the most inconvenient time like what happened to me when I was trying to get back to my hotel late at night and I got lost.

    Pack a power bank that allows you to recharge your phone. Make sure it’s a good one that’s at least 20,000 mAh. Make sure the power bank is compatible with your smartphone ports. Do you need a USB-C or USB-A port?

    mophie Powerstation XXL Power Bank - 20,000 mAh Large Internal Battery, (2) USB-A Ports and (1) 18W USB-C PD Fast Charging Input/Output Port, Travel-Friendly, Includes USB-A to USB-C Power Cord

    15. Complete Entry Requirements

    A lot of countries have announced new entry requirements for foreign visitors. One of these requirements is to fill out an online form for immigration and customs BEFORE arriving in the country.

    Japan also has a new online form for you to fill out with your immigration and customs information. It’s also used for tax-free shopping. It’s supposed to save you time at immigration.

    Luckily, the online form is not required, YET. As of December 29, 2023, you can still fill out the paper immigration and customs form when you arrive in Japan. This could, of course, change in the future.

    If you want to fill it out beforehand, visit the Visit Japan website. You’ll get a QR code that you’ll need to scan at a machine when going through immigration in Japan. I recommend taking a screenshot of the QR code in case you can’t access the free WiFi at the airport.

    Be careful of FAKE Visit Japan Apps that ask for your credit card information! You do NOT need to give your credit card number to fill out the Japan immigration and customs form.

    Final Thoughts: Japan for First-Time Visitors

    Thanks for reading my 15 Steps for Preparing for a Trip to Japan! I hope you enjoyed it and found it useful.

    Is there anything else that you’d like to know about Japan?

    What are you most worried about?

    If you’ve been to Japan and I left something off my list or you’ve got a different opinion, I’d love to hear from you. Just leave a comment below. And if you can, I’d love it if you could share this post on social media.

    Thank you! And Sayonara!

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    1. Great tips and info. I’m going in October ….. so excited. Thanks for all the valuable information.

      • You’re welcome! October is an excellent time to go! The weather will be so much better than when I went in August. And you’ll get to see the leaves change color on the trees. Have fun!

    2. What a fantastic starting point for a trip to Japan. I am going in three months. Probably have some other key places to see and do but your information was fantastic. thank you so much

      • You’re welcome! You’re going to Japan at the perfect time! Great weather. I hope you have a great time!


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    About the Bamboo Traveler

    Welcome to The Bamboo Traveler, a travel blog dedicated to helping those travelers who want to dig deeply into the history, heritage, and culture of a place. Whether it’s through the pages of your passport or the pages of a book, I’ll help you travel the world and uncover the history, culture, food, architecture, and natural beauty of some of the world’s most fascinating places.


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