Japan, it’s a place where if someone mentions it in the same room as me, everyone will suddenly turn their heads and look at me…yes I am that person and that is my strange obsession. My Dad took me to Japan for the first time for my 18th Birthday after years of begging and begging (FYI that was the best gift I had ever received). I became enthralled with the place and in the two years since, I’ve visited another three times. It’s taken copious amounts of overtime and saving money to go again and again, but to think we live in an age where it is possible to travel to the other side of the world with ease, I always must remind myself how I am so incredibly lucky.
Now, there are many around me who, although may not be obsessed with the country (although some I bet are) also wish to visit and I would thoroughly recommend them to do so. I was met with lovely comments and direct messages on Instagram about my most recent trip. However, I’m always met with ‘it’s too expensive’ ‘I don’t know where to go’ ‘it would be too hard to plan without a tour’. So here I have compiled a more updated guide to getting yourself to Japan!
MY 2017 TRIP
So where did I go in 2017 and how much did it cost per person?
Flights with ANA and Lufthansa:
Outbound: London – Frankfurt – Tokyo -Sapporo
Inbound: Osaka – Frankfurt – London
Rail Pass for 14 days
Accommodation in the following cities for 15 nights: £400
Sapporo Airport: Hotel
Sapporo City: Hotel
Total £1260 (Flights + Transport + Accommodation excluding food/activities)
A similar trip with TrailFinders (a travel agent) for only 11 nights that does not include flights and only a 7 day rail pass would cost £2555. Which is why self-booking and self-planning is key if you would like to get to Japan without breaking the bank! Bear in mind you can do an even cheaper trip than my 2017 trip if you only go for a week, get cheaper Airbnb’s and take certain flights. So below I have various sections for you to look at: Flights, accommodation, where to go, when to go, how to plan the trip and get around.
- Rule of thumb: Use flight price comparison sites to find the cheapest flights.
- Skyscanner + Kayak + Google flights I rely on the most
- However, once you have found the flight you want, go onto the airline’s own website to book for easier management of booking.
- Get a flight with a stopover to bring prices down.
- Airlines I recommend: ANA, Lufthansa, Air China, Aeroflot, Korean Air
- Airlines I do not recommend: Alitalia, Turkish Airlines.
- How much for a fare: £450 is around the cheapest for a good airline, £600 is the cheapest for a premium airline.
- In the past I have relied on hotels.
- I can recommend Hotel Mystays and Citadines for good stays. They provide clean rooms, good service, english speakers and with the latter: spacious rooms.
- However, on my most recent trip I relied on Airbnb and found it excellent.
- The ability to stay in your own Japanese apartment and shop locally to keep eating costs down was lovely. Not to mention the large amount of space we had in each home.
- (Keep an eye out for my future post on my Japanese Airbnb stays)
WHERE TO GO
- First time trip and going for 7 days? Tokyo, Kyoto/Osaka and Hiroshima is a perfect itinerary to get a taste for Japan.
- Can’t afford a rail pass or staying less than 7 days? Stay in Tokyo and do day trips to Kamakura, Mt Takao and Yokohama. All are affordable due to great deals by the railway companies.
- If going for more than 7 days? Throw another island into the equation: Hokkaido, Kyushu or Shikoku. It honestly depends on what you want to see more. I am a big fan of Hokkaido personally, and yearned to go for quite some time, Kyushu is next on my list.
- It’s not your first time? Venture away from Tokyo, spend less time in the main foreign tourist spots. Hokkaido, Tohoku, and Shikoku are the next best places, and I cannot wait to explore them.
- For all the aforementioned places, give them a quick google, I’m sure you will fall in love with them just as much as I did.
WHEN TO GO
- For the best weather: Spring (Early March/Late April to May) or Autumn (Mid October-Late November)
- The cheapest time: Winter: January and February
- The most beautiful time: End of March/Start of April – Cherry Blossom Season, but very expensive and busy.
- I personally visit mainly in August/September, as I do not mind humidity, it is easy for me to get away outside of term time and it’s not too expensive – but not the cheapest either.
HOW TO GET AROUND AND PLAN
- Before you head to Japan, download the app: Hyperdia.
- For the bullet train for example, work out the days you want to travel between cities, then go into the journey planner and enter the times and destinations.
- It will give you suggested routes, for bullet trains write down the date, time, and the name of the train. If you take all your planned routes with this information to a JR office, it makes the job of the staff so much easier to reserve your seats for you! Whereas in many cases they are used to tourists turning up asking for timetables and it makes the process much longer.
- Hyperdia can also be used for day to day getting around on the various cities’ subway systems, JR lines, streetcars too. Whether you just do not know the route to take, or want to know the train times, it’s extremely handy.
- The best way to get around is to use a JR pass, it means there is no buying tickets or topping up of IC Cards (Japanese oyster cards basically). You will get unlimited use of any JR lines and bullet trains, excluding the Nozomi bullet train.
- However, if you wish to use private lines or subways (like Tokyo metro) you will have to get an IC Card. They are easy to either order in advance or just pick them up in the country when you get there! I first used a PASMO which I had ordered in advance prior to my first trip, but on my most recent trip, I picked up a Kitaca card, which is Hokkaido’s exclusive IC Card. They are all interchangeable, so you can use them across the country.
- What about planning activities and locations? Use a variety of resources, I personally like to use YouTube, Instagram, TripAdvisor and Odigo (Basically a TripAdvisor for Japan). Odigo can help you find lots of locations you may be interested in, then you can use the other resources to see if its a good spot for you.
- I’d also recommend renting a pocket wifi if you are not provided one by your Airbnb’s, it makes for a much smoother trip. If you need google maps, train times or just want to google a certain restaurant or phrase in Japanese, the internet is there to save you!
Thanks for reading! I hope you manage to get yourself over to Japan soon. I’ll be uploading some individual city guides, guide to Airbnb in Japan and a ‘Do’s & Don’ts of Japan’ so keep an eye out if you’re interested more Japanese posts. If you have any questions don’t hesitate to contact me!