Planning your own trip to Japan is definitely possible. There are plenty of resources available to help you plan, and the only difficulty is likely to be choosing from many options. The most useful resources to start with are Japan Guide and the Japan National Tourist Office website.
Concern about a possible language barrier means some people think they need to book a package tour. This is unnecessary. Many Japanese tourism providers have English language websites. In hotels and other tourist places, there is usually someone with sufficient English to cover transactions such as checking in, buying tickets etc. In cities and larger towns, railway stations and trains have signs in English, and sometimes announcements too. Planning your own independent travel in Japan is a realistic option.
How long will it take to plan your own trip and make your own travel arrangements?
For a shorter trip of 7 to 9 days, this could take between 13 and 19 hours. This includes working out an overall itinerary for two destinations with a day trip or two, two hotel bookings and advance booking for one day tour or attraction.
For a longer trip of about 21 days, expect planning to take 35 to 45 hours. This covers an overall itinerary and sightseeing for seven destinations, with hotel bookings in each, buying a rail pass, and advance bookings for two day tours or attractions.
Be realistic about the distances between places and check travel times before you commit to hotel bookings. Japan is a long narrow country and distances may be greater than you realise. Also, while Japan’s famed shinkansen go between major cities at super-fast speeds, they don’t go everywhere. There may be some places you’d like to visit which are accessible only by an ordinary train, or even a bus.
Finally, avoid the temptation to overload your itinerary. This can lead to a lot of time spent travelling and less time spent seeing or doing things. A good rule of thumb is that you should spend more time at a place than the time it took to travel there.
For further information, the ebook Japan Just for You is a practical step-by-step guide to planning your trip to Japan, starting with developing your own personal trip concept. It’s now available on Apple and Amazon, with other ebook stores to come soon.