Why plan your trip to Japan?

I’m a strong advocate for travel planning in general, and for planning travel to Japan in particular. Planning begins with thinking about what you want to do, rather than just following a standard itinerary. It will help you get the best trip possible within your time and budget constraints.

The five benefits of planning

  1. You’ll maximise the time spent at your destination, instead of wasting it deciding what to see next, then looking up timetables and opening hours. Because your itinerary groups sights together in an efficient way, you’ll minimise travel time instead of zig-zagging across town. It can take half an hour or more to get across town in Tokyo, Osaka and Kyoto.
  2. You can be certain of seeing really popular sights that you want to see. Some sights, such as the Ghibli Museum or the Mori Digital Art Museum can sell out. Even if they aren’t sold out, there can be long queues to buy tickets. Advance purchase of tickets means you can be certain of getting in, even if it commits you to a specific day.
  3. You’ll avoid peak season problems. First of all, you’ll know when peak season is, so you can decide whether to avoid it, or whether you really do want to visit then. If you want to visit popular cherry blossom or autumn foliage spots, you’ll have more accommodation options if you book well in advance. Winging it can lead to a lot of wasted time, and a stay that’s memorable for all the wrong reasons.
  4. You can add some more individual elements to your trip which will make it more memorable. There may be a local festival or special event, or seasonal flowers or food to be enjoyed. You can include these in your plans.
  5. Your trip will be within your budget, because you know what transport is needed, how much your accommodation is, and what you need to set aside for sightseeing and food.

How to retain some flexibility

You may like the idea of being spontaneous, and being able to seize any opportunities as they arise. I hear you! There are ways of doing this within an overall plan.

When you make accommodation bookings, choose a fully cancellable option, and take note of the conditions. You may be able to cancel as late as the day before with little or no charge. This means that you have ensured that you have somewhere to stay, but you will be able to go with an unexpected opportunity, or something that is more appealing than your original plans.

One of the advantages of a rail pass is that you can decide at the last minute to take a day trip without any extra expense. If you like to keep your options open, take this into account when you decide whether or not to get a pass.

Planning also doesn’t mean micro-managing your time. Any schedule should have a bit of spare time built in, so you can linger somewhere that turns out to be really great, instead of feeling like you have to march off to the next place. If you like exploring and making chance discoveries, pick an interesting-sounding neighbourhood or small town, and spend a few hours there, without mapping out exactly what you’ll do.

It can also be a good idea to include in your plan some “just in case” sightseeing options, which you can fall back on if the weather is too wet, too hot or too cold, or if you suddenly find somewhere is closed.

But planning is so time-consuming!

Yes, planning does take time, but it includes activities you’ll need to do anyway, whether it’s before your trip or during. Queuing up at the local tourist office hoping to get a room during a busy season is also time-consuming. You’ll avoid visiting a place when it’s closed. You’ll be able to use your time in Japan more efficiently and spend more time sightseeing.

How long does planning take?

Here’s the approximate time required for planning trips of differing durations, with examples of what might be included.

7 to 9 days – 13-19 hours

  • working out an overall itinerary
  • choosing sightseeing for two destinations
  • two hotel bookings
  • advance booking for one day tour or attraction

14 days – 25-35 hours

  • working out an overall itinerary
  • choosing sightseeing for five destinations
  • five hotel bookings
  • buying a rail pass
  • advance bookings for two day tours or attractions

21 days – 35-45 hours

  • working out an overall itinerary
  • choosing sightseeing for seven destinations
  • seven hotel bookings
  • buying a rail pass
  • advance bookings for two day tours or attractions

If you think this sounds like a lot of time, think of time wasted standing in queues, taking unnecessary trips across town, or the disappointment of not getting to see something you really wanted to do. Planning is worth it!

If you think this sounds like not enough time for planning, you either really love it, or you have trouble making up your mind. I recommend focussing on the big, expensive decisions and relaxing a bit about the smaller decisions. Don’t spend ages obsessing over which of two similar hotels you should stay in, or trying to work out which is the best temple in Kyoto to visit. Make a choice and focus on enjoying your trip. If one item doesn’t live up to expectations, it’s not a big deal overall.

Do you have any questions about planning a trip to Japan? Please feel free to contact me.

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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, Amazon and Kobo, and other stores.