Getting the most out of a short visit

For whatever reason, your trip to Japan may not be as long as you’d like it to be. Perhaps it’s a layover, or a weekend tacked on to a business trip. Perhaps you can only take a week off work. Whatever the reason, you want to make the most of limited time and have the best experience possible. How can you do that?

The first step is to be realistic about what you can do in the time you have. Resist the temptation to try to see every “must see” or “top 10” sight you’ve heard of. Focus on a few things and plan well so you have a good experience. Let’s look at what you could do within various time frames.

How much time do you have?

24 hours or less

This could be a layover on a longer trip, or an extra day as part of a business trip. Start by working out how much usable time you actually have. Allow time for airport formalities and transport to and from the airport before you start planning where to go and what to do. Be realistic about the amount of usable hours available for sightseeing.

Here are some itinerary options to get you thinking.

In Tokyo

If you have a few hours to spare at Narita airport, the Narita Transit Programme has several itineraries available, including to the picturesque town of Narita (above). If your layover is at Haneda, here are some ideas. If you have time to travel into Tokyo, here’s a possible 24 hour itinerary,

In Osaka

If you have enough time to get from Kansai airport into Osaka, this one day itinerary is doable and can be adjusted to the number of hours you have available.

2-4 days

If you have a longer stopover or extra days attached to a business trip, it is possible to see a bit more. Travelling long distances which will be expensive and use up precious time, so staying in or close to the city that you’re flying out of is the best idea.

If you’re in Tokyo, try 3 nights in Tokyo or something similar. If you want to travel beyond Tokyo and go on the shinkansen, look into the Tokyo Wide Pass which is economical for shorter shinkansen journeys to scenic destinations such as Nikko and Karuizawa.

If you’re in Kyoto, there’s a 3 nights in Kyoto itinerary, or you could look at a weekend in Kyoto.

5-7 days

With 5 nights in Tokyo, you can manage a couple of day trips too. If you arrive at Kansai airport, you could see Osaka and Kyoto plus day trips in a 5 night stay.

If you have a full 7 days, Tokyo and Kyoto would be possible. In this case look into arriving in Tokyo and departing through Kansai, which saves a bit of time.

How to make the most of a short visit

Maximise your time by grouping sights into areas, so that you don’t waste a lot of time on public transport.

Think about what you really want to see, and focus on the sights most important to you.

Consider the season – some sights are best seen at certain times, and you may want to eliminate those if it’s not the ideal time. Focus on what’s in season.

Stick to shorter travel distances – shinkansen and flights add cost, so it’s best to avoid or minimise these in a short visit.

Do you have any questions about making the most of a shorter visit? Please feel free to contact me.

Would you like to receive my quarterly newsletter with the latest news for visitors, plus useful seasonal information? When you sign up, your email address will only be used to send you the newsletter.

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.