5 Tips for Planning a Trip to Japan


Travelling to Japan takes more preparation than your average holiday – at least that’s what I found. Some things I wish I’d looked into earlier than I did, others I was glad I had researched long in advance! Here are the five things I think everyone should do before getting on a plane to Japan:

Book hotels

So this may seem obvious to you, but I made the mistake of booking my flights long in advance then waiting several months before bothering to look into hotels. Hotels are expensive in Japan, especially during cherry blossom season! Don’t leave it to the last minute. For Tokyo, we ended up splurging on the wonderful Grand Hyatt Hotel for a few days, then being very disappointed by an APA Hotel in Shinjuku. Kyoto hotels seemed so busy at the weekends that we went to Osaka for a couple of nights before going there. If you want a more authentic experience, book a ryokan well in advance, preferably one that will serve food. If you’re thinking about trying a capsule hotel have a look at my tips or those of Travel Outlandish before you book!

Buy a Japan Rail Pass

If you are going to be taking a few trains while you’re in Japan, you need to buy a JR Pass before you get there. This will be a lot cheaper than buying tickets in Japan and will save you the hassle of buying a ticket for every journey.  We found that our pass was really convenient for travelling between Tokyo, Osaka, Kyoto, Arashiyama and Nara. You can even use it for the JR lines within Tokyo. Have a look at how Justine did the math if you’re not sure whether the pass is worth it.

Order a sim card or portable wifi

You can have a sim card or a portable wifi device sent to your hotel so that it’s there when you arrive. I used Japan Wireless, although there are a few other companies offering the same service. I found having a SIM card with data to be incredibly useful for using Google Maps and looking up where to go next when we were out and about. No worrying about the phone bill when you get back home and no desperately trying to catch some public wifi!

Learn a few words of Japanese

I found that locals actually speak more English than I expected, but knowing a few words of Japanese was still really useful. I loved memorising things from the Lonely Planet Phrasebook, and it was small enough to carry in my pocket. I also used a few apps to practice listening and pronunciation, like Mirai Japanese or Memrise.

Find out if you need to book things in advance

By the time I found out that you needed to make a reservation by mail for the magnificent Kokudera moss temple in Kyoto, it was too late! If you want to do go-karting around Tokyo, you need to apply for an international driving license before you go. To visit an owl cafe, it’s best to email a few days in advance. If you’re into your food, you might want to reserve some of the top restaurants before you fly out to Japan.

Some things you don’t need to book in advance include your Pasmo (which can be used for public transport in different cities), the famous robot restaurant in Shinjuku, and seats on trains which can be reserved on the day you are travelling.


Also useful to know is how much money you’re going to need. Creative Travel Guide have put together a great little guide that tells you how much you can expect to spend on food, transport and different types of accommodation in Tokyo.


Have a look at my other posts for more tips:


If you’re going to Japan, is there anything more you would like to know about?

If you’ve been there before, do you have any other tips?


How to prepare your trip to Japan, from buying a Japan Rail Pass to booking a trip to an owl cafe!
  • Sarah Attaway
    April 30, 2016

    Thanks so much for the great tips! I’m going to Japan in August so this is super helpful.


    • City Cookie
      May 4, 2016

      Hey Sarah, I’m so glad you found this useful! I’ll be posting some more articles about Japan soon so stay tuned 🙂

  • Ridgely's Radar
    May 2, 2016

    What great tips and I hadn’t thought about a wireless sim card! So smart. I am going to Europe this summer and am going to look into that. Thank you!

    • City Cookie
      May 4, 2016

      A SIM card is so useful for checking your itinerary Google Maps (and for Instagram too!). Definitely recommend looking into it.

  • Jacquelyn Lippert
    May 2, 2016

    Keeping this in my back pocket for if I ever get to visit Japan! http://www.mixplorology.com

  • Amber
    May 3, 2016

    Hello! I love Japan.. I lived and studied there in college. Missing it!

    I’m also a blogger. I blog about art/lifestyle and diy mostly. I was searching for beautiful style blogs that I enjoy so that I can expand my blog community. <3

    I'm looking for any blog-community building advice you could offer as well! I think it's more tough when one has their own domain; it's standalone from the community. I've heard of bloggers promoting content through blog listings like bloglovin', as well as sites where you can earn promotional opportunities for having good content content like Advowire (https://advowire.com//users/profile/new?referral_code=AW36707). Do you use any of these sites to promote content or to collaborate with other bloggers? Do you know of other sites/resources you'd like to recommend?

    Thank you so much for reading! Hope to hear from you. xox

  • Rachel @ STCL
    May 6, 2016

    My boyfriend and I really want to visit Japan! Saving this for when we’re ready to book our trip!

    • City Cookie
      May 9, 2016

      I recommend going there beginning of April for the cherry blossoms! Next time I’d like to go skiing there or see the autumn colours. It’s possibly my favourite country to visit ever so 100% recommend booking that trip 🙂

  • Prettygreentea
    May 11, 2016

    Very useful tips. I hope to visit Japan in the next year or so.

    • City Cookie
      May 15, 2016

      Totally recommend it! Favourite country I have visited so far, I think.

  • Claire
    May 16, 2016

    I would love, love, LOVE to visit Japan. And I know I will do one day soon! Until then, I’ll keep on reading up about it and wishing I was there! Great tips! 🙂

    Technicolour Dreamer

  • Hanh
    August 9, 2016

    Hi Anne- Sophie just come across your post on Pinterest and this is super helpful. I’m planning to go to Japan next Spring. Thanks for the tip about booking hotels in advance! Can you buy the JR ticket in advance online? We’re thinking 7 days in Tokyo, 3 in Kyoto and 1 in Osaka (and squeeze in Nara too!) do you think that sounds ok?

    Hanh | hanhabelle

    • Anne-Sophie ~ City Cookie
      August 9, 2016

      It’s so nice to hear that you discovered my blog through Pinterest!
      Yes you have to buy the JR pass before you go to Japan as it’s not sold over there. Have a look at japanrailpass.net.
      Your itinerary sounds perfect. Definitely get Nara in there, that was one of the biggest highlights of my trip.
      Anne-Sophie xx

      • Hanh
        August 10, 2016

        Great thanks for the tip and link! Yes my sister recommended Nara too 🙂

        I saw on your Twitter you’re going to Croatia? I’ve just come back from there, such an amazing country. Let me know if you want any tips 🙂 xx

        • Hanh
          October 20, 2016

          Hi Anne-Sophie, I’m re reading your post again! I noticed you said the APA Hotel in Shinjuku was bad. This is where we’ve booked for our stay in Toyko, the reviews looked good but is it that bad?! Thanks for your help 🙂

          • Anne-Sophie ~ City Cookie
            October 22, 2016

            Hey Hanh! The APA hotel was super basic, with the most tiny hotel room I have EVER seen. We had to jump over our suitcases to get to the bed. Staff at reception didn’t seem to know much English either so couldn’t help us to find things in the area. The location is great though and the room seemed clean, so it was fine for a few days. You might have a better experience than we did 🙂

          • Hanh
            October 24, 2016

            Thanks for getting back to me Anne-Sophie! Oh dear that doesn’t sound good at all, I may have to re think that hotel. It did good reviews though and the hotels are getting booked up for our dates! x

          • Anne-Sophie ~ City Cookie
            October 24, 2016

            If you’re not planning to spend much time at the hotel it should be fine though! We stayed at the Kabukicho Tower one, not sure what the others are like. x

          • Hanh
            October 24, 2016

            Thanks, on 2nd thoughts the room is tiny compared to others!! We want to comfortable so managed to find a slighter bigger room else where 🙂 x

  • Anika May
    August 9, 2016

    Great tips, I would absolutely love the visit Japan one day, it’s so stunning!

    Anika | anikamay.co.uk

  • Becky
    August 9, 2016

    I really want to go to Japan and so these tips are really helpful! Thanks 🙂


  • Cherie xo
    August 9, 2016

    I would love to go to japan one day! this is such a helpful post x

  • Winnie Shek
    August 12, 2016

    Thanks for posting this, i’m heading over to Tokyo in Sept! This is great motivation and food for thought! I would love to travel out to Kyoto/Osaka and head to some onsens but with only being there for a short period i’m not sure if there’s enough time. Would it be worth an overnight trip?

    • Anne-Sophie ~ City Cookie
      August 13, 2016

      Hi Winnie! How long do you have in Tokyo? I think Kyoto is definitely worth a trip to see the more traditional side of Japan. If you only have a few days I would say skip Osaka as there is less to see there. Nara is wonderful as well so if you like deer, parks, and temples you should go there.

  • Yopita
    October 18, 2017

    Hi Anne..thank you for your tips…
    I will go to Japan next year on April.
    Do you have any airbnb or hostel recommendation in Tokyo, Osaka and Hokkaido?

    Thank you 🙂

    • Anne-Sophie ~ City Cookie
      October 18, 2017

      Hi Yopita, I am actually going back to Tokyo and Osaka in December! I didn’t really like the hotels I stayed in last year so this year I’ve booked nine hours (capsule hotel) and Park Hotel (for the view!) in Tokyo and Hostel Jin in Osaka which looks really cute and has great reviews. I haven’t been to Hokkaido – saving that for next time!
      I’d definitely recommend booking long in advance because April is a popular time! 🙂

  • Jay
    August 6, 2019

    Hi Anne Sophie,

    Do you always fly to Japan with Aeroflot or have you changed airlines?



    • Anne-Sophie ~ City Cookie
      August 7, 2019

      Hi Jay, the first time I flew to Japan was with ANA via Paris, it was good but nowadays the best fares from London are always with Aeroflot!

Visiting Bagan’s Jasmine Family Lacquerware Workshop
5 Tips for Planning a Trip to Japan