How to plan your Japan trip

Japan is a dream destination for many Filipinos for many reasons. It’s one of the countries that has snow and autumn that’s accessible for Filipinos. The food is fantastic, whether you like rice meals or ramen. There’s plenty of places to shop in, many theme parks, and its home to many historic and cultural attractions. Simply put, it has a little bit of everything for everyone no matter how many times you visit. I admit that Japan is one of my favorite countries, even if I’m only visiting over the weekend or a few days longer.

Japan is known as an expensive country to visit; it’s even more expensive than some of the European countries I’ve been to. Don’t fret because there are ways to save during your trip when you plan.

How to plan your Japan trip
LIGHTS. A busy night in Tokyo. Joshua Berida/Rappler
What pass should you get?

A lot of travelers would be choosing from multiple passes to see as many cities as possible. Japan’s extensive rail network has made it easy for visitors to see the country’s most popular places such as Tokyo, Osaka, Kyoto, Nara, and Nagoya within a few days. The speed of the shinkansen has shortened travel times between cities significantly. In my opinion, you’re missing out on a lot by simply going through cities at a fast pace. 

The Japan Rail (JR) Pass allows visitors unlimited use of specific rail networks for both its high-speed, limited express, and local trains, and some bus routes within a certain period. The Whole Japan Pass is expensive and doesn’t pay off unless you travel to multiple cities within a few days. As an alternative, I would suggest getting a regional pass instead. Regional passes are cheaper than the Whole Japan Pass and lets you concentrate your visit in one area. This approach allows you to enjoy your trip more instead of city hopping within a few days. In my opinion, one of the passes that give the best value is the Kansai Thru Pass. The latter doesn’t only cover some bus routes and trains between cities, but also includes local subways and buses. There are other regional passes you can consider for your trip such as the Kyushu Pass, Tokyo Wide Pass, Kansai Wide Area Pass, and others. 

You can read more about the different passes here.

Gate, Torii, Can
ORANGE. Fushimi Inari Shrine in Kyoto. Joshua Berida/Rappler
Convenience stores are your friend

I often buy snacks and some of my meals from convenience stores whenever I’m in Japan. They’re exactly what you need (that’s why they’re called convenience stores!) if you’re exploring Japan on a budget. They have affordable bento boxes and sandwiches that can satiate your hunger after a day of exploring Kyoto, Osaka, Tokyo, or wherever in the country. It’s also common to see students and employees alike visiting such stores for a quick and easy bite.

Stay at a capsule hotel, guest house, or hostel

Accommodation in Japan can easily consume your budget and you’ll still have to pay for food, drinks, attractions, and transportation. To save money, I suggest staying in a capsule hotel. These are cheaper than actual hotel rooms but provide you with more privacy compared to a hostel dorm. If you want to spend less on accommodation, consider staying in hostels. I frequently stay in a hostel dorm whenever I travel. It’s the most budget-friendly option for trips longer than a week. Hostels also have a social atmosphere where you can meet other travelers because some of them have their own lounge area and café, bar, or restaurant. 

Get a city transportation pass

If the whole country and regional passes are too expensive for you, you can always buy a day pass for public transportation. These passes provide you with unlimited rides on the metro, buses, and/or trams in a city. Buying one-way tickets adds up; you get to save money when you use a transportation day pass. You can often buy these at ticket machines or over the counter.

Visit region clusters

Not everyone can travel for a month or so. Most Filipinos will settle for a one-week trip or just over the weekend. Airlines frequently conduct promos that allow you to buy discounted tickets. I’ve bought tickets to Japan for less than P5,000 round-trip many times already. This enables you to visit different regions of Japan in many short trips if you can’t for more than a week. The flight is also just a few hours long, which makes Japan a convenient place to visit. 

Architecture, Building, Temple
HUGE. Todaiji is a famous landmark in Nara and contains a large Buddha statue. Joshua Berida/Rappler

I would recommend booking flights to main cities like Tokyo, Osaka, Fukuoka, and Nagoya. These cities are transportation hubs that connect you to different parts of the country. If you visit Osaka, you can go to multiple popular destinations during your stay such as Kyoto, Nara, Himeji, Kobe, and other places in the Kansai region. If you’re going to Tokyo, you can include stops in Nikko, Kamakura, Mt. Fuji, and Disneyland. If you’re in Fukuoka, you can include Nagasaki, Kumamoto, and Hiroshima in your itinerary. Identify which pass works best for your planned trip. The regional passes provide good value for money while allowing you to make full use of Japan’s extensive transportation network.

Season to visit

One of the reasons Japan is a favorite destination of Filipinos is that the country has four seasons. You can experience different seasons during your visit such as spring, autumn, and winter. My personal favorite is autumn when the leaves change colors and the temperature is just at the right coldness for me. Summers in Japan are hot and humid, so if you don’t mind the same type of weather like the Philippines, you can visit the country from around July to early September. Summer is also hiking season in Japan if you want to explore its mountainous regions. 

Once you’ve chosen a season to visit, pack appropriately. If you plan on visiting during the colder months of spring, autumn, and winter, bring warm clothes for layering. There are peak seasons for cherry blossoms and koyo (the changing colors of leaves in autumn). There are no exact dates for both occurrences, and it also depends on the region. Generally, peak cherry blossom season occurs from late March to mid-April. For koyo season, colors occur any time from late September to early December, depending on the region. Popular spots like Nara, Kyoto, and Tokyo have peak autumn colors around the middle to late November. 

Book your flights in advance to save money. Prices for accommodation and flights are usually high during peak skiing, autumn, and spring season because you’re also competing with local tourists. Consider a trip just before or after peak seasons to save some money.

Animal, Deer, Mammal
DEER. You can feed the deer in Nara. Joshua Berida/Rappler
Shop at 100 yen stores

If you’re looking for an affordable place to buy souvenirs, check out a 100 yen store. This is like Japan Home Centre in the Philippines. Here you’ll find many bargains for all sorts of items such as candies, snacks, tableware, household items, stationery, kitchenware, and others. These are sold in fewer numbers or smaller sizes.

Japan is one of my favorite countries because of its rich culture and history, many attractions, extensive public transportation, and delicious food. It’s never going to be a cheap destination. However, you can plan your trip in advance so that you can save money while still enjoying your vacation. – Rappler.com

Joshua Berida is a writer that loves to travel. He blogs at www.thewanderingjuan.net.

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