How to Craft Your Unique Japan Itinerary: A Step-by-Step Guide

Japan by Locals

6/25/20247 min read

silhouette of man near outside
silhouette of man near outside

The below trip planning process is what our team of local experts use at Japan by Locals when planning personalized trips for our clients. You can also get our DIY Trip Planning Kit which goes perfectly with the information above.

If you’re feeling overwhelmed with the process, visit Japan by Locals and check out our personalized travel planning services or online consultations for additional personalized support.

Before You Start

When to Go and How Long

Plan your trip 3-6 months in advance as accommodation fills up quickly. On the other hand, planning too long in advance could lead to overplanning, or a lot of things might change until your travel date.

The length of your trip will highly depend on your budget and how much time you can take off your regular duties. Most people spend about 2 weeks in Japan. This allows them to visit the popular locations, but gives them some time for non-touristic activities, as well as attractions such as Disneyland and other parks which require spending a full day.

Japan Essentials: What You Need to Know Before Your Trip

  • Visa and Passport: Check visa requirements and ensure your passport is valid for at least 6 months after your return.

  • Wi-Fi/eSIM: Public Wi-Fi is limited. Consider renting a portable Wi-Fi device that you can rent and pick up at the airport or at your hotel, purchasing an eSIM online, or getting a physical SIM card at the airport.

  • Cash: Contrary to popular belief, that Japan is very technologically advanced, it still relies heavily on cash. Some restaurants, taxis, shrines/temples, and some shops may not accept credit cards.

  • JR Pass (Myth 1): While once a budget-friendly option for multi-city travel, significant price hikes in October 2023 make the JR Pass less of a budget-friendly option. Some might still find it useful if they plan to travel a lot within a short time, or if they are worried about missing a train as, with the pass, they could just board a later train. Consider its value based on your itinerary and needs.

  • Travel Insurance: Health care is expensive in Japan so health insurance is a must! Consider comprehensive travel insurance that goes beyond health coverage though, as unexpected events can disrupt your trip. Not an affiliate service, but one solution is this insurance recommended by JNTO, that you can purchase even after entering Japan, at an affordable price.

  • Language Barrier: Most Japanese don’t speak English, even in touristy areas. Some signs and restaurant menus might also be only in Japanese. Download the Google Translate app for assistance.

  • Getting Around: Japan boasts a well-organized public transportation system. Bullet trains connect major cities, while subways and buses navigate within them. Pre-paid IC cards (Suica, Pasmo, ICOCA) are convenient for avoiding individual tickets. Make sure to get it at the airport or try to add it to your Wallet app if using an iPhone. The transportation system can be confusing, so use Google Maps (does a relatively good job) or similar apps to figure out which train line gets you to your destination.

Budgeting Your Trip

  • Flights: Costs depend on destination, airline, class, and flyer discounts.

  • Accommodation: Hostels ($30-50/night) offer budget options, while ryokans (traditional Japanese inns) can exceed $300 per night (often including meals). Aim for $80-$120 per night for a mid-range hotel.

  • Transportation: Local trains, subways and buses are inexpensive ($10-15/day), however make sure to include bullet trains, as those can be a major expense.

  • Food: Eating out is affordable. Expect $8-15 for lunch, $30 for dinner, with splurge options available.

  • Attractions: Entry fees vary. Temples and gardens may be free or inexpensive ($2-3), while some sites like Nijo Castle cost a little more. Factor in amusement parks and cultural activities.

  • Tours: Consider a guided tour, especially for first-timers, to navigate transportation and cultural norms. Tours range from budget-friendly group walking tours to private tours with guides and drivers.

Step 1: Craft Your Ideal Itinerary

This is your trip! Do not follow a mainstream itinerary. Ask yourself:

  • What do I truly want to see and experience?

  • What is my travel style? Bustling cities or serene landscapes?

  • Who are my travel companions (if any)? What are their needs and wishes?

Japan is experiencing overtourism. Explore some of the hidden gems to avoid crowds. The Japan National Tourism Organization website ( lists destinations nationwide.

It’s 2024 and you hear everyone around you that they went to Japan and they tell you stories about how amazing it was and how tasty the food was! Now it’s your time: you finally made the courage to book that flight! Of maybe you still haven’t decided when to book the flights, but you’re sure you want to do this trip!

Now what?! Where do you start preparing for the trip? Cultural norms, finding the best places to book hotels, knowing what to bring with you, which cities to visit and how long to spend in each, figuring out transportation, all seem overwhelming. Then you look up some short videos on social media and your social media suddenly is throwing at you a barrage of random videos about Japan, which leads to more confusion!

Take a step back, a deep breath and calm down as I walk you through the following trip planning steps, so you can put together a trip that you feel it fits your taste!

Ready? Let’s get into it!

Choosing Your Cities

  • Tokyo: A must-visit for many, offering a vibrant mix of modern and traditional experiences.

  • The Golden Route: A popular route encompassing Tokyo, Mt. Fuji, Kyoto/Osaka/Nara, and Hiroshima.

  • The New Golden Route: This route skips Mt. Fuji and heads north, including Kanazawa and nearby villages like Shirakawago or Takayama.

  • Koyasan: Immerse yourself in a temple stay at Koyasan.

  • Day Trips from Tokyo: Explore Nikko and Kamakura, though expect crowds on weekends.

  • Off-the-Beaten-Path Destinations: Explore the JNTO website for hidden gems beyond the usual tourist spots.

There is no one-size-fits-all recommendation for how long to stay in each city. Consider your activities and interests. For example, plan to stay near Osaka if visiting Universal Studios Japan.

Pro Tip: Avoid cramming Kyoto into a single day! This city deserves at least a few nights to experience its rich cultural offerings and workshops. If only visiting Tokyo and pressed for time, consider Kamakura for its bamboo groves and traditional charm, as an alternative to going all the way to Kyoto.

Step 2: Time to Book Hotels!

Once you have a draft itinerary, research and book your accommodation!

Consider proximity to public transportation, restaurants, and your budget.

You may use Google Maps or hotel booking websites such as, Airbnb, Rakuten Travel and so on. Check room dimensions – Japanese hotels can be surprisingly small! Make a list with some hotels you like and then decide which one you will book! Treat yourself to a traditional stay in a room with tatami mats for an authentic experience.

Step 3: Putting the Pieces Together

With your hotels booked, plan your daily activities. To get the most of it, make this part into a DIY project, and include visits to sights and activities based on your interests, rather than itineraries that you find online.

Besides sights, you may include cultural activities such as tea ceremony, a cooking class, a martial arts workshop, a show, a sake brewery visit or a food tour.

Pro tip to beat the crowds: Visit popular attractions early in the morning, reserving afternoons for relaxing in off-the-beaten-path spots or participating in workshops.

person walking on street while holding umbrella
person walking on street while holding umbrella

Step 4: Booking Attractions and Restaurants

  • Advance Booking: Make a list of attractions and restaurants requiring advance booking or ticket purchases. Purchase tickets through Klook if the official website doesn't accept your credit card (issues of this kind have been reported for Disneyland’s and Universal Studios Japan’s official ticketing site).

  • Be Alert: Some attractions, like Ghibli Park, sell out quickly. Set reminders to purchase tickets when they become available. This might be challenging depending on your time zone, but persistence pays off!

Step 5: Double-Check Your Plan!

  • Opening Times: Ensure attractions and restaurants are open during your planned visit times. Mismatched timings can lead to disappointment!

Bonus Tips:

  • Practice Chopstick Use: It might be helpful to practice using chopsticks before your trip, if you’re not very comfortable with them.

  • Learn Basic Japanese Phrases: A few simple phrases like "Hello" (Konnichiwa), "Thank You" (Arigato gozaimasu), and "Excuse Me" (Sumimasen) go a long way.

  • Temple/Shrine Etiquette: Watch videos on proper temple and shrine etiquette to avoid any cultural faux pas.

  • Onsen Etiquette: Familiarize yourself with onsen etiquette if you plan to visit hot springs.

  • Comfortable Shoes: Expect to walk a lot! Pack comfortable shoes suitable for daily exploration (at least 15k steps per day).

You're All Set!

Congratulations! You've meticulously planned your dream Japan trip, complete with booked hotels, restaurants, and a personalized itinerary. Planning a trip to Japan requires effort, but the rewards are immense.

Trip Planning Tools:

Still Have Questions?

Feeling overwhelmed? Consider Japan by Locals' personalized travel planning services or online consultations for additional support. Details available here:

With careful planning and this guide, your personalized Japan adventure awaits!

Read also 'Planning Your 2024 Japan Trip: Common Mistakes to Avoid'.

school of koi fish
school of koi fish