After 2.5 years of waiting, Japan finally reopens its borders! If you are itching to go but don’t know where to start, I got you covered!
In case you’ve just found this blog – hi, I’m Sam and I lived in Japan for 3.5 years and love to share all the little secrets that I’ve accummulated over the years. So if you’re wondering if NOW is a good time to go to Japan the answer is yes! If you can swing it, autumn is the absolute best season to visit Japan. But we’ll get to that in a bit. Let’s take a look at everything important you need to know as well as some insider tips on how to find the best flights!
Who can go?
Japan allows visa-free, independent tourism and abolish its daily arrival cap as of Oct. 11, Prime Minister Fumio Kishida stated, marking a major policy shift after nearly 2½ years of strict COVID-19 restrictions. This means, if you are part of a country that allowed visa-free entry to Japan for up to three months prior to the pandemic, you are absolutely good to go! If you are not from a country on the visa exemption list, a Temporary Visitor Visa is still required to obtain prior to enter Japan.
Are there still travel restrictions?
At the moment of publication (October 16 2022) on-arrival test at the quarantine station, self-quarantine in places such as their own residence or accommodations, and refraining from use of public transportation are no longer required. However, travel restrictions might change at any time so I highly recommend to regularly check the mofa.go.jp website.
Why go now?
The Japanese government will launch a nationwide travel discount program which you should definitely take advantage of! People who have been vaccinated three times or submit a negative test result will be eligible for the discounts, according to the report. The program offers financial assistance of up to ¥11,000 ($77) per person for a one-night stay.
Which season is best?
If you can swing it, October – early December would be a great time to go to Japan. Autumn is beautiful in Japan: Still warm with lots of sunshine, beautiful momiji (red fall foliage) and it is generally a lot less crowded and accommodations will be cheaper. I usually visit Japan in October! As a bonus point, Japan takes Halloween very serious and there are lots of really cool events taking place, notably in Shibuya, Tokyo Disneyland and Fuji-Q Amusement Park where you can find the world’s largest haunted house. (I went there. I hate horror. It was terrifying. If you’re into horror you will have a stellar time!)
Alternatively, middle of January – middle of March is a similar good spot. You won’t get the fall foliage or the cherry blossoms, but you will be rewarded with empty places and more use of your travel budget as pretty much everything is cheaper. If you want to see the cherry blossoms, I would highly recommend to see them in the lesser populated outskirts of Tokyo or Kyoto (more on that coming in my Tokyo guide soon!) where you will actually have some space to enjoy these beautiful flowers.
Tips for first-time travelers going to Japan!
Japan is an amazing country and incredibly diverse – you can get anything from snowy mountains, manga and anime galore, ancient culture, modern architecture, incredible nature…there truly is a spot for everyone. Going to Japan can feel very overwhelming, so here are some tips to make your first trip a lot more relaxed!
- Tokyo is great but you will only experience a fracture of what Japan has to offer if you stay exclusively in Tokyo. If you don’t feel like venturing off to far, I highly recommend some daytrips to Saitama (especially Kawagoe), Yokohama, Kamakura, Showa Memorial Park, Hakone, Sanrio Puroland, Fuji-Q Highland as well as the general region surrounding the five lakes of Mt. Fuji. More details on where to go in Tokyo, which daytrips to do and how to get there can be found in my Tokyo guide which will be launching soon!
- Get a portable WiFi. Seriously, do it! Especially Tokyo can be challenging if you are looking for specific spots – the streets in Tokyo and generally Japan are actually numbered in a chronological way of which buildings appeared when, which means, numbers are all over the place. I once spent an afternoon searching for a museum that I never actually could find. The last time I went, I got a portable WiFi device and it was the absolute best investment! It helped a lot to be able to check Google maps and train connections on the go. There are several different companies that do this but they all work the same: You order your portable WiFi to a number of places (airport pick-up, hotel delivery, pick-up in several locations…), pick it up and it’s ready to use! You pay a flatrate and simply put it into a return envelope that is provided and can be dropped into any mailbox across the country. It’s that simple! Japan truly has one of the best services in the world. Some companies include, but are not limited to: Japan Wireless, Ninja Wifi or Sakura Mobile. They are all operating the same but have different packages, so make sure to do some comparison to find the right fit for you!
- Break the language barrier and download some travel apps. Communicating in English is improving in Japan since I first arrived in the country in 2009, however, you can still never count on it 100%. You might find menus to be available in Japanese only and you will likely run into people who will not be able to speak English at all. However, people in Japan are generally very accommodating so I never felt too awkward when I didnt speak Japanese yet. You can easily use Google Translate for understanding menus (simply point the camera and the English text will magically appear!) and communicating with people who do not speak English (this is where the portable WiFi will be very helpful). This brings us to…
- Learn a few phrases! Seriously, do it. Nothing makes Japanese people happier than foreigners trying to learn and use their complex language. It is also a form of respect to at least know some phrases such as „Hello, thank you, yes and no“. No one will be mad if you make a mistake – people will probably be happy, that you are trying at all. Similarly, taking a few days to learn Hiragana and Katakana will be incredibly helpful and might be helping you feel more at ease.
- Get a Japan Rail Pass. If you plan on exploring the country a bit, the Japan Rail Pass is a great investment! Make sure to do your research before and run the numbers to see if it makes sense for you. It gives you unlimited access to much of Japan’s rail network, including all JR trains and many of the high-speed shinkansen trains (not the nozomi trains though). It may seem expensive but easily adds up and allows you to get a better insight into Japan as a whole. Bonus tip: Buy your Japan Rail pass online before you go to Japan to save a LOT of money.
- Get a Suica or Pasmo card. Suica and Pasmo are cards that are a pre-loaded card that you can use all over Japan. Once topped up, you can use them like a contactless card on all subway trains, in some stores and even at some of the many vending machines and avoid any credit/debit card issues. You can buy these at at almost every private railway station, subway station or bus depot. Don’t throw the card away once you leave – I am still using the Pasmo card I bought back then in 2011.
Secret tips to finding cheap flights
Depending where you fly from, prices can vary greatly and it is hard to give an estimate on a „good“ price as those vary a lot by season. I have paid everything from 450€ (bargain!) up to 1500€ (last-minute in spring). I generally suspect flights to skyrocket for next year, so the earlier you book, the cheaper it will be. I would absolutely not bet on any last-minute deals. Here are some tips on how I always get the best price possible for any of my flights:
- Book early in the morning on a Monday or Tuesday. Statistically, flights are oftentimes the cheapest at this time. Accordingly, flights are often most expensive weekend afternoon/evening.
- If possible, use different devices to search for flights! Sometimes, prices for more „high end devices“ such as a Macbook or iPhone are more expensive than searching from a no brand phone or laptop for example. While this is not true every single time, I was able to shave off 100€ here and there by using my partner’s Google Phone compared to my iPhone.
- Always use incognito mode when researching flights and clearing your browser history before booking. Sites will remember your demand and might hike up the price over time.
- Do some research of roundtrip tickets vs individual tickets with different airports. Especially if you want to travel around Japan, it might be cheaper to book single tickets instead of paying a lot and losing time traveling all the way back to where you started.
- Use flight search engines such as Skyscanner, Cheapoair, Jetradar etc. Sadly, there is not a single search engine that constantly offers the cheapest deal – so it pays to check a few regularly.
- If you are flexible and simply want a good deal, you can check the cheapest time on the Skyscanner app. (Click on the box where you would normally pop a date in and instead, select ‘Whole Month’. If you know what month you want to travel, select it. If you’re flexible select ‘Cheapest Month’. Hit ‘search’ and watch as the magic unfolds. The search will show you what date is cheapest to fly out and what date to fly back.)
- Bonus tip: Tokyo has two airports, Haneda and Narita. If you can, I would highly recommend to fly into Haneda, as this is the city airport and you’ll be in Tokyo in no time! Narita airport is actually almost 2 hours away from Tokyo. It is not a big problem in terms of transportation, as there is a regular airport train as well as busses, but it definitely takes some time commuting, especially on your way back with enough time in between. Not all airlines fly into Haneda and international flights to Narita are much more frequent, but if you have the choice, opt for Haneda airport.
Did I miss something important? Let me know in the comments or send me a DM on instagram! I also plan on launching the ultimate Tokyo guide very soon where I will include all the good places to go, secret photo spots, daytrips, all locations with adresses and how to get there, what to do and not to do and many more.. follow me on Instagram to stay updated!
I hope this was a helpful resource for you! Happy travels!
Lots of love,