Dream guide to travel to Japan for free (step by step)


Are you in the inspiration phase of future destinations and have you got here thinking of organizing a trip to Japan for free (including assessing an organized circuit with an agency) or reading one of our newspaper articles Trip to Japan? And if so, do you already know which route to choose and what means of transportation you need, how many days are needed or what is essential to add to the itinerary and what experiences or secret corners that do not appear in the traditional guides to travel to Japan you can incorporate? This article aims to be a live guide of 2 travelers like you in constant update which answers all our concerns from the moment we are inspired by a trip until we return from it, after all the planning in chronological order. Can download it in PDF at the end of the article although we recommend you read it online to navigate.LAST UPDATED: 2018/2019

This guide is also designed in such a way that you can use it whenever you need it. Year after year since 2008 we received hundreds of questions in the mail regarding planning, what to see, hotels, tips, tricks ... so! YOU ARE LUCKY!


  • 1. Reasons to travel to Japan, is it the trip you are looking for?
  • 2. The routes and itineraries for a trip to Japan
  • 3. Preparations for traveling to Japan (step by step reservations)
  • 4. What to see and do in Japan (organize your own trip)
  • 5. Where to sleep in Japan? Our recommendations
  • 6. What to eat and drink in Japan? Typical dishes and charming restaurants
  • 7. Some particular aspects of Japan
  • 8. Guidance budget for traveling to Japan
  • 9. More documentation and recommended trip reading
  • 10. Final Checklist (and download this article in PDF)
Paula and Isaac, after all our own experience and that of many readers who write to us, months of preparations, enjoy several trips, tell them in our diary with all the stories and break down many practical data, we bring you that "Dream guide to travel to Japan for free (step by step)"that you have asked us and encompasses all of the above. You will see that50 steps are highlighted in the form of a checklist in this way 1 2 3 to make it simple, detailed and intuitive and serve as a reference BEFORE, DURING and AFTER the trip,being able to use it whenever you need it

It goes without saying that these guides will always be based on own trips, in this case in the trip to Japan on 17 days of 2008 and in our step in the trip to the South Seas 2012, in addition to all the research and articles made over the years. Of course, it is always improvable because it is based on our experience (pretends to be practical and subjective, of the real experience, never objective) so You are welcome to add everything that you think could be useful both in the comments and writing us an email. We hope you find it useful ... honey is not missing!

Of course, there are specialized websites (which we will leave below) that delve deeper into the culture of Japan, customs or detailed aspects ... It is not the purpose of these journals and travel stories that, from a personal point of view, They are specially written for those who undertake their first trip to Japan and want to find organized, without overinformation, all that strictly necessary.

1. Reasons to travel to Japan, is it the trip you are looking for?

Step 1 is never to buy a plane ticket but that phase of imagination that we set in motion much earlier, to decide the next destination. In this case it is not difficult, right? Japan is, of all our trips, the most consulted and the most asked by people. Also subject to honeymoons, starting with Isaac's sister. Therefore, you can already imagine that the first step is to dream it and then Decide it as your destination for this year 1 Why should you travel to Japan? Is it really the trip you are looking for? If you have already decided you can skip this step but if you still have doubts, watch this video of the Japan Tourist Office

Japan is the only country in the world that allows you to dawn on a mystical island surrounded by sacred deer and plant yourself in less than 2 hours in a castle that evokes medieval times or that samurai or geisha neighborhood that honors your past to end the day in another High speed train heading to a futuristic bay from a science fiction movie. Do you still doubt why it is a unique trip? Read our article

2. The routes and itineraries for a trip to Japan

Some people start by buying a flight because it has no other dates or more days but are you sure they will arrive and you will not miss any more? If you have some flexibility, in our opinion we usually say that, before starting any travel preparation, it would be good to make a idea of ​​provisional route or itinerary 2 although then change it as you investigate further or even on the fly. This will help you make future decisions (necessary days, dates of reservations, ...) Do you want one to start? This was our itinerary definitive:

After much research, our 17-day itinerary finally enjoyed was as follows (links to the days of the newspaper in case you have not read them yet)

DAY 1: Spain - Paris - (in flight)
DAY 2: (by flight) - Osaka - Kyoto (Castillo and Pontocho)
DAY 3: Kyoto (West Kyoto with Golden Temple) and Arashiyama (Tenryu-ji Temple and bamboo forest)
DAY 4 (I): Kyoto> visit Fushimi Inari and Nara
DAY 4 (II): Kyoto> visit to Osaka
DAY 5: Kyoto (Higashiyama, Imperial Palace and Gion)
DAY 6: Kyoto - Okayama - Hiroshima - Miyajima
DAY 7: Miyajima - Himeji - Kobe - Kyoto
DAY 8: Kyoto - Kanazawa
DAY 9: Kanazawa - Shirakawago -Takayama
DAY 10: Takayama - Hakone
DAY 11: Hakone - Tokyo (Ueno-Nippori and Shibuya)
DAY 12: Tokyo (Marunouchi-Imperial Palace, Harajuku and Shinjuku)
DAY 13: Tokyo (Tsujiki Market)> visit Nikko
DAY 14: Tokyo> visit Kamakura and Yokohama
DAY 15: Tokyo (Asakusa, Odaiba and Akasaka)
DAY 16: Tokyo (Akihabara and helicopter flight through Tokyo)
DAY 17: Tokyo - Paris - Spain

It is important to know that we only did 2 large bases that were Kyoto (from where, in addition to herself, we did 1-day trips to Fushimi Inari-Nara, Osaka, Okayama-Hiroshima-Miyajima * we stayed to sleep but you come back the same day * and Himeji-Kobe) and Tokyo (from where besides herself we made full days to Nikko and Kamakura-Yokohama). Between Tokyo and Kyoto sent the bags and took a backpack to go to the Japanese Alps with Kanazawa, Shirakawago, Takayama and Hakone (only possible on itineraries of at least 2 weeks).

ERRORS WE EAT AND CHANGE:If we were to repeat a trip to Japan, there are a number of mistakes that we would rectify in this new ideal trip:

- Do in 1 day Fushimi Inari, Nara and Osaka It is to carry an excessively tight pace. The we would divide in 2 days that would be Fushimi Inari and Nara on the one hand and Osaka another full day
- We would not return to Hakone in no case unless we wanted to hit the whim of a private onsen in the room of the excellent ryokanes of this hot spring area. That extra day we would give it to the previous division.
- In 2015 the old Shinkansen that arrived only in Nagano was extended to Kanazawa and now thanks to that JR Hokuriku Shinkansen you can reach Tokyo in 2.5-3 hours of high speed so a good option is to do Takayama - Shirakawago - Kanazawa - Tokyo (the opposite we did)

How to make yours? A series of things you should know to design your itinerary (You can also read the detailed article to expand the information)

  • You must keep in mind that on the outbound flight you lose hours and on the return flight you feel like it. Whereas, even on direct flights, it's almost 13 hours, this means that on DAY1 and DAY2 of your trip at most times will be occupied by the outward journey and, however, the return usually takes only one day of your trip. The total is 3 full days of transfers
  • There are airlines that allow you to enter and exit through different cities without cost increase. This helps you make an itinerary of Osaka entrance and Tokyo exit (We would always do it that way and not the other way around because the trip is "increasing" in emotions) that greatly optimizes transfers
  • Tokyo and Kyoto are indisputable even on the smallest of itineraries.Kyoto requires a minimum of 3 days and Tokyo another 3-4 days
  • Optional excursions from Kyoto they are visits to Hiroshima-Miyajima, Himeji-Kobe, Fushimi Inari-Nara, Osaka, Koyasan, Uji, Nagasaki and Tokyo they are visits to Kamakura-Yokohama or Nikko. Calculate an extra full day in each case although we Hiroshima and Miyajima along with Okayama, Himeji and Kobe did it doing night on the magical island.
  • Incorporate the Japanese Alps between Kyoto and Tokyo will increase at least 2 days (if you can 3) your itinerary with Kanazawa, Shirakawago and Takayama being the main objectives. Around there are many more options to expand your itinerary that are Toyama, Matsumoto, Nagano, Hakone, the area of ​​the 5 lakes and the Fuji, Nakasendo route from Magome to Tsumago.

Are you already sure what to incorporate into your itinerary? Still with doubts? You have a good summary of what we liked most and least in the article that is sure to help you

3. Preparations for traveling to Japan (step by step reservations)

You have decided that Japan will be your destination and you even have a first itinerary draft that you would do that does not have to be definitive but will help you get started. It is time to start the preparations phase as well as the necessary reservations that we list you step by step so that you do not forget anything strictly necessary.

What is the best time to travel to Japan?

Surely when you started reading this, you already knew what dates you would travel on. However, it is always a good time to review it, it is not going to be at a time not advised for any reason. That is, the next step is decide when are we going to travel to Japan 3 depending on when is the best time. Without entering Japan into dozens of pre-invoices, as a traveler you are interested in a global vision of the places you are going to travel and we show you in a simple visual way analyzed more aspects than the purely climatological

The reality is that, unlike other destinations, It's always a good time to travel to Japan. To put a "but", August and September are the most favorable months to produce typhoons at sea (which do not usually reach land in terms of safety) that bring added storms. However, our two steps there were in August and you see the photos. In addition, we must analyze more ingredients besides the weather. Thus, dividing by seasons:

  • Summer: It is the time of greatest probability of rains in the visiting areas between June and July and the possibility of typhoons. The temperature is moderate in June, hot in July and suffocating in August but, nevertheless, it is the time where the most important festivals or matsuris are celebrated
  • Fall: from the end of the typhoons in October, this season is ideal in terms of temperatures and the reddish tones that nature takes
  • Winter: The climate descends from December to March but if you are not chilly it is an ideal time to enjoy Christmas, frozen landscapes or onsens surrounded by snow since it is when less tourism receives.
  • Spring: For many it is the best time, especially for the hanami or the cherry blossom show (we talk about it below). The temperature is again moderate although, in this case, it is the time of greatest tourist influx (less accommodation, more expensive everything)

How many days are needed for a trip to Japan?

No, the purchase of the flight is not going yet. Why? Because we have not yet decided how many days we will go although it is easy to extract it from the provisional itinerary we did. It is time to decide theestimate of the time you need (or what you have) 4. Remember that you go 10 days or 21 days, you have an itinerary waiting for you in the detailed article

Is it possible to combine a trip to Japan with other surrounding countries?

One of the most common thoughts we do on all our trips is that you may have enough days to combine fate with other countries around 5to those who may not return in the future. It is not usually the most common case for Japan since even having 1 month you would have options to extend your itinerary. However, in case you want to rate it, there are travelers who have combined it fundamentally with South Korea

You have access by air or sea from the port of Fukuoka / Hakata (Japan) to Busan (South Korea) by a ferry designed by Boeing called New Beatle (newly renovated in 2017) in the so-called JR Kyushu Jet Ferrand (online reservations, not covered by the Japan Rail Pass)

Buy a flight (cheap if possible)

Yes! We get to the step where many people usually start. We already have a provisional itinerary decided, days we will go to Japan and dates on which we will do it. Touch buy a cheap flight 6Among the multiple options available. And who flies to Japan? Virtually all European airlines (British via London, Air France via Paris, KLM via Amsterdam, Finnair via Helsinki, Alitalia via Rome, Lufthansa via Frankfurt, SWISS via Zurich, Aeroflot via Moscow, Turkish via Istanbul, Emirates via Dubai, Qatar Airways via Doha, Etihad via Abu Dhabi, Air China via Beijing and now direct Iberia). We have tried British Airways on the South Seas trip and air France on the first trip to Japan and, fleeing from the rancid Iberia with which we have had so many problems (13h there or crazy), no doubt We would recommend both Air France and KLM from our own experience Since we are talking about many hours of flight (15h with stops) and have your screen, your spacious space, your good food service, good service and every day more comforts and facilities, it is appreciated. Remember the possibility of entering through Osaka (or Nagoya) and returning through Tokyo (to do the multipath search)

Those who have time to see the evolution of prices, note the new KLM price alert system (who would have told us these things in 2008 ...)

Take out travel insurance (with or without cancellation option - maximum 7 days later)

If we generally give importance to this section, there are 3 countries where travel insurance that covers medical expenses (in addition to more coverage) is essential: United States, Cuba and ... Japan. Neither Social Security nor Europe Health Card cover them. OwnMAEC recommends "take out medical insurance since healthcare prices in the country are high" 7, something we could live up close with a boy who fell down the stairs of the ryokan on the first trip. Do you need to know more? We tell you in the detailed article or you already know that from the trip to Switzerland we have 5% discount for key readers in travel insurance for improvised doctors, luggage, delays, etc ...

An important thing for those who add the option of cancellation 8 in case there is any unforeseen that prevents you from traveling, is that you have to hire it up to 7 days after the flightto be valid (so don't say goodbye if you opt for it)

Is an entry visa necessary?

Citizens of Spain who go for tourism (as is the case) or visit relatives, business meetings, conference attendance, Japanese language courses or other unpaid activities They do NOT need to process an entry visa 9for stays less than 90 days. If you need more, whether for studies or another reason, visit this link

Transportation in Japan: The Japan Rail Pass (JRPASS)

Once the previous steps have been solved, every traveler who has been to Japan knows that there is a pass or pass that becomes almost more indispensable than the passport itself. Is about buy the Japan Rail Pass 10 (IMPORTANT: although it is sold on several platforms, we recommend you take it in the official seller since the price difference can be considerable)which includes unlimited trips on JR lines with a validity of 7, 14 or 21 consecutive days from its activation (and you can even request reserved seats if you wish). EYE, valid for 3 months before activation (that is, buy it 3 months before activating it but not before) And what means of transport are they? The vast majority of the country's trains, including some bullet trains (except Nozomi, Mizuho and Hayabusa), JR within Tokyo (Yamanote Line, Chuo Line) and within Osaka (Kanjyosen or Loop Line) and Limited Express (Tokkyuu) and Local (Futsuu) but also buses and some ferries like Miyajima. You have more information in and for those places where you need other means of transport such as the Kyoto bus article

¿Compensa? In virtually all cases YES (you will have the article shortly "Is it worth the Japan Rail Pass?") but we would tell you that not only in the economic aspect with the savings that it supposes but also from the comfort of not worrying about mobility in one of the easiest countries to travel in the world. There is also a JR Pass for children up to 5 years that allows children to travel for free if they do not occupy a seat and between 6 and 11 with a reduced rate. Ah, you can be a great idea take the paths you need 11and thus go asking for reserved seats every several days on the fly (Hyperdia it will be your bible - now they also have APP-)

Transfers airport - hotel (and vice versa) in Tokyo and Osaka

Are you going to buy the Japan Rail Pass? Then forget about this section as transfers from the main airports with the Narita Express or Tokyo Monorail in Tokyo as you go to Narita or Haneda and the Haruka Express for Kansai towards Kyoto or Osaka are included. However, if it happens to you as you arrive / leave early in the morning to / from Haneda in Tokyo, the nearest, you may find it more comfortable 12

Currency exchange and credit card use

One of the things that attracts the most attention in Japan is that a country so technologically advanced is that the credit card can be used so little (limited to more expensive department stores and shops or restaurants - and not always -) and money in Cash is the most accepted. For older people, getting money from ATMs is also complicated although with a VISA or Mastercard you should have fewer problems to date. However, knowing about the safety of Japan (where you can leave a wad of bills on the table and they would chase you back), we continue to advise you to take the cash to change directly there 13 according to the needs (you can take up to 1,000,000 yen without declaring at customs - about 8,000 euros-).

Unlike in practically the whole world, the change in the airport is VERY advantageous for what is usually the first point of change. From there they speak well of the Interbank in the center Don Quijote de Akihabara, Kansai Mitsubishi Bank or any other Japanese bank and ALWAYS to better changes than in Spain (that is, you have not changed from here).


How times change and how important it is to be constantly updating content. What if we tell you that now you get the best change from EUR to YEN ... AT HOME!? No, we have not gone crazy. It is no longer necessary to waste time or look for exchange offices since the company Ria Currency Exchange (60 exchange rates and 25 years in Spain - you will have seen it in many cities -) offers you the best exchange rate now also online, in less than 48 hours with free home delivery and you buy the remaining currency in preferential exchange So our recommendation now is to change with them and forget about jaleos. In addition, if you do it on this link you have an exclusive discount for being a Key Reader:

CHANGE EUROS TO YEN with Ria (48h at home, better change and DISCOUNT)

For example, we are making time for the train to Tokyo in Odawara, We change at Yokohama Bank from the main street.

Book tickets in Japan in advance

Except for some specific reservations, there is no need to buy in advance any event ticket, show or place to visit in particular. However, you may want to rate the following:

  • He Imperial Palace or Kyoto Imperial Palace 14 is free but requires reservation in advance covering the following form. We visited it on the day of "Higashiyama, Imperial Palace and Gion, the Kyoto Geishas"
  • HeOedo Onsen Monogatari in Odaiba in Tokyo 15It is a great opportunity to enjoy the famous Japanese thermal baths if you do not go to Hakone and allowbuy tickets in advance. We enjoyed it on our second trip on "Sky Tower, Onsen and Fugu in Tokyo"
  • The Tokyo Sky Tower 16It is the tallest tower in the world (which I don't build) with a height of 634 meters and where you get one of the best views of the city. The tails that are formed are considerable sobuy the ticket in advance In this case it can also be a good idea. We also climbed on the second trip the day of "Sky Tower, Onsen and Fugu in Tokyo"

The best excursions in Japan

While we do not hire any specific excursion in Japan, we are aware that not everyone travels the same and there are certain combinations that can be more cumbersome. In all our travel diary to Japan You have enough directions to make all the visits on your own but we leave you the possible excursion options for values ​​17:

Kyoto guided tour Arashiyama and Uji excursion from Kyoto Osaka excursion from Kyoto Excursion to Nara and Inari from Kyoto Himeji and Kobe excursion from Kyoto Tokyo guided tour Lost in Translation night tour of Tokyo Excursion to Kamakura and Yokohama from Tokyo Nikko tour from Tokyo Excursion to Hakone and Mt. Fuji from Tokyo Tsukiji Market excursion Akihabara excursion  Tokyo helicopter flight tour Tokyo Disneyland excursion.

In our opinion, Tokyo Disneyland does not contribute much if you have the Japan Rail Pass (unless it is no longer active these days) since the route is included and that of Tsukiji Market does not include the tuna auction.

Practical information you should know before traveling to Japan

Surely many of you are saying "I am missing an important step, I do not deal with English, what do I do with Japanese? Or doubts I have vaccinations, phone calls home, etc ... It is very possible that these practical data below clarify many things for that last push

  • Language 18: That you do not know English? And that? They neither haha. And if we tell you that in Japan everything is so intuitive and the Japanese so kind that you could go even with the "sign language? As you know that all the posters are in the official language that is Japanese but also in English, in addition to using the colors with meaning so that you do not get lost in the means of transport and even many restaurants have plastic replicas of the foods in the shop window (but you can already use APP as Waygo which translates complete menus) and you can even use the Google Translate To chat live. Convinced? If you want more information,