The question I get asked the most about my trip to Japan after did I have fun, is how did you plan your trip. This post will go into the various ways I looked into planning our trip to Japan. The exact method I used to plan the trip will be covered in another blog post.
I list several companies that I looked at in order to plan our trip. I am in no way endorsing any of these companies, nor are they providing anything to me to be listed here. You need to check out any company before you use them as you need to be comfortable giving them your money if you use them. Just because I would have been ok using them or did use them in know way means that you should use them just on my word alone.
Preplanned Guided Tour
This is by far the easiest way to go to Japan. You basically find a tour operator that is running a tour that you are interested in, pay a deposit to reserve your spot, and then pay the balance before you leave. If you are traveling solo there may be a single person charge as most tours assume people are traveling as a couple and sharing a room.
The one main downside to me in traveling this way is that the itinerary is fixed so if I really don’t want to see how they make green tea, I am still going to be stuck doing the two hour tour if it’s on the itinerary. Also if I want to spend 2 extra hours at the Golden Pagoda in Kyoto, I can’t because the tour was only for an hour and I need to get on the bus to go to the Fushimi Inari Shrine next. Even worse if I want to spend an extra day in Kyoto I can’t as the tour is going to Hiroshima next and the Shinkansen tickets are already set.
The upside to this type of trip is that everything is handled for you. You just show up at the right place at the right time and the tour guides get you through your trip. If you have an issue the tour guides handle it for you. And most meals are included. Usually you will have 1-2 dinners on your own but normally all other meals are included.
The one time I do this type of tour is when I’m doing a cycling tour of the country.
Selfie at the Golden Pagoda
Here are some tour operators that offer tours in Japan:
This option is relatively new but Tour operators and other companies with local knowledge of an area are starting to offer this service. These companies will build a custom or private itinerary for you for a fee. They will provide this itinerary to you either as a document or part of their mobile app so that you have it on your phone as you travel. For an extra fee plus the cost of admission, lodging, or transportation some of these operators will also book your activities for you so you simply need to show up and everything is taken care of. These plans don’t come with an actual tour guide so you will need to get from place to place but all the planning is taken care of and the tours are built to meet what your group wants to do. These tour companies have the experience to figure out what most people want to see and what they can do each day comfortably so it is a useful service to consider. This also has the bonus of being able to move things around if you want to stay longer in one place although if you have pre-arranged lodging you may lose some nights that have already been paid for.
Fushimi Inari Shrine
Hare are some sites that offer Planned Itineraries in Japan:
This is the most Time consuming of options but creates the most personalized trip. It is not hard to do but does require some research and it may make sense to start with a planned itinerary and then add to it. This is the method I chose, I will make a blog post detailing how I planned our trip but I started with an Google Sheets spreadsheet that I shared with all the group members and made tabs for each city we were thinking of visiting. I then switch this to a Trello board to make it easier to track things and allow voting on items. For each entry I listed whether it was a food place, lodging, or an activity/location to visit. I also created a description and added a link to a web page for the item. I then had each person rank each item from most interested to least interested and then used those rankings to make a list based on most to least interest to use in our planning. Self planned tours I find are best for people who are used to traveling and comfortable making their own plans.
From here you build the itinerary and there are two ways to do this the full itinerary and the bucket list itinerary. For a full itinerary you build an itinerary similar to the above in that each day is planned out with activities which is sent to each group member so that they know what they are doing each day. The Bucket list is just the list of items and you pick what you want to do when you are in the location. For our trip we had over 200 items on the list among all the cities. But we did maybe 70-80 of them as we traveled.
Full Itinerary Method
With this method when you are finished you will have a word document, PDF, or spreadsheet that lists what you plan to do each day. This lets you decide what you want to do while also letting everyone know what will be happening each day. As long as you don’t pre-buy tickets or lodging you can change your itinerary as you go depending on what you want to do in each area. An Example Itinerary for the first few days might be:
Arrive at Narita Airport at 6PM
Buy Suica Card and JR NeX Tickets in the Basement of the airport.
Travel by NeX Train to Shinjuku station.
Transfer to the Odakyu line and go two stops to Sangbashi station.
Go to AirBnB at 3-Chome XX-YY Yoyogi Shinbuya-Ku
Eat dinner at 7/11 or Lawsons.
Walk to Meiji Shrine at dawn and get blessed by the Shinto priests.
Go through Meiji Park to Harajuku and shop for Lolita clothes and trendy clothes.
Go by train to Akihabara and shop at Bic Camera, Animate, Sweet Potato, and Don Quixote
Eat lunch at MaidDreaming cafe.
Visit an Owl Cafe
Travel by train to Asakusa and visit the Asakusa shrine.
Walk to Ueno Park, stopping at a department store basement to get dessert. Ear desert in the park
Go to Ueno Zoo.
Return to Akihabara at night to see the street lit up.
Go to Shibuya by train and see Shibuya crossing at night
Walk across Shibuya Crossing
Eat at Shibuya 109 and the view Shibuya crossing from Shibuya 109.
Travel by Train to Shinjuku
Walk through Shinjuku seeing the robot restaurant and Godzilla at the Godzilla Hotel.
Walk through the red light district and get a drink at a Japanese bar.
Return to the AirBnB by going to Sangbashi station.
Travel to the Tokyo City Government building and go to the observation deck.
Visit Shibuyu crossing during the day.
Drop off luggage at luggage storage in Shibuya
Get JR rail pass at Shibuya station customer service center.
Go by train to Tokyo Sky Tree Station and visit the Pokemon store.
Eat lunch at Tokyo Sky Tree.
Take the Train to Tokyo Station and visit the Imperial Palace Gardens
Go to Shinjuku by train and eat at Ichiran Ramen
Go to a Cosplay Speciality bar in Shinjuku and have fun.
Return to the AirBnB.
Shinjuku at Night
Bucket List Method
In this method you simply take the list of items planned for each city and work through them as ranked. This is the method we used so that we could maximize our trip. We had planned to stay 4 days in Tokyo when we arrived so we could attend an anime con on our third day. We had an AirBnB booked for the first four days in Shinjuku. On our third day we decided to stay an extra 2 days in Tokyo so we booked an AirBnB in Tokyo Sky Tree and moved from Shinjuku to Tokyo Sky Tree for two days. We then continued to work down our list of items to see in Tokyo. After six days in Tokyo we moved by Shinkansen to Hiroshima. We had planned to spend 2-3 days in Hiroshima but spent just 24 hours before deciding to move to Osaka. I will explain this method in my next post.