For everyone, going on holiday is a very exciting time but the planning and preparation involved in getting there can be a bit stressful and confusing if you are doing it for the first time. After having done this myself for our Tokyo trip, I will illustrate the different categories you can break your trip down into and how to plan for each one. This will make the experience much more enjoyable and cut out most of the stress for your big trip. All you have to do is be prepared to have an amazing time in Tokyo.
Steps to Plan a Trip to Tokyo
First things first, you need to decide when you want to visit Tokyo. The usual choices are between winter (which is during the end of the year, December) or summer (which is in the middle of the year, June). There is also the Cherry Blossom (traditionally known as Sakura) season in March of every year.
In making this decision also take into consideration the temperature variants during the particular season. In winter average temperatures vary with minimum temperatures of between 2degrees Celsius to 4degrees Celsius and maximums between 10 degrees Celsius to 12 degrees Celsius. During summer average temperatures vary with minimum temperatures of between 19degrees Celsius to 24degrees Celsius and maximums between 26 degrees Celsius to 31 degrees Celsius. Whilst during Cherry Blossom season average temperatures range between a minimum of 5degrees celcius to a maximum of 14degrees celcius.
Also take into consideration that from the beginning of June until mid July is the rainy season. And if you do plan to do more outdoor activities, this may not be the ideal season.
Once you have determined the best time to go, the next step is to book flights. Ideally you should book flights atleast six months in advance, if not more, if you are able to. Alternatively, you can use sites like Skyscanner , Kiwi or Google flights Google Flights to check for the cheapest flights. Skyscanner also allows you to determine when would be the cheapest time to fly. Simply enter your departure and arrival destinations and thereafter choose the option of “cheapest month”. This will allow the site to suggest the cheapest month/s during the year to travel to your destination.
Below, you can see that according to Skyscanner, April / May is the cheapest month to travel to Tokyo, if you are travelling from South Africa.
Also remember during August is school holidays in Japan and flights are crazily expensive during this time. Another great idea, is to subscribe to local travel agencies and major airlines mailing lists so you can be one of the first people to find out when flights are on special to your destination.
Flexibility is also key and this may involve you having to fly either very late at night or early hours of the morning. We flew Qatar Airways and had a wonderful experience. Both our flights however were very late but because we were flexible it worked to our advantage.
Another important factor is accommodation and it is often one of the chunkier expenses to consider for your trip. Accommodation in Tokyo is expensive, there isn’t any other way to put it.
We didn’t need anything fancy as we planned on being away from the room for a large portion of the day. We did, however, need two important things (which were non-negotiable for us). One being it had to be a private room with an en-suite bathroom. And secondly the room had to have WiFi. This meant that hostels were out of the equation for us, except for their private rooms. But places likes Hostels.com and Hostel world do have great reviews, if that is something you are into.
As Tokyo is quite an advanced city, technology wise, the WiFi request was not an issue. Airbnb was a good place to start and we scouted around looking at options. An important point to note would be to determine where in Tokyo you would like to stay. There are a range of cities in Tokyo with the popular ones to choose being Asakusa, Ueno, Shibuya, Akhihabara and Shinjuku. The closer you are to some of these places, the more expensive the accommodation will be. We decided to stay at Ueno as it was close and central to most of the places we planned on visiting.
We searched Airbnb and if you are keen, you can try my referral code for a discount of R600.00 of your first stay. Ultimately the prices for accommodation which we found on Airbnb equated to the prices of hotels we saw on Bookings.com so we decided to stay at the Apa hotel.
The APA Hotel is a chain of business hotels located all over Tokyo. There are over 200 hotels in total and are usually ideally located near a train station. We chose the APA hotel Kesei Ueno. This was situated directly opposite the Ueno train station as well as the Ueno Park. The room itself is not the biggest but it was very functional. It contained a large double bed, en-suite bathroom, TV, WiFi and other common amenities. The room cost us 13 000 yen per night. This isn’t the cheapest but they do have specials during the year where the price is drastically cheaper so it’s best to keep an eye on their website.
My advice would be to choose accommodation close to a train station or bus or taxi stop. As after a long day of sightseeing, the last thing you would want is to have to walk a further distance to get to your hotel.
As a South African travelling to Japan, we needed to secure a tourist visa. It’s best to apply for this at least a month in advance. As if there are any queries, you have enough time to comply and resolve them. The visa office’s website contains the forms that need to be filled in.
In addition, we had to carry along our passport, a passport-sized photo, an itinerary, bank statements, as well as our flight details and accommodation. Our itinerary detailed exactly what we were going to be doing and any proof of this. For example we purchased our Disneyland tickets online and printed the proof and attached this to our itinerary.
The office only accepts cash so we had to carry that along too. The visa costs approximately R360 per person. The Japanese Embassy is located in Groenkloof, Pretoria. We dropped off all the relevant documentation on a Wednesday and were informed to come back to pick it up our visas the next Monday. It was an easy and stress free process. Just ensure that you comply with their requirements and you won’t have any problems.
Functionality, practicality, cost effectiveness and convenience are some of the factors you will need to consider when choosing the method of transportation you would want to use. When you want to do a lot of things in a short space of time, you will want to use something that is quick. That being said, you will also not want to spend a lot of money on transport. As you will still want to enjoy the food and other activities that the city has to offer.
The transport options available include car hire, bus, train, taxis and Uber. During our stay, we used a taxi, Uber and most often the train. You can check out this article which details all the transport options and what you can expect from each one Best Ways to Travel Around Tokyo.
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A good starting point would be to list all the foods you would want to try in Tokyo. The most common would be sushi and ramen noodles. The next would be to ascertain whether you would like to enjoy these at a fancy restaurant or a “local” establishment.
Tokyo has a large number of Michelin starred restaurants. And in contrast they also have an extensive range of smaller eateries where you would enjoy a meal at a much cheaper price .
Two further things to take into consideration:
- if you plan on doing a ton of sightseeing, sit down restaurants utilize a lot of time;
- Restaurants are far more expensive.
On our journey, we decided to leave the sit down restaurants for supper. As we had more free time in the evenings and knew we wouldn’t mind spending those hours sitting down to eat. This was with the exception of Disneyland as we spent the entire day at the theme park.
During the days we usually purchased food from “takeaway” places as they were fast and convenient and usually much cheaper.
Another option is the convenience stores which are generally open 24 hours a day. And offer a cheap alternative to other eateries with a great selection of items on offer. There are lots of Seven Elevens all over Tokyo.
Planning your itinerary before your trip is great as it will give you an idea of what your days will look like and provide some structure. It will also be a requirement if you are applying for a Visa. We all want to do as much as we can in a short space of time but practically it isn’t possible. A few must sees would include:
- Tokyo Skytree;
- Tokyo Disneyland;
- Mount Fuji;
- Sensoji Temple;
You can see my 5 day itinerary for Tokyo Ultimate Five Day Itinerary for Tokyo here, detailing all the places you can visit and things you can do during a five day visit.
Also try to pool together the places that are in the same area. And aim to do those on the same day.
If you plan on visiting places like Tokyo Disneyland and Mount Fuji, these will take a day each as there is a lot to see so allocate your time accordingly. Also booking a tour for further places like Mount Fuji may be an ideal option as it is about an hour and a half away from Tokyo. Tours book out quickly so ensure you secure this in advance. We booked a Mount Fuji tour through Get Your Guide, and thoroughly enjoyed it. They have other similar and related tours available. Also purchase tickets for Disneyland online atleast a month in advance as they do limit the amount of people they allow into the park.
So you have purchased your flights, secured your accommodation and booked the tours you will be doing in Tokyo, what else is left to consider. Last but certainly one of the most important factors to consider when planning your trip to Tokyo is how much would you need for spending during your trip. Japan does not believe in tipping so you will just pay for your meal or trip.
I calculate this to include the following: food, transport and souvenirs/ gifts.
On an average day, we spent approximately 1700 yen, broken down as follows:
- Food: 1200 yen
This price would be for one takeaway meal for two people. And does not include a single sit restaurant meal for two which equated to 7000 yen. The cost of a can of coke is 120 yen.
- Transport: 340 yen
This is just for a return train trip to a single nearby destination. If you are using taxis or an Uber the cost would drastically increase.
- Gifts / Souvenirs: 150 yen
This price covers a single basic and small souvenir items.
The prices are an average indication and do not include all costs one can incur. Please do remember that some days cost more than others. For example, the day we went to Disneyland was very expensive, as it is a touristy place and everything on offer in the park highlights this. We also purchased many souvenirs including T-shirt’s and other novelty items and on that particular day spent 11 500 yen, which was one of our more extravagant days.
I hope these tips give you a better idea on how to plan a trip to Tokyo and what to expect when you get there. Remember that as much as you do try to plan everything there are times when you will just have to play it by ear but that’s why travel is so exciting as you never know what you can discover.
If you liked this, check out my article on a Day Trip to Chobe National Park, Botswana
* Please note that all prices and contact information are correct at time of publication. Please check the venues websites as prices may change without notice. *