So we FINALLY managed to visit Japan, a destination I haven’t even dare to dream about. Working in France got me the chance to earn enough to go in a three weeks adventure to explore the beauty of Japan, its culture and history.
Being my first trip outside Europe and longer than the average one-weekend or one-week holiday, I had spent the six months prior to the trip for planing and doing the maths for every aspect I could think of, in order to have the perfect vacation in Japan.
Here are is my plan for
3 weeks to visit Japan
If you are an EU citizen, you won’t need a tourist visa for a stay under 90 days. However, always check visa requirements when planning a trip. Here you can find more details on visa requirements for Japan.
Make sure you have a valid (electronic) passport. At the airport border controls they asked me a lot of questions because I am an expat working and living in France (they were not aware about the EU convention of free move of persons, and in their vision I should’ve had a working/staying permit for France, which is a nonsense, since my country is in the EU since 2007), but didn’t have anything more than a business card to justify it.
Finally they let me pass after showing them my awesome roadbook (available soon) for my visit. I would recommend to carry a copy of your employment contract, and a copy of your lease agreement, just to avoid unwanted stress. From then on, I will definitely do this!
Plan your budget and have some of it exchanged in your country. Have extra euro/dollars (in notes of minimum 50), so you can exchange it in Japan if you go over the planned budget.
Make sure you exchange your money while in a big city. There are few chances you will find an exchange office in the country side.
Paying by visa card is also possible in most of the hotels/shops/stations/etc., but depending on your bank, you will lose money with the conversion and/or with bank fees.
We didn’t pay for one, since we had Premium Visa cards. This is definitely a major aspect when planing a trip. Make sure you are covered.
Getting to Japan
We knew we wanted to start our visit by Tokyo, so we searched for Paris-Tokyo flights. We bought our tickets about six months in advance, with a round-trip deal from Japan Airlines.
There are two international airports in Tokyo: Haneda and Narita. We arrived on Haneda Airport and took the airport shuttle to our hotel in Shinjuku.
Getting around Japan
If you plan on moving around Japan, do the maths to check if the Japan Rail Pass is worth the price, and determine if you want the pass for 7, 14 or 21 days.
As we first made the itinerary for Japan, we knew exactly how many times we needed to take the train. Then, we tried to optimize our stay in order to choose the number of days pass that suited us the most.
Anyway, by buying the 14-days JR Pass we saved around 800€ and a lot of time.
Special transportation passes
The Japan Rail Pass is a time and money saver. Just analyse if which one you need or if you need one.
1-, 2- or 3-days Tokyo Subway tickets with unlimited rides. (Since March 2016 presented as 24-, 48- or 72-hours ticket). We opted for the 2-days subway pass, as we were spending the first weekend in Tokyo.
Kyoto doesn’t have subway network, instead there are plenty of buses. As we needed to get around Kyoto throughout the day, we chose the one-day bus ticket for 500 yens.
3. Highlights of visited places
Now that you’re set with the administrative preparation, let’s see what’s there to see when you visit Japan. The task of crafting and planning for this trip was not simple, because the time was very limited (I know, three weeks sounds like a long time? It isn’t! Not for Japan.), and there were plenty of places we wanted to explore.
There were six stages in our 3-weeks trip. Every time we settled for a few days in a city to enjoy the attractions within, and outside the city, with one-day excursions for the nearby attractions.
1: Day 1-5 in Tokyo – with two day trips to Nikko and Kamakura
2: Day 6-7 in Ito – home stay for two days, for a local immersion, and a tea ceremony
3: Day 8-12 in Kyoto – five days in a ryokan, to enjoy the traditional side of Japan with temples and shrines, geishas in Gion District, Fushimi-Inari visit, traditional festival called “matsuri” in Taisha Shrine and deers in Nara
4: Day 13-14 in Hiroshima – with day hiking in Miyajima and a visit to Fukuyama Castle
5: Day 15-16 in Hakata-Fukuoka – the “youngest” city, with a samurai demonstration at Kumamoto Castle
6: Day 17-21 in Tokyo – return to Tokyo to enjoy the last five days in Japan.
Check out my Top 10 activities in Tokyo!
There are a lot of things we’ve seen and enjoyed, a lot of untold stories and adventures that we lived in Japan. I will make time to share here the ones I remember.
For a more detailed version, soon there will be a release of the Roadbook to Japan in pdf.
I hope I could bring a little closer to you the magic of Japan. Despite of the three weeks tour to visit Japan, there are a lot of places on my Japan bucket list I still need to check. I hope to return there soon.