Planning the trip to Japan

A trip to Japan requires a lot of research and budgeting. Here's our plan for our month-long trip with our kids!

A Pin to make life easier!

* Updated in 2018

We’ll be in Japan in September 2016, and we’re spending a month there. I couldn’t be more excited! Japan isn’t new for us, and there’s so much we want to do there I find it’s hard to choose what to do and what to leave out. It’s going to be summer, hot and humid in the first few weeks, then it’ll be ok by the end of the trip.

So far, we’re spending 2 weeks in Tokyo, a week in Osaka and a week in Suzuka, with my dad. We’ll travel around from the closest base.

We left Okinawa and Hokkaido out because of costs and lack of time. If we could spend 2-3 months, it would be ideal, but well…. We don’t really like to rush things, they don’t work out well, we get too tired to enjoy and we end up not seeing most of it anyway. So, we’ll do what we can do nicely and slowly.



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japanese buddhist temple

In a temple in Ise, Japan

 

Check out the list of our plans for Japan with kids

In Tokyo region:

  • Disney Sea and Disneyland because it’s a different park, and it’s the one they didn’t get to enjoy last time we were there – they were way too little for most of the attractions.
  • Ghibli Studio Museum, oh, because it’s Totoro and Kiki’s delivery service. <3
  • Asakusa, where Tokyo’s biggest Buddhist temple is. My goal here is the wagashi (Japanese traditional sweets) stores, though. 😛
  • Akihabara, to get wild on electronics.
  • visit Mount Fuji, because we just have to.
  • Yokohama and its stunning landscape!

 

walkway in suzuka, japan

A little walkway in Suzuka. I loved those colors…

In Osaka region:

  • Pokémon Museum & Store, because, well… they all (except Melissa) really want to go.
  • Kyoto’s temples. Have you seen a photo of them? I went there on a school trip when I was around 10 and I still remember how impressive it was. I’m guessing my kids like them too.
  • Nara deer park just because. Who needs a reason for it?
  • Osaka aquarium… They want to go to the aquarium over Universal Studios. I can’t really get it.

 

snow on the rice plantation, japan

The view from the apartment we lived in. It was the only time it snowed enough to get like this.

In Suzuka region:

  • Iga Ninja Village. This one is for Joao, he really wants to. He’s been talking about this one since he found out it existed.
  • the parks and restaurants
  • if the weather’s good enough, Goza Shirahama Beach, our favorite beach in that region
  • the places we used to go to when we lived there

For everywhere…

We also want to travel on a bullet train, eat Japanese food (and I don’t mean only sushi, but takoyaki, okonomiyaki, the Japanese bakeries’ bread and cakes, ramen, dumplings, onigiri, taiyaki,….. ok, there’s no end to this list so I’ll just stop), see my dad, my uncle, my friends.

ramen restaurant, japan

One of the ramen restaurants we loved in Suzuka, Japan

What to pack for Japan during summer

  • Lots of T-shirts and shorts, nothing too revealing, tight, or see-through for everyone. Since we expect to sweat a lot, around 4, 5 changes per person.
  • Let’s not forget the handkerchiefs: to wipe out sweat, the hands after the toilet as not every public toilet has paper, or to fan ourselves with it.
  • Hats because it’s really hot and the sun is very strong.
  • Undies, of course, and socks. Not too many socks, 2 per person should be fine since we’ll probably wear more sandals and Crocs.
  • And, of course, an extra pair of shoes to let one air for a day or two.
  • A raincoat, maybe, or some waterproof layer because it can rain heavy then…
  • Towels, maybe, because Japanese towels are very small…
  • One light sweater, jumper, or cardigan per person, as some restaurants can be a bit too chilly.
  • And the rest of the usual stuff: electronics, money, documents, meds…
Mount Fuji, the most iconic mountain in Japan. It's breathtaking, really. Even the kids liked it!

We stopped in Mount Fuji and it is stunning. It was a quick stop on the way to Yokohama. Next time we may stop there for a few days…

 

What to pack for Japan in winter

  • Thermals – or better, buy them there. Uniqlo is great for thermals!
  • Undies, of course. Everyone needs undies.
  • LOTS of socks. I don’t know about you, but if my feet are cold and sore, I’m a grumpy person. I wear at least 2 pairs of socks (yeah, one on top of the other) every day during winter. Also, note that most houses in Japan don’t have a dryer – most of the ones that say they do have just a stronger spinning cycle.
  • Gloves, beanies, scarves. But if you prefer, they sell some very pretty ones in Japan too. Or very cheap ones (in Daiso, for instance).
  • Handkerchiefs because you’ll still use it to wipe your hands.
  • A good jacket, preferably waterproof.
  • Take at least 3~4 changes of clothes if you’re staying somewhere with a washing machine. If not take enough for a week or so. Laundromats are everywhere, but it’s never fun to go out in the cold with a pile of laundry too often.
  • A good waterproof pair of shoes because it can snow or rain or hail…
  • One or 2 sweaters, jumpers, or whatever you prefer. Layering is magic.
  • And the rest: electronics, documents, meds, etc etc.
One of the busiest crossroads in the world, the Shibuya crossing, viewed from above. We sat and watched while we had coffee in a Starbucks. The amount of people there is just crazy!

Shibuya Crossing, Tokyo, Japan, at 2 pm on a regular week day

What not to pack for Japan

Well, to be really honest, you wouldn’t need anything: Japan has everything, and more often than not, for an affordable price. Whatever you forget, it’s fine, you’ll find there. BUT if you already have everything and don’t want to stock up, then bring your own!

  • Stationary stuff, like pens and notebooks, is amazing there, no need to take from home.
  • Waterbottles, because the variety and quality of the Japanese waterbottles are unbelievable.
  • Unless you have a universal power plug adaptor, you don’t need to buy one before getting there.
Odaiba is an artificial island made to be an entertainment district. Great for a fun day out with the kids!

Odaiba’s sunset, the most beautiful sunset we saw while in Japan

JR Pass or Not JR Pass?

We don’t buy it. We travel slow, so it’s not in our best interest. Unless you’re doing a lot of places and lots of bullet trains in a short period of time, it’s cheaper to buy it when you use it.

If, for instance, you’re doing 5~6 cities in a week or two, then get the JR pass, friend! It’ll save you money. If you, like us, are doing 3~4 cities in a month, then it’s definitely not worth the money.

Plan your itinerary, book accommodation, and then buy (or not) the JR Pass.

If you are buying it, don’t forget you need to make your purchase BEFORE you go to Japan!

This is one of the exits of Shinjuku Station, Tokyo. It's crazy how many people there are all day long.

Exit Shinjuku Station: hard work – just by this staircase was the place where people are allowed to smoke. The smell….

The best time to visit Japan

Well, that depends on you.

  • Summers are hot, humid, and often crowded due to school and national holidays. But there are beaches, lakes, river, thermal pools, and a lot more to enjoy. Plus, ice creams! Yum!
  • Fall is beautiful, the trees get the copper color, the seasonal food is the best during this time. It is a bit too hot on the beginning of the season and a bit too cold by the end of it, though. It’s also when people get sick the most!
  • Winter is beautiful, the winter festivals are the prettiest, and the Christmas, New Years, and Valentines’ Day decorations are THE BEST. Food is great too, but it’s very cold and if you have a heavy snowfall, you may need to change your plans, as some train lines, buses, and roads can be interdited.
  • Spring is cherry blossom season, lovely and pink. But it doesn’t last throughout the season, just for a month around the country (they blossom on the South first and make their way North) – and it lasts for around a week or two, if you’re lucky. It’s also very crowded and expensive – and it’s hay fever season.

Hurricane season is at the end of summer until the beginning of autumn (end of August~October). It’s risky, BUT everything is less crowded and cheaper!

nara japan

A walkway in Nara, Japan

To finish it…

There isn’t much you need to take to Japan because there’s everything (and a bit more) there for sure. But do plan your itinerary well as accommodation prices vary a lot, and transport prices increase decently depending on the distances you’re taking.

Use Google Maps and Hyperdia to check on that before deciding!

If you have any questions, feel free to leave them here!

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