How to plan a trip to Japan: our expenses, itinerary, accommodations, FAQ and more!

How to plan a trip to Japan: our expenses, itinerary, accommodations, FAQ and more!

Writing this post makes me feel a mix of bittersweetness, joy, and gratitude! Bittersweetness because, although going to Japan had always been my dream trip, I adapted so quickly to the culture I couldn’t help but feel my heart ache as I got on the plane headed back to NYC, wishing I could stay longer. Of course, gratitude for having this dream come true; and endless joy because now, months after returning to the U.S., I’m planning to go back to Japan in order to explore a little bit more of this country I love so dearly! 

To celebrate it, I decided to put together all the information I used to plan both of my trips and hopefully help you do the same. To see more of my day to day life in NYC, check out my Instagram (@marthasachser) and follow my Youtube channel! 




Many people are afraid of not being able to communicate with others in Japan because of the language barrier. I’m not gonna lie, I didn’t get to speak English very often. Most of the time, I was only able to communicate well in english with the staff at train stations, hotel receptions, or tourist information centers.  But I was very lucky that my husband was born in the US but his parents are Japanese so he could speak  fluently. Still, English will get you by just fine, since a lot of information is written in both languages.

If you don’t speak English at all, don’t worry, you can still travel. All you’ll need is a little more planning and, of course, a pocket Wi-Fi to access the internet and get around the cities using GPS and online translators.

Restaurant menus usually have pictures alongside the names of the dishes or a life size real example of the food at the entrance, so that you can get an idea of it before you order or point at what you want. Even so, it’s always a good idea to try to learn some basic words. Japanese people are extremely polite and simple words such as please, excuse me and thank you can make a big difference and open a lot of doors for you. Locals will strive to help and communicate with you even if they don’t speak English.




Unlike other countries and cities I’ve been to, Japan offers several kinds of accommodations. The most popular types are hotels, hostels, Airbnb, ryokans (traditional Japanese hotels), capsule hotels, and guest houses. Rates are usually fair, similar to what I’m used to in the U.S., and will fit well on your budget if you’re looking for a comfortable but affordable option. We paid around US$ 100 per night (hotels) in most cities, and I have nothing to complain about. 

If you’re searching for accommodations in Japan, I suggest trying out different dates on booking platforms to get an idea of what pricing is like at each time of the year. For hotels and ryokans, visit; for hostels,; and for homestay, (click HERE to receive a US$ 40 coupon on your first booking). It works really well in Japan and helped me  save a lot of money. 




My number 1 tip is to always check if there’s  public transportation/train station near the accommodations you’re looking at before  booking. In Tokyo, I recommend staying in the Shinjuku or Shibuya regions, in the heart of the city! Despite the downtown buzz, the Airbnb apartments we stayed at were quiet and peaceful and there were so many restaurants nearby, I highly recommend it. 



I admit that putting an itinerary together can often feel like a daunting task, but don’t worry, although Japan may look very different from what we’re used to, it is a very modern country with excellent infrastructure and with all the information you need to get around available in English. To plan your itinerary, I recommend making a list of all the attractions you’d like to visit and then using good ol’ Google Maps to gauge how far apart they are and how much time you’ll need to get from one to the other.

Our plans were super flexible. We visited Tokyo, Kyoto, Nara, Osaka, Nagoya and Fukuoka, in that order, before going back to Tokyo for two more days and departing to NYC. We spent 15 days in the country and hopped from city to city by train and bullet train. Oh! You’ll need a draft of your itinerary in order to obtain your Japanese visa.





Obtaining a Japanese visa is a fairly easy and a straightforward process. First, visit the official website of the Embassy of Japan in your country and check what documents you need to arrange. Having a step-by-step itinerary or at least a good idea of what you’ll do while in Japan is key to obtaining your visa, they have a form for that and you are expected to write down all the details such as attractions you will be visiting each day and accommodation information. But you can change your plans afterwards, you just need this information for the visa. One of the reasons they ask about it is to gauge whether you’ll have enough money to get by in Japan. So if you are staying at hostels for example, you might not have to show as much money in your bank account as you would have to if staying at a 3 star hotels for example. To be honest, I found this process very stressful and different from every other country I had to apply for a visa. But at least, if you have all the information, there is no reason to be denied.

Fees are charged per entry in the country. On my first time, I paid US$ 23 for a single-entry visa; for my next trip, I had a double-entry visa issued for US$ 55, since I planned on leaving Japan to visit other countries and then return.




Eating was one of the coolest experiences in Japan! I contemplated coming up with a list of restaurants you should visit, but there are just so, so, so many of them! One of the first things I noticed is that there’s no such thing as “bad food” in Japan, each and every corner has delicious meals to offer if you’re willing to give them a chance. My advice is to dive right in! 

The dishes we saw the most were curry, noodles, rice bowls with meat and vegetables, Japanese barbecue, sushi, and other traditional foods such as onigiri, odango, mochi, etc. Besides that, many cafes also served coffee, bread, and more western options like pasta and pizza… Prices weren’t too different from what I’m used to, in fact, they were even more affordable than in NYC. We had great meals for less than US$ 15 at lunch and dinner time, for example. When it came to breakfast, we ended up buying stuff at convenience stores like Family Mart and Seven Eleven (there’s one of them at every corner). We spent around US$ 5 each for coffee with Japanese bread or other delicacies. These stores are also great for having lunch and dinner. Still, if you’re on a budget, consider going to a supermarket where food is even more affordable!

Oh, make sure to try traditional Japanese breakfast at least once. It’ll probably pop up if you’re staying at a ryokan or a few other hotels. In such cases, it may already be included in your booking or you might have to pay a US$ 15 fee per person. It’s worth every penny!

And you’ll probably notice a lot of vending machines around too. They’re everywhere and definitely come in handy on those hot summer days when all you want is a fresh can of juice or soda! Make sure to always bring coins with you!




Visiting Japan is one of the best ways to get out of your comfort zone and live new experiences. In addition to the attractions I’m sure you already know about, I also recommend doing the following:

  • Dress up in a traditional kimono and explore the temples at Kyoto or Tokyo’s Asakusa 
  • Ride the bullet train;
  • Stay at a ryokan (traditional Japanese hotel);
  • Have a meal at a maid cafe;
  • Get to know Japan’s gaming culture and have fun at one of the many arcades, they’re all around the country!;
  • Visit Mount Fuji;
  • Go to an onsen;
  • Stay at a capsule hotel;
  • Watch a traditional geisha performance in Kyoto;
  • Take a cooking, ninja, calligraphy, or tea ceremony class.



The journey to Japan is a long one and for many travelers it will probably take more than a day, with one or two layovers along the way. It’s important to take that into account (as well as the exhaustion and jet lag that comes with it)  when deciding how many days to stay in the country! Although different people have different interests and paces, I recommend staying for at least 15 days on your first time to Japan so that you can explore at least 3 to 4 cities in no hurry.

If you can afford it, I’d say 20 days is ideal, since it gives you the opportunity to explore several parts of the country and get to know interesting places most tourists don’t know about! Nonetheless, if that’s not a possibility for you right now, here are my tips on how many days exactly you should spend in each city:

Tokyo: 5 days. You could easily stay there for 10, though, and take one-day trips to other cities, besides visiting themed parks such as Tokyo Disneyland!

Kyoto: 2 to 4 days. But set aside 1 day to explore Nara, it’s really close by. I’m suggesting 3 days, but I’d easily spend an entire week in Kyoto. It’s the heart of Japanese culture and has a totally different vibe from Tokyo! I love it! You can stay in Kyoto for 1 day for example and visit Nara  the next day. But if you truly want to see Kyoto, I recommend at least 2 full days so you don’t have to rush and you can include some paid experiences (I mentioned a few above). 

Osaka: 1 to 2 days (I myself spent a day and a half there). Osaka has its own Universal Studios Park too, in case you’re a fan of themed parks! A lot of people decide to stay longer, while others don’t even bother to add it to their itinerary. I liked it and suggest spending at least a day in the area. The food scene is one of the highlights of Osaka.

Hiroshima and Miyajima: 2 days, 3 if you don’t wanna rush or leave something out. It’s in the southern part of the country and five hours away from Tokyo (if you’re going by bullet train). I recommend scheduling an extra day just for that or stopping by Osaka and Kyoto on the way to avoid exhaustion. To Miyajima a day trip is fine, I took a ferry early in the morning and came back around 5pm.

Hakone or Nikko: 1 day  each.




Japan definitely has one of the best public transportation systems in the world. Everything works perfectly, trains and busses will take you anywhere and schedules are followed rigorously and punctually. We also used our JR Pass a lot, it was the best investment of the trip. We used it for 14 days and it was perfect for us. Train and subway signs are usually written in Japanese and English; furthermore, you’ll probably find someone willing to help you out in case you get lost. Their English may not be perfect, but most Japanese people will be happy to assist and will do their best to communicate with you! It always worked out in the end for us!

We took all kinds of public transportation to get around the city. You can request a paper subway map at the station or download an app to find out how to get around. Taxis, on the other hand, aren’t that affordable and drivers rarely speak English; if you intend to take one, make sure to bring the written address with you so that you can give it to your driver. We only took a taxi three times from apartments or hotels to the station, once we were carrying a lot of luggage. We then took a train from downtown Tokyo to the airport. We arrived in Japan late at night, so our AirBnB host advised us to take the shuttle bus and from there a taxi, which was about U$10 to our apartment.




I get a lot of questions asking whether the Japan Rail Pass is worth it. This pass is only available to foreigners and grants you unlimited access to JR trains and bullet trains (shinkansen) all across the country for a set period of time. You may purchase it after obtaining your visa. There are 7-day, 14-day, and 21-day passes, which must be used on the consecutive days following their activation at one of the JR offices in stations and airports. Click HERE to get your JR Pass.

The JR Pass costs about US$ 270 for 7 days and US$ 440 for 14, but rates may vary. That’s why I strongly recommend planning your itinerary well and scheduling longer trips on the period when your JR Pass will be active. On the other days, try to visit destinations that require you to spend more time in a single place. THIS website calculates how much you’d spend in transportation according to your itinerary and determines whether the pass would pay off. When purchasing, make sure to enter your name exactly as it is on your passport.





The JR Pass grants you unlimited access to the bullet train (shinkansen), JR’s regional trains and some JR’s subway lines. Nonetheless, we had to pay for subway tickets several times in Tokyo since some lines were operated by other companies, but it wasn’t expensive. 

As to getting tickets for JR’s intercity rides, there’s no need to purchase them in advance, unless you’d rather everything planned out. If not, then you’ll be able to buy them on the same day or at the last minute with no trouble. 

The same holds true for bullet trains, just head to one of JR’s offices at the station and place your booking. You may do that in advance or on the same day you’d like to depart. Everything’s well signposted (look for shinkansen signs), but don’t hesitate to ask someone for help in case you can’t find it on your own. Moreover, you can actually travel without booking your specific/reserved seat, there are a few specific cars for that on the train, but I don’t recommend doing so, especially on longer rides when you might want to sit next to a friend/family member. So reserving in advance for longer rides is the way to go.

Please note that you’ll always be asked to present your JR Pass and passport before booking a seat or going through the turnstile to access the boarding platforms. There’s a special entrance for JR Pass holders and an assistant will check both documents every time, whether you’re boarding the shinkansen or a JR train/subway.

If you have to take multiple trains, try not bringing too much luggage with you. Stops are super quick, so the less you’re carrying, the better. If that can’t be helped, stand up before the ride reaches your stop and get ready to rush outside when the doors open. Believe me, I wasn’t quick enough once (and I only had 1 big suitcase) and I missed my stop. 



Here are two things to take into account when deciding on a date: the weather and school breaks. Although Japan is a small country, it has very defined seasons in most of its territory. I strongly recommend visiting during the fall or spring (cherry trees!!), since they’re both beautiful seasons and the weather is mild – but keep in mind that the entire world wants to go to Japan to see the cherry blossom trees so expect crowded places and hotels charging more. But it’s a good time to travel also because there aren’t long school breaks going on. It may sound cliché, but it’s actually good to keep that in mind. Japanese people take a lot of family trips during summer break, so lines and attractions get packed! Not to mention summer’s hot temperatures and humidity. As to winter, well, I’m not a big fan of traveling to cold places, but you’ll probably have a lot of fun too since it’s less crowded and not as cold in some parts of the country. If you are not into cold or snow,  avoid the northern part of the country if you can, it usually snows a lot more up there. 



It depends, where are you flying from? From NYC, flight tickets are one of the most expensive parts of a trip to Japan. Still, if you do your research in advance and look up what an average ticket should cost, you’ll be able to claim a good deal when you see one. The average price for a nonstop NYC to Tokyo flight, for example, ranges from US$ 1,100 to US$ 1,500, if you buy it in advance. I was able to find tickets for U$900 in the past, but not so much lately. If you’re okay with layovers, prices may plummet  to US$ 500-800. The Air China company usually offers lower rates as well. My tip is to check famous flight ticket platforms like Expedia, Skyscanner, etc., as well as each company’s website and maybe even a travel agent. It doesn’t hurt to take a look at all of the possibilities, and you may get even better deals or a stopover ticket, in which you get to extend your layover to a couple of days and explore a new place in the meantime. It also helps to make the trip less exhausting.




The Japanese currency is the Yen. ¥ 100 is worth a little less than a dollar, but they’re close enough in value that you can calculate pretty accurately how much you’re spending. While I was there, a dollar was about ¥ 104, so the onigiri I had everyday cost me just that. It was great because I was used to paying at least U$ 2,50 for one in NYC; of course, I made the most out of this situation and had as many of them as I could. 

We were able to pay with our Mastercard and Visa credit cards in most places, however many others were still cash-only. Coins definitely come in handy in Japan, so consider carrying a small coin purse with you. We exchanged some money at the airport in NYC, which wasn’t that good of an idea since we ended up losing some of it in the conversion. That’s why I suggest exchanging just enough for a few days in Japan at first. Once you get to Japan, you can decide whether to exchange some more at an Exchange Office or withdraw at an ATM in case your bank doesn’t charge a high  fee for it.

If you’d rather have everything taken care of before traveling, make sure to research the best exchange rate in your city or on specialized websites. Oh, you don’t have to tip in Japan!




Unfortunately, Wi-Fi wasn’t very common in public areas. We tried to connect to the internet at train stations unsuccessfully and always ended up relying on the nearest Starbucks. I’m hoping the situation will be a lot better in the future, with the Olympic games, etc. But don’t worry, if you’d like to stay connected and make the most out of Google Maps whenever you need, just rent a pocket Wi-Fi and you’ll be able to connect several phones, tablets, and laptops at the same time. You could rent one as soon as you arrive at the airport and return it before boarding the plane on your way back. Some companies will also let you make a reservation in advance so that they can deliver it to your hotel (or other location you need or they will suggest such as the airport) on a date of your choosing. You can then return it by putting it in a prepaid envelope and dropping it in one of the red post boxes, or by any other means the company suggests. I was told BIC Camera, a famous electronics store chain in Japan, rents them as well. I tried to install a SIM card in my phone, but it didn’t work well, so I recommend renting a pocket Wi-Fi to be safe. It may not be so cheap (around US$ 10 a day, with lower daily rates the longer you plan to rent it), but it’s worth it for the convenience and ability to communicate even without knowing English or Japanese.




Unfortunately, I don’t have an exact answer to this question! We ate out a lot and bought loads of stuff we hadn’t planned to, so I lost track. We really went into a vacation-mode! Since our credit cards didn’t charge extra fees for foreign purchases, we used them many times and forgot to monitor how much we were spending. 

When it came to flight tickets, the nonstop flight from NYC to Tokyo was US$ 1100; we spent around US$ 30 each on food every day; accommodations ranged from US$ 80 to US$ 100 for the two of us; and we used the JR Pass to get around for 14 days. We didn’t go to every paid attraction available but set aside about US$ 10 per day to spend on temples, museums, tickets, donations, etc. Oh, and souvenirs too! I spent loads of money on little gifts for myself, mostly fridge magnets, so I’d estimate US$ 5 to US$ 10 a day for that. Please note that I’m not including all the shopping I did at shops like Daiso or at makeup stores. All I can tell you is to prepare your wallet because you’ll want to buy everything!


To see more of my day to day life in NYC, check out my Instagram (@marthasachser) and follow my Youtube channel!