Despite travelling a lot, I felt I needed to do lots of research before going to Japan, and I definitely think that helped. I bought an old Lonely Planet guide, and also used Japan Guide and Tokyo Cheapo a lot, as well as watching LOTS of youtube videos (I really like Abroad in Japan).
I really think the research I did helped, particularly with logistics around transportation, money and understanding how some things work. It was also good to get some inspiration, and the Monocle guide book for Tokyo has the best recommendations, many of them off the beaten track.
Booking flights in advance is essential for getting a good deal on a trip to Japan. BA sales offer direct flights from £620 but tickets are limited and you need to be flexible with dates.
I flew with Turkish Airlines (which is often the cheapest company for long haul), and got a great price around £450 from Gatwick airport. With a stop in Istanbul, the total time of my journey was around 16h.
There’s a lot to see in Japan but I really wanted to experience Tokyo life, so I decided not to do much travelling. I spent 23 days in Tokyo, 6 days in Kyoto and 3 days in Nara. I also did a day trip to Kamakura and Yokohama.
To me this was the right balance as I got to see lots of Tokyo – although I still feel I could spend months there and not see it all! I also had plenty of time in Nara and Kyoto, which was good as I didn’t want to rush anything.
I’d love to go back to Japan and travel some more – Osaka, Hiroshima and Nikko would be at the top of my list – but I would also come back just to stay in Tokyo again.
Travelling around Japan is easy so if you’re planning a trip across the country you can cover a lot of ground by train.
WHEN TO GO:
I spent the whole of October in Japan and that was a good time to go. Summers are supposed to be really hot and spring can get very busy because of cherry blossom season. Autumn temperatures are perfect for exploring at around 15-20 degrees, although I did get over 27 degrees in Kyoto! You also get to see the autumn tints, and particularly in Kyoto that is really nice.
Tokyo is very rainy, which is evident by the amount of umbrellas on sale everywhere and stands where to leave your umbrella when you go into a shop. I did get a particularly bad week when it rained a lot (it was typhoon season), but in general the weather was good. I’d definitely visit in October again.
I spent one month in Japan, and most of that time I was by myself – my husband joined me for one week. I have no problem with travelling alone in general (only exceptions would be places considered unsafe for women), but Japan is actually a great place for solo travel.
Firstly, Japan is very safe, so I never needed to worry about walking alone at night or anything like that. But the best thing about Japan is there people there seem to do a lot of things alone, so it feels very normal to do things by yourself. This is most evident in restaurants and cafes which always have individual tables and no one thinks it’s weird to get a table for one.
And everywhere you go, from shops to museums to gardens, there are lots and lots of people by themselves – so even though I’m happy to do things alone it made me really aware that doing things solo is a much bigger part of Japanese rather than European culture.
This made me more at ease, as I knew that I could go anywhere by myself and would be just one more in the crowd of people doing things by themselves.
STAYING IN TOKYO:
For the first few nights on my stay in Tokyo, I decided to book a capsule hotel. I spent four nights at Oak Cabin (£18 per night), which was cheap and centrally located.
The capsule itself was nice and cozy, and the facilities were great: there was a big lounge and kitchen area, spotless and well-equipped showers and bathroom. The downside was the noise during the night – many people arrive late or are jet-lagged, so there’s always some noise (earplugs are essential).
All in all I enjoyed the experience – it’s not very different from staying in a hostel, and it’s a good option if you’re alone in Tokyo.
After I got back from my Kyoto trip I spent 20 nights at an Airbnb. Accommodation in Tokyo can be expensive if you’re travelling alone, but you can find good options on Airbnb.
The key thing is to decide at which area you want to stay – I wanted somewhere close to Shinjuku and the place I chose was only a short metro ride away. I found that facilities in Japan are generally of a high standard, and every place I stayed at was very well-equipped.