For many people, work and family commitments decide how long they will stay in Japan. However, some people have the luxury of choosing how long they will stay in Japan. If you’re one of the lucky ones, here’s some information to help you choose.
First: How Long Is Your Flight to Japan?
If you live reasonably close to Japan, say in Korea, Taiwan or Thailand, then it’s perfectly reasonable to spend just a few days in Japan if that’s all the time you have. You could check out Tokyo and Kyoto and get a good taste of the country. Heck, you could spend just a weekend in Tokyo eating some great food and doing a bit of shopping.
However, if you’re coming from places like Europe or North America, the picture changes completely. It doesn’t make sense to travel for 12-plus hours to spend just a few days in Japan, especially since you’ll be jetlagged for the first few days. If you’re coming from New Zealand or Australia, jet lag isn’t really an issue, but it’s still a long and expensive flight.
Likewise, if your flight is long and perhaps a bit of a financial stretch for you, you’re less likely to visit Japan again soon, so you should stay a good amount of time when you come.
Next: What Do You Want to See and Do?
Whether you’re coming from near or far, if this is your first trip to Japan, it’s perfectly reasonable to visit Tokyo and Kyoto and perhaps just one other destination (Nara or Kanazawa perhaps). You can do that in a week if you want.
However, if you want to see another side of Japan, say, the less touristed areas of Kyushu, northern Honshu or Okinawa, in addition to Tokyo and Kyoto, you really need to spend more than a week. Ten days to two weeks is reasonable for Tokyo and Kyoto plus another part of Japan.
Likewise, if you want to do some trekking on the Kumano Kodo, the Nakasendo or up in the Japan Alps, it’s going to take some time. You’ll need at least three full days to get much out of these activities. So, again, you’ll be look at 10 to 14 days for your whole trip.
What Is the Ideal Amount of Time to Spend in Japan?
Keeping in mind all that I’ve written above, if this is your first trip to Japan, I’d say 10 to 14 days is the perfect length of time to stay in Japan. For most people, one week is going to feel too short. By the time you get over your jet lag, you’ll only have three or four days left and those days will flash by. On the other extreme, once you get past two weeks, you may start to feel tired of traveling, eating unfamiliar food and sleeping in unfamiliar beds (or futons). Longer trips are better for your second or third trips to Japan, when you really want to get off the beaten track and perhaps do things that take longer, like trekking, diving or studying something.
Here are some pages that will help you decide when to go and where to go:
Kyoto Vacation Checklist
- For all the essentials in a brief overview, see my First Time In Kyoto guide
- Check Kyoto accommodation availability on Booking.com – usually you can reserve a room with no upfront payment. Pay when you check out. Free cancellations too
- Need tips on where to stay? See my one page guide Where To Stay In Kyoto
- See my comprehensive Packing List For Japan
- Buy a data-only SIM card online for collection when you arrive at Kansai International Airport (for Osaka and Kyoto) or Tokyo's Narita Airport. Or rent an unlimited data pocket wifi router
- Compare Japan flight prices and timings to find the best deals
- If you're visiting more than one city, you might save money with Japan Rail Pass – see if it's worth it for you
- A prepaid Suica card makes travelling around Kyoto easy – here's how
- World Nomads offers simple and flexible travel insurance. Buy at home or while traveling and claim online from anywhere in the world