Travel to Japan: You May Want to Plan Ahead

Visa-free tourism has resumed in Japan since October of 2022, and all those hungry tourist looking forward to the many offerings of this beautiful country are eager to hop on the next flight to the Land of the Rising Sun. As tempting as it may be to drop everything and go, two years has changed a lot for this archipelago nation.

When are We?

As of writing this, we are about six months in to Japan’s re-opening with cherry blossom season on the horizon and, in some locations, just beginning. This is one of Japan’s most popular tourist seasons, with people travelling from across the globe to see the trees turn pink and enjoy one of the most quintessentially Japanese activities known to the Western world.

As tempting as it is to rush to the airport so as not to miss this fleeting season, keep in mind that six months is a very brief amount of time to be open after a major shut-down. The country is still recovering, and this is all-too evident in the climate of Japan’s tourism industry.

Sky-High Prices

One thing to consider when coming out of the pandemic is cost. Not only has inflation caused prices to rise, but Japan is an immensely popular tourist destination which has been inaccessible since 2020. Demand is huge right now, and prices reflect this. In January, global air traffic demand grew by 67%.1 Additionally, Fuel costs are soaring amidst the fuel and oil shortages plaguing the world.2

The good news (for tourists at least) is that with the Japanese Yen at an all-time low compared to the US Dollar, prices are lower in Japan than normal. Still, there are other reasons to consider postponing your trip.


Remember when restrictions began to lift much earlier in the United States? When restaurants tried to open their doors to consumers, only to be shut down months later because they simply could not keep enough staff on retainer to maintain their business? Many mom-and-pop shops shut down, and even some larger chains were affected, closing several locations across the country due to staffing shortages.

Japan already has the issue of an aging population leading to fewer and fewer working-age adults to keep businesses going. But as the borders open, this problem is in the spotlight. A massive resurgence in travel demand after a long period of decreasing staff to cut costs means that companies foreigners rely on –Like hotels and taxis — Are scrambling to fill roles that had not been needed for so long.1

To the Brim

Not only is it difficult to find staff to fill these locations, but less staff also means they are unable to fill as many rooms. Taxi companies have fewer cars on the road, so the more people there are the more difficult it will be to find a cab. Even airlines are struggling as they add more and more routes, with most flights being at capacity.3 

Hotels are fully booked, transportation cannot accommodate demand, and travelers are packed into full planes. The hope is that these issues will dissolve as the country readjusts to the resurgence of tourism, but at this time the demand is far outweighing the country’s capacity to meet it.

Experts Struggle

I also sell travel, with my primary niche market being Japanese and Taiwanese cultural travel. But in all honesty, I’m still green in the industry, and there’s an easy solution to this: Working with an on-site expert who can help with planning, booking, and guiding my clients along the way.

There’s just one problem: These companies are struggling just as much as the tourism industry as a whole. Many of these companies are booked out until the summer of 2023 at the earliest. Not only that, but their response times are slower than usual, meaning any plans are taking 2-3 times longer to make than average.

So unless your plan is to push your date back, odds are you (or I) will be flying solo on your trip planning. With hotels running out of rooms and the landscape of Japan’s tourism industry already notoriously difficult to navigate, this makes the task a true headache and largely unpredictable for those of us working in travel. We may be able to do a lot, but we can’t work miracles.

If Not Now, When?

My recommendation would be to plan your trip 4-6 months out at the earliest. Give yourself (and your agent, if you are working with one of us) some time to make sure your experience is everything you want it to be. The last thing you want when trying to take a vacation is to stress over your flight or hotel overbooking. Save yourself the headache, and plan ahead.

Looking for a bit of inspiration? Check out my Travel Page now!

If you are looking to grab a few things before your trip I have compiled a list of recommended travel essentials just for you.

1. Travel News Asia. (n.d.). Global air traffic increased by 67% in January. Japan Today.
2. Bloomberg, E. L. |. (2022, September 13). Asian countries spend big on fuel oil amid global gas shortage concerns.
3. Hyuga, T. (2022, December 14). Japan’s wave of tourists sends hotels and taxis hunting for staff. The Japan Times.


Picture of K. Straub-Kuo

K. Straub-Kuo

K has been writing since she was in middle school. She has always loved telling stories and loves to do research on topics that fascinate her even more. K developed an interest in cultures at an early age, but it wasn't until high school that she became fascinated with East Asia's rich cultural heritage that blends seamlessly with the rapid advancements that cause their cities to thrive. Her interest only grew more when she met her Taiwanese-Native husband, whose expansive travel experiences have encouraged her wanderlust. She takes every opportunity presented to her to try something new and is always thrilled to share her experiences with her readers.
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11 Day Back roads of Japan Tour with Project Expedition

***Note: meals are largely excluded on this tour and are the responsibility of tour members***

Days 1-2: Tokyo

There is no itinerary upon arrival until the welcome meeting which will take place in the evening. The first day will consist of learning more about your tour and meeting your guides. Day two is a walking tour of the fashion district of Harajuku. This eclectic district is popular for its eccentric fashion and youth culture. In the afternoon you will get a chance to visit Sensoji Temple, Meiji Shrine, and the surrounding attractions. 

Day 3: Nagano

You will take Japan’s famed bullet train to Nagano before checking into your accommodations. The highlight of this trip is the Jigokudani Monkey Park, where you will get to observe Japan’s bathing snow monkeys enjoying a bath in the natural hot springs.

Day 4: Matsumoto/Nagano

Enjoy a day trip to visit one of Japan’s most beloved castles: Matsumoto Castle. Afterwards, return to Nagano to venture off to Zenkoji Temple, one of Japan’s last standing pilgrimage sties. 

Day 5: Ōtsu 

Travel in the morning to Ōtsu for some stunning views of Japan’s largest lake: Lake Biwa. Top off the night with a delicious ramen dinner. 

Day 6-7: Hagi

Enjoy a quick breakfast before an extended drive to Hagi. You will then check into your local homestay. Pack for two nights as your remaining luggage will be sent to the next destination by your tour company. Make sure you pack comfortably for outdoor activities. This is a chance to experience life like a local as you meet your host family and take part in a welcome ceremony and dinner. 

Day two is an active day as you take a guided cycle tour around Hagi Castle. Afterward, you will have time to participate in seasonal activities with the locals. You will enjoy a homecooked dinner with your host family.

Day 8-9: Tottori

After breakfast with your host family, take a scenic trip by train on your way to Mihomisumi. There, enjoy learning the art of Washi paper making before hopping on another train to Tottori. 

In the morning, explore the unusual Tottori Sand Dunes along the Sea of Japan’s coastline. After that, make your way to the local fish market for some fantastic seafood lunch options. End the day with a trip to Kyoto to check in to your accommodations. 

Days 10-11: Kyoto

Take a morning trip to the well-known Fushimi Inari-Taisha, one of Kyoto’s many beautiful local shrines. This is where you will find the mystical  trail of torii gates along its trails. After this, you will have free time to explore what Kyoto has to offer. Recommended sites include a walk through the geisha district of Gion, exploration of Kinkaku-ji Golden Pavilion, and a visit to Kiyomizu Temple. 

The next day marks the end of the tour. Public transit is available to the airport, or you can speak to your guide to help find accommodations if you wish to extend your stay. 

Sample of an 11-Day Intrepid Tour

Days 1-2: Taipei City

Take the first day to relax and unwind after your travels before joining your group for dinner. After a good night’s sleep, enjoy learning about Taiwan’s love of sweet potatoes at Sweet Potato Mama for some spud-filled activities. Check out Shilin Night Market to enjoy Taipei’s variable food culture.

Days 2-3: Hualien

Enjoy nature at Danong Dafu Forest Park before spending the evening enjoying even more street food at the local night markets (you may have noticed a trend). Visit Qingshui cliff before venturing off to the famous Taroko Gorge.

Day 5: Yilan

Visit one of Yilan’s well-known onion farms to learn about the agriculture behind them before learning to make a Taiwanese favorite: scallion pancakes!

Day 6: Turtle Island and Jiufen

Set out on a 3-hour cruise around Turtle Island before travelling off to Jiufen, famed by Hayao Miyazaki as the inspiration for Spirited Away. You will be able to explore Old Street on your own. My suggestion: Eat everything ,try lots of samples, and make time for tea at the famous Teahouse.

Days 7-8: Sun Moon Lake

You’ll get to hike from the base of the mountainous area through the trails that snake up the mountain. You can then climb the Pagoda which marks the end of your trek for some incredible views. The next day you will get to explore the Chung Tai Chan Monastery for a unique, cross-cultural experience.

Day 9: Taichung

Visit Taiwan’s “Breadbasket”, where you can go oyster picking, bird watching, and exploring the water-life of the area. Try some incredible seafood and maybe even go out after returning to you accommodations near — Oh look, it’s near another night market!

Days 10-11: Taipei

Visit the Rainbow Village before heading back to the city you started in. You’ll get to see the massive collection of traditional art and artifacts contained within the National Palace Museum before taking the evening for yourself. After breakfast in the morning,  Your tour will end.