This new series of blog posts will help you with every step of planning your own Japan trip. This time: some tips for getting there.
Getting to Japan from almost everywhere in the world requires a plane trip – and for a lot of people, it’s often the first time they’ve left the USA or Europe. All my personal experience is from the UK but many of these tips are universal, plus there’s helpful links at the end.
(I always seem to have the perfect photo from Japan for every blog subject!)
Choosing your flight
For most of us, there will two major things to decide when choosing flights to Japan – cost and departure point. How much you spend depends on your personal level of comfort/ease vs money but start by considering everything and then rule out what doesn’t work for you.
If you live near a city with direct flights to Japan (London, Los Angeles, Sydney, Honolulu etc.) then it’s definitely worth signing up for the airlines’ mailing lists well in advance to see when they have offers in case you can plan your trip around that. Otherwise, just look up flights on a site like Skyscanner, trying different cities and dates to get an idea of prices.
Direct flight or connections?
Whether you live close to a major airport hub, or have to travel to one, it’s worth checking prices for flying via other airports as it can be a lot cheaper and give you more airline choices. We all have our own red lines with these so choose a route and airline that you’re comfortable with. Personally, I get a bit anxious about connections, layovers and flight cancellations, especially in countries outside the EU. If you’re more easygoing, on a tight budget, or live close to a smaller regional airport, you can connect via cities in Europe, the Middle East or Asia.
Since I’m in Scotland and my sister is in London, we usually fly direct from London. For our next trip I did look into flying Glasgow to Brussels and meeting her there with another flight on to Tokyo but a direct flight from London worked out best in the end. Beware of codeshares too – last time I booked with ANA, who have Japanese food and movies, but realised later it was actually a standard no-fun British Airways flight.
Narita airport vs Haneda airport
It’s also worth considering where you arrive in Japan. Most international flights land at Narita airport, which is quite far from Tokyo. The transport links are excellent but can get expensive. The trains are great if you’re in a hurry, but can be a nightmare with heavy luggage. The Limousine Bus coaches are much slower but cheaper, and stop at many popular hotels.
Haneda airport is much closer to Tokyo and you can take the regular trains into Tokyo so you’ll save time and money. It’s also the best airport for internal flights, if you plan to fly on to Hokkaido or Kyushu. We’re flying to Haneda for the first time this year and I’m looking forward to seeing the difference.
Some airlines also fly direct to Osaka’s international airport, which I’ve heard is a good option as it’s easy to get to on the subway. If you’re planning to stay mostly around Kansai (Osaka/Kyoto/Kobe) or towards Hiroshima or Naoshima, it could work out much better than flying to/from Tokyo.
If you’ve never been on a long-haul flight, you might be worried about spending such a long time in the air (it’s 12 hours from London to Tokyo). On my first flight, I was surprised at how quickly the time passes. Major airlines will have lots movies to watch, plus they break up the time quite cleverly with meals and snacks. Make sure to bring some of your own entertainment though – a good long book or new video game can keep me engrossed for hours, while music is great for drowning out the engine noise.
My other personal tips are bringing some comfy clothes one step up from pyjamas to change into at the gate and having extra layers in case it gets cold. I also organise my carry on luggage so I can make my bag into a footrest for my short legs! My favourite thing is to buy a kawaii cushion/plush for the return flight. It’s always more tiring going home so I’m more likely to sleep and the free pillows are not that comfortable.
Traveling onwards in Japan
If you’re planning to travel to other parts of Japan, it can be worth doing the whole lot in one go, since you’ll be tired anyway. If you arrive at Haneda or another regional airport, there are lots of short internal flights. If you’ve ordered your Japan Rail Pass, you can pick it up at the airport and have them reserve seats on the Shinkansen at the same time so you go straight to your next city.
- How to book cheap flights at Mo in the World
- When to buy cheap airline tickets at Get Rich Slowly
- Tips for flying to Tokyo & What’s it like flying to Japan with Lufthansa videos at Cakes With Faces
- What to do on a Tokyo Layover (includes info on transport links)
- My Japan Trips master page has tons of links and resources
- My Planning For Japan series tracked preparations for my 2016 trip