Budgeting Your Time In Japan

Jun 18th, 2009 | By | Category: Travel

Planning a trip to Japan or even travel within Japan is an exciting proposition that can easily get thrown into disarray once you are on the ground.  One of the most common questions that we are asked in the Japan Discovered! weekly tweetchat goes something like this:  “I have X days in Japan, can I fit in visits here, here and here?”  It all comes down to the thorny issue of time…

citizen clock ginza tokyo

Travel Time

In most cases people have realistic expectations of what can be done within their allotted time frame but other think that the Shinkansen (bullet train) is like a time machine that will whisk them from one destination to another in seconds rather than hours.  They are fast, traveling up to 300 km per hour, but they are not that fast!

One thing that constantly surprises me is the amount of time that it takes to get from point A to point B in Japan, and even within Tokyo.  I love the train system and it is one of the most economical and efficient ways of getting around in Japan but it may take you a little longer than you think to get from one place to another.

To give you an example of this let’s take a look at how long it will take you to get to and from the  Top 10 Tourist Destinations in Japan using Hyperdia, one of the best tools to to use when planning your route about the country by train.

Japan Travel Timetable

Shinjuku Ginza Shibuya Harajuku Asakusa Ueno Tokyo Yokohama Kyoto Osaka
Shinjuku 0:17/0 0:04/0 0:05/0 0:14/0 0:19/0 0:13/0 0:39/1 2:42/1 3:12/2
Ginza 0:17/0 0:16/0 0:19/1 0:15/1 0:11/0 0:02/0 0:31/1 2:34/2 3:04/3
Shibuya 0:04/0 0:16/0 0:03/0 0:30/2 0:26/1 0:19/1 0:29/0 2:37/1 3:07/2
Harajuku 0:05/0 0:19/1 0:03/0 0:29/2 0:26/2 0:21/1 0:31/1 2:40/1 3:14/2
Asakusa 0:14/0 0:15/1 0:30/2 0:29/2 0:05/0 0:15/1 0:40/1 2:50/1 3:21/2
Ueno 0:19/0 0:11/0 0:26/1 0:26/2 0:05/0 0:08/0 0:36/1 2:38/1 3:14/2
Tokyo 0:13/0 0:02/0 0:19/1 0:21/1 0:15/1 0:08/0 0:25/0 2:18/0 2:51/1
Yokohama 0:39/1 0:31/1 0:29/0 0:31/1 0:40/1 0:36/1 0:25/0 2:26/1 2:56/2
Kyoto 2:42/1 2:34/2 2:37/1 2:40/1 2:50/1 2:38/1 2:18/0 2:26/1 0:30/0
Osaka 3:12/2 3:04/3 3:07/2 3:14/2 3:21/2 3:14/2 2:51/1 2:56/2 0:30/0

* format used is travel time (includes transfer times between trains) /number of transfers – keep in mind that travel time may vary depending on the time of the day.

yamanote line tokyo japan So let’s look at a typical day of sightseeing in Tokyo.  If your hotel is in Shibuya and you want to go to Tokyo to see the Imperial Palace and then on to Ueno Park, where you can stroll about the temples, visit a museum or two or even rent a boat at Shinobazu Pond before heading back to Shibuya for some people watching and calling it a night you will have spend some time in transit.

From the table above your total time spent traversing the city would be 53 minutes and you would only have to transfer trains two times.  Sounds pretty good right?  But how long does it take to get to the station from the various points of interest on your Tokyo itinerary?  On average you will have to walk anywhere from 5-15 minutes from the station to your destination and back.  That will add another 30-90 minutes to your commute time.

That adds up to a total of anywhere from 83 – 143 minutes spent just getting to a from your destination – a total of up to 2.5 hours of your day that you could be spend just riding the rails.

You Have to Eat

Let’ assume for a moment that you eat breakfast before you head out for the day and dinner upon your return in the evening.  You still need to budget some time for lunch, where you will hopefully dine on some of Japan’s regional food specialties in a great neighborhood restaurant or pick up a bento box or one of the other cheap eats in Japan to eat in a local park.

There goes another hour or so of your day…not wasted but you still haven’t wandered about much yet and 3.5 hours are gone…

Taking in the Sights

Now that’s out of the way we can talk about how much time it take to enjoy the sights at a leisurely pace.  After all this is a vacation and supposed to be relaxing and enjoyable right? If you plan for an eight hour day (remember that’s excluding breakfast and dinner) then after commuting and eating you are left with 4.5 hours to take in the sights.

tourists japan

I know I could spend a that amount of time just exploring Ueno!

If you want to take in a museum that could take anywhere from an hour to two or more.  Exploring the area around the Imperial Palace can take a similar amount of time, more if your want to stroll through the adjacent gardens.  You will want to rent your boat for about half an hour and spend some time exploring the other sights in Ueno park that include temples, shrines and even a zoo.

As you can see your four plus hours are being used up at a rapid pace!

But don’t just pull out your guidebook or pick up a map from the local tourist office and start ticking things off and snapping pictures to show your friends.  You want to take some time to really take in any area you visit and that involves stepping into that interesting alley and wandering past that small shrine or shop that caught your eye.  Sure, take some pictures, but don’t forget to enjoy the experience and remember that photos fade but memories last a lifetime.

It all takes time – how long is up to you but don’t rush yourself and don’t over plan your days.  Build some flexibility into your schedule so that your vacation doesn’t become like work.

Fatigue Factor

japan train interior You will spend a lot of time on trains and walking to and from the destinations on your itinerary and this can be exhausting.   There is also the mental fatigue resulting from being in a new place where just reading the signs and figuring out which way to go can take its toll on your energy level.

Take advantage of your time of the trains to rest your feet and rejuvenate yourself for the next part of your day.  Make sure to stay hydrated by stopping every now and then at one of the much talked about vending machines in Japan – they really are everywhere!   Get yourself some water but be sure to try some of the other drinks as well.  Some are quite tasty and you might even find a new favorite, or one that’s not so good.  Either way, it’s another memory from your trip to Japan that you get to take home with you.

The End of The Day

If you have a limited amount of time to travel about Japan your days will be full, there is no doubt about that, but don’t overextend yourself and try to cram too much into your itinerary.

For inspiration take some time to browse through the Japan Regional Travel Resources but remember to give yourself some downtime – Japan will still be here if you want to visit again…

You can fit a lot into a short time in Japan but make sure to enjoy the journey!

This is my entry in the June Japan Bog Matsuri, hosted this month by Billy of Tune-In-Tokyo.

Image Credit: Flickr, Citizen Clock, Ginza, Tokyo, E231-5xx @ Tokyo Station, Audience [小野川 / 佐原の大祭秋祭り(諏訪神社秋祭り)] & Hankyu train

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  1. That’s a great table!

    However, I’m not quite sure why — ah, I just checked and remembered! Yokohama to Osaka is two changes as there is Shin-Yokohama and Shin-Osaka in the way. But then, the Osaka Shibuya should be one extra change? And Tokyo Osaka isn’t 3 minutes less than to Kyoto.

  2. Good catch Ken! I transposed two numbers in the Tokyo Osaka time but it’s now fixed. (2:15 now reads 2:51) and you were correct about Shibuya-Osaka being one additional stop. Want a job as my editor? ?

  3. Actually Ken, there’s a different shinkansen lines between tokyo and kansai, so the times are probably quoted for the faster shinkansen between tokyo and osaka. I think it’s Nozomi which is faster, and Hikari which is slower, or was it the other way around?

    When my parents visited a few weeks ago, I had a beautifully planned full two days of activity in Tokyo and we ended up getting only about half of it done - i hadnt taken into account the “old people factor” and the “obsessive photography factor”, or the “bemused with random things in the street factor”. I didnt even get to see the giant gundam thing! Ahhhh~

  4. excellent post Shane, read it all and bookmarked for future reference

  5. Not only does it have good points for travelers to Japan, but points that can be used in thinking about time to travel ANYWHERE! Thanks.

  6. I’ll be visiting Japan in late September and early October and will be putting your travel advice to good use. As a boomer traveler I find that I can no longer pack as much into one day. Your suggestions for slowing down to concentrate on a “quality” visit ring true for me.

  7. Such a great post Shane. Great points that especially a first-time visitor to Japan might not think about. Thanks for sharing. I, too, have bookmarked this page and will share it with as many people as I can.

  8. Thank you all for your kind words about this article. I’ve lived in Japan for over 5 years and the amount or transit time still surprises me sometimes.

    @Donna Hull @ Shiira - I hope that you both enjoy your visits to Japan, do let me know I you have any specific questions as I’d be happy to address them on the site for the benefit of others as well.

  9. Great article, I am going to be in Tokyo for a week in March 2010. It will be my first time in Japan. I think that when a lot of people travel they like to cram as much in to there trip as possible. Seeing every site that there is to see and trying to ‘do’ everything that they have read about in destination guide for where there traveling to. I am not like that, I am the type of person that like to delve into local culture. I like to take my time and enjoy myself. Of course I want to see the sights, But I am not going to rush through them so there nothing but a blur and a check mark in my guidebook. I can tell you right now that in March when I go to Tokyo I am not going to see everything I want to see and I am not going to do everything I want to do. But I am going to a great time and have a lot of and enjoy myself. With being able to find great deals on airfare from the west coast here to Japan, I can make future trip to Tokyo and other parts of Japan. Well, enough of my ramblings! I look forward to reading more of you post.

  10. […] at The Nihon Sun presents: Budgeting Your Time In Japan “You can fit a lot into a short time in Japan but make sure to enjoy the […]

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  13. I know it’s a little hard to do when you are just visiting, but one of my favorite things is just to get lost. I just start heading in a direction and take in what I see. Especially in places like Tokyo, it is always easy to find a station and get back on track if you need to.

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