I Just Spent 2 Weeks In Japan — Here’s My 6 Hot Tips For Avoiding Tourists But Seeing The Sites

If you’ve spent more than 0.5 seconds on social media over the last two months, you might have seen that Japan seems to be the go-to destination for Aussie travellers this year. Why? Well, it’s no new secret that the gorgeous country has a wide range of stunning landscapes, fascinating history, a smorgasbord of wonderful cultural experiences, delicious food and a vastly different vibe to anything we have Down Under. But this year, it is absolutely swarming with tourists due to the Japanese Yen hitting its weakest level since 1990.

While the depreciation of the Yen is not wonderful news for the Japanese economy, it has resulted in an uptick in travellers heading to the major cities to make the most of their homeland dollars going further. In fact, due to the weak Yen combined with the allure of the cherry blossom season, Japan experienced its highest-ever number of visitors in a single month, clocking over three million. This beats the previous record of 3 million in 2019.

Anyway, all that is to say is that Japan is absolutely swarming with tourists right now. Data aside, I was one of these tourists and after learning the hard way that most main attractions might entail standing shoulder-to-shoulder with other eager travellers, I developed a few tips and tricks to beat the crowds and maximise my time in Japan.

So if you plan on heading on over (which you fkn should!!!), here they are.

Book ahead

This is a tip I learnt the hard way. If you want to go to the big ticket items — you might have to book tix or a spot as early as possible. Some of these hot spots include the famed Ghibli Park, Ghibli Museum, the Pokémon Cafe, TeamLab Museums and Tokyo Skytree. But this rule doesn’t only extend to the hugely touristy areas.

With travel vlogs through Japan bombarding Reels and TikTok, it’s becoming increasingly hard to rock up to anything that has experienced even a hint of sought-after virality.

My biggest disappointment was rocking up to the Macho Bar — a bar where muscly men not only carry you to your table, but use their biceps to squirt out tomato sauce for your nuggies — to find that it was booked out for every night I was in Kyoto. Straight up devastating.

The only thing that made it bearable was a cheeky flex and a warm “Thank you very macho” as I left.

Sadly, this also applies to hostels and hotels. Usually, when I travel, I book my hostels last minute. I’m a fluid gal who likes to have a chat to find out what my next move should be. However, in Japan right now, that’s not entirely possible. It’s your best bet to book your hostels in advance if you want to find a reasonably priced place to stay otherwise you could be paying a shocking amount of cashola for a shared room.

Heed my warning!!!

Wake up early

As a gal who enjoys a few cheeky high balls, a couple of Asahi frothy boys and a couple of -196 lemon sours during a night out on the town, waking up early to sightsee was the hardest tip for me to adhere to. However, it was always worth it — even with a hangover.

At some of the big tourist attractions, the crowds become absolutely insane after 8am. This is especially true in Kyoto where the main spots like the Fushimi Inari, Kiyomizu-Dera and the Yasaka Shrine are not built for a huge amount of people. But even other attractions like the bamboo forest in Arashiyama and deer-filled Nara feel overwhelming when you’re standing amongst hoards of people trying to get a lovely photo.

Don’t believe me? Check out these nifty people-free pics below taken bright and early.

So, my advice is to wake up at the crack of dawn and hit the town to get to the sights you want to see. It may be rough, but when you’re able to see the attractions properly in the crisp morning air, I promise it’s worth it.

Leave the well-trodden path

Tokyo, Kyoto and Osaka are wonderful. They’re all filled with beauty and well worth the visit. However, they’re not the only prefectures worth visiting when you’re traipsing around Japan.

There’s so much good stuff, I promise!!! From Miyajima to Sapporo to Nagoya and Kyushu, there are so many beautiful places to see!

This time I headed to Tottori, a prefecture in Western Japan three hours from Kyoto by bus. It’s the least populated prefecture in the country, known for its incredibly vast sand dunes, gorgeous mountain-filled coastlines, nashi pears and the sand museum which features delicately designed sand sculptures which change yearly.

It was so lovely to head to somewhere a little less busy, soak up the sights and be able to stay in a relatively empty hostel. I even got to catch a super local Wakame (seaweed) festival while I was there. Sitting outside in the fresh ocean air, it was an absolute joy to soak up the sun, cheer along to idol group Momokuro Obaa Z and listen to the local Wakame club’s original song about their love of seaweed.

The whole experience made me feel like a very lucky duck.

Stay places and visit things you haven’t heard on TikTok

TikTok is a great resource for finding things to do and places to stay, but it does make it difficult to visit super viral places and book accommodation. While I was there between April and May, booking affordable accommodation in hot spots within cities was difficult.

In Tokyo, the subway system is so efficient that you can essentially book anywhere without it impacting your travel plans too greatly. So instead of staying in Shinjuku, Shibuya or Ginza, try venturing out a little bit to other areas. I promise they’ll be equally as interesting in one way or another.

Also, fun fact, I stayed at a hostel aptly named Hostel Bedgasm. It was much, much better than the name implies.

Shibuya is a great place to party and explore, but it’s worth staying somewhere else, TBH. (Image: Laura Masia)

Straight up avoid going in March and April

March and April are the busiest time for travellers heading to Japan due to the cherry blossoms. Don’t get me wrong, they’re beautiful. An absolute vibe. A sight to be seen, even.

However, if you’re like me and can feel your hands get sweaty and your mouth get dry when you’re constantly weaving through crowds, March and April might not be the best time to head to Japan. The good news is there are plenty of other great times to go!

In May the weather is lovely and warm as it comes into spring. If you’re a fan of a balmy holiday, June to August is summer. September to November is autumn, which I think is the most beautiful time in any city due to the vibrant colours that adorn the trees. And then there’s the snow-filled winter of December to March. Stunning!!!

Lots of options and they’re probably cheaper too.

I may be wearing a beanie but May has lovely warm weather! Would recommend to a friend! (Image: Laura Masia)

Go with the flow

Sometimes, you just can’t anticipate what’s going to happen when you’re travelling even if you’ve organised everything down to the minute. But, honestly, that’s the beauty of the whole thing.

The best moments I had on my trip were completely unplanned. Like ending up in a karoké room with a group of incredible strangers after being booted out of Macho Bar. Or being followed around by a Japanese TV crew for a news segment through Dotonbori. Or even happening upon a religious festival in Tokyo while out having a drink with a new pal.

It was all great stuff, and as cheesy as it sounds, memories that I’ll cherish. So my advice to avoid the crowds is to not be too stuck on what you want to do, and go with the flow.

Who knows, maybe where you end up is better anyway.

Laura Masia is PEDESTRIAN.TV’s entertainment reporter but when she’s not tapping away at work, she loves a cheeky backpacking trip. You can follow her adventures on Instagram HERE.