The Unexpected Reason A Group Vacation To Japan Will Be More Difficult Than You Realize

Tokyo is the world's top trending destination, according to a 2024 Tripadvisor report. More and more groups of friends are making plans to visit the Japanese capital or other destinations in the Land of the Rising Sun. However, just because you're all wanderlusting over the same place doesn't mean you should plan your trip together.

Large group vacations can be challenging in a small, densely populated country like Japan. From the narrow streets to the bucket list ramen restaurant known for seating solo diners, many things in Japan are more intimate, especially compared to the wide open spaces in countries like the U.S. This can make traveling as a group inconvenient at best and impossible at worst.

Because of these cramped conditions, you'll often run into crowds in Japan's major cities. Imagine walking down the street with several friends, running into hordes of people in popular spots like the Shibuya Scramble pedestrian crossing in Tokyo or Umeda Station in Osaka. It can be hard to stick together without blocking the sidewalks or bumping into other people. It's even worse in elevators and rush-hour trains, where you'll likely have to split up just to fit. On top of that, part of being a considerate tourist when visiting Japan is remaining quiet in certain places, such as on public transportation. Keeping your voice down can be hard when traveling in a large group, and you might receive some disapproving side-eye from the locals for being noisy.

Reservations and hotel bookings can be tricky

Some destinations seem made for large groups — think bachelor and bachelorette parties in Las Vegas or a family ski trip in Aspen. Unfortunately, Japan isn't one of them. Making arrangements for several people can be difficult in cities across the country.

For instance, most standard hotels are designed to fit a couple or perhaps a small family with the help of an extra cot or sofa bed. If you want to book your trip with half a dozen (or more) of your friends, you'll need to book multiple rooms to fit everyone. Ryokans (traditional inns) also tend to accommodate only small groups. Even if you can squeeze in more people, you'll typically be expected to pay a nightly rate per person rather than per room.

Restaurants can be similarly difficult for large groups of tourists. Buildings are often small, and as a result, tables are arranged to fit couples or groups of a maximum of four diners. At many izakayas, sushi restaurants, and ramen spots, you'll find a small counter instead. If you want to stay with your group, you'll need to book a large table at a restaurant with ample space, which can severely limit your options.

Ways to make a group vacation to Japan work

Though group trips to Japan can be a challenge, you might not be in a position to cut anyone from your travel squad. In that case, be prepared to adjust your plans to fit Japan's space constrictions. One of the best options is breaking a large group into smaller groups, containing (ideally) no more than four people. This will make navigating the crowded sidewalks, trains, and restaurants much more manageable.

If you prefer to stick together, seek out tourist destinations with plenty of room. In general, outdoor venues, such as parks, gardens, and amusement parks, will be your best bet. You can also find indoor spots that can accommodate groups, such as karaoke rooms and museums. And, for the sake of you and your friends, don't leave your meals and activities up to chance. Make reservations for restaurants and purchase tickets for attractions in advance to ensure no one's left out.

Finally, consider booking a group tour for your vacation. These tours come with a guide (and occasionally a bus or other form of transportation) and are designed to accommodate several participants at once. Organizers are skilled at navigating popular sights with a large group in tow, so signing up for these tours can ease some of the stress of traveling with a lot of people.