For people of all ages and walks of life, a trip to Japan can be a memorable and transformative event. The island nation is unique in so many ways that hundreds of books have been written about the mystery of the country whose capital is one of the largest cities on earth, Tokyo. If a trip to Japan is in your future, it's important to prepare carefully in order to make the most of every minute you spend among the people and places of Asia's jewel. 

It's no secret that a Japanese vacation is not an inexpensive affair. But with the right amount of planning and advance budgeting, it need not break the bank. In fact, you can take several simple steps, like obtaining a JRail Pass before leaving, that cut in-country travel expenses significantly. What else should you do before departing? Here are more details about how to prepare.

Pay Now, Go Later

One of the most effective ways to keep a trip to Japan within commonsense financial constraints is to plan far ahead. This principle works particularly well with air tickets, JRail Passes, traditional Japanese inns, and major hotels in the island nation. The single best way to pay for major portions of the trip upfront is to take out a personal loan. You can snag massive discounts, often to the tune of 50 percent or more, on tour packages, stays at traditional inns, and domestic travel. Personal loans give travelers freedom to take advantage of discounts and off-season rates, which can turn an otherwise pricey trip into one that suits your budget.

Buy a Rail Pass

JRail Pass, the Japanese version of Eurail, is one of the all-time great bargains for anyone headed to the land of the rising sun. You can buy the passes online well in advance of your trip and save as much as 35 percent compared to last-minute purchases. With pass in hand, you'll be able to get around without a car and use the country's entire train system, which is exceptionally reliable and extensive, at no cost, as long as you stick to the lines JRail works with.

Make a Detailed Itinerary

Tokyo, Sapporo, Kagoshima, Kyoto, and Osaka are must-see cities if you want to take in the whole flavor of what Japan is all about. It's smartest to make a day-by-day itinerary of your whole trip. This can take time, but it pays huge dividends once you're on the ground in Japan and want to see all the best sites in each of those five cities. Don't make the mistake of only visiting Tokyo, which is like a nation unto itself. At a minimum, travelers should also visit Osaka and Kyoto and add on Sapporo and Kagoshima if time and budget allow.

Sign Up for Family Stay

Besides making a detailed itinerary, be sure to spend at least half your trip time outside of Tokyo. Japan's largest metro area is a wonderful place, but you don't want to miss all the other highlights of the country during your journey. Finally, think about signing up for a family stay arrangement through a tourism website that offers to make connections for travelers. That way, you'll have the chance to live with a Japanese family that speaks passable English and enjoys hosting international travelers.