Japan Travel Guide

By Admin | Last Updated August 27, 2019

Japan, ‘Land of the Rising Sun’, is a delight for tourists. This East Asian country between the Pacific Ocean and the Sea of Japan offers everything… sacred shrines, royal palaces, national parks, snowy mountains, volcanoes, wilderness areas, cherry blossom trees, beautiful islands, to the busy streets of Tokyo. Spread over 145,936 square miles or 377,973 square kilometers, Japan is the 61st biggest country in the world. But this small land has enough to offer for a lifetime of experience.

The country is a top favorite with tourists. 31.19 million international tourists visited Japan in 2018, up from the 28.7 million of 2017. Japan is the 3rd most popular country for tourism in Asia after China and Thailand.

There is a lot to see here, including 21 World Heritage sites like the Himeji Castle, and the Historic Monuments of Ancient Kyoto and Nara. Popular tourist attractions include Mount Fuji, Tōhoku and the Kantō regions, Kansai, Hokkaido, and the cities of Kyoto, Kamakura, Tokyo, and others. The country also offers some of the best skiing in Asia, stunning hot springs, unique culture, and wonderful food.

Visiting Japan for the first time, you will be impressed with the advanced infrastructure and modern society. Though the country appears modern on the surface, but Japan is deeply traditional. Traveling around, you will have opportunities to connect with this traditional culture. Visit an old farmhouse, bathhouses, sleep on futons and tatami mats, or meditate with monks. See the stunning Zen rock gardens. Experience the splendor of Kyoto geisha dance performances.

Japan is a learning experience for most visitors. You will surely want to return for more.

Japan – Quick Facts

  1. Area – 145,936 square miles or 377,973 square kilometers
  2. It is the world’s 61st biggest country by size
  3. Capital – Tokyo
  4. Population – 126,440,000 (2018) – 11th most populated country
  5. Time zone – UTC+9 (JST)
  6. Driving side – Left
  7. Currency – Yen (¥)
  8. Religion – Only 34.9% are Buddhists. Most people are Folk Shinto
  9. There are 6,852 islands. Only 430 are inhabited
  10. Largest cities by population – Tokyo, Osaka, Kyoto, Aichi, and Ishikawa
  11. Seafood is very popular. The Japanese people eat 17 million tons of fish each year – more than any other country.
  12. Adult literacy rate – 99%

How To Reach

Flight – Most tourists arrive by flight.

The city of Tokyo has 3 airports – 

  1. Narita (NRT) is east of the city, about an hour from Tokyo
  2. Haneda (HND) is mostly for domestic flights, but now some international flights are using the airport as well.
  3. Ibaraki (IBR) is for discount carriers, north of Tokyo

The Kansai Airport (KIX) of Osaka is also popular with tourists, and so is the Itami, though it is mostly for domestic flights. Many people also use the Chubu International Airport (NGO) close to Nagoya. Most cities in the country with significant population have an airport. However, most of them focus on domestic flights, with international services only to China and Korea.

The busiest airports in Japan by passenger traffic are – Haneda, Narita, Kansai in Ōsaka, Fukuoka, and the New Chitose Airport of Sapporo.

  • Flying to Japan through Seoul on Asiana Airlines or Korean Air will be cheaper.
  • Nippon Airways and Japan Airlines are the two major carriers of Japan.

Boat – Some tourists also arrive by ferries from Russia, Taiwan, China and Korea. However, only the service from Busan is a practical option. There are ferries from Busan to Shimonoseki and Fukuoka. But the travel time is long (it may take up to 2 days) and the service is also not that frequent, and sometimes it is also unreliable.

The Japanese archipelago has 6,852 islands, but only 430 are inhabited. The country’s 4 main islands are Honshu, Shikoku, Hokkaido, and Kyushu. The largest island is Honshu. It is sometimes called the Japanese mainland.

Top 11 Reasons To Visit Japan

Stunning Landscapes Scenic mountains, volcanoes. Glaciers, lakes, and exotic wildlife… there is everything. The snow-capped Mt. Fuji is an extremely popular landmark. Nikko has mountains with beautiful waterfalls, greenery, and crystal clear lakes. Hokkaido and Honshu is the snow country. Visit the Joshinetsu Kogen National Park to see snow monkeys, a sight to remember.
Shrines, Temples, Castles Many religious sites are Shinto or Buddhist places of worship. The Miyajima forest is full of shrines, temples, and religious structures. See the famous 400 year old Himeji Castle, featured in the Shogun movie. Also visit Grand Ise, a 2000 year old Shinto shrine.
Cherry Blossoms See the stunning cherry blossom trees, the unofficial national flower of Japan. They are in bloom between early April and May.
History, Culture Japanese culture goes back thousands of years. Visit Kyoto, especially the district of Gion for Geisha history. The country is now a modern society, but the Japanese people have integrated their past and culture into their everyday life.
Architecture See the unique architecture of the shrines and temples. You will find them throughout the country, but Kyoto is the place to be. Here, there are about 2000 Buddhist structures around just a single city. Also see the unique Torii gates that leads up to mountains.
Hot Springs Thanks to the rich volcanic soil of Japan, there are many natural hot springs. They offer a very relaxing experience.
Beaches Golden sandy beaches don’t immediately come to mind for Japan. But the country has around 30,000 kilometers of coastline. Some of the best beaches are in the islands of Okinawa.
Scuba Diving Japan is home to some of the world’s best scuba diving spots. Many of these areas are in the Okinawa archipelago. Very good visibility and chance to swim with hammerhead sharks, manta rays, sea turtles, and more. See underwater rock formations and stunning coral reefs. Just off the coast of Yonaguni is an ancient ruin site, which many believe is the lost city of Atlantis.
Food There are plenty of flavors to discover. There is sushi, famous around the world. Don’t miss the traditional foods too like the miso soup, sashimi, and tempura.
Festivals Aomori Nebuta Matsuri, Kanto Matsuri, Tanabata Matsuri, Gion Matsuri, Obon, and the Daimonji are the biggest festivals. They are all spectacular. See the traditional decorations, huge paper lanterns, fire festival, and the traditional dances of the country.
Cities Japan has big cities with modern infrastructure. The capital city Tokyo is buzzing. There are theme parks like Disneyland, many palaces, and markets to explore. The former capital Kyoto is more traditional. See the mountainside shrines and bamboo forest. Osaka has colorful gardens, beautiful castles, and Universal Studios.
There are 100 plus volcanoes in Japan. Many of them are active, but no volcano is considered to be dangerous. The ones in Kagoshima and Hokkaido are the most stunning. Mt. Fuji too is a volcano.

Top Cities, Regions

City / Regions What to See and Do
Tokyo – Capital City Disneyland, DisneySea, Tokyo Skytree, shopping in Odaiba, see the Meiji Shrine
Kyoto – Traditional City Imperial Palace, Philosopher's Walk, Fushimi-Inari Taisha Shrine, Kiyomizu Temple, Nijo Castle, Kinkaku-ji
Nara – Close to Osaka Nara Park, Kasuga-taisha, Ninja Museum of Igaryu, Isuien Garden, Nara-Koen Park, Nara National Museum
Hokkaido – Northernmost of the Main Islands Asahiyama Zoo, Farm Tomita, Hot Springs, National Parks
Hiroshima – Modern city in Honshu Island Hiroshima Peace Memorial Park and Museum, Hiroshima Castle, Itsukushima, Mazda Museum, Shukkeien Garden
Osaka – Commercial Center and Port City Universal Studios Japan, Osaka Castle, Kaiyukan Aquarium, Hozenji Temple
Nagoya – Shipping and Manufacturing Hub Nagoya Castle, Atsuta Jingu
Fukuoka – in South Japan Zen Sanctuary, Hakata GionYamakasa Celebrations, Beaches, Temples
Hyogo – Kansai Region Shoshazan Engyoji, Himeji Castle, Akashi Kaikyo Bridge, Chinatown, Mountains & Hot Spings, Cherry Blossom Trees

 

Best Time To Visit Japan

The best time to visit Japan is during the spring (from March to May) as this is the cherry blossom season. But the other seasons are good too. They will bring out different facets of Japan.

Spring – March to May. Warm temperature with little rain. Time of the year for the cherry blossoms. The wisteria, roses, and azaleas also bloom in this season. This is also the time for many festivals.

Summer – June to August. There are rains in June, but by August, the weather has become very humid. The temperature can go up to 35°C. You should head to the mountains to escape the heat.

Fall – Between September and November. The humidity and temperature becomes more bearable. The fall colors are as impressive as the cherry blossoms. But there can be typhoons early in the season.

Winter – Visit Japan in the winter if you are interesting in the hot springs or skiing. North-east Japan and Hokkaido sees heavy snow as cold wind comes in from Siberia. But the coastal regions have a milder winter.

Gardens

The Zen rock/sand gardens and landscape gardens of Japan are famous throughout the world. There is officially a list of ‘Top 3 Gardens’ in the country based on their size, beauty, historical significance, and authenticity, which means they haven’t changed a lot. These gardens are – 

  1. Kenrokuen – Kanazawa in Honshu Island
  2. Korakuen – Okayama, between Hiroshima and Osaka
  3. Kairakuen – Mito, close to Tokyo

There are other traditional and historical gardens too like Hiroshima’s Shukkei-en, Yokohama’s Sankei-en, and Kagoshima’s Sengan-en. However, Ritsurin Park of Takamatsu is the country’s largest garden. Tokyo also has many good gardens.

Tips For A First Time Visitor

JR Pass If you have plans to visit different cities, then you should get the Japan Rail Pass (JR Pass). You can buy it only before entering Japan, so it is only for foreigners. With this pass, you can travel on any JR lines, including the bullet trains. The cost of a JR Pass for 7 days is 38,880 Yen, which is 361 USD. A 14 day pass costs about 584 USD.
Language Most people speak Japanese. Many can read and write English, especially in the big cities and tourist areas, as it is taught in the schools. But most of them are not very comfortable in speaking English. Learning a few basic phrases will be very useful and it will be appreciated. Signs at subways and train stations are both in Japanese and English.
Food Noodle soups, rice-bowls, sushi, and hot pots are very popular in the Japanese cuisine. Common ingredients are soy products, tofu, and vegetables. Many restaurants have food displays so you can understand easily what’s in the menu. The menus may also have pictures. There are also English menus in some places. When you enter a restaurant, you will get a damp, warm cloth to wipe your hands before taking the meal.
Tipping Not needed. Actually, tipping is often seen as rude.
Be Polite Japanese are friendly and gentle people. Be respectful and polite. It is offensive to speak loudly or listen to music on public transport. Also, avoid blowing your nose in public.
Carry Your Rubbish Japan is one of the cleanest countries. But there are very few garbage cans in the cities. You will find them only at the stations and convenience stores. Locals take the garbage with them in plastic bags and dispose off at home or when they can find a bin.
In Temples You have to remove your shoes when entering a shrine or temple. Sometimes, plastic bags are provided where you can keep the shoes and carry them with you. If not, then just leave your footwear at the entrance. There is no dress code. Just remember not to expose too much skin.
Accommodation You can choose from many options. Try something unique, like a capsule hotel, temple lodging, or the traditional Ryokan where you will find communal baths and tatami-matted rooms. Hotels rooms are in western style, but they are smaller.

How To Save Money In Japan

  • Time of Visit – Traveling in the off-season will save you money. Avoid the Golden Week (between late April and early May), New Year, and the Obon (middle of August). There will be a lot more tourists at these times. Prices will also be higher.
  • Accommodation – For a cheap option, try capsule hotels, hostels, and even camping. Volunteering will also save your money.
  • Transport – Get the Japan Rail Pass (JR Pass) to travel between cities. Also, consider taking local trains instead of those bullet trains. You will also be traveling slowly, so can see more of the country. The cheapest way to travel is the bus. Night buses save your accommodation cost.
  • Food – Basements of department stores will be affordable. In most big stations, you are likely to find 1-2 department stores where prepared meals come at a good deal. You can also eat at ‘konbini’ or the convenience store. For vegetables and fruits, it is better to head to a morning market or a farmer’s market.
  • Phone – In most countries, its best to shop for a good deal. But in Japan, Softbank, NTT Docomo, and AU KDDI – the big three, have complete monopoly. There is almost no price difference. To save money, it will always be better to go for an ‘all-in’ plan for the internet, TV, and phone.