Japan Travel Guide: When to Visit
Japan’s beauty transforms with the changing seasons, offering a diverse range of experiences throughout the year. This section of our Japan travel guide will help you plan your visit based on the unique charms each season brings.
Spring (March to May):
Springtime in Japan is synonymous with cherry blossoms (sakura) blooming across the country. Witness the enchanting pink and white petals painting the landscapes as you stroll through parks, gardens, and temple grounds. The cherry blossom season varies each year but typically reaches its peak in late March to early April in Tokyo and Kyoto. Spring also brings milder temperatures, making it an ideal time for outdoor explorations.
Summer (June to August):
Summer in Japan is warm and humid, with temperatures ranging from pleasantly mild to hot. While summer brings vibrant festivals like Gion Matsuri in Kyoto and Tanabata in Sendai, it’s also a great time to explore Japan’s coastal regions, including Okinawa, where you can enjoy pristine beaches and indulge in water activities. Be prepared for occasional rain showers and consider visiting mountainous areas for cooler temperatures.
Autumn (September to November):
Autumn in Japan is a season of vibrant colors as leaves turn into shades of red, orange, and yellow. The landscapes are transformed into breathtaking tapestries, especially in popular spots like Kyoto’s Arashiyama Bamboo Grove and Nikko’s Toshogu Shrine. September and October are ideal for enjoying pleasant temperatures, while November sees the autumn foliage reach its peak. Don’t miss the autumn festivals, such as the Jidai Matsuri in Kyoto, celebrating the city’s rich history.
Winter (December to February):
Winter in Japan brings a picturesque charm, especially in regions like Hokkaido, where you can experience winter sports and admire the magical snowscapes. The Tohoku region also offers stunning winter illuminations, with displays of intricate light installations. In the cities, you can enjoy seasonal delights like hot pots and steaming bowls of ramen to keep warm. Be sure to pack appropriate winter clothing, as temperatures can drop below freezing in some areas.
Japan Travel Guide: How to Get There
Embarking on your Japanese adventure requires careful consideration of transportation options. From international flights to domestic travel within Japan, this section of our Japan travel guide will provide you with the necessary information to reach your destination smoothly.
Flying to Japan:
Flying is the most common and convenient way to reach Japan from international destinations. The country is served by several major airports, offering excellent connectivity. Here are some of the popular airports in Japan that serve as entry points for international travelers:
- Narita International Airport (NRT) – Tokyo: Located in Chiba, Narita Airport is the primary international gateway to Tokyo, Japan’s bustling capital city. It provides extensive flight connections to destinations worldwide. (Website: Narita International Airport)
- Haneda Airport (HND) – Tokyo: Situated closer to central Tokyo, Haneda Airport is another major international airport serving the city. It offers convenient access to downtown Tokyo and serves both domestic and international flights. (Website: Haneda Airport)
- Kansai International Airport (KIX) – Osaka: Located on an artificial island in Osaka Bay, Kansai Airport serves as a major gateway to the Kansai region, including Osaka, Kyoto, and Nara. It offers numerous international flights and excellent transportation links. (Website: Kansai International Airport)
- Chubu Centrair International Airport (NGO) – Nagoya: Situated on an artificial island near Nagoya, Centrair Airport is a modern hub serving the Chubu region. It provides convenient access to Nagoya, Takayama, and the surrounding areas. (Website: Chubu Centrair International Airport)
- Fukuoka Airport (FUK) – Fukuoka: Located in southern Japan, Fukuoka Airport serves as an entry point for travelers exploring Kyushu, offering both domestic and international flights. (Website: Fukuoka Airport)
Japan is well-connected to neighboring countries via ferry services. For example, you can travel by ferry from South Korea to Japan, with routes operating between Busan and Fukuoka, Busan and Shimonoseki, or Incheon and Osaka. There are also ferry connections between Japan and China, Russia, and Taiwan. You can book with these companies below:
- Direct Ferries (https://www.directferries.com/): Direct Ferries is a comprehensive platform that allows you to compare and book ferry routes worldwide. They provide information on various international ferry connections to Japan, including routes from South Korea, China, Russia, and Taiwan.
- Korea Tourism Organization (https://english.visitkorea.or.kr/): The Korea Tourism Organization’s official website offers details on ferry services between South Korea and Japan. It provides information on routes, schedules, and operators like JR Kyushu Beetle Ferry, Kobee Ferry, and more.
- China International Travel Service (CITS) (http://www.citsgroup.cn/): CITS is a reputable travel agency in China that offers ferry services from China to Japan. Their website provides information on routes, schedules, and other relevant details for planning your journey.
- Taiwan Ferry (http://www.taiwanferry.com.tw/): Taiwan Ferry operates ferry services between Taiwan and Japan. Their website provides information on routes, schedules, and booking options for traveling between the two countries.
Cruising is a popular way to visit Japan, offering a combination of onboard luxury and the opportunity to explore multiple destinations. Here are some cruise lines offering trips to Japan:
- Princess Cruises (https://www.princess.com/): Princess Cruises offers various itineraries that include stops in Japanese ports such as Tokyo, Osaka, and Yokohama. Their website provides details about cruise options, onboard amenities, and shore excursions in Japan.
- Celebrity Cruises (https://www.celebritycruises.com/): Celebrity Cruises offers cruises that visit Japanese ports like Tokyo, Kobe, and Yokohama. Their website provides information about the cruise itineraries, onboard experiences, and available activities in Japan.
- Holland America Line (https://www.hollandamerica.com/): Holland America Line offers voyages to Japan that include visits to ports like Tokyo, Kobe, and Shimizu. Their website provides detailed information about the cruise itineraries, onboard amenities, and excursion options in Japan.
- Norwegian Cruise Line (https://www.ncl.com/): Norwegian Cruise Line occasionally includes Japan in its itineraries, allowing passengers to explore popular ports like Tokyo and Kobe. Their website provides information about the cruise options, onboard activities, and shore excursions in Japan.
Japan Travel Guide: Getting Around
Japan’s train system is renowned for its punctuality, speed, and extensive coverage. The following train options are available for getting around the country:
- Shinkansen (Bullet Train): The Shinkansen is a high-speed train network that connects major cities throughout Japan. It offers a comfortable and efficient way to travel long distances. With different types of Shinkansen, such as the Nozomi, Hikari, and Kodama, you can choose between faster or more frequent services. Make sure to consider purchasing a Japan Rail Pass for unlimited travel on JR-operated trains, including the Shinkansen. You can book your passes from our affiliate site and help support the site! Just click here.
- Local (Regional) Trains: Local trains are a convenient option for traveling within cities and exploring nearby areas. Each city has its own local train network, such as Tokyo’s JR lines and subway system, Osaka’s Osaka Metro, and Kyoto’s Keihan Electric Railway. Be sure to familiarize yourself with the train routes and schedules to plan your journeys effectively. (Website: HyperDia)
Buses are an excellent alternative for reaching destinations not easily accessible by train. Consider the following bus options:
- Long-Distance Buses: Long-distance buses, often called “highway buses,” connect cities and regions throughout Japan. They offer affordable fares and comfortable seating options for overnight journeys. Companies like Willer Express and Japan Bus Lines operate extensive networks, providing connections between major cities and popular tourist destinations. (Websites: Willer Express and Japan Bus Lines)
- Local Buses: Within cities and rural areas, local buses provide convenient transportation. They offer a great way to reach specific attractions, neighborhoods, and scenic spots. Make sure to check bus routes, schedules, and payment methods, which may vary depending on the region.
Exploring cities and towns in Japan often involves utilizing local transportation options, including:
- Subway: Major cities like Tokyo, Osaka, and Kyoto have comprehensive subway systems that efficiently connect various neighborhoods. Subway maps and signage are usually available in English, making navigation easier for international visitors.
- Trams: Some cities, such as Hiroshima and Nagasaki, have tram systems that offer a nostalgic way to explore city centers and nearby attractions. Trams are especially popular for sightseeing in historical districts.
- Ferries: Japan’s many islands and coastal regions are accessible via ferry services. For example, you can travel between Honshu and Hokkaido or explore the islands of Okinawa using ferry connections. Ferries are also available for scenic trips around Tokyo Bay and Seto Inland Sea.
- Taxis: Taxis are readily available in cities and can be hailed from designated taxi stands or booked through ride-hailing apps. While taxis can be more expensive than public transportation, they offer convenience, especially when traveling with heavy luggage or during late hours. Also, be aware some taxi drivers may tell you to go to a foreigner taxi which unfortunately is a higher rate. It happened multiple times to me in Tokyo.
Japan Travel Guide: Travel Tips
- Respect Japanese Customs and Etiquette: Familiarize yourself with Japanese customs, such as bowing when greeting someone and removing your shoes when entering certain establishments. It’s important to be mindful of local traditions and show respect for the culture.
- Learn Basic Japanese Phrases: While many Japanese people can communicate in English, knowing a few basic Japanese phrases will go a long way. Learn greetings, simple phrases for ordering food, and expressing gratitude. Locals will appreciate your effort to communicate in their language.
- Try the Local Cuisine: Japan is renowned for its delicious and diverse culinary offerings. Embrace the opportunity to try traditional dishes like sushi, ramen, tempura, and yakitori. Don’t miss the chance to savor A5 Wagyu beef, known for its exceptional marbling and melt-in-your-mouth texture. Explore local markets, street food stalls, and traditional restaurants to experience the rich flavors of Japanese cuisine.
- Take Advantage of Vending Machines: Japan is famous for its wide array of vending machines that offer everything from drinks and snacks to even hot meals. Conveniently located throughout cities and towns, vending machines are a quick and easy way to grab a refreshing beverage or try unique Japanese snacks. These were a life saver for me in regards to coffee!
- Purchase a Japan Rail Pass: If you plan to explore different regions in Japan, consider purchasing a Japan Rail Pass. This pass allows for unlimited travel on JR-operated trains, including the high-speed Shinkansen, providing convenience and cost savings for long-distance journeys. You can do so here.
- Train Etiquette: When traveling on trains, follow proper etiquette by keeping your voice low, avoiding phone calls, and refraining from eating or drinking, especially on crowded trains. Priority seating is typically offered to the elderly, pregnant women, and individuals with disabilities.
- Follow Proper Onsen Etiquette: If you visit traditional hot springs (onsen), be aware of the rules and etiquette. Before entering the bath, thoroughly wash your body, and do not wear any clothing or swimwear in the baths. Tattoos are generally not permitted, so check the onsen’s policy beforehand.
- Separate Your Trash: Japan has a strict recycling system, and it’s important to separate your trash according to the designated categories. Familiarize yourself with the different bins for burnable, non-burnable, recyclable, and compost waste. You also might have finding trash cans as they don’t really have them on the streets. Your best bet is to look for a convenience store. They usually have them.
- Be Punctual: Japan values punctuality, so make sure to arrive on time for scheduled activities, tours, and transportation. Trains and buses in Japan operate on precise schedules, so it’s advisable to plan your journeys accordingly to avoid delays. Basically don’t be that guy.
- Take Shoes Off in Certain Places: In many traditional establishments, temples, and private homes, you will be required to remove your shoes before entering. Look for shoe racks or slippers provided at the entrance, and follow the local custom of wearing indoor slippers or walking in socks.
- Temples and Shrines: When visiting temples and shrines, show respect by following the customs. Bow upon entering and exiting, avoid loud conversations or disruptive behavior, and be mindful of dress codes, such as covering your shoulders and knees.
- Cashmere Restrooms: Many public restrooms in Japan are equipped with high-tech features, such as heated seats and bidet functions. Familiarize yourself with the buttons or symbols before use.
Japan Travel Guide: Typical Costs
- Budget: Budget accommodations like hostels and capsule hotels range from $20 to $60 per night. You can find affordable dorm beds or small private rooms in popular cities like Tokyo or Osaka.
- Mid-Range: Mid-range hotels and guesthouses generally cost between $70 and $150 per night. This range typically includes comfortable rooms with private bathrooms and additional amenities.
- Luxury: Luxury hotels and ryokans (traditional inns) in Japan can range from $200 to $500+ per night. High-end accommodations offer spacious rooms, impeccable service, and luxurious facilities. Iconic luxury hotels in Tokyo or Kyoto often exceed $400 per night.
- Budget: Budget dining options, including local eateries and street food stalls, can cost between $5 and $10 per meal. You can enjoy tasty and filling dishes like ramen, sushi rolls, or bento boxes at affordable prices.
- Mid-Range: A meal at a mid-range restaurant or izakaya (Japanese pub) can cost between $10 and $30 per person. This range includes set meals, sushi restaurants, or casual dining establishments.
- Luxury: Fine dining at upscale restaurants or kaiseki (traditional multi-course) meals can cost $50-100+ per person. High-end dining experiences in Japan offer exquisite culinary craftsmanship and impeccable service.
- Public Transportation: Japan’s efficient public transportation system includes trains, subways, and buses. Fares vary depending on the distance and transportation type, ranging from $1.50 for short subway rides to $30+ for longer train journeys.
- Shinkansen (Bullet Train): Traveling on the Shinkansen is a convenient way to explore different regions. Prices vary depending on the distance, with fares ranging from $50 to $200 for one-way trips between major cities.
- Taxis: Taxis in Japan can be relatively expensive. Starting fares are around $6, with additional charges per kilometer. Short trips within cities may cost around $15, while longer distances can be significantly higher.
- Historical Sites and Temples: Admission fees for historical sites and temples range from $5 to $15. Popular attractions like Kyoto’s Kiyomizu-dera or Tokyo’s Senso-ji Temple often have free admission, but additional fees may apply for special exhibitions or areas.
- Museums: Museum entrance fees vary depending on the institution and special exhibits. On average, expect to pay between $10 and $20 for admission to major museums.
- Theme Parks: Tickets for theme parks like Tokyo Disneyland or Universal Studios Japan range from $70 to $100, depending on the season and type of ticket (e.g., single-day or multi-day pass).