Japan travel guide, including map of Japan, key facts, travel tips for Japan, culture, things to do in Japan, accommodation, transport and weather in Japan
Many myths surround Japan. People often presume it is one of the world’s most expensive countries. In fact, it’s cheaper to travel in than much of North America and Western Europe and if you read our tips below, you should find some extra yen in your pocket.
Most of us have one of two set images when we think of Japan – a high tech superpower made up of overcrowded, noisy metropolises or an ancient land of peaceful Shinto shrines, Buddhist temples and gorgeously-attired Geisha. Actually Japan is all of these things and more than just its urban centres.
Thanks to its 20° of latitude, Japan has a rich variety of landscapes to please every hiker – from the snows and hot springs of Hokkaido to the tropical climes of Okinawa. And there are no more enthusiastic hikers than the Japanese themselves since reconnecting with nature is an important part of their Shinto traditions.
You can see lots of things in Japan without having to spend a single yen. Kyoto’s free Fureai-kan Museum of Traditional Crafts is a great introduction to Japanese art.
You don’t have to pay anything to enter the Senso-Ji and Shinto Meiji-jingu shrines in Tokyo. And then there’s Tokyo’s quirkiest free – be at Honda Welcome Plaza at 2:40pm to see Asimo, the world’s first humanoid robot put on his daily show.
Climate and weather in Japan: Avoid the summer months – especially July and August – when temperatures soar way into the 30s, with mind-sapping humidity. Winters are cold, with heavy snowfall in Hokkaido and down the country’s mountainous spine. Spring and autumn are ideal times to visit when temperatures are comfortably in the 20s.
Flora in Japan: Spring is the time to see Japan’s famous cherry blossom and Japan’s autumn foliage rivals that of New England.
Festivals in Japan: During the Gion Matsuri festival in July, Kyoto turns into a giant street parade. Also in July is the Festival of the Dead when lanterns are symbolically floated out on rivers, lakes and streams across the country.
Tokyo-Narita (NRT) 65km from the city, Osaka-Kansai (KIX) 50km from the city, Fukuoka (FUK) 7km from the city. Central Japan (NGO) 35 km from Nagoya.
There is an extensive network of domestic air services, which is useful for longer journeys, with fares on a par with rail services.
The myriad small islands are linked by ferries, with some serviced by flights.
The train is king in Japan, whether you’re whizzing at 300mph along one of the country’s six major express routes or slowly winding along a scenic rural line. Consider a Japan rail pass, which covers travel across the country and must be purchased before arriving in the country.
Long distance buses are a cheaper but slower option for inter-city travel. The Japanese drive on the left hand side of the road. Hire cars are good for localised travel but less so for long-distance as expressway tolls are steep and frequent.
Accommodation in Japan needn’t be expensive. For a full-on experience of Japanese culture, stay in a traditional ryokan (inn) complete with tatami¬¬¬-mat floors and sliding shoji screens for as little as £25.
Family-run minshuku (guesthouses) cost around the same price. A Western-style business hotel will set you back twice as much.
It’s not just raw fish. There’s plenty of tasty dishes made with the cooked variety too. While sushi and tempura (vegetables in batter) are now familiar to many Western palates, there are hundreds more local dishes that wont be.
Whether you splash out on a kaiseki – (a set course menu of up to 10 dishes) or stick to the cheap and cheerful ramen (noodles in broth) eateries, you’ll discover a subtle cuisine which emphasises textures and presentation over the strong flavours usually favoured in Asian cooking. Vegetarians, beware the ubiquity of fish stock in cooking.
To wash it all down, there’s sake (a potent rice wine) and a wide selection of excellent biiru (beers)
Tap water is drinkable everywhere in Japan. Crime levels are low and street crime is rare. Medical treatment is of a high quality but can be expensive; insurance is always recommended: www.wanderlustinsurance.co.uk.
From the tree-lined grandeur of Champs-Élysées to the Cajun charm of buzzing Bourbon Street, these iconic streets reflect the culture of their cities in a nutshell. How many have you walked along? More
Some of the world's finest travel photographers, including Richard I’Anson, Amos Chapple and Charlie Waite, pick the most rewarding places to focus their lenses on... More
It may be the smallest of Japan's main islands, but with breathtaking cycle routes, captivating artwork and a sacred pilgrimage trail, an island of adventure awaits in Shikoku... More
From skeleton parades and sugary skulls to homemade feasts and lavishly-decorated alters, here's everything you need to know about celebrating Día de los Muertos in Mexico... More
These wildlife encounters are best experienced when the temperatures drop: wrap up and head into the wild, white yonder – to encounter polar bears, wolves, and dancing cranes... More
From music played through ice-built instruments in Norway to ice sculptures of Angkor Wat in Japan, these fantastic festivals add fun and colour to cold winters around the world... More
Northeast of Japan is the mountain-boarded region of Tohoku. Be enchanted by blossom-carpeted parks, explore samurai castles, hike the pristine landscapes, ascend sacred mountains and much more... More
Immense in both scale and beauty, these paeans to the Buddhist faith make quite the impression, whether you’re a believer or not More
From remote village communities in the Northwest Territories, to colonies of penguins on the Falkland Islands, here's 12 cultural experiences and top wildlife spots in the frozen corners of the world... More
So you've had a go at skiing and snowboarding. Why stop there? From snowmobiling to Nordic skating and dog sledding, these 10 icy escapes will help you plan your next snow-filled adventure... More
Sit back, relax and enjoy the mountain views. Warm up this winter in these steamy hot springs in wild and stunning places around the world… More
From trekking in Nepal and safaris in Africa, to experiencing Japanese culture and chasing the northern lights in Sweden, these amazing family holidays are bound to give your kids a love of travel More
These pockets of arboreal wonder are guaranteed to take your breath away – and put you back in touch with the natural world More
If you’re a vegetarian heading to Japan, you won’t be going for the Kobe beef or sashimi. But the food can still be just as much a highlight, says author Lydia Ruffles. Here's how... More
From rock-hewn cities to Welsh castles; mountaintop temples to island prisons, we celebrate the UNESCO-listed wonders that make the world a more cultured place... More
It’s the greatest show on earth – when the forests of the northern hemisphere turn into a blaze of orange, red and yellow. Enjoy the most spectacular displays on these fabulous fall colour adventures More
Admire Canada's serene lakes from on board the classic Rocky Mountaineer, or spot wildlife along Zimbabwe's alternative safari tracks – take your pick from these wild and wonderful train experiences... More
If you're stuck for time – or thigh power – these iconic day hikes squeeze a week's worth of scenery into less than 24 hours... More
Looking to cool down in the heat? From Scarborough to Cuba, here's where to enjoy cooling and surprising ice cream experiences – and find the world's most unique flavours. Sweet, sweet relief! More
Cities are exciting and energising for solo travellers – but some can be daunting too. Author Stephanie Rosenbloom reveals her favourite cities to explore alone – where you'll always receive a warm welcome More
Wanderlust subscribers now receive a free £50 voucher valid on trips from a great selection of top tour operators
And the best bit is, this isn't a one-off offer, you get one every time you renew as well!
The £50 discount can be redeemed against one trip booking with one of our tour operator partners, by the expiry date printed on the voucher. The £50 can even be redeemed on top of any discounts our partners are already offering, ensuring Wanderlust subscribers get the best deal possible.
Simply quote your unique voucher code when booking to claim the discount. This offer is only available to Wanderlust subscribers.
UK subscribers automatically receive the voucher each year. Overseas subscribers receive it upon request.
A classic 14-night adventure introducing the traditional side of Japan, from Japanese-style inns to time-honoured cuisine and ancient temples.
Perfect for... Newlyweds looking for a balance of cultural stimulation and beach relaxation.
Perfect for... Families looking to immerse themselves in all things Japanese.
Offering an unconventional alternative to a mainland cultural tour, this classic island-hopping trip introduces Japan's subtropical gems.
Perfect for... Experiencing a different side of Japan on your romantic honeymoon, with luxury accommodation threaded with vibrant culture and stunning scenery.
Explore the main highlights of Shikoku, Japan's "hidden" island, including Tokushima, Matsuyama and the Iya Valley. Travel is by train, bus but preferable with hire car to see more of Shikoku's hin...
Stay overnight in a temple on top of Mt Koya, See Miyajima's floating torii gate, Visit the Demilitarized Zone between North and South Korea, Walk along the Great Wall of China, Explore Shanghai's ...
Sign up today for free and be the first to get notified of new articles, new competitions, new events and more!