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.


Wanderlust recommends

  1. Marvel at the spectacle of the morning tuna auction at Tokyo’s Tsukiji fish market
  2. Join in Japan’s spring party with our guide to cherry-blossom spotting
  3. Hike round Honshu and stay over in temples with Japanese pilgrims
  4. Experience snowy mountains and hot springs in Hokkaido – the most northerly of Japan’s four main islands
  5. Go to a traditional Kabuki theatre and see a one-act show with an optional English language commentary
  6. Take a culinary tour of Japan from tropical jungles to lunar landscapes - discover Japan’s smaller, lesser known islands.

Wanderlust tips

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.

Further Reading

Travel in Japan: vital statistics

  • Capital of Japan: Tokyo
  • Population of Japan: 127 million
  • Languages in Japan: Japanese
  • Time in Japan: GMT+9
  • International dialling code in Japan: +81
  • Voltage in Japan: 100AC 50 Hz
  • Visas for Japan: Not required by UK nationals. Find out more about Japanese visas here.
  • Money in Japan: Yen (JPY). Do not assume because Japan is highly modernised that you can pay by card everywhere – many shops only take cash. Many ATMs don’t except foreign cards. Look out for Japanese postal ATMs – these do. Traveller’s cheques are accepted at most banks. Tipping is little practised in Japan. If you do wish to tip (room attendants in hotels, for instance) put the money in an envelope first.
  • Japan travel advice: Foreign and Commonwealth Office
  • Japan tourist board: Japan tourism organistion

When to go to Japan

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.

International airports

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.

Getting around in Japan

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.

Japan accommodation

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.

Japan food & drink

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)

Health & safety in Japan

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.

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