Japan Travel Guide
Japan, an archipelago of resplendent beauty and ancient tradition, stands as a testament to the harmonious blend of the old and the new. From the towering peaks of its majestic mountains and the deep tranquility of its ancient forests to the bustling energy of its ultra-modern cities, Japan offers a travel experience like no other.
Whether you are seeking adventure in its wild landscapes, serenity in its Zen gardens, or the warmth of its rich culture and history, you will find it all enveloped in the unique spirit of hospitality and meticulous attention to detail that Japan is renowned for.
As you embark on this journey through the Land of the Rising Sun, prepare to be captivated by its stunning natural scenery, enchanted by its cultural heritage, and fascinated by its delicate balance of tradition and innovation.
Capital city: Tokyo
Currency: Japanese Yen – 1 USD = 150 JPY.
Electricity: Power voltage is 100 Volts. Power sockets type A and B.
Languages: More than 99% of the population speaks Japanese.
11 Handpicked Highlights of Japan
Climbing Mt. Fuji
Standing tall at 3,776 meters, Mt. Fuji is Japan’s highest mountain and an iconic symbol of the country. Climbing this dormant volcano is a rite of passage for many, offering a challenging ascent and breathtaking panoramic views from the summit.
The climbing season is short, typically from early July to mid-September, when the weather is mild, and the snow has melted. Climbers can expect to witness a stunning sunrise, known as “Goraiko,” an experience that holds spiritual significance and is said to purify the soul.
The ascent also provides a unique opportunity to engage with Japanese culture, as pilgrims and adventure-seekers alike make the climb, showcasing the mountain’s deep cultural and spiritual connection to the people of Japan.
Also known as Gunkanjima or Battleship Island, Hashima Island is an abandoned island lying off the coast of Nagasaki. Once a thriving coal mining facility, the island is now a haunting relic of Japan’s industrial past, with deserted buildings and crumbling structures. Visitors can take guided tours to explore this eerie, yet fascinating island, learning about its history and the lives of the people who once called it home.
The island’s unique appearance has even caught the attention of filmmakers, serving as a location in the James Bond film “Skyfall.” Despite its abandonment, Hashima Island offers a unique glimpse into a bygone era, making it a must-visit for history enthusiasts and those looking for an off-the-beaten-path adventure.
Jigokudani Monkey Park
The Japanese macaques, also known as snow monkeys, are a highlight for wildlife enthusiasts visiting Japan. These monkeys are famous for their habit of bathing in the hot springs during the winter months to stay warm. The Jigokudani Monkey Park in Nagano prefecture provides a unique opportunity to observe these animals up close as they relax in the natural hot springs, surrounded by snowy landscapes.
The sight of these monkeys enjoying a leisurely soak, with steam rising around them and snow gently falling, is both charming and surreal, providing ample opportunities for photography and a truly unique wildlife experience.
The Historic City of Kyoto
Kyoto, once the imperial capital of Japan, is a city steeped in history and tradition. It is home to an impressive 17 UNESCO World Heritage Sites, including the famous Kinkaku-ji (Golden Pavilion) and Fushimi Inari Taisha with its thousands of vermillion torii gates. The city provides a captivating journey back in time with its well-preserved temples, traditional wooden houses, and the geisha district of Gion.
Spring is especially magical with cherry blossoms in full bloom, creating a picturesque scene. Kyoto is not just a treat for the eyes; it’s also the heart of Japanese high culture, offering visitors a chance to experience tea ceremonies, kimono fittings, and traditional kaiseki dining.
The Island of Miyajima
Miyajima, also known as Itsukushima, is a scenic island located in Hiroshima Bay. Famous for its “floating” torii gate of Itsukushima Shrine, the island offers stunning views, especially during high tide when the gate appears to be standing in the water. The island itself is a lush, mountainous area, perfect for hiking and exploring.
Visitors can take a cable car up to Mount Misen for panoramic views of the Seto Inland Sea. The island also has free-roaming deer, adding to its charming atmosphere. A visit to Miyajima is a peaceful retreat and a chance to experience the beauty of Japan’s natural landscapes and spiritual heritage.
Akihabara: Tokyo’s Electric Town
Akihabara, also known as Akihabara Electric Town, is Tokyo’s bustling district famed for its electronics shops, anime and manga stores, and vibrant pop culture. A paradise for tech enthusiasts and anime fans, the district is filled with stores selling the latest gadgets, collectibles, and video games.
The area also offers a plethora of themed cafés, such as maid cafés and anime cafés, providing unique and quirky experiences. A visit to Akihabara is a plunge into the heart of Japan’s contemporary culture, showcasing the country’s innovation, creativity, and love for the whimsical.
The Arashiyama Bamboo Grove in Kyoto
The Arashiyama Bamboo Grove is one of Kyoto’s most iconic and photographed sights. Walking through the towering bamboo stalks, visitors are enveloped in a serene and otherworldly atmosphere, with light filtering through the dense grove. The experience is both enchanting and calming, offering a unique moment of connection with nature.
The surrounding area of Arashiyama also has much to offer, including the picturesque Togetsukyo Bridge and the Iwatayama Monkey Park. Visiting the bamboo grove and exploring Arashiyama provides a refreshing escape and a chance to experience the subtle beauty of Japan’s landscapes.
The Ancient Forests of Yakushima Island
Yakushima Island, a UNESCO World Heritage Site, is renowned for its ancient cedar forests, some of which are over 1,000 years old. The island offers stunning hiking trails, leading visitors through lush forests, past cascading waterfalls, and up misty mountains. The most famous tree on the island, Jomon Sugi, is estimated to be between 2,170 and 7,200 years old.
Visiting Yakushima is a journey into the heart of nature, providing a profound sense of awe and reverence for the ancient world. The island’s unique ecosystem and majestic landscapes make it a haven for nature lovers and hikers.
Kirishima-Kinkowan National Park
Located in the southern part of Kyushu, Kirishima-Kinkowan National Park is a breathtaking expanse of mountainous terrain, active volcanoes, and lush forests. The park is renowned for its scenic hiking trails that lead adventurers through a variety of landscapes, from craggy volcanic peaks to serene lakes and hot springs.
The area is steeped in mythology, believed to be the landing place of the gods when they first descended to Earth. Visitors can explore the stunning Takachiho Gorge, marvel at the active Sakurajima volcano, and rejuvenate in the many onsens (hot springs) that dot the region.
A visit to Kirishima-Kinkowan National Park offers a unique blend of natural beauty, adventure, and relaxation, providing a deep connection to the ancient forces that have shaped Japan’s landscapes.
Nikko National Park
Nikko National Park, just a few hours north of Tokyo, is a haven of natural beauty and historical significance. The park is home to the ornate Toshogu Shrine, the final resting place of Tokugawa Ieyasu, founder of the Tokugawa shogunate. Visitors can explore ancient shrines and temples set against a backdrop of stunning mountains, lakes, and waterfalls.
The Kegon Falls, Chuzenji Lake, and Senjogahara Plateau offer breathtaking scenery, with opportunities for hiking, boating, and enjoying the park’s natural splendor. Nikko National Park is a testament to Japan’s ability to preserve its cultural heritage amidst its stunning natural landscapes, offering visitors a rich variety of history, spirituality, and natural beauty.
Nara Park and Its Friendly Deer
Nara Park, located in the city of Nara, is famous for its hundreds of freely roaming deer, considered in Shinto to be messengers of the gods. Visitors can interact with the deer, feed them with special crackers, and enjoy the park’s natural beauty.
The park also houses impressive historical sites such as Todai-ji Temple, housing a giant Buddha statue, and Kasuga Taisha Shrine with its lantern-lined paths.
Visiting Nara Park provides a unique and delightful experience, blending wildlife, nature, and cultural heritage. The friendly deer, historic sites, and serene landscapes make it a must-visit destination in Japan.
Japan's Geography & Landscapes
Japan, an archipelago comprising four main islands—Honshu, Hokkaido, Kyushu, and Shikoku—and numerous smaller islands, boasts a diverse range of landscapes and geographical features. The country’s terrain is predominantly mountainous, with sprawling plains, dense forests, and stunning coastlines.
- Honshu: The largest island in Japan, hosting the majority of the population and major cities including Tokyo, Kyoto, and Osaka. Its diverse landscape features the Japanese Alps, divided into Northern, Central, and Southern Alps, each offering stunning scenery and challenging hiking trails.
- Hokkaido: Known for its severe winters and unspoiled wilderness. Hokkaido’s landscapes are a mix of volcanic mountains, calming hot springs, and vast lavender fields.
- Kyushu: Home to numerous active volcanoes, lush forests, and unique geological formations. Kyushu is also famous for its hot springs, particularly in Beppu and Ibusuki.
- Shikoku: The smallest of Japan’s main islands, famous for its 88-temple pilgrimage route and the scenic Iya Valley. Shikoku offers a tranquil retreat from the more bustling parts of Japan.
- Okinawa and other smaller islands: Known for their subtropical climate, unique Ryukyuan culture, and pristine beaches, these islands offer a completely different experience compared to mainland Japan.
Best Time To Go To Japan
Japan’s climate varies significantly from north to south, providing visitors with a wide range of experiences depending on the time of year.
- Spring (March to May): Renowned for its cherry blossoms, spring is one of the most popular times to visit Japan. The weather is warm but not too hot, and the parks and temples are adorned with blooming flowers.
- Summer (June to August): Characterized by hot and humid weather. June is the rainy season for most of Japan, while July and August are better for visiting Hokkaido or the Japanese Alps.
- Autumn (September to November): Offers pleasant temperatures and stunning autumn foliage. September is typhoon season in some parts of Japan, but October and November provide comfortable weather and beautiful landscapes.
- Winter (December to February): Perfect for winter sports in Hokkaido or the Japanese Alps. Coastal areas remain relatively mild, but winter in Japan can be quite cold, especially in the north.
The best time to visit depends on your preferences and planned activities. For temperate weather and natural beauty, spring and autumn are the most recommended times to visit.
Winter provides excellent opportunities for skiing and snowboarding, while summer offers a chance to enjoy festivals and explore the country’s northern regions.
Traveling in Japan
Japan is renowned for its safety, with low crime rates and a generally secure environment. However, like any travel destination, it’s essential to take precautions and stay informed.
- Keep Valuables Secure: Though theft is rare, it’s always a good idea to keep your belongings secure and be mindful of your possessions, especially in crowded areas.
- Be Cautious of Natural Disasters: Japan is prone to earthquakes, typhoons, and tsunamis. Familiarize yourself with safety procedures and pay attention to local warnings and advisories.
- Crossing Streets Safely: Always obey traffic signals and use pedestrian crossings, as traffic can be heavy, especially in urban areas.
- Stay Hydrated: Summers in Japan can be extremely humid. Drink plenty of water and take breaks when exploring.
- Mind the Wildlife: If you’re venturing into rural areas or national parks, be aware of the wildlife and keep a safe distance.
- Respect Local Customs and Laws: Understanding and respecting local customs and laws is crucial. This includes adhering to smoking bans in certain outdoor areas and following etiquette in temples and shrines.
- Emergency Numbers: Know the emergency numbers. For ambulance and fire, dial 119. For police, dial 110.
- Stay Informed: Keep up to date with local news and advisories, especially regarding weather conditions or any travel disruptions.
- Avoid Overcrowded Places: If possible, try to avoid overcrowded places to reduce the risk of accidents and ensure a more comfortable experience.
- Know Your Consulate Location: Know the location and contact information of your country’s embassy or consulate in Japan.
Getting to & Around Japan
Japan boasts an extensive and efficient public transportation network, providing numerous options for travelers.
- Airports: Major international airports include Narita and Haneda in Tokyo, Kansai International Airport in Osaka, and Chubu Centrair in Nagoya. Japan Airlines and All Nippon Airways are the main domestic carriers.
- Trains: The Shinkansen (bullet train) is a fast and convenient way to travel between major cities. Japan Rail Pass can be a cost-effective option for tourists planning extensive rail travel.
- Buses: Long-distance and local buses are available, offering an economical way to travel, especially to areas less accessible by train.
- Subways and Local Trains: Urban areas have extensive subway and train networks. The Suica or Pasmo prepaid cards can be used for seamless travel across different lines.
- Ferries: For travel to and between Japan’s numerous islands, ferries are a viable option.
- Rental Cars: Available for those who prefer to drive, though it’s less common due to the convenience of public transportation.
- Cycling: Some areas, especially rural regions and small towns, are great for exploring by bicycle.
Japan offers a wide range of accommodation options to suit every budget and preference.
From luxurious hotels in major cities to traditional ryokans (inns) that offer a taste of Japanese hospitality, there’s something for everyone. Prices vary significantly depending on the location, type of accommodation, and time of year.
Capsule hotels provide a unique and budget-friendly option, while vacation rentals are becoming increasingly popular. Regardless of where you stay, you can expect a high level of cleanliness and service. It’s advisable to book accommodation in advance, especially during peak travel seasons.