Japan is known equally as a hard working, hi-tech country obsessed with miniaturising everything and as a land of ancient temples, martial arts and origami. Whichever definition appeals to you more, you will find plenty to satisfy you, from the bustling neon capital of Tokyo to the ancient temples and shrines of Kyoto. All set against spectacular natural scenery such as Mount Fiji and bubbling volcanic hot springs. On top of all this, the Japanese people are famous for being friendly and gracious hosts, especially to tourists who can expect a warm welcome to one of the most interesting countries in the Far-east.
- Currency: Japanese Yen. (¥)
- Time Zone: GMT + 9
- Language: Japanese
- Telephone Services: Country code +81, International access code 001
- Emergency Numbers: Tokyo English Life Line 3403 7106, Japan Helpline 0120 461 997
In general Japan benefits from a temperate climate with cool sunny winters and very hot summers. The most pleasant time to visit is the milder Autumn and Spring seasons. Rain can fall throughout the year but is not generally too heavy. Typhoons can occur during September or October but generally don't last for longer than a day. Okinawa has a sub-tropical climate and Hoikkaido boasts a climate similar to that of Washington with Siberian blasts blowing in during the winter providing great skiing spots. Winter can get very cold with temperatures as low as 2 degrees C and in the North temperatures can drop to below freezing.
Things to see and do
Unlike most cities, Tokyo is not a city littered with interesting or ancient architecture. Having been almost completely rebuilt after the heavy damage sustained during the Second World War the skyline is dominated by modern hi-rise skyscrapers. While in the suburbs some tradition clings on by its fingertips, certainly central Tokyo can be described as nothing short of a modern metropolis. Most visitors spend a lot of there time in the Ginza shopping district which contains boutiques, shops and galleries of all kinds. Its fashionable status does make Ginza somewhat expensive so unless you want to blow your whole trip's budget in one day it is best to take it easy here. Some of Japans finest museums and galleries are located around the Ueno-Koen park including the Tokyo National Museum and the National Science Museum.
After experiencing the new Japan in Tokyo there is no better place to discover a taste of old Japan than Kyoto. The city boasts literally hundreds of temples, shrines and gardens and was even the nations capital for over a thousand years. Although even here, modern buildings have started to encroach on the tiled roves and pebbled gardens of the temples there is still plenty left to see. There are a number of suberb temples including the Kinkaku-ji temple and the Sanjunsangen temple which houses 1001 statues of Kannon the Buddhist goddess of mercy. Also worth a look is the Imperial Palace in central Kyoto and the Himeji-jo Castle located just outside the city itself.
Those with a penchant for modern history often visit Nagasaki, the city decimated by the second nuclear bomb dropped on Japan during Worl War Two. The city has now been rebuilt as a prosperous example of Japanese urban life but its grisly past is recorded in the A-bomb museum situated at Urakami, the centre of the explosion. Also of interest in the city is the Fukusai-ji Zen Temple, Glover Garden and the Hypocentre Park which has a monument to mark the exact centre of the blast which decimated Nagaski.
When travelling in the mainland of Japan, it is dubious if the distances warrant air travel, however when travelling throughout the Islands it does become a viable possibility. Several airlines offer domestic flights throughout Japan and its islands including Japan Airlines, All Nippon Airlines and Japan Air Systems. Tickets can be bought from tour operators, or at the airports from both airline counters and automatic ticketing machines in the larger airports.
Japan Railways Group is the rail operator throughout Japan. The service is one of the best in the world with some of the most hi-tech trains in existence. Many travellers will be familiar with the famous "bullet trains" which reach speeds in excess of 300km/h, which serve the busiest lines on the Japanese network with some routes offering as many as six trains per hour. Other lines run limited express, express or local services, generally each type of train carries a different supplement with a further supplement being charged for travel in the first class "green" cars, seats on which must usually be reserved in advance. Tickets can be bought from stations, most commonly from automated vending machines. For some short distance, local trains, this is the only way to obtain a ticket.
A "Japan Rail Pass" is available, which is usually purchased through Japan Airlines or a tour operator which is only available to foreign tourists. This pass allows unlimited travel on Japan Rail trains, buses and ferries. Passes start from £150 for a 7 day pass and are without a doubt one of the most economical ways to get around in Japan.
Bus travel is highly developed in Japan, but in most cities has been superseded by the underground metro system for local travel, similarly the rail network has mostly replaced the inter-city bus network. Services do still exist in appreciable numbers but the fare system are confusing and almost always highly automated so for most travellers it is wisest to just stick to the train.
Taxis are plentiful but they can be veery expensive, especially at night but if you are travelling in a group and can share the cost they could be a good transport option.
Hotels in Japan are sub-divided between Western and Japanese style hotels. While the Western style hotels are much the same as those found in Western Europe the Japanese style ones are a unique experience. On arrival guests are given kimonos and rooms are decked out in traditional Japanese style complete with paper sliding doors and Japanese bathtubs. These Japanese style hotels are known as "ryokan and the Japan Ryokan Association can be contacted for more information. For general information on all kinds of hotels the Japan Hotel Association can provide further information.
There are over 400 youth hostels in Japan which are regulated by Japan Youth Hostels Inc. In general guests must be a member of the International Youth Hostel Association although guest passes can be obtained from Japan Youth Hostels Inc's headquarters in Tokyo or from some tour operators.
The provision of healthcare in Japan is excellent, easily on par with the standards of the US or western Europe. The International Association for Medical Assistance to Travellers will provide English speaking doctors where appropriate and all western medications are widely available. Treatment costs can be extremely high in Japan so it is essential that you have adequate insurance cover when planning a visit to Japan.
There are no special precautions or vaccination recommended before visiting Japan, food and drink is considered safe and normal everyday precautions should be observed when buying food from street traders.
The Japan National Tourist Organization is a source of tourist information for visitors to the country
Japan Youth Hostels Inc have information on youth hostels in Japan
The Japan Hotel Association maintains information on all kinds of hotels throughout Japan
The Japan Ryokan Association is the definitive resource on traditional ryokan style hotels
Japan Railways Group is the rail operator throughout Japan
Japan Airlines are Japans international Airline but also offer domestic flights
All Nippon Airlines are one of Japan's domestic airlines
Japan Air Systems are another of Japan's domestic airlines
Japan Visitor is a concise guide to Japan with information on tourism, hotels, flights and much more.
Price Check Tokyo Typical prices for everyday items.
Japan FAQ Very helpful info and great links
Japan Rail Fare Calculator The JR Pass is best, but not all lines are JR and this can really help.