Looking for important travel information while backpacking in Japan? Here you will find information on working in Japan, entry visas, Japan hostels, and much more.
Table of Contents
- Facts About Japan
- Things to do in Japan
- Entry Visa Requirements for Japan
- Work Permits and Backpacker Jobs in Japan
- Japan Hostels & Budget Accommodation
Facts About Japan
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
Climate in Japan and the best time to visit
When deciding the best time to visit Japan, weather plays a large role. 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 Hokkaido 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 do in Japan
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 superb 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.
Unique Activities in Japan
Another good way to get an idea of things to do in Japan is to scan the activities offered by Get Your Guide or Viator. They work directly with local tour operators, so you won’t have to scour the internet or roam around town trying to find the best deal.
If you know your schedule ahead of time, a great insider tip is to buy tickets for major tourist attractions ahead of time. Tiqets has entrance tickets and skip the line passes for major tourist spots in Japan, such as Kyoto, Osaka, and Tokyo so that you can avoid the lines and save that precious time for more exploring.
How to Travel Around Japan
If you’re flying to Japan or plan to take short flights within the country, we recommend using a few different flight comparison search engines. Kiwi is a new favourite among travellers. On average, we have found the cheapest flights to Japan with them compared to the other websites out there.
Of course, it is always worth checking Skyscanner to guarantee you’re getting the best deal. Both websites offer great flexible search options, allowing you to search the whole country of Japan to find the cheapest airport to fly into, and also see prices for a full month if you’re flexible on travel dates.
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 and All Nippon Airlines.
Train travel in Japan
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 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 is confusing and almost always highly automated so for most travellers it is wisest to just stick to the train.
Taxis in Japan
Taxis are plentiful but they can be very expensive, especially at night but if you are travelling in a group and can share the cost they could be a good transport option.
Backpacking Tours in Japan
Though part of the fun of backpacking Japan is exploring on your own, there are situations, especially when venturing off the tourist trail, when it does make sense to go with a guide or a small group. For these times, a popular option among backpackers is G Adventures. They hand-select local guides to ensure authenticity and quality. This is especially a good option for those travelling Japan alone who would like to meet up with like-minded travellers. Their most popular trips in Japan are their 6-day Japan on a Shoestring Tokyo to Kyoto tour, or their 11-day Epic Japan tour which is a great introduction to the country.
Health and Safety in Japan
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 are considered safe and normal everyday precautions should be observed when buying food from street traders.
Entry Visa Requirements for Japan
A valid passport and a return ticket are required by all visitors to Japan. Visas are not required by US or EU nationals for a stay of up to three months. Further visas and visas for other nationalities are issued at the local Japanese Embassy or Consulate and their exact validity and price varies widely with nationality.
Foreigner Work Permits and Backpacker Jobs in Japan
EU nationals are permitted to enter and stay in Japan for up to six months without needing a Visa. Initially, you are only allowed to stay for three months but after this time can contact the Immigration Department in Japan to apply for a three-month extension. If you intend to work in Japan you will need a work Visa for which a sponsor, for example, your employer, is needed. Before obtaining a work permit you will need to find a job.
Teaching English in Japan
Although the demand for English teachers is not as high as it used to be there are still opportunities for this type of work, mainly in cities such as Tokyo and Osaka. Vacancies are usually competitive so any experience and TEFL qualifications will always be to your advantage. English teachers are also typically required to have a degree, so employment in this field is not so easy to gain access to for pre-university gap year students.
Farm Work in Japan
WWOOF (World Wide Opportunities on Organic Farms) helps links volunteers with organic farmers in Japan. The organization has been around since the 70s and has long been a favourite of backpackers who want to experience a place for an extended period of time, while also being a part of the sustainable global community. Host farms offer room and board in exchange for help with daily tasks around the farm.
Volunteering in Japan
GAP Activity Projects in Japan
GAP arranges placements specifically designed for gap year students. One project in Japan focuses on care work in Cheshire Homes for the elderly, disabled, and people with Cerebral Palsy. Volunteers can also work in the Kobokan Community Care Centre in Tokyo where work is centred around the resident children, playing with them and accompanying them on camping activities.
Further work is available in hospitals on medical projects, for example, on the island of Tokunoshima you can work in a hospital or teaching in a school. Further teaching opportunities are available at a High School in Osaka. Accommodation is usually provided by GAP, this can vary depending on the placement but volunteers often live with host families or other volunteers and workers in houses or hostels near their place of work.
Volunteers with Concordia work in groups with children and communities in a number of countries throughout the world. Projects last for up to three weeks, in the summer months. All volunteers are supplied with food and accommodation and are required to pay a fee of ¥75 to register with Concordia.
Involvement Volunteers Association Inc. (IVI)
IVI runs various volunteer projects in Japan including on farms, in youth hostels, and in schools. Volunteers can work on a farm in Kyushu where they will help with farm work and looking after the children. Workers are needed in youth hostels to help the running of the kitchen, reception etc. and are provided with food and accommodation.
Youth hostel vacancies are available in Hirosaki, Hamasaka, and Abashiri where volunteers must speak Japanese. Alternatively, IVI have placements in a private nursery school and primary school in Osaka where volunteers assist with caring and educating the children. Again, food and accommodation are provided.
The Project Trust currently has two placements available to volunteers. The first is in Junten High School in Tokyo where volunteers work as assistants in English conversation classes. Furthermore, volunteers teach English to local workers, take Japanese lessons, and learn sign language.
Accommodation is provided in the community of Oji where the school is located. The second post is on the Toya Board of Education in Hokkaido. Work includes helping at local schools and with adult classes as well as assisting with work in a nearby hospital. The work here places volunteers right into the community and accommodation is again provided.
Japan Hostels & Budget Accommodation
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.
We have had good experiences finding hostels on HostelWorld. They have the largest inventory of hostels worldwide, and with over 10 million reviews and ratings from other travellers, you know exactly what to expect.
Another good way to find accommodation in Japan is by checking hotels.com and booking.com. With both sites, you’ll not only find hotels, but also homestays, hostels, and other unique accommodation. We have discovered some great finds and have appreciated the ability to book ahead. You can use their advanced filtering to narrow your results by budget, location score, overall review score, and amenities. Many of the places on booking.com also offer free cancellation, which takes the pressure off the planning phase of your trip.
Useful Links for Backpacking in Japan
- Kiwi and Skyscanner – Flight comparison search engines to find the cheapest flights to Japan and within the country
- GetYourGuide and Viator – a collection of local tours and things to do in Japan. Also offers Skip the Line tickets for crowded attractions
- Tiqets – Website selling entrance tickets and skip the line tickets for major tourist spots in Japan
- G Adventures – guided backpacking tours in Japan, great for solo travellers or for those interested in a more adventurous trip which would require a guide
- HostelWorld – #1 hostel search website to find budget accommodation in Japan. Thousands of hostels and millions of reviews from fellow travellers
- Booking.com – commonly used booking site in Japan. Hostels, hotels, and other unique accommodation with advanced filtering and millions of reviews
- Travel Insurance – read our comprehensive overview of Travel Insurance and some recommended providers for your backpacking trip to Japan
There you have it, the ultimate Japan backpacking guide. We hope you have found all the information you need for backpacking around Japan.
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