Japan travel guide

Where to go and what to see in Japan

Why visit Japan?

Travel to a world of unprecedented variety and deeply-entrenched culture – Japan’s history and people date as far back as the 1st century AD; its spiritual history, friendly nature, unique cuisine, and its ancestrally influenced art are just a few of the qualities that make this country a phenomenal place to visit – to witness a truly time-honoured place unlike any other in the world.

With a blend of natural beauty and cosmopolitan cities Japan has something for everyone. Explore Mount Fuji and peaceful Japanese gardens. Traverse the rugged Japanese Alps and travel on a famed bullet train. Delve into Japan’s ancient history in Kyoto and go for a walk in Tokyo to witness the frenetic but pleasant vibe of this city. By the end of your journey you'll begin to realize the power of a culture that is hard-working, fun-loving, but deeply rooted in tradition and influenced by a peace that seems to be channelled by their ancestors. It is a true wonder.

 

Weather and climate in Japan

When is the best time to visit Japan?

Japan is an unforgettable destination at any time of the year, but there are two seasons in which it is particularly spectacular: during Cherry Blossom season (Sakura) in the spring and Maple Leaf season (Koyo) in the autumn. These seasons often sell out fast, as they are extremely popular.

 

Cherry Blossom season, March

Sakura is the spectacular natural phenomena of Japan’s cherry trees bursting into pink and white flowers across the country. It is a major cultural event dating back more than a thousand years, when people would hold Hanami (“flower-viewing”) parties underneath the trees with sake and feasts, and use the blossoms to divine the harvest for the year. Even today, it is so significant that there are official Sakura forecasts each year to predict where and when you will be able to celebrate Cherry Blossom Season in Japan. Always check before you travel, if you have this in mind.


Maple leaf season in Japan, from October

If you can’t get to Japan for Sakura, you have the option of the equally magnificent and colourful Koyo – maple leaf season. It’s a riot of pillarbox red that spills out across the country in its parks and woodlands. The art of finding the most stunning red leaves is known as Momijigari, and it’s a draw for tourists the world over. Again, check forecasts for your area before travel if you’re keen to see it.


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Weather in Japan

Japan’s rainy season lasts from the end of May until mid-June. Summers tend to be hot and humid, so the most popular seasons for travelling are the shoulder seasons in spring and autumn.

To help you plan, below are average low and high temperatures for Japan.

 

 

 Hiroshima

 Tokyo

 Kyoto

 January

 0/8°C

 -2/8°C

 0/8°C

 February

 1/9°C

 -1/9°C

 1/9°C

 March

 3/12°C

 2/12°C

 3/13°C

 April

 9/18°C

 8/17°C

 8/19°C

 May

 13/22°C

 12/22°C

 13/24°C

 June

 18/25°C

 17/24°C

 18/27°C

 July

 22/29°C

 21/28°C

 22/31°C

 August

 23/31°C

 22/30°C

 23/33°C

 September

 19/27°C

 19/26°C

 19/28°C

 October

 12/22°C

 13/21°C

 12/22°C

 November

 7/11°C

 6/16°C

 7/17°C

 December

 2/11°C

 1/11°C

 9/22°C

 

 

 


Japan food and fun facts

 

 

Food in Japan

Japanese cuisine is a mix of tradition and modern styles. Traditional foods are based on rice and miso soups, with a strong lean towards seasonal ingredients. Fresh fish, pickled veg and broths also feature heavily. Sushi is about as fresh as you can get, and artfully arranged by highly skilled chefs.

Here are some FAQs about food in Japan:

Do I have to use chopsticks?

While chopsticks are most frequently used, Japanese people do also use forks, knives and spoons so no-one will be surprised if you ask for them. If you’re using chopsticks, make sure you don’t use them to stab your food or leave them sticking up in your food when you’ve finished with them. It’s reminiscent of incense burning at funeral ceremonies – and therefore a no-no. You can eat sushi with your hands, although most Japanese people prefer to use chopsticks as it is considered more refined and feminine.

Is it true you should slurp your food in Japan?

When you’re eating a soup-based dish, it is custom to hold the bowl near to your mouth and use a combination of chopsticks and slurping to get the full sensory experience of your dinner. Take your cue from other diners when working out how loudly to slurp.

Is it polite to finish all your food in Japan?

Yes. Whereas in some countries it’s considered bad etiquette to finish a meal (as it implies your host has not given you enough), in Japan you can happily clean your plate.

Do Japanese people sit on the floor?

In traditional restaurants, the table is low and you’ll sit round it on cushions. Make sure you take your shoes off – the waiters will discretely shelve them for you.

Is the food spicy in Japan?

No – you don’t have to worry about eating overtly hot and spicy food. Japan’s food is thought of as pretty mild by its Asian neighbours.

Can I drink the tap water in Japan?

Yes. Japan’s water is usually good to drink and easy on the stomach – but do always check if you’re unsure.

Do you tip in Japan?

Absolutely not. Tipping is not common in Japan and many Japanese people are uncomfortable with being tipped. Wait staff, taxis and hotel personnel do not expect to be tipped. At times, a gratuity may be added to your bill, but no additional tips are necessary.

How much do meals cost in Japan?

Here are some guidelines (which may vary) to help you plan your budget:

  • The approximate cost of a soft drink/mineral water/coffee is ¥500-600 in a hotel or as little as ¥100 outside.
  • An average lunch consisting of a salad or sandwich and a soda or water will cost approximately ¥1,000-1,800 inside a hotel and ¥500 outside.
  • Dinner at a mid-range restaurant, with dessert and a non-alcoholic beverage will cost approximately ¥3,500-4,500.

 

Fun facts

  • Japan is 70% mountains.
  • Japanese food is considered the most nutritious in the world.
  • The crime rate in Japan is among the lowest in the world.
  • Vending machines in Japan sell beer, hot and cold cans of coffee, cigarettes, and other items.
  • Japan has an almost 100% literacy rate.

Shopping in Japan

What should I buy in Japan?

Resist the urge to buy a maneki-neko (Japanese ‘beckoning cat’)  - you can get them in a Chinatown anywhere on the planet. Pick something that you can still only get in Japan:

Japanese whisky and sake

In the last ten years, Japan has cemented a reputation for creating world-class whiskys: Yamazaki was the first, and is one of the pre-eminent brands. You can get a few brnads in Western Europe, but this is the place to sample and buy some more unusual expressions. While you're there, try a little sake (rice wine) – it makes a lovely and authentic souvenir.

Omamori charms

If you’re familiar with Marie Kondo and her Shinto-based approach to minimalism, do check out a Shinto shrine or two while in Japan. Ironically, you can buy yourself a good luck amulet while you’re there – although do check first that it brings you joy.

Matcha tea

Don’t be put off by its brightness: matcha powder is simply ground-down tea leaves, which Japan has been cultivating for centuries. Get yourself some of the best to take home with you.

Hybrid fashion

There’s no doubt that kimonos steal the spotlight, but there is a danger you’ll only wear it once or twice a year. So why not do as the Japanese do and pick up some hybrid pieces? Try a haori – a waist-long kimono that can be worn over trousers – or a hanten, the male equivalent.

 

Things to consider before visiting Japan

Visas and passports

Do I need a visa to travel to Japan from the UK?

At the moment, UK citizens do not need a visa to travel to Japan unless they plan to stay for more than 90 days. If you hold a passport from another country, check with your local consulate about requirements for travel to Japan.

All passengers travelling internationally are required to have a passport. Most countries require that the passport be valid for at least six (6) months beyond the conclusion of your trip, so please check the expiration date carefully. It is also recommended you have a minimum of three blank pages in your passport when traveling, as many countries require blank pages. Please carry proper identification (your passport) on you and do not leave it in your suitcase or hotel room. Most countries have laws that require you to carry your passport with you at all times.

You are responsible for obtaining and paying for all entry documents (visas, etc.) and for meeting all health requirements (inoculations, etc.) as required by the laws, regulations, or orders of the countries you will visit. We cannot accept liability if you are refused entry onto any transport or into any country for failure to carry correct documentation.

 

Country codes

The country code for Japan is 81. When calling to Japan from overseas, dial your international access code (00 from the UK), followed by the country code, area code, and phone number. Phone numbers in Japan are 9 digits in length. Dialling from the UK: 00 81## ### ####.

Currency

In Japan the local currency is the Japanese Yen.

Banknote denominations: ¥1,000, ¥2,000, ¥5,000, ¥10,000

Coin denominations: ¥1, ¥5, ¥10, ¥50, ¥100, ¥500

As a general guideline, bring a variety of payment means, particularly in the event that you have difficulties with your preferred method of payment.

Cash

For initial convenience we recommend you bring some Yen with you from home in case you are not able to immediately access a money exchange or ATM. Keep a supply of smaller denomination notes or coins for water or tips.

ATMs are a convenient way to obtain money in Japan but not all ATMs accept foreign bank cards. To find an ATM that accepts international bank cards, look for a post office or 7-11 convenience store.

Credit Cards

Credit cards are accepted in Japan, though not widely popular outside of hotels. Visa and MasterCard are most accepted. Smaller shops may ask you to pay in cash or have a minimum amount required to use a credit card. If you use a credit card for your purchase, you will be debited in the local currency, and your bank will establish the rate of exchange on the debit.

Traveller's cheques

Although a secure means of carrying money, traveller's cheques unfortunately are becoming very hard to use. Due to this we recommend you plan on using cash and credit cards only.

Bank hours

Monday - Friday: 9am - 3pm
Saturday - Sunday: Closed


Useful phrases in Japanese

Good morning/day: Ohayou-Gozaimasu/Kon-nichiwa

Good evening: Kon ban wa Hi

Please: Onegai Shimasu

Thank you: Arigatou Gozaimasu

You're welcome: Dou itashi mashite

Yes: Hai

No: Iie

Do you speak English? Eigo wo hanase masuka?

I don't understand: Wakari masen

How much? Ikura desuka?

Where is...? Doko desuka...?

Telephone: Denwa

Bathroom: Ote arai

Tea: Ocha

Coffee: Kohi

Bottled water: Botoru no mizu (carbonated=tansansui, non-carbonated=futsuu no mizu)

Cheers! Ogenkide!

Have a nice day! Yoi hi wo!

Numbers

1: Ihi

2: Ni

3: San

4: Shi

5:Go

6:Roku

7: Nana

8: Hachi

9: Kyu

10: Juu


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