Five Things First Time Travellers To Japan Should Know
- Personal space is limited in public spaces. If you’re catching the train, especially during rush hour, expect things to be packed. If you do get shoved in the bustle, shrug it off and take the city’s quirks in your stride.
- Blowing your nose in public is considered a social faux pas. If you have a runny nose, excuse yourself and find somewhere private to avoid offending the locals.
- Tipping is not customary in Japan. If you did find the service exceptional, rather give the server a small present or discreetly give them some money in an envelope.
- If you're visiting someone's home or a ryokan, it's customary to change into slippers. You might find this tradition practised at museums, art galleries and even restaurants. There are also special toilet slippers kept outside bathrooms that you'll have to change into as well.
- Smoking is banned in most public spaces. Avoid having a cigarette while onboard public transport, in restaurants or at the cinema. Cities around Japan like Tokyo and Kyoto also have strict rules for smoking in the street. Before lighting up your cigarette, look for a designated area to avoid fines of JPY 2000 or more.
Best Time To Visit Japan
Japan's average temperatures and weather patterns vary across the country's different regions. As a result, the best time to visit depends on where you want to go and what you want to do.
The most popular time of year to visit Japan is during springtime. Despite the frequent showers, tourists flock from near and far to marvel at the blooming cherry blossoms. The best time to see this natural event is in the last week of March for Tokyo or Kyoto. But if you're travelling to the cooler regions like Sapporo, you can catch the blossoms in the first week of May. As it is one of the busiest times in Japan, plan your trip a few months in advance to lock in better prices.
For travellers wanting to escape the crowds or save money, head to Japan during autumn or winter. You'll be able to explore the country's famous sites with fewer tourists and find lower prices than the peak summer months. The cooler weather also means you can experience Japan's famous Takayama Festival, held in October.
If you're planning on visiting Mount Fuji in Hakone, the best time to visit is from October to February. The colder weather means you'll have a higher chance of visibility and little rain. Plus you can plan your visit around the cherry blossoms to get an iconic photo of the two together.
Another important factor to keep in mind when planning a trip to Japan is the national holidays. During the days around Obon, New Year and the "Golden Week", last minute accommodation is impossible to find. If you're around during any of these holidays, book your transport, flights and public transportation well in advance to avoid disappointment.
The city of Kyoto attracts more than 10 million visitors each year. Spared from the devastation of WWII, little has changed in this ancient city in the past 1,000 years. Once the imperial capital of Japan, the "City of 10,000 Shrines" boasts more temples than anywhere else in the country. It's the perfect destination for travellers who want to immerse themselves in the Japanese culture and marvel at Kyoto's architectural wonders. Some of the city's top sites include the 14th-century Golden Pavilion, Nijo Castle, the Kyoto Imperial Palace and the Arashiyama Bamboo Grove.
Tokyo is the capital city of Japan and holds the title as the world's most populous metropolis. It's a city that's constantly on the move, and it's impossible to be bored. With an almost unlimited choice of things to do and see, your itinerary in Tokyo will never be dull. It has more Michelin stars than any other city, the world's tallest tower and a wild nightlife scene to keep you entertained into the wee hours of the morning.
Once known as Naniwa, Osaka was Japan's first-ever capital city. Today, it's the second largest city in Japan and one of the hottest foodie destinations. Known as the "Nation's Kitchen", it's one of the best places in the country to take a cooking class. Learn how to craft iconic Japanese dishes such as miso soup or delicious comfort food like pork on rice. Once you're done eating your fill, there's plenty of other things to do in the area. Visit the famous Osaka Castle, go to the Sumiyoshi-Taisha Shrine or take a cruise on the Osaka River.
Nara is an incredible destination for travellers interested in Japan's ancient history. The city is filled with historic buildings, 8 UNESCO World Heritage Sites, national treasures and exceptional pieces of art. The best part about Nara is that most of its monasteries and shrines are close together, making it easy to explore this ancient city on foot. Make sure you visit the Seven Great Temples of Nara, the 8th-century Todaiji Temple, and the world’s largest wooden building, home to Japan’s largest Buddha.
Once a place of tragedy, Hiroshima is now a centre for global peace. If you want to learn more about the Japan's involvement in WWII, head to the Hiroshima Peace Memorial Museum. It's locked in Peace Park, across from the sight of the A-Bomb Dome. Besides its sobering history, the city is famous for its local speciality, okonomiyaki. And you'll be only a short ferry ride away from the Island Shrine of Itsukushima.
Top Attractions in Japan
Standing at 3,776 metres, Mount Fuji is the highest peak in Japan. It's so tall that the active volcano can be seen in Tokyo more than 100 kilometres away. Situated inside Fuji-Hakone-Izu National Park, it's one of the country's most popular attractions with over a million people climbing the mountain each year. Its near perfect symmetrical cone has inspired Japanese artists and writers for centuries. In 2013, it was officially recognised by UNESCO as a sacred place and source of artistic inspiration. Whether you choose to attempt the three to eight-hour ascent or admire it from below, Mount Fuji is a sight that deserves a spot on any Japan itinerary.
Osaka Castle Park
In 1586, Toyotomi Hideyoshi, a famous warrior and politician, built the Osaka Castle. During its heyday, it was the most important fortress in the country and played a huge role in unifying Japan. Today, it attracts history buffs from all over who want to marvel at its architectural design and learn more about Japan's past. Besides the castle, there are other important sights to see inside the park. The Japanese government has designated 13 structures as important cultural assets such as the Ote-mon Gate and Kin Meisui Well. You can also visit the Hokoku Shrine or spend some time wandering around the lush urban oasis of the Nishinomaru garden.
Tokyo Imperial Palace
Tokyo's most famous landmark is the Imperial Palace. Surrounded by traditional 17th-century Japanese gardens, it's the official residence of the Imperial family. Don't give this place a skip because the majority of the palace is closed off to the public. There is plenty to see here by strolling through the castle grounds. Visit the Nijubashi Bridge, famous for its watery reflection or spend an afternoon in the East Higashi-Gyoen Garden. It's one of the few areas open to the public and covers an area of 210,000 square metres. If you're dying to see more of the palace, plan your visit around the 2nd of January or 23rd of December. During these two occasions, you'll be allowed to enter the inner palace grounds and even catch a glimpse of the Imperial Family.
The Island Shrine of Itsukushima
Dating back to the eighth century, a visit to the UNESCO Itsukushima Shrine is a must if you find yourself near Hiroshima. Located just off the mainland, the island is famous around the world for its Great Floating Gate. During high tide, the Shinto temples dedicated to the daughters of Susanoo, the wind god, give off the illusion of floating on water. Visitors from all over flock to the island to witness this architectural wonder, but it's not all the island offers. Before leaving, explore the grounds home to wild deer and stay for the traditional dances held on the shrine's stage.
Jigokudani Monkey Park
Jigokudani, commonly known as Hell's Valley is surrounded by freezing forests, cliffs and bubbling hot springs. But besides its natural beauty, the park is well-known for its population of wild Snow Monkeys. During the winter, the Japanese macaque monkeys descend from the forests to spend the day bathing in the warm hot springs. While the park is open all year round, the best time to visit the monkeys is from January to February when the area is covered in snow. But with temperatures dropping as low as -15°C during these winter months, make sure you pack enough warm clothes for your visit.
Major International Airports in Japan
- Haneda Airport
- Narita International Airport
- Kansai International Airport
- Fukuoka Airport
- Central Japan Airport