Japan Holiday Planning Guide
Part of a volcanic archipelago that encompasses over 6,800 islands, Japan remains one of Asia's most fascinating tourist destinations, where a blend of modernity and tradition creates a look and feel completely different from any other place in the world. A tour of Japan lets you discover big cities filled with ancient temples and innovative skyscrapers, as well as quiet country landscapes dotted with castles, perfectly manicured gardens, cherry orchards, and primeval forests seemingly untouched by the hand of mass tourism. Many tourists on vacation in Japan devote lots of time to the country's unique cuisine, prepared with painstaking attention to detail and a genius for simple yet effective presentation.
Places to Visit in Japan
Regions of JapanKyushu-Okinawa
: Whether you're touring the onsens of volcanic Kyushu or island hopping in Okinawa, there's plenty of attractions here for both the adventurous and those looking for relaxation.Kanto
: Home to the country's sprawling capital city, this region houses an abundance of natural and cultural Japan attractions.Shikoku
: Often overlooked by travelers planning a tour of Japan, this verdant island is dotted with castles and temples, as well as scenic nature trails.Kinki
: Housing some of the country's largest cities, including heritage-rich Kyoto, this area provides endless opportunities for sightseeing in JapanHokkaido
: With its pristine scenery and snowy mountain slopes, this northernmost Japanese island attracts nature lovers and winter sports enthusiasts.Chugoku
: Historic temples, the bustling city of Hiroshima, and the tranquil Sea of Japan coast await your exploration in Chugoku.Chubu
: Situated in the heart of Honshu, Chubu boasts snow-capped mountain peaks, hot spring spas, and pristine nature, all dominated by the majestic Mount Fuji.
Cities in JapanOsaka
: A bustling economic hub, Osaka features a concrete skyline and a number of historic sights, as well as a booming culinary scene.Kyoto
: The former Japanese capital lets you step back in time as you tour its temples, shrines, traditional shops, and quaint restaurants.Tokyo
: The staple of any Japan tours, Tokyo is a blend of the traditional and the modern, boasting numerous historic, cultural, and leisure attractions.Nagoya
: Known as an industrial hub, Nagoya suffered greatly during the 1945 air raids; despite this, the city retained its heritage, evident in its museums and temples.Sapporo
: Beer, noodle dishes, and ski slopes await in Sapporo, a bustling city known for its wildly popular annual festivals--great additions to any Japan itinerary.Hiroshima
: Unfortunately known for the atomic bombing of 1945, Hiroshima inspires hope as a city risen from the ashes of war--today, it enjoys the status of a prosperous commercial hub.
Popular Japan Tourist AttractionsFushimi Inari Taisha
: Known for its thousands of brightly painted torii gates, this Shinto shrine guards scenic forest trails dotted with statues of foxes, Inari's messengers.Universal Studios Japan
: This popular amusement park, part of the Universal Studios chain, boasts a plethora of themed rides, shops, and restaurants--great for a family-oriented Japan holiday.Kinkaku-ji
: Overlooking a pond and surrounded by lush gardens, this gold-adorned Zen temple, rebuilt in 1950, exhibits the lavish lifestyle of its 14th-century founder.Tokyo Tower
: A Tokyo landmark, the tower is equipped with two observation decks, providing panoramic and bird's'-eye views of the city.Kiyomizu-dera
: Known for its waterfall and panoramic views of Kyoto, the 17th-century Buddhist temple is a World Heritage Site.Dotonbori
: Osaka's entertainment hub and a major tourist attraction in Japan, this busy street is known for its many theaters, along with endless shopping and dining opportunities.Tokyo Skytree
: The tower, emblematic of Tokyo's skyline, offers expansive views of the city and its surroundings from a 450 m (1,476 ft) high observation deck.Sensō-ji
: A lively shopping street leads to Senso-ji, one of Tokyo's most visited temples, renowned for its statuesque pagoda and host of many festivals and celebrations.Tokyo Disneyland
: The Japanese counterpart to Disney World offers hours of fun-filled rides, performances, and other attractions based on the animated children's classics, making it one of the most visited attractions in Japan.Meiji Jingu
: Situated in a tranquil green area of busy Shibuya, this popular temple, built in the early 20th century, boasts a pleasant garden and many forest trails.
Planning a Japan Vacation with Kids
Places to Visit in Japan with Kids
Although the country's busy, sprawling cities can be a hassle to traverse with children, Japan is known as safe and boasts an abundance of kid-friendly attractions.
Japanese cities, from Tokyo
provide plenty of amusement parks, theaters, arcades, and interesting museums to keep children entertained.
On a family tour of Japan, you can head to the islands of Kyushu-Okinawa
for aquatic activities and fun in the sun.
Alternatively, you can take in the historic sights of Kyoto
and the rest of the Kinki
region, or enjoy a ski trip on the slopes of Sapporo
Things to Do in Japan with Kids
With plenty of child-friendly attractions available, you'll easily plan a Japan itinerary to keep the kids entertained. Tokyo Disneyland
remains the most popular Japan attraction for kids, with Universal Studios Japan
following close behind.
Interesting museums, such as National Museum of Emerging Science and Innovation Miraikan
and Ghibli Museum
abound, as do parks and playgrounds.
Animal-loving kids might enjoy a tour of Tokyo Sea Life Park
or Osaka Aquarium Kaiyukan
For an active family vacation, add snorkeling off Nishihama Beach
to your itinerary, or check out the slopes of Shiga Kogen
Tips for a Family Vacation in Japan
You won't encounter many issues when planning a Japan holiday with your family, as the country is renowned for its safety, cleanliness, and available amenities.
Well-stocked drugstores, changing facilities in restrooms, and efficient public transport make planning a vacation with kids a snap. As far as accommodations go, most hotels cater to children, with available cots and cribs for infants.
There are abundant "family restaurants" offering special meals for children, as well as international joints scattered all over the larger cities. You may want to bring plastic cutlery when eating out with a small child, as some places only stock chopsticks.
Look into bringing a small, collapsible stroller, or a baby carrier for an infant, as streets are busy and plenty of popular tourist attractions lack ramps.
Dining and Shopping on Holiday in Japan
Cuisine of Japan
Rice, the national staple food, dominates the traditional cuisine of Japan, making its way into almost every meal, either as a main ingredient or a side dish. Seasonal vegetables, noodles, seafood, and meat are ubiquitous in dishes all across the country.
Also pervasive are soybean products, such as tofu and miso, used extensively in Japan's diverse culinary scene, as well as Western and Chinese delicacies with a Japanese twist.
On a Japan vacation, you'll have the opportunity to sample endless popular dishes and local specialties, from sushi and ramen noodles, to grilled meats, stews, and foods fried in a tempura batter. Rice and bean paste sweets are widespread in Japan, while national drinks include green tea and sake, an alcoholic beverage made from brewed rice.
Shopping in Japan
You'll find a treasure trove of shopping opportunities on your trip to Japan, especially in larger cities, which often have several distinct shopping quarters. All price ranges and shop styles are represented, lining the streets, inside massive shopping centers, and situated in underground malls. Tokyo
boasts the largest variety and abundance, with whole neighborhoods teeming with boutiques and department stores.
You can browse the upscale shops of Ginza
, visit Akihabara
for all things electronic, or check out the trendy, youth-oriented stores of Shibuya
and its shopping hotspot, Harajuku Takeshita-dori
Know Before You Go on a Trip to Japan
Interesting Facts About Japan
● Although sumo wrestling is the national sport, baseball is very popular in Japan
● Japan boasts a literacy rate of almost 100 percent
● Japan is home to a large number of centenarians; for every 100,000 people, it is estimated 48 are over 100 years old.
● Japan's mountainous landscape includes over a hundred active volcanoes
Things You Should NOT Do in Japan
Entering a home with shoes on is almost unheard of in Japan. You'll be provided with slippers to wear inside most private homes, temples, shrines, and traditional inns; the removal of footwear is required in any room with tatami floors.
It is considered rude to eat or talk on your phone on public transport, as well as to eat while walking on the street.
Avoid blowing your nose in public, as it is regarded as impolite. On the other hand, feel free to slurp all soups and noodles when eating--it's considered rude not to do so.
Escalator etiquette varies by city, so when using one on your tour of Japan, follow the lead of the others to see whether you should stand on the left or right.
Holidays & Festivals in Japan
On a trip to Japan, you'll likely come across at least one festival, as the country hosts endless annual celebrations or "matsuri."
While some are celebrated throughout the country, others are prefecture-level, city wide, or confined to one shrine. Festivals often celebrate a deity or commemorate a historic event, and usually feature elaborate parades and processions.
Cherry blossom festivals are observed everywhere in Japan during the blossoming season. The nationwide New Year's celebration and the Floating Lantern festival in July are among the most famous, as is the Snow Festival of Sapporo
Useful Japan Travel Tips
Common Greetings in Japan
On a holiday in Japan, you'll notice that people greet each other by bowing.
When meeting new people, it's best to nod with your head and bow slightly, although some people might greet you with a handshake. Even among friends, hugs and kisses are rare, especially in public.
The most common phrases used to greet people in Japan are "konnichiwa" (hello), "ohayo" (good morning), and "konbanwa" (good night). To say goodbye you can use "sayonara." Express your gratitude by simply saying "arigato," which means "thank you."
Climate of Japan
Besides the subtropical Kyushu-Okinawa
, most of Japan enjoys a temperate climate and four distinguishable seasons.
Springtime, from March to May, can be the ideal season for a tour of Japan--expect mild weather and blossoming cherry trees during that time of the year.
Temperatures in the spring usually vary between 10 C and 25 C (50 F and 77 F). The autumn offers similarly mild weather, while the summer is hot and humid with temperatures ranging between 20 C and 33 C (68 F and 91 F).
Japan's sunny and chilly winters provide excellent conditions for skiing and other snow sports, especially in the north of the country, where temperatures rarely exceed 6 C (43 F).
Transportation in Japan
Japan remains known for its modern and efficient transportation network, especially its railway service.
Speedy "Shinkasen" bullet trains link most of the major cities, while the metropolitan areas are thoroughly covered by local trains and buses.
If you wish to reach the smaller islands not connected by train service, you can travel by an extensive ferry network.
Renting a car may be a good option for exploring remote and rural areas on your Japan vacation. To traverse larger distances, you can make use of the numerous routes covered by domestic airlines.
Tipping in Japan
Tipping is not customary in Japan; in fact, in most situations, your tip will likely be refused.
The only exceptions to this rule are private tour guides and traditional "ryokan" owners who may accept your tip, although they won't expect it.
If you do decide to tip while on a Japan holiday, remember that it's considered polite to put the money in an envelope before handing it to a guide or inn proprietor.