Surrounded by the Pacific Ocean, Japan is an island nation located in East Asia with a unique character that seamlessly blends the past with the future. Ancient shrines, temples, and palaces symbolize history and tradition, while the modern cities are filled with new age technology and innovation.
A diverse natural landscape of volcanoes, beaches, mountains, and plains make the country timelessly beautiful. 126.8 million people proudly call Japan home and they eagerly give a warm welcome to visitors who are curious about their culture.
日本へようこそ – Welcome to Japan
Tokyo is the capital of Japan, where modernity and tradition co-exist side by side. While modern skyrises conquer the city skyline, tucked away are the ornate temples and palaces which have been preserved as a reminder of the past. But beyond the epic landscape, Tokyo is also important for the country because it is the seat of the government and parliament, which makes it the powerhouse of Japan. With so much importance placed on the city’s shoulders, it doesn’t fall short of its duty and visitors are eager to explore both the old and new.
Culture and Language
Japan is an old country that’s history begins in Paleolithic times, where humans did not rule the land. By about 1000BC, humans who hunted and gathered started to inhibit the land which later developed into Imperial Japan. Imperial Japan paved the way for Classical Japan before the more famous historical events began to occur in Medieval Japan.
Medieval Japan is most famous for the rise of the samurai in the Kamakura shogunate government. It was during the medieval times that Japan began to develop and unify into one country. With many wars and intimidating warlords, Medieval Japan emerged into modernity and feudalism began to fade.
Modern Japan is most famous for being the enemy during the Pacific War by being allies to Nazi Germany and attacking nearby Asian countries like China. But it wasn’t until the Japanese attacked Pearl Harbor that the country officially entered World War II. With hopes to dominate Asia, Japan fell when the United States dropped two atomic bombs, one in Hiroshima and one in Nagasaki.
But in Japan’s defeat, the country began to refocus in developing their economy and industrial sector, which has helped develop Japan into the modern country it is today. Now, Japan has risen to the top in the age of modern technology where people are creating new inventions for a better future. Respect and family are important to Japanese culture, so you will often find that Japanese people are more reserved, humble, and polite.
However, you won’t find a lot of diversity in Japan. The country is 97% Japanese, which leaves the other 3% to be a mix of foreign nationals. While foreigners do live in Japan, hearing foreign languages may be rare if you are not in touristy areas. Japanese is the language spoken throughout the country and is it used throughout the population and by the government. However, with tourism a big draw to large cities like Tokyo, English is becoming more common to learn.
For US tourists who are interested in visiting Japan, you do not need a tourist visa if you do not plan to stay more than 90 days. Most US visitors will be approved entry into Japan and given a temporary visa upon arrival. This visa gives you the opportunity to visit and travel in Japan for less then 90 days.
Most tourists will find that 90 days is sufficient for a vacation and will not need to seek other visas. However, keep in mind that if you wish to complete any business with monetary gains or stay longer than 90 days, you will need to apply for the correct visa.
It is also important to know that to be valid for entry into the country, US citizens will need to have a valid US passport with one blank page. Proof of onward travel or adequate funds for the duration of your stay may be required to show for entry into the country. All foreign travelers will also be asked to have their picture and fingerprints taken upon entry to the country.
There are no vaccination requirements for the country, but any currency valued at or over 1,000,000 Yen, about $9,200 US dollars, will need to be declared.
While having a valid visa is important, you should also consider your spending budget when you begin to plan your trip. Japan is an expensive country to visit and how you travel, where you stay, and what you eat can determine your budget. The most important parts of your budget are the airfare, accommodation, food, drink, and transportation.
Your airplane ticket will be the most significant portion of your budget with average costs ranging from $950 US dollars to $1,700 US dollars from Los Angeles to Tokyo in economy. If you choose to fly first class, expect to pay anywhere from $3,000-$5,000 US dollars. The time of year that you travel can also affect the price, with November being the cheapest month to fly to Japan. The most expensive months are June and July, though peak tourist months are March to May and October to November. But booking your ticket in advance, no matter what time of year you visit, will help you save money.
Accommodation is another big part of your budget and it can get expensive quite quickly. Most hotels will cost an average of $100 US dollars per night in a moderately rated establishment. A 3-star hotel will cost about $120 US dollars per night in most cities. You can reduce the cost of your accommodation by staying in a hostel, which would be about $50 US dollars per night.
Vacation rentals are about the same price as hotels, so you won’t save a lot of money in that aspect. Hostels are the best way to go but are still quite expensive. Luxury accommodation can easily cost upwards of $1000 US dollars per night, whether you choose to stay in a rented home or a hotel. But if you are trying to save money, staying in a private residence can help reduce the cost of food because you can shop at local markets and cook for yourself. Rented homes are also great for larger groups or families who travel so that they can stay together and still save money.
Food is another important part of your trip and with Japanese dishes being very popular, the price of food can be expensive. Sushi is Japan’s most famous cuisine which is often a variety of fish and vegetables with rice and seaweed. Japan is famous for their sushi and you can purchase the tasty rolls throughout the country and with any budget. The most famous sushi restaurant is Sukiyabashi Jiro, which was documented in the film Jiro Dreams of Sushi.
Udon is another famous Japanese cuisine which are thick noodles served as a soup with vegetables and sometimes shrimp or other seafood. Tofu is the world-wide known vegetarian dish, which is made from soymilk. It can be eaten cooked or uncooked and is often incorporated into other dishes. Tempura is another famous way to eat meat, fish, or vegetables, which have been battered and fried to be served in soup, sushi, or eaten alone.
With a lot of tasty meals, it can be easy to eat out all the time. But the more you eat out, the higher you will need to raise your budget. Most people spend an average of $40 US dollars per day on their meals. This is sufficient for you to eat out at good restaurants without breaking the bank. However, as with anything premium and high quality, restaurants with a reputation will cost more.
Japan has plenty of Michelin stars awarded to restaurants and chefs, so if you plan on dining in luxury, expect to spend up to $1300 US dollars for two people. Kitcho, Argawa, and Beige are some of the most expensive restaurants in Japan. On the opposite end of the scale, 7-11 is the best budget place to eat good meals on the go. Unlike the United States, 7-11 has many quality and ready to go meals which can be the best option to grab a bite to eat while you’re on your sightseeing tour.
If you also are interested in drinking, you’ll find most cocktails are about $6 US dollars, beer about $3 US dollars for a can or $10 US dollars for a pint. As with restaurants, different bars with have different prices. Some bars will be more expensive, and others would be great for budget travelers. Another8 serves craft beer in Tokyo, while the Lobby Bar and Lounge at the Ritz-Carlton in Tokyo will provide you with drinks and the best view of the city.
Attractions also cost money to visit, but the good news is that many cities offer a package so that you can enter a variety of temples and museums on a single pass. The passes can help you save money while also providing unlimited transportation of help you limit your spending.
Overall, the average cost per day for a non-luxury trip to Japan is about $150 US dollars per day and per person. This budget covers your accommodation and the cost of eating food or going for drinks. The attractions you visit can increase your budget, but many of the main attractions have an affordable price.
How to Get Around
Another part of your budget that is important is transportation. Japan is not a small island and Tokyo is not the only tourist destination. Many tourists want to explore all of the country and are curious about the best ways to travel and the associated cost.
For many travelers, domestic flights are preferred because they get you to your destination quickly. There are a few budget airlines that service the country and the average cost of a ticket is $140 US dollars. However, a few airlines have last minute deals that you can book for about $100 US dollars.
While flying is common, Japan is also famous for their trains. The bullet train is affordable, fast, and easy to use. Train passes are the most affordable way to purchase your train tickets and are called the Japan Rail Pass. A 7-day pass will cost about $270 US dollars and can be used in a city or traveling between cities. So, if you are planning to see more, the bullet train can be your most affordable and time efficient option.
If you are staying in a single city, many have a local metro which is affordable and easy. Tokyo has a great metro system and a single ticket costs less than $2 US dollars for one way. There are also day passes, which can get you an unlimited number of rides for a single day with a cost of about $8 US dollars.
For travelers on a tight budget, buses are the best and most affordable way to travel. Buses between cities can cost as little as $40 US dollars, but the drawback is that it will take longer to reach your destination. A trip from Toyko to Osaka normally takes about 2 hours on the bullet train, but 10 hours by bus.
For short distances, taxis can be a great way to travel too. Most will cost about $10 US dollars for short trips and they are extremely safe ways to travel. Uber is another option, but it is not as popular as simply hailing a taxi. Taxis are also the best ways to get to and from the hotel or airport, if transportation is not provided by the hotel or no shuttles are offered.
Car rentals are also an option is you are up to the task of driving, but they will cost $30-$70 US dollars per day. Gasoline can also be quite expensive, so it may be best to avoid the cost and find other ways to travel.
Finally, walking is always a great way to see a city. Many of the big cities are safe to walk in, though take caution to not walk alone at night. With clean streets and minimal crime, you should be able to walk the streets without worry. But to stay safe, simply keep an eye on your belongings and have a map to your destination.
Top Places to Visit: Cities
Japan is a diverse island and there are a lot of places outside of Tokyo that are popular amongst tourists. Here, we will give a brief overview of some of the top city destinations.
Tokyo is the capital and it is an energetic mix of tradition and modernity. Large glass skyscrapers rise above the busy streets, but some of the city’s most famous attractions are from the past. The Meiji Shinto Shrine has a large gate and is surrounded by woods, which make it picture perfect. The Imperial Palace has a large public garden and boasts the impressive traditional Japanese architecture. But beyond the appearance, the streets are filled with culture, food, and entertainment.
Kyoto used to be the capital of Japan, but now it is famous for its Buddhist temples, gardens, and imperial palaces. Traditional wooden houses line the streets and Japan’s infamous Geisha culture can be experienced in the Gion District. The most famous photos from the city include the red gates of the Fushimi Inari Taisha and the Arashiyama bamboo forest.
Once ground zero for one of the atomic bombs, Hiroshima has been rebuilt and pays homage to the past with their Peace Memorial Park. The park holds the ruins of the Genbaku Dome, which is one of the last few original buildings left standing after the bomb. Other important sites include the Shukkei-en Japanese garden and Hiroshima castle.
A port city on the island of Honshu, Osaka is home to great tasting street food, colorful buildings, and a fun nightlife scene. The Dotomori Bridge is filled with neon lights, while the Osaka Castle Park brings you back to the past. Major festivals also occur year round, which bring in more tourists who want to taste culinary delights and immerse in the culture.
Located in the northern mountains, Sapporo is on the island of Hokkaido. The Sapporo Beer Museum showcases the city’s brewing history and has a nice garden. The old Winter Olympic skis jumps are still within the city and a famous ski resorts is nearby. Finally, winter brings famous ice sculptures with the annual Sapporo Snow Festival.
Visitors to Matsue are eager to view the Matsue Castle, which is still largely intact and from the 17th century. The castle is surrounded by the Jozan Inari Shrine and a moat. With samurai residences and the quiet coast of Lake Shinji, Matsue is like stepping into the past. With less bustle than the big cities, Matsue provides a peaceful break from the noisy urban landscapes.
Points of Interest
While cities are large places where tourists explore, there are also many different points of interest that attract tourists to specific areas of Japan.
Mount Fuji is an active volcano, which can be seen in the backdrop of photos of Tokyo. The volcano is about 100 kilometers southwest of Tokyo and is lovingly referred to as “Fuji-san”. The mountain has deep respect from the Japanese people who consider it to be a pilgrimage site with the summit hike the most popular activity. You can easily visit the volcano by traveling outside Tokyo and explore the dense forests at its base.
Located in Nara, the Kofuku-ji Temple is a World Heritage Site which was once regarded to be one of the Seven Great Temples. The traditional Japanese architecture is highlighted by the large wood pagoda and priceless artifacts which rest within. The temple grounds are now open to tourists where you can get up close and personal with Japanese tradition and culture.
Chūbu-Sangaku National Park
The Hiba Mountains make this national park and stunning natural beauty in northern Japan. The mountains are part of the Japanese alps and have clear blue rivers with lush greenery and low grasslands. The tall peaks are filled with hiking trails and the breathtaking views are your reward. The famous Japanese snow monkeys also call this park home and they can be seen bathing in the hot springs during the cold winter months.
A unique tropical climate makes Okinawa popular to visit because of the gorgeous beaches and green landscape. Okinawa Island is actually part of a chain of islands but is by far the most popular to visit. Tourists can hit the water to explore the coral reefs or hike the surrounding hills to capture the best view. With hundreds of nearby islands, you’ll never be bored because you can explore for days around Okinawa Island.
Japan is also known for their cherry blossoms, which bloom every spring, another gorgeous flower that blooms in the spring are the moss phlox flowers. These flowers are a bold pink, purple, blue or white in color and in the park, they blanket the fields. Strategic planting has made the flowers stand out more as they have been designed to resemble patterns or shapes. A dramatic mountain backdrop and the nearby city of Chichibu also makes it a popular tourist area.
Get Out and Go
Beauty is everywhere in Japan from the lively cities to the quiet temples or peaceful forests, and many tourists are eager explore this island nation. The picture perfect views and rich dining have also boosted Japan’s popularity and made it a top travel destination. Whether you’re there to see history, nature, or innovation, Japan will be an unforgettable vacation that will surely have you booking a return trip.