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Tailor-made Japan tours created for you by local experts

The future arrives in Japan before the rest of the world, making this one of the most exciting, cutting edge destinations there is.

Temple JapanHowever, the past has not let go of these islands either, and the country seems to permanently seesaw between the hyper-modern and the deeply traditional. It makes for a thrilling experience, as you rollercoaster from the frenetic cities - where trends in fashion and technology move at warp speed and your eyes will ache from overstimulation - to the tranquil, dreamlike rural Japan, characterised by exquisite natural landmarks such as mountains, lakes and waterfalls. Our local experts can advise you on the best that Japan has to offer and bring your travel plans to life - all you have to do is ask!

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Meet our local experts in Japan
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Inspiring Itineraries

Everyone likes a personal touch which is why our local experts craft your trip to be unique to you. To inspire you they have put together some of their own suggestions for a truly memorable holiday. Have a browse. You can book one of these trips as it is, or personalise to your heart's content.

View all trip ideas

Best things to do in Japan

There are many wonderful experiences to be had in this ancient country. For further inspiration take a look at the trip ideas put together by our trusted local experts at the foot of this page, but in the meantime here are our top things to do in Japan.

Take in the historic highlights of Kyoto

Street of the Higashiyama District, Kyoto, in springFor over a thousand years, until 1868 when Tokyo took over, Kyoto was the imperial capital of Japan. The legacy of the long history of rule is a bewildering array of wonderful cultural landmarks, both tangible and intangible, sprinkled liberally around the city. On the face of it Kyoto seems to be the definition of a modern, urban city, with plenty of glittering skyscrapers and busy highways to negotiate, but in amongst all the trappings of modern city life are enchanting temples, serene gardens and impressive palaces.

Zen garden of Kennin-ji temple, KyotoAs you get to know the highly refined heritage of Kyoto and come to understand how this city became the beating heart of Japanese culture, the city takes on a new gleam of beauty embodied by the elegant maiko and geisha, the calming tea houses, and the old wooden buildings in the most historic districts. Some of the best experiences in Kyoto are sensual, such as glimpsing a perfect pagoda through a haze of cherry blossom in a secluded garden, listening to the classic sound of wooden soles on cobbles, marvelling at the colours of a maiko’s silks, or enjoying some of Japan’s most elaborate cuisine.

Geisha walking down a Kyoto streetSome of the finest things to do in Kyoto involve nature, albeit highly ornamental nature. The zen gardens of Daitoku-ji and Ryōan-ji are simply gorgeous, while the moss gardens of Saihō-ji are a velvety delight. Head east of the centre to the Higashiyama neighbourhood, where many of Kyoto’s attractions and heavyweight cultural sites are located. Many people wonder what to see in Kyoto, and of course you must take in some of the finest temples and palaces in the nation while you are there, but one of the most delightful places to visit in Kyoto requires only the skills of wandering with wonder, and perhaps some yen for souvenir shopping... Gion. It is the area of the city that has retained its Edo period glory, and it is wonderfully atmospheric and possibly one of the most beautiful places in Japan.

Eat your way around the cities and towns

SushimiJapan is famous for its food, with sushi restaurants and ramen bars found all over the globe. Tokyo has the most Michelin-starred restaurants of any city in the world, with a total of 230 restaurants laying claim to the accolade and Kyoto also has a staggering 138 stars shared between its restaurants. Each region specialises in a different dish, so make sure you research what you should be eating where to make the most of your voyages.

Explore the frenetic capital, Tokyo

Tokyo, JapanOf all the myriad things to do in Japan, Tokyo has to come somewhere near the top of the list. What seems at first like an unknowable, vast, crowded and hyperactive nightmare of epic proportions soon redefines itself as a collection of individual villages and neighbourhoods, each with their own distinct mood and purpose. This overwhelming conglomeration of high rises, neon signs, and transport connections is the world’s largest city, but despite being densely packed and at times frenetic, Tokyo is a city that ticks along in a brisk and efficient manner. Transport is impressively punctual and omnipresent, people are courteous and respectful, streets are orderly and every aspect of city life has been thought through. Throughout Tokyo, quirky culture and uber-modernity notwithstanding, a powerful sense of history and tradition pervades it all. The best way to approach Tokyo is just to take a deep breath, dive right in and enjoy the energy.  

Imperial Palace, Tokyo, JapanFor a gentle introduction to the city, Asakusa is a characterful district with some charming streets and the Buddhist hub of Senso-ji, the most revered temple in Tokyo. Lose yourself in tranquil gardens, inhale the aroma of incense at one of numerous shrines, or potter around the delightful shops. Another of the interesting places to visit in Tokyo is the Imperial Palace, still home to the Emperor, which sits in the fabulous parkland on the site of the old Edo castle. Two of the top things to do in Tokyo for museum fans are the Edo Museum of Tokyo and the Tokyo National Museum, which showcase the fascinating city history and the nation’s finest art collection respectively. The districts of Shiboya, Harajuku and Akihabara are the best districts for dipping into the city’s world renowned pop culture, one of the classic things to see in Tokyo.

Lace on your walking boots to hike the Nakasendo Trail

Nakasendo trail japanIf you are interested in getting to know Japan at a local level, the Nakasendo Trail is a perfect place to start. Nakasendo means ‘Middle Mountain Road’, and is an ancient route linking the two most powerful cities at the time of the Shoguns, the political capital of Tokyo and the imperial capital of Kyoto. It was mainly used as a transit route by merchants, feudal lords and samurai, and towns and villages along its length were used as staging posts for weary travellers. Today, the central stretch of the Nakasendo Trail which winds through the Kiso valley is one of the most delightful hikes in Japan, taking in historic villages of wooden houses and quaint lanes. The walk can be divided into sections of varying length to suit you, and it takes in a range of terrain from shady wooded paths, meadows or busy village streets.

Street through Tsumago on the Nakasendo Trail, JapanIf you are not keen on walking, it’s equally possible to visit the Kiso valley by vehicle. The Nakasendo Trail is a wonderful way to get close to nature in a rural setting, and to understand more about the culture and history of the region. Magome, Tsumago and Narai are three of the traditional post towns on the route, and they are very picturesque with old stone and timber buildings, peaceful lanes and lovely rustic corners all around. There are plenty of refreshment opportunities like teahouses along the route, mainly in the villages but some on the path itself, and also lots of very characterful inns where you can enjoy the warm hospitality of the local people who are generous hosts - they have been welcoming travellers for generations, after all..

Explore 'The City of Water', Hiroshima

Carp Castle, Hiroshima, JapanHiroshima is a vibrant destination which gets its name from the six rivers that weave through the urban landscape. Landmark sights in the modern city include the ‘Carp Castle,’ a tapering tower of elegant proportions which stands among greenery surrounded by a moat filled with carp. The Shukkeien Garden is another scenic and serene place to while away a few hours admiring the beautiful planting and calming water features crisscrossed with pretty bridges. Four kilometres north of the city centre, Fudoin Temple is a national treasure, a well preserved example of a 15th century temple that miraculously survived the atomic blast of 1945. The wooden construction remains as it has been for many centuries, although some repairs to the roof were required.

Atomic Bomb Dome, Hiroshima, JapanOne of the most prominent and profound sights in Hiroshima is the Atomic Bomb Dome, once a grand riverside building ruined in the 1945 nuclear explosion, now a UNESCO World Heritage Site which stands as testament to the importance of peace and unity. The Peace memorial park and museum were similarly conceived as a potent reminder to all comers of the futility and inhumanity of atomic weapons, and as a tribute to the resilience of the city of Hiroshima. Just to the east of the Peace Park and Museum are lively covered shopping arcades or ‘shotengai.’ Don’t miss the chance to sample some Okonomiyaki (savoury pancakes) here, as they are legendarily good. There are 2 main styles of Okonomiyaki - Osaka style, where all the ingredients are mixed and cooked as a composite whole, and Hiroshima where it is more layered. Both are delicious!

Miyajima, JapanJust offshore from Hiroshima city and easily reached by a ten minute ferry ride is the island of Itsukushima, popularly known as Miyajima, a delightfully picturesque island retaining the charm of yesteryear and home to one of Japan’s most photogenic and atmospheric shrines. When the tide is right, the UNESCO listed shrine and the iconic red Ō-torii Gate appear to be floating on the water. The island is also scenically spectacular with a mountainous interior, an appealing village hub and lots of small deer roaming free all over. Add beaches and woodland hikes to the equation and it’s understandable that this is one of the most popular day trip destinations in the land. Spend a night here to experience the ambience without the crowds. Other than the famous shrine, visitors enjoy taking the cable car up Mount Misen, or hiking up if they feel adventurous. Don’t leave before you’ve tried some local seafood: Oysters are the speciality here, and as you cross over on the ferry from Miyajimaguchi, you’ll see the oyster cages along this inland sea setting.

Revel in the abundance of UNESCO World Heritage Sites

Nikko, JapanNikko, Nara, and Miyajima come highly recommended and are three of the most culturally fascinating places to go in Japan. The Toshogu Shrine complex at Nikko lies within easy reach of Tokyo, and despite being one of the most popular things to do in Japan, it is a self contained world of delicate Japanese artistry and devotion. Once you have experienced the wonderful atmosphere of the shrines, head out for a hike in the surrounding countryside. Japan is a country of mountains, and one of the most unusual things to see in Japan can be found at Yudanaka, where snow monkeys visit hot springs year round.

Takayama If you are wondering where to go in Japan for some picturesque attractions, consider Matsumoto - famous for its ‘crow castle’; Takayama - a regional town in the Japanese alps with preserved architecture and buildings that provide insights into traditional Japan; Shirakawago - a UNESCO World Heritage site known for its ‘praying hands’ thatched roof houses; and Kanazawa - a bustling city near the sea of Japan with preserved samurai and geisha districts, a famous stroll-style garden, a bustling market, and museums for those who enjoy both traditional and modern art. More of Japan’s fascinating sites can be reached by heading west, for example to the UNESCO World Heritage recognised Himeji Castle, which has recently re-emerged from scaffolding after years of preservation works. Continuing westward, Kurashiki charms with its willow lined canals, Naoshima is known for its modern art galleries and installations, and Shikoku takes you off the beaten path.

Daimon Gate at Mount Koya, JapanFor unique spiritual insights, a stay at Mount Koya, a mountainous monastery complex where accommodation is in the pilgrims’ lodgings of Buddhist temples is a must. Here you dine on Buddhist vegetarian cuisine and attend the temple’s prayer service. Ask the expert team in Japan, a local operator handpicked by us, to help you narrow down your list of priorities and plan how best to organise your Japan trip to get the most out of your time.

Lesser known things to do in Japan

While there are many well-known things to do in Japan, what about the lesser-known highlights? Our local experts have shared some of their top tips for where to go and what to do if you fancy a bit of an alternative Indian adventure.

Discover Japan's best beaches

Okinawa beach, JapanJapan isn’t perhaps well known for being a beach destination because much of the shoreline is rocky where the mountains meet the sea. Nevertheless there are beaches worth tracking down, so don’t forget your swimmers! If time on the beach is a priority for your Japan trip, look no further than Okinawa. Take your pick of any of the numerous Okinawa islands where plentiful white sandy beaches bask in the tropical climate. Because of air routes, the main island is the most accessible for many people and all that’s required to reach most of the beautiful beach resorts is a simple bus journey from Naha.

Enoshima beach, JapanNot far from Tokyo there are some nice beaches near Enoshima, an area which is also accessible from Kamakura. Shirahama on the Kii Peninsula is another beach resort area worth making a diversion for, with white sand and open air hot springs right by the beach. Chirihama beach is an unusual one made up of hard packed sand on the southwestern stretch of the Noto Peninsula. Because the beach is hard packed, cars can drive along it, as can cyclists, but drivers and cyclists beware - closer to the water’s edge it’s likely that in fine weather beachgoers will be paddling in the water.

Explore the Kumano Kodo Trail

Kumano Kodo trail, JapanWakayama prefecture, in the south west of Japan just south of Osaka, is a popular outdoor playground for the Japanese. The mountains of the Kii peninsula are home to the Kumano Kodo Trail, an ancient pilgrimage route dating back more than one thousand years to 800 AD, when monks would travel this region of staggering beauty in search of spiritual enlightenment through nature. The tradition of nature worship dates back to prehistoric times, and aspects have been incorporated into modern religions such as Buddhism and Shintoism. It was historically so popular the route was known as ‘the pilgrimage of ants’ referring to the huge numbers of monks that would be travelling along it on any given day, heading for the three grand shrines of Kumano. The numerous smaller shrines along the route are tranquil and calming, tucked in among the trees like a Japanese fairytale made real.

Kumano Kodo, temple and waterfallThe spellbinding scenery of the various trails is frequently wooded, with numerous waterfalls and clearings where there are blissful views over the mountains and beyond to the ocean. The trails are many centuries old, and the fact they have stood the test of time is testament to the quality of the original workmanship. The Kumano Kodo routes and surrounding landscapes are considered one of the most spiritual regions in Japan, and the most historic sections were included by UNESCO on the world heritage list in 2004. One of the great features of a Kumano Kodo trek is that onsen (hot springs) are liberally scattered along the route. After a rewarding day of hiking what could be better than plunging into an outdoor hot mineral bath?

Explore the island haven of Shikoku

Woven bridge of Shikoku JapanRight down in the south of Japan, just offshore from the main island of Honshu, sits the smallest of the four major Japanese islands, Shikoku. It’s a land of steep green mountainsides, temples, rushing streams and hot springs, rural and peaceful in the central hills with busy towns mainly located along the coast. Shikoku means ‘four countries’ referring to the four prefectures that subdivide the island, all of which have their attractions. Head into the mountains to see the spectacular Iya Valley, a remote and beautiful tract of emerald mountains cut through by the turquoise Iya river crossed by traditional bridges woven from vines.

Gokurakuji, second temple on the Shikoku pilgrimageShikoku’s most famous attraction for visitors is the 88 Temple Pilgrimage Route which weaves all around the island and takes pilgrims weeks to complete in its entirely. Pilgrims follow the route for a number of reasons, but mostly to show their devotion. They are easy to spot as they wear white tunics, often accompanied by a conical straw hat and a decorative (and practical) walking stick. The most scenic stretches of the route take in forests, valleys, serene temples and open countryside. Other highlights of Shikoku include the restorative powers of the ancient ‘Dogo onsen’ - hot springs; the castle at Matsuyama; local specialities such as Udon noodles and of course the hearty welcome the people of Shikoku extend to visitors.

Relax in a hot spring bath...

Kii katsuura onsen, JapanThere is nothing as satisfying as having a soak in an onsen (hot spring bath), but bear in mind that bathing has its own etiquette in Japan. Whether you visit an onsen or the communal bath at your accommodation, there are some elements of the etiquette that are common to both. Usually there is an outer room where you will take off your clothes to put them in a basket or locker before you step through to the bathing area. It is here that your real washing takes place. Shampoo, body wash, and conditioner are usually provided and labelled. Scrub yourself thoroughly using the toiletries provided, and then be sure to rinse off every bit of soap or conditioner with the hand held shower sprayer. You should make sure you are absolutely free of soap. Then, and only then, are you ready to enter the bath. Enjoy a soak, and leave your small towel (usually provided) outside the bath. The bath is filled once a day for all guests so that is why it is essential that guests enter completely clean - and that you don’t pull the plug when you have finished bathing!

When is the best time to visit Japan?

The spring months of March, April and May are generally considered the best for visiting Japan, both in terms of climate and the arrival of its famed pink sakura (cherry blossoms). Another fine time to visit is autumn, specifically October and November, which is when the landscape is on fire with the colourful leaves turning on the maple trees. Anybody intending to make use of Japan's legendary snow sports infrastructure should obviously plan a visit during the winter ski season: December to February. Bear in mind that Japan's latitudinal range means that the climate is not consistent all over the country, but the flipside is that you can usually find good weather somewhere at any time of year.

Insider tips from our trusted local experts

No one knows Japan like our local experts - after all, this spectacular holiday destination is their home, so they know all the hidden secrets. They can offer advice on some of the best places to discover the real Japan so we asked them for some insider tips on discovering Tokyo and Kyoto.

Tokyo

Exploring Tokyo

Cherry blossom in Naka-Meguro, Tokyo“In bustling Tokyo, a lesser known but still lovely area for a stroll is Naka-Meguro. Just a short walk from Naka Meguro station is a canal lined with boutique style shops and restaurants, and during cherry blossom season, the canal is lined with pink blossoms that are illuminated at night. Another interesting neighbourhood is Daikanyama, which is Harajuku’s more grown up fashionable cousin. To see Tokyo at its most electric, we would recommend a walk through eastern Shinjuku in the evening.”

Shopping in Tokyo

“There are various temple market available in Tokyo as well, but it’s worth remembering that Tokyo is a world class destination for specialist shopping - stationery buffs can lose themselves for many happy hours in some of the main stationery stores, for example.”

Discover Tokyo's art scene

Roppongi street sign, Tokyo“Tokyo is also a hub for great design and has a number of fantastic galleries and art museums. Recently the Yayoi Kusama museum has opened in Tokyo and is the hot new art destination. Art options available to explore range from the traditional to the cutting edge. The ‘Art Triangle’ in Roppongi provides a great mix of styles, and for a wonderful overview of Japanese artforms in all their diversity the Tokyo National Museum in Ueno can’t be beaten.”

Where to eat in Tokyo

Food stall in Tokyo“To see little characterful streets, we recommend a leisurely walk around the back streets of Asakusa between Sensoji and Kappabashi dori and also north of the shrine. There are wonderful stalls where you can try different street foods like Taiyaki, croquettes, noodles, oden, and much more. It’s an impossible task to come up with a list of best bars and restaurants for either city. We’ve never had a bad meal in either city and really any place you try is likely to be a culinary adventure. Eat local foods and eat as locals do and you’re bound to get a good meal!”

Best views in Tokyo

View from Tokyo SkyTree“There are a number of different places where you can experience a great view of Tokyo, such as Tokyo SkyTree which is certainly the tallest site in the city’s northeast. Or Tokyo Tower - modelled after the Eiffel tower but coloured in the vermilion that is reminiscent of Shinto shrines in the city. The Tokyo Metropolitan Government buildings are located in Shinjuku, nestled among the skyscrapers of this district, and on a clear day, you may see Mt Fuji in the distance.”

Kyoto

Temples in Kyoto

Shimogamo Shrine Kyoto“A favourite shrine of ours in Kyoto is Shimogamo Shrine, which is a lesser known shrine for foreign visitors, but a very significant site in Kyoto. It’s a UNESCO World Heritage site and the shrine was founded even before the city was built. Behind it are pristine primeval forests (sadly inaccessible to the public as they are a sacred site). It sits in the very north of the city but is easily accessible by city bus.

“We also like To-ji temple, which sits in the Southwest of the city, a reasonable walk from Kyoto station. To-ji temple is also a UNESCO World Heritage site and it has a lively monthly temple market where visitors can pick up antiques, collectables, and second hand items. The Pagoda for To-ji is emblematic of Kyoto and is a landmark within the city.”

Shopping in Kyoto

Nishiki market food“Nishiki market has become a well known food market in Kyoto. Running perpendicular to this covered food market that stretches numerous blocks, is Teramachi dori. From Shijo north, this shopping street is a covered arcade of shops that includes souvenir stores, restaurants, clothing stores, housewares stores etc. Look carefully as you walk though because the shops are punctuated by small temples and shrines that are tucked in behind. The name Teramachi means temple town (or temple quarter). Keep following it north for a lively taste of Kyoto. At the top end of the arcade you’ll find more traditional shops selling washi paper, books, incense, and so on. It’s a great area to while away a few hours.”

Best views in Kyoto

Kiyomizu Temple, Kyoto“There are great views over the city from the viewing platform at Kiyomizu Temple, but the best views of all might be from Kyoto Tower, which sits just north of Kyoto station. From the vantage-point of the tower you gain an appreciation Kyoto’s placement, surrounding by mountain ranges.”

Five interesting facts about Japan

Japan is a fascinating country where history, modernity and nature all collide with spectacular results. But did you know any of our top five facts about it?

  1. The tallest peak in Japan is Mount Fuji, standing at 3,776 metres. The Japanese see the mountain as sacred. Mount Fuji, Japan
  2. Japanese Anime is a huge industry accounting for 60% of animation output globally. There are more than 100 institutions where you can learn how to be a voice actor.
  3. Japan is made up of more than 6,000 islands.
  4. The Tokyo-Yokohama metropolitan area is the most populous metropolitan region in the world, with over 33 million inhabitants.
  5. In Japan, napping at work is seen as commendable evidence that you have been working really hard.

Packing tips for your holiday to Japan

When you're packing for a holiday to a country as unique as Japan, it can be hard to know what to pack. We asked our local experts for some tips on what they'd include if they were in your situation.

High speed train passing beneath Mount Fuji, JapanPack light

There is often only limited space for luggage on buses and trains. Note also that travelling by train may require carrying bags up or down stairs at train stations.

Pack coffee

While coffee is very popular in Japan, it is less commonly served with breakfast. If you have a die-hard coffee habit, you may wish to bring a small jar of instant coffee to enjoy in your room.

Bring slip on/off shoes

Bring shoes that slip on and off easily as you’ll be taking your shoes off more often than you might expect. Make sure your socks are in good shape too - if you’re staying in Japanese style accommodation, tatami mats should be walked upon with bare or socked feet only - no slippers! Also, make sure the shoes you are bringing are comfortable. You’ll probably find yourself walking quite a bit as you discover some of Japan’s many attractions.

Think about your outfits

The Japanese dress neatly and shorts are not often worn outside of a sporting event.

Bring a handkerchief or two

It’s helpful to also bring a bandanna or handkerchief that you can use to dry your hands after using the WC. Not all bathrooms have paper towels or hand dryers. Most accommodation will provide you with basic toiletries so if you forget your toothbrush, soap, or shampoo, chances are you will be able to get your hands on some.

Japanese culture: what you need to know

Historically, Japanese culture hinges around tradition, respect and ritual. That said, the culture is not preserved in aspic, unchanging and stationary. This is a dynamic culture embracing the ancient Japanese traditions of Shinto and Buddhist faiths, while keeping one eye firmly facing forward towards the future. Lady praying at Japanese shrineCutting edge doesn’t adequately describe the futuristic aspect of Japanese culture, whose modernity and technology leaves you breathless trying to keep up. But what Japan does so well is balance the two. Prayers of devotion at a Japanese temple still follow ancient rituals and evoke the incredibly rich heritage of millenia, but somehow this serenity happily cohabits with the ruthless efficiency, unforgiving work ethic and relentless innovation of modern Japan. It’s a delicate balancing act, but it works.

With the help of our expert local partner, make sure you design your Japan itinerary to include different aspects of Japanese culture, both old and new, urban and rural, personal and functional; this way your understanding of Japan will be well rounded and rewarding. Along the way you are likely to be charmed by the politeness and friendly respect you will receive from your ever hospitable Japanese hosts.

Top tip:

Japanese shoe box by front doorThe etiquette surrounding the wearing or removing of shoes and slippers can seem complex to visitors, but there is almost always a step to prompt you. Steps around 15cm high at an entrance usually indicate you should remove shoes and put on slippers. A smaller 3-5cm step indoors indicates slippers should be removed.

Festivals and national holidays in Japan

When planning your trip to Japan, you may want to factor in the dates where key festivals are occurring. This could be because you want to attend them, or because accommodation costs in the surrounding area go through the roof at the time of the festival. We've picked out the key festivals that you should be aware of.

Cherry Blossom Season (Sakura Season)

Cherry blossom season in JapanThe Cherry Blossom season in late March and early April often sees many Japanese venture into public parks for cherry viewing or hanami parties, with food and drink. Often these parties can turn lively in the evenings.

New Year Period

It’s worth noting that over the new year period (roughly between 27th December and 3rd January) many popular sights, museums and restaurants close their doors as this is a time to spend with family (much like Christmas in the UK).

Hina Matsuri

Hina Matsuri doll displayDuring the Hina Matsuri, from February leading up to the 3rd of March, dolls representing the Imperial Court are displayed, and these may range from simple to extremely elaborate displays.

Setsubun

At Setsubun, taking place in early February, families and sometimes shrines will have ceremonies where roasted soybeans are tossed to chase demons out of the house and to invite good fortune in.

Shichi Go San Festival

Little girl at Sichi Go San festivalAt Shichi Go San Festival seven, five and three year old children make their first visits to shrines, and are often dressed in traditional kimonos. This isn't a national holiday, so the celebrations tend to occur on the nearest weekend to the 15th November (its official date).

Tanabata Festival

In summer (held sometime in July or August, varying each year), the Tanabata festival celebrates lovers turned into stars who can only meet one night a year. At this time, people write wishes on coloured slips of paper which are then hung on trees to decorate them.

Children's Day

Carp banners for Children's Day, JapanChildren’s Day, historically known as Tango no Sekku, is held on the 5th of May each year. While it originally celebrated male children, it has now been merged with Girl’s Day to celebrate all children, and is marked with banners in the shape of carp, (black carp representing the father, red the mother, and blue the child).

O-bon Period

Lanterns lit for ancestors during O-bon periodDuring the O-bon period in August (the specific dates this is celebrated vary according to locale), many families return to their hometowns in the countryside to tend to family and ancestral graves to prepare for welcoming the presence of their ancestors’ spirits. As so much of the country is on the move at this time, accommodation can book up and trains can be crowded, so make sure you plan ahead if you’re looking to travel to Japan at this time.

Things to know before you go to Japan

From what levels of language to expect to whether to tip or not, we've gathered together some key information to know before you go to Japan.

Cherry blossom in JapanEntry requirements

Many nationalities do not require a visa to enter Japan for up to 90 days, providing they have adequate funds, a valid passport and evidence of return or onwards travel. You can check up-to-date entry requirements here. Expect to be photographed on arrival and be aware that usually you will need to provide your fingerprints.

Language

Japanese store frontJapanese has the ninth largest number of speakers of all languages. It has many dialects, and of these the Tokyo dialect is nominated as standard Japanese. There are a number of other languages spoken throughout Japan, all belonging to the same language family but not mutually intelligible. The Ryukyuan languages from Okinawa and surrounding islands are spoken by few people and are officially classified as endangered. The eponymous language of the Ainu people in Hokkaido is a separate indigenous language with no connection to the Japonic family of languages, and it’s now critically endangered.

Back streets of TokyoEnglish is not widely spoken in Japan and although this may initially seem like it will cause inconvenience, it rarely does. Smiles and gestures can often go a long way and the language barrier can even lead to some memorable and amusing encounters. Japanese people on the whole are keen to help with directions and so on, and in the cities in particular you will find that there are quite a few people who understand the basics of English, especially in written form. In urban areas and tourist regions signs, menus and timetables are usually in Japanese and English, which helps. Translation apps can really come in handy if you find yourself stuck, and the apps which allow you to scan in a kanji character and get an English approximation are especially useful.

Currency

Chef serving food in JapanBring cash and be sure you have a good supply of yen, particularly if you are travelling outside the cities. Japan is still very much a cash based society and outside the cities, the acceptance of credit cards is rare. Only certain ATMs will accept foreign issued bank cards. JP Post banks affiliated with Japan Post, and Sevenbank affiliated with 7/11 convenience stores are the most frequently found. Another thing to note is that tipping is not customary in Japan. If you leave a tip at a restaurant, you may be chased down by your server who will think you have forgotten to take your change!

Connectivity

Tokyo JapanWhile the country is trying to make improvements, particularly to accommodate foreign visitors, free wifi is not common in Japan. Telephone sims are not available from the main cell phone carriers in Japan but data sims giving access to internet are available for purchase. These may allow you to call using skype, google chat or other similar software. If you wish to make calls you will need to make these while roaming on your local carrier. We recommend you check on rates before travelling as these can be high. It is possible to rent mobile phones in Japan and there are booths at major airports where these can be picked up if ordered in advance.

Medical care & vaccinations

Japan does not have reciprocal medical care arrangements with other countries so it is recommended that you take out a travel insurance policy that will cover medical procedures and medical emergencies for your time in Japan.

Cultural quirks

People with tattoos are still often forbidden from using public baths or even communal baths in traditional style Japanese accommodations. Usually there will be some signage posted at the entrance to the baths if people with tattoos are refused entry.

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