Surrounded by the Pacific Ocean, Japan is an island nation located in East Asia that’s best known for seamlessly blending its past with the present. Famous for its ancient shrines, temples, and palaces, which symbolize history and tradition, Japan’s modern cities are filled with new-age technology and innovation.
With a diverse natural landscape that ranges from volcanoes and mountains to beaches and plains, the country has a timeless beauty, which can transport you back to the country’s earlier days. Home to kind and respectful citizens who are proud of their nation, visitors will be able to dive into Japan’s culture the moment they step off the plane. And likely into its internationally beloved cuisine as well.
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 sky-rises 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
- Spending Budget
- How to Get Around
- Top Cities to Visit
- Points of Interest
Culture and Language
Japan is an old country that’s history begins in Paleolithic times, when humans did not rule the land. By about 1000BC, humans who hunted and gathered started to inhabit 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 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 on developing its economy and industrial sector, which helped develop Japan into the modern country it is today.
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. Bowing is commonplace in Japanese culture.
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’re not in touristy areas. Japanese is the language spoken throughout the country and is used by its 125.8 million citizens (as of 2020) and the government.
However, with tourism a big draw to large cities like Tokyo, English is becoming more common to learn.
You’ll need to 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 airfare, accommodation, food, drink, and transportation.
Your airplane ticket will be the most significant portion of your budget with average costs being over one thousand dollars. If you choose to fly business/first class, expect to pay substantially more.
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 be quite expensive, though you can lower that price by choosing to stay in a hostel.
Vacation rentals are about the same 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 one thousand 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 dining out 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 its sushi and you can purchase the tasty rolls throughout the country and with any budget. Among the most famous sushi restaurant is Sukiyabashi Jiro, which was documented in the film Jiro Dreams of Sushi.
Udon is another famous Japanese cuisine. It consists of thick noodles served as a soup with vegetables and sometimes shrimp or other seafood. Tofu is a 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.
It’s commonplace now in restaurants worldwide to have “tempura fried” or “tempura-battered” snacks on menus, as it sounds more exotic and even healthier than “deep fried”. Generally, it’s lighter than traditional batter used in American appetizers.
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’ll need to raise your budget. While you can find plenty of well-priced options, Japan is a nation that prides itself on its cuisine and boasts high-quality restaurants with costs that match their reputations.
Japan has plenty of Michelin stars awarded to restaurants and chefs, so if you plan on dining in luxury, expect to spend anywhere from hundreds to thousands of dollars for a single meal. Kitcho, Aragawa, and Beige are some of the most expensive restaurants in Japan.
On the opposite end of the scale, there are numerous fast food options. Surprisingly, 7-11 is a reliable budget place to eat good meals on the go. Unlike the United States, 7-11 has quality, ready-to-go meals that can be the best option to grab a bite to eat while you’re on your sightseeing tour.
If you’re also interested in drinking, you’ll find most cocktails and beers are similarly priced to that in the US. As with restaurants, different bars 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 & Lounge at the Ritz-Carlton in Tokyo will provide you with drinks and an impeccable 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 to help you limit your spending.
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 more 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 you can sometimes snag last-minute deals to lower the flight cost.
While flying is common, Japan is also famous for its trains. The bullet train is affordable, fast, and easy to use. Train passes are the most affordable way to purchase train tickets and are called the Japan Rail Pass.
A 7-day pass will cost a couple of hundred 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.
Taxis or Riding Sharing App
For short distances, taxis can be a great way to travel as they are well-priced and very safe. Uber is another option, although it’s not as popular as simply hailing a cab.
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.
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 only a few dollars. There is also the option to purchase a day pass, which can get you an unlimited number of rides within the aloted time.
For travelers on a tight budget, buses are the best and most affordable way to travel. Buses between cities are relatively cheap, however, they 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.
Car rentals are also an option if you are up to the task of driving, but they will cost you a fair amount a day, as will the gas. Japan also drives on the left side of the road, so be aware before you head out.
Finally, walking is always a great way to see a city. Many of the big cities in Japan are very safe, and while taking some precautions are beneficial, you shouldn’t have to worry.
Top Cities to Visit
While Tokyo may be the most well-known city in Japan, this island nation is home to many other locations worth of visiting. Whether you are looking to be amidst skyscrapers, surrounded by historic landmarks, or soaking up the sun beachfront, the country has plenty to offer.
Here is a brief overview of some of the top city destinations in Japan.
Tokyo is the capital of Japan and 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 making it a great place to snap a great photo. The Imperial Palace has a large public garden and boasts impressive traditional Japanese architecture. But beyond the appearance, the streets are filled with culture, food, and entertainment.
Once the capital of Japan, Kyoto is famous for its Buddhist temples, shrines, gardens, and imperial palaces. Traditional wooden houses line the streets and Japan’s famous Geisha and maiko culture, which can be experienced in the Gion District.
Some of the most recognizable landmarks in Kyoto include the red gates of the Fushimi Inari Taisha and the Arashiyama bamboo forest.
Once ground zero for one of the atomic bombs dropped by the United States during WWII, Hiroshima has been rebuilt and pays homage to the past with its 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 historic sites in Hiroshima 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 brings 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.
Additionally, the old Winter Olympic ski jumps are still in the city and a famous ski resort is nearby, perfect for anyone looking to hit the slopes. If you’re visiting during winter, you can enjoy the annual Sapporo Snow Festival which boasts stunning ice sculptures.
Visitors to Matsue are eager to view the Matsue Castle, which is still largely intact and from the 17th century. Surrounded by the Jozan Inari Shrine and a moat, visiting truly feels like stepping into the past.
Located on the coast of Lake Shinji and once home to samurai, Matsue has an old feel that’s ideal for those looking for a peaceful escape the big cities.
Points of Interest
While cities are popular places to explore, Japan is home to different points of interest that attract visitors to specific locations. A country known for its vast beauty, there are numerous temples, national parks, and picture-worthy sites that you may want to add to your itinerary during your stay. Here are some of the top tourist destinations in Japan.
Discover the best of Japan’s thermal springs to add to your itinerary, on our sister site, Top Hot Springs.
Mount Fuji is the active volcano that can be seen in the backdrop of many photos of Tokyo. About 100 kilometers southwest of Tokyo and 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 exploring the dense forests at its base.
Located in Nara, the Kofuku-ji Temple is a World Heritage Site that 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 open to tourists, allowing you to get an up-close view of these relics as well as take in the temple’s ornate beauty.
Chūbu-Sangaku National Park
Home to the Hiba Mountains, Chūbu-Sangaku National Park is a stunning natural beauty in northern Japan. Part of the Japanese Alps, the mountains boast 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 Japanese macaque, famous for soaking in the natural hot springs during the winter months, calls this park home.
With a unique tropical climate, gorgeous beaches, and a green landscape, Okinawa is a popular vacation destination for both local and international tourists. Part of a chain of islands, Okinawa Island is by far the most popular to visit.
Visitors can hit the water to explore the coral reefs or hike the surrounding hills to capture the best view. With hundreds of nearby islands, there’s plenty to do and see while exploring this lush destination.
Japan is also known for its cherry blossoms, which bloom every spring. Another gorgeous flower that blooms in the spring is the moss phlox. Blanketing the fields in vibrant shades of pink, purple, blue, and white, the flowers are strategically planted to make shapes and patterns.
A dramatic mountain backdrop at Hitsujiyama Park and the nearby city of Chichibu also make it a popular tourist area.
“Land of the Rising Sun”
Beauty is everywhere in Japan from the lively cities to the quiet temples or peaceful forests, and many tourists are eager to 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.