This travel wiki page of Japan will help travelers with quick and relevant information to consider when planning and visiting the country. It is difficult to find all the relevant information you need on culture, safety, travel restrictions, and things to do, so we summarize it all here. If anything is stale or outdated, please reach out and let us know! Let us dive in and explore more high-level information on travel to Japan.
Table of contents
National Information & Culture
Japan, also famous as the Land of the Rising Sun, is a highly developed country in Southeast Asia. The country comprises 6852 islands and is a part of the Pacific Ring of Fire. The five main islands are Hokkaido, Honshu (the “mainland”), Shikoku, Kyushu, and Okinawa. Tokyo is the capital and largest city, followed by Yokohama, Osaka, Nagoya, Sapporo, Fukuoka, Kobe, and Kyoto. The Japanese Yen is the official currency.
The country is a global automotive, robotics, and electronics leader and significantly contributes to science and technology. Not only that, but Japan also has great power in international politics as a member of the G7 countries. In addition, Japan’s culture is famous around the world. Aside from cars, the country’s most famous exports include sushi, ramen, anime, and manga.
Besides being a global economic and political leader, Japan is a popular tourist destination. The country is home to a dozen UNESCO World Heritage Sites and boasts natural and cultural attractions. Japan may appear exceedingly modern, but traveling the country allows visitors to connect and immerse in their traditional culture.
Japan has the world’s highest life expectancy at age 84, though it is experiencing a population decline. Japanese are also famous for being polite and punctual. They usually bow their heads as a sign of salutation, reverence, apology, or gratitude in social and religious gatherings. A deeper and longer bow indicates respect.
To know more about Japan, consider checking their Official Tourism web page when planning your trip.
Special Travel Considerations
All visitors who wish to enter Japan need to show either a valid vaccination certificate issued by the government or a negative Covid-19 test certificate. Please note that the Covid-19 test is only valid for 72 hours from when the specimen was taken.
Visitors entering Japan before November 14, 2022, are highly recommended to use the MySOS app to upload all required documents (passport and COVID-19 test result or vaccination certificate) before the trip for a fast-track entry into the country. From November 14, Visit Japan Web will replace the MySOS app. The improved Visit Japan Web service will go online on November 1 and allow travelers to enter not only COVID-19-related documents but also immigration and customs-related data.
With the uncertainties relating to the Covid-19 virus, protocols may change. Therefore, check the latest updates on Japan’s Covid-19 policies before your trip.
Starting October 11, 2022, the visa exemption arrangements for 68 countries/regions are resumed after having been restricted during the surge of the Covid-19 pandemic. The period of stay in visa-exempt countries varies from 14, 15, 30, and 90 days. In addition to a visa, all visitors must possess at least a 6-month valid passport to enter Japan. Nationals of countries without visa exemption must apply for the necessary visa to enter Japan.
For the complete list of visa-exempt countries, including Japan’s foreign policy and consular services, visit the Ministry of Foreign Affairs web page or the nearest Embassy or Consular General office.
Mount Fuji is among Japan’s timeless attractions and a favorite subject for artists and poets. Towering at 3,776 meters, Mount Fuji is an active stratovolcano and the highest peak in Japan. In 2013, UNESCO added it to the World Heritage List as a cultural site.
Whether visitors climb the sacred volcano or appreciate the beauty from afar, one will never get tired of looking at this perfectly symmetrical cone. The holy mountain is part of the Fuji-Hakone-Isu National Park, with more than a million people climbing as an act of pilgrimage every summer. Reaching the summit and watching the sunrise from the peak brings a sense of achievement.
The modern culture of Japan is visible in Tokyo, the capital of Japan and the world’s most populous metropolis. Tokyo offers tradition, innovation, and unlimited opportunities to shop, eat, explore, and experience life in Japan. From the trendy shopping districts of Harajuku and Shibuya to the luxury stores in Ginza, Tokyo offers everything a shopaholic visitor needs. Shinjuku, the business district, has a mix of gleaming skyscrapers and streets. In the heart of downtown Tokyo, visitors will find Asakusa, with ancient temples and traditional stores. Lastly, Tokyo is a foodie paradise having the most Michelin-starred restaurants in any other city in the world, in addition to hundreds of cheap and delicious ramen shops.
The Imperial Palace occupies the site of the former Edo Castle and is currently the residence of Japan’s imperial family. Most of the palace complex is off-limits, but visitors can join one of the free tours by the Imperial Household Agency to see a small part of the compound.
Surrounding the palace is a large park with moats and massive stone walls. The inner ground is generally close to the public, except on January 2 (new year greetings) and February 23 (emperor’s birthday), when members of the imperial family make several appearances on a balcony.
Adjacent to the inner grounds of the palace is the Imperial Palace East Gardens, open to the public throughout the year, and anyone can enter without a guide.
Shibuya Crossing is famous as the busiest crossing in the world, with hundreds or thousands of people coming from different locations crossing simultaneously. The intersection is most impressive after dark on weekends, with neon lights over the crowd of people pouring out from the station.
The 634 meters high Tokyo Skytree towers the capital’s skyline and gives every visitor an incredible and panoramic view of the city. If you are lucky, Skytree is one of the best spots to see Mt. Fuji from Tokyo on a clear day.
Tokyo National Museum
If you visit only one museum in Japan, head out to the Tokyo National Museum. It houses the largest Japanese art collections, such as ancient pottery, Buddhist sculptures, samurai swords, colorful ukiyo-e (woodblock prints), and gorgeous kimonos. Various galleries highlight a specific era and source of the collections displayed that will bring you back to history. Its garden, including several vintage tea houses, is also worth a visit but only open to the public from mid-March to mid-April and late October to early December.
Sensoji is Tokyo’s oldest temple containing the sacred statue of Kannon, the Buddhist goddess of mercy. According to legend, the image was miraculously pulled out of the nearby Sumida River by two fishermen in AD 628. However, it remains a mystery if the ancient statue of Kannon exists as it is not on public display.
The temple is a five-story pagoda with imposing gates and vibrant stalls of Nakamise Dori surrounding the complex. People visit here to burn incense in a large cauldron and bathe themselves in smoke, believing it will improve or heal their medical conditions.
Nearby the Sensoji temple is the Asakusa Shrine, built in honor of the fishermen who discovered the Kannon statue.
Travelers wanting the traditional Japanese experience must visit Kyoto, Japan’s cultural center and former capital city. It is where visitors will see and experience rural Japan’s refined culture, dining, and charm. In addition, the historical city of Kyoto has various natural and cultural attractions that keep every visitor coming back.
Kiyomizudera (Pure Water Temple) on the east side of Kyoto is one of Japan’s most popular and enjoyable temples on top of a hill overlooking the city. The temple represents the expression of faith in Japan and is part of the Historic Monuments of Ancient Kyoto and a UNESCO World Heritage Site.
In 778, the temple was constructed without using nails next to the Otowa Spring, flowing off the nearby hills. As a result, visitors can catch and drink the water, believing it will bring them good health and longevity.
Visitors can explore the temple year-round, presenting unique views at every change of season. Cherry blossoms cover the hillsides during spring, lush green in summer, colorful leaves during autumn, and delicate trees in winter.
Kinkakuji / Golden Pavilion
Kinkakuji, or the Golden Pavilion, is a Zen temple in Northern Kyoto and one of the most popular sites in Japan. Brilliant gold leaf covers the temple’s main hall, shining above the reflecting pond. The place was a retirement villa for shogun Ashikaga Yoshimitsu, with the original building dating back to 1397. Unfortunately, Kinkakuji was burned down numerous times throughout its history, twice during the Onin War and more recently in 1950 when it was set on fire by a fanatic monk. The current structure is a result of rebuilding the temple in 1955.
Arashiyama Bamboo Forest
One of Kyoto’s most iconic sights is the Arashiyama Bamboo Forest. Visitors must try strolling the bamboo grove paths with sunlight filtering through the trees. The forest is most attractive when a light wind and the tall bamboo stalks sway gently back and forth. Exploring the attraction can be done on foot or by riding a rickshaw.
Another section of the forest leads visitors to the nearby Nonomiya Shrine. It is where yukata-clad young women come to pray for a love match.
Due to its natural setting, Arashiyama has been a popular destination since the Heian Period (794-1185). The town makes a good spot for cherry blossoms during early April and appreciates the fall colors in Mid-November.
Fushimi Inari Shrine
Fushimi Inari Shrine in southern Kyoto is famous for the seemingly endless thousands of vermilion torii gates that line the approach to Mt. Inari. Founded in 711, the Shinto shrine of Fushimi Inari is dedicated to the deity of the good harvest and successful business. The vibrant orange torii gates along the entire trail are donations by individuals and companies whose names and dates of the grant are inscribed on the back of each gate.
Hiroshima Peace Memorial, Park, & Museum
One of the most significant events in modern history is the devastating atomic bombing of Hiroshima and Nagasaki. After decades, Japan was able to recover, but the tragic history of that deadly day can make every visitor reflect on the past. The Hiroshima Peace Memorial Park, one of the city’s most prominent features, is a large park of trees, memorials, and pathways.
At the center of the park is a tree-lined Pond of Peace leading to the curved concrete cenotaph in which the known victims of the bombing were engraved. Also at the pond is the Flame of Peace, a sculpture of 2 hands cupping a flame and set to burn until all the nuclear weapons in the world are destroyed.
Across the river is the Atomic Bomb Dome, also known as the Hiroshima Peace Memorial, which is what remains of the former Prefectural Industrial Promotion Hall. It is one of the few buildings to remain standing today after the bombing. Now a UNESCO World Heritage Site, the Atomic Bomb Dome is a tangible link to WW2 and Hiroshima’s unique past.
At the park’s southern end is the Peace Memorial Museum, the park’s main facility. It consists of two buildings and displays the remaining artifacts of the atomic bombing. In addition, galleries in the museum convey the dangers of nuclear weapons and the harsh reality of time.
Shirakawago, a UNESCO Cultural Heritage site, lies in a valley among the mountains of Gifu Prefecture. It is a unique village and outdoor museum of 110 gassho-zukuri farmhouses as old as 250 years, with many others in the surrounding area. Gassho-zukuri means ‘constructed like hands in prayer’ because the steep and thatched roofs are said to resemble the praying hands of a Buddhist monk. The highly peaked tops, made without nails, help prevent snow buildup. The traditional village of Shirakawago makes a perfect postcard picture.
Himeji is the most magnificent castle in Japan and one of only a few original castles from 1580. Due to its elegantly white appearance, Himeji is also popularly known as the White Heron Castle. It is a national treasure and a UNESCO World Heritage Site.
The castle is at a strategic location surrounded by defensive walls. The first structures on the site were completed in the 1400s, while the present castle complex was completed in 1609. Over eighty buildings spread across multiple baileys connected by a series of gates and winding paths comprises the castle complex.
Himeji Castle is also a trendy cherry blossom spot during the blooming season, usually between late March to early April.
Miyajima Island is a short ferry ride from Hiroshima. The island is home to the Itsukushima Shrine and is famous for its floating torii gate. It is a Shinto temple dedicated to the Princess daughters of the wind god Susanoo. The ancient temples linked together by pathways and walkways date back to the 6th century. The temple complex is stunning to look at during high tide, making the structures appear to float on the water.
Osaka Castle is one of Osaka’s most prominent landmarks, with a history dating back to 1583 during the Edo era. Surrounding the castle are citadels, gates, turrets, impressive stone walls, and moats. The present castle structure is a concrete reconstruction in 1931, with an observation deck on the 8th floor, giving a 360 degrees view of Osaka. In addition, the nearby Osaka Castle Park is another popular destination, especially during the cherry blossom season.
Primary Spoken Language(s)
The Japanese language is the national and primary language of the majority of people in Japan. English is also prevalent, as it has been used in business and mandatory at all school levels in Japan since 2020. But most of the older generation, and some taxi drivers, find it hard to speak English. Hence, it is best to enhance basic Japanese language skills or try free speech translation apps like VoiceTra.
Besides Japanese, traditional languages are spoken in the Ryukyu Islands, such as Amami, Kunigami, Okinawan, Miyako, Yaeyama, and Yonaguni. The Ryukyuan language is part of the Japonic language family.
Japan is a very safe country to visit. With its low crime rate and Global Peace Index rating, Japan ranks number 10 among the safest countries in the world for 2022. In addition, The US Department of State also gives Japan a level 1 travel advisory.
With its geographical location in the Pacific Ring of Fire and fault lines, Japan is home to over a hundred active volcanoes and is prone to earthquakes. Small earthquakes are a common occurrence almost daily but barely unnoticed. Hence, travelers should be familiar with earthquake preparedness. If you are inside a large building when an earthquake strikes, do not panic and stay calm. If you are by the coast, head to higher ground in case a tsunami happens. Above all, follow any instructions given by authorities. When an emergency happens, dial 110 for the police, 119 for fire emergencies, and 199 for ambulance needs.
Most travelers think of Japan as an expensive destination. But with careful planning, visitors can enjoy a budget trip to Japan while still enjoying what the country offers, especially its irresistible cuisine and immersing in its culture.
For a budget traveler, staying in dorms, hostels, capsule hotels, and Airbnb apartment is where you can save much of your travel costs. Relative to your destination and the season of your trip, budget accommodation ranges from $25 to $40 per night. Staying in private guesthouses and average hotels costs around $60 to $100 per night, while staying in a Ryokan starts at $120. Hence, the average cost for budget accommodation is around $33 per night.
Transportation costs are another thing that will eat up most of a traveler’s budget when visiting Japan. Consider getting the JR pass for the duration of your trip. A 7-day JR pass is around $200 (¥29,650), while a 14-day JR pass is $320 (¥47,250). We can also set $5 daily for extra transportation/miscellaneous costs for destinations not covered by JR Pass. Thus, the total transportation expense for 14 days is around $390.
Japan has exemplary cuisine, and your visit will never be complete if you don’t taste their famous ramen, takoyaki, sushi, and Kaiseki (traditional multi-course meal) experience. A bowl of ramen is around $7, takoyaki is $4, sushi is $15, and Kaiseki meals start at approximately $70. If the budget is tight, a traveler can also grab some food from convenience stores or food chains for around $4. Hence, a budget of $25 per day for food is good enough to enjoy Japanese cuisine.
Activities & Entrance Fees
Unless you go to famous theme parks, the cost of activities and entrance fees to attractions are relatively cheap in Japan. Entrance fees usually start at $2. And when in Japan, a traveler must try to experience the onsen (hot spring bath).
Considering the cost of budget accommodation, a 14-day JR Pass, attractions, and not limiting your Japanese culinary experience, a traveler can fully enjoy the country at around $1300 for a solo traveler. The rate can still go down if you travel in a group or if visitors opt to stay in hotels instead of cheaper hostels.
Customs And Import Restrictions
Every tourist must declare their belongings when entering Japan. Hence, it is best to know Japan’s Customs rules.
Japan prohibits the entry of drugs, firearms and explosives, materials for chemical weapons, counterfeit money and banknotes, and pornographic materials. Furthermore, Japan restricts the entry of plants and animals, pharmaceutical products, hunting guns, air guns, and swords without permits. But like any other country, there are exemptions on bringing goods for personal use and professional equipment.
For the complete list of customs exemptions, restrictions, and prohibitions, visit the Japan Customs web page.
Japan has four distinct seasons, and these seasons have their charm. Spring from March to May is the time for the famous Cherry Blossoms in Japan. The blossoms bloom from south to north, with rainy seasons from late May to June that lead to summer. The summer in Japan, from June to August, is intensely hot and humid. From the northern to the southern part of Japan, the autumn colors light up the country from September to November. Finally, the winter season covers the land in powder snow from December to February.
Generally, the climate ranges from subarctic in the north to subtropical in the south, with conditions varying from the Pacific and the Sea of Japan sides. Northern Japan has warm summers and freezing winters with heavy snow on the mountains in the Sea of Japan side. The average winter temperature in Japan is 5.1 °C, and the average summer temperature is 25.2 °C. The highest temperature ever measured is 40.9 °C, and the lowest temperature is -41.0 °C.
Primary Transportation Options
Japan has an efficient public transportation network. It is characterized by punctuality, cleanliness, polite staff, and superb service. From its airports, railways and subways, buses, and taxis, all are modern and highly developed.
Japan has numerous airports serving both international and domestic flights. The most popular and main tourist entry points in Japan are Narita International Airport and Haneda International Airport, both in Tokyo, Kansai International Airport in Osaka, and Chubu International Airport in Nagoya. In addition, some regional airports such as Fukuoka, Sendai, Hiroshima, and Shin-Chitose (near Sapporo) also serve international flights.
Almost every prefecture in Japan has an airport, and traveling by air is also one of the most convenient ways to explore Japan. In addition, because of the increased competition and presence of low-cost carriers, flying in Japan has become one of the cheapest forms of long-distance travel.
Trains are Japan’s primary means of passenger transport, connecting major cities and provinces at a reasonable cost. It is also the most convenient way for visitors to travel around Japan, especially using the Japan Rail Pass for long-distance travel. About 70 percent of Japan’s railway network is operated by the Japan Railways (JR). Several other private railway companies run the remaining 30 percent, especially in and around metropolitan areas. Subways are also common in urban areas in Japan, with significant stations located inside malls and primary buildings.
Shinkansen, the high-speed bullet train, runs at a maximum speed of 320 km/h (200mph) and is ideal for long travel. For example, a bullet train from Tokyo to Osaka takes only two and a half hours for its 319 miles distance. Here, passengers can choose the kind of ticket they buy: regular, first class, and gran class. Aside from bullet trains, local and rapid trains also serve the metropolitan area and the far prefectures (provinces). Regular timetables are available, and all are famous for being punctual with its schedule.
Aside from trains, popular destinations in Japan can be reached by bus. Most cities have local bus networks that serve as the secondary means of transport in larger cities. In smaller towns and rural areas, buses are often the primary mode of public transportation. But riding local buses can be intimidating for foreigners because of various payment and riding systems, including the lack of English timetables, signs, and announcements.
In addition, Japan has an extensive network of long-distance highway buses connecting different regions. Some highway buses travel overnight and are very economical. For budget travelers, the Japan Bus Pass is a good option. Most highway buses require advance seat reservations, but only a few bus companies provide an easy way for foreign tourists to make reservations.
Taxis in Japan are highly trustworthy and will not try to take advantage of passengers. But to the average and cost-conscious travelers, taxis are an expensive and unnecessary alternative to efficient public transportation. However, it is the only option once the trains and buses stop operating at midnight.
A red plate on the taxi’s dashboard indicates it is vacant, while a green plate indicates the cab is occupied. At night, a light on the taxi’s roof indicates it is empty.
Taxi fares vary according to the size of the vehicle, company, and region. When passing through expressways, toll fees are added to fares. Also, visitors must take note of the 20% surcharge for taxi rides from 10 pm to 5 am.
Aside from the expensive cost, another downside of riding taxis in Japan is the language barrier. Most taxi drivers in Japan are older and don’t speak English. Hence, having language translation apps help.
Another option for getting around Japan is renting a car, and ideal only for large groups going to destinations with infrequent transportation. Cars drive on the left, with the driver and steering wheel on the right side of the vehicle. Most roads are toll-free, except when passing through expressways, tunnels, and scenic routes.
Bicycles are widely available and often used by all age groups and social standing in Japan. In many tourist destinations, bicycle rentals are an excellent option for getting around. It is inexpensive and convenient to cover distances between attractions that are slightly too far to walk. Visitors can find bicycle rental shops at train stations which require a deposit and photo identification.
Japan is home to an extensive network of ferry routes and ships. Between the main islands, ferries can be an exciting and fast alternative to trains, buses, and planes. Most ferries transport people, vehicles, and cargo. Shorter routes are served by small ships carrying a couple of cars and a few dozen passengers. On the other hand, longer routes are served by large ferries carrying hundreds of vehicles and passengers and are usually equipped with a range of amenities such as public baths and a restaurant.