Japan’s megacity of Tokyo has etched an ultra-urban image. Meanwhile, other prefectures are making great strides, capitalising on their distinct features. Hokkaido’s majestic winter entices millions of tourist to head north every year. Kyoto, the former capital, has thousands of well-preserved shrines and temples. And Okinawa’s coastlines are reeling in beach lovers.
The list of attractions can go on for days, same with the bevy of food choices. Savoury ramen, fresh sashimi, top-quality wagyu beef, mochi desserts–there’s a dish for all appetites. The cost of visiting Japan is by no means cheap, but it’s manageable enough with a crafted travel plan.
WHEN TO VISIT
March and April are buzzing with tourists for the Cherry Blossom Festival. The streets of Japan gets even busier by the end of April and early May for the Golden Week, a period of four national holidays in seven days. Expect airports, train stations, and key attractions getting full to the brim. These months are in springtime, hence the favourable conditions.
From June to September, vibrant summer festivals occur left and right. It also spells hot and humid conditions in Tokyo, Kyoto, and some areas. Autumn, with its more enjoyable weather, enters late in September. The changing of foliage is turning into another popular attraction. From December to mid-March, winter comes with its magical atmosphere, especially for the New Year’s Day. At this point, airports are once again busy. On the other hand, establishments tend to close for the holidays.
Tokyo’s Narita Airport (NRT) receives the bulk of international flights to Japan. Haneda Airport (HND), also in the capital, handles more domestic flights and some international traffic from budget carriers. Fukuoka in the southwest, is the next largest international airport. From Narita Airport, the Japan Rail (JR) Narita Express has a direct journey to Tokyo Station.
The rest of the public transportation system is highly efficient and well maintained. Shinkansen (bullet trains), sleeper trains, and local buses are some viable options for tourists. JR Passes, offering unlimited travels nationwide, are available in flexible periods for foreign travelers.
Japanese traditional cuisine is known the world over. It’s an ‘Intangible Cultural Heritage of Humanity’ according to UNESCO. That says a lot for a medley of familiar dishes such as ramen, sushi, and tempura. Tokyo alone has more restaurants with Michelin stars than most countries have. Aside from boasting the summit of fine dining, Japan gathers unique food experiences–street bites, market tours, conveyor belts, food halls, and izakayas (casual pubs). Every region has its own specialty like the snow crabs in Hokkaido or Kobe beef in Hyogo.
Japan’s charm lies in keeping its traditions while embracing modernity. And like the many specialty dishes, every region has festivals unique from others. In Hirosaki, the locals collaborate and design giant fan-shaped floats for the Neputa Festival. The same dedication lies in the preparation of Gion Matsuri, a famous parade held in the streets of Kyoto.
Most of these festivals found their roots in the main religions: Shinto and Buddhism. The locals also base festivals from the changing seasons. Giant ice sculptures of the Sapporo Snow Festival appear in February while the Cherry Blossom Festival across Japan is marked sometime in April.
Japan National Tourism Organization (official website)