♦Currency: Yen ¥
♦Zone: +9 GMT
♦Phone Code: +81
♦Best time to visit: May to July
♦Must eat: Yaki-Soba
♦Must drink: Matcha Green Tea
♦Don't miss: Tokyo Sky Tree Tower
♦Number of times visited: 3
Getting there and transportation: Japan is a very accessible destination from around the world and many airlines offer good competitive prices, not only to the capital but to other major cities. Coming from Europe or America the best point of entry to the country is to Tokyo, there are several airports in the city, Narita (NRT) and Haneda (HND) are the most common.
The host airlines are Japan Airlines and ANA (All Nippon Airlines). They offer the best direct routes though they can be expensive. Most European and American carries have at least one flight a day to Tokyo. However there are many alternatives with other middle east or Asian airlines making prices more competitive with one extra stop.
If you coming from Asia, then it's worth checking lost cost airlines such as Vanilla air, Air Asia or Jet star as they offer no frills fares. Major Asian airlines also fly into Tokyo and Japan's other gateways, Osaka (KIX) and Fukuoka (FUK) being the most common.
When in Japan, the transportation systems are one of the most complex in the world with many metro, rail and high speed lines coinciding in major stations. Despite this, it's very user friendly and good signage in English will help you naviagete your way through the many transport modes. Each city can have one or two metro systems running on different tickets.Therefore it's more convenient if you busy passes that include all modes.
Japan is also famous for its high speed rail, and many tourists go to Japan just to travel on the bullet type trains which reach speeds of up to 320km/h. Prices are very expensive for single tickets but if you are visiting for a week or more it's definitely worth considering buying the Japan JR pass which enables unlimited travel on all the rapid Shinkansen lines. For more information check this website jrpass.com
Weather and temperature: The climate of Japan is predominantly temperate, but varies greatly from north to south. Generally it resembles to northern European climates and enjoys hot summers but cold-freezing winters. Precipitation is not heavy, but the islands usually develop deep snowbanks in the winter. It can snow heavily in the north specially and the higher terrains.
The average winter temperature in Japan is 5 C and the average summer temperature is 25 C. However in Japan typhoons can hit towards the south of the islands due to the location in the end of the summer (Aug-Sept) and can bring strong winds and heavy rain. The best time to visit Japan is from May to July.
However if you planning to see the popular Cherry blossoms, should visit from March to the 1st week of April. Also for the Autumn leave fall it's very impressive to see the array of colours and should be visited in late November and early December. Specially at Kiyomizu temple in Kyoto
Food and drink: Japanese ciusine is famous worldwide and what best to eat it in the original country! Japanese cuisine involves fresh, delicate flavours based on seasonal ingredients. Rice, miso (fermented soy bean) soup, tofu (soy bean curd), pickled vegetables and fresh seafood are samples of the Japanese diet. Traditionally, meat was not eaten because of Buddhist beliefs, but these days, consumption of beef, chicken and pork is widespread.
Sushi is world renowned, but it’s not the only style of cooking and the variety of regional dishes is astounding, ranging from noodle soups and dumplings to meat skewers, octopus balls and some of the finest beef in the world.
Specialities include: Teriyaki, beef, chicken or fish marinated in a soy sauce with mirin wine, and seared on a hot plate. Tempura, seafood and vegetables deep-fried in a light batter. Sushi, Slices of raw fish and vegetables placed on cooked squared rice blocks. Sashimi, thinly sliced fresh fish served uncooked with soy sauce, pickled ginger and wasabi. Ramen, noodles in a meat, fish, soy or miso-based broth with toppings such as sliced pork, spring onions and a boiled egg. Yaki-Soba, buckwheat noodles served hot or cold cold with with bite-sized pork, chicken, vegetables (usually cabbage, onions or carrots) and flavoured with yakisoba sauce, salt and pepper. It is served with a multitude of garnishes. Kushikatsu, crumbed fish, meat and vegetables deep-fried on skewers. Nattō, a traditional Japanese food made from soybeans fermented. Some eat it as a breakfast food. It is served with soy sauce, karashi mustard and Japanese bunching onion. Yakitori, skewers of bite-sized grilled chicken. Okonomiyaki, a grilled savoury pancake made with shredded cabbage, seafood, pork and noodles.
As for drinks, Matcha is a bitter green tea used in tea ceremonies. Sake, dry or sweet rice wine served hot or cold. Shochu, a strong vodka-like spirit often mixed with soft drinks. Asahi and Sapporo, crisp, dry lagers served in most Japanese bars and restaurants. Whiskey's are also quite popular imitating Scottish style distilleries.
Attention!: Tipping in NOT done in Japan. Due to their hospitality customs Japanese don't expect a tip. So when eating or drinking out there is no need to tip. It can be considered an offence that service was not good enough and to incentive them. Just the opposite of what people in the west are used to! But great for saving those extra coins! If you wish to leave money do it as a donation, to help charities. You will find little boxes next to the cashiers.
Transportation: the capitals network is one of the most extensive and complex in the world. Many different transport modes and lines converge into hub stations and connect at the same time with high speed rail links around the country.Understanding how the Tokyo network works might take you some time, but it's fairly basic once you do. English writing and new trains now incorporate led coloured lighting as you go along, as well as determined sounds for precise stations.
First, arriving from Tokyo Narita airport to the city centre the simplest and cheapest option is to take the local train-line, Keisei Main line, which connects the airport (NRT) with the city centre at Ueno station (links with metro). The journey will take approximately 70min and cost ¥1030. Alternatively you can go to Tokyo metro station by JR Train which costs ¥1320 for one hour. However you have the possibility to take the Skyliner (High speed to Ueno station), depending on where you stay and how quickly you want to arrive.
Also in Tokyo you will find JR lines (Japan Rail), Shinkansen Lines (High Speed Rail),and busses. It's possible to use them to commute around the city but for convenience it's better to use the metro.There are two metro systems in Tokyo, the Tokyo Metro and the Toei lines. Both reach many different destinations around the city and can be appealing for visitors. Getting the combined metro daily card is a good suggestion. For one day pass it's ¥1000 or for a 24h ticket for the metro of Tokyo only is ¥600. For the metro map of Tokyo, check the map link below.You can pay using single tickets, day passes or using the "Suica" pass. It's a magnectic card which you need to top up and costs 500 Yen.Also you can pay now with Apple pay, if you have the "Suica" App and the latest device of iPhone. (7).
Attention!: Tokyo transport might be one of the most advanced in the world but it's also one of the most crowded. Certain stations and lines get very busy at rush hour in the morning or after work. It's typical to see trains stopped at stations until every square centimetre of the space has been taken and people will push and push till they are in. If this wasn't enough guards at some stations also help push passengers from the outside in. These situations should be avoided for visitors but be aware of the times!
What to see and do? One of the most interesting cities of the world by it's modern construction, skyscrapers and luminous streets at night. But Tokyo has grown and modernised in very shot time also due devastating natural and man-made disasters. Tokyo has had more than its fair share of historical setbacks and triumphs, mainly intense wars which left the city decimated to rubble. Therefore the amount of historical evidence dating back several centuries is limited. Nowadays the culture is based on it's architecture, a flourishing arts scene and rapid growing economies, always a step ahead.
Because the city is so large below you will find the major districts and what to see in each of them:
Asakusa district, you will find the Kaminarimon which is the outer of two large entrance gates that ultimately leads to the Sensō-ji in Asakusa. The gate, with its lantern and statues, is very popular with tourists and hosts a market with all the souvenir and traditional hand-craft Japanese items at good prices.The Sensō-ji is an ancient Buddhist temple it is Tokyo's oldest temple, and one of its most significant.
Also nearby you will see the Tokyo Skytree, an office and shopping centre tower with a restaurant and observation deck with 360 degree views. It's Japan's tallest structure at a full height of 634 metres.
Suggestions: Visit the Tokyo Metropolitan Government Building for a birds view of the city for free! It's the headquarters of the governor and assembly of Tokyo. It’s just a short distance from Shinjuku station. At 243 meters, it’s also the 2nd tallest building within the city.
The building has two observatories (one for each tower) which are open free of charge to the public. It offers a viewing of the city from the 45th floors, 202 meters above ground. The Observatory is open from 9.30 AM to 5.30 PM. The other tower has a cafe and a bar which is open till 11pm.
Another suggestion is to visit Mount Fuji,the highest mountain in Japan at 3,776.24 m. An active stratovolcano that last erupted in 1707–08. It it 100 KM of Tokyo, and can be seen from there on a clear day. Mount Fuji's exceptionally symmetrical cone, which is snow-capped several months a year, is a well-known symbol of Japan and it is frequently depicted in art and photographs. Therefore being very popular for visitors and climbers. It was added to the World Heritage List as a Cultural Site per UNESCO. Also there are important sites to see in the surroundings of the mountain, Shrines, Lake Yamanaka, Lake Kawaguchiko, Oshino Hakkai hot springs, temples and numerous places to dine, and shop for souvenirs.
To get there, you can go by tour from Tokyo for the most easy and comfortable option. The tours leave in the morning and come back in the evening. They cost about €100 per person including optional lunch. Unfortunately Mount Fuji is so high that most times you will not be able to see the top as it's covered in clouds most of the year with only a 10% of visitors able to see it completely clear. Plan the trip according to the weather but mostly in the summer you will have better chances of seeing it. (tours operate year round and although you might not see the mountain, the organisers try their best to keep you entertained and provide ample opportunities to see many other sites during the day to make it an interesting tour).
Alternatively if you feel more adventurous, you can visit Mount Fuji without spending a lot of money. Avoiding the agencies which take commission and plan everything for you. The best idea is to travel by yourself to one of the lakes, Kawaguchiko, which is closest to the mountains at 2 hours away from Tokyo city. The cost is less than €45 for a return ticket per adult. To get there take a train from Shinjuku station to Otsuki. Then you need to transfer and pay the second train. From Otsuki to Kawaguchiko. You can also get there faster if you pay another 400¥ by taking the Fujisan View Express from Otsuki.
For Japan Rail holder's (JR Pass) you only need to pay from the JR line station Otsuki to Kawaguchiko, because it's a private railway. It's best to go in the morning and take pictures as the sun is high. As you arrive to Kawaguchiko, there is a multitude of options to see the mountain. The chepsast is to walk around the lake and capture the different views of the peak as you see it. To get to the north of the lake it will take at least 1.5 hours walking. You can also go by bus or a tour can be organised from the station as an alternative to walking.Around the lake there are plenty of things to see and do, so even staying one night could be an interesting option. Mount Fuji, is not always visible, therefore depends on the weather a lot. If it's a thick cloudy day in Tokyo, chances are you might not see it. So plan it carefully not to get disappointed.
Accomodation: space in the city is a major issue and Japanese are experts on how to use every corner and empty space to maximise potential. Japanese rooms are traditionally a mat on the floor, known as futon. These are advertised as traditional rooms when you book so do not get confused as to expect a traditional European queen size bed!
Another option to consider if you are on a budget is staying in Hotels and hostels which offer Capsule type accomodation. These rooms are essentially piled up bed cabins sorrounded in plastic or wood, long enough for one person to sleep and only being able to access the bed through one side, either the end of the bed or the side. Shared bathroom and showers are typical, often being Japanese style also (open showers).
Other peculiarities of the capsule rooms are the fact that there is no posibility to leave your luggage there if you are staying a few days. Each time you must clear the Capsule by 10-11am and leave your belongings in a locker. Also many places make you take off your shoes before going into the Capsule rooms. Capsule rooms can be cheap at €20 per night.
However, if you prefer the spacious Hotel rooms and comfortable normal beds you will have to pay the price. Rooms would be at least €50 per night!
Recommended duration: As being such a rapid and growing city with so much to do and see, Tokyo is often a city you will see new things each time you go. For a first time visit and to see the most essential and submerge a little in the culture 5 nights would be ideal, including a trip to Mount Fuji.
Transportation: Kyoto's transportation system is very effective and easy to use. The city has only two metro lines which don't reach to all the sights. Therefore it's recommended that you buy a bus pass which gives you unlimited access to all bus lines and it costs only ¥500 per day. (one ticket costs ¥230) Busses are very easy to ride, with information panels and announcements in English telling you were you are and which next bus stop is approaching. When boarding the busses you board in the middle of it and exit at the front where you pay your fare or just show your pass. (On first ride you need to activate your pass, by putting it into the machine).
The best thing when you get to your accommodation in Kyoto is to ask for a colour bus route map where it shows also the attractions and highlights to visit. Within Kyoto it's also possible to travel around in JR trains and the fast Shinkansen.
What to see and do: There are 17 historic sites inscribed on the UNESCO's World Heritage List under the group designation Historic Monuments of Ancient Kyoto. The city itself is full of culture and history, and at every corner you will find always new places to visit and discover. As well in the outskirts you will find interesting sites to visit, like in the city of Uji and in Ōtsu.
The top recommended sites in Kyoto to visit are:
Accommodation: being the most popular city in Japan, it's no surprise that staying here is quite expensive. Hotels and even individual hostel rooms can be a minimum of €40. Shared hostels are cheaper and also shared private accommodation like Airbnb is a good option. Finding capsules style hostels is much easier though you need to be out by 10am normally and check out every day till you come back to sleep.
Recommended duration: Being a city of so much immense culture and places to see, it's necessary to take it all in by planning ahead and stay for at least 3 nights to see the most important highlights of the city. Specially because there is a lot of walking to do and plenty of scenery to photograph.
Transportation: Osaka is an epicentre of transportation networks which all combine into two main centres, (Umeda and Namba). However when travelling long distance the Shinkanshen trains don't reach the city centre, therefore you need to change at Shin-Osaka and continue your journey by local or rapid JR trains.
Coming from the Airport there is a few lines, the easiest line is the JR line from the airport to Osaka Station where you can change for metro.
Within the city, metro, JR and Busses are all very accessible. But perhaps for visitors the best transportation is getting metro and JR lines. A lot of the major attractions around Osaka are around the Osaka Loop Line (O Line), and the centres are located around Namba station and Umeda, both served by the red metro line.
If you are using the transport a lot,then it's worth checking all the ticket combinations available, like daily passes or multi tickets.
What to see and do?: Osaka was formerly known as Naniwa. Before the Nara Period, when the capital used to be moved with the reign of each new emperor. In the 16th century, Toyotomi Hideyoshi chose Osaka as the location for his castle, which is the highlight of your visit to Osaka. At a first glance, Osaka is a modern city full of interesting districts which offer many and varied activities from the classic temples to modern buildings, and entertainment, specially in the Namba district. It's a city worth exploring every corner!
The main districts and highlights in Osaka are:
Namba District: Located around Namba Station, Minami, is one of Osaka's two major city centers. It is the city's most famous entertainment district and offers abundant dining and shopping choices. You will find near by the Osaka river and Dotonbori Bridge. In the area it's popular to find traditional Japanese snacks, such as Takoyaki or Okonomiyaki or Kushikatsu.
Within Namba, a short walk downwards the canal you will find, Dotonbori. A large scale downtown along the south bank of the Dotonbori-gawa Canal. There are an unbelievable number of restaurants and amusement facilities, theatres that play traditional puppet shows Bunraku, storytellers' halls and other popular entertainment as well as a number of movie theatres. Better to enjoy at night when the thousand of neon lights are flashing and changing colours!
Trips out of Osaka: As well as the sites within the city there are plenty of interesting places to visit with a short train ride from Osaka. They are:
Accommodation: Osaka is considerably cheaper than other cities in Japan, making it a very interesting selection if you want to make the city your base and travel around to other highlights and cities near by. Hotels around the different districts vary in price, the cheapest being in the Shinsekai area. Though it's an area good for budget accommodation it's not considered as the safest and the quality can less than expected so make sure to investigate and compare reviews of the place before booking. Average Hotel is €20 per night though you might need to share the bathroom.
Recommended duration: Osaka is definitely a city that impresses with it's busy nightlife and never stopping streets full of stores, shops and stalls which you can walk through for hours! It's probably a much more exciting city at the evening and night. However with the trips which can be made from Osaka it's still worth staying for at least 2 to 3 nights.
Transportation: Hiroshima transport: Despite its size the city of Hiroshima has an interesting transportation network comprising busses and street cars. The street cars are the best way to explore the city, as they are even a popular tourist attraction, since it's of the few cities which still uses this mode of transport. A daily ticket for unlimited rides on the street cars cost ¥600. (Single ticket is ¥160).
There are also JR trains and rapid Shinkanshen lines serving Hiroshima.
What to see and do: Naturally, the city is more associated with being the first city in the history of mankind to be destroyed by an atomic bomb. It is quite a grim legacy. But Hiroshima is so much more than that and is well worth a visit on any trip to Japan. Below are some of the highlights:
The Hiroshima Peace Memorial/ Peace Park, commonly known as the Atomic Bomb Dome, this is undoubtedly the symbol – for better or worse – most associated with Hiroshima. Left standing after the bombing on August 6, 1945. The twisted metal of the dome and the rubble-strewn surroundings is left the same as it was 70 years ago.
Miyajima Island , is a very small island a short trip from Hiroshima. After taking a 10-minute ferry, the striking view of the island is unforgettable. Sparsely populated and intensely rural, Miyajima is renowned throughout the country as being the best spot to see the autumn leaves change colours. Also it's possible to see wild deer in the island. The main feature of the island is undoubtedly the absolutely massive torii gate, colloquially known as the Floating Shrine.
Ride the Hiroden to take a streetcar in Hiroshima is to take ride back in time. Known as the Hiroden, since 1912, streetcars have moved the people of Hiroshima from place to place, there are even a couple streetcars still in service today from those early days. The Hiroden is also known as the Moving Streetcar Museum. A great way to see the city!
Hiroshima Castle a fantastic example of traditional Japanese castle construction. The present castle was, of course, reconstructed after World War II, but is still a fantastic site to visit. Surrounded by a moat, the five-story tall castle was first built in 1589 by legendary feudal lord Mori Terumoto. It is also one of the best spots in the city to see cherry and plum blossoms among the sprawling castle gardens.
Museums: Hiroshima is also a city full of museums which represent the history and culture of the area. The most visited, its the Hiroshima Peace Memorial Museum (related to the Atomic bomb), Maneki-neko Museum and Path of Cats, Hiroshima Prefectural History Museum, Honkawa Elementary School Peace Museum, Hiroshima Prefectural Art Museum, Hiroshima City Museum of Contemporary Art and the Yamato Museum amongst others. For more information about these museums visit the following page: Visithiroshima.net
Suggestion: Visit Okunoshima: also knows as “Rabbit Island”, dates back to WWII when the island was used to produce chemicals to be used in combat such as poison gas. The rabbits were brought to the island to test the effects of the poison, but once the war ended they were freed by the workers.Others report the bunnies are descendants of rabbits released by elementary school kids- maybe the truth is a combination of both stories. Regardless, the presence of the rabbits in combination to the historical ruins has made the island a popular attraction.
To get there, take the JR to Tadanoumi station. (it's about 2hours away from Hiroshima). When you arrive, you will find the port by walking 5 min, to the right of the station as you exit. You can buy the tickets, buy food for the rabbits and use the washrooms, there is even free Wifi! It cost ¥620 return on the ferry which takes 15min. Make sure to check the times for the return trip also, as they can run at odd hours, (Aprox every 40min from 9.30am to 19.30pm). On the island there is a hotel complex, beaches and walks around the island which take you to the historical sites.For more info on the island visit: gethiroshima.com
Accommodation: The city is cheaper to stay than other major metropolis like Tokyo or Kyoto. You will find the traditional Japanese style futon beds at more reasonable prices. If you prefer a more "conventional" hotel, then you need be prepared to pay a bit more. However prices can be quite good if you share. Also Airbnb is available, hostels and guesthouses for those more price conscious. Average prices are €30 for Hotel and €15 for Hostels.
Recommended duration: The main feature of the city is it's historical value and walking in the city for one day is enough to take in the importance of what once happened. However on a more positive note, it's worth checking out some of the areas around the city and travel further as there are many hidden jewels not too far from Hiroshima.So, 3 nights would be just enough.