What you need to know before you travel to Japan
There is so much more to Japan than samurai, sushi, and sake. The Land of the Rising Sun is home to bustling, modern cities, tranquil gardens, architectural and historic wonders, and natural spaces that boast picturesque waterfalls and mountains. So it is no wonder that tourists who have never been there before may not even know where to begin when planning their trip.
Here is a bit of what you should know before you go to Japan. Once there, you might find that the delicious cuisine and the beautiful sights make it hard to leave.
What are some of the must-see places in Japan?
There is an impressive array of places to see and things to do throughout Japan. And you don’t have to stick to big cities like Tokyo to get a taste for what Japan is all about. Instead, heading off the beaten path a bit could be just what you need to really dive into this unique culture and make unforgettable memories.
Below, we’ve listed a few of the many popular places for tourists in Japan. This could help you plan your trip so you don’t miss any of the most amazing destinations that you can talk about when you get back home:
- Byodo-in Temple: The Byodo-in Temple, which is located in Kyoto, is one of many beautiful and must-see temples in the country. In addition to being recognized by UNESCO, this 11th century temple holds a lot of history for those who wish to explore it. Don’t forget to look for the Amida-Nyorai Buddha statue, which has been designated as a National Treasure, while you are there.
- Himeji Castle: In addition to shrines, temples, and churches, Japan is also home to extraordinary castles that are the perfect combination of beauty and history. One of the most popular is Himeji Castle (also known as the Egret Castle), which is considered the biggest original castle in the country. Plus, the rest of the world recognizes this impeccably designed castle as a symbol of the unique nation that is Japan, so you will definitely enjoy making your way through this breathtaking architectural wonder.
- Kuju Flower Park: Japan offers more than just gorgeous architecture; there are also plenty of stunning and peaceful gardens to enjoy. Take the Kuju Flower Park as an example. There, you will find hundreds of species of colorful flowers that form carpets along the ground throughout the year. Visit in the spring to see the tulips in bloom, or check out the park in the early part of summer to see lavender in bloom. In the autumn, cosmos are the flowers that are showing off their vibrancy. You could certainly spend the whole day in the park, taking photos of the flowers and visiting the restaurants, cafes, and shops.
- Shirogane Park: Nature lovers should definitely make it a point to spend some time in Shirogane Park. During the Edo period, this park was close to the Nobesawa silver mine, so in addition to being beautiful, there is a lot of history there as well. In fact, you can still see the old mine shaft today when you visit. But the other stars of the show are Shirogane Falls, Senshin-kyo Gorge, and Choda-kyo Gorge, where you can really delve into the natural beauty of Japan.
- Nagayu Hot Springs: There are a lot of hot springs throughout Japan, but one of the best is Nagayu Hot Springs. The water is actually carbonated, so it will leave little bubbles on your skin, and it is said that this water could help improve blood circulation. If you want to relax your entire body for a little while in between exploring the many lovely locations throughout Japan, this is a great place to be.
- Mount Fuji: Famous Mount Fuji is a natural wonder that travelers flock to. If you hope to climb this volcano, you can do so from July to August. But because it is a part of the beautiful Fuji-Hakone-Izu National Park, you can also visit the area throughout the year just to get views of Mount Fuji without climbing it.
What are the best ways to get around in Japan?
Anyone who is hoping to visit as many places in Japan as possible should consider getting a Japan Rail Pass. This will help you save money, as well as give you the chance to easily get around when you are checking out the sights of a single region or when you are getting across the country. An unlimited pass could provide you with convenient access to JR-branded commuter ferries, buses, and trains, as well as the bullet train. And when you can’t travel by train, taxis are available, but they will typically be more expensive.
When is the best time to go to Japan?
When you are planning your trip to Japan, consider the weather. There are four seasons throughout the year, and the climate will also vary from one region to the next. For example, you will find a subarctic climate in Hokkaido, a subtropical climate in Okinawa, and an extratropical climate in places like Kyushu, Shikoku, and Honshu. So when you have the option of skiing in the spring up north (from March to April), you could also hang out at the beach on the islands of the southwest, if that’s what you’d prefer instead. It’s a lot to consider, but below is a basic breakdown of the climate throughout the year to help you plan the perfect vacation.
- Typhoon season is one that you want to avoid. From July through October, cyclones could form over the Pacific Ocean, and it is during the months of August and September that they are more likely to move onshore.
- The rainy season could also put a damper on your plans from the middle of May to the middle of June in Okinawa, and from early June through early July in Honshu. It could rain for a few days straight, and increased humidity could even boost the risk of food poisoning and mold. Yikes! But the good news is that you could stay in a place like Hokkaido, which is, for the most part, not really affected by this rainy season.
What should you pack for a trip to Japan?
What you pack for your trip to your Japan will depend upon the time of year in which you are going to be there.
- During the autumn, which runs from September to November, you can expect cool temperatures and light breezes. This is a popular time of year to explore Japan, as the trees will be showing off their colors, and flowers like Chrysanthemums will adorn gardens and parks. It is a good idea to pack light sweaters and light jackets, as well as comfortable shoes for walking and exploring the great outdoors.
- If you are going to stay in one of the locations on the Pacific coast during the winter, which runs from December through February, the temperature will usually remain above 0°C (32°F), and the weather will typically be sunny and dry. And the southern regions are also pleasant and mild in the winter too. But if you are going to be in the northern or central parts of the country, you can participate in winter sports and pack accordingly. Generally, sweaters and warm coats will certainly be helpful in keeping you comfortable as you head to restaurants, shops, museums, and outdoor attractions.
- The spring season from March through May is a beautiful time of year, as well as the ideal time to see the gorgeous cherry blossoms. Visitors enjoy taking in the views of gardens, fields, and mountains that are filled with blooms, and all you need to be comfortable will be some light sweaters and jackets, much like in the autumn.
- Summer runs from June through August, but there could be up to four weeks that make up the rainy season in June, so pack accordingly to shield yourself from the rain. Then you can expect humid and hot conditions in July and August, so plan for time at the beach or head to the cooler mountain areas. Packing light clothes that will help you stay cool will be necessary.
What do you need to know about Japanese culture?
Japanese culture is certainly unique, and once you are there, you will pick up on a lot of the rules rather quickly. One important rule is that you should never leave your shoes on when you enter someone’s home. But in addition to taking your shoes off before going into someone’s house or your hotel, you might also have to take your shoes off at some of the restaurants that you visit. You will likely be given slippers to wear after you take your outdoor shoes off. And there are also different types of slippers that you can wear, such as bathroom slippers and slippers for shared areas.
Which electrical outlet adapter do you need for Japan?
In Japan, you can expect to find Type A power sockets, so you may need to purchase an adapter, depending upon what you use in your home country. Also, the voltage is 100 V, while the frequency will be 50 Hz in the east and 60 Hz in the west, so you may need a voltage converter too, depending upon the appliances that you are planning on packing and using during your trip.
What are the best ways to pay in Japan?
If you come from a country where credit is the preferred way to pay, you might be surprised to learn that cash is preferred in Japan. Many shops and restaurants throughout the country will only accept cash, so it is a good idea to have enough money on you at all times. Rest assured that large department stores and some hotels, however, will typically accept credit, but it is best to ask first so that you will know exactly what to expect. And keep in mind that using your credit card abroad might cause you to incur foreign transaction fees too.
If you ever do run out of cash while you are out and about, you can head to a 7-Eleven to use an ATM. That’s right, 7-Eleven is where you can take cash out while you are in Japan. Weird, but true.
When it comes to tipping at restaurants, hotels, and other service-based establishments, you will not be required to leave a tip. If you do leave money behind on the table at a restaurant, for example, the staff will likely think that you left it by accident and give it back to you.
What is the currency of Japan?
Before going to Japan, you will need to have your money converted into the Japanese yen (JPY). Remember, most businesses will only accept cash, so use a currency converter to see how far your money will stretch.
If you don’t convert your money before entering Japan, you can access currency exchange services at post offices, banks, and some of the large hotels, as well as ATMs at 7-Eleven locations, as a few examples.
Do you need vaccinations to go to Japan?
According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, if you are planning a trip to Japan, you should consider getting up-to-date on your routine vaccinations, such as your flu shot, your polio vaccine, your varicella (chickenpox) vaccine, your diphtheria-tetanus-pertussis vaccine, and your measles-mumps-rubella (MMR) vaccine.
You can also talk to your doctor about the following vaccines before your trip:
You can also talk to your doctor about the following vaccines before your trip:
- Japanese Encephalitis: If you are planning on being in Japan for longer than a month, your doctor might recommend receiving this vaccine, depending upon when you are traveling and where you will be staying. Travelers who plan on being outside a lot or who plan on visiting a lot of rural regions, even for less than a month, may want to consider this vaccine as well.
- Hepatitis A: Because you could contract hepatitis A via contaminated water and food in Japan, your doctor might recommend receiving this vaccine to protect yourself.
- Rabies: Although bats in Japan may carry rabies, it isn’t a big risk to the majority of travelers. If you are going to be spending a lot of time outdoors in remote areas and you might be at risk of getting bitten, though, your doctor might recommend this vaccine. And if you are going to actually be working around or with bats, you will likely need this vaccine to protect yourself.
Ready to explore beautiful Japan?
Japan is one of those countries that you will never forget visiting, and with so much to do and see, so much yummy food to try, and so many places to relax and rejuvenate during your trip, you will never get bored. Using the information above, you could plan the getaway of a lifetime and make the most of your days in this unique place.
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