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Japan | The Ultimate Travel Guide

When to go, where to stay and what to do in the land of the rising sun.

Updated

Bright neon lights entice you at each and every turn, temples and shrines appear in the most unassuming spaces and kimono-clad geishas walk casually alongside Harajuku girls, genderless kei boys and business suits in the streets. This is Japan.

Venture away from the cities and you’ll be graced with the country’s natural beauty: there are mountains destined to be climbed during summer and skied during winter, cherry blossoms bathe nearby waterways in glorious colour, forests of bamboo kiss the skies and natural hot springs steam invitingly.

Fascinated? You should be. Read on to see how to do and see Japan without regrets.

Getting around in Japan

Japan is truly timeless, a place where ancient traditions are fused with modern life. Making sure you know exactly how to get around the major cities, as well as the less populated areas of Japan, will mean you have an easy and fun experience.

Most of Japan's larger cities are serviced by subways or trams, buses and taxis, and many locals rely entirely on public transport. In Japan's most populated areas, including Tokyo, Yokohama and Osaka, most tourist attractions are in walking distance to many hotels and other attractions.

To get between cities, your best options are to fly or take a train.

Flying is ideal for faster commutes as well as to get between islands while the train is ideal for travelling between major cities on the same island, for example between Tokyo and Osaka.

Using Japanese public transport

  • Bus: Almost every Japanese city has a bus network. Tokyo for example has two bus options, the public Toei Bus which operates throughout the city as well as sightseeing buses such as the Tokyo Shitamachi, Skybus Tokyo and Skytree shuttles which travel between major tourist areas.
  • Subway: Subway systems operate in Fukuoka, Kōbe, Kyoto, Nagoya, Osaka, Sapporo, Tokyo and Yokohama. They are usually the fastest and most convenient way to get around the city. The Tokyo metro area and Kansai metro area are further linked by a network of JR and private rail lines. Stops and line names are posted in English.
  • Ferry: One of the most pleasant ways of travelling around this island nation is by ferry. Some routes include Tokyo-Tokushima and Osaka-Kitakyushu. Details and booking options can be found on A Ferry.

Paying for transport in Japan

IC cards are prepaid travel cards with chips that work on subways, trams and buses in the Tokyo, Kansai, Sapporo, Niigata, Nagoya, Okayama, Hiroshima and Fukuoka metro areas. Each region has its own card, but they can be used interchangeably in any region where IC cards are used; however, they cannot be used for intercity travel.

  • Bus: City buses often have a flat fare. All buses have change machines near the front door.
  • Train: If you plan to zip around a city in a day, an unlimited-travel day ticket is a good deal; most cities offer them and they can be purchased at station windows. If you plan to spend more than a day or two, then getting a prepaid IC card is highly recommended.
  • Taxi: Cab fares are fairly uniform throughout Japan and all cabs run by the meter. Flagfall (posted on the taxi windows) is around ¥600 to ¥710 for the first 2km, after which it's around ¥100 for each 350m (approximately).
  • Getting in and around Japan
  • Getting to and from the airport: The best transport from Japanese airports are trains. They are quick, convenient and go to most locations.
  • Best apps for getting around: Hyperdia Hyperdia is the absolute must-have app for train travel in Japan. Whether you're hopping on the subway for a quick jaunt between Shibuya and Tokyo station, or going long haul with a journey up to Aomori or down to Fukuoka, Hyperdia will tell you when to leave, which trains to take and what time you'll arrive.

Japan train maps

Useful train maps for helping you navigate your way around Japan include the Tokyo metro map, and Tokyo JR rail map.

You can find more extensive maps, including those in Osaka and Kyoto on the JR Pass website.

Japan bullet train map

Japan's high speed bullet trains, also known as Shinkansen trains, offer visitors an experience like no other with speeds reaching up to 320 km/hr.

The main Shinkansen lines with bullet trains include Tokaido, Sanyo, Tohoku, Joetsu, Nagano and Kyushu.

Car hire in Japan

The minimum age for driving in Japan is 18 years, and you will need a Japanese driver's license or an International Driving Permit in order to rent and drive a car.

Japan's leading car rental companies are Toyota Rent a Car, Nippon Rent-A-Car, Orix Rent-A-Car, Times Car RENTAL and Ekiren. Hertz and Europcar are also available in Japan.

Compare car hire companies and find competitive prices with our car hire search

Taxis and rideshare in Japam

Taxi: Transit stations and hotels have taxi stands where you are expected to queue. In the absence of a stand, you can hail a cab from the street. Otherwise, you can pre-order a taxi to pick you up.

Uber: The ride-sharing service Uber is available throughout Tokyo and can be used to get to and from the airport

Airport transfers in Japan

If arriving from abroad, you'll most likely be arriving in Tokyo, Osaka or Sapporo. If you're hoping to avoid crowded public transport, consider pre-booking an airport transfer for a smooth arrival.

Shared Arrival Transfer in Tokyo Narita International Airport to Hotel
Shared Arrival Transfer in Tokyo Narita International Airport to Hotel

Viator

Private Arrival Transfer in Osaka Airports to Osaka city
Private Arrival Transfer in Osaka Airports to Osaka city

Viator

Japan's traditional culture and architecture, natural serenity and buzzing high rise cities are just a few examples of why so many Aussies are drawn to this magnificent and versatile country.

Whether you're looking for adventure, cultural enlightenment or the chance to create your own extraordinary memories, there's no denying that Japan has many enticing qualities.

Frequently asked questions about travelling in Japan

Is Japan expensive compared to Australia?

Compared with the average Aussie price of a mid-range three-course meal for two Japan is considerably cheaper. In Australia we'd usually pay about $80 for a three-course meal for two people, whereas in Japan, you'd be looking at something like $46.39 for the equivalent.

Draught beer is cheaper too, as it would cost around $7 in Australia, whereas prices in Japan are closer to $4.64 (averaged out).

Generally, public transportation services are substantially cheaper than back home. But, taxis are almost doubled in price compared to what we're used to.

Is Japan safe for tourists?

Japan is considered to be one of the world's safest nations, however, there are a number of important things to keep in mind:

  • Crime. Crime levels are significantly low throughout Japan, however, a number of crimes against tourists have been reported from Tokyo's entertainment areas. Express the due diligence that you would in any city. Safeguard your personal possessions and don't travel alone if it can be avoided.
  • Earthquakes. It's worth pointing out that certain areas in the country are more prone to earthquakes like Tohoku, in the north-east, and Kanto (near Tokyo).
  • Typhoons. Places that are more likely to be affected by typhoons include Okinawa, Kyushu and Hokkaido.
  • Volcanoes. You will find active volcanoes in Japan, including its most famous, Mount Fuji, and Mount Unzen in Shimabara.
  • Radiation. Following the Fukushima nuclear accident sparked by the March 2011, earthquake and resulting tsunami, radiation is still present at the point of the disaster. The levels of radiation are said to be low, however there is a parameter of safety and caution that is advised according to the proximity to the site.

Read more in our guide about safety in Japan for tourists

When is Japan's cherry blossom season?

On average, the cherry blossoms open anywhere between the end of March and the beginning of May. The dates differ depending on the geographical location of each city. Generally, if the climate is milder, the blossoms will open earlier. You can find detailed info on the average blooming dates in each of the locations here.

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