Author : Kaori M, Certified Tour Guide and Travel Planner. (Contact me)
When I talk to my guests during tours, some of them did not know much about Japan when they planned their trips and have some troubles or concerns during their stay in Japan. After I explain them, they always said “Oh, I wish I could know it before I plan!!” So here I list basic information you’d better know before you plan your trip.
Japan has many national holidays and especially three big holiday seasons; New Year (Jan 1st-3rd), Golden Week at the beginning of May and Bon week in the middle of August. Since Japanese people tend to travel or go back to their hometowns during these three holidays, there are heavy traffic on roads. Also, train seats are occupied and domestic flights and accommodations are much more expensive than other days. Tourist attractions are crowded. On New years day and during bon week, many shops are closed. I recommend to avoid these holidays if possible.
Japan has four seasons, spring, summer, autumn and winter. Spring in March and April is the high season for tourism because of nice weather and beautiful cherry blossom. Autumn is also nice to walk around. Between spring and summer, there is a rainy season from June to the beginning of July (except Hokkaido north island). Also in July and August, most part of Japan are very hot and humid. Some of my guests checked the temperature before they came and thought it was not bad, but it was… because of high humidity! I recommend to avoid from June to August if you are not used to the humidity. It is much more than you imagine.
Each area has a different characteristic. Here I list most popular places among my guests.
Tokyo: The capital of Japan with more than 13 mil people, nice to see a crazy modern cultures
Kyoto: Ancient capital of Japan, to see traditional shrines and temples
Mt. Fuji: highest mountain and a symbol of Japan surrounded by beautiful nature and hot springs
Hiroshima: Peace Memorial Museum, Atomic Bomb Dome, and Itsukushima shrine floating on the sea
Takayama: small mountainous area with hot springs
4 Accommodation type
There are several types of accommodations but unique one is Ryokan, Japanese style inn with tatami mat room without bed. We sleep on the floor with Futon. At some Ryokan, you can enjoy Onsen hot springs and nice Japanese dinner in your room wearing Yukata, light cotton clothing. If you would like to experience the authentic Japanese atmosphere, I recommend to stay in Ryokan especially in mountain areas or hot spring resorts like Mt. Fuji area, Hakone, Atami, Takayama, and Kyoto. In modern cities like Tokyo, Osaka, or Hiroshima, western hotels are more popular.
As you may know, Shinkansen is the bullet train which is the easiest way to visit popular cities in Japan. It is punctual, convenient and fun to take. While your trip with Shinkansen, you can enjoy Bento lunch box. They even sell foods and beers in the trains. Japan Railway is operation Shinkansen and there is a JR Railway Pass for foreign tourists. If you visit 2 or more cities, I recommend to think about getting this. You need to get it BEFORE you come to Japan. Please see the details here.
These are very basic information about traveling in Japan and efficient especially for first time visitors. If you have already come to Japan, you might enjoy hot summer with lots of traditional summer festivals, or off the beaten path trips.
Author : Kaori Mizuno, Certified tour guide and travel planner
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