Japan Travel Guide – transportation, hotels, travel tips + itineraries for 8, 12 and 16 days

  • 13.03.2024 17:07
  • Bruno Arcos

A complete Japan travel guide with all the information you need regarding hotels, restaurants, transportation and the best travel tips for those visiting the country. We’ve also included three different itineraries with everything you should see and do in Japan in 8, 12 or 16 days.

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Known as the “Land of the Rising Sun”, Japan stands out as one of the most coveted destinations in the world. Located far-far-away, in the confines of East Asia, the ancient nation is a treasure trove of sacred shrines, old castles, imperial palaces and towering mountain peaks. Yet, Japan’s allure extends far beyond its historical heritage. In fact, much of its recent appeal among travelers lies within its contemporary cultural scene, since this is where you’ll find the world’s most famous geek culture, an internationally acclaimed cuisine and some of the best modern architecture. Not to mention Japan’s stereotypical (though true) reputation for extremely high levels of respect/reverence and organization.

Though Tokyo to Kyoto definitely stand out as the country’s most popular tourist destinations, there’s plenty more to see and do in Japan. Like the historic towns nestled in the Japanese Alps, the iconic silhouette of Mount Fuji, the vibrant modern energy of Osaka, or the sober 20th century history of Hiroshima – Japan really does offer an unparalleled array of experiences. Plus, given its high levels of technological and economic development, Japan is also an excellent destination for those seeking to travel independently for the first time outside of Europe or North America!

So, if you’re planning a trip to this stunning destination, our ultimate Japan travel guide is here to help. In addition to practical information about hotels, restaurants, transportation and local experiences, we’ve also put together three comprehensive itineraries, including all the places you must see and visit in Japan in 8, 12 or 16 days.

Japan Travel Guide

How to get to Japan – Flights from the UK

Although there are several international airports scattered around the country, there’s a big chance you’ll be landing in one of Tokyo’s major air hubs if you’re flying all the way from Europe: the Haneda Airport and the Narita International Airport.

If you’re coming from the UK, you can fly directly into Haneda from London–Heathrow with Japan Airlines, British Airways and All Nippon Airways. Alternatively, since direct flights are usually a lot more expensive, you may choose to save some money and have a layover somewhere else. China Eastern usually has the best deals for flights departing from London, offering deals to Tokyo starting from £450,00 (return), with a layover in Shanghai.

How many days do I need to visit Japan?

Actually, Japan is one of those destinations where you could easily spend months without running out of things to do or places to explore. As such, one can easily apply the motto of “the more, the merrier”!

However, for those with limited time and/or budget, a full week would be the bare minimum to experience the essentials in Tokyo and Kyoto. Nonetheless, we highly recommend extending your stay for as long as possible, ideally setting aside enough time and money for a two-week vacation in the “Land of the Rising Sun”.

Japan Travel Guide – Best time to visit the country

Given that temperatures in major Japanese cities tend to be quite extreme, with chilly Winters and scorching Summers, it’s best to plan your visit for the shoulder seasons – Spring and Fall. This obviously doesn’t rule out the possibility of visiting during Winter or Summer, as Japan remains an extraordinary destination year-round, but the experience might not be as comfortable.

Finally, one has to mention the cherry blossom season. While the timing can vary slightly from year to year, it generally takes place between the latter half of March to the early weeks of April. During this time, the streets are filled with the iconic pink petals, giving Japan the iconic charm most people picture when thinking about the country. Unfortunately, this is naturally peak tourism season in Japan, meaning flight and accommodation prices will skyrocket, and crowds can be a tad overwhelming.

Japan Travel Guide – Documents needed for your trip

In order to enter Japan, British and Irish travelers need to show their passport. The document should be valid for a minimum period of 6 months from the date of entry into the country.

Finally, it’s worth mentioning that passport holders from the UK/Ireland can stay in Japan without a visa for up to 90 days.

Japan Travel Guide – Internet and SIM Cards

Since there is no special agreement in place between the UK and Japan regarding international communications and roaming fees, using your regular phone plan is a big no-no!

Therefore, our recommendation is that you get a SIM Card before traveling to Japan. Unlike most countries, there is a different market for companies selling SIM cards to foreigners in Japan, meaning you can’t get the same packages as residents. As a result, you’ll rarely find stores dedicated to this service in the cities, which is why it’s advisable to buy your card in advance online through the website of any of the providers. You can either go for a physical SIM card (you can pick it up at the airport upon arrival or have it mailed to your address) or choose an eSIM (virtual SIM card) that you can activate upon landing. Alternatively, if you forget to buy a card beforehand, you can visit one of the dedicated kiosks at the airport or visit BIC Camera or Yodobashi Camera stores in the city, which also sell mobile data cards. However, you’ll be limited to the packages available in stock, which may not be particularly good. While there are several companies operating in the market, we’ll focus on the two main players: Mobal and Sakura Mobile.

Japan travel guide – Mobal SIM Card

  • Data-only
    • 8 days, 25 GB: ¥4730
    • 16 days, 50 GB: ¥6490
  • Data, text messages and calls
    • 30 days, 7 GB: ¥7920

Japan travel guide – Sakura SIM Card

  • Data-only
    • 8 days, unlimited data: ¥4500
    • 16 days, unlimited data: ¥6500
    • 30 days, unlimited data: ¥9000

Japan Travel Guide – Withdrawals, banking fees and travel budget

With the Japanese Yen (¥) as the country’s official currency, any withdrawal using a UK bank card might incur in the payment of several different fees. Besides the percentual fee referring to the currency conversion, some UK banks may also charge a flat commission for withdrawals made outside the UK. In some instances, you may well end up paying 5%-6% of your original withdrawal in banking fees.

On the other hand, exchanging money before your trip is not a viable solution either. Besides not being any cheaper, it’s also not safe or wise to carry so much money on you during your trip. As such, we recommend using the services of online banking fintech companies such as Revolut, N26 or Monzo.

Although each have their own limitations and fees, they allow you to withdraw a certain amount in foreign currency without any fees involved. And even after that threshold is reached, costs are much smaller when compared to traditional banks. Keep in mind, though, this does not apply to fees issued by local banks for withdrawals made with foreign cards. Unfortunately, most ATMs in Japan charge a fee for those instances (a modest 110¥-220¥ yen per withdrawal). Be that as it may, a message will always pop up every time there is a fee per withdrawal, so you will never be caught unaware. Another point worth mentioning is that it’s quite common for ATMs inside banks not to accept foreign cards. Therefore, and somewhat surprisingly, the best place for tourists to withdraw money is inside the country’s iconic convenience stores, such as 7-Eleven or Lawson, or inside Japan’s post offices. Sign up for Revolut for free >> to get 3 months of Premium.

It’s also worth mentioning that, even though the Japanese society enjoys extremely high levels of development, a good portion of local businesses (especially the smaller ones) still prefers to deal with hard cash, so it’s better to always have some money on you. On the other hand, if you prefer to take cash and exchange your money in Japan, here are three exchange offices we can recommend in Japan:

Japan Travel Guide – Common scams and frauds

Given Japan’s solid presence in the top 10 of the Global Peace Index, it’s no wonder that the country ranks among the safest in the world. Therefore, you can move around with ease, as the likelihood of coming across any form of violence, theft, robbery or scamming is very, very low.

However, and much like you would do in any other country, using your common-sense is key. That means no taxis whose drivers refuse to start the meter, no accepting help from strangers when you’re using an ATM or trying to buy metro tickets and always keeping an eye out for your stuff when you’re walking through busy areas. To sum up: don’t do anything you wouldn’t feel comfortable doing in any other city!

Finally, it’s important to note how prone Japan is to natural disasters, especially earthquakes. However, due to the country’s long history in dealing with such events, no other society is better prepared in terms of infrastructure and contingency plans. So, if you happen to experience a stronger-than-usual tremor during your visit to Japan, simply follow the directions and instructions provided by the authorities on how to proceed. They know what they’re doing!

Where to sleep in Japan – Hotels and Accommodation

If you’re looking out for a place to stay on our Japan travel guide, then we got you covered!

Alongside airfare and overland travel, accommodation is likely to make up a significant portion of your expenses. Particularly in Tokyo, where there is a clear lack of land for construction, hotel and apartment prices can be quite high, with a room boasting a decent location (with a private bathroom) easily selling for three digits per night. However, in the rest of the country (even in Kyoto), rates are more moderate, and currently below what you might expect to pay in any major European city. Also, room sizes in Japan are typically smaller than what you’re probably used to, although overall standards of cleanliness and service are extremely good.

That being said, here are some options based on the cities we recommend you to stay at:

Japan travel guide – Hotels in Tokyo

Since we’re talking about the biggest city on earth, relying heavily on public transportation to explore Tokyo is always a given, no matter where you choose to stay. Be that as it may, staying near the city’s major tourist areas will help minimize your commuting time.

Among Tokyo’s many districts, Shinjuku definitely stands out as the one with the highest concentration of bars, restaurants and activities, boasting hidden alleys filled with Izakayas (small bars where locals go for a drink and a quick snack after work). Further south, you may also choose to stay in Shibuya. Famous for its iconic intersection – the Shibuya Scramble Crossing – the district is also home to the alternative and bohemian neighborhood of Harajuku. For a more central location near Tokyo Station, Ginza is yet another excellent area to use as homebase, and a place where you can find luxury shopping, as well as landmarks like the Imperial Palace or the Tsukiji Fish Market.

On the other hand, if you head north, Asakusa offers a more traditional and residential atmosphere. Besides hosting the extraordinary Sensoji Temple, the presence of skyscrapers and other tall buildings is significantly toned in this area. Nearby Ueno offers a similar vibe, boasting some of the best museums in the city (such as the Tokyo National Museum, the Metropolitan Art Museum or the National Museum of Western Art) within its expansive Ueno Park. Last but not least, we simply couldn’t skip Akihabara, the district of neon lights and eccentric outfits, filled to the brim with manga shops, electronic stores, videogame collectibles and themed cafes. The ideal spot for budget travelers who want to stay somewhere central and well connected to the rest of the city.

Japan travel guide – Hotels in Kyoto

Regarded as the country’s most historic city, staying in the central areas of Kyoto is a must if you want to explore its countless temples, shrines and old quarters. That being said, no district is as adequate as Gion, the most famous geisha district in all of Japan. While prices may run higher here and in the broader area of Higashiyama-ku, which encompasses the entire temple district along the eastern bank of the Kamo River, the location couldn’t be any better. On the opposite side of the river, districts like Nakagyo Ward and Shimogyo Ward are even better connected (public transportation) and prices are slightly lower, though the scenery and setting may not be as pretty. Nonetheless, there’s no shortage of excellent options for cafes, restaurants and markets.

At last, one needs to mention the area of Arashiyama. Despite its distance from the city center, it’s a great choice for those wishing to stay closer to nature or looking for ryokans at more affordable rates.

Japan travel guide – Hotels in Osaka

The third-largest city in Japan after Tokyo and its neighboring metropolis of Yokohama, Osaka is also an excellent hub for exploring the entire region of Kansai, since hotel prices tend to be budget-friendlier compared to nearby more tourist-heavy areas. Out of all the districts in Osaka, none is as popular as Minami, the area pertaining to the southern section of the downtown and in close proximity to Namba Station. In fact, this is where you’ll find the bustling districts of Dotonbori and Shinsaibashi, famous for their raucous atmosphere, huge crowds, neon signs and endless array of street food stalls.

On the other hand, if you prefer to stay close to the central station, you can opt for the northern downtown area, known as the Kita district. Besides the quick, frequent and convenient connections to neighboring cities, the area also houses a few attractions like the Osaka Castle or the modern Umeda Sky Building. Finally, for a more authentic experience without venturing too far from the city center, consider staying in Tennoji, Osaka’s oldest and somewhat more rundown district. Despite its less polished appearance, the quarter offers friendlier prices and plenty of local eateries where you can try classic Japanese dishes.

Japan travel guide – Hotels in Hiroshima

Considerably smaller and more compact than any of the cities we’ve mentioned so far, our recommendations are quite straightforward when it comes to Hiroshima. You can either stay near the Train Station, where there’s not much to do but access is better, or in Downtown Hiroshima, home to the local castle and, more importantly, the iconic Hiroshima Peace Memorial Park. Plus, there’s certainly no shortage of dining options for every taste and budget in this part of town.

Japan travel guide – Hotels in Takayama

If there wasn’t much to consider in Hiroshima, then what can we say about Takayama? A small and lovely town, and an excellent base for exploring the Japanese Alps, pretty much every single hotel and guesthouse in Takayama has a decent location. So, whether you stay near Takayama Train Station or in the Sanmachi district (the Old Town), you’ll be all right.

Japan Travel Guide – Transportation between Tokyo airports and the city centre

From Haneda Airport to Tokyo city center

Located just 20 km away from the city, the best way to travel between Haneda Airport and the city center is by using the train. Fortunately, you’ll have two options at your disposal. The first, called Tokyo Monorail, connects every single one of the airport’s terminals to the Hamamatsucho station in just 13 minutes, where you can transfer to the Yamanote Line – a JR line that is part of Tokyo’s public transportation system. Using this rail line, you may then reach Tokyo’s most central and popular stations, such as Tokyo Station, Shinjuku, Shibuya or Ueno; taking between 5 to 20 minutes, depending on your final stop. The Tokyo Monorail operates daily between 05h18 and 23h48, with new vehicles departing every 5 minutes during rush hour (up to a max waiting time of 15 minutes). Tickets cost ¥500 for the Monorail, plus the separate fare for your journey along the Yamanote Line, which will depend on the total distance (¥170 for Tokyo Station; ¥210 for Shinjuku).

As an alternative to the Monorail, you can choose the Keikyu Airport Line, which also leaves from every single terminal in Haneda. However, this option connects the airport to the station of Shinagawa, taking about 20 minutes to complete the journey. Once you make it there, this station is also part of the Yamanote Line, so the same information given above regarding destinations and prices apply. The Keikyu Airport Line runs every day between 05h02 and 23h59, with waiting times ranging from 5 to 10 minutes. Tickets cost ¥330.

On the other hand, if you don’t want to worry about transfers, then you’ll want to hear about the Airport Limousine Bus. Despite the posh name, this is actually an ordinary bus service, which connects the Haneda Airport to over 30 different areas in Tokyo. The journey takes about 1 hour but the exact schedules will depend on your drop-off location. You can use this website to select your destination, and you’ll be shown the departure times and waiting periods between vehicles. Setting Shinjuku as the destination, the limousine buses leaving for this district run between 06h45 and 02h20. As for tickets, these cost ¥1400, and you can purchase them on arrival or online through Klook.

From Narita Airport to Tokyo city center

Since the distance between Narita Airport and Tokyo is considerably bigger (65 km) than Haneda’s, transportation options are longer and more expensive. Still, there’s plenty to choose from! Regarding railroad, the quickest option is to take the Skyliner, a service managed by private company Keisei. This train connects the terminals at Narita and the Ueno station in just 41 minutes. Once you arrive in Ueno, you can transfer to the metro (Ginza Line and Hibiya Line) or to the Yamanote Line (one of the JR-owned public transportation lines in Tokyo) to get to your place of accommodation. The ticket for the Skyliner costs ¥2470, but you’ll have to pay the fare for the public transportation ticket separately, which will depend on the total distance from Ueno (¥150 for Tokyo Station; ¥210 for Shibuya or Shinjuku). This service operates from 05h40 to 23h00, with a new train leaving every 20 minutes. As an alternative, especially if you’ve bought the JR Pass, you can also rely on the Narita Express, the rail service managed by JR that links the airport and Tokyo Station in just 55 minutes, before moving on to Shibuya (1h15) and Shinjuku (1h25). The Narita Express runs between 06h18 and 21h44, with waiting times of roughly 30 minutes. Tickets cost ¥3070 to Tokyo Station, and ¥3250 to Shinjuku or Shibuya.

If you’re strapped for cash and prefer to save some money, you may simply hop on one of Keisei’s local trains. You can use the Keisei Main Line, which travels between the airport and Nippori station, and then transfer to the Yamanote Line to reach popular areas such as Tokyo Station, Shibuya or Shinjuku. A new train departs every 30 minutes and takes about 1h15 to get to Nippori. It’s a longer trip but also a much cheaper one, with tickets costing just ¥1050 + the fare to ride the Yamanote Line ((¥170 for Tokyo Station; ¥210 for Shibuya or Shinjuku).

Japan Travel Guide – Transportation and how to move around between cities

As one would expect from such a modern and rule-oriented society, Japan’s public transportation system stands out among the world’s finest, with international users highlighting its cleanliness, efficiency and punctuality.

While you may always use the local metro and rail systems when commuting inside big cities, trains reign supreme when it comes to intercity travel, though there’s also a very reliable and expansive bus network.

That being said, we will expand on this section and discuss how you can move around in Japan, explaining the different types of trains and buses and analyzing whether purchasing one of the famous JR Passes is worth it or not.

Trains in Japan

By far the most popular mode of transportation in the country, both among tourists and locals, train travel is part of the imagery often associated with Japan in the Western world. In fact, it’s no wonder that 90% of the world’s 50 busiest train stations are located here! With a total of 30.000 km of railway lines spanning the entire island, the system helps move around an astonishing 9 billion passengers annually!

However, and even though Japan boasts one of the best railway networks in the world, navigating it can be somewhat challenging at first, especially for those who haven’t done their homework. Unlike most European countries, Japan’s railway network isn’t managed by a select group of public or public-private entities. Instead, there are many entirely private train companies operating in Japan, their coverage varying depending on the scale of the network. While some companies only manage a single line or route, others are responsible for extensive, nationwide networks. For that reason, ticket prices aren’t standardized, as each company has the autonomy to establish its own fares. Nonetheless, one company holds nearly 80% of the market share, which is why JR (Japan Railways) is so popular.

Types of trains and fare structure

Regardless of the operator, Japanese trains typically follow the same guidelines when it comes to services categories. Therefore, train services can be split as follows:

  • Shinkansen – The famous bullet trains, able to reach a jaw-dropping speed of 320 km/h. Connecting major cities across the country, they’re ideal for travelers spending a short period in Japan, since speeds are insanely high and the number of stops are kept to a bare minimum. However, they are also the priciest option, with ticket prices often nearing the triple digit threshold;
  • Limited Express – These services make stops only at key stations along specific routes. Although they can reach respectable speeds of up to 160 km/h, they are still quite slower when compared to the Shinkansen.
  • RapidA local service, but slightly faster. While Limited Express trains only stop at a few stations, Rapid trains only SKIP a few stops.
  • Local – The slowest service, but also the cheapest. Besides stopping at every station along the route, it will require you to make many transfers and buy several different tickets when traveling longer distances.

It is also worth mentioning that the fare structure for train journeys in Japan will likely be different from what you are used to back at home. In fact, for long-distance services (Shinkansen and Limited Express), the total ticket price will be split into at least two segments. In addition to the base fare for the journey itself, a second receipt is issued as proof of payment for the “express fee”, which varies according to the distance traveled.

For example, for the staple journey between Tokyo and Kyoto aboard a Shinkansen, the base fare is ¥8360, plus ¥4960 for the express fee. This will come up to a total of ¥13.320 for the journey (and you’ll receive 2 different tickets/receipts). Then, depending on the demand and seasonality, it may also be mandatory to reserve a specific seat. If you are not required to do so, you will receive what is called a “non-reserved seat” and will not have to pay any extra. However, if you do have to reserve a specific seat, an additional fee of ¥330, ¥530, ¥730 or ¥930 will apply, depending on the type of seat you choose.

On the other hand, if you only use Rapid and Local services, you will pay the base fare without any extra charges. The downside? The same journey will take 4.5x longer (9 hours vs 2 hours), and you will have to make at least 5 to 6 transfers. Make your choice!

How and where to buy tickets

Depending on the private company you choose for your journey, it may be possible to buy your tickets online in advance. However, unless your trip takes place during peak tourist season or you’re traveling along a route with limited connections, it’s recommended that you wait until you’re in Japan.

Once you are physically in the “Land of the Rising Sun”, you can easily ask any questions you have at one of the tourist information centers, and purchase your ticket at the booths or using the automatic machines. For the latter, there are specific machines for Shinkansen and others for the remaining services, with the software available in English on both. However, for high-speed trains, it’s recommended to buy your ticket at the counters, simply by specifying the destination, service (Shinkansen), departure time, and whether you want a reserved seat (if it’s not mandatory).

For slower services, the machines are the stations are intuitive enough – you just need to input the name of the destination and the fare will be displayed. In fact, the ticket that is issued doesn’t mention the destination but only the amount you paid as fare, as the system will calculate if the fare is correct based on the boarding and exit stations where you tap your ticket. If you make a mistake or change your plans during the journey and need to exit at another location, there’s no need to worry. At the end of the journey, if any differences are detected at the turnstiles, you’ll be directed to a counter or to a Fare Adjustment Machine, where you can pay the difference. Sounds tricky? Then just do as everyone else and use your IC Card (more on that later) to pay for your journey!

How to research routes, times and ticket prices

If you need to plan a specific route between two locations and check prices, schedules and railway companies, we recommend using HyperDia. The platform is available in English and is very user-friendly, requiring users to only insert the point of departure, destination and time.

Based on the input, the system will then display several different transportation options, detailing the schedule, service (train name), distance, travel time and total fare, including the breakdown of the base fare and express fee (if applicable). Just keep in mind that this express fee is designated on the website as “Seat Fee”, which isn’t at all accurate. In fact, looking at the screenshot below, you can consider the express fee as the sum mentioned under “Unreserved Seat,” while the difference between this amount and the “Reserved Seat” option is the actual the Seat Fee. Looking at this specific example, the base fare is ¥4070, the express fee is ¥3740 and the ordinary seat fee is ¥530 (¥4270 for the “Reserved Seat” minus ¥3740 for the “Unreserved Seat”).

Furthermore, you have additional search options. If you have plenty of time and a tight budget, you can choose to filter your options so that Shinkansen and Limited Express services are no longer included, and only Rapid and Local trains are displayed. As you can see, the total cost of the journey is much cheaper, but travel times stretch out for quite a bit.

The HyperDia system also includes local subway and tram networks, so you can use the same tool to help you navigate major cities like Tokyo, Kyoto or Osaka. Finally, if you find it hard to use this tool, you can always try the JR-West search engine.

Is it worth buying a JR Pass?

Here’s the question of the hour!

If you’ve never heard of it, the JR Pass is a transportation pass issued by Japan Railways, allowing unlimited use of their entire network – including the Shinkansen services – for a pre-established period. Even on services requiring seat reservation, you can simply scan your pass at a ticket machine (or ticket counter), request a reserved seat for your desired train and a receipt will be issued free of charge. As I mentioned earlier, since this company operates 80% of the country’s railways, this has always been the most coveted pass among those visiting Japan.

Although the pass has always required a pretty hefty investment, it was generally agreed that, given the time savings compared to buses and local trains, purchasing a JR Pass and using the bullet trains was the wise choice, allowing you to make the most of your short time in Japan. Unfortunately, with the huge price increases of 2023, which saw pass prices go up by around 70%, the decision is no longer that obvious. Currently, these are the prices charged by JR for passes in “ordinary” cars (i.e. not First Class):

  • 7 Days: ¥50,000
  • 14 Days: ¥80,000
  • 21 Days: ¥100,000

So, is it worth buying a JR Pass? Hardly. If your goal is to see as many places as possible in a limited span of time and you have the budget to accommodate this expense, then no other tool will be as convenient as the JR Pass. However, when looking at things from a purely financial standpoint, there’s no way you’ll be able to get the pass to pay itself off compared to how much you’d spend on individual trips on buses or rapid/local trains (and even Limited Express trains). Ultimately, it’s about assessing how much you’re willing to pay to optimize your time and experience. In fact, current prices are so ludicrous that even if you choose to buy tickets for the Shinkansen as you go, it may still not justify the investment of getting a JR Pass. As usual, you’ll have to be the one doing the math.

Still, for a fair and unbiased comparison, let’s consider this example. If you’re traveling around Japan for 14 days and plan to visit Tokyo (with a day trip to Mount Fuji), Takayama, Kanazawa, Kyoto, Nara, Osaka and Hiroshima, this would be the cost of all your trips if you’re using the fastest available option (Shinkansen and Limited Express trains):

  • Tokyo – Kawaguchiko (Mount Fuji) – Tokyo: ¥8260
  • Tokyo – Takayama: ¥14.190
  • Takayama – Kanazawa: ¥5710
  • Kanazawa – Kyoto: ¥6490
  • Kyoto – Nara: ¥720
  • Nara – Osaka: ¥810
  • Osaka – Hiroshima: ¥9890
  • Hiroshima – Tokyo: ¥18.380
  • TOTAL: ¥64.450

As you can see, even with an itinerary where you’re constantly moving around, it is still ¥15.550 more expensive to buy a JR Pass compared to buying single tickets. However, it’s worth noting these numbers do not include transportation between Haneda/Narita Airport and Tokyo (covered by the JR Pass for the Japan Railways lines) or local public transportation lines managed by the same company. Still, it’s highly unlikely you’ll spend anywhere near ¥15.550 on these.

So, what happens if we consider a similar scenario, but only using buses and local lines? Let’s see the potential for savings:

  • Tokyo – Kawaguchiko (Mount Fuji) – Tokyo: ¥4240 (bus)
  • Tokyo – Takayama: ¥6500 (bus)
  • Takayama – Kanazawa: ¥4000 (bus)
  • Kanazawa – Kyoto: ¥3700 (bus)
  • Kyoto – Nara: ¥720 (local train line)
  • Nara – Osaka: ¥810 (local train line)
  • Osaka – Hiroshima: ¥4000 (bus)
  • Hiroshima – Tokyo: ¥8100 (bus)
  • TOTAL: ¥32.070

Unsurprisingly, the difference between buying a 14-day JR Pass or completing all trips by the cheapest means available is absolutely massive (a whopping ¥47.930). However, all trips (except for the Tokyo-Takayama and Takayama-Kanazawa segments) are substantially longer, with the largest time difference recorded for the journey between Hiroshima and Tokyo (13 hours by overnight bus vs 4 hours by Shinkansen). Alternatively, depending on your plans, you can always keep an eye out for regional passes to double-check if there’s a more attractive offer. This comes especially in handy if you plan to use a specific city as a base and want to take several day trips on consecutive days.

Finally, if even after all this information you’re still determined to buy a JR Pass, you can do so online through one of several authorized outlets (like japanrailpass.net). Then, once in Japan, all you need to do is show the confirmation email and your passport at one of the Japan Railways’ offices in your arrival airport, and you’ll receive the magical pass in return, ready for use.

Highway Buses in Japan

Considering the price comparison provided above, it’s not surprising that long-distance buses (referred to as kōsoku bus or “Highway Buses” in Japan) are getting more popular by the day. Clean, comfortable and reliable, they offer a compelling alternative to both the Shinkansen and the Limited Express trains, covering the same routes at much more affordable prices (albeit with significantly longer travel times). Interestingly, if we stick to the inland regions of the Japanese Alps – such as the Gifu Prefecture, where historic towns like Takayama, Shirakawa-go and Kanazawa are located – buses can be just as quick as the trains.

While Willer Express and JR Bus hold the biggest market share, there are countless road transport companies across Japan, most of them serving a specific region. Luckily, there are at least four centralized websites where you can purchase intercity bus tickets:

Usually, tickets for specific routes are available at least one month in advance, often with discounts for early bookings and round trips. On the other hand, and unlike trains where prices are usually fixed, bus fares tend to vary based on factors such as the time of year and the day of the week, with higher prices during peak seasons, holidays and weekends.

Finally, it’s worth noting that, much like the JR Pass, Willer Express also offers its very own bus version called the Japan Bus Pass. This special ticket is sold in two versions, based on the days you’re planning to travel:

  • Monday to Thursday Pass
    • 3 days: ¥10.200
    • 5 days: ¥12.800
    • 7 days: ¥15.300
  • All Day Pass
    • 3 days: ¥12.800
    • 5 days: ¥15.300

Here’s how it works. If you bought the Monday to Thursday Pass, it means you cannot use it on Fridays, Saturdays, Sundays and holidays. On the other hand, with the other pass, these restrictions do not apply. After purchasing your pass online, it will be linked to your account on the Willer website, and you’ll have 2 months to use it. During that period, you can choose 3, 5 or 7 days (depending on the type of pass you purchased) to travel on the company’s buses. These days do not have to be consecutive, and the number of trips is limited to a maximum of 3 connections per day, meaning this isn’t technically an unlimited pass.

Also, understand that not all routes are included in the pass. You can check all the covered routes on the link shared above. Additionally, and while the Willer search engine allows users to purchase tickets for buses operated by other companies, the Japan Bus Pass is only valid on vehicles exclusively operated by Willer.

Furthermore, keep in mind you are still required to reserve your seats (for free), even after purchasing the pass. This is done to make sure Willer doesn’t overbook their buses by selling seats that a pass-holder intends to take. To do this, simply visit your profile on the website and click on “Bus Pass Management”. From there, you can browse for the connection you need (and the dates) and book your seat. Rest assured: when searching for routes through that menu selection, all the options displayed are valid under the Japan Bus Pass.

IC Cards – Pasmo Passport and Welcome Suica

Before we delve into a brief overview of the Tokyo metro system, it’s important to talk about the cards that will make your travels a lot easier. Much like the Oyster Card in London or the Leap Card in Dublin, the Suica and Pasmo cards are two rechargeable public transportation travel cards. However, unlike their European counterparts, these Japanese versions are universally accepted and can be used on all trains and metros nationwide, meaning you can top them up with any amount and use them as you see fit, whether at the Tokyo and/or the Kyoto metro, at the buses in Takayama or at any intercity trains.

As for the rest, they work in similar fashion to what you’re probably already used to. Simply tap the card upon entering and exiting stations/turnstiles and the fare is automatically deducted, sparing you the inconvenience of having to purchase single tickets each time you need to use public transportation. Currently, the Pasmo Passport and Welcome Suica cater specifically to tourists, expiring after 28 days. Apart from facilitating travel payments, these cards offer additional perks, such as symbolic discounts per trip (¥2 to ¥10), as well as the ability to use their balance for vending machines or station lockers. Previously, tourists could also get the “regular” cards (available to Japan residents and with no expiration date), but those cards’ physical versions were suspended due to a global shortage of semiconductors, and now only the tourist versions remain. Alternatively, you can simply add a digital PASMO or SUICA card (standard or tourist versions) to your Apple Wallet or your Google Pay, using your smartphone as a ticket.

Ok, but what exactly sets the Welcome SUICA apart from the PASMO Passport? Well, nothing really. Despite being issued by different companies, both serve the same purpose, are accepted at the same locations and offer identical benefits. They only really differ on the locations where you can request their physical versions. While the Welcome SUICA is exclusively available at Tokyo airports, the PASMO Passport can be obtained at most of the tourist information offices located inside major metro and train stations across the capital (and at the airports as well).

On a final note, just keep in mind that any unused balance will be lost after 28 days when the card expires. Therefore, it’s a good idea to keep an eye on your balance.

Tokyo Subway

Considered the second busiest metro system in the world, behind Shanghai, the Tokyo Subway is comprised of 13 lines spanning nearly 300 stations, serving an astounding average of 9 million passengers per day. Much like the country’s railway network, Tokyo’s subway system also consists of lines operated by different companies, with the majority of the network (9 lines) managed by the private enterprise Tokyo Metro, and the remaining portion (4 lines) by the public Toei Subway. However, unlike trains, tickets are equally valid on both companies, eliminating the need to pay a new fare when transferring between different company lines.

Additionally, although not officially part of the Tokyo Subway, the network also includes the famous Yamanote Line, operated by JR (the company also manages about 6 other public transportation lines in Tokyo). This loop line goes through the city’s major train stations, making it one of the most used by commuters. However, unlike the 13 lines that officially compose the metro system, tickets aren’t interchangeable, meaning you need to pay a new fare every time you use the Yamanote. Be that as it may, your IC Card (PASMO or SUICA) is still valid here, so you just need to tap it and you’re good to go.

The Tokyo Subway operates every day from 05h00 to 01h00, with waiting times ranging from 3 to 10 minutes, depending on the time of day. Besides, the system is integrated into Google Maps, meaning the platform will provide you with real-time information on which line to take, where to catch it, where to transfer and how much to pay.

As for tickets, these can be purchased from ticket machines or by tapping your IC card, as long as it has sufficient funds. How much you’ll pay for the trip will be distance-based, though trips between central Tokyo areas like Shinjuku, Shibuya, Asakusa, Chiyoda and Tokyo Station will typically range from ¥150 to ¥300.

Finally, if you plan on using public transportation very frequently, it’s worth looking into the daily and multi-day options available:

  • Toei and Tokyo Metro 24-hour Ticket: ¥800
  • Toei and Tokyo Metro 48-hour Ticket: ¥1200
  • Toei and Tokyo Metro 72-hour Ticket: ¥1500
  • Tokyo Combination Ticket 1 day: ¥1600*

*This pass is valid for travel on the Tokyo Metro, Toei Subway, and JR Yamanote Line.

Japan Travel Guide – Unique travel experiences in Japan

Given the country’s technological prowess, distinct culture and ancient traditions, it’s no wonder Japan offers quite the plethora of unique travel experiences. Considering its remote location and relatively high cost of living, Japan is often seen as a once-in-a-lifetime type of destination, meaning most visitors are usually quite keen on exploring every facet of Japanese culture in order to make the most of their time in the Land of the Rising Sun.

While it’s obviously impossible to fully capture the nation’s essence and quirkiness in a single article, below are six unique travel experiences that can only be found in Japan:

Onsen – the Japanese thermal baths

Famous for their therapeutic qualities, the term “onsen” refers to Japanese hot spring resorts, and you can literally find hundreds of these establishments all across the country. While some of these resorts offer private baths along with accommodation, most consist of public facilities, usually segregated by sex. It’s important to note that an establishment can only be labeled as an “onsen” if its hot spring waters are naturally sourced. On the contrary, if a resort does not use natural hot spring waters with healing properties (essentially offering heated baths), it is called a “sento”.

In cases where hotels or ryokans include access to an onsen for guests, it’s usually possible for non-guests to visit the bathing area as well, paying an entrance fee for the service. As for the local bathing rituals and onsen etiquette, the experience may differ significantly from what you’d find in Europe. For starters, wearing any kind of swimwear or bathing suit is strictly prohibited, meaning all users are expected to be fully naked. Naturally, this rule doesn’t apply to bathing areas where both genders are allowed. For ladies, is recommended that they avoid visiting an onsen during menstruation. Another notable difference from other countries’ thermal resorts is the policy regarding tattoos. With few exceptions, most onsens do not allow guests with visible tattoos. If you have a small tattoo, you can still go in as long as you’re able to cover it with a sticker (some establishments provide these), but larger or multiple tattoos will probably mean you’ll have to specifically look for “tattoo-friendly” onsens.

Alongside the baths, the entrance fee will typically grant you access to the locker areas where you can store your belongings. Plus, a small towel (returned upon exit) is also provided. Before entering the thermal pools, please make sure to wash your body thoroughly with water and soap, as this an in important part of then onsen etiquette.

While onsens can be found throughout Japan (though “sentos” are far more common in urban areas), the best thermal resorts are often located in smaller, secluded villages, usually located in mountain areas. In fact, some of these places were actually founded and developed due to their natural hot spring sources, which is why they’re called “onsen towns“. Examples include Kinosaki Onsen, Kusatsu, Noboribetsu, Ginzan Onsen, Shibu Onsen and Kurokawa Onsen. Near Tokyo, the region of Hakone offers an excellent option for experiencing some of the finest hot spring resorts in the country without straying too far from the capital.

Spending a night at a Ryokan

Seen as traditional Japanese guesthouses, ryokans are symbols of the country’s ancient architectural style, usually famous for their wooden structures with sliding doors, tatami mats, low tables (where one eats and works while seating on the floor), futon beds and décor with bamboo elements and ceramics. Beyond their visual appeal, staying at a ryokan is an immersive experience. Since many of these hotels/guesthouses are located in areas known for their thermal activity, most ryokans actually have their own onsen, and the stay can include a traditional Japanese meal (Kaiseki), a tea ceremony and the provision of a yukata, a sort of casual kimono.

Historically, ryokans were used by feudal lords and their samurai entourage during their mandatory annual visits to the capital to pay tribute to the Emperor. Covering long and tiresome distances, these travelers would stop and rest at several different ryokans along the way, taking the opportunity to relax and have a meal before resuming their journey. As a result, ryokans have long been associated with nobility. Nowadays, while many modern ryokans continue to aim towards a higher-end experience (and public), one can still find a few modest establishments, often run by local families.

If you’d like to have the experience of staying at a ryokan, platforms like Booking.com will let you user their engine to specifically filters this type of accommodation. Be that as it may, the oldest and most authentic ryokans are usually found outside major cities, as establishments in Tokyo and Osaka will offer a more tourist-oriented experience. Nonetheless, when visiting Kyoto or Nara, travelers can still come across great ryokans despite these destinations’ popularity.

Watch Sumo Wrestling

A tradition that became synonymous with Japanese culture, sumo wrestling is revered as one of the nation’s most popular and respected practices, elevating its top athletes to superstar status. The rules couldn’t be any simpler. You put two human titans inside a circle, and the win is given to the one who manages to either knock their opponent down or push him out of the ring. However, along with the strength and athleticism, Sumo is particularly fascinating to outsiders due to all the rituals surrounding it.

Unfortunately, Sumo tournaments are special occasions, taking place over periods of 15 days, only six months/year. In Tokyo, the legendary Ryōgoku Kokugikan – the most iconic Sumo arena in the world – hosts just 3 tournaments annually, in January, May, and September. You can confirm the exact dates here. Tickets usually go on sale five weeks before the event and sell out quickly, so completing your purchase online before arriving in Japan is definitely recommended. Much like the fight and its traditions, seating arrangements are also rather unique. While you can get yourself a regular chair seat (starting from ¥3500), the traditional way to experience sumo is from a “box.” These semi-private areas accommodate groups of up to four people and are sold starting from ¥40.000. Therefore, buying a box is the same as buying tickets to four people, since that’s the most you can seat together. You cannot buy a single place in a box. Here, fans sit on cushioned floors, leaving their shoes outside the seating area.

Finally, if you don’t happen to visit Japan while one of these tournaments is on, you can still join a morning tour to watch a practice session at a Sumo club in Tokyo’s Ryōgoku district. These practices last about 90 minutes (starting between 07h00 and 08h00) and you will learn more about the sport and the strict training regimen of the athletes. After the session is over, many of the tours also include lunch at a special restaurant serving Chanko Nabe. This famous Japanese hot pot is a staple of the wrestler’s diet for gaining weight, and consists of meat, tofu, fish, vegetables and noodles.

Universal Studios Japan and Tokyo Disneyland

Just like visitors to Paris or Florida almost always include a trip to their respective Disney parks, the same holds true for any journey to Japan, with the added bonus of having not one, but two options to choose from:

  • Universal Studios Japan – In Osaka
  • Tokyo Disneyland – In Tokyo

Start with the Osaka park, getting there couldn’t be easier thanks to the Osaka Loop Line, operated by JR. This route goes through the city’s main stations and connects to Nishi-Kujo Station, where you can transfer to the Yumesaki Line (also JR) and get off at Universal City. Using the Central Station as a pinpoint, the total journey takes less than 15 minutes, with the ticket costing just ¥190.

In addition to the park’s standard area, where you’ll find the most iconic attractions, as well as the music parades, Universal Studios Japan is also quite famous for its other two areas: the Wizarding World of Harry Potter, based on the adventures of the young wizard; and Super Nintendo World, inspired by the beloved franchises of the giant Japanese video game producer, such as Super Mario, Legend of Zelda or Pokémon.

Fully aware of the popularity behind Super Nintendo World, the park’s management isn’t shy at all when it comes to milking this money cow… all for the sake of crowd management, of course! With that said, let’s talk about tickets. Available online via the official Universal Studios Japan website or through authorized third-party resellers (such as Klook), the price for a 1-day Studio Pass (the standard ticket) will depend on the time of the year. During quieter periods, prices can go as low as ¥8600, going up to ¥10.400 during peak times. It’s important to note that while this standard ticket grants access to all other areas of the park, it does not include entry to Super Nintendo World. If you want to gain access to this very special part of the park, you’ll need “Area Timed Entry Ticket”, an additional feature that assigns you a specific time slot to enter. To obtain this complement to the standard ticket, you have several options.

If you’re willing to take a chance and not spend any more money, you can wait until the day of your visit and request this supplement for free, either in person at the ticket booths or through the Universal Studios Japan official mobile app. However, be aware that there’s always the risk that no slots are available, especially during peak seasons. Therefore, you can play it safe and secure your entry in advance… at a steep price! The cheapest method is to purchase a Studio Pass that includes an Area Timed Entry Ticket for Nintendo World (starting from ¥12.500). However, these tickets are limited and sell out very, very quickly. Alternatively, when purchasing your ticket, you’ll need to add what they call an “Express Pass“. Essentially, this is a special pass that allows you to reduce wait times at some of the resort’s most popular attractions. It’s available in different versions, all of which include the coveted Area Timed Entry Ticket for Nintendo. The cheapest Express Pass grants you quick access to 4 rides and starts at ¥14.800, while the priciest option reduces wait times at 7 attractions, costing at least ¥19.800.

Important note: this Express Pass does NOT replace the standard ticket, meaning you have to add this amount to the regular Studio Pass price!

Now that you’ve got all the essentials about the park in Osaka, it’s time to head to the capital and talk about Tokyo Disneyland. Again, the transportation system couldn’t be more efficient. From Tokyo Station, the city’s main transportation hub, just hop aboard the Keiyo Line, operated by JR East, and you’ll arrive at Maihama Station in just 18 minutes. From there, it’s a 10-minute walk to the park’s main entrance. This will set you back a laughable ¥230.

Much like its Parisian counterpart, Tokyo Disneyland offers a wide range of attractions, parades and costumes inspired by the Disney classics. Spread across seven distinct areas within the expansive complex, this was actually Disney’s first park to open outside the US. Before the pandemic, over 17 million people visited this park annually, earning it a place among the world’s top five busiest amusement parks!

As for tickets, prices also follow a dynamic trend, fluctuating based on the time of year. That being said, the lowest prices you can expect for a 1-day pass will be around ¥7900, rising to ¥10.900 during peak periods. In addition to their official website, Tokyo Disneyland partners with a select number of authorized resellers as well, with the famous Klook once again coming up as a reliable alternative. Currently, tickets cannot be purchased at the gate. Online tickets are always available for sale 2 months in advance, but the option of purchasing two or three-day passes has been temporarily suspended. As an alternative to 1-day passes, and if you don’t plan on spending the entire day at Disneyland, you can save some money by going for partial tickets. You can choose between the Early Evening Passport (¥6500 to ¥8700), which allows you inside the park from 15h00, or the Weeknight Passport (¥4500 to ¥6200), valid for entry on weekdays starting at 17h00.

Sakura – the Cherry Blossom Season

The most sought-after time to visit Japan, many people book their flights to the Land of the Rising Sun specifically to attend the cherry blossom season (locally known as Sakura). And it’s certainly not hard to understand why. During this period, typically stretching from the latter half of March to the first half of April, Japan becomes even more beautiful, as its numerous parks burst into vibrant shades of pink.

Throughout this period, virtually every city in Japan hosts local festivals to celebrate Sakura, with communities coming together for outdoor gatherings and impromptu picnics beneath the blooming cherry trees. In fact, the tradition of taking a walk to admire the cherry blossoms became so symbolic of the Japanese nation that the country even came up with a specific word for that act: Hanami! While cherry blossoms can be seen all across the country, certain destinations stand out for their exceptional beauty during this season:

  • Tokyo: Appreciate how the breathtaking cherry blossoms adorn the promenades of Ueno Park and Shinjuku Gyoen Park;
  • Kamakura: Particularly beautiful is the final stretch of the path leading to Tsurugaoka Hachimangu Shrine;
  • Mount Fuji: Capture the iconic image of cherry blossoms against the backdrop of Mount Fuji from Chureito Pagoda, or alongside the pink shores of Lake Kawaguchiko.
  • Kumagaya, Saitama: Stroll along the Kumagaya Sakura Tsutsumi river promenade, which explodes with the colors of cherry blossom petals during this time of the year;
  • Matsumoto: While the castle area is a must all-year-round, it takes on an extra charm during Sakura season;
  • Kanazawa: Known as one of Japan’s most beautiful parks, Kenrokuen Garden is even more stunning when the cherry blossoms are in full bloom;
  • Nagoya: Explore the local castle and the Yamazakigawa riverside quarter, Nagoya’s definitive highlights during this month;
  • Kyoto: Walk the Philosopher’s Path, take a stroll through the bamboo forest of Arashiyama, explore the Okazaki Canal, take in the views from Kiyomizudera and visit Ninnaji Temple – the real challenge here is to stop clicking the camera shutter;
  • Nara: Take a detour to Mount Yoshinoyama, located outside the city but within the same prefecture. Within Nara, exploring Nara Park is a no-brainer;
  • Osaka: For such a bustling and modern city, we recommend relaxing and enjoying the cherry blossoms at Osaka Castle and at Kema Sakuranomiya Park;
  • Himeji: Home to Japan’s most famous historic castle, the area becomes even prettier during the cherry blossom season;
  • Kumamoto: While the city may not boast many spots to appreciate the cherry blossoms, the castle area stands out as one of Japan’s most beautiful places during this time.

Geisha Tea Ceremony

Particularly famous in Kyoto and inside the chaya districts of Kanazawa, where there’s a concerted effort to keep the traditions and rituals of geishas, Japanese tea ceremonies are cherished legacies of past eras, when these ladies served and entertained guests from the upper-crust.

In these historical cities, there are still quite a few ancient tea houses that conduct traditional tea ceremonies, according to the practices of the Edo period. While these ceremonies may vary slightly from one venue to another, they all somewhat follow a similar structure, starting with the selection of the teaware, followed by a brief explanation of each ritual and the philosophy behind the ceremony. Much like every facet of Japanese culture, even the simple act of serving tea carries a subtle symbolism.

At the beginning of the event, a ritualistic cleansing and purification of all utensils is carried out, followed by the blending of matcha green powder and water using a bamboo straw. Once the drink is ready, guests are encouraged to admire the aesthetic of the bowl before tasting the tea. Fun fact: since slurping (whether tea or stock) is considered a sign of appreciation and courtesy in Japan, guests are expected to perform this sound while enjoying the tea. After drinking the tea and sampling some traditional sweets, it’s your turn to prepare your very own beverage and share it with the group, before capping off the ceremony by once again cleaning all the utensils.

The prices for this type of ritual can vary significantly, but you can expect rates of around ¥3000 per person. If you want to taste the end product but aren’t willing to spend this much, some temples in Kyoto offer traditional matcha tea and sweets for a fraction of the coast (around ¥500), albeit without the full ceremonial experience.

Finally, while Japan is a fantastic destination when it comes to experiencing local culture and traditions, the country is also quite keen on delving into the modern side of things, especially when it comes to specific subcultures. Case in point: the deliciously bizarre themed cafes! Possibly influenced by anime and manga, role-playing is a huge thing in Japan, particularly in Tokyo, where some of these cafes can feel quite… strange, to say the least! From the fairly common Cat Cafés to the lesser seen Owl Cafés, this is the city where you can find the maid cafes of Akihabara (where waitresses dress-up as French maids – no comments), establishments specifically dedicated to certain cartoon tv characters/series – such as Pokemón or Sanrio (the company that created Hello Kitty) – and even robot restaurants, BDSM-inspired bars and coffee houses with ninjas. In one way or the other, everyone’s tastes and eccentricities are cared for! For the Pokémon Café, available in Tokyo and Osaka, it’s better to play it safe and book a table in advance, as walk-ins may be limited during peak times. Reservations can be made through the company’s official website.

Japan Travel Guide – Local food and traditional dishes

Known for its fresh fish, noodle soups and high-quality meat, Japanese cuisine is one of the richest and healthiest in the world, often credited as the main reason for Japan’s famous longevity (the country has the highest life expectancy in the world). From top-notch restaurants to traditional tea houses, from set menus at ryokans to thousands of street stalls, themed cafes, or izakayas – the casual bars where office workers gather to drink and snack after long workdays – you certainly won’t be stifled for choice when it comes to eating out in Japan!

When it comes to local classics, visiting Japan without trying sushi and/or sashimi should go down as a punishable offense! Skipping the fusion versions created to appeal to a more westernized taste (say goodbye to Philadelphia rolls), the flavors here are much simpler, purer and more traditional. Unfortunately, a Japanese sushi experience can be ridiculously expensive, but if you stick to local fish markets or Kaitenzushi restaurants (conveyor belt sushi), it can actually end up being a pretty affordable experience. Shifting our gears from fish to meat, and this time without much of chance of finding a low-cost alternative, tasting Wagyu Beef is another must, as this specific beef is universally acclaimed as the best in the world. To balance the budget after indulging in sushi and Wagyu, nothing beats a comforting bowl of Ramen. These traditional soups, typically consisting of a savory broth, wheat noodles and assorted toppings, are widely available and a staple of Japanese cuisine. With literally dozens of different variations, there’s always something new to explore.

Moving from the most well-known delicacies to those you may be less familiar with, we’re going to stick to soups and noodles for now and explore its multiple variations. Make sure to give it a go at Udon Noodles, thicker and chewier; Soba, made from buckwheat; or Yakisoba, a dish of stir-fried noodles mixed with meat and vegetables and seasoned with a special sauce (the only variation that isn’t served in soups/broths). Now that we’ve gone past the noodles, don’t miss out on Tonkatsu, breaded pork cutlets; Japanese Curry, a thicker and sweeter variant of the Indian curries brought in by the British; Omurice, a traditional Japanese omelet served over a bed of rice and drizzled in demi-glace sauce; or Donburi, the name given to any rice bowl served with a topping of egg, meat, fish or vegetables (or all at once!). On the other hand, if you’re traveling in a group, it might be a good idea to share a hot pot, the name given to a communal cauldron of food where you cook your own ingredients (which are brought to the table raw) in the broth. Shabu Shabu, Sukiyaki and Chanko Nabe are notable examples of traditional Japanese hot pots.

On the other hand, if you’re flying by the seed of your pants or simply want to have a snack at the street markets, famous convenience stores or the aforementioned izakayas, there are also some delicacies not to be missed. Among the best examples, you’ll find Onigiri, rice balls with various fillings; Takoyaki, fried dough balls with pieces of octopus; Okonomiyaki, traditional local egg pancakes; Tempura, vegetables and shrimp fried in a super crispy batter; Yakitori, small chicken skewers; or Gyozas, the best-known dumplings in the country. From casual snacks to upscale dining, if you’re spending a night at a traditional ryokan, consider indulging in a Kaiseki Set. This traditional Japanese meal offers small portions of various local dishes, so you can sample a little bit of everything. However, common to all sets are the presence of white rice and miso soup, another well-known element of Japanese cuisine, made from a fermented soybeans broth.

Finally, to wrap up this extensive section, let’s talk about sweets and desserts. Apart from the Mochi, probably the only national sweet famous worldwide, the Japanese seem to have an obsession with soufflés. If it jiggles, it’s a hit! Examples include the Japanese Cheesecake, the Kasutera Cake (similar to our sponge cake) or the Japanese Fluffy Pancakes, all with a very light texture and a “jiggly” appearance. Apart from cakes and other Western-inspired desserts, most traditional sweets can be found at street markets, such as Dango, rice flour balls glazed with a sweet syrup and served on skewers; Taiyaki, fish-shaped waffles; or Dorayaki, a kind of pancake sandwich usually filled with red bean paste. Despite its oddness, it’s actually quite tasty (and yes, it’s sweet). To go along with your meal, don’t forget to try some Matcha Tea and to take a sip of the iconic Sake, a rice-based wine.

Japan Travel Guide – Free walking tours in Tokyo and Kyoto

These tours, led by local guides or tour companies, offer guided visits to the historic center, sharing intriguing stories about each place and providing valuable cultural context. Even though these tours are technically free, it’s customary to show appreciation for the guide’s efforts by leaving a tip at the end. In Tokyo and Kyoto, a reasonable minimum tip would be around ¥1000-¥1500.

Free walking tours in Tokyo:

Free walking tours in Kyoto:

Japan Travel Guide – Full itineraries for 8, 12 and 16 days

So that this blog post doesn’t turn into an encyclopedia, we’ve decided to create separate articles for each itinerary.

You can check them through the following links:

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