Japan: Modernistic Tokyo Meets Ancestral Kyoto on the Web
Japan is often thought of as the most modern country in the world, and in many ways it is. Yet behind the glitz and glamour of the neon lights and robot dogs, you’ll find a deeply traditional culture that changes at a glacial speed. This guide features the best Web sites to aid you in planning and implementing your trip to Japan, including resources to introduce you to Japanese culture and sightseeing, tools for finding and booking transportation and accommodation, advice to help you stay safe and healthy overseas, and blogs and forums to put you in touch with other travelers.
Japan may be instantly and endlessly intoxicating, but the country’s complex mix of old and new may take quite a while for newcomers to grasp and appreciate. Get a head start online with sites offering a spectrum of information on the country, as well as details of specific cities and attractions.
- Japan comprises four main islands and thousands of smaller islands. The country is divided into eight regions (Hokkaido, Tohoku, Kanto, Chubu, Kinki, Chugoku, Shikoku, and Kyushu), which are further divided into 47 prefectures.
- Many tourists head directly to larger cities like Tokyo or Osaka, the two international flight hubs. If you want to escape the pop culture and bright lights in favor of a lower-key experience steeped in tradition and authenticity, try venturing outside of these hot spots to places like, for example, Okinawa; you’ll find fewer crowds and a calmer lifestyle.
- For vibrancy and cutting edge excitement, Tokyo is the place to be. Even if you’ve had the pleasure of visiting the city before, you may find new buildings, revitalized neighborhoods, renovated museums, and incredible technological advances. A June 2007 article from Wired News called Tokyo a living laboratory.
- For a much more subdued Japanese experience and a real taste of the country’s breathtaking topography, consider what some call a hidden place: Teuri Island off the coast of Hokkaido. In stark contrast to frenetic cities in Japan, Teuri is an isolated home to fishermen—a Japanese version of Nantucket, according to the author of this essay on the travel site Matador.
- Sumo wrestling is Japan’s national sport but baseball is just as popular, if not more so. A couple of things to note: women are not allowed inside Sumo wrestling arenas; baseball games in Japan can get rowdy, with intense whistling and cheering, especially during the seventh-inning stretch.
For an overview of Japan …
’s “People and Places” gives information on various countries. The basics of Japanese history and economy are provided, but the can’t-miss sections are the revealing photo slideshows in “Cities in Japan” and “Japan Features” (scroll down).
The New York Times
Travel section overviews Japan with travel articles and multimedia features like photo and video slideshows, as well as a compendium of general articles on the country. There are links to content from Frommer’s travel guides, as well.
’s includes essential and thorough information from its Japan travel guide, including recommended hotels, restaurants, attractions, and more for numerous cities. The “In Depth
” section is an excellent resource for picking up cultural details (use the links on the left to navigate).
guides read like a letter from your most well-traveled, intelligent friend. The Japan guide is brief, outlining a few essential practical details and a couple of real gems: a suggested two-month itinerary and a “Let’s Go Picks” section with a selection of bests, such as “best sunrise” and “museums most likely to give you a complex.”
For official tourism resources …
The Japan National Tourist Organization
has a well-designed Web site that utilizes photos and clearly organized charts to present a range of travel information. Practical pre-trip advice and cultural details such as festivals and museums are given. Clickable maps of places and events are also provided along with links to specific sites.
For geography and natural features …
is sponsored by the Japanese Ministry of Foreign Affairs and provides information on Japanese culture. This page includes a list and map of regions, becoming more specific with each successive click; link to every city in every region via map click.
For budget travel …
Japan Cheap Travel
covers essential information for planning and enjoying a low-budget stay. Sections on transportation, accommodation, and eating, as well as unusual sightseeing ideas have a personal, friendly style with well-organized details, links, and insightful advice.
travel network caters to independent, shoestring travelers with articles, a community forum, and tools to book cheap flights and accommodations. This article describes how to travel to Japan on less cash: getting around, finding a place to stay, and eating on the cheap are all covered.
For cities and sightseeing …
is a global travel insurance and marketing company that also includes Lonely Planet content on its site. This section features several suggested itineraries for travel in Japan, with route maps and transportation details. For more extensive information about cities and regions in each itinerary, consult the sites below.
is the official site of the Japan National Tourist Organization in London. The site offers plenty of resources to help you plan a trip from start to finish. Tools to help you find and book flights and hotels are included, as well as a list of attractions and downloadable calendars of events.
focuses on Kobe, Kyoto, Osaka, and Tokyo, revealing the top five reasons to visit each city, the best time to go, suggested itineraries, and practical transportation tips. Fodor’s guides are fun, easy reading, and full of great information and timely advice.
National Geographic Magazine
featured an article titled, “Fuji: Japan’s sacred summit (except when it’s not)” that chronicles the author’s ascent and flaunts a stunning photo selection taken at the foot and the top of the epic mountain. You can read the first page but you’ll need a subscription for the entirety (one year is $34).
Japan has its share of cultural quirks and distinct specifications regarding manners and public behavior, in addition to some intense weather issues. Below are sites to help you cope with some of the uniquely Japanese obstacles and issues you will encounter, as well as information about the basic practicalities of entering and exiting the country safely.
- Manners in Japan can be complicated and nuanced, even challenging natives, according to a July 2007 International Herald Tribune article. Newcomers are not expected to know every custom and rule of etiquette; showing a bit of extra courtesy and reserve should suffice in most situations.
- In Japan, it’s especially important to learn and use at least a bit of the native language, says this October 2007 article discussing “5 Ways You Can Be More Japanese in Japan,” in the online travel magazine Vagabondish.
- You probably won’t be able to use an American phone in Japan, no matter what SIM card you buy. However, you can easily buy prepaid and rental mobile phones in airport booths when you arrive. The major providers are AU, Vodafone, and Docomo.
- Japan’s length north to south is comparable to California’s, which accounts for the country’s varied climate across its eight regions. In Hokkaido, the chilly northernmost island, winter snowstorms are common; while further south in Okinawa, winter temperatures typically remain above 40º F.
- Japan experiences its share of extreme weather: typhoons in the rainy, early summer season and frequent earthquakes across the country year-round, most of which go undetected by the general public.
For travel requirements and safety …
The U.S. Department of State
provides a Consular Information Sheet for Japan. Check here for entry and exit requirements, safety and security information (including crime statistics), customs details, and embassy listings.
The Japan Information and Culture Center
is managed by the Embassy of Japan in Washington, DC, and is a useful resource for any traveler to Japan. In addition to visa and customs information, the site has specific advice for travelers, students, and job seekers in Japan.
is a site specifically geared to solo female travelers, and has been recognized by the BBC
and Travelers’ Tales
. This article discusses what it’s like for a woman to travel alone in Japan, what to look out for, and how to make the most of your time. The author lives in Japan and recommends a few agencies and tour guides that she’s found especially helpful.
For Japanese culture and etiquette …
Trends in Japan
covers all things pop culture in Japan, including entertainment, fashion, technology, and sports; the site even includes a section called Tokyo Tales, which features novel excerpts from up-and-coming writers in the city. The site is sponsored by Japan’s Ministry of Foreign Affairs.
is a quarterly online publication offering a snapshot of multiple aspects of Japanese life. Sections on “Life & Culture,” “Art & Entertainment,” and “People & Work,” among others, have magazine-style feature stories with photos. There’s a range of topics, such as Kabuki theater
and local supermarkets
offers cultural insight and etiquette tips for travelers to Japanese temples and shrines, including basic details of Shintoism and Buddhism.
For Japanese history …
The U.S. Department of State
provides a “Background Note” page for Japan. The page begins with a geography section; continue scrolling down for detailed profiles of the country’s people and history.
shows a brief timeline of Japanese history with names of periods, such as Kamakura, and approximate dates. Each notch in the timeline includes a synopsis of cultural achievements and notable events that occurred.
Japan Cultural Profile
outlines several aspects of the country, including a slide show of historical eras from the Meiji Restoration of 1868 through 2004. Slides are brief but include key details and small photos, most of which enhance the text.
To learn Japanese …
provides a lesson in the Japanese language. Utilize the section on key phrases, or take the illustrated “Challenge” to test your knowledge.
For currency conversion …
has a quick and easy currency conversion tool; enter an amount in U.S. dollars and find its equivalent in Japanese yen.
For advice on when to go to Japan …
was mentioned previously for its suggested itineraries; this section of the site gives a brief summary of the best times to visit Japan. Details of year-round weather are given, and you’ll learn when to expect heavy crowds.
guide to Japan includes a calendar of yearly events, organized by month and date. This section is all text, with quick, detailed descriptions of each event listing. The format invites a thorough read-through to understand the breadth of event possibilities in Japan.
For Japanese sports …
provides information about teams, statistics and league standings, player profiles, and a section of frequently asked questions including advice on how to get tickets to games.
A highly developed country, Japan is easily accessible to travelers worldwide. Use the sites below to get there by sea or air.
- Most international flights to Japan land at one of the following airports: Narita International Airport just outside of Tokyo, Kansai International Airport in Osaka, or Central Japan International Airport near Nagoya. Look for these when booking your flight.
- Many Asian airlines, including Japan Airlines (JAL) and All Nippon Airways (ANA), are widely regarded by experienced travelers as luxurious when compared with their western counterparts. Traveling to Asia on an Asian airline also allows you to begin the experience the moment you lift off, with flight attendants, entertainment, and food from your point of destination.
- For more information on making travel arrangements no matter where you’re headed, including links to and advice for using flight search engines, see the findingDulcinea Travel Web Guide.
For flight search engines …
is a flight search tool that scouts out deals from more than 100 travel sites like Travelocity and Expedia. Several sort methods are available to help you sift through the results, including time, airline, airport, dates, and number of stops. You’ll be linked directly to a travel site to book your ticket.
is another efficient flight searcher, consulting hundreds of travel sites to find low prices and flights meeting your specific criteria. SideStep is great if you are flexible regarding your travel plans; you may find better deals at nearby airports or on different dates, for example, and these options will appear in your results.
For individual Japanese airlines …
conveniently has an “International Flights
” tab at the top of its homepage. Be advised that results are somewhat difficult to navigate, and that you’ll have to call to make reservations. JAL is affiliated with American Airlines
, which provides daily flights to Japan from several U.S. cities.
All Nippon Airways Co.
is a Tokyo-based airline, providing service between Asia and numerous international cities. Use the Network Map
to plan your trip. ANA is affiliated with United Airlines
, which has daily flights to Tokyo from California locations.
For cruises to Japan …
was named Forbes’ favorite cruise search site in its annual Best of the Web list for 2006. The site’s intuitive design helped it stand out, and its easy navigation (search by special, cruise line, price, and length) won points as well.
furnishes a Japanese Port Manual in its Sightseeing Guide to the country. Consult the chart to find the distance from various international port cities to Japan, and click on the map of Japan for information about each port, including tourist attractions.
If you’ve got money to spend and a penchant for high-tech hotels, you’re in luck. However, if you’re on a tight budget, you’re also in the clear. Japan’s lodging options are as varied as its climate and cultural practices. The Web sites we recommend in this section show you the range.
- Most hotels and other accommodation options in Japan (including hostels) can be booked online. Take advantage of the Web by booking early; it may save you some cash.
- Japan is the originator of the pod hotel: somewhat coffinlike rooms that were first built in the 1970s, according to World Hum. However, today people in Japan looking for a cheap place to catch a nap have been settling for reclining chairs at Internet cafes. Rest assured that basic hotels and hostels are also readily available.
- Ryokans are accommodations unique to Japan. Although these traditional inns tend to be more expensive than regular hotels, they’ll give you a taste of ancient cultural features such as tatami (straw mats), communal baths, and yukata (kimono-style robes).
For accommodation search engines …
is based in Ireland and searches for quality hotel deals from around the globe. Use the fast search tool to locate accommodation meeting your date, location, and price requirements, and you’ll be presented with a list of results with photos. You can book after a simple (and free) registration process.
is more than just a fast, efficient hotel search resource; it also provides traveler reviews of each property to help you make a decision. Most reviews are thorough, offering insight and details only a paying customer would notice.
For hotels and hostels …
International Tourism Center of Japan
maintains a network of foreigner-friendly lodgings that earn the designation “Welcome Inn.” Search listings by type of hotel (you may want to pause to read explanations of each different kind of accommodation
), city, or additional details. You must complete free registration with the site to make a booking.
is an essential resource for budget travelers, offering countless hostel listings around the world with reviews, photos, and a quick search tool. The Japan page lists locations throughout the country; click on one to find hostels there. The site has a reservation system to help you book and, best of all, there are no ads to get in your way.
For camping …
The National Camping Association of Japan
offers a free downloadable PDF that lists 3,000 campsites around the country (scroll down a bit to the leaflet). NCAJ has been working to develop and promote camping in Japan since 1966.
For such a far-flung country, Japan is surprisingly easy to navigate. It boasts the most advanced train system in the world, as well as many local travel options and a friendly populace to help you on your way.
- Japan is known for its trains, but it also has an extensive and well-maintained system of highways and roads. An international driver’s license is required to legally drive in Japan, and can be obtained through the Krascar International Travel Club.
- If you plan on staying in Japan longer than a year, you will eventually have to apply for a Japanese driver’s license, which can be difficult and expensive to obtain for an American. JapanDriversLicense.com may be able to help.
- The Japanese government discourages car travel and prefers that people use public transportation. As such, tolls on Japanese roads can be prohibitively high.
- Think about making your inter-Japan plane reservations before you get to the country. Japanese travel agents have been known to routinely charge foreigners more than they charge locals.
- The popular Japan Rail Pass can be used for local trains and most JR (Japan Railways) trains traveling all over the country, but only be bought by foreigners outside of the country.
- Taxis are extremely expensive in Japan, and the driver very often requires a map or directions from you. Also, don’t tip the driver (it’s considered rude), and remember that car doors are automatic and can be opened only by the driver.
- Japan is one of the safest countries for hitchhiking. Though you won’t see many Japanese people hitching, most drivers find hitchhiking foreigners amusing and are quick to pick them up. If you’re planning to do any hitching, we recommend Will Ferguson’s books: “The Hitchhiker’s Guide to Japan” and “Hokkaido Highway Blues.”
For trains …
Japan Rail Pass
can be used all over the country, and is a popular option for international travelers of Japan. Learn essential information here, such as different types of passes, which stations accept them, and how to purchase one (you must do so before you arrive in Japan).
outlines other rail pass options for individual regions, some of which also include bus service. Some of these trains may be slower than the famously fast national rail system, but they offer an excellent view of the country.
provides thorough information about the country’s famous bullet trains, known in Japan as Shinkansen
. View a map of the different routes and get a summary of what to expect from each. Also download PDF versions of timetables and fares
For buses …
Japan Cheap Travel
has a homemade look (simple text with no graphics or special features), but it provides thorough information on all practical aspects of travel in Japan, including links to essential transportation booking sites. This section covers the basics of buses, and links to sites for timetables, prices, and online booking.
Randy Johnson’s Japan Page
is led by a world traveler who lived in Japan for four years and has maintained this comprehensive site since 1995. He provides detailed advice for riding rural and overnight buses in Japan, including where to find them, how to get tickets, what to say to the driver, and other essential facts.
For air travel within Japan …
(JAL) was mentioned in the “How do I get to Japan?” section of this guide for its international flights, but the airline also has flights between Japanese cities. Click the “Domestic Flights” tab at the top of the page to search for flights and view a route map. You must call to make a reservation
For hitchhiking …
BNet Research Center
has a database of millions of articles, including this one by Ian Perlman about hitchhiking in Japan; Perlman has lived in Japan for more than a decade and leads excursions around the country for World Expeditions
. The piece was written in 1990, but its cultural insights and advice for items to bring with you on the road remain relevant today.
is a portal for hitchhiking and road culture, and includes a section on hitchhiking in Japan. The page begins with general Japanese cultural information, and continues with specific advice and insight on hitching a ride.
For car rental …
helps you make a car rental reservation and plan your car pick-up and return directly through this site. Also find out service rates.
Japan is immensely popular among travelers of all ages, interests, and budgets, and is vigorously discussed in online blogs, forums, and travel essays. This is where you’ll find the good stuff that the professional guidebooks leave out—the frank opinions and wise words of your fellow wanderlusters.
- There’s a sizeable community of Americans who have recently lived or currently live in Japan. Several maintain personal Web sites or blogs that offer travel advice, and these sites tend to be rather basic in design but nonetheless quite useful. We’ve highlighted one such site below, and you’ll encounter several more expatriates in our recommended travel forums. Keep in mind, however, that the needs and experiences of someone living in Japan can be quite different from those of someone visiting for a short time.
- Try a blog search engine like Technorati or BlogPulse to find blogs on specific topics such as “eating in Japan.”
- Consult several blogs and forums before deciding to take advice from any particular one. You may find differing viewpoints or feel compelled to pose your own question.
- If you find a blog you like, check to see if the author has included a blogroll. This list of like-minded blogs or general favorites of the author is typically located in the sidebar.
For Japan travel blogs …
is one of the most thought-provoking travel blogs around, with a unique combination of “dispatches” (travel essays), travel news, and tips from in-the-know writers and journalists. This link takes you to the Japan Weblog, including an archive of past entries.
is a travel blog affiliated with AOL and led by a team of eight writers based around the world. Gadling also has a few blogs dedicated to specific countries, including “Big in Japan,” a lighthearted take on news, events, and quirky happenings in the country written by an American expatriate living in Tokyo. One noteworthy entry discusses the prevalence of vending machines in Japan
, from which you can buy an entire outfit if you’d like
Lonely Planet Bluelists
are traveler-made compendiums of notable aspects of journeys they’ve taken, whether good or bad. Japan Bluelists offer varied and richly described entries that should provide you with ideas for your trip to Japan. Post questions or comments for additional information from seasoned travelers.
is a forum for travelers to post their trip experiences and ratings of hotels, restaurants, and various attractions. The site also has a journal section for each country where users post travel photos and blog-type entries describing their excursions.
was mentioned in the guide for its itineraries and advice on when to visit Japan. This section of its Japan guide features numerous travel journals written by site users. Entries vary in length and subject matter, but most include photos and are fun reads.
is an avid traveler of rural Japan who shares his wisdom in this thorough, text-heavy blog. Although entries appear dauntingly long, Johnson’s sections on transportation are particularly helpful and full of advice for easing your Japanese journeys.
For Japan travel forums …
has guides, blogs, and forums for world travelers. The Japan forum has intriguing entries posted by travelers from different countries, offering a well-rounded take on travel to the country.
Japan Travel Centre
is a travel agent based in London that specializes in excursions to Japan. The site also features a section called “Ask Ayumi” that answers user-posted questions about travel in Japan.
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