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Japan Travel Tips for Beginners: Essential Things to Know before Visiting Japan

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Everything you need to know before you get to Japan!

*This article has been last updated on Jan 22, 2020, with new and updated links. (Originally published on Feb 3, 2019.)

Now that the 2020 Tokyo Olympics and Paralympics are coming up, we believe there will be more people coming into the country and for some of you it may be your first trip to Japan, so here is a list of what you need to know,

Before Arriving in Japan

What is the first thing you need to know when you travel to Japan? What sort of things should prepare or expect to see? Japan is one of the top 10 safest countries in the world which also makes it one of the most organized, but it can also be weird and a bit crazy (but that's great too right?!). Aside from preparing for the language barrier (there is a pretty big one), there are a few things we would like to recommend first-time visitors know before coming to Japan to make things just that much easier. 



1. Japan’s National Holidays



Like any country, Japan is also crowded with people during public holidays. A great plus to visiting Japan during this time is allowing you to enjoy the holidays with locals, but mainly you need to prepare for a serious price jack in flights and accommodation. There are three major breaks/holidays Major Japanese holidays are three times in the year-end and New Year holidays, late April-early May, and August.

New Year's (お正月): In a lot of Western countries Christmas and New Year's break are combined, but since Japan doesn't recognize Christmas as a holiday (it's more a "couples holiday" like Valentine's Day), there is only a New Year's break. Public holidays are held from December 29 to January 3, but it is common for companies to have the whole first week of January off. Which means the break could last anywhere from five to ten days.

Golden Week (ゴールデンウイーク): Golden Week is a collection of four national holidays within a week, which makes it "golden"! The holiday normally starts on April 29th with "Showa Day" (昭和の日) and ends May 5th on "Children's Day (子供の日), but 2019 is special due to the current Emperor stepping down. Due to Japanese law regarding holidays, this year's Golden Week will be 10days (April 27~May6). It is Japan's busiest time to travel, so be ready if you plan on coming during this time!

Obon (お盆): Also with a nickname of "Silver Week", Obon is a three-day "holiday" (it's not officially a national holiday) in the middle of August that is done to honor the spirits of one's ancestors. Sort of similar to Mexico's Day of the Dead if you want to compare it to something. 

2. Festival and Celebrations

There are many festivals (matsuri) and events in Japan like the famous Cherry Blossom Festival (花見; hanami) and Sapporo's Snow Festival (雪まつり; yuki matsuri). A lot of the festivals revolve around seasons but come summer you will find more traditional and historical festivals to celebrate a god or event that include mikoshi (portable shrines) and traditional dancing. There are too many to list them all, but here are a few of Japan's most famous festivals and celebrations. 



January: Hatsumode "the first shrine visit of the year" (初詣), Greeting from the Emperor, Lucky Bag shopping (福袋; fuku bukuro), Miyoshi Bondensai (三吉梵天祭), Nozawa Fire Festival (道祖神火祭り), Nagasaki Lantern Festival (長崎提灯祭り) Sumo Tournaments in Tokyo

February: Sapporo Snow Festival (さっぽろ雪まつり), Asahikawa Winter Festival (旭川冬まつり), Setsubun (節分), Plum Blossom (梅)

March: Hina Festival "Girl's Day" (ひな祭り), Daruma Festival (だるま祭り), Plum Blossom (梅), Omizutori (お水取り), Sumo Tournaments in Osaka



April: Kanamara Festival "Penis Festival" (かなまら祭り), Cherry blossom Festival (花見; hanami), Takayama Festival (高山祭), Onbashira Festival (式年造営御柱大祭), Beppu Hot Spring Festival (別府八湯温泉まつり)

May: Hakata Dontaku (博多どんたく), Aoi Matsuri (葵祭り), Kawachi Fujien Wisteria (河内藤園)

June: Hydrangea Festival (あじさい祭り), Firefly Festival (蛍祭り), Sanno Festival (山王祭り)



July: Tokyo Olympics opens on the 24thFireworks Season (花火大会), Tanabata "Star Festival" (七夕まつり), Obon (お盆), Gion Festival (祇園祭), Mitama Festival (みたままつり), Tenjin Festival (天神祭), Sumo Tournaments in Nagoya

August: Iwamori Nebuta Festival (ねぶた祭), Sendai Tanabata Festival (七夕まつり), Kyoto Gozan no Okuribi (五山送り火), Tokyo Koenji Awa Odori (高円寺阿波おどり), Tokyo Harajuku Omotesando Super Yosakoi (原宿表参道元氣祭 スーパーよさこいl), Hachioji Festival (八王子祭り)

September: 2020 Paralympics opens on the 25th, Meguro Kumin Matsuri (目黒のSUNまつり)



October: Nagasaki Kunchi (長崎くんち), Tokyo Honmonji (御会式), Autumn Leaves (秋季祭)

November: Season for Fall Leaves (紅葉)Jingu Gaien Ginkgo Festival (明治神宮外苑いちょう祭り), Shichi-go-san (七五三), Sumo Tournaments in Fukuoka, Momiji Festival ()

December: Illuminations, Kasuga Wakamiya Festival (春日若宮おん祭), Namahage (なまはげ)

Also, check out our event's page for monthly events going on in Japan.

3. Must-See Places in Japan

We are sure you have looked over things you want to do and places you want to go,
but here is a small list of some major sightseeing spots in Japan

Tokyo: Japanese Imperial Palace, Meiji Shrine, Tokyo Tower, Tokyo Skytree, Toyosu Market, Kabukiza Theatre​

Hokkaido: Sapporo Beer Museum, Nikka Whisky Yoichi Distillery, Otaru Canal

Tohoku Region: Hiraizumi, Zao Fox Village, Ginzan Onsen

Kanto Region: Kawagoe, Hakone, Kamakura, Cup Ramen Museum, Kusatsu Onsen

Chubu Region: Mt. Fuji, Suntory Hakushu Whisky Distillery, Nagoya Castle, Matsumoto Castle

Kansai Region: Kyoto, Osaka Castle, Dotonbori, Universal Studios Japan

Shikoku/Chugoku Region: Dogo Onsen, Matsuyama Castle, Mount TsurugiPilgrimage destinations, 88 temple pilgrimage routes, Itsukushima Shrine

Kyushu: Dazaifu Tenmangu Shrine, Sakurajima, Kumamoto Castle, Gunkanjima (Hashima Island)

Okinawa: Okinawa Churaumi Aquarium, Toyosaki Beach in Emerald Sea, Murasaki Mura Ryukyu Kingdom, Orion Happy Park

4. Roaming service? Prepaid SIM Card? Pocket Wifi? Using your phone in Japan



For as "futuristic" as Japan is, it's Wi-Fi within the city tells another story. Free Wi-Fi can be found at a few popular sightseeing spots (see here for a list), but most of the time you will find security-protected Wi-Fi that requires your personal information or just nothing at all. And a lot of the times even if you are connected to the Wi-Fi it is very slow so there is almost no point in connecting to it in the first place. But with that being said, having a phone to use while traveling in Japan is SO helpful! One reason is that their address system isn't numerically like in the West but rather when the building was built. 

There are two options for getting phone service while in Japan, SIM Cards and Pocket Wi-Fi. A lot of which you choose depends on the person and their travel plans but it is worth looking into. 

Pre-Paid SIM Card
Probably our biggest recommendation out of the two. You can get them at the airport and choose how much data you would like. You are very likely to be covered for the whole trip. Most SIM Cards are provided by DoCoMo which is one of Japan’s biggest mobile operators so you are guaranteed great service. 
Advantages: +Can be used for applications like Skype, Facebook, FaceTime, and Google Maps
+Easy to set up and you know right away if it is working or not
Disadvantages: Can use up a lot of battery
Your phone must be SIM-free or unlocked​

Pocket Wi-Fi
Pocket Wi-Fi is better for groups since everyone can use the same limit, however with that uses their daily limit pretty quickly if you aren't careful. 
Advantages: +Coverage even in both urban and rural areas
+Easy to use
+Connect multiple devices
Disadvantages: It's something extra to carry around
Requires frequent charging
Equipment rental and return procedures
Chance of having issues during travel

5. Traveling by Train/Bus

In most places in Japan, trains are a major means of public transportation. Buses and sometimes trams are also available but the use of those really depends on the areas. For example, in Tokyo you are better off with trains however in Kyoto or Nagasaki buses (also streetcars in Nagasaki) are what you are most likely to take to get around.

The complication on Japanese railways depends on the area, but that doesn't make using them any less uneasy. Especially in Tokyo where there are around different 55 lines, things can get confusing. Rather than looking at a rail map of Tokyo, it would be better to use an app to help navigate. But what is a popular Japanese train route app? One of the most popular apps that you will hear tons of people talking about is HyperDia. Available in English, Japanese and Chinese, Hyperdia lets you choose your departure and arrival stations as well as the time of travel. Or you can always use Google. 

Another often asked question is rail passes. Japan's train cost can be pretty expensive. The price will increase the further you go and each railway company also has their own prices. Which brings people to ask one of the biggest questions is "is the JR Pass worth it? If not what are other rail pass options?".

Japan Public Transportation Pass/Ticket Options
Japan Rail Pass: If you are staying in Tokyo, the JR Pass probably wouldn't be worth it money wise. You will need to make multiple trips to give you the bang for your buck. If you have the 7 day pass, taking a round trip from Tokyo to Kyoto will be worth it but for the 14 day and so on you would need to make more trips to say Osaka and Hiroshima. There are a few JR Pass calculators online to help give you an idea if the pass pays off which can be helpful. The pass gives you access to all JR trains nationwide including Shinkansen (except Nozomi & Mizuho trains), local JR buses (keep in mind not all buses are JR, including the Raku bus in Kyoto), and the JR Ferry to Miyajima.
Tokyo Metro Ticket: Although cheap and available in 24, 48, 72hr tickets, it is only available for Tokyo Metro and Toei Subway lines. So before purchasing, we would recommend you look up the stations you plan on using during your stay to decide if it is worth it. Since there are some stations that do not use the metro.
Suica or PASMO: Great for those traveling just within Tokyo. It saves you money and hassle in comparison to buying individual train tickets each time.

Train Passes in Other Cities
Many of Japan’s cities have a variety of day passes allowing giving unlimited rides and even discounts to various attractions. This is a lifesaver for budget travel in Japan! Some examples are:
Hiroshima: 1 Day Streetcar Pass – 600yen (300yen for children) or 1 Day Streetcar and Ferry – 840yen (420)
Osaka: Osaka Amazing Pass – 1 day pass 2500yen or 2 day pass 3300yen
Kyoto: Kyoto Bus One-Day Pass 600yen (300yen)
Nagasaki: One-Day Bus Pass – 500yen (250yen) or One-Day Streetcar Pass 500yen (250yen)

6. Things to Remember about Taxis

6. Things to Remember about Taxis



 

Transportation methods such as trains and buses are inexpensive, but if you have to travel far from the station, or if you have a lot of luggage, sometimes a taxi is just better. The basic fare for a taxi is about 730yen for the first 2km (1.2 miles) (from January 2017, the fare for the first kilometer has been adjusted to 410yen). Other than the prices, there are a few things to keep in mind when flagging down a taxi in Japan: How to use a taxi is not different from Korea. If you see an empty car, lift your hand and call a taxi. But, like a habit, you should not open a taxi door right away. The following are precautions when using the taxi.

・Calling a cab: How do you know when a cab is vacant? About 99% of the cabs have their vacancy written in only Japanese so it can be difficult. So to help you out, Vacant = 空車. If you see 迎車 or 貸切, it means the taxis are reserved and picking someone up. 

Automatic doors: When the taxi stops, the door in the rear seat opens and closes automatically and the same when you arrive at your destination. The taxi driver presses a button to open the doors, so wait for it to open then get off.

・Language barrier: Most taxis drivers can speak a bit of English, but to make things go smoothly it may be better if you have a memo of the name and address or guide book on hand.

・Luggage loading on the trunk: Putting luggage in the trunk is of course an option. Just motion to the driver and he will open the trunk and help you load everything.

7. Guide to Tabe-hodai (食べ放題)/Nomi-hodai (飲み放題) Restaurants

7. Guide to Tabe-hodai (食べ放題)/Nomi-hodai (飲み放題) Restaurants



In Japan, there is an "all you can eat/drink", or "houdai" culture that allows you to eat and drink your hearts out for a set time (normally 90minutes)! Similar to a buffet, except you are at your seat the whole time.

・"Tabehoudai" (食べ放題): A service that allows you to continue to eat as much as you want from the restaurants "tabehoudai menu".  Sometimes the menus can be specific, like yakiniku (grilled beef) or yakitori (chicken skewers) tabehoudai, others you get a wide variety of food allowing you to try lots of different things.

・"Nomihoudai" (飲み放題): A service that allows you to order both alcoholic and non-alcoholic beverages for a fixed amount of time. The type of beverages offered varies from restaurant to restaurant. Some places have a good selection, others don't, so we advise you to check beforehand if possible. It's also worth mentioning that a lot of restaurants will only let you order one drink/person at a time. 

8. Izakayas

Izakayas are basically taverns that serve sake, liquor, and simple Japanese dishes. Some places are open until early in the morning, but most close around 11pm~midnight. 

・Ordering: Izakayas and restaurants in Japan don't have a set waiter per table so there are three ways of ordering. 1. Hold your hand up to show your ready (normally it is seen as rude in other countries but it is very common in Japan). You can even use your Japanese skills and say "Excuse me" or, "Sumimasen" like everyone does. 2. Some places have buttons you can push to notify the waiters you are ready 3. Some places have tablets at the table that you use to order so there you will have little conversation with the waiter. Most tablets are offered in Japanese, English, and Chinese. 

・"Otoshi" Table Charge: Many if not most izakaya's have a food culture known as "otoshi" (お通し) which is basically a table charge but they do it by serving a small random dish that you never ordered at the beginning of the meal. The charge can be anywhere between 500 to 700 yen (roughly between $4~7), and most izakayas don't tell you they have a table charge.

・Paying the bill: Be prepared that many izakayas and restaurants don't split the bill nor accept credit cards. It is There may be an Izakaya that does not accept payment of the card at times. 

9. Checklist before Getting the Airport

9. Checklist before Getting the Airport



Knowing what is a must to bring to Japan can be up in the air for some people, but really there isn't much that you MUST have besides the obvious passport and plane ticket. But for those that are curious, we made a small list of things we felt were good to have packed when you come to Japan! 

Required
☑ Passport
☑ Visa (for those necessary, find out if you need one here)
☑ Plane ticket (electronic ticket)
☑ Japanese Yen
☑ Accommodation name and address (to write on immigration sheet)
☑ Electrical adapter (Japan runs on a 100V current, plug Type A/B however 99% outlets are only 2prong)
☑ Weather appropriate clothing (weather and clothing advice from JTB travel agency)
☑ Medical note if you bring in more than a months worth of prescription drugs (more below)

Optional
・Copy of passport
・Printed confirmation email(s) of any prepaid passes/tickets
・Offline travel/translation apps downloaded
・Portable phone charger
・Hand sanitizer (a lot of public bathrooms don't offer soap)
・Handtowel (some public bathrooms, esp in stations don't have paper towers or hand dryers)

10. Cash or Card?

Before traveling many people wonder how much money they should exchange, where can they get more if they run out, and if they can use credit cards. Well in terms of how much to bring, it really depends on if you plan on buying a lot or just the essentials. One thing we can give advice on is using and getting money while you're in Japan.
 

Using a Credit Card in Japan
Japan is a very much cash-based country. Lately, more and more places accept credit cards like department stores and a few restaurants, but it is really hit and miss. Even a few tourist spots like castle or museum entree fees can only be paid by cash. So we strongly recommend you plan on using cash for the majority of your trip. 

Withdrawing Money from Home Bank Account
If you run out of money and would like to withdraw money from your account you have two ATM options.
① ATM at the convenience store 7/11 (other convenience store ATMs won't work)
② Japan Post Office Bank ATM (Japan Post Bank ATM Finder and more info here)

Exchanging Money within Japan
For those that have no Japanese yen but plenty of their own currency and would like to exchange in the city here are 3 recommendations:
① DAIKOKUYA (大黒屋) – most famous and normally the best rates
② Travelex
③ Some Japanese banks (Tokyo-Mitsubishi UFJ, SMBC Trust Bank, Mizuho Bank)

11. Bringing Medication to Japan

There is a particular system when it comes to bringing medication into Japan, and the regulations on over-the-counter and prescription drugs are different. Some people will tell you they had no issue bringing medicine into Japan, but the fact is they just got lucky. We have had occasions where all of our medication has been dumped so be careful! 

Over-The-Counter Medicine
Most over the counter drugs are allowed to be carried to Japan, but Japanese law limits up to a two months' supply. According to the Japanese Ministry of Health, Labour and Welfare, products that contain stimulants and these ingredients are not allowed by law. If you wish to bring in more than a two-months' supply of medicine, you need to fill out and apply for "Yakkan Shoumei" before leaving for Japan. 

Prescription Medication
When it comes to prescription drugs, it gets tricky so if you are unsure about anything your best bet is to contact a local Japanese Consulate. The general rule for prescription drugs is that you are limited to a months' supply only. Similar to the over-the-counter drugs, if you exceed that amount then you need to apply for "Yakkan Shoumei" in advanced. Travelers should bring a copy of their doctor's prescription, a letter stating the purpose of the drug, and the Yakkan Shoumei certificate, and show the forms with your prescription medicines at customs. If you are bringing a household medical device (like a CPAP) you do not need to file for Yakkan Shoumei but you are only permitted to bring one (one device) and will be required to have it checked at customs.

Some medications aren't allowed in Japan like Adderall, which is why it is best to check if your medication is alright to bring into Japan. For more information about bringing medicines for into Japan, please visit the website of the Ministry of Health, Labour and Welfare page.

12. Getting to Your Hotel from the Airport

Depending on which airport you are coming from, your access into the city will be different.
Since most people fly into Tokyo, we will use Haneda Airport and Narita Airport as examples. 



From Narita Airport
JR Narita Express (EX): roughly 3000yen, has access to a number of JR stations
Keisei Skyliner: roughly 2465yen, only takes you to Nippori and Ueno Stations
③ Keisei Limited Express: 1190yen, take Keisei Limited Express from Nippori Station. One of the cheapest options but also takes the longest.
Bus: there are many different buses available that will take you all over Tokyo and surrounding areas. No need to reserve in advance! The buses run regularly. Price range is anywhere between 900~3200yen.
 
We would never recommend taking a taxi unless you are looking to pay hundreds of dollars (at least 20,000yen). 

From Haneda Airport
① Tokyo Monorail: 483yen, get on from Hamamatsucho Station
② Keikyu Line: 407yen, get on from Shinagawa Station
Bus: Just like at Narita Airport, there are a number of buses available to take you close to where you are going like Keikyu Bus that goes to most major cities in and around Tokyo. Unlike with Narita Airport, transportation options are limited from Haneda Airport so we recommend taking a bus so you won't have to deal with changing trains and traffic. 

 

More info on "things to know while in Japan" coming soon!!

Be sure to look at JAPANKURU🐶 for more exciting articles every day!!

Or add us on Instagram,  Facebook and Twitter to share your Japanese pictures💖🗾

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Have you sat down for a snack at Sumida Aquarium yet? This aquarium next to Tokyo Skytree is known for its penguins and garden eels, but we can't get enough of their cute snacks! There are lots of good seats around the aquarium, too, so it almost feels like one big cafe. 🐧
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Find out more at Japankuru.com! (Link in bio.)
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#japankuru #sumidaaquarium #skytree #tokyoskytree #solamachi #sumida #tokyo #tokyotrip #tokyotravel #aquarium #japanesesweets #themecafe #すみだ水族館 #Japan #日本 #일본 #Japon #ญี่ปุ่น #Japão #япония #japantravel #日本旅行 #日本旅遊 #japan_of_insta #japantrip #traveljapan #japan🇯🇵 #igerstokyo #explorejapan

Have you sat down for a snack at Sumida Aquarium yet? This aquarium next to Tokyo Skytree is known for its penguins and garden eels, but we can't get enough of their cute snacks! There are lots of good seats around the aquarium, too, so it almost feels like one big cafe. 🐧 • Find out more at Japankuru.com! (Link in bio.) • #japankuru #sumidaaquarium #skytree #tokyoskytree #solamachi #sumida #tokyo #tokyotrip #tokyotravel #aquarium #japanesesweets #themecafe #すみだ水族館 #Japan #日本 #일본 #Japon #ญี่ปุ่น #Japão #япония #japantravel #日本旅行 #日本旅遊 #japan_of_insta #japantrip #traveljapan #japan🇯🇵 #igerstokyo #explorejapan

For anime fans, the Evangelion areas at Small Worlds Miniature Museum are a must see! The tiny miniature people in the Evangelion Hangar look like ants beneath the moving Unit-01, Unit-00, and Unit-02! And over in Tokyo-III, characters like Shinji, Rei, and Katsuragi live life on a miniature scale.
#odaiba #tokyo #tokyotrip #japantrip #japantravel #ariake #smallworlds #miniaturemuseum #smallworldstokyo #tokyotravel #evangelion #eva #anime #miniature #miniatures #animefigure #japankuru #스몰월드 #에반게리온 #오다이바 #오다이바관광 #오다이바스몰월드 #미니어쳐

For anime fans, the Evangelion areas at Small Worlds Miniature Museum are a must see! The tiny miniature people in the Evangelion Hangar look like ants beneath the moving Unit-01, Unit-00, and Unit-02! And over in Tokyo-III, characters like Shinji, Rei, and Katsuragi live life on a miniature scale. #odaiba #tokyo #tokyotrip #japantrip #japantravel #ariake #smallworlds #miniaturemuseum #smallworldstokyo #tokyotravel #evangelion #eva #anime #miniature #miniatures #animefigure #japankuru #스몰월드 #에반게리온 #오다이바 #오다이바관광 #오다이바스몰월드 #미니어쳐

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MAP OF JAPAN

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    • HOKKAIDO

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      Hokkaido (北海道) is the northernmost of the four main islands that make up Japan. The area is famous for Sapporo Beer, plus brewing and distilling in general, along with fantastic snow festivals and breathtaking national parks. Foodies should look for Hokkaido's famous potatoes, cantaloupe, dairy products, soup curry, and miso ramen!

    • Niki, in south-west Hokkaido, is about 30 minutes from Otaru. The small town is rich with natural resources, fresh water, and clean air, making it a thriving center for fruit farms. Cherries, tomatoes, and grapes are all cultivated in the area, and thanks to a growing local wine industry, it's quickly becoming a food and wine hotspot. Together with the neighboring town of Yoichi, it's a noted area for wine tourism.

    • Niseko is about two hours from New Chitose Airport, in the western part of Hokkaido. It's one of Japan's most noted winter resort areas, and a frequent destination for international visitors. That's all because of the super high-quality powder snow, which wins the hearts of beginners and experts alike, bringing them back for repeat visits. That's not all, though, it's also a great place to enjoy Hokkaido's culinary scene and some beautiful onsen (hot springs).

    • Otaru is in western Hokkaido, about 30 minutes from Sapporo Station. The city thrived around its busy harbor in the 19th and 20th centuries thanks to active trade and fishing, and the buildings remaining from that period are still popular attractions, centered around Otaru Canal. With its history as a center of fishing, it's no surprise that the area's fresh sushi is a must-try. Otaru has over 100 sushi shops, quite a few of which are lined up on Sushiya Dori (Sushi Street).

    • SAPPORO

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      Sapporo, in the south-western part of Hokkaido, is the prefecture's political and economic capital. The local New Chitose Airport see arrivals from major cities like Tokyo and Osaka, alongside international flights. Every February, the Sapporo Snow Festival is held in Odori Park―one of the biggest events in Hokkaido. It's also a hotspot for great food, known as a culinary treasure chest, and Sapporo is a destination for ramen, grilled mutton, soup curry, and of course Hokkaido's beloved seafood.

    • Consisting of six prefectures, the Tohoku Region (東北地方) is up in the northeastern part of Japan's main island. It's the source of plenty of the nation's agriculture (which means great food), and packed with beautiful scenery. Explore the region's stunning mountains, lakes, and hot springs!

    • Akita Prefecture is on the Sea of Japan, in the northern reaches of Japan's northern Tohoku region. Akita has more officially registered important intangible culture assets than anywhere else in Japan, and to this day visitors can experience traditional culture throughout the prefecture, from the Oga Peninsula's Namahage (registered with UNESCO as a part of Japan's intangible cultural heritage), to the Tohoku top 3 Kanto Festival. Mysterious little spots like the Oyu Stone Circle Site and Ryu no Atama (Dragon's Head) are also worth a visit!

    • FUKUSHIMA

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      Fukushima Prefecture sits at the southern tip of Japan's northern Tohoku region, and is divided into three parts with their own different charms: the Coastal Area (Hama-dori), the Central Area (Naka-dori), and the Aizu Area. There's Aizu-Wakamatsu with its Edo-era history and medieval castles, Oze National Park, Kitakata ramen, and Bandai Ski Resort (with its famous powder snow). Fukushima is a beautiful place to enjoy the vivid colors and sightseeing of Japan's beloved four seasons.

    • YAMAGATA

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      Yamagata Prefecture is up against the Sea of Japan, in the southern part of the Tohoku region, and it's especially popular in winter, when travelers soak in the onsen (hot springs) and ski down snowy slopes. International skiiers are especially fond of Zao Onsen Ski Resort and Gassan Ski Resort, and in recent years visitors have been drawn to the area to see the mystical sight of local frost-covered trees. Some destinations are popular regardless of the season, like Risshakuji Temple, AKA Yamadera, Ginzan Onsen's nostalgic old-fashioned streets, and Zao's Okama Lake, all great for taking pictures. Yamagata is also the place to try Yonezawa beef, one of the top 3 varieties of wagyu beef.

    • Japan's most densely populated area, the Kanto Region (関東地方) includes 7 prefectures: Gunma, Tochigi, Ibaraki, Saitama, Tokyo, Chiba, and Kanagawa, which means it also contains the Tokyo Metropolitan Area. In modern-day Japan, Kanto is the cultural, political, and economic heartland of the country, and each prefecture offers something a little different from its neighbors.

    • Gunma Prefecture is easily accessible from Tokyo, and in addition to the area's popular natural attractions like Oze Marshland and Fukiware Falls, Gunma also has a number of popular hot springs (Kusatsu, Ikaho, Minakami, Shima)―it's even called an Onsen Kingdom. The prefecture is popular with history buffs and train lovers, thanks to spots like world heritage site Tomioka Silk Mill, the historic Megane-bashi Bridge, and the Watarase Keikoku Sightseeing Railway.

    • TOCHIGI

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      Tochigi Prefecture's capital is Utsunomiya, known for famous gyoza, and just an hour from Tokyo. The prefecture is full of nature-related sightseeing opportunities year-round, from the blooming of spring flowers to color fall foliage. Tochigi also has plenty of extremely well-known sightseeing destinations, like World Heritage Site Nikko Toshogu Shrine, Lake Chuzenji, and Ashikaga Flower Park―famous for expansive wisteria trellises. In recent years the mountain resort town of Nasu has also become a popular excursion, thanks in part to the local imperial villa. Tochigi is a beautiful place to enjoy the world around you.

    • Tokyo (東京) is Japan's busy capital, and the most populous metropolitan area in the world. While the city as a whole is quite modern, crowded with skyscrapers and bustling crowds, Tokyo also holds onto its traditional side in places like the Imperial Palace and Asakusa neighborhood. It's one of the world's top cities when it comes to culture, the arts, fashion, games, high-tech industries, transportation, and more.

    • The Chubu Region (中部地方) is located right in the center of Japan's main island, and consists of 9 prefectures: Aichi, Fukui, Gifu, Ishikawa, Nagano, Niigata, Shizuoka, Toyama, and Yamanashi. It's primarily famous for its mountains, as the region contains both Mt. Fuji and the Japanese Alps. The ski resorts in Niigata and Nagano also draw visitors from around the world, making it a popular winter destination.

    • Nagano Prefecture's popularity starts with a wealth of historic treasures, like Matsumoto Castle, Zenkoji Temple, and Togakushi Shrine, but the highlight might just be the prefecture's natural vistas surrounded by the "Japanese Alps." Nagano's fruit is famous, and there are plenty of places to pick it fresh, and the area is full of hot springs, including Jigokudani Monkey Park―where monkeys take baths as well! Thanks to the construction of the Hokuriku shinkansen line, Nagano is easily reachable from the Tokyo area, adding it to plenty of travel itineraries. And after the 1998 Nagano Winter Olympics, ski resorts like Hakuba and Shiga Kogen are known around the world.

    • Aichi Prefecture sits in the center of the Japanese islands, and its capital city, Nagoya, is a center of politics, commerce, and culture. While Aichi is home to major industry, and is even the birthplace of Toyota cars, it's proximity to the sea and the mountains means it's also a place with beautiful natural scenery, like Saku Island, Koijigahama Beach, Mt. Horaiji. Often used a stage for major battles in Japanese history, Sengoku era commanders like Oda Nobunaga, Toyotomi Hideyoshi, and Tokugawa Ieyasu left their own footprints on Aichi, and historic buildings like Nagoya Castle, Inuyama Castle, and those in Meiji Mura are still around to tell the tale.

    • NIIGATA

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      Niigata is a prefecture on Japan's main island of Honshu, situated right on the coast of the Sea of Japan, and abundant with the gifts of nature. It's known for popular ski resorts such as Echigo-Yuzawa, Japanese national parks, and natural hot spring baths, plus local products like fresh seafood, rice, and sake. Visitors often spend time in the prefectural capital, Niigata City, or venture across the water to Sado Island.

    • SHIZUOKA

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      Shizuoka Prefecture is sandwiched between eastern and western Japan, giving the prefecture easy access to both Tokyo and Osaka. Not only is it known for beautiful natural attractions, with everything from Mount Fuji to Suruga Bay, Lake Hamanako, and Sumata Pass―Shizuoka's Izu Peninsula is known as a go-to spot for hot springs lovers, with famous onsen like Atami, Ito, Shimoda, Shuzenji, and Dogashima. Shizuoka attracts all kinds of travelers thanks to historic connections with the Tokugawa clan, the Oigawa Railway, fresh eel cuisine, Hamamatsu gyoza, and famously high-quality green tea.

    • Kansai (関西) is a region that includes Mie, Nara, Wakayama, Kyoto, Osaka, Hyogo, and Shiga Prefectures. Kansai contained Japan's ancient capital for hundreds of years, and it's making a comeback as one of the most popular parts of Japan. Kyoto's temples and shrines, Osaka Castle, and the deer of Nara are all considered must-sees. Plus, the people of Kansai are especially friendly, making it a fun place to hang out.

    • Kyoto flourished as the capital of Japan between the years 794 and 1100, becoming a center for poilitics and culture, and to this day it's a great place for close encounters with Japanese history. The cobbled streets of Gion, the atmospheric road to Kiyomizudera Temple, Kinkakuji's golden walls and countless historic attractions, even Arashiyama's Togetsukyo Bridge―Kyoto is a place of many attractions. With new charms to experience throughout the seasons, travelers can't stop themselves from returning again and again.

    • Nara Prefecture's important history reaches back to 710, a time now called the Nara era, when it was once capital of Japan. Called "Heijo-kyo" during its time as a capital, it's said that nara was once the end of the silk road, leading it to flourish as a uniquely international region and produce important cultural properties of all kinds. To make the most of each season, travelers head to Nara Park, where the Nara deer who wander freely, or climb Mount Yoshino, a famous cherry blossom spot.

    • Osaka is known for friendly (and funny) people, but its history is nothing to laugh at, playing a major part in Toyotomi Hideyoshi's 16th century unification of Japan. Thanks to long years of economic activity, it's one of Japan's biggest cities, and Osaka's popular food culture earned it the nickname "The Kitchen of the Nation." To this day Osaka is the model of western Japan, and alongside historic structures like Osaka Castle, it also has major shopping malls like Umeda's Grand Front Osaka and Tennoji's Abeno Harukas. Osaka is a place to eat, eat, eat, with local specialties like takoyaki, okonomiyaki, and kushi-katsu, and for extra fun, it's home to Universal Studios Japan.

    • CHUGOKU

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      The Chugoku Region (中国地方) consists of five prefectures: Hiroshima, Okayama, Shimane, Tottori, and Yamaguchi. In Chugoku you’ll find the sand dunes of Tottori, and Hiroshima’s atomic bomb site, plus centers of ancient history like Grand Shrine of Izumo.

    • HIROSHIMA

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      Hiroshima Prefecture has everything, from world heritage sites to beautiful nature and delicious local cuisine, and it's either an hour and a half from Tokyo by plane, or four hours by train. Itsukushima Shrine on Miyajima Island and the Atomic Bomb Dome, two Hiroshima UNESCO sites, are famous around the world, but in Japan it's also famous for food. Seafood from the Seto Inland Sea, especially oysters, Hiroshima-style okonomiyaki, and Setouchi lemons are all popular, and the natural scenery alone is worth seeing.

    • SHIKOKU

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      On the other side of the Seto Inland Sea opposite Japan’s main island, Shikoku (四国) is a region made up of four prefectures: Ehime, Kagawa, Kochi, and Tokushima. The area is famous for its udon (in Kagawa), and the beautiful Dogo Onsen hot springs (in Ehime).

    • Kagawa Prefecture is on the northern part of the island of Shikoku, facing Japan's main island and the Seto Inland Sea. It's known for being the smallest prefecture in Japan, by area, but at the same time Kagawa is called the "Udon Prefecture" thanks to its famous sanuki udon. Aside from Kotohiragu Shrine and Ritsurin Garden, the prefecture's small islands are popular, and Kagawa is full of unique destinations, like Angel Road. They say that if you lay eyes on Zenigata Sunae, a huge Kagawa sand painting, you'll never have money troubles ever again.

    • Located in the most southwestern part of Japan, Kyushu (九州) is an island of 7 prefectures: Fukuoka, Saga, Nagasaki, Kumamoto, Oita, Miyazaki, and Kagoshima. The island's unique culture has been influenced by Chinese and Dutch trade, along with missionaries coming in through Nagasaki's port. Modern-day travelers love the lush natural scenery and fresh food, plus the natural hot springs found all throughout the area (thanks to volcanic activity)!

    • FUKUOKA

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      Fukuoka Prefecture has the highest population on the southern island of Kyushu, with two major cities: Fukuoka and Kitakyushu. Thanks to growing transportation networks, Fukuoka is more accessible than ever, and so are the many local attractions. On top of historical spots like Dazaifu Tenmangu Shrine, travelers shouldn't miss Fukuoka's food scene, with motsu nabe (offal hotpot), mentaiko (spicy cod roe), and famous Hakata ramen―best eaten from a food stall in the Nakasu area of Hakata. Plus, it's full of all sorts of destinations for travelers, like trendy shopping centers, and the beautiful nature of Itoshima and Yanagawa.

    • KAGOSHIMA

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      Kagoshima Prefecture played a major role in Japan's modernization as a backdrop for famous historical figures like samurais Saigo Takamori and Okubo Toshimichi, who pushed Japan out of the Edo era and into the Meiji. Because of that, Sengan-en Garden is just one of many historical destinations, and when it comes to attractions Kagoshima has plenty: the active volcano of Sakurajima, popular hot springs Ibusuki Onsen and Kirishima Onsen, World Heritage Site Yakushima Island, even what Japan calls the "island closest to heaven," Amami Oshima. Kagoshima might be found on the very southernmost tip of the southern island of Kyushu, but there's plenty to see.

    • OKINAWA

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      The island chain of Okinawa (沖縄) makes up the southernmost tip of Japan, which is why it's also the most tropical area in the country. Thanks to a history of independence and totally distinct political and cultural events, Okinawa has a unique culture, and remnants of the Ryukyu Kingdom are still visible all over the islands. Food, language, traditional dress, it's all a little different! It's also said to be the birthplace of karate.

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