What are the best things to do in Japan?
Mount Fuji is the tallest mountain in Japan, a UNESCO World Heritage Site and one of the country's top attractions. Each year, thousands of people buy return flights to Japan to gaze up at its towering peak or make the pilgrimage to the summit. You can choose to start the climb at the base of the mountain or from Mount Fuji Fifth Station (the halfway mark).
Kyoto is a special place in Japan. It was one of the few cities spared from the bombs of WWII, and many of its ancient buildings are still intact. As the country's former cultural centre, Kyoto is home to dozens of museums, art galleries and historic Buddhist-influenced architecture. If you're buying flights to Japan to visit Kyoto, don't miss out on exploring the 14th-century Golden Pavilion, Kyoto Imperial Palace and the Nijo Castle.
While many WWII history buffs book tickets to Japan to visit Hiroshima, don't end your visit there without visiting the island of Miyajima. The easiest way to get here is to fly into Hiroshima Airport (HIJ) and take a short ferry ride to the island. This isle is known around the world for its spectacular Itsukushima Shrine. The Shinto temple dates back to the 8th century, and the shrine rises out of the water at low tide. Other parts of the island worth exploring are the gardens and the performance stage where you can watch traditional dances.
To take in an exceptional example of Japanese architecture, use your return flights to Japan to spend time in Osaka. The famous Osaka Castle, built in 1586, was once the largest fortress in Japan. Head to the top of the 420-metre tall main tower for a bird’s eye view over the city. It's one of the best spots in Osaka to watch the sunset. Other highlights around the castle include the Hokoku Shrine, Shitenno-Ji Temple, the Golden Pavilion and the Lecture Hall.
What should I know before visiting Japan?
Visiting temples and shrines
If you're buying airfare to Japan to learn more about the country's unique culture, be sure to pack appropriate clothing. Tourists should dress conservatively when visiting shrines and temples and avoid showing shoulders and knees. Some temples also request a small entrance fee.
Etiquette on trains
One of the most notable cultural differences in Japan is that locals tend to not talk, drink or eat on trains. Locals use the time on the train to nap while on the way to work.
Money in Japan
While most places in Japan accept credit cards, it is still wise to carry some cash on you in case you stop off at smaller convenience stores, boutiques or temples and shrines. You don't need to worry about exchanging your New Zealand Dollars to Yen before your flights to Japan. All the major cities and towns should have ATMs that accept international cards.
What's on in Japan?
Japan has countless festivals throughout the year. Planning your flights to Japan around one of them is an excellent way to learn about the country's ancient traditions and religious festivities.
Awa Odori is a dance festival held in August each year. It takes place on the island of Shikoku and attracts more than one million attendees. The performers entertain the spectators using traditional instruments, like shamisen, and folk dances. As August falls outside of Japan's peak tourist season, planning a trip that coincides with the festival might see you snap up cheap deals on your airfare to Japan. You can easily get to the island with domestic flights from Narita International Airport (NRT) in Tokyo, as well as other major cities like Osaka and Nagoya.
Cherry Blossom Festivals
Each year, thousands of people buy return flights to Japan to see the country's famous cherry blossoms. Hanami is the ancient Japanese tradition of appreciating the beauty of the flowers. The cherry blossoms start blooming in January in Okinawa, Hokkaido’s flowers reach their peak in May and Tokyo and Kyoto usually have their festivals between March and May.
Chichibu Night Festival
For a colourful extravaganza, book your flights to Japan for travel in early December and attend the Chichibu Night Festival in Tokyo. Fly into Narita International Airport (NRT) and partake in this two-day event that's more than 300 years old. It features ornate floats, performances, fireworks and plenty of rice wine.
The city of Kyoto attracts more than 10 million visitors each year. Spared from the devastation of WWII, little has changed in this ancient city in the past 1,000 years. Once the imperial capital of Japan, the "City of 10,000 Shrines" boasts more temples than anywhere else in the country. It's the perfect destination for travellers who want to immerse themselves in the Japanese culture and marvel at Kyoto's architectural wonders. Some of the city's top sites include the 14th-century Golden Pavilion, Nijo Castle, the Kyoto Imperial Palace and the Arashiyama Bamboo Grove.
Tokyo is the capital city of Japan and holds the title as the world's most populous metropolis. It's a city that's constantly on the move, and it's impossible to be bored. With an almost unlimited choice of things to do and see, your itinerary in Tokyo will never be dull. It has more Michelin stars than any other city, the world's tallest tower and a wild nightlife scene to keep you entertained into the wee hours of the morning.
Once known as Naniwa, Osaka was Japan's first-ever capital city. Today, it's the second largest city in Japan and one of the hottest foodie destinations. Known as the "Nation's Kitchen", it's one of the best places in the country to take a cooking class. Learn how to craft iconic Japanese dishes such as miso soup or delicious comfort food like pork on rice. Once you're done eating your fill, there's plenty of other things to do in the area. Visit the famous Osaka Castle, go to the Sumiyoshi-Taisha Shrine or take a cruise on the Osaka River.
Nara is an incredible destination for travellers interested in Japan's ancient history. The city is filled with historic buildings, 8 UNESCO World Heritage Sites, national treasures and exceptional pieces of art. The best part about Nara is that most of its monasteries and shrines are close together, making it easy to explore this ancient city on foot. Make sure you visit the Seven Great Temples of Nara, the 8th-century Todaiji Temple, and the world’s largest wooden building, home to Japan’s largest Buddha.
Once a place of tragedy, Hiroshima is now a centre for global peace. If you want to learn more about the Japan's involvement in WWII, head to the Hiroshima Peace Memorial Museum. It's locked in Peace Park, across from the sight of the A-Bomb Dome. Besides its sobering history, the city is famous for its local speciality, okonomiyaki. And you'll be only a short ferry ride away from the Island Shrine of Itsukushima.
Top Attractions in Japan
Standing at 3,776 metres, Mount Fuji is the highest peak in Japan. It's so tall that the active volcano can be seen in Tokyo more than 100 kilometres away. Situated inside Fuji-Hakone-Izu National Park, it's one of the country's most popular attractions with over a million people climbing the mountain each year. Its near perfect symmetrical cone has inspired Japanese artists and writers for centuries. In 2013, it was officially recognised by UNESCO as a sacred place and source of artistic inspiration. Whether you choose to attempt the three to eight-hour ascent or admire it from below, Mount Fuji is a sight that deserves a spot on any Japan itinerary.
Osaka Castle Park
In 1586, Toyotomi Hideyoshi, a famous warrior and politician, built the Osaka Castle. During its heyday, it was the most important fortress in the country and played a huge role in unifying Japan. Today, it attracts history buffs from all over who want to marvel at its architectural design and learn more about Japan's past. Besides the castle, there are other important sights to see inside the park. The Japanese government has designated 13 structures as important cultural assets such as the Ote-mon Gate and Kin Meisui Well. You can also visit the Hokoku Shrine or spend some time wandering around the lush urban oasis of the Nishinomaru garden.
Tokyo Imperial Palace
Tokyo's most famous landmark is the Imperial Palace. Surrounded by traditional 17th-century Japanese gardens, it's the official residence of the Imperial family. Don't give this place a skip because the majority of the palace is closed off to the public. There is plenty to see here by strolling through the castle grounds. Visit the Nijubashi Bridge, famous for its watery reflection or spend an afternoon in the East Higashi-Gyoen Garden. It's one of the few areas open to the public and covers an area of 210,000 square metres. If you're dying to see more of the palace, plan your visit around the 2nd of January or 23rd of December. During these two occasions, you'll be allowed to enter the inner palace grounds and even catch a glimpse of the Imperial Family.
The Island Shrine of Itsukushima
Dating back to the eighth century, a visit to the UNESCO Itsukushima Shrine is a must if you find yourself near Hiroshima. Located just off the mainland, the island is famous around the world for its Great Floating Gate. During high tide, the Shinto temples dedicated to the daughters of Susanoo, the wind god, give off the illusion of floating on water. Visitors from all over flock to the island to witness this architectural wonder, but it's not all the island offers. Before leaving, explore the grounds home to wild deer and stay for the traditional dances held on the shrine's stage.
Jigokudani Monkey Park
Jigokudani, commonly known as Hell's Valley is surrounded by freezing forests, cliffs and bubbling hot springs. But besides its natural beauty, the park is well-known for its population of wild Snow Monkeys. During the winter, the Japanese macaque monkeys descend from the forests to spend the day bathing in the warm hot springs. While the park is open all year round, the best time to visit the monkeys is from January to February when the area is covered in snow. But with temperatures dropping as low as -15°C during these winter months, make sure you pack enough warm clothes for your visit.
Major International Airports in Japan
- Haneda Airport
- Narita International Airport
- Kansai International Airport
- Fukuoka Airport
- Central Japan Airport