Japan is a fascinating country that has an exciting mix of modern technology and ancient culture.
Below is some basic information to help you when planning your trip to Japan.
Don’t forget to read about Japanese Culture before going, to avoid some of the common pitfalls of visiting a foreign country.
Travelling to Japan from the UK
There are a large number of airlines that offer flights to Japan, mostly from London’s Heathrow airport. Most flights go to Tokyo Narita airport (NRT), but some may also stop at Kansai International airport.
Some airlines (including JAL, ANA and Virgin) offer student/youth discount tickets for people between the age of 18 and 26. More information can be found on the airlines’ respective pages and through the Japan Travel Centre
H.I.S London (Japanese)
Gendai Travel (Japanese)
Travelling within Japan
Trains (電車 densha)
When travelling outside the centre of major cities, it becomes necessary to use normal trains. Tickets are usually about as expensive as UK trains but the trains are almost always exactly on time (barring typhoons or earthquakes). More information http://www.japan-guide.com/e/e2016.html
Underground (地下鉄 chikatetsu)
Within Tokyo and other major cities such as Osaka and Nagoya, it is usually easiest to get around using the underground. Trains run every few minutes from early morning (6ish) until late at night (11ish). Tickets are usually cheaper than London’s underground and buying them is simply a case of finding your destination on a large map, under which is written how much it costs to get there from your current station. These years, many underground services introduced IC cards (like Oyster card), which can be charged at ticket machines. However, different cities might be using different type of IC cards. e.g. Toica in Tokyo, Manaca in Nagoya.
Travellers should note that the underground becomes extremely crowded during rush hour (7-9am, 5-7pm).
Bullet Train (新幹線 shinkansen)
The shinkansen is one of the fastest train systems in the world, and feels more like an aeroplane than a train. It runs from the north tip of Honshu, through Tokyo, Nagoya, Kyoto, Osaka, Hiroshima and down to Fukuoka in Kyuushuu. Tickets are usually expensive, but with a one or two-week rail pass it is an extremely quick way to get between all the major tourist cities. More Information.
Buses & Coaches (バス basu)
Tokyo, Osaka, Kyoto, Nagoya and most other major cities have an underground railway system, but in other cities and when going on long distance journeys, buses are an attractive alternative.
Overnight buses are a cheap way of getting between major cities. An overnight bus between Tokyo and Nagoya costs around £15 (in comparison to a £50 train ticket), leaving at around midnight and arriving in the early morning (6am). Further information http://www.japan-guide.com/e/e2366.html
Taxis (タクシー takushii)
In general it is cheaper and almost as quick to go by train than by taxi in Japan. Taxis in rural areas are cheaper than those in major cities such as Tokyo and Osaka, but even then they are only best for when you have missed the last train. Some taxi drivers may be wary of picking up westerners because of possible language problems, but once you have got a ride, clearly state the name of the hotel or place you want to go to and you should be okay.
Note that taxi doors are opened automatically by the taxi driver so do not try to open the door yourself to get in or out.
Hotels (ホテル hoteru)
As in the UK, hotels in Japan range from the fairly cheap to the amazingly expensive. Most large hotels in Tokyo will have staff that speak English, but the same cannot be said outside of Tokyo.
Youth Hostels (ユースホステル yu-su hosuteru)
Youth hostels are one of the cheapest places to stay on your own or with a small group of friends. Most have dormitory-style rooms that you will share with other travellers, and Japanese-style bath rooms that are also communal. They are on the most part extremely clean and like almost all buildings in Japan, air-conditioned. To use them you must become part of the Youth Hostel Association (http://www.yha.org.uk/)
Ryokan (旅館 ryokan)
Bearing a strong resemblance to British bed & breakfasts, ryokan are family-run houses that offer primarily Japanese-style rooms. Breakfast and dinner are often included in the price, which is usually more expensive than youth hostels, but not as much as hotels.
Language (日本語 nihongo)
Within Tokyo and other major cities, the names of train stations are often written in English. However in general it is best to try to remember what the characters for your destination look like so you can find it on signs.
Greetings (挨拶 aisatsu)
こんにちは konnichiwa = hello / good day
こんばんは konbanwa = good evening
おやすみなさい oyasumi nasai = good night
一 ichi 1
二 ni 2
三 san 3
四 shi/yon 4
五 go 5
六 roku 6
七 shichi 7
八 hachi 8
九 kyuu 9
十 juu 10
十一 juu ichi 11
十二 juu ni 12
二十 ni juu 20
三十 san juu 30
百 hyaku 100
千 sen 1,000
万 man 10,000
It is important to memorise these simple characters for finding your way around.
男 men’s (toilets)
女 women’s (toilets)
立入禁止 no entry, no trespassing (often seen on public lawns and gardens)
禁煙 no smoking. Designated smoking and non-smoking areas exist in Japan as Britain was before July 2007.
The Lonely Planet book on Japan is an excellent guide to all major cities and towns, and also offers related information about accommodation, travel and culture.