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Japan

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  • Lake Toya, Japan
    Lake Toya, Japan
  • Sugar Cane Field, Ishigakijima island, Kawahira Bay, Japan
    Sugar Cane Field, Ishigakijima island, Kawahira Bay, Japan
  • Yakushima, Japan
    Yakushima, Japan

Japan is swathed in natural beauty, from the snow festivals and lavender farms of the northern isle of Hokkaido to the sun-drenched beaches and turquoise waters of the subtropical islands of Okinawa. Whether climbing volcanic Mount Fuji, wandering the pine forests of Mount Koya, taking in the springtime beauty of the sakura cherry blossoms or the spectacular maple leaves in the autumn, a journey to Japan is a wealth of unforgettable natural landscapes. In recent years, the powdery snow of Japan’s ski fields has also been attracting international visitors.

Culturally, Japan offers a unique and exciting fusion of the traditional and the modern. The speed at which new technological developments are realised in Japan is as impressive as the longevity of traditional art forms and customs. Whilst it is no longer the economic powerhouse it was for the greater part of the 20th century, Japan is still a world leader in innovative design and fashion, and continues to offer superb customer service, clean and punctual trains and meticulously prepared and presented cuisine.

Japanese culture embraces the new while celebrating the past. It’s not unusual to see kimono-clad geisha singing karaoke in downtown Kyoto, or fully-robed Buddhist monks whizz by on motorbikes in central Tokyo. ‘Cool Japan’ has become an internationally-recognised byword for Japan’s popular culture, and Japanese manga, anime and video games have never been more popular. Modern architecture in Tokyo, and other major Japanese cities, is well-regarded for forging radical new styles and using clever combinations of glass and concrete, which hint at traditional architectural forms yet offer minimalist sophistication. However, ancient castles, atmospheric Buddhist temples, Shinto shrines and fascinating festivals are never far away.

Despite never having been colonised, the country’s own imperialist ambitions in Asia during the first part of the 20th century had devastating consequences, culminating in the dropping of the first atomic bomb on Hiroshima. Japan has also had to deal with a vulnerability to earthquakes and tsunamis that has caused widespread natural disasters throughout its history. The most recent include the powerful earthquake that hit Kobe, a port city in Western Japan in 1995, and in March 2011, when a massive earthquake and tsunami off the coast of North-eastern Japan caused the country’s biggest loss of life since WWII, and resulted in one of the world’s worst nuclear accidents at the Fukushima Dai-ichi nuclear power plant.

With great challenges of rebuilding and revitalisation ahead, the resilience of the Japanese people is proving to be essential to recovery. Greater emphasis is being placed on disaster preparedness and environmental issues. Renewed efforts to attract international visitors mean there has never been a better time to visit beautiful and fascinating Japan.

  • Capital:

    Tokyo.

    Geography:

    The archipelago of Japan is separated from the Asian mainland by 160km (100 miles) of sea and split into four main islands: Honshu, Hokkaido, Kyushu and Shikoku. About 70% of the country is covered by hills and mountains, a number of which are active or dormant volcanoes, including Mount Fuji, Japan's highest peak, reaching 3,776m (12,388ft). Japan sits on major seismic fault lines and is susceptible to frequent earthquakes.

    A series of mountain ranges runs from northern Hokkaido to southern Kyushu. The Japanese Alps (the most prominent range) run in a north-south direction through central Honshu. Lowlands and plains are small and scattered, mostly lying along the coast, and composed of alluvial lowlands and diluvial uplands. The coastline is very long in relation to the land area, and has very varied features, for example, the deeply indented bays with good natural harbours tend to be adjacent to mountainous terrain. Many of Japan’s major cities are located on the coastline, and have extremely high population density.

    Government:

    Constitutional monarchy.

    Head Of State:

    Emperor Akihito since 1989.

    Head Of Government:

    Prime Minister Shinzō Abe since 2012.

    Electricity:

    100 volts AC, 60Hz in the west (Osaka); 100 volts AC, 50Hz in eastern Japan and Tokyo. Plugs are flat two-pin plugs.

    Timezone:
  • Currency Information:

    Japanese Yen (JPY; symbol ¥). Notes are in denominations of ¥10,000, 5,000, 2,000 and 1,000. Coins are in denominations of ¥500, 100, 50, 10, 5 and 1.

    Credit Cards:

    American Express, Diners Club, MasterCard, Visa and other major credit cards are widely accepted in major cities and towns. A pin number may be required to process the transaction. The Japan Post Bank, Seven-Eleven convenience stores and international banks accept foreign credit cards.

    ATMs:

    Japan Post Bank ATMs at main branches of the Post Office accept foreign cards Mon-Fri 0005-2355, and 0005-2100 on Sundays and holidays. ATMs at Seven-Eleven stores also accept foreign cards and are accessible 24 hours. International banks accept foreign credit or debit cards, and these are hard to find outside of major cities. Bank ATMs are generally open Mon-Fri 0700-2300, Sat-Sun 0900-1900, though some only operate during normal banking hours and on Saturday mornings. Citibank machines are the most likely to have ATMs, and also to accept foreign credit cards (and are usually open 24 hours).

    Japan has a strong cash culture, and it is usual to see people carrying large amounts of cash with them because of the low crime rate. It is only recently that credit cards have begun to become more popular. However, travellers may still encounter difficulties with foreign credit cards.

    Travellers Cheques:

    These can be exchanged at most major banks, larger hotels and some duty-free shops. To avoid additional exchange rate charges, travellers are advised to take traveller's cheques in Japanese Yen or US Dollars.

    Banking Hours:

    Mon-Fri 0900-1500.

    Currency Restrictions:

    There are no restrictions on the import or export of local or foreign currency. However, amounts exceeding ¥1,000,000 or equivalent must be declared.

    Currency Exchange:

    All money must be exchanged at an authorised bank or money changer.

    Currencies: Exchange Rates:

    • 1 AUD = 75.55 JPY
    • 1 EUR = 138.48 JPY
    • 1 GBP = 177.80 JPY
    • 1 USD = 109.63 JPY

  • Best Time To Visit:

    Except for the Hokkaido area and the subtropical Okinawa region, the weather in Japan is mostly temperate, with four distinct seasons. Winters are cool and sunny in the south, cold and sunny around Tokyo (which occasionally has snow), and very cold around Hokkaido, which is covered in snow for up to four months a year. The Japan Sea coastline also often receives heavy snowfall during winter.

    Summer, between June and September, ranges from warm to very hot with high levels of humidity in many areas. Typhoons, or tropical cyclones, with strong winds and torrential rains often hit Japan during August and September, but can occur through May to October. Strong typhoons often affect transport systems, causing rail and air services to be stopped, and there is a danger of landslides in rural areas.

    Spring and autumn are generally mild throughout the country, and offer spectacular views of pretty sakura cherry blossoms and colourful autumnal leaves, respectively. Rain falls all over Japan throughout the year but June and early July is the main rainy season. Umbrellas are a daily essential during this season. Hokkaido, however, is generally much drier than the Tokyo area. For weather updates, including information of when and where cherry blossoms are expected to bloom and typhoon trajectories, check the Japan Meteorological Association website (www.jma.go.jp/jma/indexe.html).

    Required Clothing:

    In Japan, lightweight cottons and linens are required throughout summer in most areas. To avoid sunstroke and sunburn it is advisable to wear a hat. According to the region, light to medium weight clothing is best during spring and autumn; whilst medium to heavy weight clothing is recommended for winter months. A light rain coat or jacket is useful during the rainy season in June and July. Much warmer clothes will be needed in the mountains all year round. Thermal innerwear is recommended if trekking, climbing or skiing. It's best to purchase all necessary clothing before arriving in Japan, as it can be difficult to find larger sizes.