POP: 126.8 MILLION
GPS: 35°41′N 139°46′E (TOKYO)
AREA: 377,973 km2
CUR: JAPANESE YEN
Japan stretches from the Sea of Okhotsk in the north to the East China Sea and the Philippine Sea in the south and contains around 6,000 individual islands believe it or not. About 97% of Japan's landmass is taken up with the five major islands Honshu, Hokkaido, Kyushu, Shikoku and Okinawa.
Over 38 million of the 126.8m people live in the greater metropolis of Tokyo (on Honshu island) with nearly 14 million of those in Tokyo city. Tokyo was originally a small fishing village named Edo and only became the capital of Japan in 1869 after Emperor Meiji moved there from Kyoto (the previous capital of Japan).
But don't just stay in Tokyo, you must head further south on the island of Honshu to Kyoto (the previous capital of Japan), with around 1.5 million people living in the city. Kyoto is considered the cultural capital of Japan and a major tourist destination. You should definitely add Kyoto to your bucket list of places to visit when in Japan.
We got there by bullet train from Tokyo, which was expensive (around $250 each), but an excellent 2 hour ride. Kyoto is home to numerous Buddhist temples, Shinto shrines including the Fushimi Inari Shrine that features thousands of vermilion torii gates which straddle a network of trails behind its main buildings, palaces and gardens, many of which are listed collectively by UNESCO as a World Heritage Site.
Check out the places we stayed and the things we did in Japan below and then further down the page, all you need to know about travelling to Japan.
ALL YOU NEED TO KNOW
HOW TO GET THERE The quickest way to get to Japan from anywhere in the world is to fly. Skyscanner will help you look for the cheapest and most direct flights to get there. You'll most probably land at at Narita International Airport which is about 60km east of central Tokyo. A taxi into Tokyo will take around 60-90 mins and cost about 20,000 yen compare to a bus for 1,000 yen and the train for 3,000 yen. We recommend the train (you can buy a round trip fare for about 4,000 yen if you are leaving with 2 weeks).
GETTING AROUND Japan is pretty easy to get around as long as you like using trains and as long as you don't mind being squished in at peak hour times - and when I say squished in, I mean you don't have to hold on to the rails and handles above you, as the people will keep you upright. It's kinda fun - for a few minutes. But outside of peak times, it's the best way to get around.
There's an extensive train and subway system with a train to where you need to go every few minutes. Signage is in English as well as Japanese and there is an App called "HyperDia" that you can download to tell you what trains you need to catch to get to where you want to go. There are many privately owned rail lines, however you only need to buy a "Suica Card" and it will get you on all the trains. You can easily purchase your Suica Card at any train station and then just keep topping it up with Yen at train stations whenever you start to run low on credit.
STAYING CONNECTED Free WiFi is usually offered in hotels, airports, train stations, restaurants and cafes in Japan, but not everywhere. Paid WiFi hotspots are more common. It's pretty easy to buy a SIM card once you get to Japan though or you can usually organise international roaming with your own career for around $10 per day.
POWER PLUGS Japan uses two main types of power plugs; type A which is mainly used in China as well as North and Central America or type B, which will also work with a type A plug. If you are travelling to Japan from a different country to those mentioned then you will need to bring a travel adaptor with you.
VISAS People from 68 countries including the Australia, USA, UK, Canada and most EU countries coming to Japan for tourist reasons don't need a visa to enter. You will need your passport and proof of onward travel though. To see whether you need a visa from your country check your visa requirements before travelling.
BEST TIME TO TRAVEL The best times to visit Japan would have to be either in spring (Mar-May) for the beautiful blossoms or autumn (Sep-Nov) for the magnificent foliage. We went in September and we had warm days perfect for shorts and t-shirts. Tokyo's Rainbow Pride takes place in April or May.
MONEY & TIPPING It's pretty easy to change money on the street with lots of money changer places in operation, or throw some money onto a Qantas Debit Card with yen straight from your bank account and just use that on your trip. In regards to tipping, most Japanese feel that good service is the standard, so tipping is not customary. If you do tip, never take cash out of your wallet, always place in an envelope and then hand it over using both hands. The same goes when using your credit card - both hands.
VACCINATIONS You don't need any specific vaccines before travelling to Japan, apart from being up to date on routine vaccines such as measles. If you are heading to any rural areas in Japan then you may want to be vaccinated for Japanese Encephalitis. Just check with your doctor.
ACCOMMODATION When we're heading anywhere, we usually go to booking.com to help get an idea of what sort of accommodation is available, where they are all placed geographically and rates. They offer free cancellation on most properties and have good 24/7 customer support. In Tokyo we stayed at The Pullman Tamachi which was one of the best hotels we've stayed in and in Kyoto we stayed at the Kyoto Yura M Gallery. Highly recommend both.
SIGHTSEEING Japan has lots of walking tours, some are free. We did a couple of great ones you can read about with Robert around Kyoto and a photography/walking tour with Pak one night at dusk/early evening around Shinjuku in Tokyo.
DRIVE YOURSELF Vehicles drive on the left side of the road in Japan and have the driver's seat and steering wheel on their right side. The legal minimum age for driving is 18 years. Drinking and driving is strictly prohibited. Road signs and rules follow international standards, and most signs on major roads are in Japanese and English. If you intend on hiring a care, best to lock it in prior to arrival.