Japan

Japan is an island nation in the Pacific Ocean with dense cities, imperial palaces, mountainous national parks and thousands of shrines and temples. Shinkansen bullet trains connect the main islands of Kyushu (with Okinawa's subtropical beaches), Honshu (home to Tokyo and Hiroshima’s atomic-bomb memorial) and Hokkaido (famous for skiing). Tokyo, the capital, is known for skyscrapers, shopping and pop culture.

 

Official language is Japanese. Japan uses metric system (kilograms, centimeters, °C). Time zone is UTC+09:00. Japan uses 100V, 50/60Hz with sockets and plugs Type A and Type B.

Climate

The Japanese are proud of their four seasons (and an astonishing number of them are firmly convinced that the phenomenon is unique to Japan), but the tourist with a flexible travel schedule should aim for spring or autumn.

Spring is one of the best times of year to be in Japan. The temperatures are warm but not hot, there's not too much rain, and March-April brings the justly famous cherry blossoms (sakura) and is a time of revelry and festivals.

Summer starts with a dreary rainy season (known as tsuyu or baiu) in June and turns into a steambath in July-August, with extreme humidity and the temperature heading as high as 35°C. Avoid, or head to northern Hokkaido or the mountains of Chubu and Tohoku to escape. The upside, though, is a slew of fireworks shows (花火大会 hanabi taikai) and festivals big and small.

Autumn, starting in September, is also an excellent time to be in Japan. Temperatures and humidity become more tolerable, fair days are common and fall colors can be just as impressive as cherry blossoms. However, in early autumn typhoons often hit the southern parts of Japan and bring everything to a standstill.

Winter is a good time to go skiing or hot-spring hopping, but as some buildings lack central heating, it's often miserably cold indoors. Heading south to Okinawa provides some relief. There is usually heavy snow in Hokkaido and northeast Japan due to the cold wind blasts from Siberia. Note that the Pacific coast of Honshu (where most major cities are located) has milder winters than the Sea of Japan coast: it may be snowing in Kyoto while it is cloudy or sprinkling rain in Osaka, an hour away.

Regions

Hokkaido Northernmost island and snowy frontier. Famous for its wide open spaces and cold winters.

Tohoku (AomoriIwateAkitaMiyagiYamagataFukushima) Largely rural north-east part of the main island Honshu, best known for seafood, skiing and hot springs.

Kanto (IbarakiTochigiGunmaSaitamaChibaTokyoKanagawa) Coastal plain of Honshu, includes the cities of Tokyo and Yokohama.

Chubu (NiigataToyamaIshikawaFukuiYamanashiNaganoShizuokaAichiGifu) Mountainous middle region of Honshu, dominated by the Japan Alps and Japan's fourth-largest city Nagoya.

Kansai (ShigaMieKyotoOsakaNaraWakayamaHyogo) Western region of Honshu, ancient capital of culture and commerce, including the cities of OsakaKyotoKobe and Nara.

Chugoku (TottoriShimaneOkayamaHiroshimaYamaguchi) South-westernmost Honshu, a rural region best known for the cities of Hiroshima and Okayama.

Shikoku (KagawaEhimeTokushimaKochi) Smallest of the four main islands, a destination for Buddhist pilgrims, and Japan's best white-water rafting. Largest cities Takamatsu and Matsuyama.

Kyushu (FukuokaSagaNagasakiOitaKumamotoMiyazakiKagoshima) Southernmost of the four main islands, birthplace of Japanese civilization; largest cities Fukuoka and Kitakyushu.

Okinawa Semi-tropical southern island chain reaching out toward Taiwan; formerly the independent Ryukyu Kingdom until it was annexed by Japan in 1879, its traditional customs and architecture are significantly different from the rest of Japan.‍

  • population:
    126,434,964 (2014 estimate)
  • DIAL CODE:
    +81
  • currency:
    Japanese yen (symbol: ¥), code JPY
  • cost of living:
    $$$$
  • Tipping:
    Do not tip
  • crime rate:
    Very low crime rate
  • BEST TIME TO VISIT:
    The best time to visit Japan is between September and November.
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