Japan

A fascinating blend of tradition and modernity, Japan has a unique way of respecting the old and welcoming the new. The quirky Harajuku culture and high-tech gadgets of Tokyo sit peacefully alongside the spiritual serenity of monasteries, temples and shrines, the lasting traditions of the delicate Geishas, ritualistic tea ceremonies and onsen bathing. Japan lives in the moment with a respectful nod to the past.

Japan Tours & Travel

Top deals in Japan

Departing Days Price USD
31 Jan 2015 Real Food Adventure - Japan 12 $3555
14 Feb 2015 Land of the Rising Sun 14 $4135

All our Japan trips

Land of the Rising Sun

14 days from
USD $4,135
CAD $4,265
AUD $4,185
EUR €3,160
GBP £2,420
NZD $4,655
ZAR R41,860
CHF FR3,830

Experience the best of this fascinating country on a comprehensive tour of Japan. From Tokyo city to cultural Kyoto,...

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Japan Express

9 days from
USD $1,970
CAD $2,035
AUD $1,995
EUR €1,375
GBP £1,155
NZD $2,220
ZAR R19,970
CHF FR1,660

From neon lights in Tokyo city to temples in Kyoto, this express tour of Japan will delight travellers young and old.

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Japan Family Holiday

11 days from
USD $3,790
CAD $3,985
AUD $3,835
EUR €2,640
GBP £2,220
NZD $4,270
ZAR R38,390
CHF FR3,195

Enjoy a taste of the orient on this remarkable family adventure in Japan. From dazzling cities and majestic mountains...

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Real Food Adventure - Japan

12 days from
USD $3,555
CAD $3,670
AUD $3,600
EUR €2,475
GBP £2,090
NZD $4,005
ZAR R35,995
CHF FR3,000

Travel from Tokyo through Kyoto to Osaka, learning traditional recipes, seeing the sights and dining on some of the...

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Japan Winter Festivals

9 days from
USD $3,230
CAD $3,270
AUD $3,395
EUR €2,360
GBP £2,030
NZD $4,025
ZAR R30,900
CHF FR2,910

Follow the Winter Festival Trail around Japan’s northernmost island. See the world’s biggest snow sculptures in...

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Classic Japan

12 days from
USD $4,320
CAD $4,455
AUD $4,370
EUR €3,340
GBP £2,525
NZD $4,865
ZAR R43,740
CHF FR4,045

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Japan trip reviews

Our Japan trips score an average of 4.76 out of 5 based on 59 reviews in the last year.

Japan Express, June 2014

Real Food Adventure - Japan, June 2014

Articles on Japan

Soup is for life, not just for lunch: five Asian soups that will change the way you feel about soup

Posted on Fri, 21 Nov 2014

Everyone knows soup is a great lunch option, but it's often overlooked for dinner. This article hopes to change that.

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These five dumplings prove the theory that dumplings are the greatest food in the world

Posted on Thu, 20 Nov 2014

Intrepid's in-house foodologist, James Shackell, sets out to prove a theory as old as time itself.

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Backstage pass: 8 of the best festivals in Asia

Posted on Fri, 26 Sep 2014

Shakespeare once said, ‘The sauce to meat is ceremony; meeting were bare without it.’ Basically this translates to, ‘Festivals, they’re pretty cool, eh?’ And those Elizabethans really knew how to party, so I’m inclined to agree with his opinion. Ceremonies and festivals are the cultural glue that binds us as people.

Read more

6 Asian hotels you really have to see to believe

Posted on Mon, 22 Sep 2014

What is it about Asia that throws up strange and unusual places to rest your head?

Read more

Transport

Intrepid believes half the fun of experiencing a new country is getting there, and getting around once there! Where possible, Intrepid uses local transport options and traditional modes of transport - which usually carry less of an environmental impact, support small local operators and are heaps more fun.

Depending on which trip you're on while in Japan, you may find yourself travelling by:

Accommodation

Travelling with Intrepid is a little bit different. We endeavour to provide travellers with an authentic experience to remember, so we try to keep accommodation as unique and traditional as possible.

When travelling with us in Japan you may find yourself staying in a:

About Japan

At a glance

Trips Available: 0
Capital city: Tokyo (population 12.5 million)
Population: 127.2 million
Language: Japanese
Currency: JPY
Time zone: (GMT+09:00) Osaka, Sapporo, Tokyo
Electricity: Type A (North American/Japanese 2-pin) Type B (American 3-pin)
Dialing code: +81

Best time to visit Japan

March, April and May are excellent months to visit Japan and, consequently, are also the busiest. Since it's springtime, the weather is usually fine and beautiful cherry blossoms are in full bloom.

September, October and November are also great months to visit as the days are warm, but not too humid, and the autumn colors make the gardens and countryside look amazing.

Winter, while cold, offers great conditions for skiing, snowboarding, going to snow festivals and admiring the stunning mountain scenery. The summer months can be quite humid but tourist areas are generally quieter and there are many fun festivals and fireworks displays to enjoy.

Tokyo weather chart

Culture and customs

Japanese fashion
Japan is a country that lives life between two worlds. Older rituals and traditions like kendo, bonsai, geisha, tea ceremonies and sumo coexist with contemporary attitudes and technological advances. The modern generation - who are a decidedly online, high-tech, fashion-forward crew - have adapted to a fast-paced world and generally work long hours, keep up with fashion trends and display a more ostentatious image in public. With a culture based on modesty, respect and discipline, it's no wonder that older, more traditional Japanese people are often at odds with this more flamboyant, modern generation.

Despite the difference in attitude and appearance, many traditions and ways of living endure in modern Japan. No matter what age, etiquette is important to the Japanese and guides people when eating, travelling, working and interacting with others. Traditions and rituals like tea ceremonies, bowing, kendo, geisha and sumo endure, as do festivals that have been in existence for centuries. Japan holds many festivals all over the country, ranging from large national celebrations to small regional fairs. Cherry blossom festivals - Hanami - are celebrated all over Japan in spring and other traditional festivals and celebrations can be stumbled upon in small towns and cities alike.

Although modern cuisine and convenience foods have infiltrated Japanese society, authentic Japanese cuisines like bento boxes, sushi and ramen remain ever popular. The contradictions of Japan are endless - kimonos and karaoke, contemporary art and calligraphy, bonsai and bullet trains - the modern collides with the ancient everyday, and makes for a truly fascinating place to visit.

Eating and drinking

Eating sushi with chopsticks

Intrepid believes that one of the best ways to experience a country is by eating! Whether you're sampling street food, savoring a cheap eat or indulging in a banquet, there are endless options to choose from wherever you are in the world.

Food lovers will surely be satisfied with a visit to Japan. With a focus on fresh, seasonal produce, prepared meticulously and presented beautifully, dining in Japan is a memorable experience.

Things to try in Japan

1. Sake

Consumed for centuries, this fermented rice wine is usually served in small cups or saucers, and is drunk at restaurants and bars as well as during ceremonial rituals and special occasions. Sake has quite a high alcohol content - you've been warned.

2. Sushi & Sashimi

Being an island nation, Japan has a bounty of seafood to sample. Try fresh sushi and sashimi made with tuna, salmon, squid, eel or octopus, served with soy, ginger and wasabi, prepared carefully by a sushi chef.

3. Beer

The Japanese love a lager, with beer being the most consumed alcoholic drink in Japan. Asahi, Sapporo and Kirin are the most popular Japanese brands - look out for special seasonal varieties.

4. Green Tea

Cleansing, refreshing and packed with antioxidants, green tea is simply known as 'tea' or 'ocha' in Japan. A traditional Japanese tea ceremony is an experience not to be missed and a great way to try some of the many varieties of green tea available.

5. Ramen

This tasty, salty broth of noodles and meat comes in many different flavors and regional varieties. Sit and indulge at a Ramen restaurant or slurp down a bowl at a market or karaoke hall.

Geography and environment

Traditional Japanese housing
Located in the Pacific Ocean, the island nation of Japan is an archipelago of more than 6,000 islands, with the main islands being Hokkaido, Honshu, Kyushu and Shikoku. Lying on the Pacific Ring of Fire, Japan is prone to destructive earthquakes, tsunamis and volcanic activity.

Japan has much forested, mountainous terrain, unsuitable for agriculture and development, so much of the population live in the coastal cities, which creates overpopulation. Japan is one of the most densely populated countries in the world and as a result, most people are used to living in very small spaces and with a heavy reliance on public transport. Although life is fast-paced and crowded in cities like Tokyo and Osaka, rural areas typically feature low-density, traditional housing and a slower pace of life.

History and government

Miyajima shrine

Early History

Japanese civilisation can be traced back thousands of years to prehistoric times. Over the centuries, Japan alternated between feudal, empirical and government rule, with each period birthing different styles of art, architecture and ways of living. Agriculture, particularly rice-growing, was a very important part of life in early Japan, and craftsmanship like metal working was also highly developed and respected in Japan's early days.

Recent History

Over the decades, Tokyo has grown to become an economic powerhouse and one of the most cosmopolitan, modern cities in the world. Enduring an earthquake in 1923 that caused widespread damage and civilian fatalities, as well as several bombings during World War II, Tokyo remains a global city focused on trade, tourism and technological advances.

The Japanese Army were very aggressive during World War II, playing an important part in the war and therefore suffered many losses. Many troops were lost but the most notable losses were the civilians of Hiroshima and Nagasaki - two cities which were destroyed by atomic bombs dropped by the United States towards the end of the war. After World War II Japan slowly found its feet, creating a strong economy based on manufacturing and telecommunications. Enjoying decades of prosperity and abundance, Japanese arts, culture and cuisine flourished, allowing the rest of the world to see and enjoy Japan's unique heritage.

Emperor Hirohito passed away in 1989 after reigning for many decades. This signified the end of the Showa era and the beginning of the Heisei era. In 1998, Japan hosted the Winter Olympics and fast became known as one of the hottest new places to enjoy snow sports.

Currently, Japan is still in recovery from the devastating earthquake and tsunami of 2011. But with large parts of the country unaffected, Japan is still a very special place to visit.

Top Picks

Green tea

Top 10 Culinary Experiences of Japan

1. Get In The Spirit

Learn about Japan's favourite fermented spirit on a visit to a sake brewery in Takayama. See the production process then sip on the end results. Kanpai!

2. Tasty Treasures of the Sea

Be amazed by the variety of seafood on offer at Tokyo's Tsukiji Fish Market. This is the world's largest fish market - it would be hard to find fresher sushi and sashimi anywhere else.

3. Ceremonial Tea

Be exposed to the careful ritual of a traditional tea ceremony in Kyoto. Green tea is delicately prepared by a kimono-clad host and served amid flower arrangements, tatami mats and calligraphy scrolls.

4. Snack Attack

Japan has more vending machines per capita than anywhere else in the world. With ice cream, instant ramen, cold beer, sake and hot meals all available, just try leaving Tokyo without buying something from one.

5. Liquid Gold

Pay a visit to the Sapporo Brewery for a tour of the brewery and museum exhibitions. That's enough to make anyone thirsty, so be sure to sip on a cool beer at the gigantic Beer Hall afterwards.

6. Osaka Overindulgence

Head to Osaka's premier 'eat street', the famously flamboyant Dotonbori district. Restaurants specializing in crab, ramen, beef and takoyaki (fried octopus balls) line the streets - this is the perfect place to feast on food, and landmarks.

7. Meat-Free Morsels

Enjoy simple vegetarian fare prepared by young monks while staying at a monastery in Koya-san. This is a truly unique dining experience you won't forget anytime soon.

8. Pancake Pig Out

Don't leave Hiroshima without trying the local speciality of Okonomiyaki. This savory pancake is layered with cabbage, meat, noodles, egg and sauce, and depending what restaurant you visit - sometimes you can cook it yourself.

9. Use Your Noodle

Head to a local restaurant and slurp a delicious bowl of steaming ramen. Choose from crab, pork, chicken or miso and top with ginger, garlic, sesame seeds, seaweed or corn.

10. Soba… So Good

Find out how a staple of Japanese cuisine is created by learning to make soba noodles from scratch in Tokyo. A rewarding experience for your mind, and your stomach.

Shopping

Kimonos

Shopping in Japan is fun, but expensive! In cities like Tokyo there are loads of quirky stores and funky galleries showcasing the works of independent fashion designers and gadget-creators. From the outlandish to the kitsch, you're guaranteed to find loads of colorful clothing and edgy art that you won't be able to find elsewhere.

It's a good idea to check with your local customs officials to ensure that you are able to bring certain items back into your home country. Australia and New Zealand generally have strict quarantine laws.

Things to buy in Japan

1. Kimonos

This quintessential Japanese souvenir can be worn on special occasions back at home or hung on the wall as an interesting decorative piece

2. Paper Lanterns, Kites and Fans

Japanese paper goods make great, relatively inexpensive souvenirs. Choose from high quality, traditionally-made, colorful kites or delicate rice paper lanterns.

3. Electronics

Shops in Japan are bursting with the latest tech gadgets. Before buying, be sure to check that they are compatible for use at home.

4. Fashion

Have fun with the amazing diversity of popular street culture fashion available in Japan. Vibrant, brash and sometimes bizarre - find something that no one back at home will be wearing.

5. Anime Paraphernalia

Japanese anime is riding a wave of popularity in the West, so why not pick up a book, magazine, t-shirt or print for yourself?

Festivals and Events in Japan

Sapporo Winter Festival

Held every February since 1950, this festival features hundreds of statues and ice sculptures, snow slides and mazes, regional food and artistic performances. Winter in Japan is truly amazing - and the Sapporo Winter Festival celebrates this magically.

Hadaka Matsuri

Head to Okayama to watch thousands of men, wearing nothing but a Japanese loin cloth, vie to touch the chosen 'naked man'. It may look like a bizarre male-bonding exercise but it's actually a historic cleansing ritual dating back thousands of years.

Fuji Rock Festival

Held annually in the stunning surrounds of the Naeba Ski resort, this outdoor rock festival with green-cred is huge. Drawing in big-name rock acts and local bands, thousands of music lovers flock to Naeba for three days of camping, music and partying.

FAQs on Japan

JAPAN:
Australia: No - not required
Belgium: No - not required
Canada: No - not required
Germany: No - not required
Ireland: No - not required
Netherlands: No - not required
New Zealand: No - not required
South Africa: Yes - required in advance
Switzerland: No - not required
United Kingdom: No - not required
USA: No - not required
Tipping isn't customary in Japan and is not expected of you. Some inns or ryokans may leave a small envelope in your room where a small gratuity can be left for the maid staff.
Internet access is excellent in Japan, with one of the most developed high-speed internet networks in the world. Internet cafes and Wi-Fi hot spots are easily found in most cities and major towns.
Mobile phone coverage is excellent in Japan, but be aware that talking loudly on your phone in public places (like in train carriages) is frowned upon. If you want to use your mobile phone, ensure global roaming is activated before you arrive.
In Japan, toilets range from high-tech bidets to standard western-style flushable toilets to squat toilets, which are still common in Japan. Sometimes you may need to pay for toilet paper, which can usually be purchased from a vending machine nearby.
Bento box = 1000 yen
Bowl of ramen = 700 yen
Beer = 700 yen
Snack from a convenience store = 300-400 yen
Drinking water from taps in Japan is considered safe. For environmental reasons, try to use a refillable water bottle rather than buying bottled water.
Major credit cards are accepted by some stores; however, Japan is still very much a cash culture and as such, some places may not accept credit cards. Ensure you carry enough cash to cover purchases.
ATMs are common in Japan, so finding one won't be a problem in most towns and cities but unfortunately many of them don't accept foreign-issued cards. However, you can access cash from non-Japanese bank accounts via the Cirrus and Maestro systems at all post office ATMs around the country, as well as ATMs at 7-Eleven convenience store.
Absolutely. All passengers travelling with Intrepid are required to purchase travel insurance before the start of their trip. Your travel insurance details will be recorded by your leader on the first day of the trip. Due to the varying nature, availability and cost of health care around the world, travel insurance is very much an essential and necessary part of every journey.

For more information on insurance, please go to: [site:intrepid_insurance_link]
Jan 1 New Year's Day
Jan 14 Coming of Age Day
Feb 11 National Foundation Day
Mar 20 Vernal Equinox
Apr 29 Showa Day
May 3 Constitution Memorial Day
May 4 Greenery Day
May 5 Children's Day
Jul 15 Marine Day
Sep 16 Respect for the Aged Day
Sep 23 Autumnal Equinox
Oct 8 Health and Sports Day
Nov 3 Culture Day
Nov 23 Labour Thanksgiving Day
Dec 23 Birthday of the Emperor

Please note these dates are for 2013. For a current list of public holidays in Japan go to: http://www.worldtravelguide.net/japan/public-holidays

Health and Safety

Intrepid takes the health and safety of its travellers seriously, and takes every measure to ensure that trips are safe, fun and enjoyable for everyone. We recommend that all travellers check with their government or national travel advisory organisation for the latest information before departure:

From Australia?

Go to: http://www.smartraveller.gov.au/

From New Zealand?

Go to: http://www.safetravel.govt.nz/

From Canada?

Go to: http://www.voyage.gc.ca/

From US?

Go to: http://travel.state.gov/

From UK?

Go to: http://www.fco.gov.uk/en/

The World Health Organisation

also provides useful health information:
Go to: http://www.who.int/en/

Responsible Travel

Japan Travel Tips

Intrepid is committed to travelling in a way that is respectful of local people, their culture, local economies and the environment. It's important to remember that what may be acceptable behaviour, dress and language in your own country, may not be appropriate in another. Please keep this in mind while travelling.

Top responsible travel tips for Japan

1. Always dispose of litter thoughtfully, including cigarette butts.

2. Please ask and receive permission before taking photos of people, including children.

3. For environmental reasons, try to avoid buying bottled water. Fill a reusable water bottle or canteen with filtered water instead.

4. Try to use public transport wherever possible.

5. Refrain from touching or interfering with ancient monuments, relics or historic sites.

6. Learn some Japanese greetings and don't be afraid to use them - it will help break the ice.

7. Shop for locally made products. Supporting local artisans helps keep traditional crafts alive.

8. Be respectful and modest when visiting temples and monasteries.

9. It's customary to remove your shoes before entering homes or ryokans.

10. Elderly people are very much respected in Japan, and it's customary to allow them to go first when entering buildings or public transport.

Further reading

Recommended reading

Title Author
Memoirs of a GeishaArthur Golden
The Wind-Up Bird ChronicleHaruki Murakami
ShogunJames Clavell
Retribution: The Battle for Japan 1944-1945Max Hastings
The Year of No Money in TokyoWayne Lionel Aponte
Beyond the Blossoming FieldsJunichi Watanabe
Zen and Japanese CultureD.T Suzuki
Lost JapanAlex Kerr