While I’ve only been to Japan once for a two week trip, it is on my favorite places in the world. I traveled to Japan a couple years ago. I plan on returning in the near future and put together this “How to Do Japan” guide to help you plan. Here are some activities and tips for traveling to Japan.
Getting to Japan
Flights from the West Coast are about 11 plus hours nonstop. A variety of airlines operate from West Coast hubs to Japan including United, ANA, Delta, and Japan Airlines. Hawaiian Airlines recently began offering flights from the West Coast to Japan with a layover in Hawaii. Flights typically cost around $600-$800 on economy.
How to Use points:
Flying to Japan on business or first class is a wonderful treat. There are a variety of redemption options available and premium class flights cost around $4000. The best value redemption lies in redeeming a business class ticket with ANA(All Nippon Airways). The airline is a transfer partner of American Express, but you can also book through Virgin Atlantic. ANA only allows round trip fares, but a round trip business class ticket will only set you back 90,000 Amex Points. This allow you to get enormous value out of your American Express Points.
Note: ANA has a seasonal awards chart with peak, off peak, and standard awards. So be sure to check before transferring points. You can redeem flights for yourself and companions, but companions must be registered to ANA’s loyalty program.\
Tip: ANA is an exclusive transfer partner of American Express. Learn more about American Express Membership rewards .
Where to Fly
Flying into Tokyo can be hectic, especially since both airports are some distance away from the City’s center. During my last visit, I flew into Osaka at Kansai International Airport. Getting to my hotel from the airport was a short 20-30 minute train ride. Osaka is not as busy as Tokyo and is a wonderful place to spend your first few days and get acclimated.
Japan has a magnificent public transport system. Their train system is so complex that large stations have over 20 different platforms. Getting from city to city will require bullet trains. A one way trip from Osaka to Tokyo can cost around $130, and takes about 2.5 hours. To travel around Tokyo, Kyoto, and Osaka, you can use their extensive subway lines. While I was in Japan, I only took the bus in Kyoto a couple of times. I typically stuck to the train lines.
Tip: When traveling to Japan, make sure to reserve a pocket wifi. This rechargeable device offers your cell phone wifi for the whole trip. It only cost me a couple of dollars a day. This device will keep you connected to Google Maps, the ultimate map guide in Japan. Google maps is extremely helpful.
Cities to Visit
The most popular destination, Tokyo is Japan’s bustling metropolis. You can find everything in Tokyo, from the Imperial Palace to the fish markets of Tsukiji and even the entertainment center of Odaiba. The city has a host of historical sights and entertainments, along with vibrant nightlife in Shibuya.
Kyoto and Nara
Kyoto is a peaceful city which was once the capital of Japan. The city is peaceful and offers a drastic change of pace from Tokyo. Here, you can visit various temples, castles, and palaces including the Fushimi Inari Shrine. This renown Shinto Shrine consist of colorful orange gates and a long trail through a mountain.
Just a quick train ride away, Nara is a smaller city famous for its deer park. Traveling from Kyoto to Nara by train through the country side is quite scenic. You can catch a glimpse of rice paddies, where the horizon stretches for miles. Nara’s deer park is a truly amazing place. Here you can purchase “deer crackers” and hand feed the deer. Be careful as the deer can get aggressive over food.
I spent my first and last days of my trip in Osaka. Osaka shares many similar traits to Kyoto with a more modern feel. The city offers a blend of historical sites and modern entertainment. The city is a short hour train ride away from Kyoto, making it possible to travel to either city for a day trip. The city is vibrant with a large shopping district housed near a river-walk. During the dinner time, the riverwalk is bustling with tourist.
Things to Do
A guide to Japan wouldn’t be complete without a few recommendations on activities and food. Here are some activities, sites to visit, and places to eat.
Imperial Palace – Tokyo
One of the most famous palaces in Japan, Tokyo’s Imperial Palace sits in the heart of Tokyo couple of mins walking distance from their version of central station. There is no entry fee, and the historical architecture is magnificent. This one of Japan’s most famous palaces and a quick DIY tour takes about two hours. The palace has everything from lush botanical gardens to beautiful koi ponds, this is a can’t miss spot in Tokyo.
Tokyo Metropolitan Building – Tokyo
Want a majestic view of Tokyo’s skyline? The free observation deck at Tokyo’s Metropolitan building offers amazing views and a glimpse of Mt. Fuji. The building stands some 800 feet tall with the observation deck nearly 670 feet above ground. This is one of the several amazing free attractions in Tokyo.
Senso-Ji – Tokyo
While in Japan, you will numerous historical temples, shrines and castles, but Seno-Ji temple is the oldest temple in Tokyo. This temple covers a large with everything from a small market vendor areas, to shrines. The temple is most famous for its entrance containing large gates and a giant red lantern. Senso-Ji is one of the most visited spiritual places in the world.
Fushimi-Inari – Kyoto
Another large temple ground, Fushimi-Inari lies at the base of a mountain with its famous orange gates sprawled through out the mountain trail which spans nearly 2.5 miles long. This spot is renown for their gates and offers a relaxing trek.
Nijo Castle – Kyoto
One of the only castles I visited in Japan, Nijo Castle is 16th century castle with an inner section and a moat. The moat is currently inhabited by a variety of koi fish. You can even tour audience rooms which remain in pristine condition.
Tip: Make sure to check and see if you qualify for a student discount. Discount tickets for the castle were under $5 during my visit.
A man made island, Odaiba is a massive entertainment center with everything from arcades to virtual reality gaming. There is even a giant Gundam statue as well as a Gundam museum located inside a large shopping center. In addition, Odaiba also had Toyota demoing there new concept scooter.
Deer Park and Feeding – Nara
One of the coolest placest in Japan, Nara Park is home to hundreds if not thousands of deer. The deer are free to roam and visitors can purchase “deer crackers” to feed them. Be warned, the deer can get quite aggressive over the crackers. Nara Park offers a truly amazing experience and is just quick train ride from Kyoto.
Osaka Aquarium – Osaka
During one of our first days in Osaka, there was a torrential downpour. Rather than wasting a day, my brother and I decided to check out Osaka’s Aquarium, which is home to a whale shark. We were lucky to catch the whale shark feeding. The aquarium is also home to several other rare animals including an adorable white seal. As a marine science lover, the aquarium was a perfect excursion for a rainy day.
Cup Noodle Museum – Osaka
Instant noodles were born in Japan before becoming the staple of a college student’s diet(not kidding). At this museum, you can get a first look at how cup noodles are produced and design your very cup noodle souvenir to bring home. This is a great activity for those traveling to Osaka or Japan with younger children.
Japan has been one of my favorite destinations. I can’t wait to make it back in the near future. The food in Japan is truly amazing and the people were extremely friendly. I also enjoyed the rich history of the country. There are a plethora of things to see and places to visit in Japan. I only listed a couple of each that I have been to but I hope to create a more depth guide after my next trip.