Northern Japan has four distinct seasons and southern Japan is subtropical — Okinawa’s average year-round temperature is 21 degrees Celsius. The rainy season lasts from about mid-June to mid-July. After rain, it often becomes hot and humid, except in Hokkaido and the mountains areas. Late August and September is the typhoon season, although these are marked more by thunderstorms. Most of Japan sees snow in winter, which lasts from December to March and offers excellent opportunities for winter sports. There are many volcanoes in Japan, many of them active and earthquakes are not uncommon.
When to fly to Japan
The best times to book flights to Japan are during peak seasons, when the Japanese are on holiday: around New Year’s, Golden Week (April 29 to May 5) and the Obon Festival in mid-August.
Other peak seasons are school holidays, (mid-July through August), national holidays and during festivals, so make sure you book ahead.
Spring in Japan is famous for the plum and cherry blossoms, which are in full bloom March and April. They are a sight to behold and worth timing your visit around. Autumn offers stunning foliage displays.
Getting around Japan
Japan is the home of the super-fast bullet trains - and the world's most efficient and extensive train system.
Domestic airlines offer low and discounted flights between cities.
There's a comprehensive network of long-distance buses. Local city bus lines though, can be confusing if you don’t speak Japanese. Ferries are an ideal way to explore the islands and can be surprisingly affordable.
Trains are probably the best way to get around the major cities. Taxis are prohibitively expensive for those travelling on a budget. If you do take a taxi, make sure you have the address written in Japanese, as many drivers do not speak English.
Japan insider information
Things to see and do in Japan
- Tokyo at first glance appears brash, noisy and teeming with people, but if you look beyond the facade, you'll discover quiet side streets, serene temples, ancient shrines, beautiful bonsai trees and you may even stumble on an unexpected festival. The arrival point for most flights to Japan, Tokyo offers a plethora of interesting things to do, from world-class museums to amazing culinary experiences, whether you’re dining at the finest restaurants or noodle shacks. A shopper's paradise, the fashion-conscious city had endless designer boutiques, crafts, high-tech goods and antiques stores. Come nightfall, trendy clubs, Kabuki theatre, sumo wrestling and busy performing arts scene mean you can do something different every night.
- Hiroshima has emerged from its tragic past and today is a modern city laced with rivers and tree-lined boulevards. The streets are lined with statues, stone lanterns, memorials and sculptures. Most travellers come to visit the Peace Memorial Park and museum, but also worth exploring are the Hiroshima Museum of Art, Hiroshima Prefectural Art Museum and the stunning Shukkeien Garden, which is a miniature landscape of valleys, mountains and forests.
- Okinawa has a unique history. It is actually a chain of hundreds of islands and wasn’t integrated into Japan until 1879. It was the only ground battle site in Japan during World War II. Okinawa is home to the Ryukyu language (indecipherable to most Japanese), arts and music. The region blooms with tropical plants year-round. Diving is extremely popular and the beaches have colourful marine life and coral reefs.
- Nagoya, a contemporary easy-going city, was completely rebuilt after the war. Among its attractions are fine displays at the renowned Noritake chinaware company, the Tokugawa Art Museum’s collection and the Toyota Commemorative Museum of Industry and Technology, one of the world’s ultimate Science museums, with many interactive displays. The open-air architectural museum, with many preserved historic buildings, includes the reconstructed lobby of Frank Lloyd Wright's landmark Imperial Hotel.
- Hip and stylish Osaka is an international, progressive business hub and a geek's shopping paradise, with all the latest devices, gadgets and toys. Osaka also offers a rich program of performing arts, major museums and comedy shows. There's world-class dining, one of the largest aquariums in the world, the landmark Osaka Castle, the Bunraku puppet theatre, the oldest state temple in Japan and you can even visit Universal Studios.
Etiquette in Japan
- The Japanese are sticklers for cleanliness, as reflected in their rituals. Shoes are usually left at the door of people's homes and restaurants and there are occasionally even slippers to be worn when going to the toilet. Bathers are expected to wash before taking onsen (hot springs) or sento (communal bath houses).