Japan in winter

February 2015

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Map of Japan

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Getting to Japan is really simple, thanks to lot of daily flights available from major hubs throughout the world. Depending on the travel itinerary in Japan that you would like to follow, you may want to consider arriving in a city (eg Tokyo) and depart from another (eg Osaka or Nagoya), this option usually doesn't require a supplement over the normal fare of the ticket and lets to optimize further the travel time. If you are landing or departing onto Tokyo, you should know that the city has two major airports: Tokyo Narita (NRT) and Tokyo Hanada (HND). Tokyo Narita is more distant from the city and the travel time required to get from and to central downtown, may exceed two hours if the traffic is particularly heavy. Tokyo Hanada is much closer to the city, however, direct international flights onto such airport are much less than those available onto Tokyo Narita.


If you would like to go Japan and move around on your own by car or public transport, but you are a bit worried about the language used for signs along road, railway stations and subways, you should know that in recent years, Japan has greatly evolved about this, thanks also the constantly increasing influx of tourists coming from all around the world. Therefore, finding a train or the correct platform in a subway station, has become very easy, not only for the signs almost always translated in English, but also because the same indications are simple and very intuitive. In short, moving around in Japan via public transport is simple, practical, fast and it is virtually impossible to get lost. Another myth to dispel is that taxis and public transportation in Japan is very expensive: nothing is further from the truth, at least accordingly to the current exchange rate between major currencies and Yen (1 Euro at the beginning of 2015 was equivalent to 133 Yen): the cost for a taxi by taxi-meter and the ticket for a ride on a bus or subway, is similar to that in Europe, although the quality of the service offered is infinitely greater for capillarity, frequency, comfort and cleanliness, than most western countries. The same is for the famous "bullet train" (Shinkansen) where the cost per kilometer is comparable to most high speed trains in Europe, but with much added flexibility in case you miss a train (no supplement to take another one, even with "base" fare). For those who wish to rent a car, a way of travel really not recommended, since public transportation will get you everywhere, you have to know that driving is on the left and that the signs in this case, are not always translated in English (however, a good navigator recently updated may effectively solve the problem). Walking in the city is instead a different story: street names are almost always only in Japanese and sometimes it will not be very easy to find the correct way: again, a simple navigator on a smart phone may be very useful.


From the point of view weather, spring and autumn are probably the best seasons for a trip to Japan, as temperatures are mild and never extreme, making long walks in the city comfortable enough. In particular, during spring (hard to predict, but generally between late March and early April) tourists can witness the spectacular cherry blossom in most parts of the country, while autumn can be especially interesting for foliage trips, as many trees turn yellow to red. If you are looking instead for winter landscape, January and February is probably the best time to go to Japan, when the mountain chains of Western Alps, as well as the island of Hokkaido, are covered literally with *meters* of snow (they are statistically the snowiest places on the planet). The city of Sapporo hosts every year the spectacular Snow Festival, usually between late January and early February, while not far from Yudanaka, the Japanese macacus (snow monkey) can be observed maybe during an intense snowfall. The worse season to go to Japan is probably summer, because of the heat and the humidity which make uncomfortable walking all day among the various attractions. Summer is also the rainy season in Japan, especially June and July, months which are followed by hot and humid weather for several weeks.


Thinking to Japan, there are essentially two preconceptions that come immediately to mind, which may discourage indepentent travel to this interesting country. The first one is that in Japan everything is very expensive so, if you are not in a group, it will be difficult to manage expenses that could be otherwise split among participating passengers. Anyway, as already explained when talking about public transport, nothing further from the truth, as in recent years the Yen depreciated strongly against major currencies, making Japan not more expensive than average European countries. The second one is the language barriers that could make difficult to move around, understand signs, or just ask for information. Again, nothing could be more false: the signs are almost always available in English and moving around, even by public transport, is so simple and intuitive. In the unlikely event that you really need to ask for information to go somewhere, maybe because the signage is not clear, basic English is spreading more and more in Japan thanks to increasing tourism and therefore, with a little patience, there will be no particular problem in communicating. Furthermore, it must be noted that Japan is a very safe country, with crime rates among the lowest in the world and very kind people whose you can trust. Therefore, in our opinion, if you can't find a group departure that meets your travel dates and intended itinerary, there is certainly no problem to go to Japan individually.


Below you will find a list of Japan travel tips, based on the most frequently questions that we receive from tourists wishing to visit this country.

  • How are the power outlets? Power outlets in Japan are the same as in the USA, with two flat pins (type A). The voltage is 100V and the frequency is either 50Hz or 60Hz (there is no problem using the power supply of any modern laptop, smart phone or other small electronic gadgets).

  • What documents are needed for entry in Japan? For most western countries, just valid passport (visa is required for stays longer than 90 days or if the reason for the trip is different than tourism). In any case, please visit the Foreign Affairs web site of your country, for complete and updated entry requirements in Japan.

  • Are credit cards accepted in Japan? Surprising, credit cards are still not widely used in Japan, especially in smaller restaurants or shops. Therefore, it is suggested to change into Yen a reasonable quantity of own currency. Where accepted, major credit cards like Visa and Mastercard can be used without problems.

  • Will my smart phone work in Japan? Japan boasts a widespread availability of mobile network, which reaches even the most remote areas. Most foreign smart phones will only work if they are able to connect at least to the 3G network (the GSM system is not always compatible). In any case, before using your smart phone in Japan, check carefully the roaming fares with your operator, as it may be very expensive to make or receive calls.

  • Is wifi available in Japan? Most hotels provide free wifi, with generally good quality and speed, letting to make make video calls without any problem. If you want to stay connected throughout the day, even while you're on the street, it's advisable to hire a portable router with prepaid plan, for example through Japan Wireless or PuPuRu.

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Tokyo Electric Town A day in Tokyo: what should not be missed <<-- GO
Crazy night lights of the shopping districts, Buddhist temples, modern urban architecture, towers to observe the city from above, gardens and museums. A complete tour of Tokyo may need several days, here we illustrate the main attractions not to be missed.
Snow in Japan Traveling in Hokkaido: the world's snowiest place <<-- GO
The island of Hokkaido, in northern Japan, receives annually several meters of snow thanks to the humid ocean currents that meet cold air from Siberia. In addition to the enchanting winter landscapes, Hokkaido is very interesting for birders and nature lovers.
Sapporo snow festival Sapporo snow festival 2015 <<-- GO
Every year in Sapporo, the largest city in Hokkaido island, world-famous ice sculptors gather for Sapporo Snow Festival, one of the most interesting winter event in northern Japan, seeing ice sculptures as big as palaces.
Otaru snow festival Snow light path festival in Otaru <<-- GO
On the same days of Sapporo Snow Festival, the nearby city of Otaru offers the spectacle of the Snow Light Path Festival, a party that sees hundreds of small and simple ice sculptures illuminated every evening with candles.
Kyoto A day in Kyoto: what should not be missed <<-- GO
Kyoto is the former capital of Japan and is also known as "the city of a thousand temples" because it is home to lot of Buddhist monasteries which worth a visit. But the city is also interesting for the history, for the traditions, and is the ideal place to understand more about the geisha profession.
Hiroshima Hiroshima and the Peace Memorial Museum <<-- GO
A tour to Hiroshima should not be missing from any itinerary in Japan, with a few hours that will be likely spent visiting the impressive Peace Memorial Museum, which houses exhibits showing the damage caused by the atomic bomb explosion.
Snow monkey Traveling in the Japan Alps looking for snow monkeys in the wild <<-- GO
Although Japan is highly developed and overcrowded, tourists will be surprised by what the country can offer as nature and wildlife. Yudanaka, in the western Japan Alps, is the ideal place to discover the snow monkeys (Japanese Macacus).

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