An Antipodean travel company serving World Travellers since 1983.
Japan is a wonderful tourist destination, attracting people from all across the world. Yet much of it remains under explored. Odyssey tours of Japan focus both on the must-see sites and the less explored areas, across both rural and urban landscapes. If you’re interested in discovering more about Japan’s history, culture, architecture, food and landscape please read on.
Explore in a small group of up to 12 like minded people Japan. For mature and senior travellers interested in Japan & Asia.
The Imperial Palace Tokyo
Odyssey travels by coach and occasionally uses local transport, including trains and ferries. Specifics are always outlined in your tour itinerary. Japan has a centralised and impressively extensive rail network which links towns to the major cities as well as an impressive efficient metro system in the major the larger cities.
In major cities, Odyssey stays in centrally located 3-4 star hotels, with easy access to public transport. In smaller towns or rural areas, we usually stay in family-run hotels or guesthouses.
Odyssey always engages local guides with regional knowledge to ensure an authentic experience during which you can learn as much as possible about the history and culture of places you visit.
Geography, environment & weather
Japan is a long, narrow chain of islands stretching approximately 3,600 kilometres north to south. It is comprised of four major islands – Hokkaido, Honshu, Shikoku and Kyushu – and over 6,800 adjacent smaller islands. The total land area is 377,907 square kilometres, which is slightly more than that of Germany. Japan’s terrain is mountainous and evocative. Volcanoes are abundant. Mount Fuji is the country’s highest peak at 3,776 metres. It is categorised as an active volcano although it has not shown activity for the last three centuries. Forests claim 66.4% of the land in Japan with farmland accounting for just 13%. Administratively, the country is divided into 47 prefectures.
From north to south, the climate ranges from cool temperate to sub-tropical. The general climate is temperate, with four well-defined seasons and a rainy period before summer. Rainfall is frequent ranging from 1,000 to 3,000 millimetres annually. So, it’s wise to prepare for wet weather if you are travelling to Japan.
World heritage sites
Japan boasts 21 UNESCO World Heritage Sites.. You can view the official list of the sites here https://whc.unesco.org/en/statesparties/jp. It is well worth visiting every site, if you are able. But here’s a few highlights from the bunch:
The 7th and 8th entury Buddhist monuments in the Horyu-ji Area
The sacred island of Okinoshima, with exquisite votive objects providing evidence of rituals performed from the 4th to 9th centuries
The unusual temperate rainforest of Yakushima, which abounds in epiphytes and geophytes, Japanese cedar, and a primeval forest of trees called ‘Yakusugi’, aged over 1000 years.
Festivals & events
Japan’s calendar is rich in festivals and events (matsuri) that celebrate religious, cultural and natural phenomena. A few highlights include:
Sapporo Yuki Matsuri, or Snow Festival, is a week long showcase of incredible snow sculptures and ice carvings, accompanied by shows and concerts.
Chichibu Yomatsuri, or Night Festival, honours the Chichibu shrine with floats decorated by colouful lamps, some of which stage plays and performances. A fireworks display concludes the festival, and the floats are all lined up at the City Hall.
An especially quirky event is Saidaji Eyou Matsuri in Okayama, in which 10,000 men don traditional loincloths, bathe in cold water, then battle to catch a pair of sacred sticks that are hurtled from the top of a temple. The man who manages to catch them will enjoy a year of good luck and happiness.
Of course, the most famous of Japan’s events might be the arrival of the cherry blossoms or sakura, which is celebrated with the practice of hanami or flower viewing, often with a picnic beneath the trees. Historically, it was believed the trees harboured spirits; now the short-lived blossoms are said to symbolise the fleetingness of life.
- The Tale of Genji by Murusaki Shikibu
- Lost Japan by Alex Kerr
- An Introduction to Japanese Society by Yoshio Sugimoto
- Memoirs of a Geisha by Arthur Golden
Eating & drinking
Japan’s cuisine is a major drawcard for travellers, who soon learn the significance of food for locals. Traditional cuisine is based around rice and miso, with plenty of fish and vegetable side dishes, including pickles and sashimi. But what some people don’t realise is that Japan’s food is richy varied by region and season. And that food is one of the primary motivators for domestic travel by Japanese people. Okonomiyaki is arguably Japan’s widest known regional dish. This savoury, cabbage-rich pancake is found in Hiroshima and Osaka. Fish is a major component in the Japanese diet, but in Kobe, for example, the locally produced beef is prized. Kobe is also a major destination for those with a sweet tooth.
But Japanese cuisine is not only about the food, it is about the experiences that accompany it. Dining out is common, with a variety of styles including kaiten-zushi (sushi train), teppanyaki (iron griddled-food), and restaurants that specialise in skewers, ramen, tempura, sukiyaki and more. Restaurants in Japan are generally friendly, tasty and good value, and mostly very clean.
Health & safety
While Japan is one of the world’s safest countries, it’s important to stay alert to anything unusual. Also, you will often see signs warning of pickpockets in areas popular with tourists, so keep a close eye on your belongings at all times.
There is currently a warning not to travel near the site of the Fukushima Nuclear Power Plant, due to radiation.
Whenever you travel overseas, it’s always wise to take an appropriate travel adaptor. Japan accepts plugs of types A and B, and electricity runs at 100V/50-60Hz.
Japan has a single time zone, called Japan Standard Time (JMT), which is UTC/GMT+9 hours. The nation does not observe Daylight Savings Time.
If you’re on an Odyssey tour, we take care of tipping so you don’t need to give it a second thought. However, in Japan in general, while it is important to show respect to your servers, tipping is not expected.
Internet is easily accessible, and most hotels and many cafes will be able to offer it.
Check with your cell phone provider to see whether you’re able to make calls and use data while in Japan. Many providers will offer a daily fee that allows you to make calls and check the internet while only being charged your regular rates. However, be certain to inform your provider that you’re heading overseas, because just like a bank they can turn off your service as a result of unusual activity.
Responsible travel tips for Japan
- Learn at least the local greetings to break the ice. Although many locals speak English, the more you know of the native language, the greater your experience of the country will be.
- Carry a business card in your wallet or purse from your local hotel, to assist you with the return journey if you do become lost.
- Always ensure that you are covered by travel insurance. If you need advice on this feel free to contact Odyssey and we’ll be able to help.
- When travelling independently, make sure you check the opening hours of shops and museums so that you don’t miss out! Museums and galleries are often closed on Mondays. Also be certain to check whether your trip coincides with any public holidays, so you can plan accordingly.
- Consider contacting your bank to inform them that you may be making purchases overseas. Otherwise, they may flag any activity on your account as suspicious. Also, check which ATMs and banks are compatible with your cards, to ensure you can withdraw cash with minimal fees.
- Before departing, make sure you have a number of yen in a range of denominations. You don’t want to be carrying around enormous amounts of cash, but take enough to make it easy to pay in locations that might not accept credit card. It will also help you avoid card transaction fees, and it makes tipping a breeze.