Home ยป Plans to Travel to Japan? 13 Most Asked Questions
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Plans to Travel to Japan? 13 Most Asked Questions

The beautiful and otherworldly Japan holds an inexhaustible number of sightseeing locations and activities. It’s no wonder so many people dream of traveling to Japan.

Before you leave for one of the most fantastic places on earth, there are definitely some questions you might have, and some things you should know.

Get the need-to-knows, pack the right gear, get around, and see the best Japan offers with our ultimate guide and bucket list for 2023.

Is the Japanese government restricting travel for Americans? What about other countries?

Japan travel restrictions

Travelers rejoice! As of April 29th, 2023, COVID-19 restrictions on travel to Japan have been lifted. Travelers may enter Japan from most countries, including the USA, without a visa.

  • Visa-free travel (up to a maximum of 90 days) is available for 68 countries. A passport and an onward or return ticket are also required.
  • Travelers do not need proof of vaccination.
  • Negative COVID test certificates are not required on arrival.
  • The Japanese government’s indoor mask mandate has been lifted.

We strongly recommend travelers keep abreast of entry requirements as regulations are subject to change with little notice. It is recommended to carry a mask as some establishments may still require them.

Is it safe to travel to Japan?

Low crime rates, both violent and theft, land Japan among the top 10 safest countries. It is rare for travelers to face an issue related to crime, petty or otherwise.

  • Lost or forgotten goods, including cash, are often returned to their owner.
  • People of any gender generally feel safe walking the streets at night in major cities. Precautions and awareness are still recommended.
  • The homicide rate in 2021 was 3% of the USA (0.23 [Japan] versus 6.81 [USA]) according to Macrotrends.
  • Organized crime syndicates (yakuza) do not target foreigners.

Natural disasters are of some concern. Japan sits on the Ring of Fire, and with 10% of the world’s active volcanoes, earthquakes are common. Japan is also prone to adverse weather conditions during some parts of the year.

  • Northern Japan beyond Tokyo tends to be earthquake-prone.
  • During the rainy and typhoon seasons of late summer, flooding and major storms can be a safety concern in southern areas.

The Japanese government has sirens and early warning systems in place for natural disasters. In addition, there are strict codes to prevent earthquake damage to buildings. Designated disaster centers exist in every area.

To stay safe, follow the local police and Japanese authorities’ instructions during an emergency, stay indoors in case of major storms, and avoid the typhoon season.

Also, be sure to check out our guide for an in-depth breakdown on the best time to travel to Japan.

When should I travel to Japan? What time of year should I avoid?

Japanese people love to say, “Japan is a land of four seasons.” The striking colors, scenery, and main events create an impact that draws any time of year, repeat visits. You can’t go wrong visiting Japan any time of year (almost).

But what about the first visit? We highly recommend spring and early summer and warn travelers to avoid September.

When to visit

For first-time travelers, we recommend Japan in either Spring or Summer to see Japan culturally at its fullest and most active, andAutumn for weather and low-hassle sightseeing.

March-May is a high point for the must-see Kansai area. Consisting of the large and gorgeous cities of Kyoto, Osaka, and Kobe, Kansai is our top location for Spring.

Spring offers a variety of spectacular scenes and festivals to match the pleasant weather. Cherry Blossoms, called sakura in Japanese, are in full bloom, granting destinations like Kyoto and Nara an otherworldly, and of course Instagram-able, air.

However, arriving during the Sakura season also means peak travel time for many famous destinations. Arriving earlier in the Spring, such as late March, means you miss the blossoms but get a chance to see more without the hassle of packed crowds.

Summer is our favorite time of year to visit Japan.

Summer in Japan.

If spring doesn’t work or doesn’t draw you, our second recommendation and personal favorite time of year for visiting Japan is summer. Despite the hot and humid air, it’s the liveliest of the seasons in Japan, with festivals full of street food, dancing, and can’t miss fireworks.

Some of the summer events not to miss are

  • Gion festival in Kyoto, the largest festival in Japan.
  • The Awa Odori (dance) festival in Shikoku.
  • The Fuji Rock Festival.
  • The Sumidagawa Fireworks Festival in Tokyo.

And finally, if you want to avoid the heat and go during a less packed season, fall is a great choice. The changing colors of the leaves will leave an indelible impression, and it’s cool enough to enjoy the outdoor hot springs to the utmost. Plus there will be far fewer crowds.

When to avoid

Late July to September poses a risk for any hopeful trip. Summer heat brings the rainy season. Rain and wind begin in July and give way to typhoons in September. Depending on the area, road closures and shutdowns may occur. Even in large cities, life may be hindered by the near-constant rain.

Should I buy a JR pass to get around?

Railway train tracks.

The JR pass is recommended to travel round-trip between regions or travel to multiple regions. For example, round-trip tickets from major train stations in Tokyo to Osaka and back will cost more than the JR pass.

  • The price of a 7-day rail pass is currently 29,000 yen (roughly USD 200).
  • Shinkansenshinkansen ticket from Tokyo to Osaka costs between 19000-25000 ($99-USD 130).

For travelers staying within a single region, generally, the pass is not recommended. Here are some reasons you might want to forgo the JR pass.

  • The pass will cost more than the trip between regional cities.
  • Local subways and buses are reasonably priced.
  • There are relatively cheap regional passes that allow for travel between and within cities. For example, the regional Kansai Thru Pass.
  • The JR pass is only valid for JR train lines. Some cities have limited JR-run travel options.

In October of 2023, the price of the JR Pass will nearly double to 50,000 yen. If you plan to travel to Japan in the Fall, you may purchase the ticket three months before your journey. Obtain your ticket before the price increase to save money.

Additional information can be found on the JR Pass website. Keep in mind that in addition to the regular trains, while these are the more economical options which visiting and sightseeing, there are also some amazing Japan luxury train options as well to really take your experience up a level.

Can I bring my prescription medication to Japan?

Prescription medications are generally allowed in Japan with exceptions. Check out our full article on the topic for additional information.

Here are some considerations when packing your medications.

  • Prescriptions must not fall within a prohibited or illegal drug category. These categories include hallucinogens and narcotics.
  • CBD oil, whether containing THC or not, is illegal.
  • Do not bring more than a 1-month supply.
  • It is best to bring your prescription and a doctor’s note.
  • A doctor’s prescription from outside Japan cannot be filled in Japan.

If you need more than a 1-month supply, apply for a Yunyu Kakunin-Sho certificate.

A 2-month supply of non-prescription drugs is allowed. However, many over-the-counter medicines are prohibited in Japan. Tylenol cold, Sudafed, and Dristan Cold are examples of OTC that won’t pass an inspection.

For a full breakdown, be sure to check out our guide on bringing medication to Japan.

Can I drink in Japan? What is the drinking age?

Drinking in bars.

Those 20 years of age and older can drink in Japan.

The drinking age is 20 and is strictly enforced by the Japanese government. Tourists from every country are expected to obey the law on their trip regardless of their home country’s drinking laws.

You will need an ID to purchase alcohol. Travel regulations in Japan stipulate that foreign residents and travelers must always carry a passport. Bring yours to order alcohol at restaurants, bars, and entry into nightclubs and some other nightlife establishments.

For more insights on drinking in Japan, see our guide on the drinking age in Japan and drinking laws along with local customs related to alcohol.

Should I get travel insurance for Japan?

Yes, prepare by purchasing insurance. The national health care system covers Japanese nationals, but not travelers. Foreigners are not guaranteed care without insurance.

  • The price of hospital visits can run into the hundreds of dollars without insurance.
  • Some hospitals have turned away travelers lacking insurance.

Bring your proof of insurance with you for any hospital visit.

Your home insurance may work in Japan. Contact your healthcare provider to see if they have a foreign partner that allows you to travel on your home insurance.

How can I apply to a Japanese embassy for a longer stay?

Visa-free travel for up to 3 months is allowed with only a passport. Longer stays and some activities require a visa.

The Ministry of Foreign Affairs of Japan maintains a list of visas for work or long-term stay.

  • If you plan to work in Japan through a company, your company will need to apply for your visa via the government.
  • You will receive a three-year visa if working through the JET Program.
  • You may be eligible for a 1-year work-holiday visa depending on country and age. US citizens are not eligible.
  • Generally, one will need a passport, birth certificate or certificate of citizenship, and a background check to apply for a visa.
  • Other documents may be required. Check with the local Japanese embassy or consulate for the most up-to-date information.

Overstaying or working illegally can cost thousands of dollars. It is also possible for future entry to be banned. Go through the proper visa channels to avoid these penalties.

Are there direct flights to Japan?

There are direct flights to Japan from a number of countries and regions. Narita International, Haneda, and Kansai are examples of major East Asian hubs with direct routes from the USA, Canada, and Europe. Do keep in mind that there are ways to find and secure cheap tickets to Japan, but these may not always be direct flights.

From the United States, most direct flights originate on the West Coast. Seattle, LA, and San Francisco have direct-to-Japan flights.

From the East Coast non-stop flights are more limited. There are five weekly direct flights to Tokyo from New York. The flight time is around 14 hours. If flying from the East Coast most flights will connect on the West Coast or in Hawaii.

Canada has direct flights from Vancouver, Toronto, and Montreal. In Europe, hubs such as Paris, London, and Frankfurt fly directly to Japan.

How can I get from the airport to my hotel? Can I use major train stations?

Hubs such as Narita (Tokyo) have trains connecting to major cities.

  • From Narita, the JR Narita Express (NEX) is the most popular option and costs about $17 to central Tokyo. Airport limousines and other trains are also available.
  • From Haneda, you may ride the Monorail with your JR pass or pay $5.00. There are also several train options and an airport limousine service. The limousine is a popular choice due to the ample luggage storage and reasonable price. Haneda airport is significantly closer to Tokyo city than Narita.
  • From Kansai International Airport, there are plenty of options. The airport exists on an artificial island connected by a bridge, so you’ll definitely need a ride. The options are the Haruka Express (about $15), Kansai Airport Rapid Train, bus, or taxi to Osaka.

Many travelers are used to using ride-share apps such as Uber or Lyft. Japan has been slow to adopt the apps and ride-sharing. Even in 2023, taxis are the preferred way to get around (besides public transportation).

To hail a taxi from your phone in Japan, use the Go Taxi app.

How much money should I bring on my trip? How can I save money?

Japan has accommodations for your luxury and budget travel. A couple traveling will (on average) spend between $100-$200 a day when accounting for food, accommodations, and travel expenses. With airfare, a budget of 5-10k is more than doable.

It’s possible to really stretch a thin budget. As a single trotter, not accounting for airfare, $1000-$1500 for 2-3 weeks or more is possible without significant sacrifice.

Here are a few money-saving travel tips that I used to make my way around Japan for 2-weeks on less than $1000 (minus airfare).

  • Stay in hostels. A bed in a hostel can go for $20-$30 even in 2023. You are also likely to run into like-minded fellow travelers.
  • Capsule hotels are another cheap option in the major cities. A bed in a capsule can be found for $15-$25 and offers a bit more privacy than a hostel.
  • Search for business hotels in less busy districts. Business hotels can often be found for $50-$100 a night.
  • Look into subway, bus, or regional passes to save money on transportation. For Tokyo, we recommend the Suica card. (Currently discontinued due to semiconductor shortage)
  • There are lots of affordable and delicious foods. Many revolving sushi restaurants, udon, and ramen places are cheap and reasonable. They can also be expensive, so carefully review options to find the ones on the lower end.
  • Convenience stores offer decent premade food that is pretty cheap. On the go and in a pinch, an onigiri (rice ball with filling) can be had for 1 to 2 dollars.
  • You can stay in a manga or internet cafe if you absolutely need last-minute accommodations on the cheap, or you need a break from walking around. A 5-8 hour stay at a manga cafe comes with a private and plush cubicle for between $15-$25.

Even cheap airfare can be had if you are willing to endure long layovers. Money should not prevent your dream of seeing Japan coming true.

What should I pack?

Packing for your trip.

It can be hard to pack for a trip. Each country has those little unique items you may not know are needed until it is too late.

Without listing every little thing to consider, here is our non-comprehensive list of key items travelers regret not packing for Japan.

  • You may need to consider buying and bringing a Japan Plug travel power adapter depending on the type of power cable your devices use.
  • A Japan eSIM or a standard travel SIM card.
  • Tattoo covers or bandages if you have tattoos (for Onsen or other locations). Be sure to read our entire tattoos in Japan guide for more information on why.
  • Copy of passport (and visa if applicable).
  • Proof of travel insurance (see the section on travel insurance).
  • Cash for small purchases (some small eateries and shops may not accept cash).
  • Make sure you secure yourself a high-speed pocket WiFi Japan rental device (especially if you are traveling with a group or will be working remotely while in Japan).
  • Rail pass or regional travel pass.
  • Clothes for each region’s weather.
  • International driver’s permit.
  • Deodorant (seriously, the options range from hard to find to lackluster).

We should also mention that if you are a smoker, there are some additional etiquette considerations that you’ll want to be aware of. For example, you’ll want to make sure you pack a small portable ashtray to dispose of your cigarettes when finished with them. You can read more about this in our smoking in Japan guide.

What should I do and see? (Itinerary)

Tokyo and Kansai are our top recommended locations for first-time travelers with 1 to 2 weeks to explore.

Start in Tokyo City: Asakusa, Ueno, Akihabara, Shibuya, Harajuku, Shinjuku, and Mt. Fuji

Tokyo blew my mind more than once. It’s breathtakingly huge, beautiful, and packed with great experiences. It’s also a great place to get your feet wet in Japanese culture while eating up everything in sight. If you’ve got a few days you can easily make use of the elaborate subway system to hit a multitude of districts.

We recommend staying in the city center for your first visit. Shibuya and Shinjuku are central locations with lots to do and eat, plus you can easily get to other destinations.

If you arrive in Narita, take the JR Narita Express (about 1 hour) to the city. From Haneda, take the monorail to the JR Yamnote line or the Keikyu Airport Line to Shinagawa Station. From there transfer to your district and hotel location.

Then get some rest, freshen up, and head out for the beginning of your trip.

Head north to Asakusa and Ueno for a slice of traditional Japan.

Asakusa’s main attraction is the Senso-ji temple…sort of. While the temple is splendid, it doesn’t hold a candle to Kyoto. The real draw is the maze of streets lined with traditional shops and old wooden buildings.

Asakusa is a traditional, historic district that survived World War II. Hundreds of shops and eateries line the edo-style streets. It also hosts a ton of festivals, including the Sanja Matsuri (a float festival) and Japan’s Brazilian carnival. In addition, there are still 45 working geisha (quite rare these days!) that could cross your path. If you see them, expect that they will draw a crowd of Japanese people and foreigners, as they are basically minor celebrities.

While you are up in Northern Tokyo for Asakusa, stop by Ueno Park. Close to Asakusa, Ueno is a huge park that in the spring comes alive with thousands of cherry blossom trees. Sit in the park, have a picnic, or just walk around.

Get nerdy in Akihabara Electric Town

Lights, flash, and anime. Akihabara is an otaku (geek) paradise covered in neon lights. Shops feature anime, video games, idols, and electronics. Even if Japanese pop culture isn’t your thing, it’s still a unique experience to walk the streets. Some of the top things to do are:

  • Go play games in an arcade, or just watch some expert Japanese gamers perform mind-blowing gaming feats.
  • Go to a maid cafe for some Omurice (Japanese rice omelet).
  • Hit up the owl cafe Akiba Fukurou. Literally a cafe full of friendly owls!
  • Go-kart around Mario style in full costume.
  • Go to the Radio Center, the place where the electronic Akihabara craze began. See streets packed with every sort of electronic component imaginable.

Go back south for Shibuya scramble and shopping

Shibuya station is a hectic, energetic scramble. After Asakusa and Ueno, expect to have a bit of an ordeal navigating the crowds and the subway itself before you exit onto the street. Once outside, the fun doesn’t end. The famous Shibuya Crossing is the busiest intersection in the world.Thousands of people could be crossing the street at one time. A famous Starbucks overlooks the chaos, and you can go there to watch the scene unfold.

Having made it through the crowds, head to the Shibuya Sky Observation deck. Be sure to book this early as it is quite popular.

And finally, Shibuya is famous for its atmospheric streets and department stores that tower above and lie hidden below. Head to Shibuya 109 for fashion, Hikarie for unique stores, Don Quijote for miscellaneous items, and Parco for all the pop culture, including the Mugiwara (One Piece) shop. Business hours are from 10 am-9 pm.

Costume up in Harajuku

If you skipped Akihabara, or even if you didn’t, Harukuju should definitely be on your list of places to go.

Walking the crowds of Japanese people dressed up in Harajuku street fashion is a unique experience. The dress is colorful, and to the foreign eye, often outlandish. Some of the styles you will encounter here (and likely only here) are

  • Lolita: Think very cute, overdone Victorian clothing.
  • Gyaru: Fake tans, big hair, extreme makeup, and wild nails.
  • Oshare kei: Colorful, flamboyant boy band style.
  • Kogal: Outfits based on Japanese school uniforms.
  • Rockabilly: Yep, the 50’s American style of the same name.

In order to make the most of Harujuku, head to Takeshita Street and to Yoyogi Park in the early afternoon on a weekend. Takeshita hosts designer shops with all the latest Harajuku fashion and attracts the crowds and fashion-conscious. Yoyogi Park is a great place to catch glimpses of the fashionable lounging around plus the 50’s era-style rockabilly dancers that show off their moves.

Remember the Night Life in Shinjuku

You’ve probably seen pictures of old-style, wooden buildings in a narrow street in Tokyo. It’s appeared in countless media, both Japanese and foreign.

The streets are usually Shinjuku, and the most famous is Omoide Yokocho. Stemming from the end of World War II when it was a den of black market activity and yakitori (grilled meat) establishments and achieved the nickname of “Piss Alley,” it is now one of the few places that keep its style and feel of a bygone era.

The tiny stalls, narrow eateries, and bars brim with food and drink. Not far from Shinjuku station, it’s a great place to get your first taste of Japan’s famous Izakayas. And, despite its nickname, it’s actually a brightly lit and clean place.

After the Yakitori, if you are up for a walk through somewhere a bit seedy, head over to Kabukicho. There is no added danger. You are just entering Japan’s largest red light district.

While we are not suggesting certain activities that will go unnamed, there are a few reasons to stroll through Kabukicho at night.

  • Try your luck at tons of entertainment from arcades to bowling alleys and batting cages.
  • Take a peak at a giant Godzilla statue.
  • Get tipsy at Golden Gai ( a collection of 200 bars and pubs).
  • Try your luck at pachinko (Japanese slot machines).
  • Stay the night at a love hotel.

See Mt. Fuji from a hot spring

Mt Fuji

Mt. Fuji is a couple of hours from Tokyo. You could hike the mountain if you are up for an all-day trip, including an overnight hike that has you arrive at the top for sunrise.

However, our favorite way to enjoy Mt. Fuji is from one of the five lakes forming a half circle around the active volcano.

The most famous lake is Kawaguchiko. In the spring it provides a breathtaking view of the mountain and cherry blossoms. And, during any time of the year, there are excellent views from outdoor hot springs and ryokan (traditional style Japanese hotel).

The prices range from about 900 yen to 2000 yen for a visit to an onsen ($6-$15 USD).

Because of luggage, this trip may be better as a day excursion. If you are not staying the night, luggage options are limited. Your best bet is to leave them in Tokyo lockers at a station, send them ahead via a parcel service, or leave them at your hotel in Tokyo.

Explore the unforgettable Kansai Area: Osaka, Kyoto, and Nara

You could make a two-week trip out of Kansai and not nearly see everything. The region is a treasure trove of food, sightseeing, beauty, onsens, and Japanese culture. If you feel compelled to choose between Tokyo or Kansai, choose Kansai.

Kansai region is near the center of Honshu, Japan’s largest and main island. It contains the cultural heart of Japan and some of the largest cities within the expansive Keihanshin Metropolitan Area. The most beautiful temples and castles are here, plus some of the best food you’ll find anywhere.

Osaka City, Kyoto, and Nara are three must-experience stops

Don’t judge Osaka by its cover

Hidden in the jungle of concrete buildings are the wacky, the weird, and simply fun. Which completely fits Osaka’s reputation of being a bit rebellious, a little more relaxed, and a bit badass. It’s also the home of some of the best foods in Japan.

The bullet train takes 2.5 hours from Tokyo Station to Shin-Osaka Station. Shin-Osaka (literally “New Osaka Station”) is not to be confused with Osaka Station. The bullet train arrives at Shin-Osaka station, and you can catch a JR train from the station to downtown. Or, depending on your accommodations’ location, you’ll want to transfer to Osaka station (not Shin-Osaka), the hub for in-city trains.

  • Shin-Osaka for bullet trains to and from the city.
  • Osaka Station for catching most train lines to get around the city.

Here are our top recommendations to cover your first couple of days exploring.

Head out to Namba and Dotonburi for food

Namba is the entertainment district and Dotonburi is one of its most famous, iconic streets.

Dootonburi greets visitors with a haze of neon lights and brilliant signage. The Glico running man hangs over the bridge drawing Instagrammers and a mechanized crab continuously crawls above one of the more famous restaurants. All importantly, for the foodie in us all, it’s heaven.

Osaka is famous for its food. Here are some of the must-try Osaka specialties to try right in Dotonburi.

  • Okonomiyaki. A savory pancake covered in a mix of toppings and sauces grilled teppanyaki style. The food originated in Osaka and is a staple of any festival or street event in Japan.
  • Tacoyaki. Fried octopus balls that come in a dizzying array of flavors.
  • Nikuman. Pork buns. Steamed dough filled with juicy meats and vegetables.
  • Kushikatsu. A type of deep-fried vegetable or meat. The batter differs from tempura.
  • Boxed sushi. Sushi that is shaped like a box and often made with pickled fish.
  • And so much more!

Namba doesn’t end with Dotonburi. If you’d like to see more, head to the Shinsaibashi Shopping Arcade, Denden town (the Akihabara of Osaka), Kuromon market for seafood, or check out the nightlife.

Check out all the sightseeing places

Osaka Castle in Japan.

Osaka hosts some of Japan’s most famous locations for tourists and Japanese people alike. You can find some incredible Japan tours through this area as well.

  • Osaka Castle. Osaka’s top landmark, the castle overlooks 2-miles of parks and a huge moat. Constructed originally in the 16th century, it draws the crowds for its elegance, showcasing traditional Japanese architecture.
  • Tempozan Ferris Wheel and Osaka Aquarium. Seated next to each other, get a good look at some beautiful sea life, and then head up to the 112-meter-high (367 feet) Ferris wheel to glimpse the city.
  • Universal Studios Japan. Hosting rides unique to Japan, the park is worth it if you have a whole day. Buy the Express Pass to cut through the lines. If you happen to be there near Halloween, the horror nights are highly recommended.

Head to Kyoto’s Cultural Heart

If you have a JR Pass, head back to Shin-Osaka station and take the bullet train. It’s a 15-minute journey to Kyoto station. Other train options will take anywhere from 45 minutes to an hour.

We recommend at least 2 days for Kyoto. However, it can be done in one.

Kyoto is a major city spared the destruction of WWII. The capital city of Japan for 1000 years until the 19th century, it boasted the power of Japan and the trappings of wealth. It remains the path to seeing Japan as it was hundreds of years ago.

Kyoto is beautiful any time of year. Spring and autumn are particularly striking. In the spring, the cherry blossoms transform the scene into a spectacle of pink and white blossoms. Similarly, in the fall the changing leaves give the beauty of the city a new spin.

Bus routes from Kyoto Station take sightseers to many of the famous locations. Some are walkable.

  • Kiyozumi Temple. A large UNESCO World Heritage site, it offers one of the best views of the city from its wooden veranda.
  • Fushimi Inari Taisha. A Shinto shrine containing thousands of tori gates leading off into a forest.
  • Kinkakiji temple. The Golden Pavilion is both iconic and gorgeous.
  • Gion. Kyoto’s Geisha district is a place to potentially see a Geisha, dress up as a Maiko (apprentice Geisha), and take pictures among the wooden bridges and buildings. If you happen to be here in the summer, Japan’s largest festival is hosted here.
  • Toji Temple. Home to the tallest pagoda in Japan. Dating originally from the 8th century, it was rebuilt in the 17th century after a fire to the exact same specifications.

Kyoto is one of those places you can’t exhaust in a single visit. Take the bus 100 or 200 around the city, and use one of the handy tourist maps to mark locations to exit.

Day Trip to Nara

Nara is the older capital of Japan.

Nara is the ancient capital of Japan, before both Kyoto and Tokyo. There are a host of shrines, palaces, and gardens worth visiting, with three sites on the UNESCO World Heritage list. Plus, you are bound to run into some very polite deer.

Take the JR line from Kyoto station for a short 45-minute trip to the city. Take Sanjo Dori to Nara Park to begin your exploration. The walk will take about 20 minutes. Buses and taxis are also available. Most attractions are walkable from the park.

Some of the must-see sites are:

  • Heijyo Temple. Thousands of lanterns light the temple grounds during the spring festival. Come back for the night view for a magical experience.
  • Horyuji Area. There are 48 Buddhist sites around two main temples, Horyuji and Hokiji. Many of the buildings were built in the 8th century.
  • Kasuga Grand Shrine. A bright red-painted temple with hundreds of hanging bronze and stone lanterns.
  • Manyo Botanical Garden. 300 varieties of plants surround ponds and grassy gnolls. Visit in May or November for special events.

The deer of Nara are particularly famous. Docile, they often approach visitors. If you bow to a deer, they may bow back. Be prepared to hand over a snack after the encounter.

After Nara

You’ve now seen the foundations of Japan. The absolute must-sees, culturally important aspects. That’s no reason for your trip to end. There are endless options for continuing your trip either in Kansai or beyond. A few options are:

  • Check out the Kansai Region’s splendid onsen villages.
  • Head over to Kobe for jazz and the Ferris wheel.
  • Fly to Okinawa for a tropical adventure.
  • Go to Nagasaki (Kyushu) for castella cake and then head to some of the best ryokan and hot springs in Japan.
  • Get lost in Hokkaido’s gorgeous countryside.
  • Cross the world’s longest suspension bridge to Shinkoku island, home of the Awa Odori festival.


Japan awaits. The details here will ensure you are better prepared than many travelers. We are sure that you will have the time of your life, and be dying to head back to Japan again.

Have a great trip and best of luck! For more insights, check out our other articles on traveling to Japan.

If you’re traveling to Japan, you’ll need to get yourself a Japan travel SIM card, so be sure to check out our guide on which to get!

Jonathan Mcnamara

Jonathan is a veteran of the Japan and Korean expat life. He lived in Japan and Korea for almost 10 years, and speaks Korean and Japanese. A blogger, a writer, website maker who's had his share of relationships while living abroad, he's now turned his attention to helping others navigate traveling, living, working, and relationships in Japan.

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