By Benjamin Coren | February 2017 | 7 minute read
Japan plans to welcome 40 million visitors by 2020 and appears well on track, with a 21.8% increase in 2016. With the Rugby World Cup and Olympic Games looming, that number can only be set to rise and news that the capital ranks an impressive eighth in the Post Office’s holiday costs barometer – making it cheaper than Phuket and Beijing – should be the final sweetener for frugal travellers.
“Encourage first-time visitors to choose travel to Japan by highlighting how ‘foreign’ and therefore culturally exciting this destination is, but that travel is made very safe by booking with a known and trusted agency/tour operator”
SHARON SMITH, HEAD OF SALES AND DISTRIBUTION, GREAT RAIL JOURNEYSp>
As one of the world’s most populous and vibrant cities, Tokyo will be on everyone’s itinerary. Packed with culture, history, museums, theme parks, technology, restaurants, bars, parks and landmarks, the city could fill a holiday on its own.
Most travellers coming from the UK can fly to Tokyo Narita or Haneda airports; both have good rail connections into the city. Once in the city, the rail infrastructure is the most cost-effective way to explore. A JR Rail Pass can be purchased for clients before travelling and allows transportation on all JR trains within the city as well as Shinkansen (bullet trains) throughout the country.
Springtime, the cherry blossom season, is without a doubt the busiest time in Tokyo (and virtually everywhere in Japan). Ueno Park is one of the most famous places for viewing the pink blossoms.
The city’s various districts act almost like city centres in themselves and each is different. For nightlife Shinjuku is packed with bars, restaurants and clubs; Shibuya has plenty of shops with the latest fashions and trendy brands; Akihabara is packed with electronics shops and video arcades and is the hub for Japanese pop culture. Top sights in the city include the Tokyo Skytree, Tokyo Tower, the Meiji Jingu Shrine and the Senso-ji Temple. Early risers should not miss a visit the Tsukiji Fish Market.
The former capital of Japan is just over two hours from Tokyo by Bullet Train and is famous for its plethora of temples and shrines and the traditional Gion district, home of the Geisha.
The Fushimi Inari-taisha Shrine (pictured left) is made up of thousands of red torii arches and is a favourite snapping stop in the city.
Equally popular is the Kinkakuji Temple, also known as the golden temple, still serene and beautiful despite the crowds.
In the city centre clients can take a tour around the Gion district, where they can watch Geisha at work, join a tea ceremony and see people in traditional kimono dress walking the narrow streets flanked by wood-fronted Japanese houses.
UNESCO World Heritage Nijo Castle is another historic monument not to be missed.
The second-largest city in Japan was recently named as one of the top cities to visit in 2017 by Rough Guides. There is plenty to see and do in Osaka including Osaka Castle and it’s surrounding park and the colourful Dotonburi district, which is full of bright lights, shops and restaurants and has a vibrant nightlife.
Families should be pointed to the nearby Universal Studios Japan, home to rides based on popular movies such as Harry Potter and Jurassic Park. The Tezuka Osamu Manga Museum will also keep families and fans of manga entertained.
For great views of Osaka, take a trip up the Umeda Sky Building.
Not a city but a group of islands stretching southward from Japan, sub-tropical Okinawa has a unique indigenous culture and is distinctly different from the of the rest of Japan in terms of language, cuisine and arts. The main draws are its beautiful beaches and marine wildlife inclusing whales. The islands are considered to be among the world’s top diving spots.
Sapporo is the capital and largest city on the northern island of Hokkaido. It serves as a gateway to the island’s ski resorts but also functions as a base for skiing in its own right, with good access to nearby ski resorts like Sapporo Teine, Sapporo Kokusai and Kiroro, all around an hours drive from the city. Odori Avenue Park stretches from east to west in the city and in winter is the location for a fabulous snow festival featuring ice statues and sculptures.
If skiing isn’t a draw, in summer Odori Avenue Park is full of beer gardens and features art, fountains, and many colourful plants and flowers.
Infamous for being blitzed by an atomic bomb at the end of the Second World War, this city is now a world centre for peace. The Peace Memorial Museum is its most important attraction, located next to the Peace Memorial Dome, the only structure to survive above ground zero and now a UNESCO World Heritage Site and a ‘must-see’. Also rated by UNESCO is Itsukushima Shrine on Miyajima Island, one of the picture-postcard icons of Japan.
What the experts say
“Japan is one of the top 10 best-value holiday hotspots for 2017, according to the Post Office’s Holiday Money Report. The report surveys the costs of eight popular items that UK tourists are likely to purchase in 44 destinations. According to the report, Japan’s appeal has increased in leaps and bounds in recent years as the yen has fallen in value against the pound - by a whopping 24.7% over the past five years.
“Consequently, prices for commodities such as meals and drinks have dropped sharply, turning a country once regarded as a luxury destination for the few into a now affordable option for many.
“Tour operators are realising that clients are more open to new ideas to enjoy Japan fully with an individual itinerary and not only the standard Tokyo and Kyoto by bullet train.
“Tohoku is a hidden gem of nature and tradition and Kyushu treats visitors with hot springs and sand baths generated by heat from the volcanoes.”
YUMI TAKAKUBO, HEAD OF TRADE PARTNERSHIPS AND MARKETING, JNTO
Accommodation: A second Han-na Hotel, or ‘Robot Hotel’ will open near Tokyo Disney Sea in Spring 2017.
The Gran Hyuri Miyako Jima will open in Okinawa in September. Also in Okinawa, the Grandvrio Resort Ishigaki Villa on Ishigaki Island opened in January.
Hakone Kowakien Ten-yu, a stylish new ryokan is set to open in April.
Ascott will be bringing its luxury serviced apartments to Tokyo in 2017 with the opening of Ascott Marunouchi Tokyo.
Flights: Finnair will increase its Tokyo service this summer with an extra four flights per week from June 5 until October 27, from Helsinki.
Attractions: In March a new Karate museum will open in Okinawa, famed as the ancient home of karate. The Okinawa Karate Kaikanwill have a training room, seminar room, dining space and a karate equipment store.
Trains: Two new luxury sightseeing trains are due to begin service in Spring. JR East will operate the Train Suite Shiki-shima in May from Tokyo to Hokkaido. JR West will introduce the Twilight Express Mizukaze, travelling through the West of Japan. seejapan.co.uk
Events: The Rugby World Cup 2019 pool draw will be held In Kyoto in May. Tickets for the event itself are expected to go on sale in September 2018.
Where to book it
As part of Wendy Wu’s first-ever dedicated Japan brochure, the new ‘Trails of Japan’ (from £4,890pp) is a 13-day itinerary allowing travellers to experience the quirky side of Japan visiting the sub-culture of Harajuku in Tokyo and visiting the Robot Restaurant.
Battered Suitcase has a 16-day bespoke Japan UNESCO World Heritage tour which takes in the coutry’s cultural gems. It is priced from £3,857pp including return flights from Heathrow, 15 nights’ B&B accommodation, some main meals and selected site admissions.
Contiki’s 12-day City to Slope trip takes in some of Japan’s cities as well as time for skiing in the Hakuba mountain resort area. The 12-day trip starts from £2,790pp including 11 nights’ accommodation, breakfast , transport and airport transfers.