Sakura Japanese cherry blossom
Sakura Japanese cherry blossom

Japan is no doubt one of the most interesting, friendly and culturally rich countries in the world. From bustling Tokyo to Japan’s ancient capital Kyoto you will find a wonderful mix of traditional and modern. Spring time with its iconic sakura (cherry blossom) is undoubtedly the best time to visit Japan. The blooming begins in Okinawa in January and typically reaches Kyoto and Tokyo at the end of March or the beginning of April.  So if you wish to see some blooms plan accordingly.

Sakura Japanese cherry blossom
Sakura Japanese cherry blossom

HOW TO GET THERE

Tokyo has two airports: Narita Airport located 60 kilometers outside of central Tokyo and more centrally located Haneda Airport. Narita Airport handles majority of international flights while Haneda Airport only some and mostly all domestic flights. Both airports offer convenient connections with city center. We flew to Narita and opted for JR Narita Express (NEX) which is covered by the Japan Rail Pass.

Located less than 30 minutes south of central Tokyo Haneda is definitely a better choice. The best way to get to Tokyo Station from Haneda is by Tokyo Monorail and then JR Yamanote Line (connection at Hamamatsucho Station). Although the monorail is not a JR line, it is fully covered by the Japan Rail Pass.

For most travelers, entering Japan is very straightforward. Visas are given on arrival for many nationalities. Foreigners are now fingerprinted and photographed on arrival.

TRANSPORTATION

Transportation in Japan is very expensive and individual tickets can cost hundreds of dollars so if you are planning to see areas beyond Tokyo JR Pass is the way to go. Train travel is the best way to see the country and JR Pass will definitely reduce your transportation cost.

TIP: The Japan Rail Pass can be used only by short term visitors to Japan, who enter Japan as “temporary visitors” and can be purchased only outside of Japan (online or through travel agent).

FOOD

Kaiseki style dinner
Kaiseki style dinner – Japanese ryokan

Japan offers rich culinary tradition and is one of the world’s most exciting dining destinations. Good food can be found at every price range. Whatever you choose you can be assured that all of it is prepared with the same meticulous care and quality ingredients. If you are on the budget there are plenty of options most often around train stations and shopping centers. Izakaya are the most common type of casual dining establishments and are good places to try a variety of Japanese foods. Food choices vary from place to place and are usually seasonal. From Michelin rated fine dining to simple bowl of soba and everything in between you will find plenty of exciting options.

OUR FAVORITE PLACES

Tsukiji market

This market starts really early and with world’s largest tuna auction is one of the most popular tourist attractions. Tuna auction is limited to 120 viewers a day on first come first serve basis. If you happen to miss it don’t worry there is plenty to see at the market itself. Bring your appetite and treat yourself to some amazing sashimi breakfast! Market will move by the end of 2016 to a new site in Toyosu.

Ueno Park is one of the best spots to spend the day enjoying Japan’s iconic cherry blossom.

Sensoji Temple located in Asakusa district is a very popular Buddhist temple, built in the 7th century easily explored on foot.

Sensoji Temple Tokyo
Senso-ji Temple – Asakusa, Tokyo

These are just few of our favorite places but Tokyo has much more to offer. All depends on your itinerary. Check out this handy Tokyo guide for more ideas. You’ll find there more useful information including cherry blossom forecast and updates.

Tokyo tower
Tokyo tower

Experience traditional Japanese guesthouse. It can be a nice relaxing break after Tokyo. Traditional Japanese ryokans offer outstanding service, wonderful outdoor hot spring called onsen, Kaiseki style meal prepared with care out of local seasonal produce and distinctively Japanese hospitality. It is an unforgettable experience!

Kyoto –city of beautiful temples and Japanese gardens is one of the top destinations in Japan. It maintains much of the traditional Japanese lifestyle. Due to its historic value, the city was dropped from the list of target cities for the atomic bomb and spared from air raids during World War II therefore many temples, shrines and other historically priceless structures survived to this day.

Kinkaku-ji Temple Kyoto, Japan
Kinkaku-ji Temple Kyoto, Japan

TIP: day in the Gion District known as the Geisha District is a must.

Geisha Kyoto
Geisha – Gion, Kyoto

 

Most temples and museums are free to enter but some popular attractions may require entry fee particularly temples in Kyoto.

Spring break in Japan was certainly too short for us. Simply too much to see and experience. We will be back for sure. Until next time…

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