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- Flexible itineraries for 1 to 5 days in Tokyo, Kyoto and Hiroshima that can be combined into a longer trip
- Must-see highlights and unique experiences: Stroll Kyoto's Philosopher's Path, learn about Hiroshima's history at the Peace Park, and marvel at the towering bronze Buddha in Nara's Toda-ji temple. Get a taste of Tokyo's epic nightlife, stay in a traditional ryokan, or soak up views of Mount Fuji
- The best local flavors: Indulge in a beautiful, multi-course kaiseiki, and feast on fresh sushi or savory ramen. Make your way through the largest fish market in Toyko, sample sake, and get acquainted with Japanese whiskeys at a tasting room
- Ideas for side trips from each city, including Yokohama, Nara, and Kobe
- Expert insight from American expat and longtime Tokyo local Jonathan DeHart
- Full-color photos and detailed maps throughout
- Background information on the landscape, history, and conduct and cultural customs of each city
- Helpful resources on Covid-19 and traveling to Japan
- Handy tools such as visa information, train travel tips, a Japanese phrasebook, and recommendations for seniors, LGBTQ+ travelers, travelers of color, families with children, and more
Spending more time exploring the whole country? Grab a copy of Moon Japan. Just hanging out in Tokyo? Check out Moon Tokyo Walks.
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DISCOVER Tokyo, Kyoto & Hiroshima
10 TOP EXPERIENCES
Planning Your Time
CHOOSING YOUR SIDE TRIPS AND DAY TRIPS
The Best of Tokyo, Kyoto & Hiroshima
THE ART OF THE JAPANESE GARDEN
Tokyo, Kyoto & Hiroshima Off the Beaten Path
TASTING YOUR WAY THROUGH JAPAN
HANAMI AND KŌYŌ IN TOKYO, KYOTO & HIROSHIMA
Fragrant smoke wafts from a food stall under the train tracks beyond Ginza’s glitz, where Tokyo office workers unwind over skewers of grilled chicken and beer. In Kyoto, monks rise before the first rays of sunlight spread across a temple’s grounds, starting their day reading sutras before an elaborate altar. Meanwhile, in the shadow of Hiroshima’s Atomic Bomb Dome, schoolchildren ring a large bronze bell and pray for world peace, their hopes carried aloft with the resonant hum.
Few places offer as wide a range of experiences in such a compact swath of terrain as Japan’s cultural and geographic heart, stretching roughly from Tokyo to Hiroshima. Within a few hours by train—and the occasional ferry thrown in—you’ll discover high-octane cities, medieval towns, shimmering seascapes, and mouthwatering cuisine, from the greasy to the refined. All throughout, you’ll also encounter cutting-edge technology and colorful pop culture balanced by ancient tradition and boundless spiritual depth. In short, within this region, you’ll find the very best of Japan.
Beyond the most popular stops—Tokyo, Kyoto, Osaka, Nara, Hiroshima—this region contains Hakone’s hot springs, Mount Fuji’s snowcapped cone, Uji’s tea fields, Himeji’s soaring white castle, Okayama’s picture-perfect garden, Kurashiki’s romantic canal district, and a constellation of islands strewn across the sparkling Inland Sea, from the funky, forward-looking “art islands” to the holy isle of Miyajima. And this only scratches the surface.
Seasoned globetrotters routinely rate Tokyo and Kyoto among the most satisfying cities to visit in the world in polls done by top international travel magazines. A trip that combines these two stops with jaunts off the radar will surprise and satisfy even the experienced traveler. And remember: Even Tokyo and Kyoto have their quiet sides.
Wherever you go, a journey to Japan’s core is most of all a chance to experience the omotenashi (hospitality) of the people, from the faultless service of a restaurant in a Kyoto townhouse to the simple kindness of a family-owned inn. Despite a modern history fraught with challenges, the legendarily welcoming Japanese have continuously reinvented themselves, yet managed to retain their soul. Whether you’re craving a culinary quest, a cultural deep-dive, a romantic getaway, a spiritual escape, or an adventure with friends, this accessible slice of Japan has something for everyone. So, go, and savor the essence of this remarkable country, unlike any other.
10 TOP EXPERIENCES
1 Getting the best vista of Mount Fuji, whether viewing it from afar or climbing it up close.
2 Taking a deep dive into nightlife in Shinjuku, Tokyo’s most eclectic nightlife zone.
3 Strolling Kyoto’s Philosopher’s Path or the Arashiyama Bamboo Grove at off-peak hours, finding the city’s quiet side.
4 Finding the best fried food in Dōtombori, Osaka’s lively neon-lit street food center.
5 Cycling the Inland Sea, traveling over the impressive bridges and shimmering islands of the Shimanami Kaidō, the sea route connecting Western Honshu and Shikoku.
6 Reckoning with the ghosts of history at Hiroshima’s Peace Memorial Park.
7 Getting acquainted with Japanese whiskies at a connoisseur’s bar in Tokyo or on a distillery tour at Suntory Yamazaki Distillery.
8 Experiencing the Japanese service tradition known as omotenashi by staying the night in a ryokan, where your every need will be anticipated and met.
9 Visiting Nara’s imposing Tōdai-ji temple and marveling at the towering bronze Buddha housed within.
10 Indulging in kaiseki ryōri, savoring Japanese cuisine at its most refined.
Planning Your Time
Where to Go
The high-octane capital should be top priority for any first visit to the country. Tokyo is quintessential modern Japan, a pop-cultural and economic juggernaut, and base of the national government. The dynamic city is a feast for the senses, with world-class food, nightlife, and shopping. It’s also the most networked transport hub in Japan, with two international airports and extensive rail links to the rest of the country.
Between Tokyo and Kyoto
The dynamic swath of land between Tokyo and Kyoto is packed with attractive destinations, best visited either when traveling between the two cities, or as side trips from the capital if you don’t have time to make it to Kyoto. South of Tokyo is Japan’s second largest city, cosmopolitan Yokohama, with a buzzing nightlife scene, and the ancient seaside feudal capital of Kamakura, with rich Buddhist heritage. West of there, Hakone is a good pick for an onsen (hot spring) experience, with Japan’s most famous peak, Mount Fuji, looming nearby.
Alongside the modern capital of Tokyo, the ancient capital of Kyoto should be top priority for any first journey to Japan. This is the best place to explore traditional culture, try a tea ceremony, shrine- and temple-hop, eat kaiseki ryōri (haute Japanese cuisine), stay in a high-end ryokan, and gaze at various styles of gardens, from landscape to raked gravel. Step away from the top sights to discover a slower, more local side of the city, beyond the tourist throngs.
A great complement to Kyoto, the Kansai region is home to Osaka, a fun place to eat, drink, and carouse with legendarily friendly locals. Nearby, the small town of Nara, home to the famed Great Buddha of Tōdai-ji, where you can see traditional Japan, minus Kyoto’s crowds. The attractive port city of Kobe is known for its high-end beef and jazz, while Himeji has Japan’s best castle.
Between Kansai and Hiroshima
Moving west from Kansai along the sun-drenched southern (San’yō) coast of Honshu, along the gorgeous Inland Sea (Seto Naikai), you’ll come to the old castle town of Okayama, which boasts one of Japan’s top gardens, Kōraku-en. Nearby, historic Kurashiki is split by a romantic canal that was an important artery for the rice trade. Farther west, the salty fishing town of Onomichi sits beneath a mountain dotted by temples. It is also the starting point for the Shimanami Kaidō, or Inland Sea Route, a series of bridges linking Honshu to Shikoku via six islands that can be crossed by bicycle. Elsewhere in the Inland Sea, the “art islands” of Naoshima, Teshima, and Inujima give an inspiring glimpse of creative rejuvenation in action.
Hiroshima and Miyajima
Farther west along the urbanized southern coast of Honshu is the vibrant, modern incarnation of Hiroshima, as well as the famed “floating” torii shrine gate of Miyajima’s Itsukushima-jinja. East of Hiroshima, the town of Saijō has a clutch of sake breweries that are a great place to get better acquainted with the drink. West of Hiroshima, the sleepy town of Iwakuni is home to Kintaikyō, a massive arched wooden bridge that abuts an area that was once a samurai quarter.
Know Before You Go
When to Go
Most of Japan has four distinct seasons, interspersed by a few rainy periods, though the country’s diverse geography means the climate varies. Spring (roughly late-Mar. through mid-June) and autumn (Oct. through early Dec.) are the most pleasant times of year to visit the country on the whole. That said, it’s a year-round destination, with each season offering its own draw.
Spring begins to creep northward to central Japan early to mid-March. Spring tends to be cool (8-24°C/46-75°F in Tokyo)—gradually warming through April and May—with patches of rain. Cherry blossoms start to bloom from in late March in Tokyo. Overall, it’s a great time to visit.
Most of Japan is wet throughout June, when the hit-and-miss tsuyu (rainy season) takes hold. Overcast skies with patches of rain and the occasional all-day shower are the norm during this period, though there are plenty of sunny days in between, too.
From July through September, things can be downright stifling, with furnace-like temperatures (23-31°C/73-88°F in Tokyo) and high humidity throughout much of the country. While less amenable than spring, the months of July and August can be a fun time to visit the country due to a plethora of vibrant festivals held throughout this sweltering period. Among the best are Kyoto’s Gion Matsuri (most of July, culminating July 17) and Osaka’s Tenjin Matsuri. If you’re visiting the country during any of these bashes, book accommodations well in advance (three months or more, to be safe).
In September and early October, it’s possible for typhoons to whip through the country, with torrential rain and even devastating floods on occasion. These extreme cases aside, it’s perfectly safe to travel during this time of year. Just be sure to keep an eye on the weather forecast if you’ll be in the country then.
Autumn proper starts from around early October and lasts through the first half of December for much of the country (10-22°C/50-72°F in Tokyo). This is one of the most pleasant times to visit Japan. As temperatures drop, blazing foliage ripples through the country, with November being the highpoint. Rates for accommodations do spike around this time in scenic places, so book ahead if you plan to head into nature around this time.
Winter sets in from mid-December through mid-March (2-12°C/36-54°F in Tokyo). The Pacific side of Japan is cold, dry, and crisp, with clear skies and little snow.
HANAMI AND OTHER BUSY TIMES
High season in Japan includes hanami (cherry blossom viewing) season (roughly late Mar. through early Apr.), the Golden Week holidays (Apr. 29-May 5), Obon (roughly Aug. 10-17), and the height of the kōyō (autumn foliage) craze in November. To avoid crowds, it’s best not to visit the country during these periods, as trains, highways, and hotels will overflow with domestic travelers from around the time the cherry blossoms start to bloom, around late March in Tokyo.
Less hectic months include June, the dead of summer (July, Aug. besides Ōbon, and Sept.), October, and December. January through March is low season for most of the country. Deals can be had during any of these off months, especially if you plan several months ahead.
Things generally remain in operation throughout the year, the one exception being the New Year holidays (Dec. 29-Jan. 3), when everything but convenience stores, some chain restaurants, and most accommodations (at elevated rates) remain open. While experiencing Japan’s New Year traditions is one point in favor of visiting over the New Year holidays, it’s probably best to come at another time.
Passports and Visas
To enter Japan, you’ll need a passport valid for the duration of your trip from the date of your arrival in the country. Although you may not be asked to show it, you’re legally obligated to have an onward ticket for either a flight or ferry out of Japan, for a return trip or a future leg of the journey elsewhere. So have something in hand just in case.
If you’re coming from the United States, Canada, the UK, most European countries, Australia, or New Zealand, you’ll be granted a 90-day single-entry visa on arrival. South African citizens will need to apply for a 90-day tourist visa at their closest embassy or consulate. For passport holders from the UK, Ireland, and a number of other European countries, it’s possible to extend your visa for another 90 days. This requires a trip to the closest immigration bureau and paying a ¥4,000 fee. For a list of the 68 nations that are not required to apply for a visa before arriving in Japan, visit www.mofa.go.jp/j_info/visit/visa/short/novisa.html.
What to Take
One of the beautiful things about Japan is its well-stocked convenience stores. These one-stop shops, selling anything from toiletries and undershirts to bento-box meals and portable phone chargers, umbrellas, cosmetics, and more, are ubiquitous throughout urbanized Japan, making it easy to pick up anything you’ve forgotten to pack.
Nonetheless, there are a few items you’d be wise to bring. For one: shoes that are easy to take on and off (slip-ons work best). You’ll find yourself likely taking off your shoes much more than you’re used to—in someone’s home, in a temple, etc. Also pack any medications and accompanying prescriptions you may need. Be sure to check Japan’s strict laws on medication before traveling with medicine. The U.S. Embassy provides helpful information on their website about this matter: https://jp.usembassy.gov/u-s-citizen-services/doctors/importing-medication [URL inactive].
The electrical outlets in Japan are the same shape as those in the United States, so travelers with devices from the UK or Europe may need a plug adapter. The voltage is 100V; many modern electronics are dual voltage, so a converter may not be necessary, but check your devices to be sure.
It also pays to be aware of Japan’s love of gift-giving. This is especially important if you plan to meet anyone who may invite you to their home. It need not be expensive. Some kind of a sweet snack or beverage that can be shared, a recording of interesting music, or some kind of decorative item would all do. A little gift goes a long way in Japan.
- On Sale
- Sep 21, 2021
- Page Count
- 488 pages
- Moon Travel