Japan: accommodation and transport


Flights to Japan, airports, key destinations, transport, accommodation, tours and more.

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Getting there and around


Getting from Tokyo or Osaka airport to your hotel, and the best sites for booking trains, buses and accommodation - download the Japan travel guide.

Flights

Flight time from Australia: 7.5+ hours

  • Airlines that fly directly between Australia and Japan include ANA, Japan Airlines, Qantas and Jetstar.
  • Direct flights are available from Sydney, Melbourne, Cairns and the Gold Coast to Tokyo; and from Cairns and the Gold Coast to Osaka.
  • Many other airlines fly indirectly to Japan (including Virgin Australia, Singapore Airlines, China Airlines, Cathay Pacific, to name a few) and domestic flights connect Tokyo and Osaka with other airports throughout the country.

At the airport

If you're entering Japan as a tourist on your Australian passport, you probably won't need a visa. Immigration should be a fairly easy process, although there may be queues.

Most flights from Australia will arrive at Tokyo Narita Airport or Osaka Kansai Airport.

  • 60km east of Tokyo city centre.
  • Taxis leave from outside all three terminals. Fixed fares are charged based on the zone you're travelling to. Passengers pay extra for tolls and a surcharge for late night travel.
  • The cheaper, and faster, way to reach the city is by express train or bus. Use japan-guide.com to plan your trip from the airport to central Tokyo, Shinjuku, Tokyo Disney Resort, Haneda Airport and other destinations.
  • Car hire is available from Terminals 1 and 2. Companies include Nippon, ORIX, Nissan, Toyota and Times Car Rental.
  • A free shuttle bus runs between the terminals.
  • Airport website: narita-airport.jp
  • 50km south of Osaka city centre. 100km south-west of Kyoto. 70km from Kobe.
  • Taxis leave from outside Terminals 1 and 2. There are set fares for trips to downtown Osaka. Other journeys are charged by the meter.
  • Express trains and buses connect with central Osaka, as well as Itami Airport, Universal Studios and the nearby cities of Kyoto and Kobe. Use japan-guide.com to plan your trip.
  • A high-speed ferry connects with nearby Kobe Airport and takes approximately 30 mins.
  • Car hire is available from the Aeroplaza (a three minute walk from Terminal 1 or a shuttle bus ride from Terminal 2). Companies include Nippon (open 24 hours), Nissan, Toyota, ORIX and Times Car Rental.
  • Airport website: kansai-airport.or.jp
Departure tax should be included in the price of your air ticket, so there's no need to worry about setting cash aside.

Key destinations and their airports

Tokyo Narita International Airport (NRT)
Haneda International Airport (HND)
Osaka (Kyoto, Kobe) Kansai International Airport (KIX)
Nagoya Chubu Centrair International Airport (NGO)
Fukuoka Fukuoka Airport (FUK)
Nagasaki Nagasaki Airport (NGS)
Hiroshima Hiroshima Airport (HIJ)
Sapporo New Chitose Airport (CTS)
Okinawa Naha Airport (OKA)

Getting around

Trains

Trains are one of the best ways to travel in Japan. The Shinkansen (bullet) trains are world-famous for their efficiency and lightning-fast speeds of up to 320km/h. An extensive rail network covers Japan's four main islands, connecting almost every town and city. About 70% of trains are run by Japan Railways, the other 30% are privately run (see this list of operators).

There are two classes of travel: ordinary class and 'green car' (first class) which is more spacious. A few services offer sleeper carriages (for example, Tokyo-Sapporo) but the high-speed trains have mostly eliminated the need for these.

Tickets can be expensive (tip: the faster the train, the pricier the ticket), so it's often worth investing in a seven-day, 14-day or 21-day Japan Rail Pass. There are also regional rail passes for travel within certain areas. A rail pass will often work out cheaper than even one long-distance return ticket, so it's worth comparing prices.

Tip: Rail Passes are for tourists only and can't be purchased within Japan. They can be ordered in advance at internationalrail.com.au or jrpass.com or from authorised travel agents in Australia. However, it's the opposite case with ordinary rail tickets, which can't be purchased in advance from Australia and are only available in Japan.

Tip: If ordering a Japan Rail Pass, consider adding a Japanese SIM card to your order. For $80, a CHOICE staffer bought a data-only SIM that gave him 100MB per day (shaping to 128kB when used up) and lasted for his entire month of travel.

A Seishun Juhachi Kippu pass can be a big money-saver if you're travelling between certain dates during Japan's school holidays. Available at train stations, the pass gives you five days of unlimited travel on Japan Rail local and rapid trains (not on express or bullet trains). Using a Seishun pass you can still travel long distances across the country - only at a slower rate and a much cheaper price.

You can search train timetables and compare fares at jorudan.co.jp or hyperdia.com but reservations can't be made online from Australia.

Tickets can be purchased from vending machines or ticket booths at stations. If you have trouble making yourself understood, write down where you're travelling from and to, on what date and time, and in which class. Some train stations have English-language forms that you can fill out.

See japan-guide.com for more advice on buying tickets, and seat61.com for detailed advice on Japanese train routes, train types and photos of carriage interiors.

Buses

Buses are a much cheaper alternative to trains. Many long-distance routes run as overnight services at a fraction of the price (and a fraction of the speed) of express trains. Tickets can be bought at bus and train stations or at tourist information offices. Many bus companies don't have English-language websites but one of the major providers, Willer Express, accepts online bookings at willerexpress.com. The company also offers a three- or five-day Japan Bus Pass - a much cheaper alternative to the Japan Rail Pass.

Tip: The Japan Rail Pass is accepted on some bus services operated by Japan Railways.

Ferries

Japan is made up of more than 6000 islands, so boats and ferries are a common (and very scenic) means of transport. Daytime and overnight ferries connect the main northern islands of Honshū and Hokkaidō and the southern islands of Kyūshū and Shikoku, with ticket classes ranging from a tatami mat on the floor to a private cabin. Although many people prefer the speed and convenience of flying, ferries tend to be much cheaper, and they're the only way to transport a car or motorcycle between the islands.

See japan-guide.com for national route maps and timetables. Ferries are operated by many different companies, most of which don't have English-language websites. Tickets can be booked at ports or through tourist information offices and travel agents.

Domestic flights

Japan's domestic airlines include All Nippon Airways (ANA), Japan Airlines (JAL), Skymark, Air Do, Skynet Asia Airways, IBEX Airlines and Starflyer. If you're planning on booking more than one domestic flight, particularly to any destinations that would normally incur a high fare, consider a oneworld 'Welcome to Japan' or 'Yokoso' discount pass from JAL or a Star Alliance Japan Airpass from ANA. Both passes offer set prices with discounts for up to five domestic flights.

Transport tips:

  • rome2rio.com is a great resource for working out how to get from A to B, anywhere in the world, by almost any means of transport.
  • japan-guide.com has detailed information about Japan's many transport systems, including city-specific advice.

The best way to get around towns and cities varies from place to place, but you'll find excellent public transport networks and taxis almost everywhere you go. If you're planning to use public transport, it's worth picking up an IC card - a pre-paid pass for use on buses and trains - at the beginning of your trip. IC cards have become widely accepted as a form of payment in shops, cafes and vending machines. The cards can be bought and recharged at train stations across the country.

Taxis

Taxis in Japan are almost always licensed and metered. You can spot a licensed taxi by its green number plate. Fares aren't cheap, compared to using public transport, and in most cities they'll increase by around 20% at night.

Drivers aren't likely to speak English, so it's best to have the address of your destination written down or to point it out on a map. Japan's taxi drivers are generally very trustworthy and there's little need to worry about the kind of scams and rip-offs common in other Asian countries.

Tip: Most taxis now accept credit cards, but be sure to ask before you get in. Drivers will not expect to be tipped.

Car hire

Although Japan has an excellent public transport system, you may want to consider hiring a car if you're travelling to rural areas or want more freedom to explore.

The main rental companies include Nippon, ORIX, Nissan, Toyota and Times Car Rental.

Budget, Avis and Hertz also operate in Japan, but they generally act as agents for the local companies, so their rates will probably be no better. They will, however, be easier to communicate with in English.

You can book car rental either through the above company's sites, or through the English-language comparison sites japan-experience.com and tocoo.jp.

Tips:

  • Check that your travel insurance covers you for driving, and make sure the car is properly insured either through your own insurance or through the rental company.
  • There are two types of driving insurance in Japan, jibaisekihoken (compulsory insurance) and nin'i no jidoshahoken (voluntary insurance). It's recommended that you have both.
  • You may get a cheaper rate from a local car hire company, but international companies are likely to be easier to deal with if you get into a dispute.
  • Japan has some toll roads, so you may need an electronic tag included in your rental.
  • Ask for English-language GPS when you book.

More tips in our car hire guide.

Driving in Japan

Japan has an extensive network of good quality roads that are relatively safe and easy to navigate. Congestion and expensive parking, countered by cheap and easy public transport, makes driving unappealing in cities, but it's worth considering if you're venturing out of town.

  • You'll need an International Driving Permit as well as your Australian licence.
  • Vehicles drive on the left side of the road.
  • Japan has zero tolerance for drink-driving and the blood alcohol limit is 0%. It's even an offence to be a passenger in a car with a drunk driver.
  • Front and back seat belts must be worn.
  • Children under six must use child seats. These can be ordered in advance from most car hire agencies.
  • Most road signs are in Japanese and English.
  • Speed cameras may catch you if you break the speed limit.
  • Drivers must give way to pedestrians.
  • At intersections, cars going straight and turning left have right of way.
  • Petrol stations accept credit cards. Some are fully serviced by attendants who are unlikely to speak English. Self-service petrol bowsers only have Japanese-language instructions.

Accommodation and tours

Accommodation options range from traditional ryokans (Japanese inns) to Tokyo's famous space-saving capsule hotels. Prices aren't cheap, especially compared to the rest of Asia, but gone are the days when the Australian dollar could hardly buy you a postage stamp in Japan. In most areas you'll find accommodation prices comparable to Australia or Western Europe.

Bookings can be made on the usual sites, such as booking.com, hotels.com, expedia.com or hostels.com. You may find a more competitive rate through the hotel's own website (if it has one) or through local sites such as japanican.com, ryokan.or.jp or jalan.net. Check customer reviews on Tripadvisor before you book.

Tip: Airbnb can be a great place to find a cheap apartment rental or a homestay with locals.

Tours can be organised once you're in Japan, or in advance through an international tour agent such as intrepidtravel.com or a specialist agent such as jtbtravel.com.au or japanpackagetours.com.au. Search Tripadvisor or Viator for reviews and recommendations from other travellers. For short tours and day trips, consider waiting until you're in the country - you're likely to have greater choice and find better deals, or you may discover it's easy enough to find your own way around.

Package tours are a low-stress option for travellers who don't want to organise their flights, accommodation and on-the-ground transport separately. Ski packages to Japan are particularly popular with Australian travellers. For deals, check with airline and travel booking sites as well as with travel agents.

Got a travel tip about Japan? Or spotted something in our guide that needs updating? Add a comment below.


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