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Maiko geisha walking on a street of Gion in Kyoto Japan

Japan holidays

Japan is a nation where rich history and progressive thinking intertwine beautifully. The cherry blossom festivals – one of our favourite events in the ‘Land of the Rising Sun’ – are startling and rare visual feasts.

Japan is a country where modernity connects with ancient history, where kimono-clad geisha hurry between traditional houses and robots serve customers in restaurants. It has a distinctive, original identity and is instantly endearing.

Made up of five main islands – plus, some 6,000 smaller ones – there are few places where one can feel so safe, rely on everything to work like clockwork, and yet be in a country so culturally distinct from our own. You will discover that an adventure in Japan can be shaped into so many different ways with us, no matter what it is about this enigmatic nation that makes you want to explore it.

Lanterns, Japan
Japanese lanterns

Why Japan?

In many ways, Japan is very similar to Britain – an island race, its people have slightly odd idiosyncratic tendencies and are very reserved, and it has never been conquered (well, at least not for a thousand years). Perhaps that is why we find the country so interesting and appreciate its values. Where else in the world do so many iconic images spring to mind – from trees covered in pink blossom to exquisite plates of sushi, or the snowy peak of Mt Fuji to the white-painted faces of geisha? Whether you seek culture, world-class cuisine, ancient sites or natural beauty, Japan has it all.

Zen Garden, Japan
Japan

Why Japan with Steppes Travel?

Our experts have explored much of Japan and have tried and tested the transport, accommodation, food and sites. To make the most out of any trip, you really need to engage with the culture; whether that means visiting a sumo stable, meeting a geisha or visiting a quirky themed cafe. Local guides are costly, so we will work with you to reduce costs elsewhere without compromising on the experience. However, train travel is efficient and easy to use, and so self-guiding becomes a natural, and exciting, part of exploring Japan.

Need Inspiration?
Browse our Japan holiday ideas.

Our Japan experts have created and curated these holiday ideas to get you started. Take the time to search through them and find something to spark ideas for a unique adventure.

Explore Japan

  • Kyoto
  • Tokyo
  • Mount Fuji
  • Japanese Alps
  • Hiroshima
  • Shikoku Island
  • Hokkaido
  • Okinawa
  • Izu Peninsula

Experiences

Make the most of every moment in Japan. Create an itinerary brimming with some of these truly unforgettable experiences.

Sumo Wrestling

Visit a sumo stable for a chance to see behind the scenes of this ancient sport. Spend a morning observing the wrestlers as they engage in training activities and learn about the customs, rituals and rules of Japans national sport.

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Kenroku-en Gardens

Visit Kenroku-en gardens in Kanazawa, ranked as one of the top three gardens in Japan.

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Japanese Tea Ceremony

Participate in a traditional Japanese tea ceremony. Sit on tatami mats and enjoy a slow paced hospitality steeped in history and tradition.

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Quirky Tokyo

Experience some of Tokyo’s quirkier sites from cat café’s to pachinko parlours and capsule hotels.

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Bullet Train

Travel on the world famous Shinkansen bullet train reaching speeds of up to 300 kilometres per hour.

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Island Hopping

Discover some of the 160 islands off southern Japan.

Kyoto by Bike

Explore the back streets of Kyoto by bicycle. Experience the city from a different perspective, stopping at tea houses and less known temples, keeping your eyes peeled for geisha as they go about their daily lives.

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Ryokan Experience

Stay in a traditional Japanese Inn with rooms featuring tatami mats, rice paper screens and futon beds, some with private hot spring baths and all serving multi course kaiseki meals.

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Walk the Nakasendo Trail

Follow in the footsteps of samurais and lords as you hike the old Nakasendo trail in the Japanese Alps.

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Geisha Experience

Spend an evening with Geisha and gain an insight into this ancient and fascinating world.

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Naoshima Island

Visit or stay on this beautiful island. Home to a collection of abandoned houses, workshops, temples and shrines which have been converted into art installations and venues for contemporary art, by artists and architects from Japan and abroad. The Chichu Art Museum is itself a work of art – built into a hillside overlooking the ocean and located mostly underground, it utilises solely natural light to illuminate the artwork.

Our Guide to Japan

We know that anyone planning a holiday to Japan will have questions, so we have compiled answers to a few of the most common questions we are regularly asked. Our Japan Experts are always on hand to answer any specific questions and to help plan your tailor made holiday to Japan.

How can I best experience culture in Japan?

When is the Best Time to See the Cherry Blossom?

Is Japan a Good Family Destination?

Meet our experts

A passion for travel runs right through every one of our experts - meaning they're always ready with first-hand insight about their specialist countries.

Clare Higginson

It was my passion for languages that first encouraged me to leave the UK behind and grab my rucksack. Since then, it’s been a mixture of intriguing cultures, jaw-dropping landscapes and the wonder of seeing animals in their natural habitat that sees me continuously extending my travel wish list. I also seek adventure; exploring the deep blue or hiking a peak often winning favour. Although it’s my time horse herding in Mongolia that I regularly want to relive.

Talk with our experts
  • 01285 601 784

Paul Craven

Paul is the Conde Nast Traveler chosen Specialist for Central Asia and the Silk Route.

Being from a family with Army connections I can from an early age remember travelling. From camping in Europe and then later being sent to boarding school when we lived in Germany at the age of eight, complete with shorts, long socks, a cap and my suitcase. In appearance not too dissimilar to the children evacuated to the countryside during the blitz. Later, my father’s postings took us to Nepal where we had to transit Delhi and Kathmandu where we were sometimes stranded for days and Hong Kong from where I travelled in 1983 through China for two months.

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  • 01285 601 784

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Speak to our experts

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Exceptional organisation. Absolutely nothing was left to chance and help was always a quick email away. I have no areas of complaint at all. I thought it was superb throughout.

Japan

Frequently asked questions about Japan

What is the food like in Japan and do they cater for vegetarians?

Japanese curry, ramen, sushi and tempura are just a few of the traditional dishes worth trying whilst in Japan. Although fish and seafood is a staple in many dishes there are plenty of vegetarian options and the Japanese people have one of the healthiest diets in the world.

What wildlife could I see in Japan?

Although not necessarily easy to see, there is plenty of wildlife throughout Japan. Wild boar can be found across the country and other mammals include squirrel, bear, red fox, deer and wild cat. One of the most iconic animals is the Japanese macaque or snow monkey, often photographed in the steaming hot pools of the Japanese Alps, against a snowy background. Much of the wildlife resides on the northern island of Hokkaido including the endangered red-crowned crane and other birdlife including white-tailed eagles and whooper swans. Join our small group winter wildlife photographic tour with Sue Flood.

When can I see the cherry blossom in Japan?

Spring is the best time to see the cherry blossom in Japan, normally between the months of March and April. The blossom is incredibly fragile so there is normally a two-week window when the trees are in full bloom which is hard to predict with exact precision.

When is the best time to visit Japan?

The weather varies from region to region making Japan a year-round destination, however below is a brief guide as to the highlights of each season:

Spring (March to May) offers lovely temperatures and the chance to see the cherry blossom in bloom.

Summer (June to August) can be hot and humid in parts but lovely in the mountainsAutumn (September to November) is another great time to travel with pleasant temperatures and the vibrant colours of autumn.

Winter (December to February) offers a different experience with some excellent skiing and fun festivals such as Harbin ice festival in the north of the country.

Will I have a private guide and driver throughout my holiday to Japan?

You can certainly have a guide and driver throughout your holiday to Japan if you wish, however, it will come at a price. Most clients decide to ‘self-guide’ during their stay. This means that when transferring between different places, you will make your own way to the bus or train station, board the train or bus yourself and then make your own way to your hotel on arrival.

Some hotels and ryokans do offer a complimentary shuttle service though.Travelling independently is easy in Japan as taxis are easily accessible plus addresses in Japanese are always provided in your final documentation, in case they are needed. As mentioned previously, train and bus stations are also easy to navigate with many signs now being in English.Most clients then book a guide for some day tours. Many of these tours also use public transport to keep costs down. Booking a guide for one of your first few days in Japan is a great way to gain confidence with the public transport and orientate yourself with the culture and surroundings.

How far in advance do I need to book a holiday to Japan from the UK?

Japan is a very popular country to visit so once you have decided to go, it is always worth reserving your flights, hotels and tours. In this way, you will have the best chance of securing availability and having access to the best airfares. Spring is the most popular time, so it is best to book around nine months in advance if you can.

I have heard it is easy to transfer luggage from one part of Japan to another if I don't wish to travel with all of my bags. Is this true?

It is very easy and cheap to transfer your luggage from one city to another. If for example you are travelling from Tokyo to Kyoto by train via the Japanese Alps and don’t wish to travel with all your baggage you can pack a smaller bag for a few nights and the concierge at most hotels will then prepare and send your main luggage to your next destination. The cost will depend on the length of the journey and the weight/size of your bags but on average you can expect this service to cost around £25 per suitcase.

Luggage forwarding between the main cities will generally arrive the same day if sent by 08:00, again check with the concierge. If you wish to send your luggage to other destinations, this can be arranged but it will take longer and may arrive the next day.

Is it easy to travel by train and public transport?

Yes, it is an incredibly efficient and relaxing way to explore the country. Within cities such as Tokyo the public transport can initially feel bewildering but there are underground maps similar to those in London and everything runs like clockwork with delays a very rare occurrence! Outside of Tokyo is it possible to travel by bullet train and scenic trains as well as a range of excellent bus services. Steppes Travel can pre-book all of these services for you.

What is a ryokan?

A ryokan is a traditional Japanese Inn offering the chance to immerse yourself in Japanese culture. These can range from small family-run establishments to luxury boutique options and larger hotels. All offer traditional accommodation with rooms featuring tatami mats, rice paper screens and futon beds. A high-end ryokan may have rooms with private hot spring baths whereas larger ones offer access to communal baths. Shoes are removed upon check-in and Japanese robes and slippers are provided. Mealtimes are also a very traditional affair with a colourful multi-course kaiseki dinner offering the chance to try many local dishes.

What is the currency in Japan?

The Japanese currency is the Yen. Up to date currency rates can be found on xe.com or any other currency exchange site. Currency exchange in Japan can sometimes be a lengthy process so allow for up to 30 minutes at most banks. Travellers’ cheques are also becoming increasingly difficult to change and be sure to have your passport with you if exchanging them. Japan is still a country that uses cash in its everyday transactions.

You may have difficulty using credit and debit cards issued outside Japan and should not rely on them as your only source of income. ATM machines are the easiest way to withdraw cash and are located in many convenient locations including convenience shops. ATM’s may charge a small fee for each transaction, and it is advisable to check withdrawal amounts before leaving as some machines dispense cash in two lots. Your bank may also charge a foreign currency transaction fee, but again please check with your bank.

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