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Japan travel guide

In the blink of an eye, Japan's wondrous shinkansen (bullet trains) can zip you from the serenity of ancient culture to the irreverent thrill of pop culture and back again. Temples and shrines make way for neon metropolises, where there's cuteness overload, a mascot for anything and a photo opportunity at every turn.

Where to go in Japan

Japan is a phenomenal country, and each city is a mosaic of amazing and unique precincts to be discovered.

Naturally, most people visit the bustling capital of Tokyo first. Shop up a high-end storm at the designer department stores of Ginza, or head to the famously neon-covered and photogenic intersection in Shibuya for Harajuku fashion. Other fun areas include Koenji with its hidden music venues, and the vintage stores of Shimokitazawa. Recharge with a quick nap in a capsule hotel or escape the bustle at Shinjuku Gyoen National Garden for a sleep under a tree.

For foodies, Tokyo is a place of perfection and wonder with Michelin-star restaurants, local sushi bars and street taiyaki (fish-shaped, custard-filled cakes). Some of the tastiest fun can be found at the depachikas – the basement food halls in department stores and major train stations. Culture lovers can dive into Tokyo’s many museums and galleries – the Studio Ghibli Museum is particularly kawaii (cute).

Before you go, capture your Tokyo memory in a purikura photo booth – no need to make your eyes cartoon big as they'll be wide open already!

To the north of Tokyo, picturesque Nikko National Park has unreal forest hiking trails and the Toshogu Shrine – you'll see the three wise monkeys carved over a door here. Nearby is the home of the 1998 Winter Olympics in Nagano, and much further north is Hokkaido, the powder capital of Japan that has arguably some of the best skiing and snowboarding in the world.

A few hours south of Tokyo, Mount Fuji rumbles in the Fuji-Hakone-Izu National Park. This area is known for its hot springs, lakes and lots of volcanic islands!

In traditional Kyoto, you'll discover many castles, temples and shrines – the wending trails of the Fushimi Inari Shrine, flanked in those famous red poles, make for the best photo ops – as well as some glittering riverside bars and restaurants. Stay at a ryokan (Japanese inn) before you head further south to see Himeji Castle, the most spectacular in all Japan.

Further south is Hiroshima and the city's reconstructed castle and Peace Memorial Park. Nearby, on Miyajima Island, is the most photographed Itsukushima Shrine, rising majestically out of the water.

Art lovers should head to Naoshima Island with its underground galleries, mind-blowing architecture by Tadao Ando... and giant pumpkins by Yayoi Kusama.

Slow down the pace with beach and snorkelling time at Kerama Islands, a short ferry trip from the mainland, or take a flight south to Ishigaki in the Yaeyama Islands to see Shiraho Reef's rare blue coral from a glass-bottomed boat.

There are so many things to see and do in Japan that a week can easily turn into a month once you start exploring. Plan your itinerary well and get a travel insurance policy that covers everything you want to do there.

Japan tips and travel advice

There's not much advice we can give you on karaoke – except be brave enough to stay out of the private booth and join in the off-key glory. Here are a few other tips for your trip:

When to go to Japan

There are four seasons in Japan and the weather varies greatly from the mountainous north to the islands in the south. Spring sees cherry blossoms bloom around April, with Mount Yoshino-yama in Nara an amazing spot to view over 30,000 cherry trees! Summer hits in June when fireworks and festivals take place around the country. From September to November, Autumn leaves fall and make for a spectacular time to hike Mount Fuji or take a pilgrimage on Shikoku Island. Winter from December to February means snow activities and the famous Sapporo Snow Festival in Hokkaido.

Take cash with you

Outside of Tokyo, many places prefer cash and don't have credit card facilities. It's worth checking with your bank to see if your card will be accepted at ATMs in Japan – and where to find them.

Vending machines

No need to go into a shop in Japan as you can buy everything you need from their vending machines. So make sure you carry some serious coinage as you can buy sushi, soda drinks, fresh eggs, salad in jars, umbrellas and clothes... the list is endless!

Eating with chipsticks

Don't play with your chopsticks! It's also rude to leave them standing upright in your bowl as it evokes the image of incense sticks at a funeral.

Dining hours in Japan

Many cafes and restaurants have set dining times – the all-day breakfast option doesn’t really exist in Japan – so time it right if you’ve got your heart set on a particular meal or you might get there too late and miss out.

Onsen etiquette

Hot springs are everywhere and a must-do in Japan. A cleansing experience, they help relax your body and mind. You must wash before you get in. You can use your towel for modesty, but take it off and keep it dry while you are in the onsen. If you have a visible tattoo, it's unlikely you'll be allowed in.

Japan travel risks and warnings

Before you head off, check the government's Smart Traveller website for current travel warnings for Japan. If you plan on skiing or snowboarding, make sure your travel insurance covers those activities.

Stay away from Fukushima

The main warning to take heed of is to stay right away from Fukushima as the area is still severely affected by radiation. Levels are now fine everywhere else in Japan.

Tsunamis, cyclones (typhoons) and earthquakes in Japan

Japan sits on the Pacific Ring of Fire so you're right in the middle of one of the most seismically active regions in the world! The country has lots of active volcanos and is prone to earthquakes and tsunamis. It also has a typhoon season that runs from May to November, so if your holiday gets cancelled because of nature, make sure you've got travel insurance to cover you.

Take care on the slopes

Conditions on the slope can change quickly so there's always a risk when you’re skiing or snowboarding that an injury might happen. Wear your protective gear, stay on piste and make sure you're covered.

Watch your drinks

Japan is generally very safe, but there have been some reports of drink spiking in the Roppongi and Kabuki-cho areas of Tokyo. Best to buy your own drinks and don't leave them unattended.

Choose CGU travel insurance for your trip to Japan

There are heaps of activities on offer in Japan – for peace of mind get a travel insurance policy that covers what you plan to do.
At CGU, we can help you find the right level of protection, so your activities, luggage, medical bills, and cancellation costs are covered. If you are unsure about the best insurance to buy for Japan, then give us a call on 13 24 80.