Tokyo’s Narita International Airport, Osaka’s Kansai International Airport and Centrair near Nagoya are the main international flight gateways, while Tokyo’s Haneda Airport has recently expanded and now offers a wider range of international connections.
Airfares are highest around the Golden Week holiday period at the beginning of May, and the Obon festival in mid-August, as well as at Christmas and New Year, when seats are at a premium. Prices drop during the “shoulder” seasons – April to June and September to October – with the best deals in the low season, January to March and November to December (excluding Christmas and New Year).
Flights from the UK and Ireland
ANA, British Airways, Japan Airlines and Virgin fly nonstop from London to Tokyo, with the trip taking about twelve hours. Return fares start from around £550, but since you can find occasional special deals for as low as £400, it pays to shop around. There are no direct flights from Dublin; if you fly via London, expect to pay in the region of €800.
Flights from the US and Canada
A number of airlines fly nonstop from the US and Canada to Tokyo, Osaka and Nagoya, including Air Canada, ANA, American Airlines, Japan Airlines and United; there are connections from virtually every US regional airport. Flying time is around fifteen hours from New York, thirteen hours from Chicago and ten hours from Los Angeles. Low-season return fares to Tokyo start at around US$1000 from Chicago or New York; US$800 from Los Angeles; and Can$1200 from Vancouver.
Flights from Australia, New Zealand and South Africa
Qantas, Japan Airlines and Air New Zealand operate nonstop flights to Tokyo from Australia and New Zealand. Flying time is around ten hours from Australia and twelve hours from New Zealand. Return fares from Australia to Tokyo are often under Aus$1000 with Jetstar, who fly from Cairns, Darwin and the Gold Coast. From New Zealand, direct routings will cost at least NZ$2000, though again you can lop a fair bit from this by flying indirectly with Jetstar.
Flying from South Africa, you’ll be routed through Southeast Asia or the Middle East. Promotional fares can be as cheap as R8000, though you’re more likely to be paying in the region of R11,000 and above.
Flights from other Asian countries
If you’re already in Asia, it can be quite cheap to fly to Japan with low-cost regional carriers. Air Asia (airasia.com) have flights from Kuala Lumpur to Ōsaka, Nagoya and Tokyo; Cebu Pacific (cebupacificair.com) head from Manila to the same destinations; Eastar Jet (eastarjet.com) and Jeju Air (jejuair.net) go to Tokyo from Seoul; and Scoot (flyscoot.com) scoot into Tokyo from Singapore and Taipei. Japanese operations include Peach (flypeach.com), who operate flights from Hong Kong, Seoul, Busan, Taipei and Kaohsiung; and Vanilla Air (vanilla-air.com), who offer flights from Seoul and Taipei.
Train and ferry
Adventurous travellers can take advantage of a number of alternative routes to Japan from Europe and Asia via train and ferry. There are three long-distance train journeys – the Trans-Siberian, Trans-Mongolian and Trans-Manchurian – all of which will put you on the right side of Asia for a hop across to Japan. The shortest ferry route is on the hydrofoil between Busan in South Korea and Fukuoka (Hakata port) on Japan’s southern island of Kyūshū.
The Trans-Siberian train and getting there from Russia
The classic overland adventure route to or from Japan is via the Trans-Siberian train, a seven-night journey from Moscow to Vladivostok on Russia’s far-eastern coast. The cost of a one-way ticket in a four-berth sleeper compartment between Moscow and Vladivostok is around £470/US$770/Aus$845, on top of which you’ll need to factor in costs for visas, hotels etc along the way. You’ll end up saving a lot of money if you arrange your own visa and buy tickets within Russia; however, to avoid some of the inevitable hassles (tickets often sell out in summer, for example), most choose to go through an agent. The same advice goes for the Trans-Manchurian train, which heads from Moscow down through northern China and terminates in Beijing, and the Trans-Mongolian, which runs from Moscow via Mongolia to Beijing. You can then take a train to Shanghai and pick up a ferry to Japan.
Vladivostok Air (vladivostokavia.ru) and S7 (s7.ru) offer connections from Vladivostok to Narita. If you’re absolutely insistent on continuing your journey overland, you can take a weekly ferry to the Japanese port of Sakaiminato, near Matsue. These head via the Korean city of Donghae, where there’s a nine-hour stopover (you’ll be able to get off, though Donghae is not the nicest place to hang around), and take 43 hours in total. The cheapest tickets cost ¥22,000 one-way; see the DBS site (dbsferry.com) for more details. For those planning to return from Japan to Europe on this route, start by arranging your visa at the Russian Embassy in Tokyo or the Osaka consulate.
The shortest journey from Russia to Japan is on the ferry service (May–Oct) from Korsakov on the Siberian island of Sakhalin to Wakkanai in Hokkaidō.
Ferries from China and South Korea
Both the Shanghai Ferry Company (shanghai-ferry.co.jp) and Japan–China International Ferry Co (shinganjin.com) ply the Shanghai–Osaka route (48hr; from ¥22,000); the latter heads from Kōbe on alternate weeks. Conditions on board are good, the berths are clean and comfortable, and facilities include swimming pools, restaurants and even discos. Orient Ferry (orientferry.co.jp) has services between Qingdao and Shimonoseki (40hr; ¥19,000).
There are daily ferry and hydrofoil services from Busan in South Korea to Fukuoka and Shimonoseki.
Agents and operators
Deep Powder Tours Australia deeppowdertours.com. Ski trips to Niseko, and other Japanese resorts.
Elite Orient Tours US & Canada elitetours.com. Canada-based company specializing in Japan.
HIS Travel Japan Australia traveljapan.com.au. Flights, packages and customized itineraries are available from this long-established specialist.
Inside Japan UK insidejapantours.com. Great range of well-designed small-group, self-guided and fully tailored trips, ranging from Tokyo stopovers to climbing Mount Fuji.
Into Japan UK intojapan.co.uk. Upmarket tours from a reliable operator; they only run a couple of off-the-peg ones each year, with most opting for tailored itineraries.
Kintetsu International Express US japanforyou.com. A good variety of trips on offer, covering everything from architecture to onsen.
Quest Japan Japan hikejapan.com. Small-group hiking tours. Itineraries include some unusual destinations such as the volcanoes of Kyushu and the island Yakushima.
Travel Japan by H.I.S. Australia & New Zealand traveljapan.com.au. Provides everything from flights to Tokyo to packages and customized itineraries.
ViaJapan! UK viajapan.co.uk. UK-based arm of major Japanese travel company H.I.S., offering flights, packages and rail passes.
Wright Way Travel US wrightwaytravel.org. Annual tour to Japan (usually in the spring) focusing on the work and legacy of architect Frank Lloyd Wright.
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