Tokyo’s Narita International Airport, Ōsaka’s Kansai International Airport and Centrair near Nagoya are the main international flight gateways, with Tokyo’s Haneda Airport also set to offer more international connections over the next few years.
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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, taking about twelve hours. Return fares start from around £500. However, you can find occasional special deals for as low as £400, so 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, Ōsaka and Nagoya, including Air Canada, ANA, American Airlines, Continental, Japan Airlines and United with 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 kick off at around Aus$1300 with one stopover, or Aus$1500 for a nonstop flight. From New Zealand prices start at roughly NZ$1700, though the most direct routings will cost at least NZ$2000.
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 R10,000 and above.
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 ferries 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 £360/US$520/A$620, on top of which you’ll need to factor in costs for visas, hotels etc along the way. It’s far from impossible to buy tickets yourself once in Russia, but to avoid some of the inevitable hassles, and for convenience, using an agent is recommended: some are suggested below. The same agents can arrange tickets on 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 (wwww.vladivostokavia.ru) offers connections from Vladivostok to Fukuoka, Nagoya, Narita and Toyama. Business Intour Service in Vladivostok (wwww.bisintour.com) handles bookings on the fairly regular ferries that run to the Japanese port of Fushiki, near Toyama. This takes 42 hours and the cheapest ticket is around US$1420/¥129,000 including a basic berth and all meals.
For those planning to return by this route to Europe from Japan, start by arranging your visa at the Russian Embassy in Tokyo (2-1-1 Azabudai, Minato-ku, Tokyo 106; t03/3583-5982) or the consulate (1-2-2 Nishimidorigaoka, Toyonaka-shi, Ōsaka; t06/6848-3452).
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 for details.
GW Travel UK t 0161/928-9410, wwww.gwtravel.co.uk.
Mir Corporation US t 206/624-7289, wwww.mircorp.com.
MO Tourist CIS Russian Centre Japan t 03/5296-5783, wwww.mo-tourist.co.jp.
Monkey Business China t 8610/6591 6519, wwww.monkeyshrine.com.
Russian Experience UK t 0845/521 2910, wwww.trans-siberian.co.uk.
Sundowners Australia t 03/9672 5300, wwww.sundownersoverland.com.
Travel Directors Australia t 08/9242 4200, wwww.traveldirectors.com.au.
White Nights US t 1800/490 5008, wwww.wnights.com.
Ferries from China and South Korea
Both the Shanghai Ferry Company (t06/6243-6345, wwww.shanghai-ferry.co.jp) and Japan–China International Ferry Co (t06/6536-6541, wwww.shinganjin.com) ply the Shanghai–Ōsaka route (48hr; from ¥20,000). Conditions on board are good, the berths are clean and comfortable, and facilities include swimming pools, restaurants and even discos. Orient Ferry (t0832/32-6615, wwww.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
Artisans of Leisure US t1-800/214-8144, wwww.artisansofleisure.com. Luxury private tours including ones focused on food, art and gardens.
AWL Pitt Australia t02/9264 7384, wwww.japanpackage.com.au. Sydney-based agent offering a variety of Japan packages, and Japan Rail passes.
AWL Travel UK t020/7222 1144, wwww.awlt.com. UK-based Japan specialist.
Baumann Travel US t914/419-8470, wwww.baumanntravel.com. Arts and cultural tours, covering themes such as Japanese gardens and cuisine.
Deep Powder Tours Australia t02/9525 9774, wwww.deeppowdertours.com. Ski trips to Niseko, and other Japanese resorts.
Elite Orient Tours US & Canada t1-800/668-8100 or t416/977-3026, wwww.elitetours.com. Canada-based company specialising in Japan.
Hike Japan Japan t03/5226 1169, wwww.hikejapan.com. Small-group hiking tours. Itineraries include some unusual destinations such as the volcanoes of Kyūshū and the island Yakushima.
HIS Travel Japan Australia t02/9267 3333, New Zealand t 09/336 1336; wwww.traveljapan.com.au. Flights, packages and customized itineraries are available from this long-established specialist.
IACE Travel US t 1-866/735-4223, wwww.iace-asia.com. US-based Japan specialist with many packages and themed tours to Tokyo.
Inside Japan UK t 0117/314 4620, wwww.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 t01865/841 443, wwww.intojapan.co.uk. Upmarket tailor-made and special-interest tours. Options at the time of writing included a fifteen-day kabuki tour.
Jaltour UK t020-7389-8341, wwww.jaltour.co.uk. Japan Airlines’ tour arm sells a range of holiday packages.
Japan Journeys UK t020/7766 5267, wwww.japanjourneys.co.uk. Tokyo options include an anime and manga-themed tour.
Japan Package Tours Australia t03/9909 7212, wwww.japanpackagetours.com.au. Fully escorted and self-guided tours, tailor-made itineraries, accommodation packages and rail passes.
Japan Travel Bureau (JTB) US t1-877/798-9808, wwww.jtbusa.com; Canada t416/367 5824, wwww.jtbi.ca; Australia t 1300/739 330, wwww.japantravel.com.au. As well as the usual options, they handle Sunrise Tours taking in the capital and surrounding region.
Japan Travel Centre UK t020/7611 0150, wwww.japantravel.co.uk. Offers flights, accommodation packages, Japan Rail passes and guided tours.
Journeys East US t 1-800/527-2612, wwww.journeyseast.com. Small-group cultural tours focusing on art and architecture.
Kintetsu International Express US t1-800/422-348, wwww.japanforyou.com. A good variety of trips on offer, covering everything from architecture to onsen.
Magical Japan UK t0161/440 7332, wwww.magicaljapan.co.uk. Their guided tours all offer at least three days in and around Tokyo; customized packages possible.
Mitsui Travel Australia t02/9262 2720, wwww.mitsuitravel.com.au. Options include a three-night onsen tour to Tokyo and Hakone.
Outdoor Japan t81/011/764-5020, http://www.outdoorjapan.com/travel/operator_details/15. Specializes in hiking and mountain climbing trips in Hokkaidō and the Okutama national park area west of Tokyo.
Oka Tours Japan t0422/266644, wwww.okatours.com. Cycling tours, both moderate and challenging in terms of terrain covered, on Sado Island, Niigata and the Izu peninsula.
Oxalis Holidays UK t020/7099 6147, wwww.oxalis-adventures.com. Broad range of escorted small-group tours, many including Tokyo.
Travel Japan by H.I.S. Australia t02/9267 0333, New Zealand t09/336 1336; wwww.traveljapan.com.au. Provides everything from flights to Tokyo to packages and customized itineraries.
ViaJapan! UK t020/7484 3328, wwww.viajapan.co.uk. UK-based arm of major Japanese travel company H.I.S., offering flights, packages and rail passes.
Wright Way Travel US t708/848-1976, wwww.wrightwaytravel.org. An annual tour to Japan focused around the work and legacy of architect Frank Lloyd Wright.