For many Britons, the trip to Japan during the summer travel season has never been as appealing – thanks to technology-enhanced travel. Without worrying about anything else, you simply order a flight from the comfort of your own home and you are good to go.
And, most importantly, you can avoid the problems caused by a highly convoluted bureaucracy which affects dozens of millions of people around the world. It’s why everyone should research their flight ahead of time, if they don’t already.
Here’s how to go about doing so – and what you need to know before you go.
What flights are likely to be the most flexible?
Most would-be foreign travellers opt for those offering the most flexibility – and that’s exactly what Japan Airlines (JAL) and All Nippon Airways (ANA) are. They are the only airlines in Japan which provide all routes with a day of the week reserved. Although that might not seem the most exciting, it enables you to choose one flight out of whatever time of day you like – all flights are booked in blocks of 10, and three separate tickets can be bought if you aren’t sure. Similarly, connecting flights are the easiest, but some airlines, such as Japan Airlines and Japan Airlines’ subsidiary, Japan Airlines Corp (JAL Corp), offer mixed schedule flights that offer connections between connecting flights from your own country.
For passengers with frequent business trips and limited flexibility, choosing an airline with a range of dates available might be preferable.
Are train tickets cheap?
No. Train tickets can be expensive in Japan compared with, say, a domestic fare. For instance, if you were to fly from the UK to Japan on Wednesday, you would pay around £745 on the British Airways website – while a third of that amount would be taken out of your budget with the train ticket. It depends on your preferences as to whether buying train tickets (which cost around £25 each way for a return London-Kyoto ticket) would be cheaper.
If you’re travelling with one or more children, will it be cheaper to fly, or take the train?
Japan’s general growth rate means there are more trains to choose from. But because public transport is quite expensive, passengers will likely opt for flights over trains.
What does a flight to Japan involve?
More waiting. Choosing a flight, whether it’s for overnight transport or your first night in Japan, requires some preparation.
For example, there’s the new Prefecture Travel Card for Japan, which is good for six days of travel. Two Japanese towns, Niigata and Honshu, offer a more limited zone around the city, but they also require some advance travel. Take-off and landing times can be up to 15 minutes earlier than for Japanese passengers to catch on to the early morning flights. You can use the card on flights, train journeys or road trips within the zone.
You’re also pre-booked in a travel bag from the time the booking is made by a travel agency. That way, you know exactly when to leave your home and when you are travelling the exact routes you need to take.
What areas of Japan are popular?
Mostly Japan’s big cities, especially Tokyo. Travel will cost more for a hotel room, but that might be justified if you are spending a week or more in a quiet area.
How about all the islands?
Most of the Japanese islands are accessible by ferry or train. From the major islands – Hyogo, Miyazaki, Ishigaki, Shikoku, Kanagawa, Honshu and Kyushu – tourists can choose from 46 different resorts. Iona is the most popular: it is visited more than a million times a year.
Who should I expect to see?
Japanese tourists come in all shapes and sizes. At its height, about 9 million Japanese visited the UK each year. Today, however, that number is in the region of 5 million – still a good chunk of a country with only 122 million inhabitants. Japanese also make up the vast majority of visitors to northern Japan – almost half of all visitors to Hokkaido are from Japan.
What if I don’t want to buy the Prefecture Travel Card?
There are hundreds of low-cost tour companies. You could fly direct from Tokyo for under £70 to reach the islands.
What is your money worth?
There are three ways to handle the cost of travel. The cost of your accommodation, meals and transport from airport to accommodation will be calculated for you and you will need to budget for it. Then, add any other expenses you will be incurring during your stay in Japan – such as travel to and from the airport. Finally, it’s important to stay within your budget. If you spend more than you can reasonably afford, you might find you don’t have enough for food