Getting to Japan by air is not difficult thanks to the fact that there are flights to the country’s international airports from most major cities on the planet. While the majority of flights arrive in Tokyo, some also fly into one of the other international airport. These are Nagoya, Niigata and Osaka on the island of Honshu, Fukuoka, Kagoshima, Kumamoto and Nagasaki on Kyushu, Naha on Okinawa and Sapporo on Hokkaido.
The main airlines serving Japan are numerous. Japan Airlines (JAL) the flagship carrier, operates the most flights in and out of the country. It has direct connections between Tokyo or Osaka to Chicago, Dallas, Las Vegas, Los Angeles, New York, San Francisco and Vancouver in North America as well as numerous destinations in the UK, Australia and New Zealand.
All Nippon Airways, the country’s largest domestic carrier, offers daily flights from New York, Washington DC, Chicago and Los Angeles to Tokyo as well as several flights per week from San Francisco and Honolulu. It also operates direct flights from London and Sydney to both Tokyo and Osaka.
Other international airlines serving Japan include Air Canada which operates daily flights between Vancouver and Tokyo, from Toronto to Tokyo five times weekly and from Vancouver to Nagoya several times per week. American Airlines flies daily between Chicago, Dallas, San Jose or Seattle and Tokyo. British Airways has direct flights to Nagoya, Osaka or Tokyo from London, Quantas flies from Brisbane, Melbourne or Sydney to Tokyo and Osaka and KLM flies daily from Amsterdam to Osaka, five times per week to Tokyo, twice weekly to Nagoya and is the only carrier with a service to Sapporo which is also made twice weekly. And, these are just the major air connections so ensure that you shop around before deciding.
Finally, some information on the location of the major international airports. Narita or The New Tokyo International Airport is located about forty miles north of the city centre but several buses and shuttles leave from all terminals and take just over an hour to reach the city. You can buy tickets for all services inside each of the terminals. Kansai International is about thirty miles south of Osaka and again there are regular bus services into the city centre and they take about thirty minutes to get there. Fukuoka International is twenty minutes away from the city of the same name and Nagoya International lies six miles north of the city.
Japan has one of the most advanced public transport systems in the world so for those of you coming from less fortunate destinations, you’re in for a veritable transportation treat. Delays and cancellations are unheard, the rail service covers almost every destination you can think of, but unfortunately thanks to its excellence, the price of travel is also much more expensive than countries with less efficient transportation systems.
For travel around the country, we highly recommended obtaining a Japan Rail Pass. This pass allows unlimited travel on all lines as well as affiliated buses and ferries. It is only available to tourists and must be purchased prior to your arrival in Japan.
For seven days travel the pass will cost you Y28,300, for fourteen days it’s Y45,100 and for twenty one days it costs Y57,700. First class passes are considerably more expensive. The only extra charges which you will incur if you have a pass are for over night sleeper trains. Finally, your pass starts as soon as you validate it. This can be done at any of the Japan Railways Travel Centres which you will find at most major rail stations and at Narita and Kansai airports. It is worth noting that you shouldn’t validate your pass until you know that you are going to making some long journeys. For example, if you’re staying in a city for a couple of days, you are really not going to get the most out of it.
Other major JR travel passes include the East Pass which can be used on all lines in the east of the country. Prices for this for anyone under 25 are Y16,000 for five days, or Y25,000 for ten days. It is worth noting that there are also four day flexible passes which do not necessitate travel on consecutive days but must be used withing one month of your first journey. These passes also cost Y16,000. The West San-yo Area Pass resembles the East Pass but applies to travel in the west only. This costs Y20,000 for four days and Y30,000 for eight days. The West Kansai Area Pass can be used for destinations including Himeji, Osaka, Kyoto and Nara. A one day pass costs Y2,000 and for four days it is Y6,000. Finally the Kyushu Rail Pass costs Y15,000 for five days and Y20,000 for seven days. This pass also has to be purchased outside the country.
Another alternative to rail travel is to make your way around the country by bus. While they make take a great deal longer to reach their destination, no reservations are necessary and prices are much more backpacker friendly. As well as this, they serve those destinations not yet reached by train so in some cases your only option is to avail of the bus service. It is worth noting that the Japan Rail Pass is valid on some services too but in these cases people usually prefer to take ‘shinkansen’ or the bullet train.
Finally, because Japan is an island nation, numerous ferries operate between the various regions. The major connections link up Tokyo, Osaka and Kobe with the main ports of Hokkaido and Kyushu, but there are numerous other services which you can inquire about at any branch of the JNTO.