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Travel, Teach, Live in Japan

How to Plan a Trip to Japan

Japan has a rich history, diverse geography and many attractions, both ancient and modern, to offer tourists. The island nation boasts beautiful beaches, majestic mountains, active volcanoes, majestic temples and towering skyscrapers. With careful planning, a trip to Japan can prove to be the vacation of a lifetime.

Decide when to go. It's best to avoid travel to Japan's during Golden Week in April, during the Obon Festival in August, during school vacation in July and August and during New Year's festivities in late December and early January. If you must travel during the busy season, visit large cities like Tokyo immediately before and after major holidays when most Japanese celebrate with their families in small towns and the countryside.

Book a flight. Japan Airlines is the country's largest carrier and flies from most major American cities to Tokyo. The major U.S. airlines like United and American also offer daily, direct flights from large cities like Los Angeles and Chicago. Depending on your itinerary, you'll fly into one of Japan's three major airports: Narita International Airport outside Tokyo; Kansai International Airport outside Osaka and Central Japan International Airport which is between the other two.

Get a passport. Any American visitor staying more than 30 days also needs a visa. You must carry your passport with you at all times and present it upon hotel check-in. Those caught without the proper documentation are taken into police custody for questioning, so find a convenient and secure spot on your person for identification papers.

Purchase a Japan Rail Pass. This train system is the least expensive and most convenient mode of travel for visitors. If visiting several cities, purchase a standard pass which allows unlimited travel on the Japan Rail for up to three weeks. Passes include travel on all Japan Rail trains and the Shinkansen, or bullet train, with the exception of the Nozomi Super Express. Buy passes through a travel agent or Japanese airline, as they are only available to tourists and are not sold in Japan.

Wait to exchange currency upon arrival. Exchange counters at Japanese airports are convenient and generally offer lower rates than the U.S. Most businesses accept Visa, MasterCard, although the credit card companies often charge a service fee on purchases made abroad. It's advisable to have traveler's checks to cut down on fees. Keep yen available for minor purchases and transportation fares.

Book a room. Enhance your vacation with a stay at a ryokan or minshuku. A one-night stay at a ryokan includes two full meals and a distinctively Japanese experience. Guests wear traditional robes and slippers, eat while seated on the floor of their guest room, take a traditional hot bath and sleep on futons. A minshuku, or Japanese bed-and-breakfast, offers a similar experience in a private home. If you prefer western-style hotel accommodations, you'll have no trouble finding them in Japan.

Plan the itinerary. Some must-sees include the Golden Pavilion and Imperial Palace in Kyoto; the Kabukiza Theater, the Shinjuku Gyo-en National Garden and National Museum in Tokyo; the Aquarium and Peace Osaka museum in Osaka and Mt. Fuji. There is much to do and see in Japan, so plan a regional trip or stay long enough to enjoy all the country has to offer without feeling rushed. If you're uncomfortable traveling alone, book day tours or make your travel arrangements through a touring company.

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