Japan was one of the last countries to reopen post Covid pandemic and since reopening, tourism is booming. In 2024, Tokyo ranks as the No. 1 trending international hot spot among U.S.-based travelers, according to Hopper travel app. The strong American dollar relative to the Japanese yen is another reason for Japan’s popularity for the American tourist.
Regarding when to visit, peak season is Cherry Blossom season in mid- March so prices will typically be more expensive. But Japan’s mild temperatures throughout the Spring (March-May) and Fall (September- October) really make Japan a year-round destination.
A typical Japan itinerary starts in Tokyo with flights into Haneda (HND) or Narita (NRT) followed by a train trip into the city. Japan’s train system is well-connected, fast and efficient, making Japan a very easy country to traverse at a reasonable cost. The Japan rail pass for example, provides unlimited access to the JR line trains which includes the Shinkansen Bullet Trains. Make sure you buy your pass 2 weeks in advance.
Next stop on any itinerary should include a visit to Hakone, west of Tokyo in Japan’s Fuji-Hakone-Izu National Park. Hakone is famous for its hot springs resorts (onsen), Mount Fuji, and Hakone Shrine, a Shinto shrine with a red “torii” gate overlooking Lake Ash. When I was stationed in Okinawa during my Air Force career, I met up with my first cousin from Ireland who was stationed in the US Navy in mainland Japan at the time. The two of us hiked Mt Fuji all night and arrived (barely) at the summit at dawn. Despite losing my hiking stick on the descent, it was incredible experience I will never forget!
A bullet train away is Kyoto, Japan’s former capital, and another beautiful city not to be missed. I recommend staying in the Gion district where the cobblestone streets, numerous shrines, and sightings of people walking around wearing kimonos are commonplace.
Make sure you check out the The US Embassy in Japan website before traveling. Many common medications and over-the-counter drugs in the United States are illegal in Japan, regardless of whether you have a valid U.S. prescription. If you bring it with you, you risk arrest and detention by Japanese authorities. So know before you go!
Arigatou gozaimasu (ありがとうございます) – Thank you!