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Domestic Travel in Japan - Airplane or Bullet Train?

Domestic Travel in Japan - Airplane or Bullet Train?

By CarolUpdated Oct. 20, 2022

Japanese airports are notable for their efficiency, speedy rail connections to large cities and the use of artificial islands due to land scarcity. Japanese rail services are among the best in the world; they are fast, frequent, clean and comfortable.

For time efficiency, get your short-distance travel by bullet train and long-distance travel by airplane. You can do famous sightseeing in the areas close to Tokyo, Osaka, and Fukuoka while travelling by bullet train. But to reach Shikoku, Kyushu and Hokkaido, flying may be a better option.

Quick facts

  • Japan offers many transportation choices for travelling within country. For time efficiency, consider the airplane to visit Shikoku, Kyushu, or Hokkaido from Tokyo.
  • Enjoy Japan's famous sightseeing within close distance from the big cities, while traveling by Shinkansen bullet train.
  • All Japan's main airports are busy, including airports which serve domestic flights, like Tokyo Haneda Airport and Osaka Itami Airport.
  • As a foreign visitor, get a special fare from ANA or Japan Airlines for any domestic flights.
  • During Japan's peak season, such as Christmas, New Year and Cherry Blossom, the air tickets will be more expensive.

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Japan's rail system linking major cities and attractions

Japan has one of the best rail transportation networks of the world. Japan boasts rail travel that is remarkably efficient, punctual, reliable, and clean. The Shinkansen (bullet train) network links most of Japan's major cities with the maximum speed of 320km per hour and it is the most popular method for long-distance travel within the country.

You can enjoy many famous sightseeing areas within bullet train lines such as between Tokyo, Nagoya, and Kyoto. Enjoy Tokyo's endless opportunities for sightseeing and shopping in Harajuku or Shibuya. Get your peace of mind while visiting Kyoto's major tourist attractions like The Golden Pavilion of Kinkakuji Temple and Fushimi Inari Taisha Shrine.

You can enjoy the experience of short-distance travel between big cities by bullet train. Flying may be a better option to travel to Shikoku, Kyushu, and Hokkaido. For example, from Tokyo or Osaka to Hokkaido takes at least 8 hours by bullet train, but it only takes 100 minutes by plane. And from Tokyo to Fukuoka it takes 6 hours by bullet train, whereas it just takes 2 hours by plane.

Domestic flights in Japan

Experience short-distance travel between Japan's big cities by bullet train and enjoy the beautiful scenery along the way. To save time, flying may be a better option for long-distance travel to Shikoku, Kyushu, and Hokkaido.

With some 90 airports, serving domestic and overseas flights, Japan is highly convenient for the air traveler. Most foreign travelers like to use convenient domestic flights, for example, if they want to visit the annual Sapporo Snow Festival in Hokkaido.

Domestic air travel is dominated by the two national carriers: Japan Airlines (JAL) and All Nippon Airways (ANA). Both airlines offer air passes for foreign tourists, which allow holders to buy any domestic flights at a fixed cost of slightly over ¥10,000 (around US$90) per flight.

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Main airports for domestic flights

Haneda International Airport is one of two major airports in Tokyo. Almost all domestic flights departing and arriving in Tokyo are served by Haneda Airport. The airport serves as the primary base of Japan Airlines and All Nippon Airways (ANA). It also serves as the base of smaller Japanese airlines, including Air Do and StarFlyer.

Itami Airport is the primary regional airport for the Kansai region of Japan, including the major cities of Osaka, Kyoto and Kobe. It is classified as a first-class airport. The airport handles a large number of domestic flights to more than 30 destinations across Japan.

New Chitose Airport is the largest airport in Hokkaido. It gets flooded with passengers from Tokyo, being on one of the world's busiest routes. Japan has many other major airports, including Nagoya's Central Japan Airport, Fukuoka Airport, Kobe Airport, Kagoshima Airport and Okinawa's Naha Airport.

Airlines and Flying Routes

Japan's main airlines, Japan Airlines (JAL) and All Nippon Airways (ANA), serve all major cities, smaller towns, and islands such as the Okinawa archipelago. Both airlines are renowned for their high-quality service. Enjoy your domestic flights, especially to Japan's large islands like Shikoku, Kyushu, and Hokkaido with Japan's renowned airlines.

Besides the two main airlines, independent regional airlines, including Air Do and StarFlyer, offer flights to Japan's beautiful islands. Air Do fly between the islands of Honshu and Hokkaido, and from Tokyo Haneda Airport to various cities in Hokkaido, including Sapporo. Starflyer have a route network centred around destinations in western Japan like Kita-kyushu, Fukuoka and Yamaguchi.

Shikoku is one of Japan's four main islands and is full of charm, with mountainous inner regions and beautiful scenery. You can reach this island by small regional airports in prefectural capitals like Takamatsu, Matsuyama, Kochi and Tokushima. There are flights from Tokyo Haneda to any airports in Shikoku by ANA or Japan Airlines everyday, at prices from US$115, and they take approximately 1 hour and 15 minutes.

Kyushu is Japan's third largest island, located southwest of the main island Honshu. It offers many historic treasures, modern cities and natural beauty. Fly directly from Tokyo Haneda to any aiports in Kyushu, like Kita Kyushu Airport, Fukuoka Airport, Nagasaki Airport, or Oita Airport, in about 1 hour and 40 minutes by ANA, Star Flyer or Japan Airlines, at prices starting from US$120.

Hokkaido is the second largest island of Japan and the largest and northernmost prefecture. With its unspoiled nature, Hokkaido attracts many outdoor lovers, including skiers and snowboarders in the colder season, and hikers, cyclists and campers from June to September. Fly anytime from Tokyo to any airports in Hokkaido, like Sapporo Chitose or Sapporo Okadama, in 1 hour and 30 minutes by Air Do, ANA or Japan Airlines, starting from US$115.

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Special air fares

Enjoy domestic discount tickets by ANA and Japan Airlines for foreign visitors who have return tickets by any airline, with the journey originating from outside Japan. This way you can fly more cheaply from Tokyo or Osaka to other cities and islands like Shikoku, Kyushu, or Hokkaido. You can simply purchase it online via their official website.

ANA Experience Japan Fare is a special, multipurpose fare that can be used across ANA's entire domestic flight program. It offers one-way flights within Japan for ¥10,800 (approximately US$96) per flight. Japan Airlines offers Welcome to Japan Fare, OneWorldYokoso/Visit Japan Fare, and the Japan Explorer Pass.

Welcome to Japan Fare offers flights for ¥14,040 (approximately US$125). OneWorldYokoso/Visit Japan Fare offers flights for ¥10,800, but passengers must have an international return ticket by a OneWorld carrier like Japan Airline, Cathay Pacific or Qantas, with the journey originating from outside Japan.

Please be aware that many of the discount fares are unavailable during peak seasons.

Peak travel periods and tips for booking flights

Peak seasons in Japan are the new year holidays, late December to early January, the golden week, late April to early May, and the summer holidays, mid-July to August.

In order to get more choice in dates, times, and airfares to Japan, you'll need to book your flight tickets well in advance. Aim for at least 3 months in advance or even earlier if you are visiting during peak season, otherwise airfare tickets will be sold out or you don't get the flights that you wish.

Japan is truly a year-round destination, and Japanese culture is remarkable in its appreciation of the different seasons. Take advantage of any chance to visit, since each of Japan's seasons is great in its own way! Each season is worth to be celebrated with seasonal foods and festivals.

Travelers like to visit Japan during autumn, from September to November. Autumn is beautiful, the manicured gardens riot with color.

When spring comes, March to May, visitors can enjoy one of the most beloved yearly events, the cherry blossom festival. The golden week is at the end of March, early April. Japan tends to be busier than usual, hence expect higher prices in this period.

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