Home Japan Travel GuideWhere is Japan

Where is Japan

Japan is an incredibly modern country with ancient roots, the home of sushi, ramen, and some of Asia's most beautiful scenery. All this has been drawing curious and enchanted travelers for centuries.

In the larger cities like Tokyo and Nagoya, travelers can see towering skyscrapers, modern fashion, and the culture of virtual reality and anime. Traveling through Japan, however, there are plenty of places for connecting to the country's ancient roots, for example Zen gardens, bathhouses, and centers of regional culture.

In this article, we will explain all the basics you need to know about Japan before you travel there. It is an amazing destination for everyone, from solo travelers to families. But before you decide where exactly you want to go, you can start here with the basics.

Quick Facts

Name of the country The State of Japan Abbreviation Japan
Capital Tokyo Continent East Asia
Population 127 million (2016) Area 377,972 sq km (145,936 sq miles)
Major language Japanese Major religions Shinto and Buddhism
Major cities Tokyo, Osaka, Yokohama, Nagoya Currency Yen (approx. USD1 = JPY 110.47, July 2018)
Prime Minister Shinzō Abe Famous figures Hayao Miyazaki (Film Director); Haruki Murakami (Author); Ken Watanabe (Actor)
Time Zone UTC+ 9:00 International call code +81

Japan on the Map

Located off the eastern coast of Asia, Japan is an archipelago surrounded by the Sea of Okhotsk in the north, the Pacific Ocean in the east and the south, and the East China Sea in the southwest. It is located southeast of Russia, east of the Koreas, and northeast of China and Taiwan, though Russia is its nearest neighbor.

The area of Japan is slightly smaller than that of the U.S. state of California and has a total coastline of 29,751 kilometers. Although the country incorporates thousands of islands, it is separated into 5 districts: Honshu, Hokkaido, Kyushu, Shikoku, and Okinawa. Each district includes one large island and many smaller ones.

Often, the major islands in Japan are called the home islands. Out of the 6,852 islands in the country, only 430 are inhabited by people. The rest are uninhabited and controlled by nature.

Japan on the mapJapan on the map

Landscape of Japan

Japan is situated on four tectonic plates which have greatly affected the shape of the land and Japanese culture. It is one of the most geothermically active areas in the world. There are tremors almost every 3 days in Tokyo, although most of them can't be felt. The geothermal activity means there are plenty of natural hot springs.

The activity of tectonic plates has created towering and sharply defined mountains that cover 73% of the country. Japan's tallest mountain is the famous Mount Fuji which stands at 3,776 meters (12,388 feet) tall.

Japan is very heavily – almost 69% – forested. The high number of mountain ranges and untouched natural land make for beautiful scenery and plenty of opportunities for adventure sports.

Natural Hot Springs

Bathing in natural hot springs or onsens has been a tradition in Japan for thousands of years. It is thought to have health benefits, due to the natural minerals, and the Japanese have long used hot springs in purification rituals.

Due to Japan's high level of volcanic activity, it has over 27,000 hot springs throughout the major islands. One of our favorite hot springs is in Hakone, the most popular hilly hot-spring town in Japan, near Mount Fuji and less than 100 kilometers from Tokyo.

We also recommend Yudanaka, a delightful hot-spring town famous for monkeys bathing in the geothermal waters of Jigokudani. From Nagano, visitors can reach Yudanaka with a 45-minute drive.

Not far away you can find Shibu Onsen ‘spa street’, which has 9 public onsens you can try as well, and you will see local people strolling down the street in yukata (light robes) as they head for a soak.

Farther into the mountains, Jigokudani Monkey Park offers visitors the unique experience of seeing wild monkeys living around hot pools. Jigokudani literally means ‘hell’s valley’ due to the steam and boiling water that bubbles out of small crevices in the frozen ground.

Mount Fuji and Fuji Five Lakes Region

Mount Fuji is Japan's most famous mountain. It is perfectly shaped and has inspired painters, authors, and worshipers for centuries. Today, many people travel to Mount Fuji and the surrounding area to relax in the misty mountains and to participate in outdoor adventure sports.

Mount Fuji

Mount Fuji stands 3,776 meters tall and is an active volcano, though it hasn't erupted since 1707. The geothermal activity of the volcano creates natural hot springs in the area surrounding the mountain.

For trekking Mount Fuji, visitors will firstly be driven to Mt. Fuji 5th Station, the end of the road for those driving to the mountain. Then they will walk from the 5th Station all the way up to the 7th Station, accompanied by a professional nature guide.

Fuji Five Lakes Region

Those who want to take in the view of Mount Fuji without the physically challenging hike can instead enjoy the mountain from the Fuji Five Lakes Region on the northern side. You can hike around the lakes there, enjoy the scenery, the town, and of course the picturesque views of the nearby mountain.

Hokkaido and the Japanese Alps

Due to the large number of mountains, certain areas of Japan have harsh winters and heavy snowfall. This makes them great places for outdoor lovers, including skiers, snowboarders, hikers and cyclists.

Two of the best places in Japan for outdoor sports and winter sports are Hokkaido and the Japanese Alps.

Hokkaido

Hokkaido is the most northerly and the second largest island in Japan but only contains 5% of the country's population. The island is covered in large areas of wilderness, with beautiful lakes and wildflowers in summer.

Hokkaido also offers excellent seafood, history, and a chance to see the indigenous Ainu people. The Ainu, physically large, typically bearded, and often with wavy hair, resemble Caucasians more than Japanese. Since the Japanese settled in Hokkaido in the 1860s, many of the Ainu traditions have disappeared, as the Ainu have been assimilated into Japanese society.

The Japanese Alps

The Japanese Alps are a mountain range running through the island of Honshu. The Alps include almost all of Japan's tallest mountains except for Mount Fiji. Most of the mountains there stand at over 3,000 meters and are capped with snow all year long.

There are many international-level resorts in the Alps and they attract many international thrill seekers and adventurers. The Alps have three sections: the northern Alps, central Alps, and southern Alps.

Best Places to Visit in Japan

Japan remains one of the most fascinating countries in the world, with numerous cities and destinations worth exploring. Each spring, the Japanese are reminded of their country’s geographical diversity, as the media enthusiastically tracks the progress of the cherry blossom from the subtropical islands of Okinawa to the northernmost island of Hokkaido.

Tokyo and Kyoto are the country’s most illustrious cities.

Kanazawa remains one of the most important cultural hubs in Japan, with its cultural achievements rivaling those of Kyoto and Tokyo.

Osaka, prominent as a merchant city, is the commercial hub of the Japanese island of Honshu, also known for its modern architecture, nightlife, and street food.

Tokyo

Tokyo is not only Japan's capital but also the most populous metropolis on the planet. The city offers unlimited options for shopping, entertainment, culture, and dining. These are best appreciated in districts such as Asakusa, Shinjuku and Shibuya.

Kyoto

Truly to understand Japan, visitors must spend time in the backstreets and environs of Kyoto, its old imperial capital. Kyoto’s prominent ancient and historical side can be explored by investigating side streets with old shops and townhouses, exploring temples, and wandering through outlying districts.

There are many things to do for visitors who travel to Kyoto, from dyeing your own kimono and dressing up as a geisha, to walking the path of philosophy and taking a culinary tour. We recommend taking a full-day tour inside Kyoto city.

To extend your trip, add a few days on the outskirts of Kyoto, visiting Arashiyama, a beautiful wooded, riverside district; Fushimi Inari, the most famous of the many thousands of shrines dedicated to Inari; Uji, renowned all over the country for its green tea; Nara, an ancient city known for its wooden temples and a monumental bronze Buddha.

Kanazawa

Full of atmosphere, the city has retained old-fashioned street lamps and wooden-lattice windows, concealing elegant restaurants and craft galleries. Its best-known attraction, however, is Kenrokuen, one of Japan's most beautiful gardens.

Osaka

Visiting Japan

Few people in the modern world are not affected in some way by the ideas, culture and economy of Japan, as it is one of the world’s most energetic and industrialized nations.

We recommend first-time visitors start by exploring the country’s most illustrious cities, Tokyo and Kyoto, spending at least 2 days in each, and making day-trips to nearby historic towns such as Kamakura and Nara, or the scenic hot-spring town Hakone, or maybe the merchant city Osaka. Such visits can be combined to form a week-long tour.

Adding a few more days, you could extend your trip into the country’s picturesque mountain area, Takayama, Shirakawa-go and Kanazawa, where tradition is maintained in streets, houses, gardens, and crafts. Exploring slowly on foot, visitors will have enough time to soak in the traditional rural lifestyles.

Purchasing a travel package for visiting Japan has many benefits, especially because having a private guide and an itinerary allows visitors not only to see as many attractions as possible, but also to learn about them from a local.

We like to arrange itineraries according to the goals of the traveler, including the must-see sites, but also the chance to experience authentic local culture. See our guide on planning a trip to Japan.

Getting to Japan

The most popular gateway city for Japan is Tokyo, arriving at Narita International Airport. An alternative is to fly to Osaka, landing at Kansai International Airport.

Both cities serve as international hubs for Japan’s two leading airlines, Japan Airlines and All Nippon Airways (ANA), which offer direct flights to and from many countries in Asia, Europe, North America, Australia and New Zealand.

Other major airports handling international flights, mainly from Asia, include Hiroshima, Nagoya, Niigate, and Sendai in Honshu, Sapporo in Hokkaido, and Nagasaki in Kyushu. Discover more about how to fly to Japan.

Visitors from most European countries, Australia, New Zealand, United States of America and Singapore may enter Japan with valid passports for short visits as Temporary Visitors. The period of stay for a Temporary Visitor is 90 days. There is no need to obtain a Japanese visa.

Visit Japan with Asia Highlights

Would you like to experience the perfect trip to Japan, but don't know where to start? Our experts at Asia Highlights plan tailor-made trips to match the desires of each individual traveler. We can help you see what you want to see and avoid what you want to avoid. Send us an email today.

9-Day Japan Highlights Tour: A Stimulating Fusion of East and West

11-Day Traditional Japan Tour: Historical Monuments and Lively Modern Cities

11-Day Classic Japan Tour: Explore a Cluster of Scenic Cities and Quaint Towns in a Remote Mountain Region