The majority of intercontinental flights use either Narita Airport (NRT) near Tokyo or Kansai Airport (KIX) near Osaka, and a fewer arrive at Chubu International Airport (NGO) in the vicinity of Nagoya. All three airports are far from their respective city centres, but they are connected to the regional rail network and also offer numerous bus services to nearby destinations. Tokyo’s other airport, Haneda Airport (IATA: HND), is still mainly used for domestic flights, but has started to attract an increasing number of international flights away from Narita.
Just about every major city has an airport, although most offer only domestic flights and a few connections to China and South Korea. Transit via Seoul with Korean Air or Asiana Airlines can sometimes be cheaper than connecting in Japan.
Generally, both Narita and Kansai airports can be reached easily and aren’t especially crowded, assuming you avoid the peak holiday periods – specifically, New Year (late December – early January), Easter Week (late April – early May), as well as Obon ( in mid-August), when it’s more crowded and more expensive.
Japan’s two largest airlines are Japan Airlines (JAL) (日本航空) and All Nippon Airways (ANA) (全日本空輸, or simply 全日空). Delta Air Lines, United Airlines and American Airlines are also running major hubs at Narita, offering flights across many destinations in the U.S. as well as Asia. Low-cost carriers (LCCs) have become increasingly popular with low-cost domestic and international flights, with companies such as Jetstar (Australia), Skymark, Peach (Osaka) giving competition to JAL and ANA.
With the boat
A number of international ferries are available to Japan coming from South Korea, China, Taiwan and Russia. These are not particularly competitive in price with airline tickets and also often have long travel times.
Ferries from South Korea’s second largest city Busan offer an alternative to flying, with the Fukuoka service being a particularly fast and convenient way to travel between the two countries.
- Busan-Fukuoka: JR Kyushu Ferry, +81 92 281-2315 (Japan) or +82 51 469-0778 (Korea), operates a hydrofoil ferry several times a day that takes about 3.5 hours and costs ¥13,000 each way. Camellia Line, +81 92 262-2323 (Japan) or +82 51 466-7799 (Korea), operates a ferry that takes about 8 hrs and costs from ¥9,000; if it sails overnight, it can stop outside Busan port in the morning and wait for Korean immigration to open. (Compared to most airports, there should be relatively few security problems on this route).
- Busan-Shimonoseki: Kanbu Ferry, +81 83 224-3000 (Japan) or +82 51 464-2700 (Korea), daily service. 13.5 hrs; ¥9,000+.
- Busan-Osaka: Barnstar Line, +81 66 271-8830 (Japan) or +82 51 469-6131 (Korea), offers services three times a week. 18 hrs; ¥13,700+.
- Busan – Tsushima Island: Tsushima is the closest part of Japan to South Korea, and day trips from Busan are convenient.
- Donghae – Sakai Minato: DBS Cruise Ferry, 1600-5646 (Japan) or +82 33 531-5611 (Korea). Economy ¥15,000, ₩195,000, USD180.
- Shanghai-Osaka/Kobe: Japan-China Ferry, +81 78 321-5791 (Japan) or +86 21 6326 4357 (China), three times weekly service. 45 hours; CNY17,000 from China, ¥20,000+ from Japan.
- Tianjin-Kobe: China Express Line, +81 3 3537-3107 (Japan) or +86 22 2420 5777 (China), weekly service. 50 hours; ¥22,000+.
- Suzhou-Shimonoseki: Shanghai-Shimonoseki Ferry, +81 83 232-6615 (Japan) or +86 512 53186686 (China), three times weekly service. ¥15,000+.
- Keelung (Taiwan)-Ishigaki/Naha: Star Cruises, +886-2-27819968 (Taiwan) or +81 3 6403-5188 (Japan), irregular cruises only in peak summer season (May-Sep), not available every year. One-way fares usually not available.
- Sakhalin-Wakkanai: Heartland Ferry. 5.5 hours; ¥21,000+. Service suspended Oct-Apr due to sea ice. see our Russia to Japan via Sakhalin itinerary.
- Vladivostok-Sakai Minato: DBS Cruise Ferry, +81 1600 5646 (Japan) or +7 4232 302 704 (Russia). Via Donghae, South Korea. USD265 from Vladivostok.