Tourists’ flying start

Ginza at night, Tokyo, Japan.
Ginza at night, Tokyo, Japan.
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With British travellers returning to Japan in large numbers after last year’s tsunami, the launch of three low-cost airlines this year is helping them to plan holidays which cover wide areas of the country.

Peak seasons for British visitors are March-April, for spring tours through the cherry blossom, and October-November when temperatures are mild and autumn brings stunning displays of red and gold leaves across the mountains.

Although the number of British visitors to Japan fell from 184,000 in 2010 to 140,000 in 2011, there is expected to be a significant recovery in 2012.

James Mundy at Inside Japan Tours, which organises group tours and itineraries to suit individual budgets, says: “We have found that since the tsunami, there are more people keen to go with a tour group rather than on their own, perhaps feeling there is more value with travelling with a Japanese-speaking leader who knows the country.”

Although Japan is famous for its bullet trains, the prospect of cheaper domestic air travel should make it cheaper to combine city breaks in Tokyo with visits to some of Japan’s other islands such as Kyushu, Okinawa and Hokkaido.

Peach Aviation, Japan’s first dedicated low-cost carrier, launched in March 2012 to provide new travel options at affordable prices from its base at Kansai International Airport, Osaka. Britons flying into Osaka with Japan Airlines should find it easier and cheaper to explore Kyushu.

In April, Peach began flying to Kagoshima, at the bottom end of Kyushu, from £33 one way and in March, it began flights to Fukuoka from £28 one way. Meanwhile, Jetstar Japan, another new domestic airline, is set to start operations this summer from Kansai International Airport. The first route will be Osaka to Tokyo from July 9 (fares from £32 one way), followed by Osaka-Fukuoka in August (fares from £28 one way).

With AirAsia Japan poised to enter the market, Mundy says travellers can head for more regional airports. “When putting trips together, my advice would be to fly to the far-flung destinations in Japan such as the subtropical Okinawan islands in the far south or the northern island of Hokkaido. This is where you will get most value out of flying.

The best way for foreigners to travel around the mainland is still by Shinkansen (bullet train) using tickets such as the Japan Rail Pass.