There are a few primary international airports if you plan on flying around Japan.
- Narita (this airport handles most of Japan’s international flights and is likely where you will arrive in Japan)
- Haneda (Japan’s busiest airport accommodating most of the domestic flights there)
- Osaka (this airport has an increasing number of international flights offered there)
Outside of these large and busy airports there are airports with domestic flights in quite a few cities and pretty much every prefecture of Japan.
Flying Domestic Sometimes the Better Travel Option
Domestic flights are relatively costly compared to travel by train. But they are faster than the shinkansen bullet trains. If you’re travelling from the northernmost region of Japan in Hokkaido all the way down to Osaka or Kyushu it’s the way to go.
You’ll still have to go through the hassle of airport security and showing up an hour in advance of your flight. But it makes a long trip short and can provide access to areas when other forms of transportation aren’t available. For example, ‘hypothetically speaking’, if your ferry from Yakushima to the Kyushu mainland has to turn back after almost killing you trying to make an ill advised crossing in very rough (and four story tall) waters… Then you’re quite happy to take a domestic flight instead.
We certainly were.
Where to Buy Plane Tickets
The two major domestic flight providers in Japan are ANA and JAL but there are an increasing number of discount airlines. They aren’t quite as cheap as the discount prices you’ll find in Europe. But these discount groups can be a fair bit less than the larger airlines. Most flights can be booked online and have English language options for their websites. For a complete list of the domestic airlines please check here.
For visitors to Japan the two major Japanese airlines, JAL and ANA, offer flight passes. You are allowed to book anywhere from 1-5 flights at 10,000 yen each, which is a considerable discount. Usually you need to book at least three days in advance and provide passport and proof of flights to and from Japan. You can find the information to purchase flights on this pass for ANA here and for JAL here.
Perhaps the major advantage for buying these passes instead of getting the JR Rail Pass is that flights to Okinawa are possible. But barring this, for extended travel with multiple stops you’re most likely going to want to purchase the JR Rail Pass. Flying domestic will do in a pinch and most airports are quite close to local transportation so they’re still a great alternative depending on your plans.
Train or bus travel leaves travellers free to make trips at their leisure depending on availability. Flying is considerably more rigid and requires advance planning. But if you know for sure that you’ll want to visit locations that are quite distant it will make sense to plan ahead and book some tickets.