Japan is known for its imperial palaces, mountainous national parks and historical landmarks. Travellers have long revelled in its colourful festivals, culture and cuisine for centuries. But it seems that the destination doesn't bode well with the majority of the South African travel market.
Some SA travellers view Japan as an "expensive destination" and choose to visit other budget-friendly Asian and European destinations, instead.
Paul Christie, the CEO of Walk Japan, a company that organises walking tours to remote places including Kyushu and Shikoku, believes travellers could have a great time in Japan on a budget.
"South African travellers can actually get value for their money once they are in the country. "With proper planning and research, travellers can save a lot of money. If you know what you doing, Japan will turn out to be one of the best places you will visit," he said.
He said potential travellers needed to invest in a Japan Rail Pass.It is a multi-use discounted ticket, valid for travels on all JR national trains in Japan, including Shinkansen bullet trains and Narita Express. Travellers can choose either You can 7, 14 or 21 validity days. "The Rail Pass is convenient for travellers who are keen to explore the country. Travelling on one of them is an adventure in itself. Buses are another quick and affordable way to get around," he said.
Christie recommends a set menu for lunch that will set you back around 1200 yen (R153). "These set menu lunches can fuel travellers and doesn't cost much. Alcohol is also cheap," he said.
And as for accommodation, Christie said: "Most hotels are clean and functional and a good 3-star accommodation is available in most cities."
Christie admitted the Japanese government could do more to market the destination. "The Japanese are not very good at promoting the country as a destination. Many people have the perception that there are not many things to see and do in Japan, because of the lack of awareness.
“Japan offers many interesting places just waiting to be explored, but not many travellers are aware of them. Its unique places, coupled with culture, food and friendly people make it worth a trip,” he said.
This may all change when thousands of travellers visit the country for the Rugby World Cup in 2019. The quickest way to get to Japan via South Africa is either on Emirates (20 hours, Joburg to Tokyo via Dubai) or Cathay Pacific (19 hours, Joburg to Tokyo via Hong Kong).
Places like Kyushu are quite popular.
South African travel agent Jennifer Morris of Travel Savvy said travellers to Japan needed to plan months in advance.
“The visa process can be a bit arduous. The applicant has to present themselves at the Embassy in either Cape Town or Pretoria at least once (either submitting or collecting).
“Travellers also need to have pre-booked accommodation for the full duration of their trip booked and paid for before applying for the visa, and an itinerary for every day spent in Japan. The visa costs about R315 per person for a single entry, payable at the Embassy, and takes 2 – 5 working days to process,” she said.