For many travellers, thoughts of their ideal, dream trip are always something they talk about, even if it’s just once or twice a month. Japan always seems to be high on dream travel lists, and for good reason. With so many unique and colourful exports through anime and video gaming along with food and general culture, Japan has found its way into the hearts of many in the West, generating an innate desire to go and experience this wonderfully strange and fun country. Here is a quick travel guide for those looking to head to Japan, especially if it’s their first time.
Getting To Japan and Getting Around
Undoubtedly, getting to Japan is fairly straightforward, regardless of where you’re coming from. Tokyo, the capital city is well serviced by primarily national carriers of other countries throughout the world and so flights are easy to find throughout the world to Japan. Once in Japan though, where should you go? There are a number of amazing, unique areas within the country which you can travel to either by train or air, with train being one of the more popular options. The islands are Hokkaido to the north, Honshu, on which Tokyo is located, Shikoku and Kyushu. Kyushu is the southernmost island and enjoys somewhat tropical, much warmer weather than other islands, especially Hokkaido where it’s not uncommon to be able to ski still late into the season. In order to access some of the more outlying islands quickly, air travel is recommended. Everywhere else though, trains are common and an enjoyable experience, especially the bullet train (Shinkansen) which can get you to and from different towns and cities in record time.
While train travel can be relatively expensive in Japan, the best option is to purchase a JR (Japan Railway) train pass in advance of your trip. These can be purchased online with options for different periods of time (ie: three weeks) and are all you can travel for the specific period of time. They are only available to visitors and you must purchase the exchange document online, which you then trade in once in Japan for the actual rail pass. Passes are not valid on some lines, so check before travelling.
Accommodation in Japan can likewise be fairly expensive, depending on where you are. Hostel rooms can be higher than those in Europe slightly, usually around $30 per night, but may be more in the centre of major cities like Tokyo. Avoid hotels unless you have a larger budget as many start from around $70 a night. Air Bnb’s have grown in popularity, so if you are travelling with friends in a group it will probably work out cheaper per person to rent a full home with the ability to cook some of your own meals as well with the added benefit of having privacy, rather than all paying for hostel beds.
Things To See and Do
Japan is awash with amazing cultural and historic things to see and do and you will be hard pressed to find time to be “bored” in Japan. Depending on your individual tastes and preferences, Japan has a huge ancient culture to explore including traditional onsen experiences, the bath house experience with the hot natural pools, tatami mats, tea ceremonies and calligraphy. This is a must do for anyone coming to Japan, especially if you don’t have a lot of time but want the ultimate cultural experience. Sightseeing through temples, gardens and the mountains of Japan is likewise a must do. If you’re a fan of the traditions and culture surrounding Japan’s cherry blossom season, plan your trip in the spring to coincide with the blossoming season and be sure to take part in the tradition of Hanami or Yozakura – dining under the cherry blossoms by day or night, respectively. For a true Japanese treat, head to Mount Fuji for some impressive natural beauty.
There you have a quick travel guide for first timers to Japan. With so much to see and do in this relatively small country, it’s easy to see why this continues to delight travellers time after time.