In recent years I have visited Japan twice. The first time I went to Japan with my boyfriend, my brother and his girlfriend. We took a fairly standard trip around Japan. The second time my boyfriend and I attended a wedding in Tokyo and afterwards we went on a bike tour in Hokkaido. Something totally different, but a truly unforgettable experience. Never have so many people stared at me in my life. 😉
Since Japan is a country where tourism is on the rise, I frequently get asked about my experiences there by people who would like to explore the country by themselves. So that’s why I decide to combine some of my tips for traveling to Japan.
- Look into buying a Japan Rail Pas. It is not always the cheapest way to get around Japan, but you can’t travel to Japan and not experience the marvel that is the shinkansen (Japanes bullet train).
- Book at least one stay in a ryokan. An authentic Japanese experience you simply can’t miss out on: sleeping on tatami mats, enjoying bathing in an onsen (women and men strictly separated).
- If you’re lost or don’t know how to do something, ask help. Japanese people are very friendly, they will always try to help you the best they can. Don’t know how to buy a ticket to your destination. Give your wallet to a Japanese bystander and they will do the purchase for you and even accompany you tot the right train track.
- Visit a traditional Japanse onsen. But make sure to clean yourself thoroughly before entering the hot pool. Japanese people don’t want any filthy people in their baths.
- Don’t forget to take part in a traditional Japanese tea ceremony. Drinking tea isn’t as straight forward as you thought!
- Go for food in a traditional Izakaya and ask for recommendations. Be adventurous about your food. I have hardly ever had a bad meal in Japan. Don’t worry about food hygiene, Japanese cooks know what that are doing. Remember: Japanese food is so much more than sushi. Tip if you like sushi, but don’t want to pay too much: kaiten sushi.
When to visit?
Most websites will say: in spring, so you can enjoy the cherry blossoms (sakura) or in autumn so you can enjoy the beautiful red and yellow colors of the leaves. But if you asked me, each season has its own charm. I would love to return to Hokkaido in winter, to participate in a snow festival. Be warned though, summers on Honshu can be very hot and humid.
- Japan National Tourism Organisation
- Japan travel guide
- Lonely Planet
- Only in Japan youtube channel: Great movies about Japanese food and culture.
- Abroad in Japan: Hilarious sarcastic British humor, combined with great inside information on Japan.
- Simon and Martina: Lovely couple exploring Japan.
- Japan Rail Pass. If you’re not sure if it’s worth buying a rail pass, use the Japan Rail Pass Calculator.
- IC cards are rechargeable cards that can be used to to pay public transportation fares and to make payments at vending machines, shops and restaurants. Examples are Pasmo and Suica.
- Domestic flights: domestic flight are rather cheap in Japan.
- Or you can always rent a car. Don’t forget your international driver’s licence! And be warned: in rural areas signs won’t be translated in English. Oh and one more thing: in Japan they drive on the left side of the road.
Where to stay?
- Ryokan association
- Hostels: the cheapest option available
- Business hotels: very small rooms, but value for money
- Booking.com: obvious…
What to eat (besides sushi, of course):
- Okonomiyaki: a kind a savory pancake
- Sukiyaki: a hot pot dish
- Japanese Noodles: ramen is of course the most known dish in Europe and the United States, but don’t forget to try the soba or udon noodles.
- Gyoza: those dumplings are one of my favorite dishes
- Teriyaki: who doesn’t love the sweet taste of teriyaki?
- Kushiyaki: skewered and grilled meat, seafood or vegetables. Also known as yakitori (although this term is mostly reserved for chicken skewers).
- Wagyu beef: if you can afford it
- Mochi: a Japanese rice cake. Traditionally eaten at New Year, but available year round. You can also have mochi ice cream, which is very good.
- Do try some Japanese fruit: so much tastier than the fruit we are used to!
Please let me know in the comments if you have any further questions.