I was once again dreaming of faraway lands and randomly clicked ‘all destinations’ on the Skyscanner website. Tickets to Japan were quite cheap and it seemed like a yolo thing to do after an intense year of studying.
Me and a friend took the plunge.
When going to Japan, it’s important to take good notice of how big distances in between cities are. You don’t want to spend the entirety of your trip on a bullet train (even though a high speed rail ride is definitely worth the experience), so carefully draw out your travel plan up front. We had 12 days, which proved to be just enough to see both Tokyo and Kyoto, explore nature in the Japanese Alps and we even foresaw two days to climb Mount Fuji (but weather circumstances didn’t allow us to do so in the end). If you want to visit Hiroshima or Osaka, you will need more time, though.
Getting around in Japan is fairly easy. Metro lines in the cities are pretty comprehensible and even though some stations only have Japanese signs, locals will be happy to help you find the right train. The best method for exploring Japan is by bullet train or shinkansen. If you plan on taking more than two or tree longer train rides during your stay, it’s advisable to book a Japan rail pass in advance. A week pass will cost you €207, but in return you’ll get the freedom to travel as much as you want (a few restrictions apply, though).
Our trip to Japan:
We flew into Tokyo and spent our first days there, exploring the city. The city is massive, so you’ll need to plan ahead which area to visit on what day. With its old temples and shrines, its neon shopping streets and the nerdy Akihabara quarter, Tokyo has something to offer for just about anybody. Our personal highlights: the Shibuya crossing, the Tokyo Boat Cruise with its great views on the city and the Asakusa complex.
After the overwhelming experience of visiting Tokyo, we wanted to go back to basics and went to Takayama, a smaller city close to the Kamikochi Natural Reserve. Takayama is therefore the perfect base for exploring the Japanese Alps. A Nohi bus takes you to Hirayu Onsen, where you can hop onto the bus towards Kamikochi. Make sure to take warmer clothes, as the mountains get quite chilly even during summertime. The base of the Natural Reserve is touristic, but as soon as you go a bit further into the mountains, you can really enjoy the serenity and beauty of Japanese nature. The city of Takayama itself is also worth the visit. The small city center, the typical timbered houses and the mitarashi dango (try it, it’s delicious) grill stands scattered around the city give Takayama a very authentic appearance.
Even if you’d only be going to Japan for a couple of days: don’t miss out on Kyoto. While Tokyo is the business capital of Japan, Kyoto would be the cultural capital. Uncountable temples and shrines characterize the city and it is practically impossible to visit all of them. The most impressive landmark is without any doubt Fushimi Inari-taisha. If the different structures at the entrance don’t already blow your mind, the orange galleries, taking you up to the mountain, certainly will. Another great attraction is the Iwatayama Monkey Park. After a 20min hike uphill, you will enter the monkey park, where monkeys live freely and you’re the one being caged to feed them. The experience itself is amazing, and so is the view from the park, looking out on the entirety of Kyoto. From Iwatayama, it’s a small walk to the famous Arashiyama Bamboo Groves.
We took a small half-day trip to Nara from Kyoto. Nara is famous for its temples and shrines, but even more so for the deer that casually stroll through the streets. They are used to people and won’t attack. It’s important not to feed them or to eat food in their presence, because doing so will leave you surrounded.
Enjoy the amazing Japanese culture.
Get blown away by the amazing fashion at Harajuku in Tokyo, strongly contrasting with the many women in Kyoto still wearing traditional Japanese kimonos.
Go to a traditional Japanese ryokan. We stayed at the Chiyoda Inn in Tokyo and would recommend it to anyone! You need to wear Japanese slippers when entering the rooms, get to sleep on a typical futon mattress on the floor, wear kimono style robes and have access to the traditional Japanese bath.
And last but not least:
don’t miss out on Japanese food. Of course there’s sushi, but Japan is so much more than that. Try tempura, ramen and soba noodles. We had our best meal at a place called 大とら (Dai tora) in Kyoto, but even the most dodgy places usually have delicious food.
Oh... And go ahaid! Try those crazy Japanese toilets. We know you want to!
Enjoy your trip to the land of the rising sun!