If you follow me on Instagram, you would’ve seen that I recently traveled to Japan – a beautiful country filled with good food, friendly people, amazing culture, and incredibly modern technology. I would highly recommend that you add it to a bucket list! If you are planning a trip to Japan (or thinking about it), here are some tips to get you on your way.
Where to go
Despite its small size, Japan is in fact a large and varied country – there are many places to be seen, so do your research.
I went to Toyko, Takayama, Osaka, Hiroshima and Kyoto. I chose these places for a variety of reasons – Takayama for a more rural experience, Osaka for Universal Studios, and Hiroshima because of the Peace Museum and Miyajima Island.
Most Japan itineraries include Tokyo and Kyoto and for good reason. Tokyo is a world city and the most populated in the world – there is so much to do, see and eat. Kyoto is just amazing, it’s old Japan and situated within its boundaries is many of Japan’s most visited and photographed sites, including the Fushimi Inari Shrine, the Kinkajuji (Golden) Temple and the Arashiyama Bamboo Forest. I believe any trip to Japan should include a visit to both these cities.
When to go
The most popular time to go to Japan is April/ May for cherry blossom season, however, autumn is also a popular time and winter for those who are inclined to ski or snowboard.
I actually went in the wet season – in early summer, however, it only rained about three of the twenty days I was there. It was actually kind of great, I did not have to contend with long lines at tourist attractions and for most of the trip the weather was rather pleasant. However, towards the end of the trip (early July), it became incredibly hot with very high humidity – if you find that hard I would not recommend going in the midst of summer.
Japan Rail Pass
If you are planning to travel to multiple destinations (e.g. Tokyo – Kyoto – Hiroshima – Osaka – Kobe) then a Japan rail pass is your best friend. It costs just over $500 AUD and gives you unlimited travel on Japanese Rail owned lines for a set amount of time (seven days, fourteen days or twenty-one days). This comes in handy when for local travel as well, for e.g. in Tokyo there are a few JR lines between different suburbs.
This pass will allow you to pass through all gates – you just have to show your pass to the staffers working in the offices at the sides of each one – they will simply wave you through.
You activate your JR Pass by visiting a JR office – located in all major train stations. There is usually a separate line for JR passes so just follow the signs. You will visit an office like this each time you want to get a ticket for a train. Simply show them your rail pass and tell them your destination and preferred time and they will book you on the appropriate train. Alternatively, you can always wing it and use the unreserved carriages.
Japan is filled with Airbnb’s, hostels and hotels – all very clean and of high quality. It’s really up to your preferences.
I would recommend spending a couple of nights in a Ryokan – a traditional Japanese guesthouse – for a more authentic experience.
The most important thing to check with your accommodation is its centrality and nearness to a rail line or bus stop. Whilst transport in Japan is efficient, it can be quite annoying having a 40-minute commute time to the city centre. This is what happened to me in Hiroshima – I was even staying outside of any rail or tram line which made it incredibly frustrating, there were also no restaurants close by. So ensure you are staying somewhere central or at least a short walk from a rail line.
I have included a subsection for Tokyo because it is a little more complicated. Accommodation in Tokyo is expensive so get it sorted as soon as you can.
The area you stay is important – most guides recommend tourists stay in Shinjuku, but personally it wasn’t my favourite area.
I stayed in the Shiodome the first time – near Ginza and the Tsukiji Fish Market – this was a great location as Shimbashi Station has a direct line to most places in the city. Staying near a station such as this makes for an easier time in Tokyo.
The second time I stayed in Asakusa which is ‘old Japan’ and the location of the Senso-ji Temple. I really liked this area, it was pleasant to wander around and there were plenty of awesome restaurants. I would also stay in either Ueno or Tokyo.
This is a little secret that will make your trip much easier. Most places in Japan offer luggage forwarding between hotels, meaning you don’t have to drag your luggage onto trains. It’s affordable as well, costing on average $20AUD per bag.
It’s a simple process, you fill out a form (ask the hotel staff) the day before you are leaving (usually before 5pm) with the address of your next accommodation, it goes on a truck and voila, it will typically be waiting in your room when you arrive.
If you aren’t staying in hotels you can also organise this directly through the companies.
Resources I used
Let me know! Are you currently planning a trip to Japan? Or have you already been and have some tips of your own?