Japan is truly timeless and one of the most interesting countries in East Asia. In Japan the modern lifestyle is perfectly fused with ancient tradition.
Superficially, you will find Japan exceedingly modern but when you travel around it you will realize that the country has a rich traditional culture as well. This volcanic archipelago is nearly two third-mountains with a seemingly endless reserve of hot springs
Japanese cities with their neon-lit streets look like a set from the latest sci-fi movie. Glide with ease and perfect efficiency across the city using subways or the Shinkansen bullet trains. Whether it’s the splendor of the Geisha dance of Kyoto or the beautiful Zen Rock Garden, Japan can captivate even the most hard to please traveler.
Japan Travel Info
Language: The official language of Japan is Japanese. In addition to Japanese, Ryukyuan languages are spoken in Okinawa and parts of the Ryukyu Islands. Other minority languages spken in Japan are Ainu, Bonin, English, Nivkh, and Orok.
Currency: Japanese Yen.
Visa: You need to get a tourist visa before entering Japan. A tourist visa is valid for 90 days. You can stay in Japan for a maximum of 15 days under single entry regulation. In order to apply for a tourist visa, ensure you have a valid passport with at least two blank pages, a completed visa application form, a copy of your travel itinerary, flight and hotel tickets, and your round trip or tour ticket. Fee for single or multiple entry visas for Indian Nationals is USD 6.70. For other nationals, the fee for single entry Visa is USD 24.34 and for a multiple entry Visa is USD 48.52.
Electricity: Voltage in Japan is 100 Volt with a frequency of 50 Hz in eastern Japan and 60 Hz in western Japan. Electric plugs have two non-polarized pins. Power outlets are exactly like the ungrounded North American Outlets. Although most of the outlets are polarized these days, you can find some non-polarized outlets too at some places. I recommend bringing a Universal Travel Adapter so you don’t need to keep buying new adapters for each country you visit.
Japan Festivals & Celebrations
Gion Matsuri (Kyoto): Gion Matsuri is believed to be the most popular Japanese festival. It takes place in July and continues for the entire month. The highlight of the festival is the grand procession of floats “Yamaboko Junko” that takes place on 17th and 24th of the month on Kawaramachi and Oike Streets of Kyoto.
Shogatsu (New Year): New Year is taken very seriously in Japan. Just like any other country, Japan celebrates the new year on January 1 as per the Georgian calendar but the Shogatsu celebrations start much before that and continue several days post the new year day. Japanese believe that eating soba or buckwheat noodles at midnight brings good health and so they start their new year in this fashion. At dawn, the emperor of Japan prays for the nation. At midnight the bells at the Buddhist temples ring 108 times. The prime focus of Shogatsu is to bring prosperity to the upcoming year.
Setsubun (Bean-Throwing Festival): Setsubun kicks off the Haru Matsuri or the spring festival of Japan. Although the tradition is old, now it has become a televised event with national celebrities participating. Small stages are set all across the country. Small gifts and candies are thrown at crowds that collect them with loads of enthusiasm. In the mame maki ceremony, people throw beans to drive away the evil spirits with the belief that this will fix all their problems. One family member wears a demon mask and acts as the evil spirit and the rest of the family shouts at him and throws beans until he leaves. Sounds kinda fun, we all have at least one family member we’d like to throw a few beans at right?!
Safety In Japan
Safety is a concern for most people traveling to Japan. Bag-snatching, pick-pocketing and other scams to take advantage of tourists are common in some places. Female travelers should take care to dress appropriately and be extra careful when walking alone or at night. Some parts of Japan are dangerous so always do your own research before you go and make sure that you avoid dis-reputable places. Based on many years of solo travel around East Asia I wouldn’t leave home without travel insurance. I recommend checking out the travel insurance plan that World Nomads can offer you a few weeks before your Japan trip. It’s always better to be safe than sorry!
Top 10 Amazing Things To Do In Japan
There are endless things to do in a country as culturally rich as Japan. Jetset Bunny has narrowed down the top ten things that you must try on your visit to this wonderful country below.
Visit Kyoto’s Ancient Sites
Kyoto has been the capital city of Japan from 794 to 1868 and is bathed in history. The most prominent structure from the past is the gold-clad Kinkakuji which was a shogun’s retirement villa long back and now is a Zen Buddhist Temple. There is a pond next to Kinkakuji and a golden reflection of the temple can be seen in the water. Other flamboyant sites are a garden at Royanji and 17 World Heritage sites that are present in Kyoto.
Gallery Hopping At Art Island
The very beautiful Naoshima in the Seto Island stands out as the best place for contemporary art in Japan. It houses three major art galleries and several small art venues; the best among them being the Tadao-Ando designed Benesse House.
On display are works by artists like Bruce Nauman, David Hockney, and Frank Stella. But art in Naoshima is not restricted to just these galleries. Nineteen spectacular outdoor installations adorn the beachfront of Benesse while Honmura, a sloppy fishing village has numerous wooden buildings converted into permanent art installations.
Spend a Night in a Temple
Since a very long time, Mount Koya has been a pilgrimage center where besides wandering the eerie you can visit the Okunion Cemetery and a number of temples build in Daishi’s honor and spend a night at one of the top temples of the Koya Mountain. One such place that welcomes guests from all over is the Eco-inn. It provides guests with a typical Koya experience- a peaceful tatami mat room, multi-course vegetarian meals served on lacquerware and the opportunity to join the monks for morning prayers.
Soak In Natural Hot Spring
For centuries Japanese have been using natural hot spring water or Communal onsens to heal and relax. Since the past 1300 years, bathers have been using the hot spring bath at Dogo, Shikoku and it is still the most sorted after onsen resort. It is not necessary for you to go to Dogo for a soak. There are endless Ryokan and public baths with onsens that are worth stripping off for.
Experience Traditional Japanese Accommodation
The elegant interiors, the soft smelling tatamis, the perfect service, multi-course meals of seasonal produce, the hot spring baths, the serenity all come together to give you an unforgettable experience at a traditional Japanese Inn. The experience is one of a kind but it is rather expensive with a room with meals costing up to ¥100,000 (roughly 900 USD) per night. There are cheaper visions too that are a bit pocket-friendly costing less than ¥10,000 (roughly 90 USD) per night.
Watch Sumo Wrestling at Ryogoku Kokugikan
The tournament takes place in January, May, and September for 15 days. If you are in Japan during the period, catch the big boys in action in the largest sumo stadium of Japan. Entry starts at 8 a.m. but the main action starts at around 2 p.m. when the senior wrestlers hit the ring. You can purchase the tickets a month prior to the day of the tournament.
Visit Nagasaki Atomic Bomb Museum
This is a hardcore Nagasaki experience. The place narrates the tale of destruction and loss of life through pictures and artifacts including mangled trees, rocks, furniture, clothes, pottery, a clock that stopped at 11.02, stories of heroic efforts to provide relief and firsthand narration from survivors. This historical yet heartbreaking exhibit also includes post-bombing fight for nuclear disarmament.
Hike in the Northern Alps
The peaks of the Northern Alps are just breathtaking and are the most visited hiking ground of Japan. The gateway to the area is the town of Kamikochi and here you can go for a day-long hike or opt for a week-long adventure that can test the strength of the fittest of hikers. During summers some of the popular hiking points can be sprawling with hikers but during autumns or on weekdays the area is peaceful and you can enjoy hiking on its 10,000 foot high peaks and virgin forests.
Visit Postcard Perfect Nishibama Beach
The island is surrounded by picturesque beaches on all sides but the 1 kilometer stretch of white sand on the north-east coast called the Nishibama Beach is the most beautiful of all. You can just relax on the beach and unwind with cool breeze playing in your hair. The beach can be crowded during summers but there are other serene beaches as well on the other side of the island.
A Trip to Miho Museum
The museum lies in the midst of hills and valleys at a secluded spot near the Shigaraki Village. This beautiful museum displays the Koyama family collection of Japanese, Chinese, Middle-Eastern and South-Asian art. The museum is also as grand as the collection it holds. The main building is the design of the architect IM Pei and you can walk through a pedestrian tunnel that opens into a gorge and leads to the main building.
What To Eat In Japan
The list is long with a number of exotic dishes for which Japan is famous across the globe. The food is essentially nutritious with super fresh seasonal ingredients. I have picked five dishes to look for when visiting Japan.
Sushi: In simple terms, Sushi is raw fish served with rice and topped with vinegar. It comes in a number of flavors like creamy uni, tangy, juicy, ama-ebi (sweet shrimp) and other interesting variants. Although Sushi has a supercilious image yet its origin is quite humble. It was originated as a street food.
Tempura: This light and fluffy dish is Japan’s contribution to the lovers of deep fried food. Vegetables and seafood is coated with batter and are then deep fried in sesame oil. This is then sided with a soy sauce flavored broth with grated radish added to it. You must also indulge in ebi-ten (tempura prawns).
Soba: These are thin and long buckwheat noodles that have been a staple of Japanese cuisine for a long time, especially in the mountain areas. The noodles are eaten with either a hot, soy sauce flavored broth or on a bamboo mat with broth for dipping. If you do not like noodles dipped in the soup, the second alternative is better for you.
Tonkatsu: These are deep-fried pork cutlets rolled in bread. It is soft, succulent and will melt in your mouth, served on the side with miso soup and lots of shredded cabbage.
Ramen: Ramen is the favorite late night meal of Japan. This has been imported from China and then completely modified by the locals to make it their own. With four different soup styles, Ramen is a specialty of many local restaurants that can be prepared and served in no time.
Where To Stay In Japan
Finding great accommodation in Japan is usually really easy because there’s such a large variety of options to choose from no matter what the size of your budget. Hostels and dormitories cost between $6-12 and make travel to Japan affordable and often more enjoyable too for backpackers and travelers on a shoe-string budget.
If you’re visiting Japan during peak season or would prefer to stay in a luxury hotel then it’s wise to book your accommodation in advance. Don’t wait until you arrive to see what’s available or you may be disappointed to find that all the best places to stay have already been snapped up. Japan is a very popular year-round travel destination.
Jetset Bunny recommends using Booking.com for the best accommodation deals in Japan.
If you’re backpacking in Japan or traveling on a tight budget then Hostel World is another great option. Staying in hostels makes travel in Asia very affordable and is also a great way to meet new travel buddies.
Japan Trip Planner
Best Time to Visit Japan
Top Japan destinations like Tokyo, Osaka and Kyoto aren’t weather reliant and the weather conditions at any time of year won’t affect your trip to these large cities. However the best time to visit Japan in general is between April and May and also September and October. This is when most of the main tourist destinations will have their best weather (not too hot or cold). Summer time is between June and August and if you don’t mind crowds (particularly Japanese families with children) and heat it’s a good time to visit too. For lower prices visit Japan in winter between November and March which is considered low season. Wrap up warm because Japan can get very cold.
Japan Travel Budget
Japan is an affordable destination for travelers on all budgets, high and low. The cost of your trip to Japan depends on the comfort level you want while here. If you’re backpacking and planning on staying in hostels and basic food then budget between $20 and $35 a day. If you’re looking to stay in private rooms and eat in mid-range restaurants you could spend anywhere between $35 to $100 per day. If you want to enjoy luxury 4-5 star accommodation and gourmet restaurants in places like Tokyo, Osaka and Kyoto then budget about $150 to $300 plus a day.
- Budget: $6-12
- Mid-range: $12-$50
- Splurge: $100+
Meal For One
- Budget: $2.00-$8.00
- Mid-range: $8-$15
- Splurge: $15-$60
Japan Packing Guide
Packing for a trip to Japan, like most other places in east Asia, is a breeze if you think ahead and know what kind of weather to expect. East Asia climates, depending on the time of year can go from being scorching hot to freezing cold. So pack lightweight and breathable lose fitting clothing for a Summer trip and warm rainproof clothing for winter visits.
If you forget to pack something for your Japan trip you can buy anything you need in the larger cities such as Tokyo, Osaka and Kyoto.
Other essential items to pack for a trip to Japan include, most importantly, a good quality travel backpack. Choose the brand carefully and make sure you find the right size backpack for your torso. Believe me, doing this will make all the difference and prevent major backache. Smaller items to pack include a padlock for any valuables particularly if you’re staying in hostels or dormitories and a money belt to keep important documents close to you while on the go.
For the full list of everything you need to pack for a trip to Japan check out the Jetset Bunny Ultimate Asia Packing List.