Modern yet perfectly fused with ancient tradition, Japan in East Asia is a volcanic archipelago; nearly two-thirds mountain and 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 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 TOP 5 THINGS TO DO
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 once a Shogun’s retirement villa and is now a Zen Buddhist Temple. Admire the pond next to Kinkakuji and the golden reflection of the temple that can be seen in the water. Also not to be missed here are a garden at Royanji and 17 World Heritage sites.
Art Island Gallery Hopping
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 small fishing village has numerous wooden buildings converted into permanent art installations.
Spend The Night In A Temple
For a very long time, Mount Koya has been a pilgrimage center. You can visit the Okunion Cemetery and a number of temples that were built in Daishi’s honor. So why not 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 and the opportunity to join the monks for morning prayers.
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. The event opens at 8am and the wrestling starts at around 2pm when the senior wrestlers hit the ring. Purchase your tickets a month in advance so you don’t miss out.
Visit Nishibama Beach
This 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. If this beach is too crowded for you during the summer don’t worry, there are lots of other more serene beaches on the other side of the island.
Read more: Top 10 Things To Do On A Trip To Japan
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Bucket Bunny List of the top 25 Asia travel adventures.
Meet Komodo Dragons, camp at the Gates of Hell or do a Silk Road overland tour. Enjoy browsing our top 25 Asia Travel Adventures and be inspired to tick off a few yourself.
JAPAN TOP 3 FESTIVALS
Gion Matsuri (Kyoto)
Gion Matsuri is possibly the most popular Japanese festival. It takes place in July and goes on for the entire month. The highlight of the festival is the grand procession of floats “Yamaboko Junko” that take place on the 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 1st as per the Georgian calendar but the Shogatsu celebrations start much before that and continue several days after New Years day. The Japanese believe that eating soba or buckwheat noodles at midnight brings good health and so they start their New Year by doing this. 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. This is an old tradition and is a televised event with national celebrities taking part and small stages are set up all across the country. In the mame maki ceremony, people throw beans to drive away evil spirits with the belief that this will fix all their problems. Basically 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?!
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 spoken in Japan are Ainu, Bonin, English, Nivkh, and Orok.
Currency: Japanese Yen.
Visa: You need to apply for a tourist visa (valid for 90 days) before entering Japan. You can stay in Japan for a maximum of 15 days under single entry regulation. In order to apply for a tourist visa you must 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. Use these free online visa checker and calculator tools so you know if a visa for Japan is required (which depends on the country you’re from) and if so, how long it will take to process your visa and the cost.
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 new country you visit.
Lonely Planet Japan: Check price on Amazon
WHAT TO EAT IN JAPAN
Some of the most delicious, traditional dishes that you must try when in Japan are listed below. Don’t drool.
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 fancy image its origin is quite humble and it originated as street food.
Tempura: This light and fluffy dish is Japan’s contribution to the lovers of deep fried food. Vegetables and seafood are coated with batter and then deep fried in sesame oil. It is accompanied with a soy sauce flavored broth with grated radish added to it. Don’t forget to include the 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.
Tonkatsu: These are deep-fried pork cutlets rolled in bread. They are soft, succulent and will melt in your mouth. Tonkatsu is usually served with miso soup and lots of shredded cabbage.
Ramen: The most common late night meal in Japan. With four different soup styles, Ramen is a specialty of many local restaurants and can be prepared and served up in no time at all.
WHERE TO STAY IN JAPAN
Japan is a reasonably affordable place to visit. Finding excellent accommodation in Japan is super easy because there’s so many options whatever your budget.
Hostels and dormitories make travel to Japan affordable for backpackers and any travelers on a shoe-string budget. Whether you’re a backpacker, flash-packer or a luxury vacationer, Japan will not disappoint you. A basic hotel room in Japan can cost less than $30 dollars.
If you’re looking for accommodation that includes western amenities and comforts then there will be more options to choose from in the big cities and popular tourist hotspots like Tokyo, Fukuoka, Hiroshima and Osaka. If you’re traveling to Japan during peak season or wish 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 destination you know!
Jetset Bunny recommends using Booking.com for the best accommodation deals in Japan. However, if you are backpacking in Japan or traveling on a tight budget then Hostel World is another great option. Staying in hostels makes travel in East Asia very affordable and is also a great way to meet new travel buddies.
PLAN YOUR TRIP
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 generally an affordable destination for travelers on all budgets. The cost of your trip to Japan really depends on the level of comfort you will expect while here. If you are backpacking and planning on staying in dormitories, hostels and eating street food then budget between $30 to $50 a day. If you prefer to stay in 3-4 star hotel rooms and eat in mid-range restaurants you could spend anywhere between $50 to $100 per day. If you want to enjoy luxury 4-5 star accommodation and gourmet restaurants then budget about $100 to $200 plus a day.
IS JAPAN SAFE FOR FEMALE TRAVELERS?
Safety is a concern for most people traveling to Japan. Pick-pocketing, bag-snatching and other scams to take advantage of tourists are common. 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 do your research before you go and avoid these places. Based on many years of solo travel in East Asia I would never leave home without travel insurance and recommend checking out the travel insurance plan that World Nomads can offer you a few weeks before your Japan trip.
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JAPAN TOURS & ACTIVITIES
JAPAN PACKING TIPS
Packing for a trip to Japan, like most other places in East Asia, is a breeze. You really don’t need as much travel gear as you may think for a trip to Japan and it’s always best to travel light whenever possible.
That said, the gear you do bring on your trip should be the very best option available for you and that doesn’t always mean the most expensive. Jetset Bunnies around the globe are always discovering the latest and the greatest in travel gear for women and this is where we share our fabulous finds with you.
It’s so easy to travel light in hotter climates just remember to pack lightweight and breathable lose-fitting clothing. Be prepared for very cold morning and evenings depending on the month you visit and pack a warm sweater, coat, gloves and hat.
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. Read our related blog post with advice on how to choose the best backpacks for women travelers. Smaller items to pack include a padlock, sleep sheet and a money belt to keep important documents close to you.