Are You Traveling to Japan?
Notes from a resident traveler.
They say planning is the best part of any trip. Well, maybe not so much when your destination is Japan.1 There are some positive reasons beyond this first-world problem, like the abundance of places that all catch your attention but are impossible to fit into a one or two-week-long itinerary. But then there are also legitimately challenging aspects, including the lack of English sources about some lesser known but visit-worthy destinations, phone booking requirements still applicable in the case of a surprisingly large selection of accommodation, and a general language barrier that greets you long before you arrive in Japan.
I am not a travel guide writer or even a useful travel blogger. Most of my posts involve ramblings or my highly subjective opinions about destinations rather than helpful tips. But there are still a few posts from my website that may hopefully help you when planning your trip to Japan. Some of these include destination suggestions (cities, hiking routes, islands, hot springs), and some lay out several tips to help reduce your travel costs. There is even a post listing Japan-themed books that may make a good companion on any trip to Japan.
Places to visit in Japan other than Kyoto and Tokyo
There are countless places to visit in Japan, and this is not an exaggeration. I have been living in Japan for more than four years and have spent the better part of those years traveling around the country both for leisure and work trips, and there are still countless and fairly well-known places that I have not yet had a chance to visit.
Assuming that Tokyo and Kyoto are already in your itinerary (and I think there is nothing wrong with that), in this post, I wrote about several destinations that you can easily fit into a week or two-week itinerary that is centered around Tokyo and/or Kyoto: Where to Visit in Japan Other than Tokyo and Kyoto?
Japan money-saving tips
Please believe me when I say Japan is not as expensive as it is infamously known to be. Yes, it is not a budget destination, but I believe it is substantially cheaper than most Western destinations.
In this post – Traveling Japan on Budget – I listed some of my tips to reduce your travel costs in Japan, touching upon some transportation tips, accommodation options, and alternative eatery suggestions.
Best hostel experiences in Japan
The hygiene standards in Japan are so high that you usually do not need to spend a fortune to have access to a decent night’s sleep while traveling in Japan.
From B&B style accommodation (minshuku in Japanese) to business hotels and high-end ryokans, there is a rich category of accommodation options that will please almost anyone. If you are into hostel-style accommodation, the country, thanks to a hostel movement now spread outside of big cities like Tokyo and Osaka, is home to many stylish hostels that rival hotel-style accommodations. Here is a selection of some of my favorite hostels in Japan.
Where to experience Japanese hot springs
Japan has nearly 3000 onsen facilities, and everyone has their favorite. The ones that I tend to like more are the stand-alone onsen ryokans/huts that are not part of a larger onsen town or the onsen towns where each facility enjoys a secluded location; Nyuto Onsen Village in Akita is a good example.
It sure took me a while to get used to the onsen culture in Japan (even though I am from Turkey, which has its own unique public bath culture), but I now cannot imagine finishing a day of hiking without a visit to an onsen. Many people feel shy and worried about the nudity requirement (I was), but honestly, no one really cares, no one makes you feel uncomfortable, and you get used to it very quickly. These are some of my favorite onsen/hot springs in Japan.
Where to go hiking in Japan
I spend almost all my vacation days, including long holidays visiting hiking destinations within and outside Japan. Japan is a wonderful country to hike, especially if you are into solo hiking. It is safe, and the trails are easily accessible thanks to the efficient public transportation network covering the entire country.
The diversity of the hiking options within Japan is also another appeal. You can explore ancient pilgrimage routes during weeks or days-long hikes or hike right next to an active volcano. These are some of my favorite hiking trails in Japan.
Walking the pilgrimage routes of Japan
Japan is home to many pilgrimage routes that, for centuries, hosted worshippers traveling between Buddhist temples. Walking these pilgrimage routes introduces you to the side of Japan that I deeply appreciate: the harmony between culture, nature, and spirituality.
One of the most famous pilgrimage routes in the country is the Kumano Kodo, which is listed as a UNESCO Heritage Site. There are four main routes that form the Kumano Kodo. The most popular one is Nakahechi, for all the right reasons: incredible scenery and reliable travel infrastructure. But my favorite is the lesser known Iseji Route, which takes you through picturesque fishing villages. Having walked both trails of Kumano Kodo, I believe you will have a wonderful experience regardless of the route you choose.
Shikoku route that connects 88 Buddhist Temples is another very popular pilgrimage route that takes up to two months. I only explored parts of the Shikoku Pilgrimage Route and wrote about my experience: Walking Shikoku.
Kyoto travel guide, accommodation, eateries and sights
Kyoto is one of my favorite cities not only in Japan but in the entire world. I try to visit the city at least two-three times a year and always find a new site to get excited about.
In this post, I listed some of my favorite Kyoto related travel suggestions.
Get off the mainland, best island experiences in Japan
As an island nation home to approximately 14,000 islands (you might have read the recent news where it was reported that Japan just discovered another 7,000 islands forming part of its territory that it was not aware of the existence before), the islands of Japan are home to an abundance of nature and cultural sites rivaling those on the mainland.
While there are plenty of sites to see on mainland Japan, I have always been captured by the allure of its smaller islands, where one can truly feel the enigmatic sense of disconnection that only a piece of land detached from the mainland can bring. These are some of my favorite islands in Japan.
Where to experience the fall colors in Japan
Autumn, is in my view, best season to visit Japan. Starting in November, the weather becomes relatively more reliable (with the typhoon season being over), there are – often – less crowds than the more popular spring/sakura season and the colors are simply wonderful.
Books to read before or during your trip to Japan
Japan is culturally one of the most fascinating countries, but it does not unveil itself quickly. The language barrier, a very strong one, makes it difficult to get a deeper understanding of the traditions and cultural context that make the country a unique destination.
But fortunately, there is an extensive selection of books about Japan originally written in English or translated into English that help one to put initial observations about the country in a better context or get pre-acquainted with its culture before the trip. These are some of my book suggestions, each touching upon a different aspect of the country’s culture that may make good companions for a trip to Japan.
This is a collection of some of my posts in this blog that was written with the aim to help first time or repeat travelers to Japan. And if you have any specific questions, you can always reach me via the email in the footer. I always write back.