One of the most fascinating countries on earth, Japan is also one of the easiest to travel. With such a varied environment - encompassing rural areas and megacities, traditionalism and modernity, exotic and familiar - Japan deserves to be at the very top of your destination list.
Japan is an endlessly fascinating country to explore, in which a unique blend of old and new come together into a single thrilling cultural landscape that can make you feel like you’re time traveling - to the past one moment, and to the future the next. A truly accessible yet still exotic destination, Japan is efficient to navigate with an unrivaled network of public transportation that connects the entire country seamlessly. English is understood widely, and the country is one of the safest on earth with a very friendly population who will go out of their way to assist you in your travels. The cuisine of Japan is world-class, and the natural beauty of the landscape is emphasized rather than diminished by manmade accents of Shinto shrines and Buddhist temples throughout. It’s no wonder that Japan is one of the top destinations for travelers, with a growing popularity every year!
If Japan is a destination at the top of your travel list – and it should be – here are some ideas for ensuring your time in Japan showcases the very best experiences the country has to offer.
1. Get out of Tokyo. Don’t get me wrong – Tokyo is an incredible city, and you should absolutely plan to spend a number of days there exploring all of its high-tech, fashion-forward splendor. The largest urban center on earth, Tokyo offers top-notch culinary, cultural, artistic, and shopping experiences, and is a vibrant cosmopolitan city that no one should miss. However, Japan has so much more to offer than the neon excitement of its capital, and it would be a mistake to spend an entire trip in Tokyo alone. For the best Japanese travel experience, it is essential to explore beyond the borders of this megacity. Venture to Kyoto for historical and traditional culture that is unrivaled anywhere else in Japan, or to Osaka for a lighthearted and upbeat city atmosphere full of zest. Smaller cities like Kanazawa or Hiroshima are also rich in history and culture, and I would argue that no trip to Japan is truly complete without a visit to the rural regions of Japan’s alpine interior. Tiny towns scattered amongst majestic towering peaks hearken back to a bygone era, and provide authentic insights into Japan at its most traditional.
2. Ride the trains. Japan’s rail system is the envy of the world, and is a clean, fast, affordable, safe, and easy way to travel nearly anywhere in the country. As a foreign traveler to Japan, a railway pass is readily obtainable and will be your ticket to exploring every corner of this beautiful nation with ease. Especially when traveling over long distances, a ride on an iconic Shinkansen, or “bullet train”, is vital. Streaking through the country at speeds up to 200 miles per hour, the Shinkansens offer a smooth ride in comfortable and spacious cabins, with spectacular views of the country as you go. While snacks and refreshments are available onboard, a truly pro-move is to stop at one of the shops on the train platforms before boarding to purchase “eki-ben”, or “train bento”, boxes for a delicious meal in transit.
3. Try the traditional. While Japan offers some of the finest standard accommodations in the world, you can sleep in a standard hotel room anywhere. Only in Japan, however, can you experience the traditional hospitality of an old-fashioned Japanese inn, or “ryokan”. These guesthouses can be found in cities and towns throughout the country, and exude the charm of a time long past. When you arrive, the departure from ordinary is immediate as you don your traditional light cotton robe, called a “yukata”, and slippers to set the tone for your ryokan experience. Meals at ryokan are included, and will reflect seasonal and regional specialties with thoughtful preparation and presentation. Before or after meals, leisure time can be spent relaxing in the bath, or “onsen”, which is sometimes communal, or meditating on the beauty of the elegant outdoor gardens which are a standard at ryokan lodgings. As the time for bed approaches, you will get to experience sleeping in a traditional tatami mat room on a fluffy futon. Truly a must-do experience for any visitor to Japan!
4. Try new and exciting food. When many people think of Japanese food, they often think of sushi, tempura, and teriyaki. Of course, Japan has some of the most delectable sushi, tempura, and teriyaki in the world, but the culinary experience of the country far exceeds these well-known staples. Seek out a yakitori bar for small, perfectly grilled skewers of protein and vegetables that pair ideally with cold, local beer. Or, try your hand at the creative process of building the perfect “okonomiyaki” savory omelet, with nearly endless options of eggs, meats, vegetables, and sauce combinations. Savor anything and everything flavored with matcha, and discover a proper bowl of delicious and authentic ramen – a true epiphany if you’ve only ever eaten “ramen” from a brick of instant noodles. From tonkatsu to unagi to udon to onigiri, there is a wealth of culinary wonders to discover and enjoy in Japan!
5. Embrace the unique. Robot cabaret shows, anime extravaganzas, and hedgehog cafes await on the lighter side of Japan. After a day exploring temples, shrines, and museums, shift gears and cut loose with an experience you can only get in Japan. There are tons of options for nearly every taste and interest, and discovering the playful side of Japan will bring out the playful side in you. So go sing karaoke as you've never done before, survive a meal at a ninja restaurant, and join in on some cosplay fun!
With an inexhaustible amount to see and do, extraordinary ease of travel, and a true cultural intersection of traditional and futuristic, Japan is rightly one of the most sought-after destinations for travelers in the world today. This list is, of course, only a start for how to optimize your next vacation in one of the most beautiful and exciting countries on earth. In Japan, the possibilities are endless!
Kellyn Reed is the founder and CEO of Summit and Horizon Travel, specializing in curating authentic and luxurious global journeys to help you discover the very best the world has to offer. Ready to start planning your next amazing adventure? Contact us at firstname.lastname@example.org to bring your ideal trip to life, and take advantage of our exclusive access to insider rates, perks, insights, and inclusions. We'll take care of every detail to ensure every vacation with us is your best vacation yet!