Japan Travel Guide: Top 101 Things To Do In Japan For Visitors

Situated in the eastern part of Asia, Japan, often referred to as the ‘Land of the Rising Sun’, stands as a testament to the harmonious blend of ancient traditions and modern advancements. A nation that once secluded itself from the rest of the world, Japan has since blossomed into a global powerhouse, all while preserving its rich cultural tapestry. Travelers to this mesmerizing archipelago are often struck by its ability to convey a profound sense of history, spirituality, and innovation at every turn.

Japan Travel Guide Artistic Interpretation Of Japanese Flag

Geography and Landscape

Japan is an archipelago made up of 6,852 islands, with the four largest being Honshu, Hokkaido, Kyushu, and Shikoku. Each region offers a unique landscape, climate, and experience. From the snow-capped peaks of Hokkaido to the tropical beaches of Okinawa, the geographical diversity ensures there’s something for every type of traveler.

Historical Overview

The annals of Japanese history are filled with tales of samurai warriors, imperial dynasties, and philosophical movements. Early inhabitants, the Jomon people, left behind intricate pottery and relics that provide a glimpse into life thousands of years ago. Fast-forward to more recent times, and we see Japan transforming from a feudal state to a modern empire, and then rebuilding itself post-World War II into an economic juggernaut. The palaces, shrines, and historical sites that dot the country allow visitors to step back in time and immerse themselves in Japan’s riveting past.

Culture and Traditions

Steeped in centuries of tradition, Japanese culture is an amalgamation of indigenous practices, influenced in part by China, Korea, and other Asian neighbors. Key elements such as tea ceremonies, ikebana (flower arranging), martial arts, and the intricacies of Geisha culture are just a few facets of this multifaceted society. Festivals like Tanabata, Obon, and Cherry Blossom festivals paint the streets with color, dance, and celebration, offering travelers a chance to participate in local customs.

Innovations and Modernity

Yet, it isn’t just tradition that defines Japan. The bustling metropolis of Tokyo stands as a testament to Japan’s technological prowess and forward-thinking mindset. Gleaming skyscrapers, high-speed Shinkansen trains, and advancements in robotics and electronics position Japan as a leader in global innovation. Areas like Akihabara in Tokyo, also known as “Electric Town”, offer a glimpse into the future with its tech shops, anime, and maid cafes.

Cuisine

Japanese cuisine, or ‘washoku’, is renowned worldwide for its delicate balance of flavors, aesthetic appeal, and deep-rooted traditions. From the freshest sushi in Tsukiji Fish Market to the heartwarming bowls of ramen found across the country, every dish tells a story. Regional specialities, such as Okonomiyaki in Osaka or Hakata Ramen in Fukuoka, offer travelers a culinary journey through the nation.

Nature and Spirituality

Intertwined with its rich history and culture is Japan’s reverence for nature and spirituality. The Shinto and Buddhist shrines, often located amidst serene landscapes, are places of worship and reflection. The iconic Mount Fuji, cherry blossom viewings, and traditional gardens reflect the nation’s deep connection to the natural world.

Japan, a nation of contrasts and continuities, invites travelers to embark on a journey that’s as much about self-discovery as it is about exploring the country. Every corner, from the tranquil temples of Kyoto to the neon-lit streets of Tokyo, holds a story, a tradition, or a moment waiting to be cherished. As you delve deeper into this guide, we hope to illuminate the myriad experiences that await in this beautiful, enigmatic land.

Welcome to Japan – where the past meets the future, and where every moment holds the promise of discovery.

Japan Travel Guide: Top 101 Things to do in Japan For Visitors

Japan Country Guide: A Brief History Of Japan

Japan, an archipelago nestled in the heart of the Pacific Ocean, boasts a rich and layered history that dates back thousands of years. This historical tapestry is filled with emperors, warriors, artisans, and philosophers, each contributing to the making of the nation we see today. For the keen-eyed visitor, understanding this history is key to truly appreciating the depth and beauty of Japanese culture.

Prehistoric Times to Early Civilizations (Up to 538 A.D.)

  • Jomon Period (circa 14,000 – 300 B.C.): This era, characterized by its cord-marked pottery, saw Japan’s first settled communities. The Jomon people were primarily hunter-gatherers, but they also practiced early forms of agriculture.
  • Yayoi Period (300 B.C. – 250 A.D.): Marked by the introduction of wet-rice farming and the formation of substantial social structures, this period saw the emergence of early Japanese states. The Yayoi people also introduced metallurgy, crafting bronze and iron objects.
  • Kofun Period (250 – 538 A.D.): This era gets its name from the large burial mounds (kofun) created for leaders and elites. The society became more militaristic and was marked by the rise of strong regional clans.

Classical Japan (538 – 1185 A.D.)

  • Asuka Period (538 – 710): This was a transformative era for Japan as Buddhism was introduced from Korea, leading to a religious and cultural revolution. The Taika Reforms attempted to centralize power, modeling the state after China’s bureaucracy.
  • Nara Period (710 – 794): The first permanent capital was established in Nara. During this period, the world’s oldest novel, “The Tale of Genji,” was written by Murasaki Shikibu. Buddhism flourished, and many temples, including the Todai-ji with its iconic Great Buddha, were constructed.
  • Heian Period (794 – 1185): The capital moved to Kyoto, where it would remain for over a millennium. This period saw the peak of imperial court culture, characterized by art, poetry, and literature.

Feudal Japan (1185 – 1868 A.D.)

  • Kamakura Period (1185 – 1333): This era marked the rise of the samurai class. The Minamoto clan established the Kamakura shogunate, the first of Japan’s military governments. Despite its military nature, this period also saw the spread of Zen Buddhism and the construction of the Kamakura Daibutsu (Great Buddha).
  • Muromachi Period (1336 – 1573): After the fall of Kamakura, the Ashikaga shogunate began its rule from the Muromachi district in Kyoto. This period was marked by political strife, but also by a cultural renaissance with the advent of tea ceremonies, Noh theater, and ink painting.
  • Sengoku Period (1467 – 1603): A time of social upheaval and almost constant military conflict among regional warlords (daimyos) vying for power. It laid the groundwork for Japan’s unification under a singular rule.
  • Edo Period (1603 – 1868): Japan entered an era of peace under the Tokugawa shogunate. The nation adopted a policy of isolation (sakoku), limiting foreign influence. Cities like Edo (modern-day Tokyo) grew in prominence, and the culture thrived with the rise of ukiyo-e woodblock prints, kabuki theater, and sumo.

Modern Japan (1868 – Present)

  • Meiji Restoration (1868 – 1912): Marking the end of the shogunate and the restoration of imperial rule, Japan underwent rapid modernization and westernization, striving to compete with the Western powers.
  • Taisho Democracy (1912 – 1926): A brief period where Japan experimented with more liberal democratic ideals.
  • Showa Period (1926 – 1989): This era, especially post World War II, saw Japan’s reconstruction and rapid economic growth, transforming it into a global powerhouse. The end of this period marked the passing of Emperor Hirohito and Japan’s ascent as a leading democratic and economic force.
  • Heisei Period (1989 – 2019): Marked by economic stagnation but also by a resurgence in cultural exports including anime, manga, and technology. The country faced challenges such as the Kobe earthquake and the Fukushima nuclear disaster.
  • Reiwa Period (2019 – Present): The current era, ushered in by Emperor Naruhito, represents a Japan looking to redefine its role in the modern world, balancing tradition and innovation.

The rich tapestry of Japan’s history offers visitors an in-depth look into the cultural, social, and political evolutions of a nation that has gracefully bridged the ancient and the modern. Every temple, castle, and street echoes with stories from bygone eras, waiting to be explored and appreciated by those who seek to understand the soul of Japan.


source: Samuel and Audrey on YouTube

Japan Top Attractions: Best Places to Visit in Japan

A string of volcanically formed islands in the North Pacific, Japan is a nation where modernity meets ancient tradition in a harmonious fashion, and one where the reserved but incredibly polite and helpful locals will do their utmost to make your visit an excellent one.  The history of this nation has been one of selective cultural openness and isolation, the result of which has been a way of life that many Westerners find amusing, confusing, and occasionally bizarre.

Long known for pursuing an isolationist stance with regards to the rest of the world outside of their nearest neighbours, modernization in Japan began in earnest after World War II, but had been ongoing before that in fits and starts. Since the middle of the 19th century, the rise of the West became impossible to ignore, with the western powers of Europe colonizing wide swathes of Southeast Asia, and the diminishing of China’s influence by the intimidating diplomatic and military power of the civilizations of Europe and America.

In response to these shocking events, Japan flung itself head-long into modernizing, which laid the foundation for the formation of the powerful empire of Japan.  In a feverish quest for resources and power, they ended up invading their neighbours in a bout of imperialism that was only quelled by the intervention of the Allied powers in World War II.  Afterwards, Japan channeled its workaholic creative energies into building the technologies of tomorrow, leading innovation in the global economy for many decades leading up to the present.

Overall, it may seem that Japan, from one’s preconceived notions, is one giant mass of urban sprawl, with no space to truly be free.  The truth is though, outside of the major cities, there are many mountains, islands, sub-tropical beaches, and world class ski slopes where one can recharge away from the hustle and bustle of Japan’s uber-modern, but densely populated cities.

Whether you seek you learn from the ancient cultural traditions of the samurai, or are hunting the more surreal and lighthearted aspects of Japan’s modern “kawai” culture, or you simply want to experience the natural diversity of Japan’s mountains, forests, volcanoes and hot springs, this nation is amply prepared to give it to you in spades.

Currency: Japanese Yen

Languages: Japanese

Kamakura Buddha Statue in Japan

Other Cultural Attractions: Trip to Japan

A country as varied and diverse as Japan is, there is never a shortage of things to see or do.  If you time your arrival in Japan during the spring months, you will be in for a treat.  During this time, cherry blossoms sweep across the nation from south to north, as the warm southerly air masses chase the cold winds of winter away.

The progress of the cherry blossoms are tracked on TV, and when they arrive in your area, productivity by the local people hits an all-time low, as they rush to relax underneath the pretty boughs of these special trees.  Join them with a bottle of sake, and you are sure to have a unique cultural experience!

In the entertainment districts of virtually all Japanese cities, there are a plethora of modern attractions to keep you entertained until the sun comes up in the morning. Head out to a Karaoke establishment with your fellow travel mates, and sing popular Western and Japanese songs (with subtitles), fuelled with confidence-boosting Japanese beer, which can be ordered from your karaoke booth in many places.

Officially, gambling in Japan is illegal, but in Pachinko parlours, you can buy steel balls and shoot them into a pachinko machine in an attempt to release enough additional steel balls.  Doing this successfully will net you tokens or a prize, which you then exchange outside the establishment for cash money.  Sneaky!

The presence of Americans in Japan well before the Second World War introduced the sport of baseball here, which became extremely popular in the ensuing decades afterwards.  These days, the most prestigious baseball team in the Nippon Professional Baseball league is undoubtedly the Yomiuri Giants in Tokyo, though games elsewhere in Japan are likely to have the same raucous atmosphere, making it a vastly different experience than watching baseball in America, where is a more sedate affair from the spectator’s standpoint.

Japan, being on the edge of the trans-Pacific Ring of Fire, has been blesses with a long chain of very high mountains referred to as the Japan Alps. Hosting the 1998 Winter Olympics in Nagano, these chains of mountains are ideal for skiing.  In Hokkaido, powder fanatics will be in hysterics, as the coastal flow off the Sea of Japan produces a non-stop conveyor belt of the fluffy white stuff, all winter long!

Those who are a little less adventurous can still find their winter bliss by indulging in the many onsens, or hot springs that dot the country from north to south.  Often, these hot spots can be found by just looking for columns of steam rising from rivers and streams, but in many cities and towns, indoor onsens can be found for your relaxation needs.  Of note, visit the hot spring capital of Beppu, where dozens of outdoor and indoor onsens await your aching muscles.

If the cold weather of winter or the chiller parts of Fall or Spring has you down, Okinawa, Japan’s subtropical paradise is but a short flight away.  On the most southerly aspect of this diverse nation, winter highs still hit 20 degrees Celsius, with lows staying above 10 degrees most of the time.  Recommended for beach lovers is the effervescent beauty that is Aharen beach, and those who love the creatures of the sea will love Churaumi Aquarium, one of the largest marine displays in the world.

A visit to Japan wouldn’t be complete without paying a visit to Mount Fuji, without a doubt, Japan’s most famous natural asset.  A very popular hike during peak season, you certainly won’t be alone ascending this vaunted peak, but the views from the top are truly breathtaking, and are not to be missed by able-bodied visitors.

For those into culture, Japan’s first religion before the introduction of Buddhism was Shinto, a faith based on animist traditions of the past.  One of its most famous landmarks is the “floating tori”, which can be visited near the city of Miyajima.

Of the original feudal period castles, only 12 remain after the extensive bombardment of the Second World War.  For those with limits on their time, Uwajima Castle is widely considered to be the most spectacular one of the bunch that still remain, dating back to the 17th century.

Finally, no visit to Japan would be complete without acknowledging one of the great humanitarian disasters of the previous century.  In Early August 1945, American bombers dropped the first (and to date, the only) nuclear weapons in a wartime situation on Hiroshima and then Nagasaki several days later.  Hundreds of thousands died immediately, with many hundreds of thousands more perishing in the ensuing months and years due to illnesses brought on by the radioactive fallout.

Stroll the peace parks found at ground zero in both cities, and note the tattered remains of the A-bomb dome in Hiroshima, while contemplating what would happen if nuclear weapons were ever to be unleashed on the world again.

Bowls of Japanese Hida Beef Noodles in Takayama, Japan

What To Eat

Given Japan’s love affair with seafood of all kinds, it is impossible to begin this discussion without acknowledging the dominance of its #1 culinary export, the humble but flavourful Sushi roll.  Sushi is typically a rice roll held together with seaweed, studded at the centre with various types of raw fish, or other types of seafood, depending on the roll in question.

For those not as affectionate towards the idea of consuming raw fish, or perhaps any seafood at all, Tonkatsu makes for an excellent alternative meal.  A long time comfort food of the Japanese, Tonkatsu is essentially a pork fillet that has been breaded with panko crumbs, and depending on the recipe, may be occasionally stuffed with cheese.

Finally, those looking for a warm hug on a chilly day in Japan turn to the many noodle dishes on offer throughout this long island chain. Noodles here typically come in three different varieties: Udon, a thick, round noodle made of wheat; Soba, a flat noodle made of buckwheat; and Ramen, a Chinese style egg noodle.  Of the three, Ramen tends to be the most expensive due to its focus on being served with a variety of ingredients (pork + a boatload of vegetables, usually).


source: Samuel and Audrey on YouTube

Top 101 Things To Do In Japan For Visitors

With a rich history, distinct regional cultures, and avant-garde modernity, Japan offers a plethora of experiences. Here are 101 things you should consider doing when visiting the Land of the Rising Sun:

Nomadic Samuel staying at a traditional Ryokan in Takayama, Japan

Cultural and Historical Experiences:

  1. Tokyo’s Shibuya Crossing: Beyond its fame as the world’s busiest pedestrian crossing, it offers an unparalleled experience of modern urban Japan.
  2. Stay in a Ryokan: These traditional inns, often family-run, provide an immersive experience of Japan’s age-old hospitality with tatami rooms, futon beds, and often, traditional meals.
  3. Hiroshima’s Peace Memorial Park: More than a tourist spot, it’s a somber reminder of the 1945 atomic bomb’s devastation, promoting peace and a world without nuclear weapons.
  4. Nara: Beyond just Todai-ji Temple and its colossal Buddha statue, Nara offers many historical temples, museums, and the ever-friendly deer of Nara Park.
  5. Gion, Kyoto: This district comes alive with its wooden machiya merchant houses, tea houses where geiko (Kyoto dialect for geisha) entertain, and traditional shops.
  6. Attend a traditional Tea Ceremony: Dive deep into the ritualistic preparation and consumption of matcha, reflecting the Zen principles of harmony, respect, purity, and tranquility.
  7. Watch a Kabuki Performance: This classic Japanese dance-drama, known for its stylized drama and makeup, offers a unique theatrical experience.
  8. Edo-Tokyo Museum: This architectural marvel provides detailed insights into Tokyo’s transformation from a small fishing village to a global mega-city.
  9. Stay in Mount Koya’s Buddhist Temples: Experience shojin ryori (Buddhist vegetarian cuisine) and join the morning prayers for a spiritual immersion.

Natural Wonders:

  1. Climb Mount Fuji: Japan’s iconic peak offers breathtaking views, especially during sunrise.
  2. Arashiyama Bamboo Grove, Kyoto: A mesmerizing forest pathway surrounded by towering bamboo stalks, often described as a surreal experience.
  3. Snow Monkeys of Jigokudani: These Japanese macaques are known to unwind in hot springs, offering a unique wildlife spectacle.
  4. Hike the Kumano Kodo Pilgrimage Routes: Ancient pilgrimage routes in the Kii mountain range, these trails are UNESCO World Heritage sites.
  5. Kawachi Fuji Gardens: Experience the mesmerizing Wisteria Tunnel, especially during full bloom.
  6. Tottori Sand Dunes: Japan’s largest sand dunes offer a desert-like experience, complete with camel rides.
  7. Oirase Stream, Aomori: A picturesque stream known for its waterfalls, especially enchanting during autumn.

Japanese street food in Osaka, Japan

Culinary Delights:

  1. Tsukiji Fish Market: Beyond sushi, it’s a seafood haven where one can sample everything from seared tuna to fresh oysters.
  2. Dotonbori, Osaka: A gastronomic paradise known for street foods such as takoyaki (octopus balls) and okonomiyaki (savory pancakes).
  3. Sample Kobe Beef in its birthplace, Kobe: This marbled delicacy is a must-try for meat lovers.
  4. Attend a Sake Tasting: Dive into Japan’s signature rice wine, understanding its brewing process and varieties.
  5. Try Kaiseki: Experience this traditional multi-course meal, reflecting the seasons and the chef’s artistry.


source: Samuel and Audrey on YouTube

Modern Marvels and Pop Culture:

  1. Experience Akihabara: Tokyo’s electronic and otaku culture hub, filled with gadgets, anime, and manga.
  2. Ride the Shinkansen (Bullet Train): Marvel at Japanese engineering while traveling between cities at breakneck speeds.
  3. Visit Odaiba: This man-made island in Tokyo Bay offers shopping, dining, entertainment, and the futuristic digital art museum, TeamLab Borderless.
  4. Robot Restaurant, Tokyo: An eccentric mix of neon lights, electronic music, and robot-themed performances.
  5. Explore Harajuku’s Takeshita Street: A vibrant street known for its quirky fashion, trendy boutiques, and themed cafes.

 

Recreational and Relaxation Activities:

  1. Relax in an Onsen: These natural hot springs, often surrounded by scenic views, are perfect for relaxation and rejuvenation.
  2. Attend a Sumo Match: Dive into this ancient sport, understanding its rituals and witnessing the sheer might of the wrestlers.
  3. Niseko Skiing: World-renowned for its powder snow, it’s a paradise for ski enthusiasts.
  4. Sing Karaoke in Shinjuku: Whether in a small private booth or a grand stage, unleash your inner pop star in the birthplace of karaoke.
  5. Cruise on the Otaru Canal: Especially romantic during the evening when the antique gas lamps are lit.

Art and Craft:

  1. Experience Ukiyo-e: Dive into the traditional world of Japanese woodblock printing, and perhaps, attend a workshop.
  2. Explore Naoshima: This island is a hub for contemporary art, with numerous museums and outdoor installations.
  3. Tour the Ritsurin Garden in Takamatsu: Recognized as a masterpiece of garden design, reflecting Japanese aesthetics.
  4. Visit Kanazawa’s Geisha Areas: Explore the well-preserved districts of Higashi-Chaya and Kazuemachi, offering a glimpse of the geisha world and traditional crafts.

Shopping and Entertainment:

  1. Shop in Ginza: This upscale shopping district offers everything from luxury brands to traditional crafts.
  2. Experience Roppongi’s Nightlife: Known for its clubs, bars, and vibrant night scenes.
  3. Osaka’s Shinsaibashi Shopping Arcade: A shopping street with a mix of modern retailers and traditional shops.
  4. Visit Tokyo Disneyland and DisneySea: Dive into the magic of these theme parks with a Japanese twist.

Sacred Sites and Spiritual Experiences:

  1. Fushimi Inari Shrine, Kyoto: Wander through the iconic thousand vermilion torii gates that lead up the sacred Mount Inari.
  2. Itsukushima Shrine on Miyajima Island: Known for the iconic floating torii gate, this UNESCO World Heritage site offers a serene setting amidst the sea.
  3. Visit Ise Jingu: Regarded as the holiest of all Shinto shrines, this complex is dedicated to the sun goddess Amaterasu.
  4. Nikko’s Historic Shrines and Temples: A UNESCO World Heritage site, Nikko is home to the ornate Toshogu Shrine and the majestic Kegon Falls.
  5. Experience Zazen (Zen Meditation): Engage in mindfulness and meditation at a traditional Zen temple.

Architectural Wonders:

  1. Himeji Castle: A pristine example of Japanese castle architecture, this UNESCO site is often referred to as the “White Heron Castle” due to its elegant appearance.
  2. Matsumoto Castle: Also known as the “Crow Castle” because of its black exterior, it’s one of Japan’s premier historic castles.
  3. The Golden Pavilion (Kinkaku-ji) in Kyoto: This Zen temple is adorned with gold leaf and is surrounded by beautiful gardens, reflecting its image on a tranquil pond.
  4. Ride the Hakone Tozan Cable Car: Get panoramic views of the surrounding valleys, Lake Ashi, and on clear days, the majestic Mt. Fuji.
  5. Okinawa’s Gyokusendo Cave: Traverse the limestone caves, discovering stalactites and stalagmites that have been formed over 300,000 years.

Seasonal Attractions:

  1. Cherry Blossom Viewing (Sakura): From late March to early April, places like Ueno Park in Tokyo and Maruyama Park in Kyoto come alive with pink hues.
  2. Attend the Snow Festival in Sapporo: Held in February, witness large sculptures made of snow and ice that illuminate the city.
  3. Participate in a Matsuri (Festival): Join in local festivities, such as the Gion Matsuri in Kyoto or the Tanabata Festival in Sendai, where traditions come alive with processions, dance, and music.
  4. Autumn Leaf Viewing (Koyo): From late September to early November, Japan’s landscapes transform into vibrant shades of red, orange, and yellow.

Unique and Off-the-Beaten-Path Experiences:

  1. Stay in a Capsule Hotel: Experience efficient Japanese design with these compact yet functional sleeping pods.
  2. Visit the Zao Fox Village in Miyagi: Interact with over 100 free-roaming foxes in this unique sanctuary.
  3. Stroll Through Yokohama’s Chinatown: Discover Japan’s largest Chinatown, bursting with color, culture, and delicious Chinese cuisine.
  4. Naruto Whirlpools: Witness the spectacular whirlpools in the Naruto Strait, a natural phenomenon caused by tides.
  5. Historic Village of Shirakawa-go: Step back in time in this UNESCO World Heritage site, renowned for its traditional gassho-zukuri farmhouses.
  6. Visit Awa Odori Festival in Tokushima: Held in August, it’s one of Japan’s most energetic dance festivals.

Crafts and Workshops:

  1. Experience Kintsugi: Learn the ancient art of repairing broken pottery with lacquer mixed with powdered gold.
  2. Origami Workshops: Dive into the traditional world of Japanese paper folding, creating everything from simple cranes to intricate designs.
  3. Soba Noodle Making: Join a hands-on workshop, mastering the art of making these traditional buckwheat noodles.
  4. Pottery in Kyoto: Engage in crafting ceramics, one of Kyoto’s traditional crafts, at a local pottery studio.

Markets and Shopping Streets:

  1. Explore Omoide Yokocho (Memory Lane) in Tokyo: A narrow alley filled with compact bars and eateries, offering yakitori, ramen, and more.
  2. Shop in Osaka’s Kuromon Ichiba Market: Dubbed Osaka’s kitchen, this market is bustling with fresh seafood, meats, produce, and local street foods.
  3. Stroll Through the Teramachi and Shinkyogoku Shopping Arcades in Kyoto: Find a blend of modern shops, traditional boutiques, and eateries.
  4. Potter Around the Antique Markets of Tokyo: Held on weekends, these markets are treasure troves for vintage lovers.

Museums and Art Galleries:

  1. Roppongi Hills Mori Art Museum, Tokyo: Renowned for its contemporary art exhibitions and panoramic views of the city.
  2. The Adachi Museum of Art: Famed for its breathtaking gardens and an impressive collection of modern Japanese art.
  3. 21st Century Museum of Contemporary Art, Kanazawa: A space that breaks the conventional boundaries between artworks and visitors.
  4. Studio Ghibli Museum, Mitaka: Dive into the whimsical world of Hayao Miyazaki and experience the magic behind some of Japan’s most beloved animated films.

Gardens and Parks:

  1. Kenrokuen Garden, Kanazawa: Often touted as one of Japan’s top three gardens, it mesmerizes with seasonal flora and ancient design techniques.
  2. Shinjuku Gyoen, Tokyo: A vast expanse of serene landscapes ranging from Japanese traditional gardens to French formal gardens.
  3. Ueno Park, Tokyo: A multifaceted park home to several museums, a zoo, and beautiful cherry blossoms in spring.
  4. Korakuen Garden, Okayama: A historical garden where visitors can enjoy scenic beauty reflecting the different seasons.

Island Getaways:

  1. Explore the art island of Naoshima: Admire the outdoor sculptures, contemporary art museums, and the famous pumpkin art by Yayoi Kusama.
  2. Ishigaki Island: Dive into the pristine waters for snorkeling and experience vibrant coral reefs and marine life.
  3. Visit Okunoshima, the “Rabbit Island”: Interact with the friendly wild rabbits that have made this island their home.
  4. Yakushima: A UNESCO World Heritage site known for its ancient cedar forests and diverse ecosystems.

Local Experiences:

  1. Stay in a Minshuku: Experience local hospitality in these Japanese-style bed and breakfasts, often located in rural areas.
  2. Attend a local fish auction: Beyond Tsukiji, regions like Hokkaido and Kyushu offer visitors a chance to witness the lively bidding wars at dawn.
  3. Traditional Japanese Drumming (Taiko) Workshop: Engage in this powerful and rhythmic form of percussion and feel the pulse of Japan.
  4. Eel catching in Shizuoka: Dive into a unique culinary experience by catching and grilling your own eel, a delicacy in the region.

Sacred Mountains and Trails:

  1. Climb the Three Sacred Mountains: Beyond Mount Fuji, the mountains of Tateyama and Hakusan offer spiritual hikes through Japan’s breathtaking landscapes.
  2. Kiso Valley: Walk the ancient Nakasendo trail and experience the post towns of Magome and Tsumago.
  3. Mount Aso: Explore one of the world’s largest calderas and its active volcano in Kyushu.

Nightlife and Entertainment:

  1. Golden Gai, Tokyo: Experience the ambiance of post-war Japan in this compact district filled with tiny themed bars and eateries.
  2. Watch a Bunraku Performance: Traditional Japanese puppet theater, recognized as a UNESCO Intangible Cultural Heritage.
  3. Experience the neon lights of Kabukicho, Tokyo: Dive into Japan’s red-light district filled with entertainment, clubs, and eateries.
  4. Attend a traditional Japanese music concert: From the melodic tunes of the koto to the hauntingly beautiful sounds of the shakuhachi, dive deep into Japan’s musical traditions.

Local Festivities:

  1. Kawasaki Halloween Parade: Experience a wild blend of traditional Japanese and Western costumes in one of Japan’s largest Halloween events.
  2. Yuki Matsuri, Iwate: Celebrate the winter season by viewing stunning snow sculptures and illuminated ice caves.
  3. Aomori’s Nebuta Festival: Marvel at the illuminated floats depicting Japanese deities, historical figures, and kabuki actors.
  4. Osaka’s Tenjin Matsuri: Experience boat parades, traditional performances, and fireworks along the Okawa River.

Traditional Arts and Crafts:

  1. Ikat Weaving Workshop in Okinawa: Dive into the traditional textile arts of the Ryukyu Islands.
  2. Echizen Washi Paper Making in Fukui: Engage in the age-old craft of making Japanese paper.
  3. Try your hand at Calligraphy (Shodo): Experience the Zen behind each brushstroke in this traditional art form.
  4. Indigo Dyeing in Tokushima: Delve into the world of traditional Japanese dyeing techniques.

Wellness and Self-Discovery:

  1. Temple Stay in Kyoto: Embark on a journey of self-reflection, participating in daily temple activities.
  2. Forest Bathing (Shinrin-yoku) in Akasawa: Immerse yourself in the therapeutic environment of the forest, soaking in its calming energies.
  3. Sound Healing Sessions in the Japanese Alps: Dive deep into meditation with the resonating sounds of gongs, singing bowls, and bells amidst serene mountain backdrops.

Each of these experiences contributes to the intricate mosaic that is Japan. From modernity to antiquity, from the dense hustle of city centers to the tranquil beauty of the countryside, Japan beckons with myriad adventures, each waiting to etch lasting memories in the hearts of its visitors.


source: Samuel and Audrey on YouTube

What To Eat and Drink in Japan: Japanese Cuisine Guide

The cuisine of Japan, known as washoku, is an exquisite reflection of the nation’s history, geography, and philosophy. It’s not merely about food; it’s a holistic experience that speaks of seasonality, aesthetics, and centuries-old traditions. Whether you’re slurping a steaming bowl of ramen or admiring the artistry of a kaiseki meal, you’re partaking in a ritual that is quintessentially Japanese. Here’s an extensive guide to help you navigate the world of Japanese cuisine:


source: Samuel and Audrey on YouTube

Rice Dishes:

1. Sushi:

  • Nigiri: Hand-pressed sushi with a topping, usually fish, on a bed of rice.
  • Maki: Rolled sushi with rice and other ingredients wrapped in nori (seaweed).
  • Sashimi: Thinly sliced raw fish, often served with daikon radish.

2. Donburi: A rice bowl dish topped with various ingredients such as:

  • Gyudon: Beef bowl.
  • Katsudon: Breaded pork cutlet with egg.
  • Unadon: Grilled eel in a soy-based sauce.

3. Onigiri: Rice balls, often triangular or cylindrical, filled with ingredients like pickled plum (umeboshi) or salmon, wrapped in nori.


source: Samuel and Audrey on YouTube

Noodles:

4. Ramen: Chinese-inspired noodle soup with various toppings and broth flavors like miso, soy, and pork bone (tonkotsu).

5. Udon: Thick wheat noodles, often served in a hot broth or cold with a dipping sauce.

6. Soba: Buckwheat noodles, served hot or cold and are especially popular during the New Year.


source: Samuel and Audrey on YouTube

Fish and Meat Dishes:

7. Tempura: Deep-fried seafood and vegetables in a light, crispy batter.

8. Sashimi: Fresh, thinly sliced raw fish or seafood, typically served with wasabi and soy sauce.

9. Yakitori: Skewered and grilled chicken, often accompanied by vegetables.

10. Sukiyaki: A hot pot dish with thinly sliced beef, tofu, vegetables, and noodles cooked in a sweet and savory broth.

11. Shabu Shabu: Another hot pot dish where diners swish thin slices of meat in boiling broth before dipping in sauces.


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Vegetables and Tofu Dishes:

12. Miso Soup: A staple dish made from fermented soybean paste with ingredients like seaweed, tofu, and green onions.

13. Tofu:

  • Silken Tofu (Kinugoshi): Soft, delicate tofu often eaten cold.
  • Fried Tofu (Aburaage): Used in dishes like inari sushi.
  • Firm Tofu (Momen): Commonly used in stir-fries and hot pots.

14. Tsukemono: Japanese pickles, ranging from sour to sweet, often served as a side dish.


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Sweets and Snacks:

15. Mochi: Sweet rice cakes, often filled with sweetened red bean paste.

16. Dorayaki: Sweet red bean paste sandwiched between two fluffy pancakes.

17. Taiyaki: Fish-shaped pastry filled with sweet fillings like red bean or custard.


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Beverages:

18. Tea:

  • Matcha: Powdered green tea used in tea ceremonies.
  • Sencha: The most common type of green tea.
  • Hojicha: Roasted green tea with a distinct aroma.

19. Sake: Japanese rice wine, which can be enjoyed warm or cold.

20. Shochu: A distilled spirit, lighter than sake and can be made from barley, sweet potatoes, or rice.

21. Umeshu: Plum wine, a sweet and tangy alcoholic beverage.

22. Non-Alcoholic Drinks:

  • Calpis: A milky soft drink, often diluted with water or soda.
  • Ramune: Carbonated soft drink known for its unique bottle design.


source: Samuel and Audrey on YouTube

Dining Etiquette:

  • Chopsticks: Never stick them upright into a bowl of rice, as this resembles a funeral ritual.
  • Slurping Noodles: Considered polite and a sign that you’re enjoying the meal.
  • Communal Dishes: Use the opposite end of your chopsticks to take food from shared plates.
  • Saying “Itadakimasu”: A phrase spoken before meals, expressing gratitude for the food.

Japan’s culinary landscape is vast and varied. While this guide offers an introduction, the true essence of Japanese cuisine lies in its seasonality, local specialties, and the dedication of chefs and producers who have preserved traditions while innovating for the future. To truly understand washoku, one must immerse themselves in the flavors, aromas, and textures of its dishes, appreciating the harmony between nature and nourishment.


source: Samuel and Audrey on YouTube

Regional Specialties:

Every region in Japan boasts its unique dishes and flavors, deeply rooted in its history and climate:

Hokkaido:

  • Seafood: Known for its fresh crabs, scallops, and sea urchin.
  • Jingisukan: A grilled mutton dish, named after Genghis Khan.
  • Hokkaido Milk: Creamy and rich, used in a variety of dairy products including ice cream and cheese.

Tohoku:

  • Wanko Soba: Buckwheat noodles served in bite-sized portions, often in a challenge to eat as many bowls as possible.
  • Ichigo-ni: A stew containing sea urchin and abalone.

Kanto (Tokyo and surroundings):

  • Edomae Sushi: Tokyo-style sushi, highlighting fresh marine ingredients.
  • Monjayaki: A savory pancake, thinner than okonomiyaki, with various fillings.

Chubu:

  • Houtou: A comforting noodle soup dish popular in the Yamanashi Prefecture.
  • Miso Katsu: Nagoya’s take on the classic tonkatsu but with a rich miso sauce.

Kansai (Osaka, Kyoto, and surroundings):

  • Okonomiyaki: A savory pancake with various ingredients like cabbage, meat, and seafood.
  • Takoyaki: Ball-shaped savory snacks filled with octopus bits.
  • Kyo Kaiseki: Kyoto’s traditional multi-course meal.

Chugoku (Hiroshima and surroundings):

  • Hiroshima-style Okonomiyaki: Unlike Osaka’s version, ingredients are layered rather than mixed.
  • Fugu: The famous pufferfish dish, requiring special preparation due to its potential lethality.

Shikoku:

  • Sanuki Udon: Thick udon noodles, known for their chewy texture.
  • Kochi’s Katsuo no Tataki: Seared bonito fish, a signature dish of Kochi prefecture.

Kyushu:

  • Hakata Ramen: Fukuoka’s famous ramen with a creamy pork bone broth.
  • Motsunabe: A flavorful hot pot dish with beef or pork offal.
  • Karaage: Japanese-style fried chicken, often enjoyed with a squeeze of lemon and mayonnaise.

Okinawa:

  • Goya Champuru: A stir-fry dish with bitter melon, tofu, and other ingredients.
  • Soki Soba: Okinawan noodles with stewed pork ribs.
  • Awamori: A distilled alcoholic beverage unique to Okinawa.


source: Samuel and Audrey on YouTube

Seasonal Delicacies:

Japanese cuisine is deeply intertwined with the changing seasons:

Spring:

  • Sakura Mochi: Sweet rice cake wrapped in a pickled cherry blossom leaf.
  • Takenoko (Bamboo Shoots): Tender and sweet, often used in rice dishes or soups.

Summer:

  • Unagi (Eel): Particularly enjoyed on the “Day of the Ox” to beat summer fatigue.
  • Kakigori: Shaved ice dessert flavored with syrups like matcha or strawberry.

Autumn:

  • Kuri (Chestnuts): Used in various sweets and dishes.
  • Matsutake Mushrooms: Highly prized and aromatic, used in soups and rice dishes.

Winter:

  • Oden: A warming stew with ingredients like daikon, boiled eggs, and fish cakes.
  • Yuzu: A citrus fruit, its aromatic zest and juice are used in dishes and baths during the winter solstice.


source: Samuel and Audrey on YouTube

Essential Ingredients:

Understanding Japanese cuisine requires familiarity with its cornerstone ingredients:

Soy Sauce (Shoyu): A versatile condiment and cooking ingredient, it comes in various types and flavors.

Wasabi: A pungent green paste made from the wasabi root, often accompanying sushi.

Seaweed (Nori, Wakame, Kombu): Used in a range of dishes from sushi rolls to soups.

Dashi: A foundational broth made from dried fish (bonito) flakes and kombu.

Mirin and Sake: Rice-based liquids used in cooking for sweetness and depth.

By immersing oneself in the rich tapestry of Japanese cuisine, you’ll uncover layers of cultural significance, regional pride, and deep respect for ingredients. This journey through washoku offers insights into the heart and soul of Japan, transcending beyond the palate into a realm of tradition and art.


source: Samuel and Audrey on YouTube

Top Restaurants In Japan: The Best Of Japanese Food

Japan is renowned for its culinary landscape, where age-old traditions seamlessly blend with modern innovation. This harmony finds its epitome in the country’s finest dining establishments, many of which have garnered international acclaim. From traditional kaiseki dining experiences in Kyoto to avant-garde fusion cuisine in Tokyo, here’s a curated list of top-notch restaurants that capture the essence of Japanese gastronomy.


source: Samuel and Audrey on YouTube

Tokyo

Sukiyabashi Jiro:

  • Cuisine: Sushi
  • Overview: Often regarded as the world’s best sushi restaurant, it gained global attention from the documentary “Jiro Dreams of Sushi.” Master chef Jiro Ono meticulously crafts each sushi piece, ensuring perfect balance and harmony.

Ryugin:

  • Cuisine: Modern Kaiseki
  • Overview: Fusing traditional Japanese ingredients with contemporary techniques, Chef Seiji Yamamoto presents a multi-course feast that tells a story of the nation’s rich culinary history.

Quintessence:

  • Cuisine: French-Japanese Fusion
  • Overview: Garnering three Michelin stars, this establishment excels in marrying French techniques with Japanese precision. Chef Shuzo Kishida emphasizes the essence of each ingredient.


source: Samuel and Audrey on YouTube

Kyoto

Kikunoi:

  • Cuisine: Kaiseki
  • Overview: A historic restaurant offering an authentic kaiseki experience. Chef Yoshihiro Murata crafts seasonal dishes that are both visually poetic and delectably nuanced.

Gion Sasaki:

  • Cuisine: Modern Japanese
  • Overview: Located in the geisha district of Gion, it’s a blend of Kyoto’s age-old charm with innovative dishes. Chef Masaki Sasaki ensures every dish is a sensory delight.


source: Samuel and Audrey on YouTube

Osaka

Hajime:

  • Cuisine: Artistic French-Japanese Fusion
  • Overview: Chef Hajime Yoneda creates dishes that resemble art pieces. With three Michelin stars, the restaurant focuses on the harmony of nature, food, and humans.

Kashiwaya:

  • Cuisine: Traditional Japanese
  • Overview: A serene ambiance combined with meticulously prepared dishes. Chef Hideaki Matsuo emphasizes seasonal ingredients, ensuring a different experience with every visit.

Hokkaido

Molière:

  • Cuisine: French-Japanese Fusion
  • Overview: Set in Sapporo, Molière celebrates Hokkaido’s bountiful produce with French flair. The restaurant is a testament to how global techniques can elevate local ingredients.

Fukuoka

La Maison de La Nature Goh:

  • Cuisine: French-Japanese Fusion
  • Overview: Helmed by Chef Takeshi Fukuyama, this establishment offers dishes that beautifully intertwine flavors of France and Japan, capturing the essence of both culinary worlds.

Kanazawa

Tsuruko:

  • Cuisine: Kaiseki
  • Overview: With a history spanning over a century, Tsuruko offers traditional kaiseki that tells tales of the seasons. Set in an elegant traditional Japanese house, the ambiance complements the culinary journey.

Hiroshima

Nakashima:

  • Cuisine: Japanese Contemporary
  • Overview: Nestled in the heart of Hiroshima, Nakashima is the brainchild of chef Tetsuya Nakashima. The restaurant, honored with Michelin stars, serves contemporary dishes that honor tradition while embracing innovation.

Yokohama

Sazenka:

  • Cuisine: Chinese-Japanese Fusion
  • Overview: A masterful blend of Chinese flavors and Japanese craftsmanship, Sazenka showcases the culinary genius of Chef Tomoya Kawada. The fusion dishes here are a testament to the harmonious blend of two rich culinary cultures.

Okinawa

Yunangi:

  • Cuisine: Ryukyuan Cuisine
  • Overview: Okinawa, with its unique history and influences, boasts a cuisine that’s distinct from the mainland. At Yunangi, Chef Kinjo brings out the best of Ryukyuan flavors, highlighting ingredients like bitter melon and braised pork belly.

Kobe

Ca Sento:

  • Cuisine: Spanish-Japanese Fusion
  • Overview: In the port city of Kobe, Ca Sento creates waves with its splendid fusion of Spanish flavors and Japanese techniques. Beyond the iconic Kobe beef, the city surprises with this gem where Chef Rafa Bérgamo crafts masterpieces.

Nagoya

Komada:

  • Cuisine: Traditional Japanese
  • Overview: Known for its understated elegance, Komada takes pride in showcasing the best of Nagoya’s produce. With each season, the menu evolves, reflecting the transient beauty of nature.

Nara

Wa Yamamura:

  • Cuisine: Traditional Kaiseki
  • Overview: Holding the distinction of being Nara’s first three-star Michelin restaurant, Wa Yamamura offers an exceptional kaiseki dining experience. Chef Nobuhiro Yamamura’s creations are a tribute to both the region’s rich history and its seasonal produce.

Shizuoka

Sudachi:

  • Cuisine: Sushi
  • Overview: Celebrating Shizuoka’s proximity to the sea, Sudachi delivers some of the freshest sushi experiences. The omakase menu, which lets the chef showcase his best daily selections, is particularly recommended.

Kagoshima

Ogata:

  • Cuisine: Traditional Japanese
  • Overview: In the shadow of the active Sakurajima volcano, Ogata sources its ingredients from the rich volcanic soil of the region, delivering dishes that are not just flavorful but also deeply rooted in the local geography.

Miyazaki

Koyama:

  • Cuisine: Japanese Fusion
  • Overview: Koyama offers a blend of traditional Japanese dishes with a touch of the exotic, reflecting Miyazaki’s tropical climate and diverse agriculture.

Niigata

Toh-ka-lin:

  • Cuisine: Chinese-Japanese Fusion
  • Overview: In the heart of Japan’s rice capital, Toh-ka-lin seamlessly melds Chinese flavors with Japanese ingredients, especially highlighting Niigata’s renowned Koshihikari rice.

Thematic Experiences:

Ninja Akasaka (Tokyo):

  • Cuisine: Thematic Japanese Fusion
  • Overview: Step back in time and dine like a ninja! Beyond the novelty, the cuisine here is a delightful fusion, presented in a theatrical environment replete with ninja tricks and hidden doors.

Kawaii Monster Cafe (Tokyo):

  • Cuisine: Modern Japanese and Western Fusion
  • Overview: A burst of colors, whimsical designs, and quirky dishes epitomize Tokyo’s Harajuku culture. It’s not just a meal; it’s an immersion into Japan’s pop culture.

Tsuta (Tokyo):

  • Cuisine: Ramen
  • Overview: The first ramen eatery to be awarded a Michelin star, Tsuta elevates this humble dish to an art form. Their truffle-infused ramen is a must-try.

Tips for Dining in Japan’s Top Restaurants:

  1. Reservations: These elite establishments often have limited seating. It’s imperative to book well in advance, sometimes months prior.
  2. Dress Code: Upscale Japanese restaurants often have a dress code. It’s advisable to dress semi-formally.
  3. Allergies and Preferences: If you have dietary restrictions, notify the restaurant during the reservation to ensure a seamless dining experience.
  4. Etiquette: Familiarize yourself with basic Japanese dining etiquette. Simple gestures, like saying “Itadakimasu” before eating, can enhance your dining experience.
  5. Price: Dining in these top-notch establishments can be pricey. However, the culinary experience, artistry, and service you receive make it worthwhile.

In a nation where chefs train for decades to perfect their craft, Japan’s top restaurants offer more than just food. They present an experience that’s spiritual, rooted in tradition, and undeniably artistic. Whether you’re indulging in the simplest sushi or the most intricate kaiseki course, it’s a celebration of passion, dedication, and culinary brilliance.

Must-Visit Destinations And Cities in Japan

Japan, an archipelago nestled in the Pacific Ocean, is a tapestry of ancient traditions, breathtaking landscapes, and cutting-edge modernity. From the snowy peaks of Hokkaido to the tropical beaches of Okinawa, the country offers a myriad of experiences that beckon travelers. Here’s a deep dive into the must-visit cities and destinations in Japan:


source: Samuel and Audrey on YouTube

Tokyo:

  • Overview: The futuristic capital of Japan juxtaposes ultramodern skyscrapers with historic temples. A global hub of fashion, technology, and culture, Tokyo is a city that never sleeps.
    • Attractions: Imperial Palace, Meiji Shrine, Shinjuku Gyoen, Tokyo Skytree, Akihabara (for tech enthusiasts and anime lovers), and Tsukiji Fish Market.
    • Shopping: From high-end Ginza boutiques to the trendy stores of Harajuku, shopping in Tokyo is an unparalleled experience.
    • Cultural: Experience the traditional tea ceremonies, kabuki theater, and sumo tournaments.


source: Samuel and Audrey on YouTube

Kyoto:

  • Overview: Once the capital of Japan, Kyoto is the spiritual heart and the keeper of Japanese tradition.
    • Attractions: Fushimi Inari Taisha, Kiyomizu-dera, Arashiyama Bamboo Forest, and the historic Gion district.
    • Cultural: Over 2,000 temples and shrines, geisha performances, and traditional ryokan stays.
    • Seasonal: The cherry blossom season and autumn foliage make Kyoto exceptionally picturesque.


source: Samuel and Audrey on YouTube

Osaka:

  • Overview: Osaka is Japan’s kitchen, known for its vibrant nightlife, modern architecture, and gastronomy.
    • Attractions: Osaka Castle, Universal Studios Japan, and Dotonbori.
    • Gastronomy: Savor takoyaki (octopus balls), okonomiyaki (savory pancakes), and kushikatsu (deep-fried skewers).

Hiroshima:

  • Overview: A city rebuilt after WWII, Hiroshima stands as a testament to peace and resilience.
    • Attractions: Hiroshima Peace Memorial Park, Atomic Bomb Dome, and Hiroshima Castle.
    • Nearby: Take a ferry to Miyajima Island to see the iconic floating Torii gate of Itsukushima Shrine.

Kanazawa:

  • Overview: Kanazawa is  hidden gem, often referred to as “Little Kyoto”.
    • Attractions: Kenrokuen Garden, Nagamachi Samurai District, and the 21st Century Museum of Contemporary Art.
    • Craftsmanship: Known for gold leaf craftsmanship and traditional tea houses.

Hokkaido (Sapporo):

  • Overview: Sapporo is located in Japan’s northernmost island, known for its natural landscapes and cold winters.
    • Attractions: Sapporo Snow Festival, Otaru Canal, and Niseko for skiing.
    • Natural Wonders: National parks like Daisetsuzan and Shiretoko, and the lavender fields of Furano.

Okinawa:

  • Overview: Okinawa is tropical paradise known for its distinct Ryukyuan culture and coral reefs.
    • Attractions: Shuri Castle, Churaumi Aquarium, and beautiful beaches.
    • Unique Culture: Experience the traditional Eisa dance and savor local dishes like goya champuru.


source: Samuel and Audrey on YouTube

Nara:

  • Overview: Nara is Japan’s first permanent capital with numerous historic treasures.
    • Attractions: Todai-ji Temple (with its giant Buddha statue), Nara Park (home to friendly deer), and Kasuga Taisha Shrine.

Fukuoka:


source: Samuel and Audrey on YouTube

Nikko:

  • Overview: Nikko is a UNESCO World Heritage site surrounded by beautiful national parks.
    • Attractions: Toshogu Shrine, Kegon Falls, and Lake Chuzenji.
    • Onsen Experience: Relish in hot spring baths with scenic mountain backdrops.

Nomadic Samuel filming in the forests of Nikko, Japan

Nagasaki:

  • Overview: Nagasaki is a coastal city on Kyushu Island with a rich, complex history, having seen both the influence of foreign traders and the devastation of the atomic bomb.
    • Attractions: Peace Park, Atomic Bomb Museum, Nagasaki’s Dutch Slope, and Dejima (a former Dutch trading post).
    • Gastronomy: Try the local specialty, Champon, a noodle dish with a hearty broth and seafood.

Hakone:

  • Overview: Hakone is a mountainous town known for its hot springs and views of the iconic Mt. Fuji.
    • Attractions: Hakone Shrine, Lake Ashi, Hakone Open-Air Museum, and the scenic Hakone Ropeway.
    • Onsen Experience: Luxuriate in traditional hot spring resorts with views of Mt. Fuji.


source: Samuel and Audrey on YouTube

Takayama:

  • Overview: Takayama is located in the Japanese Alps, this city offers a glimpse into Japan’s rural and traditional side.
    • Attractions: Old Town, Takayama Festival (one of Japan’s most beautiful), and Hida Folk Village.
    • Gastronomy: Taste Hida beef, a renowned local specialty that rivals Kobe beef.

Ise:

  • Overview: Ise is home to the sacred Ise Grand Shrine, the most important Shinto shrine in Japan.
    • Attractions: Ise Grand Shrine, Oharai-machi (traditional shopping street), and Meoto Iwa (the wedded rocks).
    • Cultural: Experience Shinto rituals and witness traditional dance performances at the shrine precincts.

Kumamoto:

  • Overview: Kumamoto is a city on Kyushu Island known for its iconic castle and surrounding natural beauty.
    • Attractions: Kumamoto Castle (undergoing restoration after the 2016 earthquake but still worth a visit), Suizenji Garden, and Aso-Kuju National Park.
    • Gastronomy: Relish local dishes like basashi (raw horse meat) and dagojiru (dumpling soup).

Sendai:

  • Overview: Sendai is the largest city in Japan’s Tohoku region, offering a mix of urban and natural attractions.
    • Attractions: Sendai Castle, Zuihoden Mausoleum, and nearby Matsushima Bay with its scenic islands.
    • Gastronomy: Known for its beef tongue dishes and zunda (edamame dessert).

Ishikawa (Kanazawa):

  • Overview: Ishikawa is located on the Sea of Japan coast, Ishikawa is known for its rich samurai history, geisha districts, and traditional arts.
    • Attractions: Kenrokuen Garden (one of Japan’s top three gardens), Nagamachi samurai district, and the Higashi-Chaya geisha district.
    • Craftsmanship: Known for its Kutani porcelain and Kaga yuzen silk dyeing.

Kobe:

  • Overview: Kobe is a cosmopolitan port city with a reputation for its international influences and, of course, the renowned Kobe beef.
    • Attractions: Meriken Park, Kobe Harborland, Nunobiki Herb Gardens, and the earthquake memorial.
    • Gastronomy: Beyond Kobe beef, try sobameshi (a mix of noodles and rice) and Kobe wine.

Beppu:

  • Overview: Beppu is located on Kyushu Island, it’s one of Japan’s most famous hot spring towns.
    • Attractions: The “Hells of Beppu”, a series of colorful and unique hot springs, Takegawara Onsen, and Beppu Tower.
    • Onsen Experience: With over 2,000 hot spring sources, Beppu offers diverse bathing experiences, including sand and steam baths.

Shikoku Island:

  • Overview: Shikoku The smallest of Japan’s major islands, known for its pilgrimage route covering 88 temples.
    • Attractions: Ritsurin Garden in Takamatsu, Naruto whirlpools, and the ancient Iya Valley with its vine bridges.
    • Pilgrimage: The 88 Temple Pilgrimage, a spiritual journey that spans 1,200 kilometers.

Tohoku Region:

  • Overview: Tohoku is the Northern region of the main island, less frequented by international tourists, making it a serene getaway.
    • Attractions: Hirosaki Castle (famous for cherry blossoms), Yamadera temple, and the Tanesashi Coast.
    • Festivals: Nebuta Festival in Aomori and Kanto Festival in Akita.

Naoshima:

  • Overview: Naoshima is an island in the Seto Inland Sea renowned for its modern art museums, architecture, and sculptures.
    • Attractions: Chichu Art Museum, Benesse House Museum, and the iconic pumpkin sculptures by Yayoi Kusama.
    • Experience: Apart from art, enjoy the sandy beaches and cycling routes.

Atami:

  • Overview: Atami is a coastal hot spring resort town, Atami has long been a retreat for those looking to escape Tokyo’s hustle.
    • Attractions: Atami Castle, MOA Museum of Art, and Kinomiya Shrine.
    • Onsen Experience: Numerous hot springs with ocean views make for a relaxing soak.

Matsue:

  • Overview: Matsue is known as the “City of Water”, Matsue lies next to Lake Shinji and boasts a rich feudal history.
    • Attractions: Matsue Castle (one of the last remaining original castles in Japan), Lafcadio Hearn (Koizumi Yakumo) Memorials, and Shimanekan, the Horikawa Sightseeing Boat.
    • Gastronomy: Enjoy the local specialty, Shimane wagashi, a type of traditional Japanese confectionery.

Chinatown at night in Yokohama, Japan

Yokohama:

  • Overview: Yokohama is Japan’s second-largest city, a major port, and a blend of Japanese traditions with foreign influences.
    • Attractions: Chinatown, Landmark Tower, Sankeien Garden, and the futuristic Minato Mirai district.
    • Events: The Yokohama Port Festival celebrates the city’s maritime heritage.

Iwate:

  • Overview: Iwate is a prefecture in the Tohoku region, Iwate offers a mix of rugged coastlines, mountains, and cultural sites.
    • Attractions: Morioka Castle, the rock formations of Kitayamazaki Coast, and Hiraizumi (a cluster of World Heritage Sites).
    • Natural Sites: Geibikei Gorge is especially beautiful during the autumn foliage season.

Kagoshima:

  • Overview: Kagoshima is located at the southern tip of Kyushu, this city is often referred to as the “Naples of Japan” due to its bay location and a backdrop of the active Sakurajima volcano.
    • Attractions: Sengan-en Garden, Shiroyama Park, and the Kagoshima City Aquarium.
    • Unique Experience: Try the black sand baths, heated naturally by the volcano.

Toyama:

  • Overview: Toyama is a city on the Sea of Japan coast, known for its rich natural beauty.
    • Attractions: Kurobe Gorge, Toyama Castle, and the Tateyama Kurobe Alpine Route with its “Snow Walls”.
    • Seafood: With its coastal location, Toyama offers fresh seafood, especially white shrimp and firefly squid.

Wakayama:

  • Overview: Wakayama is home to spiritual mountains, hot springs, and historical sites.
    • Attractions: Wakayama Castle, Mount Koya (a UNESCO World Heritage site and the center of Shingon Buddhism), and Kumano Kodo pilgrimage routes.
    • Relaxation: Shirahama, with its white sandy beaches and onsen, is a great spot for relaxation.

Chiba:

  • Overview: Chiba is located east of Tokyo, it’s a blend of urban life, coastal beauty, and rural charm.
    • Attractions: Tokyo Disney Resort (located in Urayasu), Naritasan Shinshoji Temple, and the Boso Peninsula.
    • Events: Experience the Sawara Grand Festival, where large floats parade through the streets.

Niigata:

  • Overview: Niigata is positioned on the Sea of Japan coast, Niigata is famed for its rice, sake, and ski resorts.
    • Attractions: Old Saito Villa, Northern Culture Museum, and the coastal scenery of Sado Island.
    • Gastronomy: Indulge in Koshihikari rice and locally brewed sake.


source: Samuel and Audrey on YouTube

Nara:

  • Overview: Nara is an Ancient capital of Japan and a treasure trove of historical and cultural sites.
    • Attractions: Todai-ji Temple (home to the Great Buddha statue), Nara Park with its friendly deer, and Kasuga-Taisha Shrine.
    • Cultural Immersion: Participate in traditional tea ceremonies or lantern festivals.

Tottori:

  • Overview: Tottori is a coastal prefecture famous for its dunes and legends of yōkai (supernatural monsters).
    • Attractions: Tottori Sand Dunes, Mizuki Shigeru Road (featuring bronze statues of yōkai), and Uradome Coast.
    • Adventure: Try sandboarding or paragliding over the dunes.

Okinawa:

  • Overview: Okinawa is a tropical paradise located in the southernmost part of Japan, with unique history and culture.
    • Attractions: Shuri Castle, Churaumi Aquarium, and the pristine beaches of the Kerama Islands.
    • Gastronomy: Savor dishes like Goya Champuru (bitter melon stir-fry) and sip on Awamori, a local distilled spirit.

Gunma:

  • Overview: Gunma is a mountainous region known for its onsen and outdoor activities.
    • Attractions: Kusatsu Onsen, Minakami for river sports, and Mount Tanigawa.
    • Relaxation: The therapeutic waters of Ikaho and Shima Onsen are perfect for rejuvenation.

Nagano:

  • Overview: Nagano is a prefecture boasting the Japanese Alps, famous for skiing and ancient temples.
    • Attractions: Zenkō-ji Temple, Matsumoto Castle, and the Jigokudani Monkey Park where snow monkeys bathe in hot springs.
    • Events: Experience the Nozawa Onsen Fire Festival in winter.

Shizuoka:

  • Overview: Shizuoka is overlooking the Pacific Ocean, Shizuoka offers iconic views of Mount Fuji.
    • Attractions: Miho Pine Grove, Shizuoka Sengen Shrine, and the scenic Suruga Bay.
    • Gastronomy: Relish the local wasabi and green tea.

Mie:

  • Overview: Mie is a coastal prefecture known for its sacred landscapes and pearls.
    • Attractions: Ise Grand Shrine, the spiritual Meoto Iwa rocks, and Toba’s pearl islands.
    • Experience: Dive deeper into Japan’s pearl cultivation history.

Saga:

  • Overview: Saga is located on Kyushu, it’s a haven for pottery enthusiasts.
    • Attractions: Saga Castle, Yūtoku Inari Shrine, and Karatsu Castle.
    • Craft: Explore the pottery towns of Arita and Imari, which have shaped Japanese ceramics for centuries.

Kochi:

  • Overview: Kochi is a prefecture on Shikoku Island with a vibrant history and natural beauty.
    • Attractions: Kochi Castle, Shimanto River, and Katsurahama Beach.
    • Gastronomy: Savour the local specialty, katsuo no tataki (seared bonito).

Ibaraki:

  • Overview: Ibaraki is North of Tokyo, Ibaraki is a fusion of scenic beauty, historical landmarks, and cutting-edge science facilities.
    • Attractions: Hitachi Seaside Park (known for seasonal flowers), Kairakuen Garden, and the Tsukuba Space Center.
    • Events: The Mito Plum Festival showcases the prefecture’s beautiful plum blossoms.

Oita:

  • Overview: Oita is located on Kyushu Island, it’s famed for its abundant hot springs.
    • Attractions: Beppu Onsen (with its “Hells”), Usa Shrine, and Yufuin Onsen town.
    • Experience: Don’t miss the Beppu Sand Bath, where you’re covered with warm sand.

Yamaguchi:

  • Overview: Yamaguchi is at the western tip of Honshu, Yamaguchi is steeped in history and natural beauty.
    • Attractions: Kintaikyo Bridge, Rurikoji Temple, and Akiyoshido Cave (Japan’s largest limestone cave).
    • History: The city of Hagi is vital in Japan’s Meiji Restoration history.

Fukushima:

  • Overview: Fukushima is offering a diverse range of attractions, from ski resorts to historical sites.
    • Attractions: Aizu-Wakamatsu Castle, Ouchi-juku (a preserved samurai post town), and Tsuruga Castle.
    • Nature: Bandai-Asahi National Park is perfect for hiking and skiing.

Saitama:

  • Overview: Saitama is neighboring Tokyo, Saitama is a blend of urban life and green landscapes.
    • Attractions: Omiya Bonsai Village, Railway Museum, and Kawagoe, known for its Edo-period buildings.
    • Events: The Chichibu Night Festival is a grand winter event with floats and fireworks.

Ehime:

  • Overview: Ehime is on Shikoku Island, Ehime offers castles, onsen, and the beautiful Seto Inland Sea.
    • Attractions: Matsuyama Castle, Dogo Onsen (one of Japan’s oldest hot springs), and Shimanami Kaido cycling route.
    • Sweets: Try the local delicacy, ‘taimaki’ – a fish-shaped cake with sweet fillings.

Yamagata:

  • Overview: Yamagata is a region that boasts hot springs, mountains, and cherries.
    • Attractions: Yamadera Temple, Zao Onsen ski resort and hot springs, and Tsuruoka Park.
    • Gastronomy: Enjoy ‘sakuranbo’ – Yamagata’s famed cherries.

Kumamoto:

  • Overview: Kumamoto is located in central Kyushu, Kumamoto is renowned for its active volcano and historical sites.
    • Attractions: Kumamoto Castle, Suizenji Jojuen Garden, and Mount Aso.
    • Local Dish: Basashi, or raw horse meat, is a delicacy in this area.

Okayama:

  • Overview: Okayama is known as the “Land of Sunshine”, it’s famous for its folklore, fruits, and a notable garden.
    • Attractions: Korakuen Garden, Kurashiki’s historic Bikan district, and Kibi cycling route.
    • Fruits: Taste the renowned white peaches and muscat grapes.

Gifu:

Travel Tips:

  1. Japan Rail Pass: If you’re traveling to multiple cities, consider getting a JR Pass for unlimited travel on Japan Railways trains.
  2. Stay Connected: Renting a pocket Wi-Fi can keep you connected during your travels.
  3. Language: While English is commonly spoken in tourist areas, a basic understanding of Japanese phrases can enhance your experience.
  4. Respect Local Traditions: Whether it’s bowing in greeting or removing shoes before entering certain places, adhering to local customs is appreciated.

Japan’s multifaceted attractions cater to history buffs, nature lovers, foodies, and everyone in between. Whether you’re witnessing the serenity of a Zen garden, experiencing the rush of Tokyo’s Shibuya Crossing, or savoring freshly prepared sushi, Japan promises memories that will last a lifetime.

Viewing platform overlooking scenic rural Nikko, Japan

Off The Beaten Path Destinations And Small Towns in Japan

Japan, with its multifaceted cultural tapestry, hosts not just bustling cities but also serene towns and hidden gems waiting to be discovered by the adventurous traveler. These off-the-beaten-path destinations offer solace from the crowds and a deeper dive into Japan’s rich history, tradition, and breathtaking natural beauty.

Onomichi, Hiroshima:

  • Overview: Onomichi is a picturesque port town known for its temple walks and literary heritage.
    • Attractions: Onomichi City Museum of Art, Shimanami Kaido cycling route.
    • Experience: Meander through the narrow lanes and discover charming cafés, boutiques, and temples scattered across hill slopes.


source: Samuel and Audrey on YouTube

Takayama, Gifu:

  • Overview: Takayama is a tranquil mountain town preserving Edo period (1603-1868) ambiance.
    • Attractions: Old Town streets, Hida Folk Village, and Takayama Jinya.
    • Events: The biannual Takayama Festival, showcasing intricate floats.

Naoshima, Kagawa:

  • Overview: Naoshima is an island blending art and nature.
    • Attractions: Contemporary art museums, outdoor sculptures, and Benesse House.
    • Experience: Stay in art-infused accommodations and explore the architectural wonders of Tadao Ando.

Kurashiki, Okayama:

  • Overview: Kurashiki is known for its well-preserved Edo-era buildings.
    • Attractions: Historic Bikan district, Ohara Museum of Art.
    • Leisure: Enjoy a boat ride through the old town’s scenic canal.

Yufuin, Oita:

  • Overview: Yufuin is a scenic onsen town set against the backdrop of Mount Yufu.
    • Attractions: Lake Kinrin, Yufuin Floral Village.
    • Relaxation: Dip into various hot springs, each boasting unique mineral compositions.

Shimokawa, Hokkaido:

  • Overview: Shimokawa is nestled deep in Hokkaido, it’s a wonderland for winter sports enthusiasts.
    • Attractions: Pristine snow-covered landscapes perfect for snowshoeing and cross-country skiing.
    • Experience: Visit in summer for canoeing in its vast rivers.

Tsuwano, Shimane:

  • Overview: Tsuwano is a town often referred to as “Little Kyoto.”
    • Attractions: Tsuwano Castle ruins, Otome Pass, and samurai residences.
    • Culture: Witness the Yabusame Festival, where archers on horseback showcase their skills.

Iya Valley, Tokushima:

  • Overview: Iya Valley is a secluded area in Shikoku known for its deep gorges and thatched-roof houses.
    • Attractions: Iya-no-Kazura Bridge, Oboke Gorge.
    • Adventure: Enjoy river cruises, white-water rafting, and hiking trails.

Ainokura, Toyama:

  • Overview: Ainokura is a part of the Gokayama region, Ainokura is a UNESCO site famous for its traditional gassho-zukuri farmhouses.
    • Attractions: Folklore museum, village vistas, and traditional craft workshops.
    • Experience: Opt for a farmhouse stay to immerse yourself in the village’s traditional lifestyle.

Teshima, Kagawa:

  • Overview: Teshima is another island in the Seto Inland Sea celebrated for its art installations.
    • Attractions: Teshima Art Museum, various contemporary art sites.
    • Nature: Explore the island’s beautiful terraced landscapes and coastal views.

Dewa Sanzan, Yamagata:

  • Overview: Dewa Sanzan is located in a sacred mountain range in northern Honshu is one of Japan’s primary pilgrimage sites.
    • Attractions: The three sacred mountains: Haguro-san, Gassan, and Yudono-san. Each has its own shrine and distinct spiritual significance.
    • Experience: Participate in the age-old pilgrimage, meeting Yamabushi (mountain ascetics) along the way and partake in Shugendo practices.

Kiso Valley, Nagano:

  • Overview: Kiso Valley is home to the Kiso-ji, a segment of the ancient Nakasendo route.
    • Attractions: Magome and Tsumago, well-preserved post towns. Walk the Magome-Tsumago trail, following the steps of ancient travelers.
    • Leisure: Savor local delicacies like gohei mochi in traditional eateries.

Okunoshima, Hiroshima:

  • Overview: Okunoshima is also known as Rabbit Island, due to its large wild rabbit population.
    • Attractions: While the fluffy bunnies are the main draw, there’s also a Poison Gas Museum that sheds light on the island’s dark history.
    • Experience: Feed and play with the rabbits, but remember not to pick them up.

Kakunodate, Akita:

  • Overview: Kakunodate is often referred to as the “Little Kyoto of Tohoku” due to its beautifully preserved samurai houses.
    • Attractions: Bukeyashiki Street, showcasing well-preserved samurai residences and Hinokinai River, known for cherry blossom viewing.
    • Events: Don’t miss the Kakunodate Festival, with its vibrant processions.

Asamushi Onsen, Aomori:

  • Overview: Asamushi is a coastal hot spring area offering splendid views of Mutsu Bay.
    • Attractions: Asamushi Aquarium, showcasing local marine life.
    • Relaxation: Immerse yourself in the hot spring baths while gazing at the beautiful sea views.

Misumi, Kumamoto:

  • Overview: Misumi is a serene port town offering panoramic views of the Ariake Sea.
    • Attractions: Misumi West Port, a UNESCO World Heritage site, and Umi no Silk Road, offering scenic coastal walks.
    • Food: Indulge in fresh seafood, especially the local specialty, horse mackerel.

Yuwaku Onsen, Ishikawa:

  • Overview: Yuwaku is an ancient hot spring town set amidst deep mountains.
    • Attractions: The Yuwaku Yumeji Museum, showcasing artwork and the region’s rich history.
    • Experience: Soak in the onsen baths and enjoy the serene ambiance, especially during winter when snow blankets the area.

Ine, Kyoto:

  • Overview: Ine is a picturesque fishing village known for its “funaya” (boathouses).
    • Attractions: The Ine Bay sightseeing boat ride offers a unique perspective of the boathouses.
    • Stay: Some funaya have been converted into guesthouses, allowing tourists to experience the local lifestyle.

Shodoshima, Kagawa:

  • Overview: Shodoshima is an island paradise renowned for its olive groves and Mediterranean feel.
    • Attractions: The Kankakei Gorge offers breathtaking vistas, especially during autumn.
    • Delicacies: Olive-based products, including olive ice cream.

Chichijima, Ogasawara Islands:

  • Overview: Chichijima is a remote island in the Pacific Ocean, accessible only by a 24-hour ferry from Tokyo.
    • Attractions: Pristine beaches, Dolphin watching, and the Ogasawara Village Botanical Garden.
    • Adventure: The island offers excellent snorkeling and diving experiences.

Sado Island, Niigata:

  • Overview: Sado Island is located in the Sea of Japan, Sado Island boasts a rich history, striking natural landscapes, and unique cultural traditions.
    • Attractions: Historic gold mines, Osado Skyline with panoramic views, and traditional Tarai-bune (tub boats).
    • Cultural Delight: Experience the island’s traditional drumming, known as Kodo.

Matsushima, Miyagi:

  • Overview: Matsushima is renowned for its scenic bay dotted with pine-clad islands and often celebrated as one of the “Three Views of Japan”.
    • Attractions: Zuiganji Temple, a national treasure, and scenic boat tours around the bay.
    • Food: Relish fresh seafood, especially oysters, which the area is famous for.

Tono, Iwate:

  • Overview: Tono is often termed as the ‘Home of Japanese Folklore’, it is the backdrop for countless legends and fairy tales.
    • Attractions: Tono Folk Village, Kappabuchi pool (home to the mythical Kappa creature).
    • Experience: Engage with local storytellers or “Kataribe” who bring ancient legends to life.

Shiraishi Island, Okayama:

  • Overview: Shiraishi Island is a serene island known for its white sandy beaches and laid-back atmosphere.
    • Attractions: Shiraishi Dance performed during Obon festival and the Island’s Coral Museum.
    • Relaxation: A great spot for beach lounging, swimming, and snorkeling.

Uchiko, Ehime:

  • Overview: Uchiko is a small town that once thrived in wax and paper production, retaining its historic charm.
    • Attractions: Uchiko-za, a traditional Kabuki theater, and the preserved Edo-era streets.
    • Activity: Explore the Kamihaga Residence, a former wax producer’s mansion, to delve into the town’s rich history.

Ojika Island, Nagasaki:

  • Overview: Ojika Island is a tranquil island showcasing traditional Japanese rural life.

Ginzan Onsen, Yamagata:

  • Overview: Ginzan is a charming hot spring town with wooden inns lining its central river, particularly picturesque when illuminated in the evening or covered in snow.
    • Attractions: Historic silver mine, waterfalls, and traditional ryokans.
    • Relaxation: Immerse yourself in an outdoor bath surrounded by nature.

Kitashiobara, Fukushima:

  • Overview: Kitashiobara is known for its pristine lakes and mesmerizing autumn foliage.
    • Attractions: The picturesque Goshikinuma (Five Colored Lakes) and Bandai-Asahi National Park.
    • Activities: Hiking in summer and skiing in winter.

Rebun Island, Hokkaido:

  • Overview: Rebun Island is an island off the northern tip of Hokkaido, known for its unique alpine flowers and hiking trails.
    • Attractions: Momoiwa Observatory, Rebun Forest Park, and the Flower Road hiking trail.
    • Wildlife: Spot seals and various bird species native to the area.

Aogashima, Tokyo:

  • Overview: Aogashima is a volcanic island under Tokyo’s jurisdiction, Aogashima is the definition of remote and is often likened to a real-life Jurassic Park.
    • Attractions: The double volcano, geothermal springs, and stargazing opportunities due to minimal light pollution.
    • Adventure: Hiking the volcano and experiencing the geothermal cooking facilities.

Tsuwano, Shimane:

  • Overview: Tsuwano is often dubbed as the “Little Kyoto of San’in,” this charming town is steeped in history and culture.
    • Attractions: The well-preserved samurai district, Tsuwano Castle ruins, and the atmospheric Shoyama Street.
    • Events: The grand Yabusame festival showcasing horseback archery.

Yufuin, Oita:

  • Overview: Yufuin is a quaint hot spring town with a backdrop of the magnificent Mount Yufu.
    • Attractions: Lake Kinrinko, Yufuin Floral Village, and numerous art museums.
    • Relaxation: Indulge in the various onsen baths, each offering distinct mineral properties and views.

Bitchu Matsuyama Castle, Okayama:

  • Overview: Japan’s highest and one of the only twelve original castles.
    • Attractions: The castle’s panoramic views, especially during autumn foliage.
    • Experience: The steep hike to the castle makes for a rewarding adventure.

Iya Valley, Tokushima:

  • Overview: A secluded mountainous region often referred to as one of Japan’s three hidden valleys.
    • Attractions: The vine bridges over the Iya River and scenic gorges.
    • Culture: Discover the thatched-roof villages and traditions of the area.

Ainokura, Toyama:

  • Overview: A UNESCO World Heritage site, this village is home to gassho-style thatched-roof houses.
    • Attractions: The Gokayama Historic Village and traditional handicraft experiences.
    • Experience: Stay overnight in a gassho-style house to immerse yourself in the village’s ambiance.

Naoshima, Kagawa:

  • Overview: Renowned as Japan’s art island, it’s a fusion of contemporary art and traditional Japanese settings.
    • Attractions: Various art museums, sculptures, and the iconic yellow pumpkin by Yayoi Kusama.
    • Events: The Setouchi Triennale, a contemporary art festival.

Enoshima, Kanagawa:

  • Overview: A small island boasting shrines, caves, and spas, with views of Mount Fuji on clear days.
    • Attractions: Enoshima Shrine, Iwaya Caves, and the Samuel Cocking Garden.
    • Activity: Surfing at the nearby Shonan Beach.

Yakushima, Kagoshima:

  • Overview: A UNESCO World Heritage site, this island is renowned for its ancient cedar forests.
    • Attractions: Jomon Sugi, the oldest cedar tree, and various trekking paths.
    • Wildlife: Home to diverse species including the Yakushima macaque and Yaku deer.

Wazuka, Kyoto:

  • Overview: A picturesque town celebrated for producing some of the finest Uji tea in Japan.
    • Attractions: Rolling tea fields, traditional tea houses, and tea factory tours.
    • Experience: Participate in a tea ceremony or pick tea leaves with locals during harvest season.

Ouchi Juku, Fukushima:

  • Overview: A historic post town that flourished during the Edo period.
    • Attractions: Thatched-roof houses, local handicraft shops, and the nearby Futarasan Shrine.
    • Delicacies: Taste the regional specialty, negi soba (buckwheat noodles with leek).

Travel Tips:

  1. Public Transport: While these locations might not be as connected as major cities, Japan’s intricate railway and bus systems ensure accessibility.
  2. Accommodation: Many of these areas offer traditional ryokan stays. It’s an experience that combines hospitality, culture, and gourmet dining.
  3. Etiquette: Smaller towns appreciate tourists respecting local customs. Simple gestures like greetings can enhance your experience.
  4. Language: English might be less prevalent. Carrying a phrasebook or translation app can prove helpful.

Visiting these lesser-known towns and destinations in Japan promises an experience that diverges from the usual tourist trail. It’s here that one can truly appreciate the depth of Japanese culture, the preservation of its ancient traditions, and the harmonious coexistence of the old and new. So, gear up and venture into the heart of Japan, where every alley, every stream, and every smile tells a story waiting to be heard.

Cultural and traditional things to do in Japan

Tours For Visitors To Japan

Japan, a harmonious blend of ancient traditions and cutting-edge modernity, is a country with multifaceted attractions. For visitors, a guided tour can offer a deeper understanding of its rich history, stunning landscapes, and diverse cultures. Here’s an in-depth look into the various tours available for different interests:

Historical & Heritage Tours

  • Kyoto Imperial Palace and Temples Tour:
    • Overview: Delve into the former imperial capital’s history by visiting ancient temples, shrines, and the Kyoto Imperial Palace.
    • Highlights: Kinkaku-ji (Golden Pavilion), Fushimi Inari Shrine, and Nijo Castle.
    • Duration: Full day.
  • Hiroshima Peace Memorial Park & Miyajima Island Tour:
    • Overview: Reflect on the poignant history of Hiroshima and explore the beautiful Miyajima Island.
    • Highlights: The Atomic Bomb Dome, Hiroshima Peace Memorial Museum, and Itsukushima Shrine.
    • Duration: Full day.

Cultural & Thematic Tours

  • Geisha Experience in Gion, Kyoto:
    • Overview: Experience an authentic evening with a Maiko (apprentice Geisha).
    • Highlights: Traditional dance performances, games, and a chance to interact with a Maiko.
    • Duration: 2-3 hours.
  • Samurai & Ninja Museum Tour, Tokyo:
    • Overview: Understand the fascinating world of Japan’s ancient warriors.
    • Highlights: Samurai armor fittings, sword demonstrations, and ninja training sessions.
    • Duration: 1-2 hours.

Nature & Adventure Tours

  • Mount Fuji & Hakone Day Trip:
    • Overview: Marvel at Japan’s iconic peak and enjoy the scenic beauty of Hakone.
    • Highlights: Mount Fuji 5th Station, Lake Ashi cruise, and Hakone Ropeway.
    • Duration: Full day.
  • Japanese Alps Exploration, Nagano:
    • Overview: Immerse yourself in the breathtaking landscapes of the Japanese Alps.
    • Highlights: The snow monkeys of Jigokudani, Matsumoto Castle, and the Kamikochi Valley.
    • Duration: 2-3 days.

Food & Culinary Tours

  • Osaka Street Food Evening Tour:
    • Overview: Dive into Osaka’s vibrant food culture, often termed as the “Kitchen of Japan”.
    • Highlights: Dotonbori district, takoyaki (octopus balls) tasting, and local izakayas.
    • Duration: 3-4 hours.
  • Tsukiji Fish Market Morning Tour, Tokyo:
    • Overview: Explore the world’s most famous fish market and savor fresh seafood.
    • Highlights: Tuna auctions, fresh sushi breakfast, and shopping for unique Japanese kitchenware.
    • Duration: 3-4 hours.

Craft & Artisanal Tours

  • Traditional Pottery Experience, Kyoto:
    • Overview: Learn the art of traditional Japanese pottery with local artisans.
    • Highlights: Handcrafting pottery items and understanding ancient firing techniques.
    • Duration: 2-3 hours.
  • Indigo Dyeing Workshop, Tokushima:
    • Overview: Discover the centuries-old art of indigo dyeing, iconic to the Tokushima region.
    • Highlights: Dye your own fabric using natural indigo and learn about its significance in Japanese culture.
    • Duration: 2-3 hours.

Wellness & Onsen Tours

  • Beppu Onsen Tour:
    • Overview: Experience the rejuvenating properties of Beppu’s famous hot springs.
    • Highlights: Visit the “Hells” (unique geothermal spots), mud baths, and sand baths.
    • Duration: Full day.
  • Yoga Retreat in Okinawa:
    • Overview: Engage in a holistic yoga retreat surrounded by the tropical beauty of Okinawa.
    • Highlights: Beachfront yoga sessions, meditation, and traditional Okinawan cuisine.
    • Duration: 3-5 days.

Nightlife & Entertainment Tours

  • Shinjuku Nightlife Tour, Tokyo:
    • Overview: Dive into Tokyo’s lively nightlife in the bustling district of Shinjuku.
    • Highlights: Golden Gai bar hopping, Robot Restaurant, and Omoide Yokocho (Memory Lane).
    • Duration: 3-4 hours.
  • Traditional Kabuki Show, Kyoto:
    • Overview: Witness the grandeur and drama of a traditional Kabuki performance.
    • Highlights: Elaborate costumes, compelling storylines, and classic Japanese theater arts.
    • Duration: 2-3 hours.

Seasonal & Festival Tours

  • Cherry Blossom Viewing in Tokyo:
    • Overview: Experience the ephemeral beauty of sakura (cherry blossoms) in full bloom.
    • Highlights: Ueno Park, Chidorigafuchi, and Sumida Park river cruise.
    • Duration: Half day to full day depending on activities.
  • Sapporo Snow Festival Tour:

Shopping & Fashion Tours

  • Harajuku & Shibuya Fashion Tour, Tokyo:
    • Overview: Explore Tokyo’s epicenter of youth fashion and culture.
    • Highlights: Takeshita Street, vintage shopping, and the iconic Shibuya Crossing.
    • Duration: 3-4 hours.
  • Traditional Craft Shopping in Kyoto:
    • Overview: Seek out Kyoto’s renowned traditional crafts.
    • Highlights: Nishijin Textile Center (for kimonos), Kiyomizu pottery shops, and artisanal tea utensils.
    • Duration: Half day.

Anime & Pop Culture Tours

  • Akihabara Anime & Manga Tour, Tokyo:
    • Overview: Delve into the otaku (geek) culture in Japan’s “Electric Town”.
    • Highlights: Maid cafés, anime merchandise shops, and gaming arcades.
    • Duration: 3-4 hours.
  • Studio Ghibli Museum Tour, Mitaka:
    • Overview: Enter the enchanting world of Studio Ghibli’s famous animated films.
    • Highlights: Interactive exhibits, life-sized replicas, and exclusive short films.
    • Duration: Half day.

Photography Tours

  • Mount Fuji Sunrise Photography Tour:
    • Overview: Capture the awe-inspiring beauty of Mount Fuji at sunrise.
    • Highlights: Chureito Pagoda viewpoint, Lake Kawaguchi, and local hot springs.
    • Duration: Full day.
  • Historic Kyoto Photo Walk:
    • Overview: Document the timeless allure of Kyoto’s temples, shrines, and geisha districts.
    • Highlights: Gion, Kiyomizu Temple, and the bamboo groves of Arashiyama.
    • Duration: Half day to full day depending on locations.

Marine & Coastal Tours

  • Okinawa Island Hopping & Snorkeling:
    • Overview: Discover the pristine beaches and vibrant coral reefs of the Okinawa islands.
    • Highlights: Ishigaki Island, the Blue Cave, and manta ray sightings.
    • Duration: 2-3 days.
  • Seto Inland Sea Cruising, Hiroshima:
    • Overview: Experience the tranquil beauty of the Seto Inland Sea’s myriad islands.
    • Highlights: Shimanami Kaido cycling route, art installations on Naoshima, and local seafood delights.
    • Duration: 2-3 days.

Rural & Agricultural Tours

  • Sado Island Rice Farming Experience:
    • Overview: Dive deep into traditional Japanese agriculture on the serene Sado Island.
    • Highlights: Hands-on rice planting/harvesting, terraced rice fields, and a traditional farm-to-table meal.
    • Duration: 2 days.
  • Tea Plantation Tour, Shizuoka:
    • Overview: Walk amidst the green carpeted tea terraces and understand the intricacies of Japanese tea production.
    • Highlights: Tea picking experience, traditional tea ceremony, and tea tasting sessions.
    • Duration: Full day.

Kyoto traditional architecture in Japan

Architectural & Design Tours

  • Kanazawa Architecture Exploration:
    • Overview: Explore the historically preserved districts and modern design marvels of Kanazawa.
    • Highlights: The 21st Century Museum of Contemporary Art, Higashi-Chaya district, and samurai residences.
    • Duration: Full day.
  • Metabolism Movement Architecture Tour, Tokyo:
    • Overview: Understand Japan’s post-war architectural movement that aimed to redefine urban lifestyles.
    • Highlights: Nakagin Capsule Tower, Yamanashi Press and Broadcasting Center, and Tokyo Bay’s futuristic projects.
    • Duration: Half day.

Spiritual & Pilgrimage Tours

  • Kumano Kodo Pilgrimage Route:
    • Overview: Embark on a spiritual journey across the ancient pilgrimage routes in the Kii Peninsula.
    • Highlights: Kumano Hongu Taisha, Nachi Falls, and traditional yamabushi (mountain ascetic) experiences.
    • Duration: 3-5 days, depending on the selected route.
  • Zen Meditation in Kyoto:
    • Overview: Immerse in the world of Zen Buddhism with meditation sessions at Kyoto’s historic temples.
    • Highlights: Zazen (seated meditation), temple stay, and tea ceremonies with monks.
    • Duration: 2 days.

Art & Museum Tours

  • Naoshima Art Island Expedition:
    • Overview: Revel in contemporary art installations harmoniously set amidst nature on Naoshima Island.
    • Highlights: Benesse House Museum, Yayoi Kusama’s pumpkin sculptures, and the underground Chichu Art Museum.
    • Duration: 2 days.
  • Adachi Museum of Art & Gardens, Shimane:
    • Overview: Experience one of Japan’s most beautiful gardens coupled with a collection of contemporary art.
    • Highlights: Stroll gardens, rotating art exhibitions, and scenic viewpoints.
    • Duration: Full day.

Winter Sports & Adventures

  • Niseko Ski & Snowboarding Tour, Hokkaido:
    • Overview: Dive into the powder snow paradise of Niseko, Japan’s premier winter sports destination.
    • Highlights: Skiing, snowboarding, onsen relaxation, and local Hokkaido cuisine.
    • Duration: 3-7 days.
  • Snowshoe Hiking in Nagano:

Marine Life & Aquarium Tours

  • Okinawa Churaumi Aquarium Expedition:
    • Overview: Get mesmerized by the rich marine biodiversity of the Pacific at one of the world’s largest aquariums.
    • Highlights: Whale shark tank, coral reefs, and deep-sea creature exhibits.
    • Duration: Half day.
  • Toba Aquarium & Mikimoto Pearl Island, Mie:
    • Overview: Discover the wonders of marine life and delve into the history of pearl cultivation.
    • Highlights: Sea otters, traditional ama diver demonstration, and pearl jewelry exhibits.
    • Duration: Full day.

Historical & Heritage Tours

  • Hiroshima & Miyajima Island Tour:
    • Overview: Reflect upon Japan’s wartime history and witness the rejuvenated Hiroshima paired with the serenity of nearby Miyajima.
    • Highlights: Hiroshima Peace Memorial Park, Atomic Bomb Dome, Itsukushima Shrine, and the floating torii gate.
    • Duration: 2 days.
  • Samurai & Ninja Experience, Kyoto:
    • Overview: Delve into Japan’s feudal past with hands-on samurai and ninja training experiences.
    • Highlights: Swordsmanship lessons, shuriken (throwing star) training, and historical exhibits.
    • Duration: Half day.

Craft & Workshop Tours

  • Pottery Workshop in Seto:
    • Overview: Engage in a hands-on experience in Seto, a region known for its ceramics for over a thousand years.
    • Highlights: Clay molding, pottery wheel techniques, and traditional kiln firing.
    • Duration: Half day.
  • Traditional Japanese Papermaking in Mino:
    • Overview: Learn the art of washi (Japanese paper) making in Mino, renowned for its high-quality paper.
    • Highlights: Pulp preparation, sheet forming, and designing your own paper creations.
    • Duration: Half day.

Hiking in Japan in search of wildlife

Nature & Wildlife Tours

  • Japanese Macaque Viewing in Jigokudani Monkey Park:
    • Overview: Witness the world-famous snow monkeys relaxing in hot springs against a snowy backdrop.
    • Highlights: Close-up encounters with the monkeys, serene snowy landscapes, and nearby traditional onsen towns.
    • Duration: Full day.
  • Bird Watching in Kushiro Wetlands, Hokkaido:
    • Overview: Explore Japan’s largest wetland, home to a variety of bird species, including the endangered Japanese crane.
    • Highlights: Guided bird-watching sessions, marshland landscapes, and canoeing opportunities.
    • Duration: Full day.

Adventure & Sports Tours

  • Alpine Trekking in the Japanese Alps:
    • Overview: Embark on a trekking journey through the scenic beauty of the Japanese Alps.
    • Highlights: Panoramic mountain views, pristine lakes, and rustic mountain huts.
    • Duration: 3-5 days.
  • White Water Rafting in Minakami, Gunma:
    • Overview: Experience the thrill of navigating the rapids in Minakami, a premier rafting destination.
    • Highlights: Rapid courses tailored for beginners to experts, beautiful gorges, and team-building activities.
    • Duration: Full day.

Nomadic Samuel health and wellness retreat in Japan soaking feet

Wellness & Relaxation Tours

  • Traditional Onsen Retreat in Beppu, Kyushu:
    • Overview: Immerse yourself in the therapeutic waters of Beppu’s renowned hot springs.
    • Highlights: Different types of baths, including sand and steam baths, serene mountain backdrops, and local seafood.
    • Duration: 2-3 days.
  • Yoga & Meditation Retreat in Iya Valley, Shikoku:
    • Overview: Find inner peace amidst the untouched landscapes of the mystical Iya Valley.
    • Highlights: Daily yoga sessions, guided meditations, and exploration of the verdant surroundings.
    • Duration: 3-5 days.

Nightlife & Entertainment Tours

  • Tokyo Nightlife Exploration:
    • Overview: Experience the dazzling nightlife of Tokyo, from its bustling districts to more intimate settings.
    • Highlights: Roppongi’s clubs, Shibuya’s bars, and themed cafes (like owl and robot cafes).
    • Duration: 4-6 hours.
  • Osaka Dotonbori Food & Entertainment Walk:


source: Samuel and Audrey on YouTube

Japan Accommodations Guide: Hotels, Guesthouses and Hostels

Japan’s tradition of ‘omotenashi’ – or selfless hospitality – permeates its vast array of accommodations, ensuring that no matter where you stay, you are bound to experience a level of service that is uniquely Japanese. From the luxurious to the economical, this guide will provide you with a comprehensive look into the myriad accommodations scattered throughout the archipelago.


source: Samuel and Audrey on YouTube

Hotels

  • Luxury Hotels (Ryokan):
    • Overview: Traditional Japanese inns known for their exceptional service, serene environments, and on-site hot springs. Expect tatami-matted rooms, sliding paper doors, and futon bedding.
    • Notable Locations: Tawaraya in Kyoto, Gora Kadan in Hakone.
    • Services: Traditional kaiseki dinners, private onsen baths, and in-room tea ceremonies.
  • Western-Style Hotels:
    • Overview: These offer a standard experience similar to hotels worldwide, often with a touch of Japanese elegance.
    • Notable Chains: The Prince, ANA Crowne Plaza, Hilton.
    • Services: International dining, fitness centers, conference rooms, and concierge services.
  • Business Hotels:
    • Overview: Catered mainly for business travelers, these offer convenience and efficiency at a more economical price.
    • Notable Chains: Toyoko Inn, APA Hotel, Dormy Inn.
    • Services: Basic amenities, free Wi-Fi, breakfast, and sometimes public baths.


source: Samuel and Audrey on YouTube

Guesthouses (Minshuku)

  • Overview: Minshuku are Japan’s version of bed-and-breakfasts. They are family-run establishments offering a homely environment.
  • Typical Features: Tatami-matted rooms, home-cooked meals (often inclusive), and shared bathrooms.
  • Experience: Get a closer look at the local life. Minshuku often reside in residential areas, providing an immersive experience.

Hostels

  • Overview: Ideal for backpackers and solo travelers, hostels in Japan offer a clean and affordable place to stay.
  • Notable Hostels: K’s House (various locations), Backpackers Hostel K’s House Tokyo, and Guest House Wasabi.
  • Services: Shared dormitory-style rooms, communal lounges, kitchens, and sometimes cultural events or meet-ups.
  • Experience: A great way to meet fellow travelers, share experiences, and gather recommendations.

Capsule hotels are unique accommodations options in Japan

Capsule Hotels

  • Overview: Introduced in the late 1970s, these are compact and efficient accommodations, where guests stay in individual “capsules.”
  • Popular Locations: Tokyo’s Shinjuku and Shibuya districts.
  • Features: Each capsule is typically equipped with a light, ventilation, and a curtain or door for privacy. Common baths and locker areas are available.
  • Ideal For: Short stays or when traveling on a tight budget.

Love Hotels

  • Overview: Designed for couples, these hotels offer privacy and a range of thematic rooms for short stays.
  • Distinct Features: Often equipped with unique amenities like karaoke machines, costume rentals, or intricate decor themes.
  • Locations: Ubiquitous in entertainment districts such as Tokyo’s Shibuya or Osaka’s Dotonbori.

Temple Lodging (Shukubo)

  • Overview: Experience monastic life by staying at a Buddhist temple. This accommodation is particularly prevalent in pilgrimage areas.
  • Features: Simple rooms, vegetarian meals, and the opportunity to participate in morning prayers.
  • Popular Locations: Mount Koya, Mount Haguro.

Manga and Internet Cafes

  • Overview: Though primarily for reading manga or surfing the internet, many cafes offer reclining seats or flat mats where guests can sleep.
  • Features: Access to a vast manga library, private cubicles, showers, and unlimited drinks.
  • Ideal For: Those who miss the last train or need a quick overnight rest.

Farm Stays (Noka Minshuku)

  • Overview: Get a taste of rural life in Japan. Participate in farming activities, enjoy freshly harvested meals, and relax in nature.
  • Popular Locations: Hokkaido, Tohoku region.

Weekly and Monthly Mansions

  • Overview: Designed for long-term stays, these are apartment-style lodgings equipped with kitchenettes.
  • Ideal For: Business travelers, students, or anyone planning an extended stay in Japan.

Theme Hotels

  • Overview: These are hotels specifically designed around a particular theme or concept, offering a distinctive and immersive experience for guests.
  • Popular Themes: Anime, Godzilla, Hello Kitty, Art.
  • Notable Example: Hotel Gracery Shinjuku in Tokyo has a Godzilla theme, complete with a giant Godzilla head overlooking the city.

Traditional Wooden Houses (Machiya)

  • Overview: Once traditional townhouses, many Machiya have been converted into lodgings, especially in historic cities like Kyoto.
  • Features: Wooden facades, interior gardens, and traditional design elements.
  • Experience: Live as the locals did centuries ago but with modern comforts.

Mountain Huts and Lodges

  • Overview: For those who venture to the Japanese Alps or any of the nation’s prominent peaks, mountain huts provide basic shelter.
  • Locations: Popular trails on Mount Fuji, the Northern Alps, etc.
  • Amenities: Meals, sleeping areas (often communal), and sometimes hot baths.

Beach Resorts & Villas

  • Overview: Situated on Japan’s extensive coastline or on islands like Okinawa, these resorts offer beachfront luxury.
  • Features: Ocean-view rooms, pools, spas, water sports facilities.
  • Popular Destinations: Okinawa, Miyakojima, and the Izu Peninsula.

Barrier-Free and Inclusive Accommodations

  • Overview: These accommodations cater specifically to guests with disabilities, ensuring everyone can experience Japan comfortably.
  • Features: Wheelchair accessibility, tactile guides for the visually impaired, and hearing aid compatibility.
  • Locations: Major cities including Tokyo, Kyoto, and Osaka.

Family-Friendly Lodgings

  • Overview: Accommodations designed for families traveling with children.
  • Features: Kid’s menus, play areas, child care services, and family rooms.
  • Notable Locations: Tokyo Disneyland & DisneySea Hotels, Kid-friendly ryokans.

Eco-Friendly and Sustainable Stays

  • Overview: With a growing trend towards sustainable travel, many accommodations in Japan are emphasizing eco-friendly practices.
  • Features: Solar energy, waste reduction, locally-sourced food, and sustainable architecture.
  • Notable Establishments: Eco Lodge Nagano in Shinano and Wanosato in Gifu.

Modern and Designer Hotels

  • Overview: These accommodations emphasize modern design aesthetics, often merging traditional elements with contemporary styles.
  • Features: Unique architecture, curated interiors, and art-focused environments.
  • Notable Examples: Claska in Tokyo and Benesse House on Naoshima Island.

Homestays

  • Overview: Stay with a local family, experiencing the day-to-day life of residents.
  • Experience: Share meals, partake in family activities, and learn about local customs firsthand.

Camping and Glamping Sites

  • Overview: For outdoor enthusiasts, Japan offers numerous camping sites. Additionally, luxury camping or “glamping” provides an upscale outdoor experience.
  • Features: Tent or cabin lodgings, communal facilities, and nature activities. Glamping sites offer luxury tents with beds, fine dining, and spa services.
  • Popular Locations: Near Mount Fuji, Okinawa, and Hokkaido.

University and School Dormitories

  • Overview: During vacation periods, some universities and schools rent out their dorm rooms to travelers.
  • Features: Basic amenities, communal kitchens, and often located near city centers or popular tourist sites.
  • Ideal For: Budget travelers or those interested in academic environments.


source: Samuel and Audrey on YouTube

Whether you’re looking to splurge on a luxurious ryokan experience or seeking a budget-friendly hostel, Japan offers a diverse range of accommodations that cater to all types of travelers. With each type providing a unique experience, where you choose to stay can become an integral part of your Japan journey. Always consider location, amenities, and cultural experiences when selecting your ideal accommodation.


source: Samuel and Audrey on YouTube

Day Trips In Japan

Japan, a nation steeped in history and adorned with natural beauty, is more than just its metropolitan hubs. Beyond the bustling streets of Tokyo or the historical avenues of Kyoto lie numerous destinations perfect for day trips. Each journey promises an escapade that refreshingly contrasts the usual tourist trails. Here’s an elaborate guide to some of the best day trips in Japan.

Boat tour on the lake in Nikko, Japan as a popular day trip

Nikko, Tochigi Prefecture

  • Overview: A World Heritage site, Nikko is home to lavishly decorated shrines, beautiful national parks, and hot springs.
  • Key Attractions: Toshogu Shrine, Kegon Falls, and Lake Chuzenji.
  • Travel: Approximately 2 hours by train from Tokyo.

Japanese sculpture we spotted visiting Kamakura on a day trip in Japan

Kamakura, Kanagawa Prefecture

  • Overview: Often dubbed the “Kyoto of Eastern Japan”, this coastal town was once the political center of medieval Japan.
  • Key Attractions: The Great Buddha (Kotoku-in), Tsurugaoka Hachimangu Shrine, and Komachi-dori shopping street.
  • Travel: About an hour by train from Tokyo.

Visiting traditional Japanese temples in Nara, Japan as a day trip

Nara, Nara Prefecture

  • Overview: Predating Kyoto as Japan’s capital, Nara is famous for its friendly free-roaming deer and impressive temples.
  • Key Attractions: Todai-ji Temple (housing the massive Vairocana Buddha statue), Nara Park, and Kasuga Taisha Shrine.
  • Travel: Roughly 1 hour from Kyoto or Osaka by train.

Hiroshima and Miyajima Island, Hiroshima Prefecture

  • Overview: While Hiroshima is a testament to Japan’s wartime history, nearby Miyajima offers scenic beauty and spiritual ambiance.
  • Key Attractions: Hiroshima Peace Memorial Park, Itsukushima Shrine, and the floating torii gate on Miyajima.
  • Travel: Hiroshima is about 1.5 hours from Osaka by Shinkansen, and Miyajima is a short ferry ride from there.

Hakone, Kanagawa Prefecture

  • Overview: A popular hot spring destination with views of Mount Fuji on clear days.
  • Key Attractions: Hakone Open-Air Museum, Owakudani volcanic valley, and Lake Ashi.
  • Travel: Around 2 hours from Tokyo by train.

Matsumoto, Nagano Prefecture

  • Overview: Best known for its original castle, Matsumoto also offers museums and traditional streets.
  • Key Attractions: Matsumoto Castle, Nakamachi Street, and the Wasabi Farm.
  • Travel: Approximately 2.5 hours by train from Tokyo.

Kanazawa, Ishikawa Prefecture

  • Overview: A city rich in samurai history, geisha districts, and art museums.
  • Key Attractions: Kenrokuen Garden, Nagamachi samurai district, and the 21st Century Museum of Contemporary Art.
  • Travel: Around 2.5 hours by Shinkansen from Tokyo.

Hitachi Seaside Park, Ibaraki Prefecture

  • Overview: This vast park is renowned for its seasonal flower blooms, especially the blue nemophila in spring.
  • Key Attractions: Flower gardens, cycling trails, and an amusement park.
  • Travel: Roughly 2 hours from Tokyo by train.

Yokohama, Kanagawa Prefecture

  • Overview: Japan’s second-largest city, with a rich history as one of the first harbor towns opened to foreign trade.
  • Key Attractions: Minato Mirai waterfront, Chinatown, and Sankeien Garden.
  • Travel: About 30 minutes from Tokyo by train.

Koyasan, Wakayama Prefecture

  • Overview: A mountainous town known for its temple lodgings and cemetery walks, offering a spiritual retreat.
  • Key Attractions: Okunoin Cemetery, Kongobu-ji Temple, and Danjo Garan complex.
  • Travel: Roughly 2 hours from Osaka by train and cable car.

Ise-Shima, Mie Prefecture

  • Overview: Home to the Ise Grand Shrine, one of Japan’s most sacred sites, and blessed with scenic coastlines.
  • Key Attractions: Ise Grand Shrine, Meoto Iwa (Wedded Rocks), and Mikimoto Pearl Island.
  • Travel: Around 2 hours by train from Osaka.

Okunoshima, Hiroshima Prefecture

  • Overview: Often referred to as “Rabbit Island” due to its large population of wild rabbits.
  • Key Attractions: Friendly rabbits, Poison Gas Museum, and beautiful beaches.
  • Travel: Approximately 2 hours from Hiroshima, including a ferry ride.

Kurashiki, Okayama Prefecture

  • Overview: Known for its beautifully preserved Edo-period (1603-1868) buildings and willow-lined canals.
  • Key Attractions: Kurashiki Bikan Historical Quarter, Ohara Museum of Art, and Ivy Square.
  • Travel: Roughly 3 hours by train from Osaka.

Kawagoe, Saitama Prefecture

  • Overview: A city that offers a nostalgic atmosphere reminiscent of old Tokyo with its traditional warehouses and festive events.
  • Key Attractions: Kurazukuri Zone, Kawagoe Castle, and the Festival Museum.
  • Travel: Around 1 hour by train from Tokyo.

Naoshima, Kagawa Prefecture

  • Overview: An island in the Seto Inland Sea known for its modern art museums, sculptures, and installations.
  • Key Attractions: Benesse House, Chichu Art Museum, and the iconic yellow pumpkin by Yayoi Kusama.
  • Travel: Approximately 4 hours from Osaka, combining trains and a ferry.

Traditional Japanese architecture in Takayama, Japan

Takayama, Gifu Prefecture

  • Overview: Often referred to as “Little Kyoto”, it’s known for its beautifully preserved old town and biannual festivals.
  • Key Attractions: Sanmachi Street, Takayama Jinya, and the Hida Folk Village.
  • Travel: About 2.5 hours by train from Nagoya.

Inuyama, Aichi Prefecture

  • Overview: Home to one of Japan’s oldest original castles and the historic town surrounding it.
  • Key Attractions: Inuyama Castle, Urakuen Garden featuring Jo-an teahouse, and Meiji Mura open-air museum.
  • Travel: Roughly 30 minutes by train from Nagoya.


source: Samuel and Audrey on YouTube

Shirakawa-go, Gifu Prefecture

  • Overview: A remote mountain village featuring traditional gassho-zukuri farmhouses, some of which are more than 250 years old.
  • Key Attractions: Village views from the Shiroyama viewpoint, Wada House, and the Gassho-zukuri Minkaen open-air museum.
  • Travel: About 2.5 hours by bus from Kanazawa.

Nomadic Samuel visiting a traditional Japanese village in Shirakawago, Japan

Karuizawa, Nagano Prefecture

  • Overview: A posh mountain resort town known for its cool summers, shopping, and recreational activities.
  • Key Attractions: Kyu-Karuizawa Ginza Street, Shiraito Falls, and Kumoba Pond.
  • Travel: Just over 1 hour by Shinkansen from Tokyo.

Enoshima, Kanagawa Prefecture

  • Overview: A small seaside island with attractions ranging from shrines, caves, and spas, offering panoramic views of Mt. Fuji on clear days.
  • Key Attractions: Enoshima Shrine, Iwaya Caves, and the Samuel Cocking Garden.
  • Travel: About 1.5 hours by train from Tokyo.

Mt. Koya, Wakayama Prefecture

  • Overview: A sacred mountain and the heart of Shingon Buddhism, a place of pilgrimage and tranquility.
  • Key Attractions: Kongobuji Temple, Okunoin Cemetery, and the opportunity to stay in a temple lodging (shukubo).
  • Travel: Approximately 2 hours from Osaka by train and cable car.

Amanohashidate, Kyoto Prefecture

  • Overview: One of Japan’s Three Scenic Views, it’s a pine-covered sandbar that stretches across Miyazu Bay.
  • Key Attractions: The sandbar itself, Amanohashidate View Land, and Chion-ji Temple.
  • Travel: About 2 hours by train from Kyoto.

Otaru, Hokkaido Prefecture

  • Overview: A historic harbor town, known for its canals, glassworks, and fresh seafood.
  • Key Attractions: Otaru Canal, Otaru Music Box Museum, and Sakaimachi Street.
  • Travel: Roughly 30 minutes by train from Sapporo.

Beppu, Oita Prefecture

  • Overview: Japan’s most famous hot spring town, boasting the highest volume of hot spring water in the country.
  • Key Attractions: The “Hells” (jigoku) – spectacular hot springs for viewing rather than bathing, Beppu Tower, and Takegawara Onsen.
  • Travel: About 2 hours by train from Fukuoka.

Chichibu, Saitama Prefecture

  • Overview: A scenic area rich in nature and festivals, close to Tokyo but feeling a world apart.
  • Key Attractions: Chichibu Night Festival, Hitsujiyama Park, and the Chichibu Shrine.
  • Travel: Approximately 1.5 hours from Tokyo.

Himeji, Hyogo Prefecture

  • Overview: Home to one of Japan’s most iconic and best-preserved samurai castles.
  • Key Attractions: Himeji Castle, Kokoen Garden, and Mt. Shosha.
  • Travel: Roughly 1 hour by Shinkansen from Osaka.

Nagasaki, Nagasaki Prefecture

  • Overview: A historic port city with a unique blend of Japanese and foreign influences, it also bears the scars of World War II.
  • Key Attractions: Peace Park, Glover Garden, and Dejima.
  • Travel: About 2 hours by train from Fukuoka.

Mt. Aso, Kumamoto Prefecture

  • Overview: One of the world’s largest calderas, with an active volcano at its center.
  • Key Attractions: Nakadake Crater, Kusasenri Meadow, and Aso Volcano Museum.
  • Travel: Roughly 1.5 hours by train from Kumamoto city, followed by a bus ride.

Kagoshima, Kagoshima Prefecture

  • Overview: A dynamic city that lies in the shadow of the active Sakurajima volcano.
  • Key Attractions: Sakurajima, Sengan-en Garden, and the Kagoshima Aquarium.
  • Travel: About 1.5 hours by Shinkansen from Fukuoka.

Sendai, Miyagi Prefecture

  • Overview: The largest city in Japan’s northeastern Tohoku region, known for its festivals and regional delicacies.
  • Key Attractions: Aoba Castle ruins, Osaki Hachiman Shrine, and Zuihoden Mausoleum.
  • Travel: About 1.5 hours by Shinkansen from Tokyo.

These day trips embody the heart and soul of Japan – a harmonious blend of ancient traditions and modern marvels, set against nature’s captivating canvas. While popular cities are a must-visit, these nearby treasures amplify the richness of Japan’s cultural tapestry, making every excursion an adventure in discovery. Remember to check transportation schedules in advance, as many sites, especially in rural areas, may have limited access or specific visiting hours. Safe travels and enjoy the myriad wonders that Japan has to offer!


source: Samuel and Audrey on YouTube

Japan Transportation Guide

The intricacies of Japan’s transportation system mirror the nation’s character: precise, efficient, and sophisticated. To navigate Japan smoothly, it’s essential to understand the available transportation options, their features, and how to utilize them effectively. Let’s delve into the vast network of trains, buses, and other means of transport.


source: Samuel and Audrey on YouTube

Trains

  • Shinkansen (Bullet Trains): Japan’s pride, these high-speed trains connect major cities with speeds up to 320 km/h.
    • Major Lines: Tokaido, Sanyo, Tohoku, Hokuriku, and Kyushu.
    • Booking: JR (Japan Railways) Pass is highly recommended for tourists. It offers unlimited travel on JR trains for a certain period.
  • Local and Regional Trains: For inter-city and suburban travel.
    • Major Operators: JR, Tokyo Metro, and private railway companies.
    • Pricing: Based on distance traveled; Suica and Pasmo rechargeable cards are handy for hassle-free travel.


source: Samuel and Audrey on YouTube

Buses

  • Long-Distance Buses: A cost-effective alternative to trains for inter-city travel.
    • Major Operators: Willer Express, JR Bus, and various private companies.
    • Booking: Online reservations available on respective websites.
  • Local Buses: For short-distance city travel and areas not accessible by train.
    • Payment: Use cash (exact fare) or IC cards like Suica and Pasmo.


source: Samuel and Audrey on YouTube

Domestic Flights

  • Overview: Convenient for long-distance travel or accessing remote areas like Hokkaido or Okinawa.
    • Major Airlines: ANA, JAL, Peach Aviation, Jetstar Japan.
    • Booking: Websites, travel agencies, or airport counters.

Taxis

  • Overview: Convenient but can be expensive. Most taxis accept credit cards and IC cards.
    • Features: Automatic doors, polite drivers (who may not speak English).
    • Tips: Have your destination address in Japanese for easier communication.

Rental Cars & Driving

  • Overview: Useful for remote areas. Japan drives on the left.
    • Rental Companies: Toyota Rent a Car, Nippon Rent-a-Car, Orix.
    • Requirements: International Driving Permit and original driver’s license.

Bicycles

  • Overview: Many cities, like Kyoto, are bike-friendly.
    • Rentals: Available at train stations, hostels, and specialized shops.
    • Policies: Some cities have parking zones and regulations.

Ferries

  • Overview: For traveling to islands like Hokkaido, Shikoku, or smaller islands in the Seto Inland Sea.
    • Major Operators: Japan Ferry Pass 21 is a cost-effective option for multiple ferry rides.

Metro Systems

  • Cities: Tokyo, Osaka, Nagoya, Sapporo, Fukuoka, etc.
    • Payment: IC cards, day passes, or single-ride tickets.
    • Navigation: English signage available, and mobile apps like Hyperdia can help.

Trams and Streetcars

  • Cities: Hiroshima, Kagoshima, Kumamoto, and more.
    • Payment: Cash or IC cards.

Ropeways and Cable Cars

  • Overview: Often found in mountainous areas or tourist destinations.
    • Popular Locations: Hakone, Miyajima, and Takao.


source: Samuel and Audrey on YouTube

Tips for Smooth Travel in Japan:

  1. IC Cards: Rechargeable cards like Suica, Pasmo, and Icoca can be used on trains, buses, and even in convenience stores.
  2. Mobile Apps: Apps like Hyperdia and Navitime provide schedules, routes, and fares for trains and buses.
  3. Language: While many staff members at major stations and airports speak English, having a translation app can be helpful.
  4. Etiquette: On escalators, stand on the left and walk on the right (except in Osaka). Queue in lines at train platforms, and avoid loud conversations.

Taking the bus in Japan is a great way to affordably travel around the country

Japan’s efficient transportation network is a testament to its commitment to hospitality and technological advancement. Whether you’re zipping across prefectures on the Shinkansen or cycling through serene neighborhoods, each mode offers a unique lens to appreciate the rhythm of Japanese life. Familiarize yourself with these systems, be mindful of local etiquettes, and your journey across Japan will be as delightful as the destinations themselves.

Red lanterns in Kyoto, Japan as a cultural experience not to be missed

Japan 1 Day Travel Itinerary

In just one day in Kyoto, the ancient capital of Japan, visitors can step back in time, savoring a slice of Japan’s rich history, spiritual traditions, and culinary wonders. Here’s an ambitious yet feasible itinerary for a memorable day.

Morning:

1. Kiyomizu-dera Temple

  • Time: 8:00 AM – 9:30 AM
  • Overview: Begin your day by visiting this UNESCO World Heritage Site, set on the hillside with panoramic views of the city. Marvel at the temple’s wooden terrace and Otawa Waterfall, where visitors drink for health, longevity, and success.
  • Travel Tip: Wear comfortable shoes for walking.

2. Sannenzaka & Ninnenzaka Streets

  • Time: 9:45 AM – 10:45 AM
  • Overview: Wander these preserved historic streets lined with wooden machiya houses, tea shops, and traditional souvenir stores. These sloping streets are a window into Kyoto’s illustrious past.
  • Must-Try: Sample yatsuhashi, a local sweet treat made of rice flour and filled with sweet bean paste.

Late Morning:

3. Fushimi Inari Shrine

  • Time: 11:00 AM – 12:30 PM
  • Overview: This iconic shrine is known for its thousands of vibrant red torii gates, which trail up the mountain. The whole hike takes 2-3 hours, but a partial climb still offers magnificent views and photo opportunities.
  • Travel Tip: The shrine can get crowded, so visiting before noon can be slightly quieter.

Afternoon:

4. Lunch in Pontocho Alley

  • Time: 1:00 PM – 2:30 PM
  • Overview: This narrow alleyway is packed with various eateries. Opt for a traditional kaiseki meal, a multi-course experience that showcases seasonal ingredients and exquisite culinary techniques.
  • Recommendation: Seek out a restaurant with riverside seating for views of the Kamo River.

5. Kinkaku-ji (Golden Pavilion)

  • Time: 3:00 PM – 4:00 PM
  • Overview: Visit this Zen temple covered in gold leaf, set against a pond, making it appear as if it’s floating. The garden stroll is equally enchanting.
  • Photography: Late afternoon offers a soft glow, perfect for capturing the pavilion’s shimmering reflection.

Evening:

6. Gion District & Yasaka Shrine

  • Time: 4:30 PM – 6:30 PM
  • Overview: As you wander the streets of Gion, the geisha district, keep an eye out for geikos (Kyoto’s term for geisha) and maikos (apprentice geisha) heading to evening appointments. Yasaka Shrine, located at the end of Shijo Street, is beautifully lit at night.
  • Tip: Be respectful and avoid stopping geikos and maikos for photos.

7. Dinner in Gion

  • Time: 7:00 PM – 8:30 PM
  • Overview: Dive into Kyoto’s culinary scene. Opt for a traditional Kyoto dish like “shabu shabu” (thin slices of meat swished in broth) or “yudofu” (tofu hot pot).
  • Recommendation: Some restaurants offer private tatami rooms for an authentic experience.

Night:

8. Kiyamachi Street

  • Time: 9:00 PM – 10:30 PM
  • Overview: End your day by wandering this lively street lined with bars, izakayas, and clubs. Sip on sake or try a Kyoto craft beer.

Kyoto is a city that truly epitomizes the blend of old and new, where traditions from centuries ago coexist with modernity. Though one day barely scratches the surface, this itinerary captures some of its most enchanting sights and flavors, leaving visitors with lasting memories and a longing to return. Remember to always check the opening hours of attractions, as they can vary by season.

Tokyo at night with all of the bright lights in Japan

Japan 3-4 Days Travel Itinerary

Dive deep into the heart of Japan’s past and present through a brief but enriching journey across two iconic cities: Tokyo and Kyoto. Experience a whirlwind of neon-lit streets, ancient temples, culinary delights, and cultural immersion. Here’s a suggested itinerary to optimize your time.

Day 1: Tokyo – Electric Metropolis

Morning:

  1. Asakusa & Senso-ji Temple
    • Start your day in Tokyo’s historic district, visiting the city’s oldest temple, Senso-ji. Don’t forget to explore Nakamise Street, lined with traditional stalls selling crafts and snacks.
    • Travel Tip: Wear comfy shoes, as the temple grounds are expansive.
  2. Tokyo Skytree
    • Head to Tokyo Skytree for breathtaking panoramic views of the sprawling city below.

Afternoon:

  1. Tsukiji Outer Market
    • Delight in fresh seafood and sushi at this world-renowned fish market.
  2. Ginza
    • Spend your afternoon shopping or window shopping in Tokyo’s upscale district, famed for luxury brands, art galleries, and theaters.

Evening:

  1. Shibuya Crossing & Hachiko Statue
    • Experience the world’s busiest pedestrian crossing and pay a quick tribute to the loyal dog Hachiko.
  2. Dinner in Shibuya
    • Dive into the local cuisine, sampling dishes like tempura, tonkatsu, or ramen.

Day 2: Tokyo – Tradition Meets Pop Culture

Morning:

  1. Meiji Shrine
    • Start with a serene visit to this Shinto shrine, surrounded by lush forest.
  2. Takeshita Street in Harajuku
    • Explore Tokyo’s hub of youth culture, fashion, and unique eats.

Afternoon:

  1. Omotesando
    • Often referred to as Tokyo’s Champs-Élysées, it’s a tree-lined avenue featuring high-end boutiques and cafes.
  2. Akihabara
    • Dive into Japan’s otaku culture, exploring electronic shops, anime, and manga stores. Consider a visit to a maid café for a unique experience.

Evening:

  1. Odaiba
    • Visit this man-made island, known for attractions like the life-sized Gundam statue, Odaiba Seaside Park, and digital art museums.
  2. Dinner at a Yakiniku Restaurant
    • Grill your meat to perfection at a traditional Japanese BBQ spot.

Day 3: Kyoto – Cultural Epicenter

Morning:

  1. Fushimi Inari Shrine
    • Start early to avoid crowds and marvel at the thousands of red torii gates.
  2. Kiyomizu-dera Temple
    • Explore this UNESCO World Heritage Site, offering a panoramic view of Kyoto.

Afternoon:

  1. Higashiyama Historic District
    • Wander through narrow alleys, wooden buildings, and traditional craft shops.
  2. Philosopher’s Path
    • A tranquil stone path along a cherry-tree-lined canal, it’s especially beautiful during sakura or autumn foliage season.

Evening:

  1. Gion District
    • Try spotting geikos and maikos or consider booking a cultural show at Gion Corner. Wrap up the day with a traditional kaiseki dinner.

Day 4: Kyoto – Japan’s Ancient Capital

Morning:

  1. Bamboo Grove in Arashiyama
    • Walk through the towering bamboo stalks, a surreal and peaceful experience.
  2. Tenryu-ji Temple
    • Explore this UNESCO site known for its stunning garden and pond.

Afternoon:

  1. Nijo Castle
    • Admire the “nightingale floors” and beautiful wall paintings.
  2. Kyoto Imperial Palace
    • Witness the former residence of the Imperial family, set amidst vast, picturesque grounds.

Evening:

  1. Pontocho Alley
    • Conclude your journey with a meal along the narrow alley, offering diverse culinary experiences. For an unforgettable finish, opt for riverside dining.

While a 3-4 day trip might only offer a snapshot of Japan’s vast tapestry of experiences, this itinerary ensures a blend of modern vibrancy and timeless tradition. To ensure smooth travel between Tokyo and Kyoto, consider purchasing a JR Pass and taking the Shinkansen (bullet train), which connects the two cities in just over two hours. Always remember to check the opening times of attractions and adjust the itinerary based on seasonality and personal interests.

Osaka Castle views in Japan

Japan 1 Week Travel Itinerary

In a week, you can venture through the iconic blend of ultra-modern and deeply traditional Japan, with a touch of history and gourmet exploration. Here’s a detailed itinerary that offers a rich tapestry of experiences, from bustling metropolises to tranquil shrines.

Day 1: Tokyo – Start with a Bang

Morning:

  1. Asakusa & Senso-ji Temple: Delve into Tokyo’s old-world charm with its historic temple and bustling Nakamise Street.
  2. Tokyo Skytree: Soar high and view Tokyo’s sprawling expanse.

Afternoon: 3. Ueno Park: Wander around Tokyo’s largest green space, exploring museums, ponds, and the Ueno Zoo.

  1. Ameya-Yokocho Market: Shop and snack at this busy market street.

Evening: 5. Shinjuku: Experience Tokyo’s neon-lit vibrancy. If interested, visit the Robot Restaurant for a quirky dinner show.

Day 2: Tokyo – Pop Culture & Tradition

Morning:

  1. Meiji Shrine: Find tranquillity amidst the city’s hustle.
  2. Takeshita Street in Harajuku: Dive into Tokyo’s quirky fashion hub.

Afternoon: 3. Shibuya Crossing: Walk the famous scramble and visit the Hachiko Statue.

  1. Odaiba: Revel in entertainment on this futuristic man-made island.

Evening: 5. Roppongi: Dine and unwind in Tokyo’s international nightlife district.

Day 3: Kyoto – Temples and Traditions

Morning:

  1. Fushimi Inari Shrine: Navigate through thousands of iconic red torii gates.
  2. Kinkaku-ji (Golden Pavilion): Marvel at the golden temple reflecting upon a tranquil pond.

Afternoon: 3. Ryoan-ji: Contemplate in the famous Zen rock garden.

  1. Nishiki Market: Taste your way through “Kyoto’s Kitchen”.

Evening: 5. Gion District: Wander and spot geikos and maikos. Dine in a traditional setting.

Day 4: Kyoto – Scenic Beauty

Morning:

  1. Arashiyama Bamboo Grove: Walk amidst towering bamboo stalks.
  2. Tenryu-ji Temple: Explore its picturesque garden.

Afternoon: 3. Kiyomizu-dera Temple: Admire Kyoto from its grand wooden terrace.

  1. Higashiyama District: Wander through this well-preserved historic area.

Evening: 5. Pontocho Alley: Choose a riverside dining spot for a memorable dinner.

Day 5: Hiroshima – Reflections of History

Morning:

  1. Peace Memorial Park & A-Bomb Dome: Pay respects at this poignant reminder of WWII’s atomic bombing.

Afternoon: 2. Hiroshima Castle: Explore this reconstructed castle offering city views.

  1. Shukkeien Garden: Find solace in this traditional Japanese garden.

Evening: 4. Okonomi-mura: Relish Hiroshima’s famous okonomiyaki (savory pancakes).

Day 6: Osaka – Modern Vibrancy & Gourmet Adventures

Morning:

  1. Osaka Castle: Dive into history at this iconic castle surrounded by moats and gardens.
  2. Sumiyoshi Taisha: Visit one of Japan’s oldest shrines.

Afternoon: 3. Dotonbori: Wander this lively entertainment district, with its bright lights and famous Glico Man sign.

  1. Shinsaibashi: Shop in Osaka’s premier shopping arcade.

Evening: 5. Kuromon Ichiba Market: Sample street food, including fresh seafood and takoyaki (octopus balls).

Day 7: Osaka – Day Trip to Nara

Morning to Afternoon:

  1. Nara Park: Mingle with friendly deer, considered messengers of the gods.
  2. Todai-ji Temple: Stand in awe of the world’s largest bronze Buddha statue.
  3. Kasuga Taisha: View hundreds of bronze and stone lanterns at this ancient shrine.

Evening: 4. Umeda Sky Building: Conclude your week with panoramic views of Osaka from its Floating Garden Observatory. Enjoy your last dinner in Japan’s kitchen, perhaps trying kushikatsu (deep-fried skewered meat and vegetables).

A week in Japan provides a vibrant mix of modernity, tradition, and history. This itinerary offers a curated selection from mega-cities to ancient capitals, ensuring a deep dive into Japan’s essence. Make sure to use the Shinkansen (bullet train) for efficient travel between cities. Adjust based on personal interests and remember to check attraction hours and any seasonal events that might be ongoing during your visit.

Osaka street food is distinct and delicious and totally worth trying in Japan

Japan 14 Day Travel Itinerary

In two weeks, you can embrace a holistic experience of Japan that blends ancient traditions, modern wonders, and natural beauty. This itinerary offers a journey from the northernmost island of Hokkaido to the southern tip in Kyushu, interspersed with urban and countryside delights.

Day 1-2: Tokyo – Dive into the Metropolis

Day 1:

  • Morning: Asakusa (Senso-ji Temple & Nakamise Street) and Ueno Park.
  • Afternoon: Tsukiji Outer Market for a seafood lunch, followed by shopping at Ginza.
  • Evening: Shibuya Crossing and dinner in Ebisu.

Day 2:

  • Morning: Meiji Shrine and Harajuku’s Takeshita Street.
  • Afternoon: Akihabara’s electronics and pop culture.
  • Evening: Odaiba’s futuristic attractions and onsen-themed Oedo Monogatari.

Day 3: Nikko – Historical and Natural Retreat

  • Morning to Afternoon: Visit Toshogu Shrine, Kegon Falls, and enjoy a traditional yuba (tofu skin) meal.
  • Evening: Stay in a ryokan (traditional inn) with a hot spring.

Day 4-5: Hakone & Mt. Fuji

Day 4:

  • Morning: Hakone Open-Air Museum.
  • Afternoon: Hakone Ropeway and Owakudani Valley.
  • Evening: Ryokan stay with an onsen bath and kaiseki dinner.

Day 5:

  • Morning: Visit the 5th Station of Mt. Fuji.
  • Afternoon: Kawaguchiko Lake and the surrounding area.
  • Evening: Return to Tokyo.

Day 6-8: Kyoto – Ancient Capital Mystique

Day 6:

  • Morning: Fushimi Inari Shrine.
  • Afternoon: Kiyomizu-dera Temple and walk in Higashiyama District.
  • Evening: Gion District.

Day 7:

  • Morning: Bamboo Grove in Arashiyama, Tenryu-ji Temple.
  • Afternoon: Golden Pavilion (Kinkaku-ji) and Ryoan-ji.
  • Evening: Pontocho Alley.

Day 8:

  • Morning: Nijo Castle.
  • Afternoon: Kyoto Imperial Palace.
  • Evening: Leisure or optional tea ceremony experience.

Day 9: Hiroshima and Miyajima Island

  • Morning: Peace Memorial Park & A-Bomb Dome in Hiroshima.
  • Afternoon: Itsukushima Shrine on Miyajima Island and the floating torii gate.
  • Evening: Hiroshima Okonomiyaki in the city.

Day 10: Okayama – Garden & Historical Pleasure

  • Morning: Kurashiki Bikan Historical Quarter.
  • Afternoon: Korakuen Garden.
  • Evening: Stay in Okayama or head to Osaka.

Day 11-12: Osaka – Culinary and Urban Exploration

Day 11:

  • Morning: Osaka Castle.
  • Afternoon: Shinsaibashi Shopping Street and Dotonbori.
  • Evening: Kuromon Ichiba Market.

Day 12:

  • Morning: Sumiyoshi Taisha Shrine.
  • Afternoon: Osaka Aquarium Kaiyukan.
  • Evening: Umeda Sky Building for panoramic views.

Day 13: Kumamoto – Castle and Natural Wonders

  • Morning: Kumamoto Castle.
  • Afternoon: Suizenji Jojuen Garden.
  • Evening: Local Izakaya experience.

Day 14: Fukuoka – Kyushu’s Dynamic Hub

  • Morning: Ohori Park and Fukuoka Castle ruins.
  • Afternoon: Canal City Hakata for shopping and entertainment.
  • Evening: Dine at Yatai (street food stalls) along the Naka River.

This 14-day itinerary offers a comprehensive exploration of Japan’s multiple facets. Utilizing the Japan Rail (JR) Pass is advised for efficient and economical travel between the cities. Always remember to adjust based on your interests, the seasons, and regional festivals or events which can add an extra layer of cultural immersion.

Beer vendor at a Japanese baseball game in Tokyo, Japan

Japan 1 Month Travel Itinerary

A month in Japan provides an unrivaled opportunity to discover the vast contrasts of this nation. Our detailed itinerary takes you from the snowy landscapes of Hokkaido to the tropical beaches of Okinawa, ensuring an intimate understanding of Japan’s diverse cultural, historic, and natural offerings.

Week 1: Hokkaido & Tohoku Region

Days 1-3: Sapporo, Hokkaido

  • Day 1: Sapporo Beer Museum, Odori Park, and Susukino district.
  • Day 2: Day trip to Otaru – Canal district, music box museum, and seafood delights.
  • Day 3: Historical Village of Hokkaido and Moerenuma Park.

Days 4-5: Furano & Biei

  • Day 4: Visit the flower fields in Furano, Cheese Factory, and Wine House.
  • Day 5: Biei’s picturesque landscape, Blue Pond, and Patchwork Road.

Days 6-7: Aomori, Tohoku

  • Day 6: Aomori Museum of Art and Nebuta Warasse Museum.
  • Day 7: Hirosaki Castle and Oirase Gorge.

Week 2: Tokyo & Nearby Prefectures

Days 8-11: Tokyo Exploration (Refer to the previously mentioned Tokyo itinerary and expand by visiting places like Sumida Aquarium, Digital Art Museum, and Yanaka Ginza.)

Day 12: Yokohama

  • Sankeien Garden, Chinatown, and Minato Mirai.

Day 13: Nikko (Expand on the earlier Nikko itinerary with Kanmangafuchi Abyss and Tamozawa Imperial Villa.)

Day 14: Kamakura

  • Kotoku-in (Great Buddha), Hasedera Temple, and Komachi Street.

Week 3: Kansai & Hiroshima

Days 15-18: Kyoto (Expand on the previous Kyoto itinerary with Sanjusangendo Temple, Philosopher’s Path, and Maruyama Park.)

Days 19-20: Osaka (Expand on the previous Osaka itinerary with Osaka Museum of History and Tsutenkaku Tower.)

Day 21: Nara

  • Nara Park, Todai-ji Temple, Kasuga-taisha Shrine, and Naramachi.

Day 22: Hiroshima & Miyajima (Refer to the previously mentioned Hiroshima itinerary.)

Week 4: Kyushu, Shikoku & Okinawa

Days 23-24: Beppu, Kyushu

  • Day 23: Visit the Hells (Jigoku) – hot springs for viewing, not bathing.
  • Day 24: Take a sand bath at Beppu Beach Sand Bath and explore Beppu City Traditional Bamboo Crafts Center.

Days 25-26: Matsuyama, Shikoku

  • Day 25: Matsuyama Castle, Ninomaru Historical Garden.
  • Day 26: Dogo Onsen and Ishite-ji Temple.

Days 27-28: Takamatsu, Shikoku

  • Day 27: Ritsurin Garden and Takamatsu Castle ruins.
  • Day 28: Naoshima Island art museums and installations.

Days 29-30: Okinawa Islands

  • Day 29: Shuri Castle, Okinawa Peace Memorial Park in Naha.
  • Day 30: Explore the Kerama Islands – with pristine beaches and opportunities for snorkeling.

A month in Japan allows you to immerse deeply into both popular destinations and off-the-beaten paths. The itinerary embraces a variety of landscapes, from rural to urban, and cultural activities, from ancient temples to modern art installations. As always, the pace can be adjusted according to personal preferences, and there’s always more to discover in each destination! Remember to get a Japan Rail (JR) Pass for long-distance travel; it’s economical and convenient. Safe and joyous travels!

Traditional Japanese street in Tokyo, Japan

Japan 3 Month Travel Itinerary

Three months in Japan offers an unprecedented opportunity to explore nearly every facet of this multifaceted nation. This journey is crafted to touch upon every region, giving travelers a true sense of Japan from its icy north to its tropical south, from the densely urban to the deeply rural. Let’s journey together.

Month 1: North to Central Japan

Week 1: Hokkaido

Days 1-7: Beyond the previous Sapporo, Otaru, and Furano itinerary, add:

  • Abashiri: Visit in winter for drift ice experience.
  • Lake Toya: Enjoy the hot springs and a boat tour.
  • Hakodate: Morning market, Goryokaku Park, and night view from Mount Hakodate.

Week 2: Tohoku Region

Days 8-14: After Aomori, delve into:

  • Sendai: Visit the Date Masamune’s mausoleum and Matsushima Bay.
  • Yamagata: Explore Yamadera Temple and Zao Onsen with its ‘Snow Monsters’ in winter.
  • Akita: Experience Kakunodate’s samurai district and Nyuto Onsen.

Week 3: Kanto Region

Days 15-21: Expanding on Tokyo, integrate:

  • Chiba: Disneyland and DisneySea, Naritasan Shinshoji Temple.
  • Saitama: Explore Kawagoe’s Kurazukuri Street.
  • Gunma: Visit Kusatsu Onsen.

Week 4: Chubu Region

Days 22-28:

  • Nagano: Zenkoji Temple and snow monkeys of Jigokudani.
  • Kanazawa: Kenrokuen Garden and the historic Higashi-Chaya district.
  • Matsumoto: Matsumoto Castle and wasabi farms.

Month 2: Kansai to Chugoku

Week 1: Deeper into Kansai

Days 29-35:

  • Uji: Byodo-in Temple and tea tasting sessions.
  • Lake Biwa: Visit Otsu and explore the largest lake in Japan.
  • Wakayama: Kumano Kodo pilgrimage trails and Koyasan.

Week 2 & 3: Chugoku Region

Days 36-49:

  • Okayama: Kurashiki historic district.
  • Tottori: Sand dunes and Uradome Coast.
  • Shimane: Izumo-taisha Shrine and Matsue Castle.
  • Yamaguchi: Explore the limestone Akiyoshido Cave and historical Tsuwano.

Week 4: The Inland Sea

Days 50-56:

  • Naoshima: Continue your exploration with its contemporary art museums.
  • Shodoshima: Olive gardens and Kankakei Gorge.
  • Teshima: Teshima Art Museum.

Month 3: Kyushu, Shikoku, and Okinawa

Week 1 & 2: Kyushu Island

Days 57-70:

  • Saga: Experience the pottery town of Arita.
  • Nagasaki: Peace Park, Dejima, and Gunkanjima.
  • Kagoshima: Sakurajima volcano and Ibusuki’s sand baths.
  • Miyazaki: Explore the scenic Takachiho Gorge.

Week 3: Shikoku Island

Days 71-77:

  • Kochi: Kochi Castle and Katsurahama Beach.
  • Tokushima: Attend the Awa Odori Festival in August.
  • Ehime: Cycle the Shimanami Kaido route.

Week 4: Okinawa

Days 78-84:

  • Ishigaki: Beaches and the scenic Kabira Bay.
  • Iriomote: Jungles and Urauchi River cruise.
  • Yakushima: Ancient cedar forests, inspiration for Studio Ghibli’s “Princess Mononoke.”

This comprehensive 3-month itinerary provides a rich, immersive experience of Japan, ensuring depth in every region visited. This journey is suitable for those seeking both popular tourist spots and hidden gems. The pace is relaxed enough to allow for impromptu plans, local events, and festivals. Remember to invest in a long-term Japan Rail (JR) Pass for convenience and cost savings. Enjoy your grand Japanese adventure!

Tokyo at night with crowds and lights from a high vantage point in Japan

Is Japan A Safe Place To Visit?

Japan is often lauded as one of the safest countries in the world for travelers, and for good reason. Its low crime rate, strong social etiquette, and dedicated infrastructure for tourists make it a haven for solo travelers, families, and everyone in between. However, like any country, Japan is not without its risks, and it’s essential to be well-informed. Let’s delve into the various aspects that make Japan safe and the few areas of concern.

Crime Rates and Personal Safety

Low Crime Rates: Japan’s crime rate, especially violent crime, is notably low compared to many Western countries. This characteristic is often attributed to a combination of factors like a homogeneous society, strong family ties, social welfare systems, and effective law enforcement.

Lost and Found: There’s a popular saying that if you lose something in Tokyo, you’re likely to get it back. The lost-and-found system, especially in train stations and public places, is incredibly efficient. It’s not uncommon for lost items, including wallets with cash, to be returned to their owners.

Walking at Night: Most urban areas in Japan, including parts of Tokyo like Shinjuku and Shibuya, are generally safe to walk around, even late at night.

Solo Female Travelers: Japan is considered one of the safest countries for solo female travelers. However, like anywhere, it’s essential to be cautious, especially when consuming alcohol or walking in less populated areas at night.

Transportation Safety

Punctuality and Efficiency: Japan’s public transportation, especially the trains, is world-renowned for its punctuality, efficiency, and safety. The platforms have barriers to prevent accidents, and train staff are well-trained in emergency protocols.

Taxis: They are generally safe, clean, and reliable. Drivers are professional and usually honest, with meters ensuring transparency in fares.

Natural Disasters

Earthquakes: Japan is located in a seismic zone, making earthquakes a reality. Buildings are designed to be earthquake-resistant, and there are regular drills and robust early-warning systems in place.

Typhoons: Typhoon season typically runs from May to October. Japan’s infrastructure is built to handle strong winds and rain, but it’s wise to monitor weather updates during this period.

Health and Cleanliness

Cleanliness: Japan is impressively clean. Streets are tidy, public restrooms are well-maintained, and there’s a strong cultural emphasis on personal hygiene.

Healthcare: Japan boasts a high standard of healthcare. Hospitals are well-equipped, and doctors are well-trained, though English-speaking staff might be limited outside urban areas.

Scams and Overcharging

Scams targeting tourists are rare. However, entertainment districts like Roppongi in Tokyo have occasional reports of overcharging or misleading billing practices in nightclubs and bars.

Cultural Etiquette and Respect

One of Japan’s defining features is its culture of respect and politeness. This culture permeates interactions, making it a harmonious place for tourists. Understanding and following basic etiquettes, like bowing or removing shoes when entering someone’s home, enhances this experience.

While Japan is one of the safest travel destinations globally, it’s essential to exercise standard travel precautions. Stay aware of your surroundings, especially in crowded places, and be informed about potential natural disasters. Learn a few basic phrases in Japanese, and familiarize yourself with local customs to navigate the country respectfully and smoothly. With these measures in place, you’ll find Japan to be an incredibly welcoming and secure place to explore.

Busy urban street scene in Tokyo, Japan

When Is The Best Time To Visit Japan?

Deciding the best time to visit Japan is often a balance of considering the country’s varied climates, festivals, tourist crowds, and personal preferences. Japan is breathtakingly beautiful year-round, but the experience can differ significantly from one season to another. Here’s a detailed guide to help you decide when to embark on your journey to the Land of the Rising Sun.

Spring (March to May)

Pros:

  • Cherry Blossoms (Sakura): Without a doubt, cherry blossom season is one of Japan’s most iconic and sought-after times. From late March to early April, the country is draped in hues of pink and white, creating a magical atmosphere. Kyoto, Tokyo, and Hiroshima are particularly renowned for their cherry blossom spots.
  • Pleasant Weather: The temperatures are mild, making it comfortable for sightseeing. There’s also relatively little rainfall during this period.
  • Spring Festivals: Hanami (flower viewing) picnics and festivals are abundant, celebrating the fleeting beauty of the blossoms.

Cons:

  • Crowds: Due to its popularity, key tourist spots can become crowded. It’s also a peak travel time for both international and domestic travelers.
  • Accommodation: Hotel prices can soar, and rooms might be harder to come by unless booked well in advance.

Summer (June to August)

Pros:

  • Festivals: Summer is the season of matsuri (festivals). From Tokyo’s Sumidagawa Fireworks Festival to Kyoto’s Gion Matsuri, the atmosphere is lively and electric.
  • Mount Fuji: July and August are the official climbing seasons for Mount Fuji.

Cons:

  • Rainy Season (Tsuyu): Early to mid-summer (June to mid-July) is the rainy season in most of Japan, characterized by a consistently damp atmosphere.
  • Heat and Humidity: Late summer (late July to August) can be oppressively hot and humid, especially in cities like Tokyo and Osaka.
  • Tourists: While not as crowded as spring, popular spots still see a significant influx of tourists.

Autumn (September to November)

Pros:

  • Fall Foliage: The koyo (autumn colors) season paints the landscapes in vibrant shades of red, orange, and yellow. Kyoto and Tokyo, along with places like Nikko, offer stunning views.
  • Crisp Weather: The temperatures cool down, and the humidity of summer dissipates, making it another ideal time for sightseeing.
  • Culinary Delights: Autumn is also a time for harvesting, leading to an abundance of seasonal foods and dishes.

Cons:

  • Popularity: Like spring, fall is a favorite among travelers, which can lead to crowded spots, especially in peak koyo viewing areas.

Winter (December to February)

Pros:

  • Winter Sports: Regions like Hokkaido and Nagano become winter wonderlands, ideal for skiing and snowboarding.
  • Illuminations: Cities light up with winter illuminations, and events like the Sapporo Snow Festival showcase incredible ice sculptures.
  • Onsens: Natural hot springs or onsens in snowy regions offer a uniquely Japanese experience.

Cons:

  • Cold Weather: Coastal regions like Tokyo experience cold temperatures, while places like Hokkaido can be frigid, requiring appropriate clothing.
  • Limited Daylight: Days are shorter, so planning ahead is essential to make the most of sightseeing.

The best time to visit Japan genuinely depends on what you want to experience. If cherry blossoms are your dream, spring is the season for you. For vibrant fall colors and pleasant weather, aim for autumn. Summer offers a lively festival atmosphere, while winter provides a serene snowy landscape and winter sports. Whichever season you choose, Japan promises an experience filled with beauty, culture, and memories.

Moat views in Osaka, Japan

Top Festivals and Events in Japan

The rich cultural tapestry of Japan is best observed through its festivals and events. With a harmonious blend of ancient traditions and modern celebrations, these events provide visitors with an intimate look into the country’s soul. Here’s a detailed guide to some of the most notable festivals and events across Japan.

Cherry Blossom Festivals (Sakura) – Late March to Early April

  • Location: Nationwide, with famous spots in Kyoto, Tokyo, Hiroshima, and Hirosaki.
  • Highlights: The ephemeral beauty of cherry blossoms draws visitors and locals alike. Festivities include ‘hanami’ (flower-viewing) picnics under the blooming trees and evening illuminations.

Gion Matsuri – Entire Month of July

  • Location: Kyoto.
  • Highlights: One of Japan’s most famous festivals, it includes spectacular processions with elaborately decorated floats, traditional music, and dancers. The Yamaboko Junko procession, where the floats are paraded through the city, is particularly renowned.

Tanabata Festival – 7th July (and varying dates in some regions)

  • Location: Nationwide, with major celebrations in Sendai and Hiratsuka.
  • Highlights: Also known as the Star Festival, it celebrates the meeting of two deities, represented by the stars Vega and Altair, separated by the Milky Way. People write wishes on colorful strips of paper (tanzaku) and hang them on bamboo branches.

Obon Festival – Mid-August

  • Location: Nationwide.
  • Highlights: A Buddhist event where people honor the spirits of their ancestors. Festivities include Bon Odori (dance), visiting graves, and floating lanterns on rivers to guide the spirits back to the afterlife.

Sapporo Snow Festival – Early February

  • Location: Sapporo, Hokkaido.
  • Highlights: This week-long event showcases massive snow and ice sculptures. There are concerts, light shows, and local food stalls, making it a winter wonderland for visitors.

Sumidagawa Fireworks Festival – Last Saturday of July

  • Location: Tokyo.
  • Highlights: Originating in the Edo period, this festival is one of Japan’s most significant firework events. It lights up Tokyo’s night sky with over 20,000 fireworks.

Chichibu Night Festival – 2nd and 3rd December

  • Location: Chichibu, near Tokyo.
  • Highlights: This winter festival is famous for its floats adorned with lanterns, tapestries, and gilded wood. There are also fireworks, making it unique as most firework events are held in summer.

Kanda Matsuri – Mid-May (in odd-numbered years)

  • Location: Tokyo.
  • Highlights: Held in honor of the Kanda Myojin Shrine’s deities, this festival features a grand parade with 100 mikoshi (portable shrines), traditional music, and dance.

Takayama Festival – 14th and 15th April & 9th and 10th October

  • Location: Takayama, Gifu Prefecture.
  • Highlights: Celebrated in spring and autumn, it showcases beautifully decorated floats. The evening procession in spring, with floats lit by lanterns, is particularly picturesque.

Awa Odori – 12th to 15th August

  • Location: Tokushima, Shikoku Island.
  • Highlights: Part of the Obon season, this is Japan’s largest dance festival. Dancers, musicians, and singers parade the streets in traditional costumes, performing the Awa Dance.

Nebuta Festival (Nebuta Matsuri) – Early August

  • Location: Aomori City, Aomori Prefecture.
  • Highlights: Enormous, brightly-lit floats inspired by Japanese myths and historical figures are paraded through the streets, accompanied by traditional music. Taiko drummers, flute players, and dancers wearing haneto costumes add to the vibrant atmosphere.

Yuki Matsuri (Snow Light Path Festival) – February

  • Location: Otaru, Hokkaido.
  • Highlights: The romantic city of Otaru lights up with candles placed in snow sculptures, illuminating the pathways and canals. The soft glow against the snowy backdrop creates a magical atmosphere.

Nada Kenka Matsuri (Nada Fight Festival) – 14th and 15th October

  • Location: Himeji, Hyogo Prefecture.
  • Highlights: A raucous event where groups of men carrying massive shrine floats clash them together in a show of strength and spirit. This festival showcases a more raw, competitive side of Japan’s traditional events.

Sanja Matsuri – Third Weekend of May

  • Location: Tokyo.
  • Highlights: One of Tokyo’s grandest and most lively festivals, it’s centered around the Asakusa Shrine. With a boisterous atmosphere, attendees carry over a hundred mikoshi shrines through the district’s streets, accompanied by traditional music and dancing.

Kyoto Jidai Matsuri (Historical Parade Festival) – 22nd October

  • Location: Kyoto.
  • Highlights: A grand procession portraying characters from various periods of Kyoto’s long history, from the Heian period to the Meiji Restoration. With over 2,000 participants in period-specific attire, it’s a beautiful journey through Japan’s past.

Hadaka Matsuri (Naked Festival) – Third Saturday of February

  • Location: Okayama City, Okayama Prefecture.
  • Highlights: Thousands of men dressed only in loincloths gather in the cold to participate in this energetic event. They compete to catch sacred sticks thrown by a priest, believed to bring good fortune for an entire year.

Setouchi Triennale – Held triennially over three seasons

  • Location: Setouchi Region, incorporating several islands of the Seto Inland Sea.
  • Highlights: An international modern art festival, showcasing installations from artists around the world. The exhibits, against the backdrop of the region’s scenic beauty, offer a harmonious blend of art and nature.

Tenjin Matsuri – 24th and 25th July

  • Location: Osaka.
  • Highlights: Known for its grand processions on land and in the water. Highlighted by fireworks, it’s a celebration dedicated to the Sugawara Michizane deity, enshrined at Osaka Tenmangu Shrine.

Wisteria Festival – Late April to Mid-May

  • Location: Ashikaga Flower Park, Tochigi Prefecture.
  • Highlights: Witness vast, century-old wisteria trees bloom in a cascade of colors, creating an ethereal landscape. At night, the flowers are illuminated, further enhancing their beauty.

Yamayaki Festival – Last Saturday of January

  • Location: Nara.
  • Highlights: An age-old tradition where the grassy slopes of Mount Wakakusa are set ablaze, creating a spectacular sight. The mountain burning is preceded by a fireworks display.

Japan’s festivals are an amalgamation of tradition, spirituality, and celebration. They offer an unparalleled insight into the nation’s heritage, values, and communal spirit. Whether it’s the serene ambiance of the cherry blossom season or the dynamic energy of the dance festivals, there’s something in Japan’s calendar for every traveler.


source: Samuel and Audrey on YouTube

Japan Shopping Guide and Souvenir List

Japan, a harmonious blend of age-old traditions and cutting-edge innovations, offers shoppers an unmatched experience. Whether you’re meandering through the bustling markets of Tokyo or exploring artisanal workshops in Kyoto, there’s something to captivate every type of shopper. Dive into this comprehensive guide to unravel the best shopping experiences and souvenirs to bring home from the Land of the Rising Sun.

Assorted Japanese Kit Kat flavours as a distinct souvenir to buy in Japan for tourists

Shopping Districts and Streets:

  • Ginza (Tokyo): A high-end shopping district with iconic department stores like Mitsukoshi and international luxury brands.
  • Shinsaibashi (Osaka): An extensive shopping area known for both global brands and local boutiques.
  • Takeshita Street (Tokyo): Located in Harajuku, it’s the go-to for quirky fashion and youth trends.
  • Nishiki Market (Kyoto): A bustling marketplace offering regional specialties, from food to crafts.
  • Amerikamura (Osaka): Popular among the youth, it’s brimming with trendy boutiques, cafes, and vintage stores.

Department Stores & Malls:

  • Isetan Shinjuku (Tokyo): Renowned for its curated selection of luxury goods.
  • Daimaru (Osaka & Tokyo): Historic store with a vast array of products, from fashion to home goods.
  • Tokyo Midtown & Roppongi Hills (Tokyo): Modern complexes with shopping, dining, and entertainment options.
  • Canal City (Fukuoka): A massive entertainment and shopping complex with a unique canal running through it.

Electronic & Tech:

  • Akihabara (Tokyo): The mecca for electronics, anime, and gaming enthusiasts.
  • Yodobashi Camera & Bic Camera: Nationwide chains offering everything tech, from cameras to household appliances.

Traditional Crafts & Antiques:

  • Kappabashi Street (Tokyo): Perfect for kitchenware and unique food sample models.
  • Kuramae (Tokyo): Known for its artisanal workshops producing paper goods, textiles, and more.
  • Oedo Antique Market (Tokyo): Japan’s largest outdoor market, ideal for vintage finds.


source: Samuel and Audrey on YouTube

Souvenir List:

1. Kimono & Yukata: Traditional Japanese clothing, available from upscale boutiques to thrift stores.

2. Furoshiki: A versatile wrapping cloth that can be used for bundling goods or as a chic accessory.

3. Japanese Pottery & Ceramics: From the rustic Bizen ware to the intricate Kiyomizu ceramics of Kyoto.

4. Matcha (Green Tea) & Tea Sets: Premium tea sourced from Uji in Kyoto or the tea farms of Shizuoka.

5. Sake: Japan’s iconic rice wine, available from local breweries in various regions.

6. Folding Fans (Sensu & Uchiwa): Beautiful and functional, these fans come with traditional prints and designs.

7. Japanese Stationery: Notepads, washi tapes, and artful writing tools renowned for their quality.

8. Kokeshi Dolls: Wooden dolls from the northern Tohoku region, each with its own unique design.

9. Japanese Whisky: Brands like Yamazaki and Hibiki have gained international acclaim.

10. Kit-Kat: Japan is famous for its unique flavors, from matcha to sake, and sweet potato.

11. Traditional Snacks: Senbei (rice crackers), mochi, and dorayaki (red bean pancakes) to name a few.

12. Japanese Incense: Kyoto is particularly renowned for its aromatic incense sticks.

13. Wagashi: Traditional Japanese confections, often paired with tea.

14. Crafted Samurai Swords: While real swords require special permits, decorative replicas make for great mementos.

15. Japanese Pearls: Especially from regions like Toba and Mie.


source: Samuel and Audrey on YouTube

Shopping in Japan is an experience in itself, a mix of the modern and the traditional. Whether you’re picking up the latest tech gadget, indulging in luxury fashion, or getting your hands on age-old crafts, Japan’s diverse shopping landscape promises unforgettable memories and souvenirs that are a true reflection of its rich culture.

Where To Visit After Your Trip To Japan?

After soaking in the rich tapestry of culture, history, and modernity that Japan has to offer, many travelers find themselves craving further adventures in regions that offer both contrasts and similarities to the Land of the Rising Sun. Here’s a curated list of destinations to consider post-Japan, whether you’re in the mood for bustling cities, tranquil retreats, or further cultural immersion.


source: Samuel and Audrey on YouTube

South Korea:

  • Similarities: Shared historical links, cultural festivals, and love for technology.
  • Contrasts: Distinct cuisines, K-pop culture, and the Korean language.
  • Must-visit spots: Seoul’s palaces like Gyeongbokgung, Jeju Island, the historical city of Gyeongju, and Busan’s vibrant beaches.
  • Why it’s a great next stop: The proximity of South Korea makes it a short flight away, making it convenient and allowing for a seamless blend of traditional and modern East Asian experiences.

Taiwan:

  • Similarities: Rich in traditions, with bustling markets and street food scenes.
  • Contrasts: Unique mix of Chinese and indigenous influences, Mandarin as the dominant language.
  • Must-visit spots: Taipei 101, Sun Moon Lake, Taroko Gorge, and the historical city of Tainan.
  • Why it’s a great next stop: In Taiwan you can dive into a world of night markets, bubble tea origins, and mountainous landscapes.

Vietnam:

  • Similarities: Emphasis on family values, respect for traditions, and intricate temples.
  • Contrasts: Tropical climate, varied landscapes from beaches to rice terraces, and an emphasis on French colonial history.
  • Must-visit spots: Hanoi’s Old Quarter, the ancient town of Hoi An, Halong Bay, Hue and the bustling city of Ho Chi Minh.
  • Why it’s a great next stop: Vietnam offers an affordable, vibrant, and sensory-filled exploration, rich in history and natural beauty.

Thailand:

China:

  • Similarities: Ancient dynastic history, significant Buddhist influence, and tea culture.
  • Contrasts: Vast in size, with a wider range of ethnicities and landscapes, Mandarin Chinese culture.
  • Must-visit spots: Beijing’s Forbidden City, Xi’an’s Terracotta Army, the metropolis of Shanghai, and the picturesque region of Guilin.
  • Why it’s a great next stop: In China you can take a deeper dive into East Asian history and culture, while experiencing the vastness of China’s landscapes and cities.

Mongolia:

  • Similarities: Nomadic historical ties and influences from the broader East Asian region.
  • Contrasts: Vast open steppes, yurt stays, and a deeper immersion in nomadic culture.
  • Must-visit spots: Ulaanbaatar, the Gobi Desert, and Naadam Festival if timing allows.
  • Why it’s a great next stop: Mongolia is perfect for those wanting to escape urban landscapes and dive into a unique, rugged environment.

Philippines:

  • Similarities: Island culture, with some historical Japanese influences.
  • Contrasts: Tropical beach paradises, Spanish colonial history, and Tagalog culture.
  • Must-visit spots: Manila’s historical sites, the beaches of Boracay, Palawan’s lagoons, and the Chocolate Hills of Bohol.
  • Why it’s a great next stop: The Philippines is ideal for beach lovers and those looking for a blend of Asian and Spanish influences.


source: Samuel and Audrey on YouTube

Singapore:

  • Similarities: Both countries are technologically advanced with a deep appreciation for cleanliness, order, and design.
  • Contrasts: Singapore’s melting pot of cultures results in a diverse culinary scene and a mix of architectural styles.
  • Must-visit spots: Marina Bay Sands, Gardens by the Bay, Sentosa Island, and the historic Raffles Hotel.
  • Why it’s a great next stop: Singapore offers a modern city experience with a unique blend of Malay, Chinese, Indian, and Western influences.


source: Samuel and Audrey on YouTube

Malaysia:

  • Similarities: Rich cultural festivals, shared historical links due to trade, and a love for food.
  • Contrasts: Malaysia boasts a tropical climate, a combination of Malay, Chinese, and Indian cultures, and lush rainforests.
  • Must-visit spots: Kuala Lumpur’s Petronas Twin Towers, George Town in Penang, the historic city of Malacca, and Borneo’s wildlife adventures.
  • Why it’s a great next stop: Visitors to Malaysia can experience both city life in Kuala Lumpur and island living in places like Langkawi.

Indonesia:

  • Similarities: Both have a rich tapestry of traditions and rituals, with Indonesia focusing heavily on Balinese Hinduism in areas.
  • Contrasts: Indonesia offers a vast archipelago of islands, each with its distinct culture and landscapes.
  • Must-visit spots: Bali’s temples and beaches, Yogyakarta’s Borobudur Temple, Komodo National Park, and the cultural hub of Ubud.
  • Why it’s a great next stop: Indonesia is perfect for those looking to explore a diverse set of islands, from bustling Jakarta to the serene Gili Islands.

Cambodia:

  • Similarities: Both countries are known for their ancient temples and royal palaces.
  • Contrasts: Cambodia is heavily influenced by its Khmer history, evident in its architecture and arts.
  • Must-visit spots: Angkor Wat in Siem Reap, the Royal Palace in Phnom Penh, and the beach town of Sihanoukville.
  • Why it’s a great next stop: Visitors to Cambodia can journey through time, exploring the ancient ruins of the Khmer Empire while also enjoying the tranquility of Cambodia’s beaches.

Laos:

  • Similarities: A shared appreciation for religious rituals and temples.
  • Contrasts: Laos has a more laid-back vibe, with untouched landscapes and a slower pace of life.
  • Must-visit spots: Luang Prabang’s Buddhist temples, the scenic Vang Vieng, and the mysterious Plain of Jars.
  • Why it’s a great next stop: Laos is ideal for those looking for a peaceful and scenic environment, rich in culture and history.

Nepal:

  • Similarities: Both have mountainous regions and a reverence for religious practices and festivals.
  • Contrasts: Nepal is dominated by the towering peaks of the Himalayas and has deep-rooted influences from Tibetan Buddhism and Hinduism.
  • Must-visit spots: Kathmandu’s Durbar Square, trekking routes in the Annapurna and Everest regions, and the serene Phewa Lake in Pokhara.
  • Why it’s a great next stop: Nepal is a haven for trekkers and those looking to immerse themselves in Himalayan culture and spirituality.

Journeying beyond Japan opens up a plethora of diverse experiences in East and Southeast Asia. Each destination offers its own unique blend of history, culture, and natural beauty, ensuring that the intrepid traveler will never run out of stories to tell or memories to cherish.

Hiking in Mount Takao as a popular day trip from Tokyo, Japan

Japan Travel Guide: Final Thoughts

Japan, often referred to as the Land of the Rising Sun, is a nation that seamlessly marries its ancient past with a constantly evolving present. From the cherry blossoms that adorn its temples in spring to the high-speed bullet trains connecting its major cities, Japan encapsulates the essence of harmony – between nature and urbanity, tradition and innovation. As we culminate our extensive journey through Japan’s many facets, let’s reflect upon the unparalleled experiences the country offers and the indelible impressions it leaves on its visitors.

A Tapestry of Time

When one wanders through the narrow streets of Kyoto, it’s easy to imagine the times when samurai walked those very paths, or when geishas gracefully greeted their guests. The palaces, temples, and shrines, some of which are UNESCO World Heritage sites, are not just architectural marvels, but living chronicles of the nation’s storied history. Yet, a short train ride away, Tokyo stands as a testament to Japan’s cutting-edge modernity, with its skyscrapers, futuristic technology, and avant-garde fashion.

Seasonal Splendors

One of Japan’s most striking features is its profound respect and celebration of the seasons. Each season, distinct and deeply celebrated, paints the country with its unique palette. Spring showers streets in pink and white cherry blossoms, summer invites festivals with fireworks and dances, autumn drapes the landscape in a warm hue of reds and oranges, while winter covers the northern regions in a pristine blanket of snow, perfect for skiing and onsen (hot spring) experiences.

Nomadic Samuel ordering street food in Nara, Japan

Culinary Delights

No discourse on Japan can be complete without a nod to its gastronomic prowess. Whether it’s the multi-course traditional meal of kaiseki, the freshness of sushi savored at a Tsukiji Market stall, or the street-side allure of takoyaki and okonomiyaki, Japanese cuisine is a symphony of flavors and an art form in itself. Each region boasts its specialties, and part of the joy of traveling through Japan is the culinary journey it promises.

Culture and Etiquette

The Japanese are known for their politeness, and their cultural etiquettes are deeply ingrained. From the simple act of exchanging business cards to the intricate tea ceremony, there’s a rhythm and respect in interactions. It’s essential for travelers to familiarize themselves with basic etiquettes – it not only enriches the travel experience but also fosters mutual respect.

Nikko scenic waterfall in Japan amidst lush green scenery

Diverse Landscapes

While cities like Tokyo, Kyoto, and Osaka often take center stage, Japan’s natural beauty is breathtaking. The Japanese Alps, the beaches of Okinawa, the forests of Hokkaido, and the scenic Japanese countryside, especially in areas like the Kii Peninsula, offer tranquility and a welcome respite from urban life.

Infinite Discoveries

Perhaps the most enchanting aspect of Japan is that no two visits can ever be the same. From the neon-lit streets of Akihabara to the peacefulness of a Zen garden, from the bustling intersections of Shibuya to the serene vistas of Mount Fuji, there’s always something new to discover, learn, and experience.

Japan is more than just a travel destination; it’s a journey of discovery, of personal growth, and of understanding the delicate balance of tradition and progress. The echoes of ancient festivals, the taste of traditional dishes, the view from a ryokan overlooking a quiet forest, and the hum of a metropolis at night – these are the moments and memories that stay with you long after you’ve left its shores.

Whether you’re a first-time visitor, a seasoned traveler, or someone dreaming of a Japanese adventure, know that Japan awaits with its myriad experiences, teaching you to find joy in the fleeting moments and beauty in the everyday. As the Japanese proverb goes, “Even a road of thousand miles begins with a single step.” Here’s to many journeys, many memories, and many returns to the enchanting world of Japan.

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