If I was forced to pick a favorite country to travel in it would have to be Japan. It’s a sentiment we often think about as every person we talk to ask for our favorite country to travel.
Not that it is a secret, I’ve noted numerous times on this travel blog that I absolutely adore Japan. This would explain why I plan to return year after year to the Land of the Rising Sun. I’m not alone, countless friends, videos, documentaries, articles and others who truly feel the joys of traveling in Japan.
Why is Japan such a great place to travel?
What draws me back and to spend all my savings on sushi and sake?
Why I love to Travel in Japan!
The Japanese are well known for being extremely polite. After traveling to 80+ countries I can honestly say that the Japanese are among the most courteous people in the world.
While the majority of Japanese do not have strong English skills, they are still welcome foreigners in their land. It’s common for them to provide help and exhibit compassion towards visitors.
I’ve had numerous instances of Japanese coming up to me to just practice their English and assist in any way they can. I’ll never forget when I had a local man in Tokyo run up to me at the train station and ask if he could accompany me to dinner to be nice and converse.
The thought of a Japanese individual being rude, aggressive, or violent is rare as it is against their cultural norms and society.
If they don’t seem the friendliest it’s likely they cannot understand you and don’t want to be embarrassed for their inability to help you as it considered rude. This will likely only be the case in rural parts of Japan and with older people. Just show them a smile and say a few words of Japanese – it goes a long way!
Ever since I was in high school and tried sushi for the first time I feel in love with Japanese food, at least what I thought was Japanese food. On my first trip to Japan I set out to find and eat at every sushi restaurant possible.
Then I realized there is so much more to Japanese food than sushi! My next find would be Ramen.
Ramen is now favorite of mine and it’s a Japanese staple known for being cheap and cheerful that locals eat all the time. Personally there is nothing better than a hot bowl of ramen on a cold winter day in Japan. The popular noodle soup dish that usually has noodles, tomago, moyashi, seaweed, and pork in the world’s most delicious broth. Each region and even city has their own style of ramen and they come in a wide variety of styles such as Shoyu, Shio, and Miso.
Don’t let the food end with ramen and sushi because there is so much more depth. Japanese food is so varied there are so many classic dishes and styles like yakitori, okonomiyaki, Japanese curry, tempura, bento, yakiniku, miso, udon, soba, and donburi.
What makes Japanese food so special is attention to detail food is made with care while highlighting beautiful ingredients. There is no haphazard canned or overcooked food here, it’s almost all beautiful and fresh.
The Sushi Trains
While sushi is probably a special and expensive meal out where you live, you can find it for an affordable price in Japan. Of course, there are expensive world-class options, but almost every decent sized town and city in Japan has conveyor belt sushi.
Conveyor belt sushi is a quick and cheap meal in Japan. Sushi is made and sent out onto a train like a conveyor belt which will rotate around the restaurant. Guests can grab what they please and then at the end of the meal the waitress will come to tally up the plates to give a total for the meal.
The plates are different colored and the higher grade sushi goes on more expensive plates, which is all color coded. Typically you can get two pieces of nigiri for ¥100 to ¥200 and then the prices go up from there depending on the cut of fish.
You can easily walk out of a sushi conveyor belt meal feeling stuffed off high-quality fish for under ¥1500. That’s the price of mediocre sushi in the United States!
Sake is an alcoholic Japanese rice wine. It is delicious and if you have never had I urge you to order a carafe, or tokkuri, next time you see it on a menu.
Sake is Japan’s national beverage and is often served on special occasions in the tokkuri, a small porcelain bottle, and then poured and sipped from a sakazuki. You can either have sake chilled, warm, or room temperature. Generally speaking, cheap sake is warmed to mask the taste while fine sakes or slightly chilled to savor the taste. An average sake is very affordable in Japan and can be enjoyed at any meal you have out.
We love to have it at an Iizakaya (Japanese pub). You can also find it in the liquor section at the grocery store and get yourself a whole bottle for between 800 yen-2000 yen. Don’t bother trying to pick out the best one by reading the labels, it’s virtually impossible unless you speak Japanese. My best advice is to pick the prettiest bottle and go from there, or you could always test out your language skills and ask someone!
Don’t forget to bring some home!
The Free Green Tea!
I’ve never visited any Japanese sushi restaurant and not been offered free green tea and I love it. My favorite is the DIY sushi conveyor belt restaurants that offer green tea powder in front of you, with your own cup, and a hot water dispenser at your seat. Drink as much as you want.
In case you missed it – Green tea has major health benefits like improved brain function, fat loss, a lower risk of cancer.
Matcha is a finely ground powder from green tea leaves. The finished product is a bright green powder that is commonly used in traditional Japnese tea ceremonies and also in many other food items in Japan. It’s delicious and can be drunk with milk or water – hot or iced. I personally think Matcha is slightly sweet, vegetal, and nutty great to have with sushi, poke bowls, or with other sweets.
While matcha is a premium product usually served at hip cafes and vegan restaurants outside of Japan, in the country you can find it everywhere. Matcha ice cream, matcha soba noodles, matcha pancakes and matcha candy.
There are also many health benefits of Matcha. It’s packed with antioxidants, boosts your metabolism and enhances the mood, burns calories, and calms the mind. Oh and it’s green and tastes good. Win win win!
I’m not sure there is anything better in this world than a Japanese toilet. Yes, I just referred to a toilet as the best thing in the world, and you likely will too the first time you sit on a warm Japanese toilet seat. A Japanese toilet is nothing short of hygienic.
They are almost fully automated so you don’t have to do anything – not even wipe. For starters, I’ve yet to sit on a toilet in Japan that isn’t heated – which feels wonderful on a cold winter day.
It doesn’t stop at the heated seats, they have a spray function for your rear and front side for the ladies along with an air dryer. In addition, they often come with sound effects so no one will hear you doing your business.
I know it may not sound like much, even writing this I’m realizing that I am raving about a freaking toilet, but just wait until your first time on one then circle back with me.
The Japanese take cleanliness very seriously and this is apparent everywhere. I just mentioned how clean going number two can be, but toilets aside, Japan is a very clean place.
Good luck finding many trash cans on the streets, but that doesn’t mean you’ll find a lick of trash anywhere. The Japanese people are mindful of their impact on other and are always expected to pick up after themselves.
Hotel rooms? spotless. Public bathrooms? Actually pleasant in Japan! Bus drivers, policemen, train conductors – all wearing gloves. If one is sick it’s expected to wear a face mask. And don’t forget to take a ride in a taxi cab in Japan – it will be the cleanest you’ve ever taken a ride.
There’s a preconceived notion that geisha are prostitutes, and this cannot be farther from the truth. A geisha is a highly skilled and trained professional artist. She is a female entertainer performing different forms of Japanese art and performances. To hire out a geisha for a private event is a not cheap affair and is typically done at an ochaya (tea house) or at a ryōte (Japanese restaurant). Prices typically start at ¥50,000 and up for a geisha or maiko (apprentice).
If hiring out a geisha is not in your budget see if you can spot them around the city. Gion, in Kyoto, is the traditional geisha district in Japan and it is here that you stand the best chance of seeing one going to or from an appointment. I was lucky enough to be in Kyoto during the Setsubun Festival (the day before the beginning of Spring) and was able to see a few geisha and maiko, which is how I snapped the photo below.
The Asia Pacific region has some of the fastest internet connection in the world, and this definitely rings true in Japan. Most of the places we stayed at in Japan had at least 100 Mbps download speeds!
I’ve never had that kind of internet anywhere in the world unless I am at my home paying for fiber. If you have to stay connected and get work done, Japan has you covered.
The Kotatsu Tables
Leave it to the Japanese to invent the next greatest thing in the world (after their toilet of course). I’m not talking about Nintendo or Sony, but a kotatsu table. A kotatsu table is a low table, with a blanket/futon over it and a heater running under the blanket. It will keep you warm and cozy for hours on end and in the winter time you will never want to leave this table.
I’ve yet to see a kotatsu table outside of Japan, although I have tried to make my own makeshift one at home (not nearly as good). If you see a kotatsu table somewhere when you are in Japan grab a bottle of sake, a good book, and enjoy its warmth.
A tatami mat is a specific type of flooring used in Japanese rooms. It’s traditionally made using rice straw to form the core. You can find tatami mats in many Japanese homes and traditional Japanese inns (ryokans.) When you find them in your accommodation you’ll find that a roll out bed will be on the floor and you will sleep right on the tatami mats.
If you are heading to Japan I would highly recommend seeking out at least one Japanese ryokan to stay at during your trip. Not only do they look cool, but they’ve also played a role in Japanese culture since the eighth century!
The Japanese have a very proud and unique culture, especially compared to Western Nations, and only closely related to China. It’s interesting to witness this different culture first hand with a visit to Japan.
Japanese culture has changed drastically over all its periods. From the food to the clothing, performing arts, language, religion, and even written text it’s easy to get mesmerized by Japanese culture.
I would try to explain more, but honestly, Japan is not one of those places you can’t understand from a blog, movies, or through books. You need to go there to witness the day to day life of the area and breathe in the wonderful Japanese air for yourself.
The Land of the Rising Sun has some pretty interesting history. It’s all fascinating from early Japan, ninjas, and samurais during feudal Japan, the Edo Period, and all the way to WWII and post-war Japan.
You’ll see parts of its history, especially the more modern history like sobering reminders of the destruction of war and mankind at the bombing sites of Hiroshima and Nagasaki on any trip.
I bet you know that Japan is one of the most populated countries on the planet. But did you also know that the forest still covers over 67% of Japan’s total land area? With such a high population it’s hard to believe that Japan is one of the most forested countries on this planet.
It’s got mountains, volcanoes, breathtaking coastlines, caves, rivers, bays, and forests filled with brown bears, Japanese deer, monkeys, and beautiful wildlife. While there are over 126 million people living in Japan, most of them live on Honshu and in densely within city boundaries.
The Japanese live in harmony with nature. Since ancient times nature has been the beating heart of many tales and thousands of artworks. Nature is a symbol of enchantment, peace, and mystery. It all trace back to the Shinto religion that believes in the many spirits, kami, that exist in nature.
While the cities of Tokyo, Kyoto, and Sapporo are nice to visit it’s the countryside and rural areas that keep drawing me back. You’ll have no trouble taking in the nature that you can when you travel to Japan.
Our last visit was around Christmas. The hot holiday commodity? A robot dog to love you. It was super adorable and I almost wanted one (until I saw the ¥200,000 yen price tag).
That’s just one example, visit Japan and you’ll see what I’m talking about. How about “Hello Kitty Lane” in the Chitose airport or the fact that almost every town, city, large business, sports team, school, region, or even laxative company has their own mascot in Japan? That last one is true…
One of the main complaints I hear about traveling in Japan is how expensive it is to travel. Outside of transport I actually find Japan quite reasonable. I’m not going to say it’s similar to Thailand, South Africa, or Nicaragua, but I would put it on par with places like Canada, Austria, or Italy. Still cheaper than countries like the U.K., Nordic Countries, or the United States.
Hotels and accommodation options are always a mixed bag. You can find reasonable ones, stay in hostels, or capsule pod hotels. Or if you find yourself traveling during the high season, in resort towns like Niseko, or enjoy the finer things in life you will, of course, see higher prices.
What I do find good value in Japan (and the most important part) is the food. One can easily have a nice Japanese meal out for under ¥20,000, and remember conveyor belt sushi that I mentioned? The best part is that you never have to think about an additional tip add on as it is considered rude to leave a tip in Japan.
Japan is one of the safest countries in the world. On a Global Peace Index they rank number nine out of all the countries in the world. Given their huge population size of 126 million people, that is quite impressive. Canada is the only country that ranks higher than them that is “close” in population at 35 million people.
It’s one of the best countries to travel for solo female travelers as people are respectful and the chances of being hurt by violent crime is exceptionally low. Fewer than one person is murdered for every 100,000 in the population, compared to 4.8 for the United States and 44.7 in Belize. Japan has strict gun laws, a stable society, with low inequality, and high levels of education.
Unlike many other parts of the world, or even my own home country I feel safe in Japan walking alone at night and I have never felt preying male eyes on me. For the most part, everyone here just minds their own business!
The Vending Machines!
The sheer amount of vending machines in Japan is impossible to ignore. I think I read somewhere that there are over 5 million vending machines in Japan and you can get almost anything from them. Of course, there are regular things like Coca-Cola and shrimp crackers, but then there are books, batteries, bras, umbrellas, bottles of sake, heck in some places it’s even how you order your dinner.
There are several reasons Japan has so many vending machines. For one it’s a cash-based society – perfect for vending machines. Cost of labor is also exceptionally high, so with a vending machine, you eliminate the need for a sales clerk. Japan is one of the safest countries in the world, and the thought of vandalizing a vending machine is almost unthinkable.
People are also busy here – Japan is a workaholic country. Why go into a 7-11 when you can hit up a vending machine. Vending machines offer competitive prices for basic products. So, don’t skip going to a vending machine in Japan, although it will be hard to avoid one!
There truly is no bad time to visit in Japan. The country gets four amazing seasons and each one is beautiful in its own way. Late spring (March to May) and late autumn (September to November) are generally considered the best times to visit Japan. That’s when you can find clear skies and mild temperatures.
For winter lovers and snowboarders, it’s best to visit the northern regions and mountains between December and March. If you want to chase the cherry blossoms, the trees start to blossom in the warmer south in late March and will start to fall from the trees after two weeks. This makes places like Kyoto a wonderland in April and early May.
During the fall months, you’ll see the leaves change and everything turn brilliants colors. Then of course, summer is always a popular time to travel, and while you have long summer days you may feel the humidity.
Our goal is to return twice a year. Always in the winter, because Japan has magical snofalls and tourism is down and then once again during the other seasons.
It’s almost impossible to know how many temples and shrines are in Japan, but the fact that Kyoto alone has over 2,000 that should tell you something – you’ll be hard pressed not to see a Japanese temple.
Taking time to properly explore and see some of these awe-inspiring temples while visiting Japan is a must. They are all so different and beautiful in their own unique way.
Some of these temples are over 1000 years old and obviously should be treated with respect and humility. A few of my favorites are Senso-ji, Kotoku-In Temple, and Kotoku-In Temple.
Over the past ten years, the small town of Niseko in Hokkaido has risen to international fame in the ski world. This part of Japan receives epic snow dumps making it a powder paradise.
Although, the slopes at Niseko are mellower than those in the Swiss Alps or North America, the snow is some kind of dry white magical fluff. To sweeten the deal, between the months of December and March the snow doesn’t seem to stop falling on the ground.
But it’s not just Niseko, it’s all over Hokkaido! We found great powdery goodness in the small town of Furano, and ski resorts like Kurodake and Rusutsu Resort are major highlights for any skier or snowboarder.
You’re not limited to Hokkaido though as they awe inspiring Japanese Alps, also receive plenty of snowfall on the island of Honshu at resorts like Hakuba and Nozawa Onsen.
If you are a diehard ski-bum you better add Japan to your list of bucket list destinations — it is epic!
Japan has the world’s best transport system. Especially around the big cities like Osaka, Tokyo, and Kyoto. Getting around is rarely an issue with an efficient rail network, which is the best way to get around Japan.
While transportation is typically expensive, when I first traveled Japan I purchased a JR pass. A JR Pass is only available to foreigners and essentially works like a Eurail pass in Europe. A pass is purchased for a set amount of time or rides, depending on your needs and destinations. It’s best for those who want to hit more than two or three destinations in Japan, but you will have to do your research to see what is best for you.
I personally had a two-week unlimited rail pass and traveled at a rapid pace to places like Kyoto, Nara, Hiroshima, Miyajima, Naoshima, and so many more cities and towns. Well worth the investment. The most reliable way to check train fares and times is on Hyperdia
It’s important to note that Japanese trains leave on the dot of it’s scheduled time. Don’t believe me? Read this article. To be Japanese is to be punctual. If you are not punctual you will 100% miss your train.
Also – Japan is where you can ride the famous Shinkansen train – or “bullet train” – which really is an experience as the train rockets across the country. Note that not all trains in Japan are Shinkansen trains.
I’ve never been in a more efficiently run country than Japan. I’ve already touched on the transport and being on time, but there are many other aspects where I just think “Why can’t the United States operate like this – it makes so much SENSE.” Pay any visit to Japan and you’ll see how disciplined and rule based society operates.
Japan has a lot of “rules” that may seem strange or strict to the average Western traveler. I put rules in quotations because while many times they are not laws or actually set rules, it is advisable to respect all the social norms and customs.
Things I always notice as soon as I am in Japan are:
- Be on time. It is very disrespectful to be late in Japan.
- On an escalator, there is a side for walking and a side of standing. This is the same in many other places, but in Japan, it is actually enforced.
- Don’t hesitate to bow. Men bow with their hands to their sides. Women bow with their hands together in front.
- Present business cards with two hands.
- Never stick your chopsticks in a bowl of rice as that is how rice is offered to the dead.
- Never wear your shoes inside. Slippers will be offered and are for indoor wear.
- It is considered impolite to leave a tip.
- Respect the elderly.
- Don’t litter. You are expected to clean up after yourself and take care of your own trash and mess you create.
- Always wash before you enter an onsen. Always.
- Avoid speaking loud or causing a scene in public.
- Do not point your finger at anyone.
I could probably make a whole post about the cultural norms and expectations in Japan, but the best thing to do is go and experience it all for yourself and adapt. If you do break a rule it’s okay, the Japanese understand that you are a foreigner and may not know their rules.
Visiting a Japanese Onsen should be at the top of your things to do in Japan list! An onsen is a Japanese hot spring where visitors are separated by sex and can soak naked in the warm water, usually outside.
It’s an incredibly relaxing especially during the winter months and a unique cultural experience to be had. As Japan is a volcanically active country, there are thousands of onsens scattered throughout.
Don’t be shy! Everyone in an onsen is naked and no one cares. You may not wear a bathing suit in an onsen and some traditional onsens even ban tattoos so check accordingly if you have tattoos. Onsens are separated by sex and you are required to wash your body before entering and many times you will also wash afterward to remove the minerals.
In the end, Japan is just a strange and unique place to visit (in a good way!). I often say that there is the whole world, and then there is Japan.
It’s the result of the island being so shut off from the rest of the world until recently. Japan is one of the only countries in the world that has never been controlled by a Western Nation. It has a long history of independence and is far away from just about anywhere besides China, Korea, and a few other Asian nations.
You can go there and almost feel like you are in another world. They have things like maid cafes, seven-story arcade shops, robot cafes, cat cafes, a bunny island, a fox island, toilet only slippers, more vending machines than people, and just endless amounts of different gadgets and business ideas. I don’t think it’s possible to ever get bored in Japan.
What to pack for Japan
Travel Water Bottle
The tap water in Japan is very clean so there is no need to buy plastic water bottles and contribute to our world’s plastic problem. We’ve shifted to using an insulated aluminum water bottle as it handles the hot sun well and also keeps drinks warm when need be. See all of our favorite water bottles here.
Smith Lowdown 2
If you’re visiting during the summer you will definitely want sunglasses in Japan. My favorites are made by Smith. The Chromapop lens technologyis like seeing the world with a fresh set of our eyes. They enhance contrast, reduce glare, and reflection for superb vision while driving, walking around town, or out on the water. We also love the style of the glasses for anyone who likes to live an active lifestyle.
It is considered rude to wear your shoes inside in Japan so most places will give you slippers to walk around with once you take your shoes off at the door. However, I never found these slippers comfortable and would rather have my own from home.
You’ll be doing a lot of walking in Japan especially if you are hanging out in cities like Tokyo, Kyoto, Sapporo, or Osaka. Make sure your feet don’t want to kill you and get a pair of good men’s walking shoes or women’s walking shoes.
Chances are you’ll want a camera for your trip to Japan. Our favorite pocket-sized point and shoot camera for quick trips are the Sony RX100V. It takes fantastic photos and video and is the size of your palm. To up your photography game a bit consider the Fuji X-T3. We just bought that camera and find the images out of unbelievable. Check out our other travel cameras here.
Check out some of the best sellers right now and pick up a copy. There’s nothing better than enjoying a good book under the comfort of a Japanese katsu table. I’ve recently upgraded to the Kindle Paperwhite and absolutely love it. It’s small, has touchscreen functions, and a backlight so that I can read at night without a harsh glare.
We never travel without travel insurance with World Nomads. Natasha is a bit of a worry wart and would rather stay safe than sorry. World Nomads offers incredible flexible and great plans!
Sometimes it’s nice just to have a real book in your hands when traveling. We recommend the Lonely Planet Japan guidebook.
Japan mainly uses the Type A plug like North America, but there is generally no socket for the grounded portion. Make sure you find a good universal adapter like the one I have to keep you charged. Otherwise, you may struggle to find one once you land.
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