A trip to Japan is a trip to a country and a culture of extreme grandeur and beauty. Be amazed by Tokyo’s or Osaka’s style and endless streams of people, experience the blossoming cherry trees in spring, visit Japan’s temples, try a bath in an onsen - Japans hot springs, take walk in a wonderful Japanese garden, try the real deal when it comes to sushi, watch sumo wrestlers in live action, climb a volcanoe and socialize with the locals at one of Japan’s typical small bars located everywhere. All in all, the possibilities in Japan are endless.
For most people Tokyo is the first city they see when traveling to Japan. This is a wonderful and mad city at the same time. Tokyo might seem a bit chaotic to first time travelers, but underneath the madness you will find one gem after another.
As a visitor in Tokyo you can completely disappear in the daily chaos of people that flow by in an endless stream on subway stations, streets and shopping malls. Here is a never ending life of neon banners, commercials and blinking facades, and it can all feel a bit claustrophobic and suffocating for a first time visitor.
Thankfully, this great city has lots of unique and different neighborhoods. Tokyo holds lots of surprises and oases if you take your time to discover what lies beneath the surface. Getting around is easy due to the extensive public transport network, but in some cases you might need a translator to find your destination...
Tokyo Tsukiji is the largest fish market in the world and definitely worth a visit. But be aware, because you need to get up really early: The first visitors start to line up at 5:00 AM in the morning.
After your visit to the fish market you can continue to Nikko, which is Japan’s temple capital located a few hours drive north of Tokyo. This is where Japan’s first emperor, Toshugo, lies buried, and this area is quite overwhelming with both Buddhist and Shinto temples (Shinto is the country’s original religion in which spirits and ancestors are worshipped). If you’re lucky, you’ll see one of the famous Shinto weddings while you’re here. In a Shinto wedding everyone are dressed in traditional dresses. Wedding or not, this place is truly special – largely thanks to it’s location in the middle of a cedar wood, giving the impression of ninjas lurking in the bushes, ready to jump forward and surprise you at any moment.
It’s almost impossible to travel to Japan without visiting at least one of the many hot springs scattered across the country. In Japanese they are called Onsen and make an indispensable time off for many locals – and you will easily understand why when you visit one of these places. Visit one of the onsens in Hakone located about 100 km from Tokyo. From Hakone you can also enjoy a magnificent view to Mount Fuji, or Fuju san as the local say.
A trip to Japan should include at least a day or two in Kyoto, but you could easily spend a week in this fantastic city. Kyoto used to be the capital back in the very old days and you will understand why when you visit. A reminder of these days is present in the many beautiful temples surrounded by Japanese. In many ways Kyoto is the right place to discover and get a taste of the real Japan.
Continuing west from Kyoto you find Osaka and Himeji Castle, where you’ll find one of the most impressive castles in Japan. This castle is famous for it’s appearance in the James Bond movie ‘You Only Live Twice’, and it’s the most visited castle in Japan. It’s a very traditional and typical Japanese piece of work, and you easily understand why it’s protected by UNESCO. Himeji Castle is located just 1,5 hour away by car from the major city of Osaka.
If you visit Japan in the winter you should go skiing on the island of Hokkaido in the far north of Japan. Here you’ll discover wild forests and active volcanoes. The terrains in most parts of Hokkaido are perfect for skiing and other activities in the snow. Snowfall is abundant from November to April, and apart from the excellent Sapporo Snow Festival in Sapporo, there are large numbers of resorts and possibilities to go crazy in the snow. Good resorts are Niseko, Furano and Rusutsu among others.
In the very opposite end of Japan you find a group of islands called Okinawa which is warm with high temperatures most of the year. Both the main island Okinawa and the smaller islands around it have beautiful beaches and enchanting coral reefs. So if you have the time, then make sure to visit Okinawa. This often overlooked place offers some of the world’s most awesome coral reefs and irresistible beaches.
The price level when traveling to Japan is not as high as many think. Of course this is only true if you make an effort to find the cheaper places to eat and stay. You can find accommodation from around 20 euros per night and you should be able to eat quite well for just a little more three times a day.
If you are travelling independently in Japan, we highly recommend that you buy a Japan Rail Pass to travel with the Japanese bullet train, Shinkansen. With a Japan Rail Pass you can travel unlimited for 7, 14 or 21 days and this is the cheapest way of getting around. You need to buy your train pass outside of Japan, so make sure to make this purchase before departure.
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