Work in Japan: Fantasy vs Reality

Work in Japan: Fantasy vs Reality

Working is a chore. Working in a foreign country like Japan sounds exciting. I bet every foreigner who’s ever worked in Japan thought that at first. What they’re thinking now is slightly different…

There’s a fantasy of working life in Japan, and it’s quite the opposite of the reality. I’m not trying to scare you away from finding a job here. But it’s best to know a few things before you commit a few years to a new job in a foreign country.

In this article, we’re going to look at 3 fantasies in comparison with their realities. 

man drinking starbucks in front of a computer

Fantasy: After-work fun

Who doesn’t like a couple of drinks after work? A normal job takes up five days a week, leaving weekends and weekday evenings for leisure. You’ve got to make the most of your free time out of work. Especially if you’re thinking about working in a city like Tokyo, you might be expecting a couple of pints of beer after a long day of hard work.

There is some truth in that. Going for rounds of drinks with colleagues is actually part of the work culture here. It’s a way to bond with your coworkers. When you build stronger relationships, Japanese people believe that the workflow will be more effective. 

If your boss joins you at the after-work drinking as well, that’s when it gets even more fun. That means that the boss will pay. Free drinks for all! 

Reality: Overtime work

Realistically, you’re not going to be able to drink every night. In fact, you might not even be able to do much at night, other than sleeping. The harsh reality is that Japan has a very tough working culture. Everyone basically works overtime. Staying overtime is sometimes required, even though it’s not stated in any contract or written document. It’s an unspoken rule. You’d have to ‘read the air’ to find out. 

Depending on your company, you might not even get paid for the overtime hours (so check before signing any contracts).

In Japanese work etiquette, you don’t leave before the boss. If the boss decides to stay till 10PM, everyone else is expected to stay till 10:30PM. That’s just how it is. Let’s hope your boss doesn’t like overtime as much!

However, I’ve heard from some friends who are not required to work overtime and it’s fine with their company. So it’s not a hard-and-fast rule.

People with umbrellas leaving a building

Fantasy: Individualism

If you’ve seen or heard about Japan, you might’ve heard about their crazy fashion and perspective. Tokyo’s Harajuku neighbourhood is an outlet for the locals to express themselves and their ideas any way they like. No judgement whatsoever.

And from my own experience, this expressiveness and individualism can go beyond the neighbourhood. You see locals going out of the box in other cities, too. Many people travel to Japan to witness this unique culture for themselves. Some want the opportunity to spread their wings as well.

To be honest, it was one of my reasons for going to Japan, too. I needed to stretch my legs a bit. I wanted to explore my individuality. 

Reality: Uniformity

While you can definitely explore it during your free time, it’s not at all like that at work. The work life in Japan, and generally the cultural norm, is uniformity. When it comes to dressing, you have to look like everyone else. The dress code has to be followed. 

And it doesn’t just stop at appearance. It includes other aspects of work life. There are ways of doing things in terms of how you speak, act and react in the office. The work etiquette has a set of rules in its system, and it has to be abided by.

My personal experience with working for a Japanese company wasn’t at all like that, though. I had a bit more freedom when it comes to what I wear and how I speak. At the end of the day, it really depends on how traditional or modern the company you’re with is.

People going up on an escalator

Fantasy: Culture enriching

Moving to a new country is exciting. You’re going to be in a different environment. Everything is new. You’re going to be immersed in a foreign culture. It’s going to be like one long vacation.

On my days off where I go on day trips and sightseeing spots, the culturally enriching factor kicks in. There’s always something new to discover about Japan and its culture. One part of the country can have various cultural facts compared to another. Take Osaka and Tokyo, for example. The two are so similar, yet dramatically different in so many ways. 

Reality: Culture shock

After the holiday mood fades away, you’ll soon realise that everyday life involves stress and mundane routines. Even in a different country, you can’t avoid that. When you work in Japan, you’ll also discover aspects about the Japanese working culture – both good and bad. 

While in some countries, you don’t have to keep up with formalities in the office. When you work in Japan, they’re very strict on that. It also comes hand in hand with hierarchy. Yup, there’s work hierarchy culture here.

And it doesn’t mean age. Someone five years younger than you can have a higher status. Someone who enters the company later than you can be your boss. Regardless, you’ll have to speak to them like how you would an elderly: with respect and keigo (敬語).

Working Life in Japan

Expect big changes when you move your life to Japan, especially if you’re planning to work here. Even with these three comparisons, working life in Japan is not all bad. There are perks and advantages. And not all companies are going to be the same. At the end of the day, you’re going to experience things you’ll never be able to back in your own country. So take a leap of faith and start applying!

Japanese Summer — How Long, How Hot & How to Survive!

Japanese Summer — How Long, How Hot & How to Survive!

We’re almost in the middle of the year, which means that the weather’s going to warm up. Whether it’s to have a dip in the ocean or lie on the soft sand, summer’s greatly anticipated. Japan’s summer, though, is no joke. Not only is it packed with events and festivals like neighbourhood matsuri (祭り) and music shows, but it’s the peak of heat and humidity.

You hear a lot of people talk about Japanese summer and how hot it can get here. How hot are we talking about? I’m telling you, it really is, coming from a girl who grew up on a tropical island.

So before you get packing for your next Japanese summer trip, here are some things you need to know.

People at a summer street festival in Japan.

Image Credit: Kentaro Toma
Natsu (夏) in Japan is something everyone should be talking about. I personally have never experienced humidity like this. And like I said, I grew up in tropical Singapore, so I didn’t think anything could be worse than that.
 

Japanese summer starts around June and lasts all the way till August. It’s roughly three months, but it can vary depending on exactly which part of Japan you’re in. There’s also global warming, so summer can start as early as late May and last as long as mid-September.

If you find yourself in the southernmost part of Japan, like the Kansai region and Okinawa, you’re going to get a longer summer. Don’t forget the humidity as well. The Kanto region, where the capital city Tokyo is, is not too far off the heat and humidity levels, too. However, if you’re up north in Hokkaido, you not only get a shorter summer but also the cool and not-so-humid weather. That’s why lots of locals travel up north during this time!
If you’re wondering where you should spend the summer in Japan, Tokyo’s your best bet. Here is where you get all the great festivities and events.
Don’t worry if you’re early for Japanese summer. Late May and early June are the best times for flower viewing. Hydrangeas bloom everywhere, along with some other summer florals. Kamakura’s Meigetsuin Temple is famous for its blue hydrangea garden.
Be prepared with umbrellas, though. The start of summer in Japan is also the start of the rainy season (tsuyu, 梅雨). You might even get a typhoon (taifu, 台風) or two. The rainy season can be a week of non-stop rain and strong winds, usually at the end of June to the start of July. You might want to avoid these dates if you’re not a fan of the rain.

Summer Temperature in Japan

Large crowd at a summer festival at a shrine in Japan.

Image Credit: Julie Fader

The temperature in Japan during the summer can fluctuate. One day it can be a great summer’s day, and the next it can be as unbearable as it can get. Some of my Japanese friends have noted that summer temperature in recent years has been particularly high. We’re advised to take precautions so as to not get heatstroke.

June’s weather is comfortable. You’ll get a cooling 22ºC in the afternoons and it drops to about 18ºC in the evening. Since it’s also approaching the rainy season, you can expect a few rainy days. Pack an umbrella!
It warms up in July after the rainy season. You get 22ºC evenings and warm and humid 28ºC afternoons.

Nothing beats August. It’s the hottest month of the year. 31ºC afternoons are conservative. It can go as hot as 35ºC for a whole week or two. Sunscreen and a bottle of cold water are going to be your best friends.

Summer Humidity in Japan 

Japanese Lanterns

Image Credit: Atul Vinayak

Sure, you can gauge the heat in Japan from the temperature, but it’s the humidity that gets you. You see everyone’s dressing going from chic to casual in a matter of days.

Some say it gets humid in June, but I say it’s already slightly humid in late May. June’s humidity level is at an average of 75%. The previous month’s humidity levels are 60%-65% on average. That’s quite a big jump from spring to summer.
July is looking at 79% humidity. It’s especially humid after the rainy season. August’s humidity level drops to 73% as it gets closer to autumn, but combine that with the hot temperature and you get the hottest month of the year. Don’t avoid August, though. It’s the month of festivities and events. Just pack a few caps and sunglasses.

Now you know. Japanese summer can get not only pretty hot but humid as well. What do you think, will you still be visiting the country during the summer? The Japanese festivities are a once-in-a-lifetime experience, so it’s a lose-some-win-some situation, I might say. Don’t get scared off by the Japanese heat!

What Is The Japan Rail Pass & Why Is It Awesome?

What Is The Japan Rail Pass & Why Is It Awesome?

For those looking to explore as much of Japan as possible, the country’s efficient and extensive rail network can’t be beat. Traveling around Japan by train is the perfect way for visitors to quickly and comfortably see the different sides of the country. However, the cost of lots of train travel really starts to add up in a country like Japan.

The good news is that there is a way to take as many trains as you like while in Japan without blowing up your budget. Rather than purchase tickets for each and every journey, a Japan Rail Pass allows passengers to travel as much as they like within the duration of their pass.

The Japan rail pas pamphlet and a mobile site of the JR Pass.
Travel freedom at it’s finest!

Introducing the Japan Rail Pass

With 7-day, 14-day and 21-day passes available to tourists, JR Passes can not only save people money but also give them the freedom to take train trips whenever the mood strikes. This one pass gives passengers access to train services all over Japan, ranging from local and regional trains to the country’s iconic shinkansen.

The Japan Rail Pass can be the key to unlocking everything Japan has to offer for tourists and may well be the second-best decision you make, after deciding to come in the first place.

A Shinkansen or a "bullet train."
A Shinkansen or a “bullet train.”

What Does the Japan Rail Pass Include?

To really appreciate the value of traveling with the Japan Rail Pass, it’s important that you understand what it covers. The last thing you want, now or later, is confusion about what is included by the pass.

It’s crucial straight away to make it clear that the JR Pass does not cover all train travel in Japan. Instead, the pass allows passengers unlimited travel on most high-speed, limited express, express, rapid, and local train services operated by the Japan Railways (JR) Group. This means that for the duration of your rail pass, you can travel as much as you want on eligible train services around Japan, including Japan’s famous bullet trains known as shinkansen

Unfortunately, there are a few rare exceptions to the rail pass that are worth being aware of. The most important are the Nozomi and Mizuho shinkansen services, which run on the Tokaido, Sanyo and Kyushu shinkansen lines. While this may seem inconvenient, there are other shinkansen services on these routes that are covered under the JR Pass, so it shouldn’t really affect your travels.

Hiroshima-Miyajima ferry in Hiroshima Bay
Hiroshima-Miyajima ferry in Hiroshima Bay!

On the other hand, there’s also a nice assortment of public transport services included in the JR Pass beyond the many regular JR train services. Many of these inclusions are specifically useful for tourists, such as the Narita Express between Narita Airport and Tokyo, the Tokyo Monorail between Haneda Airport and Tokyo, the Hiroshima-Miyajima ferry in Hiroshima Bay, and the extremely useful Yamanote loop line around Tokyo.

Who Can Use the Pass?

Because the Japan Rail Pass is such a useful and convenient option for traveling by train, it comes with quite strict restrictions on who can use it. The rail pass was designed to be mainly used by international tourists and the eligibility requirements reflect that. Only non-Japanese nationals on short tourism visits or Japanese nationals who meet specific conditions are able to purchase and use this rail pass.

While you can read up on the detailed eligibility requirements, the main one for tourists is that they enter the country on a single-entry temporary sightseeing visitor visa of 15 or 90 days duration.

The JR Ticket Office in the airport.
The place to get your pass!

Planning Your Rail Pass Trip

Now that you understand what the Japan Rail Pass covers and whether you can use it, it’s time to see whether it’s right for your trip. Every trip to Japan is different, so you need to check whether the rail pass makes sense for what you have planned.

One essential tool for deciding to get a rail pass is the JR Pass Fare Calculator. This invaluable resource allows you to input your travel plans, see whether a rail pass would work out cheaper than buying individual tickets and if so how much it could save you. We’re not talking about small savings potentially either; the cost of a round trip ticket between Tokyo and Kyoto is only marginally cheaper than a 7-day Japan Rail Pass.

man seeing mt. fuji out a shinkansen window.
This could be you!

Another vital resource you’ll want to consult when considering a rail pass is the JR Pass Map. This fantastic interactive map lets you see the entire JR railway network across the country, allowing you to visually see where the JR Pass can take you. But the map doesn’t just highlight JR lines and the shinkansen routes, it also helps you identify networks like private railways, trams and ropeways that won’t be covered.

How to Order a JR Pass

Since a Japan Rail Pass works differently to regular train tickets, the process for getting it is slightly different. In fact, it’s best if it actually begins before you even leave for Japan. While it is possible to buy a JR Pass in Japan, it’s actually cheaper if you buy it through an authorised vendor before you leave.

Train station master in Japan.
Making sure everything on your trip runs as smooth as the trains in Japan!

Once your pass is purchased, you will receive a slip of paper in the mail called an “Exchange Order”. Keep this order somewhere safe, as you will need to bring it with you to Japan to get your pass. Upon arriving in Japan, visit an Exchange Office found at major airports or in large cities, with your Exchange Order and passport. Following some paperwork at the office you will receive your official Japan Rail Pass with its activation day declared on it. The activation day is the day that you tell the office you would like to begin using your pass. From that day onwards, you’ll be able to travel on the pass, showing it to attendants at the turnstiles within stations bearing the JR symbol.

Traveling in Japan with a Japan Rail Pass can be an excellent move if it lines up with your travel plans. Rail passes can not only save you money, but also provide you with the chance to freely explore this wonderful destination to your heart’s content.

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Learn Japanese Now! Here are 7 Awesome Reasons.

Learn Japanese Now! Here are 7 Awesome Reasons.

Have you ever found yourself wanting to learn Japanese? You’re not alone. By learning a new language you can also get a glimpse at the culture behind the language. Without the ability to communicate, you can never understand a culture on its own terms. Discovering and learning about Japanese language and culture is easier now than ever thanks to Nihongo Master. Learning a new language is a logical step to expand our own horizons. There are lots of reasons to learn Japanese. Let’s find out why.

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Japanese Mountains: Hiking & Climbing 101

Japanese Mountains: Hiking & Climbing 101

Introduction

Love nature? Want to climb a few mountains when you’re in Japan? You’ve come to the right place for everything you need to know about that. Japan has its bright neon lights and futuristic technology, but don’t forget about the nature aspect of this country. The Land of The Rising Sun has more than a few awesome mountains. 

There are a couple of other tall mountains right after the great Mt. Fuji that deserves the same amount of love. Why follow the beaten track when you can venture elsewhere with a more authentic experience? Get your fill of historical and geographical knowledge about these towering volcanic peaks that hold great religious and cultural significance in the Japanese tradition. 

Levels of Hiking and Climbing in Japan

You might be thinking, “there’s no way I’d climb a mountain!” Trust me, I’ve said that a million times. But then, when you’re in Japan, it’ll be a shame to not climb one.

About 73% of the island is mountainous; of course, it’s only natural that a vibrant climbing and hiking culture developed throughout the years. There’s no “norm” duration or distance when it comes to climbing or hiking in Japan — it can go anywhere from a day trip to a long, multi-day trek through various national parks. Everywhere from beginner to expert with various climate sets and challenges, there’s a mountain in Japan for you. 

If you’re a beginner, tackling the easy ones is probably the best way to start your journey. There are tons of mountains that are best for casual day hikes that have been travelled by thousands and thousands of people. These mountains are more often easily accessible by public transport and there are probably accommodation options pretty close. No gear needed — even children can come along if they want to!

Want a bit of a challenge? Go for the intermediate-range where there are sections that are steep, long or both. If you consider yourself of average athletic ability, these mountains won’t be too difficult. You may want your hiking boots for this, but they’re not that necessary if you don’t want to add weight to your baggage.

The experts of mountain climbing — you have your fair pick of mountains in Japan to climb. The difficult ones are full of long and strenuous trails; some might even require navigation skills for you to go through them. These ones definitely require the right gear and attire, so if you’re into that, Japan has exciting challenging mountains for you.

Difference Between Hiking and Climbing

Sometimes, people confuse mountain hiking and mountain climbing. Fair enough, there is a small overlap between them, but there are quite a few differences. 

Mountain hiking is more often than not leisurely. It is basically a long-distance walk along a trail that’s likely to cover a few different parts of the country. Most of the time, mountain hiking involves a steady, gentle slope so the pace of the hikes is just as balanced. Mountain hiking can be done in a day or even a few days, but the key point is that it’s more casual.

Mountain climbing, however, is a challenging sport that involves climbing steep and rocky slopes to get to the top. Sometimes, proper equipment is needed for this such as ice axes and rope. Unlike mountain hiking, mountain climbing does take a toll on one’s physical strength as it is not just walking up a slope but also using every muscle in the body to overcome obstacles. 

Climbing Season in Japan

While you can climb the mountains in Japan at any time of the year, the country does announce the official climbing season. It’s usually the duration of time where the conditions are best for climbing — mountains are usually free of snow, the weather is milder, mountain huts and accommodation are operating and more public transportation is available. 

Usually, the official climbing season is from early July to mid-September. During this time, which is the summer season, the mountains are the best for climbing. Those without much hiking or climbing experience are advised to tackle the mountains during this time. Watch out for the exact dates for the climbing season as each year is different from the previous one.

Japan’s Tallest Mountains

Okay, you’ve gotten the basics for the climbing and hiking down. Now, which mountain in Japan should you tackle first? Let’s have a look at a handful of the tallest mountains in Japan!

Mount Fuji

Of course, Mt. Fuji is at the top of the list. It is not only the most iconic but also the tallest mountain in all of Japan, after all. Most of us look at Mt. Fuji from afar; the best views of this tallest peak are from the Yamanaka Lake in Yamanashi Prefecture, but you can basically see it anywhere from the surroundings of 120 kilometers.

Also known as Fuji-san, this mountain is climbed by almost half a million people every year! At 3,776 meters in height, Japan’s most celebrated peak is also a World Cultural Heritage site since 2013 due to its major significance and artistic history of Japan. This mountain in Shizuoka Prefecture has thousands of tourists that travel up to the fifth station just for sightseeing and not even climb to the peak at all! 

For those looking to climb the tallest mountain in Japan, there are four trails you can follow to reach the top of the peak — Yoshida Trail, Fujinomiya Trail, Subashiri Trail and Gotemba Trail. The Yoshida Trail is the most popular one, which means it’s the busiest and most crowded of them all. Fujinomiya Trail is the shortest route of only four and a half hours, but be prepared for the highest starting elevation of 2400m! Gotemba is the longest route of seven and a half hours with the lowest starting elevation of 1440m.

There’s an old Japanese proverb that was specially modified for foreigners which go, “if you come to Japan and don’t climb Mt. Fuji, you’re a fool; if you climb it more than once, you’re an even bigger fool!”

Mount Kita

Image Credit: Issey Niwa

At 3,193 meters is Mt. Kita in Yamanashi Prefecture. It’s the tallest non-volcanic mountain in all of Japan, located in Southern Alps city, and is the second-tallest mountain in the country. Unlike Mt. Fuji where there are a few trails that don’t cross each others’ paths, Mt. Kita only has two trails that go in a loop — so you can do one going up and the other going down.

One thing to note is that the mountain huts are on the right-hand trail, so if you’re looking to stay the night, be sure to start off on the left side so that you can reach the huts before you head back down.

Mt. Kita is part of the Japanese Alps, and the mountains in this region are already prepared with built-in ladders, chains, ropes and stairs to help you with your climbing journey. That’s a great point to know so you won’t need to overpack if you’re planning on climbing this peak. 

You can easily climb Mt. Kita in just a weekend without any trouble — you’ll roughly need 6-8 hours for the climb up and about 3-5 hours for the journey down.

Mount Oku-Hotaka

Image Credit: annintofu

The third on the list is Nagano Prefecture’s very own Mt. Oku-Hotaka. At 3,190 meters, this mountain would have been the second tallest one in Japan if it had just two average women’s height more — but alas it didn’t. It is the tallest mountain in the Northern Japan Alps, though. Nonetheless, it does have the reputation of being one of the rockiest mountains in Japan, hence it’s not recommended for those who aren’t advanced climbers.

People who climb Mt. Oku-Hotaka often climb it alongside climbing Mt. Yari (which is the fifth mountain on this list) as it has two loop routes that cover both mountains. The routes do start off leisurely before it gets drastically steeper. There are a few stops along the way for lunch and some mountain huts for an overnight rest. 

Some say that the summit of Mt. Oku-Hotaka is not that interesting, but stay overnight for the sunrise and you’ll get an amazing view of it rising above a layer of clouds. What’s more, the panoramic views from the top is one of the most magnificent views of the Northern Japan Alps.

The descent down the mountain is one of the hardest parts — you’d have to go down the Daikiretto, which translates to “Big Cut” in Japanese. While there are ropes, chains and ladders at this section, don’t waver for a second. This bit involved a 300-meter drop that’s essentially vertical and followed by another 300m climb back up. It is considered dangerous and there have been lives lost of those attempting to scale Mt. Oku-Hotaka, hence it’s definitely inadvisable for inexperienced climbers.

Mount Aino

Image Credit: Wikimedia

Just a meter behind Mt. Oku-Hotaka for its third place title, Mt. Aino stands at 1,189 meters. Located in Shizuoka Prefecture, this mountain has a peak that’s extremely wide — some even got lost there! The peak is also known as the Aino Dome. 

The view is one to look forward to; you’ll get to see the upper half of the tallest mountain in Japan, sticking out of the sea of clouds, just about 50km away from Mt. Aino’s peak. 

Those who climb Mt. Aino also climb Mt. Shiomi on the same day — this is a popular climbing journey taken by tons of climbers throughout the years. More advanced climbers combine a few other mountains nearby this one and go on a three or four-day journey, tackling all of them at once. If you’re confident in your ability, it’s definitely a journey worth experiencing.

Mount Yari

Image Credit: Kirill Skorobogatov

Last but definitely not least, Nagano Prefecture’s Mt. Yari takes the position of the fifth tallest mountain in Japan. The mountain got its name for being sharp like a spear — “yari” in Japanese means spear. It’s also known as the Matterhorn of Japan as it resembles the famous peak in the Swiss Alps.

Most of the climb up this mountain won’t be as straining as some others, but the last 100 meters or so will give the less experienced climbers a bit of an adrenaline rush; it is pretty steep and can get quite congested — so much that there’s an up and down route to separate the crowd. Rest assured the summit of Mt. Yari is worth the tiny bit of hassle. 

It’s best to take a break before going down as it can be too much hiking for one day. The way down is long and quite strenuous; even the most experienced climbers have a night’s rest before continuing their journey.

Conclusion

Now that you have an overview of the tallest mountains in Japan, you can decide and take your pick on what you think is best for your level of skill and stamina. In this field, it’s better to underestimate yourself than overestimate; you’re better off starting with a leisurely mountain than take on one that’s way out of your comfort zone. With all that in mind, regardless of what mountain you choose to go on for your climbing or hiking adventure, trust that at every peak, a breathtaking view awaits you!

Top 10 Coffee Shops in Tokyo

Top 10 Coffee Shops in Tokyo

Japan’s capital city is not lacking in cafes that offer only the best caffeine a beverage can offer. There’s bound to be a coffee shop on every corner of every street, regardless if it’s near or far from the city center. Coffee is without a doubt a staple in the life of the Japanese — be it a morning cup for that surge of energy to start the day or just a casual sit-down with a bunch of friends for an afternoon sip. From drip and espresso shots to lattes and siphons, Tokyo has got you covered with the finest beans from all over the world. 

With such a saturated market, it may be difficult for a newly opened local coffee shop to stand out from the crowd. Coffee lovers might have a headache scrolling through the endless options of potential places to get their caffeine fix. Not to fret, here’s a carefully curated list of the best cafes to grab that boost of energy in Tokyo.

1. Little Nap Coffee Stand

Image credit: Johnathan Lin

Little Nap Coffee Stand is like a hole in the wall of a coffee shop. With only five chairs in the cafe, it’s almost impossible to snag a seat, especially with its slithering queue out the door every day. All of their brews are locally made and prepared on a Synesso machine, made from the high-quality beans are roasted on-site, maintaining the utmost freshness one can ever get from coffee beans. 

The laid back ambiance and warm hospitality of the owner are what keeps the customers coming day in and day out. Grab a cup of your daily fix and cross over to Yoyogi Park just steps away from this wonderful coffee place.

2. Turret Coffee

Image credit: @letachin

Named after the turret mini trucks that used to go around the Tsukiji fish market back in the days, Turret Coffee brings a pang of nostalgia with actual turret set up in the coffee shop itself. Along with other “normal” seats, this cafe oozes a warm vibe that goes perfectly well with their banging coffee. The espresso machines here pull and pour top-notch espresso for those who are looking for an instant boost of caffeine, but the real hit is the Turret Latte which features a double shot of espresso, topped with some beautiful latte art.

Turret Coffee also has seasonal treats that are specially made for the shop, including a local sweet called the dorayaki which is a pancake sandwich filled with red bean paste. Whether one’s looking for a morning fix or a casual afternoon coffee with a dessert, Turret Coffee is the place to be.

3. Glitch Coffee & Roasters

Image credit: @ytomatom

Sourcing beans from all over the world gives Glitch Coffee & Roasters an edge over the rest. Because of that, this coffee shop has accumulated a decent size of raving, coffee-loving fans. The display of all the roasts offered in the middle of the cafe space is a wonderful detail to the store. Not only does it add to the aesthetics but it also gives a sense of what Glitch Coffee has to offer to the customers.

Glitch is the perfect place for a lighter roast. The Guatemalan one seems to be a huge hit with the crowd. If you’re overwhelmed by the choices they have, the staff are more than willing to offer suggestions such as the fruity Kenya Karinga AA or whatever else that is preferable for your coffee palate. Packed with a powerful coffee range alongside the kissaten-inspired decor, Glitch is a one-stop for all coffee drinkers.

4. Lattest Omotesando Espresso Bar

Image credit: @janurky

While it is a bit of a walk from the main street and the nearest station, that’s never an inconvenience to Lattest lovers. This chill coffee shop lies in the back streets of Omotesando — central of Tokyo but far enough from the busy and noisy crowds. While the lattes and black coffees are ones to try, the signature item is definitely the one that’s named after the store. “Lattest” is a shot of their fine espresso in cold milk, giving the picturesque mix of espresso colour and milk visible through the transparent glass cup.

With a big community table in the middle and some cosy cart tables at the side for a more intimate experience, Lattest may rank one of the most famous coffee shops in the whole city — especially after its small feature in the show Terrace House.

5. Fuglen

Image credit: Seungbong Lee

Fuglen has a high reputation in both the cafe and bar scene. The original shop is in Oslo, Norway, and its expansion to Tokyo has caused waves of buzz among the locals. This blend of cafe and cocktail bar serves a remarkable range of quality coffee in the mornings through afternoons, and switches to bar mode in the evening, serving anything from Japanese and Norwegian craft beers to cocktails and spirits. 

Just as its reputation, the coffee at Fuglen is spectacular. It’s definitely premium quality as the beans are one of the most expensive to buy in the whole city. They also have their own roastery right around the corner, so if you love their ambiance and caffeine here, be sure to take a look there as well.

6. Blue Bottle Coffee

Image credit: @_hanno_co

Everyone who’s in-the-know with the coffee scene in Tokyo would have heard about Blue Bottle Coffee. This coffee chain shop originated in California and has expanded to Japan with multiple outlets spread out across the city Tokyo itself. The reason why this coffee shop is extremely well known is due to its use of high technology in the brewing of drip coffee as well as their carefully selected range of coffee beans. For such high quality, Blue Bottle Coffee prices their products extremely affordably, which includes the classic latte and their Hayes Valley espresso.

As their coffee beans are for sale, many are eager to get a bag of ground coffee beans for themselves to make at home. Almost everyone knows that you can get just about any flavours of coffee beans to suit your taste at Blue Bottle Coffee.

7. The Roastery by Nozy

Image credit: Dennis Amith

Arguably one of the most famous coffee shops in all of Tokyo is The Roastery by Nozy, located on the busiest street of Tokyo known as the infamous Cat Street. There are always two different kinds of single-origin beans served daily, used for any caffeinated drink from drip coffees and americanos to the loved lattes. If you order an espresso shot, don’t be shocked when you get served a champagne glass — it’s not actually champagne in it, it’s your ordered shot.

There are also sweet and savoury treats to go along with your freshly brewed coffee. The Roastery also does coffee cupping on Wednesdays, so for those who want to learn a little extra information on the coffee craft, the doors are always open. 

8. Kitsune Cafe

Image credit: @chihiro__315

One of the most aesthetic and beautiful coffee shops in all of Tokyo is definitely Cafe Kitsune. With multiple shops opened worldwide, this one in Japan has local influence everywhere — the interior is a seamless blend of a traditional Japanese home and modern elements. Most come here for the great coffee to match the equally outstanding visual concept. Some even get a pastry or two for their casual sitting on a nice afternoon.

9. Streamer Coffee Company

Image credit: Richard

Amidst the sea of lightly roasted coffee is this dark roaster, Streamer Coffee Company. With multiple stores opened in Tokyo, they have quite a following — and it’s for good reason, the coffee here is excellent! Every cup is completed with a different latte art each time and served in a bowl-sized mug, the latter specifically for the signature Streamer Latte which makes every penny worth it. Its chill and the laid back environment have made Streamer Coffee Company one of the best places for customers to grab their laptops and do some quick work, too.

10. Verve Coffee Roasters

Image credit: @vervecoffeejapan

Shinjuku is known for its nightlife, but in the daytime, the American coffee shop Verve shines the brightest. The natural, earthy colours of the interior space make you feel calm instantly, complete with a long table in the middle of the shop and a cosy outdoor seating at the shop’s entrance. No cup of coffee can go wrong at Verve, and beans are even available for purchase if you love their flavourful tastes — there’s a free cup of drip coffee given together with any purchase of coffee beans, what a deal!

Conclusion

There’s an endless list of great coffee shops in Tokyo. Each and every one of them contributes an original aspect to the coffee scene in the city. Local coffee lovers and those from abroad can enjoy a good cup of coffee almost anywhere as there’s never an average coffee place in town. For the really devoted caffeine drinkers, why not get a notepad to jot down all the possible coffee shops in the city one can possibly list and go on a whole coffee shop hop?

Top 9 Coffee Places in Kyoto

Top 9 Coffee Places in Kyoto

Introduction

The ancient capital city of Japan, Kyoto, is filled with coffee hot spots everywhere — north to south, east to west. You get everything from coffee shop chains to the traditional kissaten (喫茶店), a Japanese-stye coffee shop. The hustling and bustling Tokyo is nice and all, but Kyoto takes it down a notch — everything about the city, including its coffee, focuses on the slow and therapeutic process.

If you ever find yourself in Kyoto with a dying need for a cup of coffee, here are the 9 best coffee places that are dedicated to the Japanese aspects of high quality and hospitality.

1. Vermillion Espresso Bar

First on the list, we have Vermillion Espresso Bar — a list of Kyoto’s coffee places wouldn’t be complete without the mention of this amazing coffee place. There are two Vermillion coffee places, a cafe and an espresso bar, located within walking distance of the famous Fushimi Inari Shrine, making it the perfect break spot after a long day of sightseeing,

The name “Vermillion” is to refer to the deep red of the torii gates at the shrine. Both locations offer coffee, of course, as well as cakes and toast. You can get everything from pour-over coffee to espresso — one of their bestselling coffees is the matcha latte which uses green tea from Uji City located in the south of Kyoto Prefecture. 

2. WEEKENDERS CAFE

Another famous coffee shop in Kyoto is WEEKENDERS CAFE. This hidden cafe can be found at the back of a parking lot just around the corner of Tominokoji-dori. To get there, the nearest station is Kawaramachi station and you’d have to walk about 10 minutes — not too far at all.

Opened in 2005, this coffee shop aims to bring artisan coffee to Kyoto and is one of the most reputable coffee shops among local residents. Tons of other cafes use their beans in their store as well — Vermillion is one of them! Pioneer of the Scandinavian type of lighter roast coffee in Kyoto, this minimalistic aesthetic in everything that they do is what keeps the customers coming back.

3. Inoda Coffee

Just a 10-minute walk from Karasumaoike Station, Inoda Coffee is one not to miss out on. This long-established coffee place is extremely popular among locals and tourists alike — they have tons of branches all around the country, but their main store is in the ancient city.

Their speciality coffee is one with sugar and milk, making the coffee richer and more flavorful — while you can drink it straight, why not try their number one rated menu option, the Arabian Pearl?

4. Ogawa Coffee

If you can’t be bothered going so far from the main area and need a quick fix at Kyoto Station, head on down to Ogawa Coffee. Conveniently located and delicious coffee, this stylish coffee shop is one of the most popular ones in town.

What’s more, you’ll have your coffee served by the world championship barista, so don’t worry about not getting a decent cup of coffee at the station — this one’s pretty much a done-deal. You can get everything from espresso to hand drip coffee, as well as food to match if you’re in the mood for a small snack.

 

5. Kurasu

With two locations in the city, Kurasu is a buzzing topic among the locals. One located just a five-minute walk from Kyoto Station and the other near Fushimi Inari Shrine, this coffee shop gets all the buzz. 

I’d recommend the one near the shrine as it also houses their roastery. Kurasu began as a humble online shop selling Japanese coffee equipment, but now it has even outgrown the local market and dived into the international one. The owner is truly dedicated to combining the experience of a traditional kissaten and the modern trends of a coffee shop. 

6. WIFE&HUSBAND

Nothing beats a cup of coffee after a stroll around the Kyoto Botanical Gardens — located just across the river from that, WIFE&HUSBAND coffee is a small, hidden cafe in the northeast of the city. They have a pretty simple menu: pour-over coffee with homemade toast with butter, honey or cheese. 

The coffee beans at this cafe are roasted by the owners themselves, who, as you can tell, are a married couple. Sitting at this cafe is like visiting a friend’s home — the comfy, cosy atmosphere is thanks to the antiques hanging on walls and the self-service picnic equipment that you can use on a nice sunny day. 

7. Murmur Coffee

You’ll love it here, trust me. This coffee shop is kind of like the romanticized version of a traditional kissaten. Murmur Coffee has everything you’d expect from a full-on traditional Japanese experience — the sliding doors, the wooden structure, the expertly-brewed coffee.

Located just by the Takase River, you’ll not only get an amazing cup of coffee but also a spectacular view to boot. There are also food options on the menu, so it’s the perfect place for a relaxing morning breakfast or for a coffee break in the day.

8. Dongree Coffee

Dongree Coffee is quite raging recently — located nearby Kiyomizu-Gojo Station, this coffee shop is the only one you need to go to if you’re in the area. This hipster-esque coffee shop only serves hand drip coffees, as do all specialty coffee shops in Kyoto. 

If you’re looking for a laid-back ambience with a chance to practice your coffee tasting palates, this is the place for you. There are roasts of different flavours and levels, so you’re sure to find one that you’d fall deeply in love with.

9. % ARABICA

Last but not least is & ARABICA coffee shop. This one is extremely popular — so popular that they don’t only have one store but three in Kyoto alone! If you’re in Higashiyama, Arashiyama and Kyoto Fujii Daimaru, you can get your fix at one of their stores! 

Their lattes are the best option on the menu, made by Custom Slayer espresso machines. Sometimes, if it gets quite busy, some of their menu options like lemonades get sold out in the middle of the day, so come by early! You could also buy beans from them and make your own cup of % ARABICA coffee at home.

Conclusion 

Everything from modern-style coffee shops to kissaten-influenced ones, Kyoto has it all. So whatever your coffee cravings are, this culturally rich city can satisfy it. With this list of the best 9 coffee shops in Kyoto, you can start your coffee journey in the city!

Japan’s Top 10 National Parks To Visit

Japan’s Top 10 National Parks To Visit

Introduction

Japan is not only the neon signs and bustling streets of Tokyo. One of this country’s best charms is the breathtakingly beautiful nature that offers unique experiences during the different seasons throughout the year. 

From pristine clear blue oceans that home tropical fish and coral reefs to unparalleled landscapes, Japan proudly has 32 national parks throughout the country. Each offering its own unique ambience and experience, these national parks are extremely well preserved and nothing short of magnificent. Here are 10 of the best ones to peak your interest.

1. Ogasawara National Park

A UNESCO World Heritage Site located 1,000 kilometers south of Tokyo, the Ogasawara Islands are more widely known as the Bonin Islands. These subtropical islands are only accessible by boat, with stunning coves and secluded beaches making up the beautiful scenery. Home to many faunas, flora and mammals in the turquoise waters framing the islands, this secluded beauty is nothing short of an adventure. 

Hiking and scuba diving aren’t the only activities available on the Bonin Islands. Dolphin and whale watching is an extremely popular activity, alongside kayaking and other fun water sports. With much to see and do, Ogasawara National Park is a golden gem of all national parks in Japan.

2. Nikko National Park

Home to the stunning and designated World Heritage shrine, Toshogu Shrine, Nikko National Park is one of the most beautiful national parks in the country. As such, it is definitely worth visiting and witnessing the autumn colors during the season. History abounds this park, with countless of shrines and temples nestled in the landscapes. Another must-see shrine here is the Buddhist temple of Rinno-ji.

Natural wonders such as the famously known onsens and waterfalls beautifully decorated this phenomenal park. The water of Kegon Falls plunges into the pool below with thick forests on either side of it. Mountains and lakes frame the landscape of Nikko National Park, with the mesmerizing Lake Chuzenji lying between them. Located near Tokyo in the Kanto region, this park makes a good day trip or overnight trip from the bustling city. 

3. Fuji-Hakone-Izu National Park

Anyone would know of Mount Fuji, and this famous mountain is located in the Fuji-Hakone-Izu National Park. Argumentatively the most visited parks in all of Japan due to its extremely iconic mountain and its close proximity to the capital city, this park comprises a vast array of natural wonders. With over a thousand volcanic islands dispersed along its shores and waterways snaking around the hills, valleys and mountains, every corner here is picturesque.

The famous hot springs activity is scattered all around this area, more prominently in the Hakone vicinity which is a go-to destination for locals and tourists alike for their onsen fix. Other activities like diving are also available at the Izu Islands, which is what they’re famously known for. Old lava fields, waterfalls and ancient forests fill up the in-betweens of this stunning national park.

4. Shiretoko National Park

Another World Heritage site, the Shiretoko National Park still has traces of untouched nature in its midst. Located right in the northeastern bit of Hokkaido, the vast areas that comprise the national park is filled with undiscovered, untamed and unimaginable beauty. The main draw to this national park is the five lakes, known as the Shiretoko Five Lakes, that dot the primeval forest. Roads only cover about one-third of the park, while the rest is reserved for the adventurers ready to explore the area by foot or boat.

Another highlight of this park is its large population of brown bears. During the summer season, an extremely popular activity to do here is bear watching from sightseeing boats. A fair number of rare, endangered wild species homes in this vicinity too. This well-preserved national park is definitely a must-visit to experience its unparalleled beauty first-hand.

5. Kerama Shoto National Park

Lying off of Okinawa are a bedazzling archipelago of islands that are so majestic and dreamlike due to their appearance. The most well-known and often visited are the Zamami Island and Tokashiki Island, two of the number of islands that comprises the Kerama Islands. Not short of the tropical nature, the pristine and turquoise waters surrounding the islands gently crashes onto the creamy white sand, making the beaches so enticing to lounge upon.

Depending on the time of the year, whale watching activity is offered as tours. The “Kerama Blue”, which is the crystal clear waters that extends out, attract numerous divers and snorkelers to revel in the electric colors of the coral reefs. If you’re lucky, you might even see some sea turtles lazing onshore or floating around. 

6. San’in Kaigan National Park

The San’in Kaigan National Park hugs the Sea of Japan, and is largely known for its enormous Tottori Sand Dunes, hills of loose sand that can only be found in the part of Japan. During winter, the Tottori Sand Dunes is layered in thick snow, making them a fascinating and unique scenery of snowy hills by the shore.

This national park is also part of San’in Kaigan UNESCO Global Geopark as it contains geological heritages that are scientifically special, important and valuable. The Kasumi coast is often designated as a national site of scenic beauty, encompassing of oddly-shaped rocks, sea caves and cliffs that resulted from erosion of the raging waves of the Japan Sea. The picturesque Kinosaki Onsen Town is also part of this national park, a widely known area for its amazing hot springs.

7. Akan Mashu National Park

One of the oldest national parks in the country, Akan Mashu National Park and its surroundings have long been protected and well-preserved for all to enjoy. Located north of Japan in Hokkaido, the area is sprawled with forests that accompanies the volcanic craters, mountains and lakes. With diverse ecosystems and a large range of activities to do, visitors can spend weeks here without a moment of boredom.

Here you can find the three freshwater lake calderas of Akan, Kussharo and Mashu. From the Lake Akan that reflects the colors of Ainu culture, the active volcano Meakan-dake can be seen clearly with Mount O-kan and Mount Akan Fuji to complete the picture. Lake Mashu is known for its extremely clear waters and is one of the clearest lakes in the world. Nearby the vicinity of Lake Kussharo, where part of it is tempered by underground hot spring, is the most-visited Kawayu Onsen. A mysterious and fascinating experience awaits you at the Akan Mashu National Park.

8. Yoshino Kumano National Park

Located in the Kansai region, Yoshino Kumano National Park is the most famous cherry blossom viewing spot across the whole of Japan, as it homes more than 30,000 cherry trees. Rising up high into the mountain peaks and dipping down low into densely wooded alleys, this park is well-decorated with rapid rivers, pristine beaches and grand shrines. Bursting with flora and fauna along with the World Heritage sites and pilgrimage routes, this park offers an abundance of opportunities and activities for all.

One of the most iconic attractions is the Kumano-Nachi Taisha Shrine. The tallest waterfall in Japan, Nachino-Otaki Falls, is accompanied by a three-story pagoda and protected by the Nichi primeval forest surrounding it. The spiritual grounds of Kumano is no stranger to visitors, with the cobbled paths winding through the jagged mountains, have been well worn by the soles of pilgrims. A nature-filled experience awaits you at this magnificent hotspot of attractions.

9. Towada Hachimantai National Park

Tucked away in the Tohoku Region is the Towada Hachimantai National Park, centering around the Hachimantai mountains and Lake Towada. A primal viewing location of the colorful leaves during the autumn season, a myriad of colors spring forth and spring out life among the forests during summer. Traditional onsen baths can be found here as well due to the volcanic nature of the area.

The mountainous regions offer a number of lovely trails and paths for hikers to enjoy the wilderness. Mini waterfalls lined down the lakes take plunges into the pools of water below, creating a gushing calm sound that fills the area.

10. Yakushima National Park

An island of natural wonders, Yakushima National Park is heavily forested and nestles in the warm, sub-tropical waters south of Kagoshima prefecture. Best known for its extensive and hauntingly beautiful forests that oozes a moody ambience and twisted with fairytale-like trees, the extremely wet climate allows for crystal-clear rivers tumbling down the high peaks.

Home to species of deer and monkeys that cannot be found anywhere else, a hike in the Yakushima forest opens up opportunities to see the Yakushima macaque and Yaku deer. On summer days, endangered loggerhead turtles are spotted on the shores of the beaches, and snorkelers can enjoy the colorful coral reefs in the waters. Much like other parts of Japan, natural onsens are also found here. The unique Hirauchi Kaichu Onsen located on the south coast is a must-visit. It’s right by the rocky shoreline, so it’s only accessible twice a day when the tide is low. One-of-a-kind experiences await you here at this spectacular national park.

Conclusion

Even though Japan is home to a big number of 32 national parks, each one of them has something different and unique to offer that none of the others can. Furthermore, visiting at different times of the year also largely affects the experience as the sceneries change throughout the year.

From beautifully lush forests, high mountain peak landscapes and white sandy beaches, to heritage attractions, iconic shrines and temples, the Japan national parks, especially the top 10 above, are oozing with nature and history to offer to the world. Why not put them on your Japan bucket list?

Best Beaches in Japan

Best Beaches in Japan

Introduction

You might not think of the beach as the first few destinations in Japan that you would want to add to your Japan itinerary, but you might want to reconsider. The city lights and culturally rich attractions are great and all, but can it beat a beach day out? Some are even wonderful spots for sunsets and sunrise — after all, it is the Land of the Rising Sun.

As soon as summer hits, you’ll see families and groups of friends crowding every beach in the country! From dipping in the waters to beat the heat and suntanning in the warm sun to beach sports and water activities, the whole stretch of shore will be full of excitement and fun. 

Whether it is travelling down south during the colder seasons or packing a day bag for the seaside in summer, the Japanese love their beaches. Let’s take a look at the top beaches in Japan — both mainland and islands — as well a few Japanese beach etiquette.

Japan Mainland Japan Beaches

Not all of the people in Japan want to take days off work just for a day at the beach down south. Some just want a day trip to a nearby beach on the mainland. You might think it’s a substitute of the island beaches of the tropical Japan destinations, but you’ll be surprised at some of these being even more beautiful than you imagined!

What’s more, these mainland beaches are more accessible and some even offer things you won’t get on the Japan islands. Here are the top mainland beaches for your short day getaway from the bustling cities: 

Kanagawa — Zushi Beach

Just around the corner from Kamakura in Kanagawa is the Zushi Beach. This is one of the most popular beaches in the area and the first choice for swimming, surfing and parasailing. If you’re in the city to visit the Budhha Statue, why not drop by this 600m long beachside for a leisurely stroll or sit?

If you’re lucky enough to get a clear sky on the day of the visit, be sure to stay till sunset. You’ll get to witness a spectacular view of Mt. Fuji as the sun sets behind its hilly bits.

Kanagawa — Yuigahama Beach

Source: Dick Thomas Johnson from flickr

Kanagawa is not far off from Tokyo, and if you find yourself in the area or looking for a beach to relax after a busy few days in the city, head down to Yuigahama Beach. This is the perfect choice for those looking for both relaxation as well as convenience in a beach spot. Yuigahama Beach is close enough to the nearest train station and fully equipped with pop-up stalls of food and drinks for your pleasure.

It’s only natural to assume a beach so developed would be less of nature and more commercial. Rest assured Yuigahama Beach is the perfect balance of serenity in nature and modernity. 

This beach spot is one of the favourite local choices for surfing as well, depending on the currents and tides. Plan your days accordingly to enjoy the best of what this beach can offer!

Shizuoka — Miho Beach 

Source: south from flickr

Don’t want to travel too far out of Tokyo? Perhaps a car ride to Mizo Beach in Shizuoka will satisfy your beach day cravings. This beach is unique in the sense where you won’t be getting a normal seaside view — you’ll be getting an Mt. Fuji view! 

Miho Beach is not your average sandy sand beach — it is rather pebbly in comparison. But a lie down on the sand isn’t what the visitors are here for. The stunning view amidst the tall pine trees and other beautiful flora nature makes the trip down here worthwhile. Grab your swimming suit — a dip in the sea with Mt. Fuji in the background sounds like an unbelievable experience!

Shizuoka — Toji Sand Ski Resort

Source: Izu navi from flickr

Even though it’s named as a resort, it’s not really one. Also in Shizuoka, not so far from Tokyo, is the Toji Sand Ski Resort! This is not your average beach. While you can still bring your beach mats, you might want to grab a sled as well (or rent one at a shop near the beach). This Toji Sand Ski Resort is one of the only few with a sand slope that you can sled down on as you take in the beautiful scenery.

After your sledding adventures and a dip in the waters, get your adventure on by exploring the nearby open cave called the Ryugukutsu. A trip to the Toji Sand Ski Resort will undoubtedly not be your average beach day in the best way possible!

Wakayama — Shirahama Beach

Take note that this is not the Shirahama Beach in Shizuoka that we’re talking about, this is the one in Wakayama! Named as the “white beach”, you expect it to be one of the most popular beaches in the country — and you’re right. This spot is one of the most ideal ones for both dipping and lounging, along with a wonderful resort area to spend a few nights in. 

One thing this beach spot has that the others don’t is the oceanside onsen. After your dip in the steaming Japanese hot springs, cool yourself down in the clear waters of the Shirahama Beach. You should also definitely stroll down the strip of sand to view the magnificent cliff formations!

Iwate — Jodogahama Beach

Image Source

While it’s a bit of a travel from central Tokyo, believe me when I say this beach is worth the trip. Jodogahama Beach in Iwate is part of the Sanriku Recovery National Park, so you’re assured a clean and nature-rich beach — its name does translate to Pure Land Beach. 

Not only this beach is a popular destination for all things swimming and hiking, but it’s also great for exploring the nearby caves amidst the beautiful and unique rock formations by going on a boat cruise. If you’re not all that adventurous, just the sight of it from the beachside is more than good enough.

Japan Island Beaches

Fair enough, Japan mainland has its own exquisite range of beaches, each with its own unique factor that the rest won’t have. Onto the island beaches in Japan — the Okinawa area is one of the most popular beach destinations for locals and tourists alike! 

The region is blessed with a semi-tropical climate all year round, and since it became so popular, the area is full of beach resorts worth spending a couple of days — or even a week! — to fully explore the mainland island as well as the other smaller islands.

Because it’s such a tropical island, there are tons of beaches that you might get overwhelmed! Fear of missing out on the best beaches in Okinawa? Read on to find out the top ones to put on your Japan island beaches list!

Ishigaki Island — Sunset Beach 

Last but definitely not the least on the list is Sunset Beach on Ishigaki Island. As the name suggests, this beach is the ultimate spot to view the sunset. To complete the serene view, the combination of the beach’s white sand and the glistening sea is so breathtaking it can be a picture on a postcard!

Before the sunset, take some time out for your snorkeling activities — you’ll be surprised at the variety of marine life you’ll see! Other water activities like jet boards and wakeboarding are available too! Ishigaki Island has become such a popular holiday destination that the resorts are great to stay a night or two so you wouldn’t have to rush your time on this spectacular island!

Miyakojima Island — Yonaha Maehama Beach

Image Source

Located on Miyakojima Island is the famous Yonaha Maehama Beach. The reason it’s so popular is that it’s one of the beaches in all of the Pacific with the whitest sands! It’s no wonder visitors make their way here despite the slight inconvenience in terms of accessibility.

With 7km long of white sand, even with the popularity, the beach is rarely crowded at all! Every kind of water sports can be done here — if you’re a fan of scuba diving and snorkeling, make this your #1 beach destination in Japan!

Don’t just travel here for a day. The island has resort areas full of campsites and hotels that line the shore. Wake up to the view of the horizon — if you’re lucky enough, you might even get a room that overlooks the sunrise or sunset! One of the best hotels you should consider is the Hotel Locus — stylish and affordable, it also has a couple of retail outlets to feed that shopaholic side of yours!

Hateruma Island — Nishi no Hama Beach

Source: Kentaro Ohno from flickr

On the southernmost island in all of Japan is Hateruma Island. This inhabited island, specifically the Nishi no Hama Beach, is the place to go if you’re looking for the most natural beaches in the whole country. The contrast between the fine sand and sparkling blue water is quite breathtaking — not to mention the awesome feeling of dipping in the waters and lying down on the soft sand bed.

Nishi no Hama Beach is quite far out and less developed in the sense of beach stalls and shops, so it’s best to bring your own swimming and beach stuff as well as refreshments to make the best of your day there.

Taketomi Island — Kondoi Beach

Image Source 

More accessible than the former two beaches is the Kondoi Beach in Taketomi Island. This beach is only a short ferry ride away from Japan’s top travel destinations, Ishigaki. This beach is more untouched than the ones on mainland Okinawa Island, so it’s one of the best island beaches to get your snorkeling gear on and see some fishes and corals!

If snorkeling is not your thing, a normal swim and dip are just as ideal — or you can take in the sun as you lie down on the soft, ivory sand.

Conclusion

You’re all set with the tips for Japan beaches, and you know exactly where to go for a fun beach day depending on the part of the country. There are tons of breathtakingly beautiful beaches in the country — it’s only normal to want to go to them all! When the weather is warm and the sun comes out to play, what will be your first pick for the sun, sand and sea in Japan? 

5 Things You Need To Know Before Your Japan Trip

5 Things You Need To Know Before Your Japan Trip

Introduction

We can all admit that Japan is like a whole different world. The way things are run around the country might be foreign to most people. Just like any other trip to a different country, getting to know the basic ropes of the culture and customs can do wonders for one’s experience. 

Not only will you know a thing or two about Japanese culture from the advanced prep before your travel, but you’ll also be able to make necessary arrangements according to your findings that will ensure a smooth travel experience.

So read on for your sneak peek into Japanese culture through a few travelling tips I put together myself.

1. Japanese First, English Second

Japan’s first language isn’t English. Their native language is — surprise, surprise! — Japanese. Everyone communicates in Japanese in the country. Even though the Japanese have English as one of their subjects in elementary and high school, the lack of usage and exposure to the language has led the community of people to have very limited English speaking ability. They may know basic and some intermediate vocabulary in written form, but it’s rather difficult for them to follow a conversation except when spoken slowly. 

Because of that, your best chance at communicating in English with the Japanese staff at stores and restaurants is to use extremely simple and basic language accompanied by hand gestures and miming, if possible. Usually, just out of context, the Japanese will be able to grasp what it is you’re trying to communicate.

Another method of communicating with the Japanese on your trip to Japan that is proven to be more effective as well as making your trip smoother is learning a few simple phrases and words in the Japanese language! A few pointer words like “this” and “that” alongside “please” and “thank you” will definitely add a bit of fun to your Japan travel! The Japanese are extremely encouraging when they encounter a foreigner who’s attempting to speak their native language, so why not impress them with a whole sentence of “this is my first time in Japan!”

2. No Cash-less, but Cash More

Source: Japanexperterna.se from Flickr

Japan has quite a reputation to be one of the most high-tech countries in the world. While that may be true, the country is still a bit behind in some ways. One of them is how cash seems to be the most popular method of payment than anything else. Japan is the highest in the world when it comes to the circulation of banknotes in relation to its economy.

Even to this very day, some shops and restaurants only accept cash as payment — no credit cards or touchless payment methods, only cash. While bigger cities like Tokyo and Osaka are opening up to cashless payment methods like credit cards, don’t expect the rest of the country to function just like them. For some of us, it might feel extremely unusual to carry quite an amount of cash around, but in Japan, it’s extremely normal.

3. Polite but…

They say the Japanese are extremely friendly and polite. Customer service is always top-notch and you’ll never leave a store or restaurant without at least a thousand and one smiles and thank yous from the staff. Even though it may be true, that’s not always the case. 

Brace yourself for the “gaijin” treatment. “Gaijin” is a Japanese term to refer to foreigners in Japan, and more often than not, it’s used in a negative sense. Sometimes, you’ll be turned away from a restaurant or store just because you’re a foreigner. Strange, right?

Don’t jump to the quickest conclusion in your mind. There are a couple of reasons why this can happen, even though it’s now becoming less and less frequent. It may be because of the Japanese mindset when it comes to mistakes — they hate making them, and would prefer not to risk a situation where the (foreign) guest is unsatisfied with the restaurant service or setting. 

There’s also the possibility of the restaurant not welcoming any stranger in general, regardless of whether or not you’re a Japanese or foreigner. Some restaurants require an introduction or invite from an existing customer. Another reason, which is probably the most common one and not a pleasant one either, is that the Japanese would prefer not to have a table of foreigners that will possibly disrupt the regular crowd due to their actions and behaviour. 

Most of the time, you’ll get turned down at the door without a clear explanation of why. Don’t be disheartened. To avoid this, simply bring along a Japanese pal or request your hotel concierge or any online concierge to make bookings in advance. 

4. Prepare For Zero Bins!

Source: tokyoform from Flickr

This is one thing that almost every visitor who has been to Japan has noticed: there aren’t that many bins in Japan! You can walk down a few streets, and even a few more, without encountering one on your whole journey. With Japan being one of the cleanest countries in the world, you’d expect to see a few on every street — how else is the country able to be so spotless?

You’ll often hear stories of the locals carrying their trash all the way back home because they haven’t encountered any bins along the way. This is extremely common, so don’t be surprised. You might even have the same experience on one of your days here!

5. The JR Pass Isn’t Everything

Source: Danny Choo from Flickr

On every travelling site and blog, everyone is telling you to get a JR Pass — promoting this “all-in” travel card because of the money-saving perks and other benefits. For a first-timer to Japan, you might end up buying into this and believing it all since there are so many different people talking about it, making the statement reliable. However, if you did a bit more digging, you’ll realise that the JR Pass might not be that worth it in the first place.

Japan is full of various train lines by different companies. Some of these lines cover the major areas, and then there are smaller lines like the subway ones. One might think that you can rely on just the main lines to get around Japan — this is true to an extent, but then you’d have to do a ton of walking if you want to get to certain places. That’ll cost you extra time, and you know what they say about time — it is priceless.

Depending on your itinerary for your trip, the JR Pass is actually not money-saving at all. If you do the math right, the JR Pass might be a colossal waste of money if anything. If you’re jumping from city to city in a full crash-course method and only seeing the main highlight of each city within a week, then maybe the JR Pass is for you. However, if you’re planning to see the best every city has to offer, give the JR Pass a pass — a Suica or Pasmo card is just as sufficient.

Conclusion

While there are more than a few other things that should be included but wasn’t, don’t worry — these top five things are more than sufficient to start you off. I mean, I’m not going to spoil the whole Japan experience for you, either! So take down these notes and enjoy the ride after!