5 Overrated Japanese destinations & where to go instead!

5 Overrated Japanese destinations & where to go instead!

When you plan to travel to a country, you’re definitely going to search up the best places to visit when you’re there. These hyped up areas are usually not as worth it as you might think. This includes Japan, too. Coming from one who has lived in the island nation for over three years, there are better places to explore, trust me. 

So for those of you who are travelling to Japan for a limited period of time, you’d want to squeeze in all the ‘top 10 spots’ and ‘best attractions’ in your itinerary. This article will highlight five overrated Japan destinations with their replacements, so as to save yourselves some time. 

Let’s take a look at these five places! 

1. Sensoji Temple in Tokyo

One of the most visited Japan destinations is Tokyo. And in Tokyo, one of the top places to visit is the Sensoji Temple in Asakusa. This is an ancient Buddhist temple and is the oldest one in the whole city. Those looking for a cultural experience would go here. 

In between the entrance of the temple and the actual grounds itself are rows and rows of traditional Japanese shops. These shops sell all kinds of souvenirs including authentic and exquisite cultural items. You could get a kimono set conveniently from an English-speaking Japanese owner, along with all your other omiyage needs.

So in that sense, Sensoji Temple is more a touristic spot than a historical sight now. 

Why is it overrated?

You’d expect for the city’s oldest temple to have the surrounding air filled with culture and peace. It once was. It was once a historical sight, expected to be preserved and active with temple rituals.

While there are still traditional temple activities taking place, the spiritual essence isn’t like what it was. You can’t walk down the street, from the entrance to the temple grounds, at your own pace and in peace. You’re going to get shoved around in the huge crowd that never seems to die down, regardless of day or night. 

Sure, you can get your fortune slips and pay your respects, but about a few hundreds of others are doing the exact same thing as you at the same time. Groups of tourists would juggle around the fortune slip boxes, continuous snapshots of cameras and phones, and generally just very hectic.

Where can you go instead?

There are so many other temples in Tokyo that you should visit instead. Heck, even the neighborhood ones are just as beautiful, only without the crowd and noise. One iconic neighborhood temple is the Cat Temple in Gotokuji. It’s called so because of its hundreds of waving cat figurines all around the temple!

And if you’re going to other parts of Japan, there are plenty more temples there, too! Stop by Kyoto, as the temples there are extremely culturally rich. The spiritual essence and peace that you expect are present there. 

2. Takeshita Dori in Tokyo

One of the most famous streets in Tokyo is Takeshita Dori. Everyone knows this street. It’s the fashion street in the fashion neighbourhood, Harajuku. This specific street was once the haven of dozens of fashion subcultures in Japan. So this used to be a famous hangout spot for rebellious teenagers. Some say it still is. 

Different parts of the street “belonged” to different subcultures. And today, you could see it quite clearly based on the various types of stores that are set up in various areas. Artists and musicians also called this street home at one point. But now, Takeshita Dori is more of a tourist attraction than a creative hot spot. While there are still hints of creativity, the original essence has disappeared, along with most of the people who used to hang out there.

Why is it overrated?

It’s unfortunate but Takeshita Dori has been put on the spotlight by the media as the place to be to experience the Tokyo fashion scene. Fair enough, it is the heart of Harajuku, which was once loaded with fashion creatives. And while the fashion is pretty prominent there still, this specific street has lost its original vibe and is now a souvenir shopping street. 

You can still buy Japanese subculture clothes and accessories. However the prices have been made “tourist prices” and some can even say these items are tacky (because they probably aren’t originally made in Japan, as how they should be).

Be prepared for streets full of sardine-packed tourists where you can barely walk. Say goodbye to personal space.

Where can you go instead?

If your intention for going to Takeshita Dori is for the fashion scene, skip it. There are so many other neighbourhoods that are fashion-centric and still maintain its vibe. Some of the neighbourhoods where the creative minds ran off to include Nakano, Koenji and Shimokitazawa. These various areas have their own unique vibe. 

Fashion enthusiasts aren’t the only people you see in these neighbourhoods. You get artists and musicians too, as well as tons of other carefree people who express themselves through their dressing. Opt for these neighbourhoods for a slower, more hipster vibe than Takeshita Dori.

3.  Chureito Pagoda near Fuji-san

A trip to Mt. Fuji is on every Japan traveller’s checklist. Never mind climbing it, just a clear view of the mountain is good enough. The best place for this is the Chureito Pagoda. Or so the numerous websites say. 

Chureito Pagoda is said to have the best view of Mt. Fuji in the whole country, alongside a lovely pagoda on a hilltop. To top it all off, you can even get an amazing sunset. To be fair, you can get that amazing one shot of Mt. Fuji, but other than that, there’s nothing much around the area. 

Why is it overrated?

All those photos that you see in pictures, that’s about it that you see. These heavily enhanced coloured photos that you see on social media have pulled in millions of travellers into scheduling this spot into their Japan trips. When you reach the spot, you might feel a bit disappointed at how unassumingly small the pagoda is. I certainly was.

After an extremely long train journey to a place quite distant from the main stations, and almost 400 steps up to get there, I expected the shrine to be magnificent. Don’t bring your hopes up. It’s pretty plain and pretty middle-sized. 

There’s also the chance of not even seeing Mt. Fuji when you’re up there. Depending on the day, it can become cloudy and there’s a chance you won’t see the mountain the whole time. Some people wait for the sky to clear up, but it might not. Is it all really worth it, noting that every other shot is going to be the exact same? 

Where can you go instead?

There are undoubtedly better places to view Mt. Fuji. I made my trip to the area for Fuji Q Highland, the amusement park, and booked a hotel with a view of Mt. Fuji. So my advice is to set aside at least two days and spend a night at a hotel that offers a perfect view of Mt. Fuji from your window. 

Early mornings is the best time to see a clear Mt. Fuji. You will not only be able to wake up to the sight of the lovely Mt. Fuji, but you’ll also be able to spend a chill time going around the area without rushing.

4. Umeda Sky Building in Osaka

One of the highlights of Osaka is the Umeda Sky Building. Tall skyscrapers are huge signs in the sky for being the perfect spot for a view of the city. Buildings with viewing decks like Umeda Sky Building have viewing decks that give you a 360 view of the city. 

And there’s no doubt that the Umeda Sky Building has a unique architecture. There are aesthetically pleasing spots to take your Instagram pictures. But let me warn you: the waiting time can be agonising. You might waste most of your day just in line to get up! Is it then worth it?

Why is it overrated?

In a lot of travel guides, you’ll find Umeda Sky Building as one of the main attractions of Osaka. Because of this attention, everyone makes it a point to put it in their Kansai itinerary. Not only do you have to pay to get up, but you’re also going to have to wait in line for an extremely long time. 

What’s more, the only takeaway you get is the view, which you can also get from a few other tall buildings in Osaka. I do recommend you to visit the building, though. The architecture definitely deserves appreciation. You just don’t have to go up. You can appreciate it from below.

Where can you go instead?

If you’re looking for a good view of the city, go to the tallest building in Osaka: Abeno Harukas. This building stands at 300m tall, and you’re even allowed to enter for free till the 16th floor! To go up higher, you have to fork out a few hundred yens, I’m afraid. 

On top of that, Abeno Harukas is a multi-purpose building. It’s not only a viewing deck. There are tons of shops and restaurants for you to leisurely browse and dine in. This makes your trip down more worthwhile!

5. Kinkaku-ji in Kyoto

Kyoto’s golden temple, Kinkaku-ji, is one of the most famous spots in the city. The sound of a golden temple is extremely attractive on its own, don’t you think. This Zen temple can be found in the northern part of Kyoto. The Kinkaku-ji temple was built to echo the extravagant culture of Kitayama in the wealthy social circles of Kyoto during the Yoshimitsu days. Each floor of the temple was made to represent a different style of architecture. The top two floors of the temple itself is covered in gold leaf.

The temple has been standing since 1397. The grounds itself is full of vibrant trees and well maintained gardens. While a visit to the Kinkaku-ji temple can be a wonderful experience, it can disappoint for some. 

Why is it overrated?

Some might assume that the whole temple is golden. However, it’s only the top two floors. This can be a huge letdown, especially when some promote Kinkaku-ji as being fully golden. 

Kinkaku-ji is also quite a distance from central Kyoto. You might need to take a long bus ride or cycle up that way only for it. If you only have a short period of time in the city, this might be one to cross out. 

Kyoto is a city filled with hundreds and thousands of temples and shrines, just waiting to be explored. This ancient capital city oozes culture and history just on the streets. You don’t have to travel so far to this overhyped temple for that zen, intimate experience. 

Where can you go instead?

Instead of travelling a chunk of time solely for a temple, why not head over to the Silver Temple instead, called Ginkaku-ji? The temple isn’t made of silver, despite the name, but you can easily find it at the foot of the mountains in eastern Kyoto. 

This temple is one of the best examples of Japanese landscape architecture. It’s completed with one of the most gorgeous Japanese gardens surrounding it. Regardless of the time of the year you visit, you get to witness the entire landscape of Ginkaku-ji changing accordingly. It’s a whole new experience each time.

The area where this temple is located is pretty convenient as well. You’re near areas with food and souvenir stalls. So you’re not travelling solely for the temple. 

Overrated but…

While these tourist places can be overrated, that doesn’t mean you shouldn’t give them a chance at all. All of the five locations are flooded with tourists day in and day out, proving that they are still extremely popular among tourists and locals alike. 

However, when you only have a limited time, these are the places that you can scratch off your to-visit list. Go for the recommended alternatives instead to save some precious time!

Top 9 Cultural Autumn Festivals to Attend in Japan!

Top 9 Cultural Autumn Festivals to Attend in Japan!

I don’t know about you but autumn is one of my favourite seasons ever. Autumn in Japan is beautiful – I’d argue that it’s just as beautiful as spring in Japan! Everyone in the country is looking for a bit of chill in the air after the hot and humid summer season. 

And not only is the weather a bit cooler, but the colours of the scenery changes too! The lush greens gradually change to vibrant shades of red and orange. And just like how people go for cherry blossom viewing (or hanami 花見) in spring, they go for autumn leaves viewing (or momijigari 紅葉狩り) in fall! I personally went from north to south of Japan just to witness this changing season. 

But that’s not all. Japanese autumn is full of cultural festivals. As I always mention, the Japanese love to celebrate anything and everything! While summer is the season with the most festivals, autumn is a runner up. Here we have a list of 9 culturally exciting autumn festivals for you to consider when visiting Japan during this season! 

1. Otsukimi (Nationwide)

One of the most exciting festivals to look out for during autumn in Japan is otsukimi (お月見), which translates to “moon viewing”. Somewhere from the middle of September and lasting till the beginning of October, you’ll get the fifteenth day of the eighth month of the ancient calendar.  This is known as the juugoya (十五夜), which is the night of the harvest moon and believed to be the most beautiful moon of the whole year!

During this time, the Japanese celebrate the cultural practice of moon-viewing to show their appreciation and pray for a successful seasonal harvest. Some even throw moon-viewing parties with friends and family. Decorations are put outside of houses, which includes pampas grass to resemble rice stalks and white rice cakes (dango 団子) to resemble the moon.

2. Shichi-Go-San (Nationwide)

Another autumn cultural festival that happens worldwide is the Shichi-Go-San (七五三), which literally translates to 7-5-3. This cultural festival involves families bringing their kids aged 3, 5 or 7 to the local shrine on the 15th of November. However, nowadays, families would schedule their visits for weekends close to the date to avoid the crowds. 

The history of this festival goes way back, believed to have originated in the Heinz period. This cultural festival is a way to celebrate the healthy growth of kids and also to pray for their future. The ages 3, 5 and 7 are odd numbers and believed to be numbers of good luck. So this festival involves a ceremony where they celebrate the healthy growth of the children into middle childhood as well as pray for their future.

Children are all dressed up and dolled up in the prettiest kimono and hakama, which are traditional Japanese costumes. Girls, particularly, are polished up in pretty makeup and hairstyles. 

3. Tori no Ichi (Nationwide)

Good things come in three. The third nationwide cultural festival in Japan is Tori no Ichi (酉の市). This is translated as “The Day of the Bird” and is one celebrated since quite a while back, since the Edo Period. While this cultural festival is famously celebrated in Tokyo, Tori no Ichi is actually celebrated nationwide with street parades, stalls and decorations. 

The cultural festival falls on the day of the rooster in the lunar calendar. In the olden days, this day was the best day for farmers to sell their goods and harvest that they got from the autumn harvest. It’s also a day that signifies the start of an economically strong year.

4. Takayama Autumn Festival (Gifu)

In Gifu Prefecture, a cultural festival that’s pretty well known nationwide is the Takayama Autumn Festival, celebrating for more than 350 years in early October. More than 100,000 visitors from all over the country travel to Takayama City every year to attend this festival.

The highlight of this cultural festival is the festival floats, each having their own theme based on Japanese traditions. But while the actual festival day itself is the highlight, the days leading up to the parade are no bore either. Food and drink stalls as well as artisan vendors are set up, along with the best entertainment on the streets. 

There’s also a Takayama Spring Festival if you missed out on this autumn festival. It’s not the same, but it’s a good replacement! 

5. Kurama Fire Festival (Kyoto)

One of the biggest autumn cultural festivals in Japan is the Kurama Fire Festival in Kyoto. The main object of this festival is….fire! You’ve got to travel into the mountains of Kurama for this event, but it’s not too far away from the capital city Kyoto. 

At the end of October, the festival starts right after sunset. Guests and participants dress in costumes to carry torches down the streets towards Yuki-jinja Shrine. At the end of the march, there’s a huge bonfire! It’s kind of like the summer festival Obon, because both festivals are about welcoming spirits. The difference is that this festival welcomes spirits from the shrine into the village. These spirits are believed to offer protection. 

6. Zuiki Festival (Kyoto)

Another Kyoto autumn cultural festival is the Zuiki Festival, which dates back to 947. This is another event that is a show of thanks for a good harvest, taking place between the first to the fifth of October. During this festival, you get to see a portable shrine known as mikoshi (神輿) that is decorated with taro stems being carried around the shrine grounds. This portable shrine is accompanied by about 350 priests and shrine parishioners! 

Performances are also part of this cultural festival. Some special ones open and end the event. One of them is a dance called yaotomemai, which means “sacred dance”, that’s performed by elementary school girls from the local area. 

7. Saga International Balloon Festival (Saga)

This is one of the lesser known cultural festivals by foreigners but definitely one extravagantly celebrated by the locals. Saga International Balloon Festival takes place in Saga prefecture at the end of October. This annual balloon festival is the largest in all of Asia! 

At around 5:30 in the morning, more than 50 hot air balloons start floating into the sky! But if you’re not there that early, there’s a night show where you can catch these balloons all lit up. Stick around for the huge market in the area, selling Saga-made products, food and drinks, and crafts. 

8. Nihonmatsu Lantern Festival (Fukushima)

In Fukushima at Nihonmatsu Shrine, the annual Nihonmatsu Lantern Festival takes place at the beginning of October. This is such an old cultural festival that has been going on for almost 400 years! Around 300 lanterns are involved, along with 65,000 people visiting annually!

This cultural festival is a way to honour the Hachiman and Kumano gods of the Nihonmatsu Shrine. These gods are believed to be the ones giving power to the rice plants and harvesting season. 

The shrine priests perform ceremonial prayers before sunset. A lot of incense is being burned too. Then, the lanterns are placed on seven floats, with some tied to long bamboo poles and stand up on the floats to represent rice plants. The marching parade only starts after sunset, accompanied by taiko drums and flute music.  and after sunset, the parade starts with taiko drums and flute music to accompany the march. 

9. Supernatural Cat Festival (Tokyo)

Last but not least, a more modern yet still cultural autumn festival in Japan is the Supernatural Cat Festival in Tokyo! Every year on the 13th of October, you’ll find people dressed as cats roaming the streets of the Kagurazaka neighbourhood. Anyone can participate, and to participate, all you need is to pay the entrance fee and a cat costume!

If you don’t have a cat costume, get your face painted by an on-site makeup artist! And just like any other Japanese cultural festivals, you have food stalls and dance performances to accompany the parade. 

Get your cultural experience at these top festivals!

There are tons of other Japanese cultural festivals in autumn, and if I were to list them all, it’d be an endless article. To get you started on that autumn festival checklist, these 9 festivals are a good starting point. Which ones will make it to your Japan autumn itinerary? 

15 Unique Japanese Souvenirs To Buy in Japan

15 Unique Japanese Souvenirs To Buy in Japan

I don’t know about you, but shopping is time consuming for me. That includes souvenir shopping. When travelling, we’re trying to explore the country and city that we’re in. Shopping should take up the least of our time.

But when in Japan, souvenir shopping can be overwhelming and time consuming, because there are so many things to consider when buying souvenirs for friends and family back home. Not to fret, we’ve come up with a list of the 15 most unique Japanese souvenirs to buy in Japan!

These items can range from very cheap to a more exclusive price, so there’s a bit of everything for everyone! Keep on reading to find out more!

Traditional Clothing

1. Kimono/Yukata

One of the best souvenirs you can get from Japan is definitely the traditional wear! There are two general types: a kimono and a yukata. A kimono is the standard one you see everywhere, but it can cost quite a bit to get an authentic one. A yukata is a summer version of the kimono, so for those of you who live in tropical countries, this is perfect. I think yukatas are definitely cheaper, but you’ll never know! Some thrift shops offer both for a bargain!

2. Geta and Zori Sandals

Why not complete the kimono or yukata with a geta or zori? These are traditional sandals and definitely unique to Japan. The best part about these sandals is that they make a very unique clip-clop noise when you walk.

It can be a thoughtful gift for your friends or family. You can also get one for yourself as a way to remember Japan! Oh, take note: these shoes can be a little tricky to walk at first, but you’ll get used to it, for sure.

Japanese Art

3. Ukiyo-e Woodblock Prints

One of the most unique souvenirs you can get from Japan is a ukiyo-e artwork. Ukiyo-e is a kind of Japanese artwork popular during the Edo period. This style of art uses woodblocks to make the prints. It’s said to be the world’s oldest form of colour copying!

You can get all sorts of pictures in the ukiyo-e form, everything from kabuki actors to the scenic landscape of Mount Fuji.

4. Calligraphy Sets

If you have an artsy friend, get them a Japanese calligraphy set. One of Japan’s art forms is calligraphy, drawing kanji characters in cursive handwriting. Not only is this a perfect souvenir but it also adds a personal thought into the gift when presenting it to your artsy companion. 

5. Bonsai

If your friend or family member has a green thumb instead, get them a bonsai tree. Or at least, a bonsai planting kit. This can range anywhere from 10 bucks to 100 bucks, but I personally have seen souvenir, travel-friendly kits sold at sightseeing spots. Bonsai is becoming a popular choice of souvenir! 

Japanese Crafts

6. Sensu

If you’re on a bit of a budget for souvenirs, try getting sensu, which is a kind of Japanese fan. This is sold everywhere, from small local shops to 100-yen shops nationwide! It’s often carried around and tucked into kimonos and yukatas, making a perfect traditional souvenir for a bargain price!

7. Origami

If you’re on even more of a budget, get some origami paper. Japanese origami is so popular and it’s so light and cheap, it’s perfect for a souvenir. You can find them in most stationery shops and souvenir shops, and their price range can vary. 

8. Chochin

Want to bring a bit of Japan back home to your house? Get a chochin, which is a paper lantern. You see them outside of Japanese local food shops, emitting red light. It’s not common to have it in the house, but hey, it makes a perfect decoration for back home. 

Cultural Items

9. Inkan

Get a customised souvenir for your loved ones by getting an inkan. These are stamps that the Japanese use instead of signatures. You can pre-make your inkan at shops like Don Quijote! It’s not as cheap, as it can cost about 30 bucks. But it’s definitely worth the money!

10. Omamori Charms

A convenient souvenir to get is omamori, which is known as good luck charms. You can find them at any temple or shrine. There are various types of omamori, ranging from wishes for health and longevity to relationships and love. 

11. Furoshiki Cloth

Get a furoshiki as a souvenir for your friends! They’re cheap, convenient and light to bring back home. This is a large cloth to wrap around items so you can carry them around. Oftentimes it’s used to wrap bento boxes. I used mine as a nice tabletop for my side table back home, and it got so many compliments!

12. Noren Curtains

Whether it’s for yourself or for others, noren curtains make the perfect souvenir! This is a curtain-like fabric that splits into two and is hung in front of entrances of stores. You can use it in your home as room dividers, at your home entrance, or even as curtains if you wish!

13. Bento Box

If you know a friend who likes to bring home cooked lunches to school or work, why not get them a bento box as a souvenir? This is perfect, because bento boxes can vary in prices too. You can definitely get affordable ones even at 100 yen shops, or you can go to bento craft shops where they are handmade from exceptional materials.

Traditional Toys

14. Kendama

Get some toys for souvenirs! The best one to get is the kendama, which is played using a ball that’s attached to a stick with a rope. You have to catch the ball in cups before spearing it with the point of the stick!

15. Beigoma

Another game you can get as a souvenir is a beigoma, which is just 3cm in diameter. It’s played by spinning, done by wrapping a 60cm cord around it then releasing the cord to spin on the surface. The aim of the game is to knock off another beigoma! So you’ve got to get two!

Get your perfect souvenir!

I bet, with this list, you’re never going to be unsure about what to get as a souvenir from Japan ever again! There are so many to choose from for various types of people, so go get shopping!

All you need to know to have a great trip to Japan!

All you need to know to have a great trip to Japan!

Japan is one of the most popular destinations for travel. There’s no doubt about that one bit. Most dream about going on wild adventures in the land of anime and sushi. It’s on a lot of our travel bucket lists!

After you’ve purchased your flight tickets and blocked out the dates in your calendar, there’s still lots to do even before getting on your flight. In fact, the planning is the most crucial part of it all. Your research can determine how amazing your trip can be.

But even researching can be exhausting because you have to filter out tons of information online. So don’t worry, we’ve got you. We’re going to give you a few tips on how to prepare for your trip and the top places to visit! This is your one-stop guide to the best way to travel Japan!

Preparing Your Trip

So how does one prepare for a trip to Japan? It’s simple really, with our guide especially. Japan is full of  spectacular sights and once-in-a-lifetime experiences. You don’t want to miss out on any just because you didn’t do your research, do you? Here are some of the ways to get ahead with preparing for your Japan trip!

1. Plan, Plan, Plan!

I know some of us are good at winging it, but it’s always great to plan. For Japan, it’s good to look into what each city has to offer and schedule your days accordingly. 

Transport is a crucial point to take note of. Going to other cities and around generally via public transportation can be a bump in the road if you don’t plan. Timings can be off and you might find yourself stranded in the countryside with no way to get home!

2. Have Extra Cash in Hand

Japan isn’t as credit card-friendly as you might think. Bigger stores might accept them but good ol’ traditional shops by the streets won’t. So because of that, bring extra cash. Whether it’s your home currency or exchanged into yen, just make sure you have them.

If you’re bringing extra cash from your home country, think of the exchange rates. Depending on which country you’re coming from, it might be better to do that in your home country than in Japan. You might be able to save a few bucks. 

You can also consider taking money out in ATMs in Japan. Konbini ones accept international credit cards for withdrawal. However, the exchange rates might not be pleasant… But hey, at least you have cash! 

3. Get A Pocket WiFi or Travel SIM

Plan to get a pocket WiFi or travel SIM card. WiFi may not be available all throughout the country. If you’re planning to go to various cities, especially countryside ones, you might have a tough time going around without one.

In cities like Tokyo, Osaka and Kyoto, you probably can get around with just WiFi. Some restaurants and shopping malls also offer them for free but they are super slow. 

Cities can get surprisingly massive and you might find yourself constantly lost. Google Maps will be your best friend during your trip. It’s also greatly accurate for planning transport routes! 

Must-Visit Stops in Japan

Planning includes where you want to go. Japan is a huge country, so you’ve got to decide which cities you should stop by. There are so many to choose from, but we’ve shortlisted the top three to start you off, especially if it’s your first time in Japan!

1. Tokyo

Who hasn’t heard of Tokyo? The capital city is one of the most famous cities in the whole world! Movies feature it and the neon lights are strangers to no one. They say that a month’s worth of travel wouldn’t be able to cover a third of what this city has to offer.

But we’ve got to start somewhere. The Shibuya Scramble Square is one of the top stops on the list for sure. It’s super busy but the best place to get everything you ever need! Food, drinks, shopping – you name it! 

Don’t miss out on visiting the Tokyo Tower and its area. Not only will you be able to see the city from a high point view but you’ll be able to stroll leisurely on the streets full of cafes and gardens. 

2. Kamakura

This city is just about an hour’s train ride from central Tokyo. Kamakura isn’t as busy as Tokyo even though it’s close. That makes it the perfect day trip to escape the bustles. The peace and serenity will be the first few things that hit you as soon as you arrive here. Locals and foreigners alike travel down to Kamakura for a change of pace.

The big Buddha statue known as the Kamakura Daibutsu is the highlight of the city. This can be found in the Buddhist temple, Kotoku-in. 

An area you have to visit is the one near the Hasedera temple. Its streets are extremely vibrant. Tons of cafes and restaurants are brimming with energy. This is also the perfect place for souvenir shopping! 

3. Kyoto

What’s a trip to Japan without a stop by the ancient capital city of Japan? Kyoto strips back down to the roots and tradition of Japanese culture. Every street screams history and culture, and you’ll be able to see geishas casually wandering around!

Arashiyama is a spot you have to see for yourself. The highlight here is the bamboo forest sheltering a few local temples. You might even see some monkeys for yourself! 

Walk down the infinite gates of the Shinto shrine, Fushimi Inari Taisha. The gates run for 4 kilometers long! You don’t have to go all the way up, but if you do, set aside about two hours for a leisurely climb up. There are great sunset viewing spots up there!

Get ready for Japan!

Are you ready to explore Japan? There’s so much more to explore in Japan, but if we list them all, we’ll be here the whole day. Use our tips and planning guide to help you plan your next Japan trip! 

A First Timer’s Guide From Tokyo Cheapo

A First Timer’s Guide From Tokyo Cheapo

 Having lived almost a decade in Tokyo, the best phrase I’ve heard so far for describing this vast city is, “A Disney remake of Blade Runner.” 

When you arrive you’ll see what I mean – over 35 million people, skyscrapers towering over small wooden houses, spaghetti junction freeways running above and deep below the city, trains weaving in and out of the ground and through department stores, all with friendly animated characters guiding you at every turn. 

It’s uniquely safe for such a large metropolis, spotlessly clean despite an abject lack of trash cans, everything works and is on time. As a newcomer you’ll find it deliciously confusing with the massive cultural differences, language barrier – it’s guaranteed to be unlike any city you’ve ever seen before. 

Closed Borders – Covid Disclaimer – Visas 

At the time of writing, the borders to Japan are closed to almost all non-residents. There’s progress towards the borders reopening, with domestic restrictions and re-entry requirements easing, plus the influential business lobby working the government to open up again. But there’s no clear timeline for opening up yet – so keep checking for updates and always be prepared for disruption when planning any international travel.  

Visa Duration 

Pre-pandemic, most westerners and many other countries could just turn up and receive a 90-day tourist visa under the visa waiver program – here’s a full list of countries.  Some nationalities (Austria, Germany, Switzerland and the UK) can apply to have the 90-day visa extended for up to 6 months after arrival. This requires a trip to the immigration bureau, filling out a form and waiting in a queue for a few hours. 

Again, at time of writing the borders are closed and the visa waiver program is suspended, so check your local government’s travel advice for Japan (or brave the confusion of Japan’s Ministry of Foregin Affairs website). 

Getting Connected Sim Cards, WiFi, Roaming 

You might find your mobile provider’s roaming charges to be prohibitively expensive in Japan, but there are a few exceptions in the US/UK/EU and South East Asia. Either way you’ll probably find it cheaper to pick up a data SIM card, or rent a mobile wifi router for the duration of your stay.  

Prepaid Sim Cards in Japan 

As long as you have an unlocked smartphone, you’ll be able to order a prepaid SIM, pop it in your phone and get online. The most cost effective and sensible option is to pre-order a SIM card to your hotel/accommodation for when you arrive. Alternatively if you’re not so price sensitive there are kiosks and vending machines at the airport where you can buy a SIM just after you land. 

There’s quite a few providers offering different plans, ranging from ¥2,880 – ¥7,490 (about $25 – $70 USD)  a month for 10GB – unlimited data. Check out the Tokyo Cheapo comparison article on buying prepaid SIM cards in Japan for the latest prices and recommendations. 

Free Wifi 

If you’re a super cheapo, you’ll know the old phrase, “Nothing is cheaper than free… wifi”, and the good news is that free wifi is now abundant in Japan. 

You can reliably connect to the internet at almost all convenience stores, many cafes, most train and subway stations, most department stores, many shops, many public buildings like museums, galleries, and sightseeing spots… the list goes on. 

For a more exhaustive list, check the Tokyo Cheapo article on getting connected

Pocket Wifi 

The other option worth a mention is renting a pocket wifi/mobile wifi router for the duration of your stay. This is a great option if you’re travelling as a group/family and want to share a connection between multiple laptops and phones. Prices are similar to SIM cards and are typically from ¥900/day to ¥7,000/month, with discounted longer term monthly plans available too. Once again check out our article for the best deals and some discount codes on pocket wifi in Japan. 

Getting Around 

 

Suica card – buy one as soon as you arrive

First up buy a suica (or pasmo – which works exactly the same) card at the train station at the airport as soon as you arrive. This is a credit card-sized IC card that you can easily top up with credit, buy the cheapest one and just top up 1000yen every time it runs out. Don’t bother fiddling with point-to-point tickets, it’s not worth the hassle. Buy a Suica card and simply tap to enter and leave at the train station barrier.  

The metro system in Tokyo is the biggest and most efficient in the world. You’ll barely be waiting on the platform more than 2 mins for your next train, which is almost always on time, accurate to a few seconds. 

Use this English website to plan your journeys through the city. Unfortunately none of the English language train apps are as comprehensive, but some like trains.jp give you train routes without having internet access. 

Beware of the last train, don’t have your carriage turn into a pumpkin. Trains stop early, often before midnight after which you’ll be stranded at the mercy of cabs whose fare’s increase dramatically at night as trains stop running. (see notes below about where to stay in Tokyo). 

Best Neighborhoods To Stay In 

The best area of Tokyo by far is the southwest central part of central Tokyo, roughly centred around Shibuya. A good rule of thumb would be anywhere within 2 to 3 train stops from Shibuya. Most of the interesting events, nightlife, people and culture are usually found in this zone, plus it’s still easy to get to all the various sight-seeing spots on Tokyo’s excellent transport system. Unfortunately it’s also one of the more expensive areas and it can be difficult to find places to stay.  

Because there’s no public transport except for taxis after about 23:30 you’ll want to be based near where the nightlife is. Otherwise if you miss your train you have the wonderful choice of a 3 hour trudge home, $100 taxi or pulling an all-nighter. So it makes sense to be based somewhere southwest central. 

There are other pleasant neighborhoods in Tokyo a little bit further out, so if you don’t mind getting your carriage before midnight also consider:  

  • Shimokitazawa – just outside of Shibuya, hip and friendly hood 
  • Hatsudai, Nakano, Sasaka – fairly close to Shinjuku and quite cheap 
  • Yotsuya, Kagurazaka, Jimbocho – still fairly central and not too pricey 
  • Asakusa – lots of budget and foreigner friendly accommodation 
  • Anywhere on the south side of the Yamanote line 

Airbnb, Agoda, Booking – all the usual international booking sites have Tokyo pretty well covered. One thing to know if you’re booking hotels from a Japanese website or hotel directly, the charge is sometimes per person, and not per room. 

Shibuya – a halloween mayhem 

What To Do In Tokyo 

If it’s your first time, then I always say just simply being anywhere in Tokyo is half the sightseeing done. With all the many differences, from the subtle (bizarre background music in super markets) to the conspicuous (train staff pushing commuters into an already full train carriage in order to close the doors), there’s so many sights to see without even visiting a tourist spot. 

That being said, here’s a list of 101 cheap and free things to do in Tokyo. Highlights include 

  • A free view from the top floor of the Tokyo Metropolitan Government Skyscraper in Shinjuku. 
  • A taste of the old at Edo Tokyo Open Air Architectural Museum, in Koganei park. 
  • Checking out some contemporary art at The National Art Center, in Nogizaka. 
  • Enjoy one of Tokyo’s oldest and most beautiful parks, Koishikawa Korakuen – especially good in Autumn. 
  • See the vanguard of Japanese girls’ fashion at culture by exploring the 109 department store in Shibuya 
  • Cower before the Gundam Statue in Odaiba 
  • Escape from the crowds of Harajuku, walk through forest and visit an oasis of calm at Meiji Shrine 
  • Drink with the locals at one of the many old-fashioned miniature bars at a “Yokocho check” – Nonbei Yokocho in Shibuya, Sankaku Chitai in Sangenjaya, Sanchoku Yokocho in Yurakucho, Ebisu Yokocho, Omoide Yokocho in Shinjuku etc. 
  • Eat all the things – the food is so good in Tokyo eat as much of it as possible! 

Gyms and Fitness 

Surprisingly there are lots of cheap community gyms around the city, typically with entrance fees of 200 – 400yen per pop. 

Here’s one in Shinjuku with a squat rack – website 

And in Shibuya – website 

And yet more options here 

If you want to go a bit more high end, Gold’s Gym (of international fame) has visitor passes, a single month membership for around 18000yen, and ongoing monthly plans from about 8000yen. 

There’s also a surprising amount of chin up bars in small parks dotted throughout the city, if you can make do with body weight exercise. 

The Emperor’s Palace is a popular spot for jogging, one lap is about 5km – NOTE: everyone usually runs round counterclockwise, but you won’t be arrested for going against the grain (I’ve battle tested that). There’s a nice public bath (sento) just here to shower off and soak in afterwards. 

Also at the edge of the city you’ll find mountains with numerous hiking trails for all abilities. 

Cheap Eats In Tokyo 

You can’t really go wrong with food in Tokyo, so don’t be afraid to try places without any recommendations. English menus are fairly common now-a-days, but even without, you’ll find many menus come with pictures of almost every dish. The only specific recommendation I need to give is to avoid places that have touts – if they have staff out and about trying to pull in customers then that’s not a good sign! 

Sushi 

You can literally eat sushi anywhere – even from 7-Eleven and it’ll be good. For the best cost performance, go to a standing sushi bar, you’ll be shoulder to shoulder with busy salarymen and women – true professional Tokyo cheapos. NOTE: Don’t bother trying to get a reservation at Jiro or stand in line for hours at one of the “best” Tsukiji Market sushi restaurants, there are countless restaurants that are really good that get overlooked from tourist guidebooks, just check the price suits your budget and enjoy – no need to queue. 

Ramen, Soba, Udon 

Student prices don’t necessarily mean student food, but you’ll usually find any of the ubiquitous noodle eateries –  Ramen, Soba or Udon – filled with students. Look for restaurants that have you pay at a vending machine (you then give the ticket to the chef), that’s a clue that is good and cheap.  

Izakaya – The Japanese Pub 

Somewhere between a tapas bar and a pub, an Izakaya is about drinking as much as it is about eating. Still they are usually a great place to sample a wide variety of Japanese cuisine. Normally they will have a speciality – Yakitori (chicken BBQ skewers), Nabe (hot pot), Seafood etc. but likely the menu will have a little bit of everything. Which is how you should order – try as many different dishes as you can, and share just like tapas.  

For a good Tokyo foodie website, have a look at https://bento.com/ 

Language Tips 

Hopefully you’ll have at least a few words of spoken Japanese ready to put to the test when you arrive, but If not then Nihongo Master can get you up to speed. You’ll find the majority of people in Tokyo won’t be comfortable with speaking English, so they’ll be very pleased to hear you (at least try to) speak Japanese. Also most people will have studied English for several years at school, so by hook or by crook you should be able to get by. 

Lots of words in modern Japanese are borrowed from English (or French, German etc). Unfortunately they may be tricky to recognise as they are pronounced with a Japanese accent, and often vowel sounds get lost in translation. So a handy trick is that if you don’t know a word in Japanese, you can try saying the English word with a Japanese accent – like meeting -> meeting, suitcase -> suitcase, beer -> beeru. But be warned, if you have a very good Japanese accent, people might then assume you are fully fluent and will talk to you at full speed! 

You’ll find a lot of spoken Japanese in Tokyo is either Keigo (the super polite and honorific speech), or informal Japanese. This can be quite confusing for new-comers, as you may not have advanced enough to branch into learning the very polite or informal speech. On the other hand, spoken Japanese is often very abbreviated and unnecessary words are often dropped from sentences. So less is more when trying to communicate – if you’re not sure of all the grammar yet and just want to be understood, try leaving it out and keep sentences short and simple. 

Finally, Tokyo after dark is a great place to improve your language skills – in contrast to the day when most people seem quite introverted, everyone opens up after a few drinks. If you’re out and about in bars and izakayas it probably won’t be too long before you end up in conversation of some sort.  

Everything you need to know about Omotenashi, the art of Japanese Hospitality!

Everything you need to know about Omotenashi, the art of Japanese Hospitality!

The Japanese people are proud of their country and culture. One of the top things they take pride in is ‘omotenashi’ (おもてなし). This is a Japanese concept that’s identified as ‘hospitality’. It’s deeply ingrained in Japanese culture and it’s something the rest of the world looks up to Japan for. 

This top quality customer service and overall hospitality is prominent in all aspects of the culture. You’ll definitely experience it when you travel here. If you’re planning to work in Japan, especially in the customer service line, you would also be expected to adopt omotenashi. You’ve come to the right place if you don’t know exactly what it is. In this article, we’ll cover the definition of omotenashi, how it came about and how it’s different from regular customer serivice!

What is omotenashi?

As we mentioned earlier, omotenashi refers to Japanese hospitality. This word became popular when it was used in the Tokyo 2020 Olympics candidate speech. Omotenashi is extremely prominent in customer service where staff pay extensive attention to detail and be at the beck and call of guests’ needs. 

One simple example is shop workers bowing to customers as they walk in or out of a store to thank them for coming to the store. Even if they didn’t buy anything, it’s part of Japanese culture to show the utmost level of respect and politeness to customers. 

However, the translation to ‘hospitality’ is such a loose translation as its meaning runs far deeper. Omotenashi is not just hospitality and impeccable customer service – it’s a way of life of the Japanese people. You’re focused on providing the best, regardless of what the situation is. This form of Japanese language is one that’s highly respected and abided by by all locals. 

The origins of omotenashi

So, when did this concept of omotenashi come into existence? It is said that the grandfather of Japanese tea ceremony, Sen no Rikyū (1522-1591), was the one that established this Japanese hospitality. The great tea master started the tradition of chado (茶道), which translates to “tea ceremony”. In a tea ceremony, every experience is “ichigo ichie” (一期一会), to mean “once in a lifetime experience”. He said: 

“Because life is full of uncertainty, one must engrave in his heart the events of the day as if there is no tomorrow. Today’s tea ceremony is a once in a lifetime experience, and one, along with his guests, must wholeheartedly approach the meeting with sincerity.”

Sincerity for the host is going through immense preparation so that the guests can have the most memorable experience possible. Preparation can take up to a year to prepare for a single tea ceremony. Flowers are picked properly, and so are the tea set, hanging scrolls and confections to match with seasons and guest preferences. If these parts aren’t perfect, the host will search high and low until they find the perfect match. Most tea masters agree that while this is the most difficult aspect, it’s also the most creative and interesting part of the process.

Omotenashi in the tea ceremony doesn’t stop there. Preparation of the tea in front of guests is also crucial. This involves cleaning cups performed in a ceremonial way to show their honesty and transparency. 

One of the roots of the word “omotenashi” is the phrase “omote-ura nashi”. This can be literally translated to “there is no front or back”. This means that guests are provided with genuine hospitality from the heart. Another root of the word is from a phrase that means “to accomplish through both conceptual and physical objects.” This combination, of decoration and intention, provides the best set up for the guests. 

Now in the present day, omotenashi is present in life encounters. Everything from customers treating guests to how one invites a guest to their home and how business partners treat each other. 

Omotenashi vs service 

Outside of Japan, service refers to the relationship between the service provider and the customer. It’s like a transaction between two parties, sometimes involving service fees and monetary returns. 

Japanese omotenashi is nothing like that. Service elsewhere is expected to get something in return. Omotenashi is done without expecting anything in return. It’s genuine from the soul. Japanese people are not providing Japanese hospitality for tips or charges. 

Another difference is that omotenashi is sometimes not as visible as service. It can frequently be intangible. It’s similar in the things done as it is in the things not done. For example, omotenashi needs no recognition. Service outside of Japan might be a topic raised to the customer to remind them they are getting customer service, whereas in Japanese hospitality, it’s the opposite. It’s best to not mention it blatantly, or at all. 

More to omotenashi

Omotenashi doesn’t just stop at customer service. It extends way past that. The wet towel you get when you enter a restaurant is part of that. That toothpick packaged together with that disposable chopsticks is also part of omotenashi. When a worker slips an ice pack into the box they’ve packed your cake with, that’s also part of omotenashi. 

Even the smallest of actions that would usually go unnoticed are part of omotenashi. Sometimes you would have to really look for it to figure out what is considered Japanese hospitality or not!

Don’t be surprised by Japanese hospitality! 

When you come to Japan for the first time, don’t be surprised if you are on the receiving end of omotenashi. Don’t think you need to tip the worker. They’re doing all of that because it’s part of their culture, and they’re happy to do it. All you can do is treat them with the same respect they give you. Omotenashi is beautiful, and you can only truly feel its beauty when you experience it.

7 Weird Gachapons in Japan!

7 Weird Gachapons in Japan!

Capsule toys in Japan are great for unique, fun and cheap souvenirs to bring back. In Japanese, these capsule machines are called gachapon (ガチャポン). You can get capsule toys of all varieties here in the Land of the Rising Sun!

At the normal end of the spectrum, you’ll be able to get keychains, cartoon figurines and magnets from these capsule toy machines. We’re not here to talk about that. We’re looking at the other end of the spectrum. The not-so-normal one. Some would say they’re even weird!

Because there are so many types of gachapon, I’m pretty sure you’ll be able to find weirder ones on a random street in Japan. But for now, here’s a list of the top 7 commonly weird gachapon toys you can find in Japan!

1. Fuchico on the Cup

The first one is Fuchico on the Cup! This iconic gachapon series started in 2012. It’s not your usual keychain or fridge magnet. This one can interact with your day-to-day life…by sitting at the edge of your cup.

A manga artist called Katsuki Tanaka designed this tiny office lady character after noticing lots of food pictures on social media. To him, those pictures were boring, and wanted to make it more interesting. And so, Fuchico was born, to sit at the edge of cups!

Those who weren’t into gachapon became into it after this release. To this day, this gachapon series has sold millions! She comes in various designs, and some people even collect them!

2. Fake food

Who doesn’t like food? Well, put it on a keychain and people go crazy! Of course, they’re not real. They’re fake food! Fake food gachapon is extremely popular. You can get anything from fake sushi and fake ramen to fake croissants and fake cakes. 

They’re 100% fake, but they look so real that you might think it is! 

Recently as well, fake fruits and desserts are getting so popular. But they all fall under the same category of fake food. This type of gachapon can range from as low as 100yen to 300yen! Sometimes, you would have to try a few times in a machine to get the one you want, so make sure you have enough coins on you!

3. Bottle panties

I have to say this is the weirdest one yet, but hey, weird things become a hit. Just like how vending machines sell disposable panties, gachapons have panties too, but for your bottle!

Now, here me out. No dirty thinking. It’s just an accessory you can put at the bottom of your water bottle. It’s like a coaster substitute since they’re super absorbent. These bottle panties come in a variety of colours and patterns, so you can go on a hunt to collect them all. Dress up all your bottles!

4. Themed Animals

Animals are the cutest, aren’t they? You can easily find animal keychains in gachapons, but what we’re talking about here are themed animals! You can get pugs handing off the edge of your glass or bowl, or cats sleeping in a bookshelf. Think of any random situation and you might just get an animal gachapon in that theme. 

One common collective is office working animals. Yep, you read that right. Animals are holding props like reading the newspaper, working on their laptop and drinking morning coffee. Some people collect these office-working animals and set up a mini office!

5. Mini games

My personal favourite weird but fun gachapon item is mini games! You can find a lot of games in miniature size! That crocodile teeth game? I have a few colours of them at home. Remember that game where you have to stick knives in a barrel and a pirate will pop out? Yup, they have those too.

These miniature games are so handy and convenient when you’re travelling. When you have time to spare waiting for your flight or train, you can whip this out and play with your friends and family. 

6. Miniature furniture

Speaking of miniature, one of the most intriguing gachapons I’ve ever seen is miniature furniture! You can find any piece of furniture in mini size! From tables and chairs to lamps and teapots! 

I heard that people collect these pieces to create a miniature home. It’s like building your dream home but in miniature form. Think of it as Lego for adults…I mean, kids can do it too!

7. Mannequins

Last but not least of weird gachapons is mannequins. One of the newest gachapon creations is by Tokyo-based capsule toy maker So-Ta. Mannequins of various poses are sold in small capsules called “Nude”. There are six poses altogether. With each one of them, you can freely change the poses as the mannequin is made up of multiple ball joints.

There are three colours available: black, white and “stripe” where it’s mainly white with blue accents outlined in red . 

While it might be a weird idea in the first place, it can be used for artists who need a physical representation of a human pose, but can’t afford to purchase the big ones. 

Which weird gachapon do you want to buy?

I have to admit, all of these seven weird gachapons caught my attention. So they did their job well! When playing around with gachapons, don’t limit yourself to the normal and boring. Go out of your comfort zone and find fun and quirky ones like these!

7 Japanese Manners Survival Tips

7 Japanese Manners Survival Tips

Japanese culture is extremely rich with history and customs. And with a culture so rich comes unique mannerisms only prominent in the country. A lot of these customs are extremely new to us, and that’s okay. I bet the locals don’t expect us to know all of their culture anyway. 

But it’s always a good idea to prepare yourself before your trip to Japan. We wouldn’t want to accidentally disrespect someone. To get you started, we’ve compiled a list of 7 top survival tips for Japanese manners. If you learn them by heart before you go to Japan, it’s a pretty safe bet you’ll be more than respectful towards the local culture.

1. Learn the basics of the language

When going to a foreign country, it’s no guarantee that everyone can speak English. Don’t assume and learn the local language – or at least the basics of it. In Japan, the first language is Japanese. And while the people here learn English in school, not everyone can speak it. To make your trip go more smoothly and just for the sake of convenience, learn basic Japanese. Or what I would call, survival Japanese.

Pick up a cheap Japanese learning book and learn how to introduce yourself, how to order, how to ask questions, and how to ask for directions. Heck, you should subscribe to Nihongo Master right now. We have the best of the best materials to help you learn Japanese!

2. Be cautious of footwear

In Japan, footwear is a big issue. You might find yourself taking off your footwear quite often. Traditional places like shrines and temples, ryokan and izakaya, and even restaurants would require you to take off your shoes before entering. If you don’t know if you need to take them off, ask a staff member. You could also observe the people around you to see if they’re taking off their shoes. 

A lot of tourists don’t know this about Japan, so this is a common mistake. I’d recommend wearing cute and neat socks – they’ll be on display quite a bit. I have holes in my socks…and it gets embarrassing having people see them…

3. Take note of paying etiquette

While Japan is moving towards a cashless society, a lot of the country is still pretty much cash-based. Local restaurants and shops might not accept credit cards, and some taxis would require you to pay cash, too. This is especially so in smaller towns and countryside areas. 

Another thing to take note is that money and cards are not passed from hand to hand. There’s a cash tray where you should put your money or card down and the cashier will take it from there. It might be a bit weird at the start, but it’s how it is here. You’ll get your change and receipt from the cash tray, too. 

Oh, and there is no tipping culture here. If you do leave a tip, the cashier might think that you forgot your change and chase after you to return it! 

4. Learn basic chopstick etiquette

Chopsticks are the go-to utensil here. Don’t expect to find forks in any restaurant here, unless you ask for them. Even if you can use the chopsticks pretty well, there is specific etiquette you gotta abide by.

For one, never play with your chopsticks. Don’t point your chopsticks at people. Don’t wave them in the or. Don’t pass food from one pair of chopsticks to another. Don’t stick your chopsticks in a bowl of rice upright – this is like a funeral ritual. 

There are more chopstick rules, but those are the basics. Just don’t play with them, period.

5. Know the rules of street drinking and eating

Japan is pretty known for street food, although it’s not the same as some other countries in Asia like Thailand. In fact, the rules of street eating and drinking are different. In Japan, eating and drinking on the streets are frowned upon. Even on buses and trains, you’re generally not supposed to do that. 

However, it’s pretty common to see locals munching on a snack before going to work, especially from a konbini (コンビニ). You would notice that they would be standing outside the store and finishing their food before walking. This is the same for cans from the vending machines. Finish up your food or drink before continuing walking. 

If you’re on a long-distance train ride like a Shinkansen (新幹線), the bullet train, you’re actually encouraged to eat. There are even workers pushing food trolleys down the alley throughout your ride. 

6. Mind your volume level

The Japanese people are really mindful of their space, especially when out in public. Speaking in a high volume is not encouraged in Japan, as you would affect others around you. This is like respecting the space that you share with other strangers.

When you’re with a group of people, try to keep your volume down, especially when on public transport like trains and buses. If you’re on the phone, speak quietly – but not on the train, because you’re not allowed to speak on the phone when on the train.

7. If you don’t know, ask

Last but not least, if you don’t know something, ask. Don’t assume something, because it might be completely opposite from what you expect. The locals wouldn’t be offended if you don’t know something. In fact, they would welcome any questions you might have about their culture and mannerisms! 

You’re good to go to Japan!

These seven survival tips will definitely help you to learn about the local Japanese culture. As mentioned earlier, you’re not expected to know every aspect of local mannerisms, but it’s always good to know a bit. And showing interest would score you brownie points, too

Japanese Etiquette for Popular Destinations According to Japan Guide!

Japanese Etiquette for Popular Destinations According to Japan Guide!

If you’re excited to plan your next trip to Japan (and who isn’t dreaming of visiting once visitors are allowed again?) then japan-guide.com should be an integral part of your planning process. This site is an amazing resource for those hoping to visit Japan. Use the interactive map on their homepage to see some of the most popular locations Japan has to offer. Once you click on your desired destination, you will be taken to a page filled with information on the topic. From there, you will find out about the culture and history of your destination. You will also learn the most popular activities, transportation methods, and more! What else could a traveler need to plan the best trip ever?

We’ve compiled a list of five popular destinations in Japan and used the resources in Japan Guide to learn more about them!

Japan Guide’s Interactive Map

5. Sapporo

Sapporo is the capital of Hokkaido, Japan’s northernmost prefecture. Sapporo is known for its beer, winter activities, and ramen–which was created in Hokkaido! The top rated activity in Sapporo, according to Japan Guide, is the Sapporo Snow Festival or さっぽろ雪まつり (Sapporo Yuki Matsuri). Japan Guide also has a great feature that tells you which activities are most recommended using a point system, and Sapporo’s Snow Festival made the list!

Japan Guide’s Point System

The Snow Festival is held annually for one week in February. Its main site is located at the Odori Site, which Japan Guide helpfully links information to. It also gives a history of the Snow Festival and information on Sapporo.

Like many other matsuri (Japanese festivals), the Snow Festival has delicious food. Hokkaido is well known for its seafood, especially crab, so its most popular matsuri food is crab miso soup. Cooked potatoes, takoyaki, and ramen are also common. These treats keep festival-goers warm during the cold Hokkaido winters.

In Japanese etiquette, it is frowned upon to eat while walking in public. Matsuri are an exception to this rule. You will often see people walking through the festival while enjoying a warm snack. Even so, miso soup or ramen may be difficult to enjoy while walking. You will find many places at the Snow Festival to stop, eat, and marvel at the amazing snow sculptures!

4. Osaka

Next, I used Japan-Guide’s interactive map to “travel” to Osaka and learn more about the beautiful city! Japan Guide has a helpful tool that will list the area’s highest rated activities. Osaka’s top attractions are the Osaka Aquarium and Universal Studios– I didn’t know this existed! It’s so great to explore the destination you are interested in and learn more about them too!

One of Osaka’s most iconic landmarks is the Osaka Castle. Through Japan Guide I was able to learn the history of the castle and what it is like to visit today. There are even ticket prices listed and recommendations for cherry blossom season! The castle–like much of Japan–becomes very popular and crowded during cherry blossom season. Remember to be respectful of others and to stand in an orderly queue as you wait to enter. Orderly lines are very important in Japanese etiquette. They show respect, patience, and organization.

If you plan to be around the castle for the cherry blossom season, you will want more than just a day trip to Osaka! Japan Guide can help you out. You can easily find recommended hotels listed on the site. If you plan to stay long, use Japan Guide’s feature to find nearby day trips to make sure your visit never has a dull moment!

And if you are visiting Japan to witness the cherry blossoms, Japan Guide has you covered there too! You can search destinations by season, and specifically find cherry blossom related activities!

3. Kyoto

According to Japan Guide’s rating system, Kyoto rates as one of the “Bests of Japan!” Also rated as one of the “Bests” is the famous Fushimi Inari Shrine. This is the famous Shinto shrine made from thousands of 鳥居 (torii) gates which line the pathways. It’s not surprising that this destination is so highly recommended. It is beautiful and lets visitors truly immerse themselves in Japanese culture.

There is plenty of etiquette to follow when visiting a shrine like the Fushimi Inari Shrine. Most shrines, like Fushimi Inari, have a water basin outside where visitors should wash each hand. It is also common etiquette to bow before entering the shrine to show your respect.

If you have any questions about visiting the shrine or anything related to your trip to Japan, you will find a list of common questions on the side of Japan Guide’s pages. They also have a very helpful forum where you may go to ask your specific questions.

2. Mount Fuji

Mount Fuji, known as Fuji-san in Japan, is also rated one of the best destinations in Japan. In fact, it is within the top 25 most visited locations! Hiking and climbing are very popular activities in Japan. This is due to the country’s mountainous terrain. Many visitors flock to Mount Fuji just for that! That is what the mountain is known for–but it definitely isn’t the only thing you can do there! You can learn more with the commentated animation Japan Guide provides on what to do near or on Mount Fuji and what to expect! You can find equally helpful videos for most of their destinations!

If you do enjoy the outdoors, you can search Japan Guide for similar activities to add to your itinerary. Go to Interests on the top header and you can find outdoor activities like skiing, snowboarding, hot springs, nature walks, and more in Japan! You can also search for other interests like history, art, food, and entertainment!

  1. Tokyo

Japan Guide’s number one most visited destination is, unsurprisingly, Tokyo! Who doesn’t want to visit the bustling capital of Japan? By filtering Japan Guide’s most popular destinations, I found that the Shinjuku and Shibuya districts are Tokyo’s most visited locations. There is so much to see and do in Tokyo, it may be hard to narrow it down. Luckily, Japan Guide makes it easy. You can find local events, or even search by your interests!

Tokyo, like many cities, can be daunting when it comes to getting around and not getting lost. With Japan Guide, you can learn about how to get to and from airports, which trains to take, and how to get passes. They also provide helpful links and resources too. Just make sure you know public and travel etiquette in Japan! Check out our recent post on Japanese etiquette for train travel!

We’re sure you are now even more excited to plan your next Japan trip. Japan Guide is an invaluable resource that will guide you along every step of your journey. From finding destinations that fit your interests, to researching destinations, even helping you book hotels and find transportation. On top of all that, they can even help you prepare for traveling abroad! Traveling to Japan has never been easier–or more exciting!

What to Do in Japan in Fall: Top 10 Amazing Autumn Activities

What to Do in Japan in Fall: Top 10 Amazing Autumn Activities

Fall is one of the best seasons in Japan to travel around the country. Even the locals take time off to witness the leaves change colours to a mix of red, orange and yellow. Not to mention the various autumn festivals happening nationwide. There’s quite a lot to do and see in Japan in the autumn season. Trying to cram all of them into one trip is more of a problem than not having anything to do.

Instead of packing your schedule with too many activities, we’re going to highlight the 10 best things to do in Japan in the fall.

1. Enjoy the autumn foliage

The most popular activity in Japan during the autumn season is enjoying the autumn foliage, known as kouyou (紅葉) in Japanese. Locals and tourists alike take day trips to witness the vibrant leaves. Travellers go north and south for the best views. The most popular destinations include Kyoto and Nikko. Kyoto is just a half an hour’s train ride away from Osaka; Nikko is an hour and a half away from the capital city Tokyo by train.

Even if you don’t have the time to travel to these cities, the entire country is full of autumn-vibrant trees. Parks and gardens in Tokyo and Osaka are just as magnificent as any other.

2. Feast in autumn season cuisine

Credit: Raita Futo on Flickr Creative Commons

The weather is not the only thing that changes with the seasons in Japan. The Japanese love their seasonal dishes. Take this opportunity to feast in autumn seasonal cuisine. The most popular autumn dish is anything to do with Japanese sweet potato. This vegetable is known for its high nutritional value and rich flavours. You’ll likely find them roasted, known as “yakiimo” (焼き芋) in Japanese. They’re sold everywhere from street stalls to travel vans.

Autumn is also the best time to savour wagashi (和菓子), Japanese sweets. During the fall, you’ll get flavours of apple, permission, chestnut and, of course, sweet potato.

3. Visit fall festivals

Credit: Adrian on Flickr Creative Commons

If you don’t already know yet, Japan is full of festivities all year round. Most say that summer is the best season for festivals, but autumn has its fair share of exciting and thrilling neighbourhood events. Fall festivals (aki matsuri, 秋祭り) are mostly entertaining deities with dance and music. This is a way of thanking them for a successful harvest.
In Osaka Prefecture, one of the most famous festivals is called the Kishiwada Danjiri Festival. This is one of the more classic ones and historically practised as a prayer for a successful harvest.

4. Celebrate Halloween the Japanese way

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For some of us, the biggest event in fall is Halloween. If you happen to find yourself in Japan during the time, don’t expect to celebrate this holiday the way you would in Western countries. Japan has their own unique way of celebrating this fun event.

You could definitely spend Halloween at theme parks like Disneyland, DisneySea and Universal Studios Japan. In October, these theme parks go through a makeover that includes the likes of pumpkins and spider webs.
But the best event you wouldn’t want to miss out on is on Halloween day itself at Tokyo’s Shibuya Scramble Crossing. Hundreds and thousands of people dress up and gather in this area. A similar but smaller-scale version happens at Osaka’s Amemura neighbourhood.

5. Drink up at Oktober Fest

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If Halloween isn’t the first event that pops in your mind for October, then it definitely has to be Oktober Fest. Japan also celebrates this event in big cities like Tokyo, Osaka, Nagoya and Yokohama. The most popular one is at Yokohama Red Brick Warehouse, where the event Yokohama Oktoberfest runs for almost the whole month of October.

From musical performances and other events to European snacks and a few pints of German beer, it’s almost like you’re not in Japan anymore.

6. Admire Kochia scrubs

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A unique plant called “kochia” changes colour throughout the year. In fall, it transforms into a reddish-pink. This is a sight you don’t want to miss. If you find yourself in Ibaraki Prefecture, drop by Hitachi Seaside Park where there are hills of these scrubs. Definitely worth a visit and take a picture or two for the gram.

7. Stroll through pampas grass

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Another nature spot to explore in the fall in Japan is the Sengokuhara area in Hakone. Hakone is just two hours away from the capital city Tokyo, making it the ideal location for a day trip.

During this time of the year, you’ll get to stroll through fields of tall, pampas grass in Hakone. With the cleared path making it easy to navigate through, you’ll be able to peacefully admire nature’s beauty. This is a perfect break from the hustle and bustle of Tokyo city.

8. Go hiking or trekking

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For those looking for a bit more of an adventure, autumn in Japan is the perfect time to go hiking or trekking. The weather cools down enough for pleasant outdoor activities. You don’t have to venture too far. Close to Tokyo, Mt. Takao is a popular choice for those looking to break a sweat. In fact, this is the most climbed mountain in the world! Not only will you get a workout in but you’ll also be able to see the autumn foliage of the mountain. Kill two birds with one stone!

9. Frolick in the cosmo fields

Credit: Alan Levine on Flickr Creative Commons

I’m a sucker for flowers, and if you are too, don’t miss out on Tokyo’s Showa Kinen Park. Here, you’ll be able to view cosmo flowers in full bloom. In fact, you’ll get to frolick in cosmo fields as big as 15,000 square meters! There’s even a festival for these blooms called the Cosmos Matsuri. Definitely drop by if you’re in town any time from mid-September to the end of October.

10. Gaze at the harvest moon

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One of the highlights of fall in Japan is the annual tradition of moon viewing. Known as otsukimi (お月見) in Japanese, this hundreds-of-years-old event happens between the middle of September and the start of October. Family and friends gather to view the full moon while eating dango (団子). Some areas hold events like a moon-viewing event for people to celebrate this occasion together.

Which will you be doing first?

The list of activities to do in Japan in the fall can go on and on, but these 10 are a good start to get you off on the right foot. Japan’s a country that’s always full of things happening. Even if you don’t plan your trip specifically, you’ll definitely be able to wander the streets and come across an activity randomly. So, which activity will you be doing first in Japan during the autumn season?