Aah, Japan, this mysterious country that so many people dream to visit one day. Of course, this country was on my list of countries I want to see absolutely! I visited it for one month and I did all I could to see the most! I let you discover my itinerary and my feelings about Japan!
Step 1: Tokyo
I start my discovery of this country by its capital: Tokyo. With its giant size, you can agree that it is very easy to spend one week without getting bored. All the districts and the surrounding cities will keep you busy.
First, the sumos district: Ryogoku. It’s in this district that you will find the sumo fights, and it’s also here you have a chance to see sumos. You will notice quickly when you enter in this district because you will see sumos everywhere: painted on the walls, in figurines, etc.
The second district I advise you is near to Ryogoku, it’s called Asakusa. This time, it’s the geishas’ area. There, you can also see magnificent temples and enjoy the shopping street to find all types of souvenir you look for.
The district of Shinjuku is the business area of the Japanese capital. One funny attraction to see in this district is Godzilla! You can see it from far, but if you’re brave enough, you can go closer, very close. To do it, you have to enter the Gracery Hotel, take the elevator and go to the terrace. It may seem intimidating but it is totally allowed to do so. Don’t be impressed by the receptionist.
It’s also in this district where the nightlife is present. Moreover, during the night, the area is lighted by advertising signs and offers a different aspect.
Tokyo owns also famous places you shouldn’t miss. The most famous, the star of Tokyo is Ueno park. Located in the city center, this park is a piece of nature in Tokyo. You can visit the zoo (and see the famous panda!), visit the temples and the cherry trees (blooming if you’re lucky to visit during the good season.). To sum up, the perfect place if you’re missing nature!
If there is one building which is the symbol of Tokyo, it’s the Skytree tower. This tower is the highest of the Japanese capital and offers a 360° view of the city. You can go there during the day or during the evening/night. The last entrance is at 9 pm.
Step 2: The vicinity of Tokyo
Even if Tokyo is a beautiful city, smaller cities around the capital deserve to be visited too at least during a day-trip. For example, Kamakura is 1h from Tokyo by train. Its main attraction is the giant Buddha statue. The city is also full of shrines and some of them are usually, like Sasuke Irani Shrine. This one is full of cat statues, they are everywhere, really everywhere.
The second city you can visit is Nikko. The journey is longer (~2h30 from Tokyo city center) but it really worth it. Nikko is famous for its shrines. They are many shrines to visit and they are all in the same place. If you take the bus, you can walk along the lake or admire the cascades named Kegon falls. I went there during the winter and it was magic: the snow on the shrines and the cascades were partly frozen. And if you decide to come the winter too Nikko is also famous for the onsens, perfect to relax!
If you come during the winter in Japan, I advise you to go to Nagano and more precisely to Jigokudani Snow Monkey Park. It takes around 3h to get there from Tokyo, but it worth it. It’s a natural park for monkeys. Its specificity comes from monkeys: during the winter, they relax in hot springs. You can be really close to monkeys but you have to keep a distance of 1m at least.
The problem with this park is the access. It’s a little complicated and you have to prepare your trip to go there. To help you, the image below sums up all the transports possible for the Snow monkey park. If you come from Nagano station, you can also buy a pass which includes the bus transfer and the entrance. With this pass, you will save ~800 yens/pers.
The most famous attraction which symbolizes Japan is, of course, the Mount Fuji. During the summer, it is possible to climb to the top of the mountain, but if you come during the winter (like me), you have to admire it from far. The best point of view, according to me, is from the Kawaguchi lake. From there, you can have a view on the Mount Fuji and the lake. Magic.
Tokyo is a huge city and to find a cheap accommodation not too far from the center might not be easy. The best choice for me was Anne Hostel Yokuzoma. This hostel is located in the district of Ryogoku, next to a JR station. Usually, the hostels in Japan are really good. I never complained about the cleanliness or the staff. And this hostel follows this rule. If you look for a hostel in Tokyo, I recommend it!
Step 3: Kyoto
Former capital of Japan, Kyoto is as famous as Tokyo. And I quickly understood why: Kyoto has marvelous places like its big sister. I’m of course thinking about Fushimi Inari Shrine. If the name doesn’t ring a bell, the photo below will remind you something.
This is the place where you will find the orange shrines. However, there are other things to see here. Lots of temples are there and t would be too bad to miss them. If you like to hike, you can climb at the top of the mountain. During all the walk, you will walk under orange shrines, but they are much bigger, and you can see many other temples and shrines.
Another famous temple in Kyoto is Kinkaku-Ji, also called the Golden temple. Why this name? Because this temple is covered of gold, literally entirely covered of gold. If you like photography (like me), you will love this temple, especially during the sunny days.
Yasaka Shrine is also a famous shrine in Kyoto. It’s mostly the huge and beautiful door at the entrance which impressed and scarred me the most.
The last sacred place I advise you to visit in Kyoto is Kiyomizy-dera. In this place, there are many different temples, a Buddhist temple, and a Shinto sanctuary for example. This complex is inscribed on UNESCO4s world heritage list since 1994.
There are many other temples to see in Kyoto, but there are also other places to see! For example, this Bamboo Path. This small walk is in the middle of a bamboo forest (and tourists…). It’s an easy walk and accessible to everyone (even the baby strollers).
In Kyoto city center, there is the Imperial Palace. You can visit only the outside of the buildings. You never go to the habitation, but you walk around a lot of different buildings and the garden. If you wish to visit it, make sure you know the opening hours because the site closes early, at 4 pm (and the last entrance is at 3.20pm).
Next, to the Imperial Palace, there is the Nijo Castle. You can visit this castle and it’s possible to go inside (if you take off your shoes). The castle is luxurious especially when you admire the tapestries and gilding of the buildings. But like the Imperial Palace, you have to be careful with the opening hours because the castle closes early too during the afternoon.
For Kyoto, I have the chance to sleep in a special hostel, Hostel Mundo. This hostel is a century-old and traditional Japanese house. Everything is there: the sliding doors, the crunching floor, the futons, etc. This hostel is located in the city center, close to the Imperial Palace and Nijo Castle. I recommend this hostel to you.
Step 4: Hiroshima
Unfortunately, the history made Hiroshima famous. However, the city is rebuilt today and offers many things to see and visit. The most famous is the Hiroshima Castle. You can visit it and once you at the top, you have a view of the city.
If you like greenery and want to see blossom cherry trees (if it’s the right season), let’s go to the Shukkei-en Park. The park entrance is not free, but the park offers different circuits and the longest last 45 min. In the park, you will see everything you can expect from a Japanese park: the stone lanterns, the red bridge, the pond with koi carps, the bamboos, the cherry trees, etc.
Even if when you walk in the city, you forget the history, there is a place which reminds you of the past, the Dumo. This building is the unique testimony of the nuclear bomb which devastated Hiroshima. The building is still there, thanks to reinforcement and restoration work to avoid to collapse.
Step 5: the vicinity of Hiroshima
Do you like the history about the World War II and the rabbits? It may seem improbable, but there is an island where you can have both. Okunoshima, also called the Rabbits Island, was used during the WWII to test the chemical bombs. After the end of the war, the island was abandoned and the rabbits who lived on the island multiplied. Nowadays, you can still see the buildings (but you can’t go inside) and the rabbits are living everywhere on the island.
One of the most famous Shrines in Japan is the one of Miyajima island. The shrine is not really on the island but in the water. According to the tides, you will be able to access the shrine or to admire it from the beach. The island has also other treasures to discover like the Itsukushima sanctuary or the pagoda.
Step 6: Osaka
Very close to Kyoto and often ignored by the tourists, Osaka worth the detour and offers many places to see. First, the Osaka Castle is the symbol of the city. It’s located in the middle of a park and is above the city. If you want to have a view of the city, you can go to the top of the castle and enjoy the landscape.
The most touristic district in the city is Dotonbori. The river along this district has the same name and there are many restaurants, shops, games rooms, etc. Even if like me you’re not a big fan of this kind of place, this district is amazing and typical of Japan, like you can imagine it! If you want, you can also find a little hidden treasure: a very small shrine with a statue covered by moss, Hozen-ji.
Osaka has also one of the oldest temple of Japan, Shitennoji Shrine. It is one of the most beautiful shrines of Osaka too. It is located in the district of Tennoji and next to a park with the same name.
Step 7: The vicinity of Osaka
Accessible with the subway from Osaka, Nara is a popular place. And this because of two reasons: the temples and the reindeer. Nara has a lot of temples very impressive and magnificent. You can admire, for example, the biggest Buddha statue of Japan. And to enjoy it more, there are wild reindeer everywhere. They are not aggressive but you have to be careful with your pockets and keep an eye on your belongings. The reindeer are good to “steal” you because they believe it is food for them (yes even a piece of paper or your phone).
Good meals to eat
I’m going to change my habits in this chapter. Instead of advising you restaurants, I’m going to advise you meals to try. They are meals that Japanese friends recommended me and now I’m recommending too.
Sushi: I know, it’s a must when you visit Japan! But you have to eat them in a typical Japanese restaurant, one with a conveyor used to serve you sushi (freely). It’s really funny and typical in Japan.
Ramen: If you like manga, you probably already know this meal. It’s a soup with meat, pasta, eggs sometimes and seaweed. This meal is very invigorating and perfect if you’re starving.
Unaji: you want to try grilled eel with rice? Then you should try unaji!
Takoyaki: This meal is really easy to find and cheap. You can find it in restaurants ou in the street. Takoyaki is a ball composed of paste and octopus inside. Usually, you will eat it with seaweed and dry fish.
Monja yaki: You can find easily this meal in Tokyo because it’s originally from this region. It looks like an omelet, but very liquid, with vegetables and you eat it with a spatula. Personally, it was the first time I ate a dish like this, and I won’t forget it!
Zaruudon: The “Udon” is a type of pasta typical from Japan. They are larger from those we’re used to in Europa. Zaruudon is a meal composed of pasta (Udon) and you eat them cold after you dipped them in a sauce.
Yakisoba: The “Soba” is another type of pasta from Japan, like Udon. The name Yakisoba means literally fried noodles. So, you may have guessed, this meal is composed of fried soba with vegetables.
Okonomiyaki: Okonomiyaki is a typical meal from the region of Osaka. However, you can find them everywhere. There are many types of Okonomiyaki, as much as there are restaurants which serve it. This meal looks like a salted “crêpe” and may be composed of eggs, pasta, fish, meat, etc.
Gyoza: The gyoza can be compared to a big ravioli. It’s pasta filled with vegetables or meat. It can be fried or cooked in the water.
Chankonabe: This meal is the typical one for the sumos. It’s a ragout rich in calories which you share with your friends. This meal is a friendly meal because you have to be several to eat it. And to eat it, it’s really easy: the waiter brings you two dishes: a big bowl with the soup inside and another bowl with the ingredients (vegetables, meats, fishes, etc.). Then, you just have to put the ingredients in the soup and wait a few minutes until they are cooked!
The question you wonder when you’re planning to visit Japan is Japan Rail Pass (JRP) or not? The pass is expensive and you have to be sure to use it enough. To do this, you can calculate the cost of your journeys with the train thanks to the website: http://www.hyperdia.com/en/. Note also that the JRP can be used for the subway especially in Tokyo. However, be careful because you have to buy it before you arrive in Japan. The proof of purchase is sent to you by mail and you need it to make the exchange for the JRP in Japan in a JR Station.
Personally, I chose to buy it and I’m glad I did it. I often took the train (the shinkansen) and the subway so in my case it was an economic advantage. Moreover, I found its utilization easy and you don’t even have to book a seat for the Shinkansen if you have the JRP pass.
Japan is an expensive country. The most important spending is the transport. With the train and the subway, the budget is quickly enormous, this is why if you’re going to visit several cities, I advise you to buy the JRP pass.
Concerning my budget in Japan, here are my results:
– aim budget: 9 220 Yens/day (~ 73€/day in February 2019)
– real budget: 6 230 Yens/day (~ 50€/day in February 2019)
I always dreamed to visit Japan and after my month there, I wasn’t disappointed! On the contrary, I want to go there again and see all the rest of this country!
And you, do you want to visit it too? If yes, I offer you a challenge bucket list for Japan. Ready to accept the challenge?