Japan is a weird and wonderful place, where you can be wondering old temples one minute and walking the streets of some of the busiest shopping districts in the world the next. Japan is a country of extremes, where old and new blend together in perfect harmony, a country of both great tradition and even greater technological advancements. A place where no matter where you look there is always something weird and wonderful going on that it can be a little overwhelming. So to make it a bit simpler, here is my ultimate guide to Japan.
Best Time to Visit
This ultimately depends on what you want to see and do while you are in Japan. I visited Japan in the summer as it is the only time of year you can hike to the top of Mount Fuji and watch the sunrise (simple a must do). However, if hiking is not your thing then I do not recommend going in the summer, Japan is a country of extreme hot and cold climates, in the summer you will find it very hot which makes it difficult to fully enjoy yourself. Should I have my time in Japan again I would visit in the Autumn or Spring months. In spring you will find stunning cherry blossoms and autumn is met with an array of beautiful colours. If you are more interested in skiing, you must go in winter, Japan is famous for its wonderful ski season.
The easiest, fastest and most cost effective way to get around Japan is by rail. These passes will get you most places you need to go and on some of the fastest trains in the world, including the cutest shinkansen in the world, the ‘Hello Kitty Express’ which runs from Osaka to Hakata a couple of times a day. The Shinkansen is a set of high speed bullet trains which connect you to most major cities in Japan in no time making it the fastest and easiest way to get around Japan, also the most cost effective as a j rail pass will set you back less than a grand for a few weeks around Japan. Be sure to pick one up before you leave home as you will be hard pressed to buy one once you are in Japan.
Where to stay
A Ryokan is a Japanese style inn found in most parts of Japan, they are normally accompanied by great hospitality, communal baths and you will often find yourself sleeping on a tatami matt on the floor. Traditional Ryokans are a great cultural experience that I definitely recommend trying at least once on your stay.
Capsule Hotels originated in Japan in 1979 with the first one being the Capsule Inn Osaka. Capsule Hotels feature small bed sized rooms perfect for those who don’t plan on spending too much time in the hotel room. Over the years Capsule Hotels have become very popular for travellers wanting to spend less and see more and although not for everyone I do recommend spending a night in one of these rooms, you might find yourself pleasantly surprised.
Top Places to Visit
Tokyo is a world in itself, and it’s an absolute must-see for any travel lover. Here you can choose to soak up traditional Japanese culture by trying local cuisine, visiting one of the many temples or go on an adventure of all things weird and wonderful by riding Go Karts around the streets of Japan, dressing up as a real life cartoon character and wonder the streets of Harajuku or go to a Robot Restaurant, which is by far the weirdest thing I have ever seen. Tokyo is a place you cannot miss.
Osaka is the third largest city in japan and a gateway to many fun local attractions, including; The Nara Deer Park, Universal Studio Theme Park and Mayajima. Apart from being an excellent gateway to many wonderful attractions Osaka is where you can visit the famous Dotonburi, relax at the amazing spa world or watch a sumo tournament.
Kyoto is one of my favourite cities in Japan. Here you will find yourself seeing some of the most beautiful and undiscovered parks in Japan, or wandering through ancient temples and soaking up everything cultural. The best way to get around Kyoto is by bike which are easy to rent and in the summer are fantastic for keeping you cool while you explore.
Only a short train ride from Osaka, where you can opt for a day trip or stay a few nights in the local deer park, I would opt for the later! Nara is a beautiful and wonderful place where you can pet deer, eat some of the best Japanese Cuisine and visit Todai-ji also known as the ‘Great Buddah’.
Mount Fuji is a must see for those visiting Japan. You can opt to go for a day trip from Tokyo or if you are going in the summer I recommend spending a night in town and climbing to the top of Mount Fuji over night to watch the most spectacular sunrise from the top.
Top Food to Eat
First and foremost on the list of foods to try in Japan is Ramen! Ramen is a traditional Japanese Noodle soup and is perfect any time of year. Ramen can come in a variety of flavours, the most common being pork ramen with pork bone broth. Ramen is delicious normally but when we stumbled upon this lovely little ramen shop in the far corners of Osaka the instructions (left for tourists) on how to eat ramen ‘the right way’ was a life changing moment in my life and a technique I cannot seem to give up in my favourite at home ramen dishes. More on how to eat Ramen ‘the right way’ will come later on the blog so keep an eye out as you will not want to miss this!
Katsu curry is one of the most popular dishes in Japan and it is hard not to see why. Katsu Curry can be served in a couple of different ways including Curry Rice, Curry Udon and Curry Bread, with the most popular (Curry Rice) being referred to as simple curry. Katsu curry is easily replicated at home with most supermarkets selling the traditional blend, this has become a staple of my weekly shopping list.
I am not a pancake lover, but soufflé pancakes are close to the top of my list of all time favourite foods. I had left trying these delicious pancakes until the very last day I was in Japan as they were not something I was particularly drawn to but boy oh boy do I wish I had tried them sooner. They are the perfect blend of fluffy, creamy and sweet delicious that feel like you are eating nothing at all. Something that has been hard to find anything like these close to home. Once you have had this treat you’ll be dreaming about them for the rest of your life.
I first had Japanese cheesecake on a trip to Sydney and it has fast become my favourite cheesecake in the world. Japanese cheese cake is simlar to eh pancakes in the sense that is it perfectly fluffy and every bite is both mouth watering and delicious. Although it is hard to come by a perfect Japanese Cheesecake in Australia, it is very easy to find this perfect treat on the streets of Japan, just keep an eye out for posters.
Matcha …. anything
Simply put, matcha is finely ground green tea and is a perfect accompaniment to any sweet dish or simply drunk as a tea. My favourite Japanese matcha dishes include; Matcha Tea, Matcha Ice-Cream, Matcha Japanese Cheesecake and Matcha Crepes.