JAPAN TRAVEL GUIDE
I’m just back from honestly one of the most amazing trips of my life in Japan with my friends. We spent 2 weeks in total, including our travel time. We travelled in July, which is rainy season in Japan, and luckily we only really had 2 bad days of rain – the rest were either really nice and sunny, or cloudy and hot (with the odd shower) so it was very manageable.
Before I start getting into the nitty gritty you can watch snippets from my trips in my two vlogs:
3 days in Tokyo: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=oAjf-8cvdgg
Japan Travel Guide: Kyoto, Osaka & Hiroshima:
First of all let me say some of my favourite things about the holiday. The people were so so nice, genuinely so friendly and helpful. The food was absolutely out of this world, whether it was a restaurant or a supermarket (7 11, Lawson and Family Mart are on every corner) the food was just so good, and so much better than I could have expected. OMG the chocolate is incredible too, try everything. Crunky & the milk chocolate biscuits were my two favourites! Another thing I loved was how easy it was to get around (public transport/ trains can be confusing at first but once you get the hang of it you’ll save so much money – Google maps will be your best friend), and the hostels were really good too – super clean (the Japanese are known for this) and comfy, and really affordable. The hostels to me looked the same (maybe not quite as modern but very similar) to the capsule hotels that Japan is famous for.
I had heard Japan was expensive but I really didn’t find it to be. Probably because we stayed in hostels, and ate from 7 11 for most breakfast and lunch (genuinely because the food was so good). I spent just over €1000 on flights – I flew from Dublin to Munich and then from Munich to Haneda Airport in Tokyo (I would recommend flying into this one if you can as its closer than the others) I flew with Lufthansa airlines and found them brilliant – food was lovely, it was comfy and both flights arrived on time, no delays. Then I spent approx €1200 in spending money – this included my accommodation, food, drinks, subways, etc. One cost I had before travelling was the Japan Rail Pass (JR Pass), you have to purchase this and have it delivered to you before you arrive in Japan. We got the 7 day pass which cost €238 and €8 delivery. If you plan on travelling around the country I’d definitely recommend this as you can do unlimited travel for the week with it. We got our bullet trains using this pass. Mind it with your life because one train can end up costing the same price as the week long ticket if you lose it (I learnt this the hard way). It is a bit of an old system with the JR pass, it’s a piece of cardboard and they can’t reissue it if you lose it, so it’s really important to keep it safe. Saying that, Japan is honestly such a safe country, a lot of the time they are handed back in – so check with the train station and local police, I found them so helpful despite there being a big language barrier. I ordered my pass from the website: japan-rail-pass.com
One important thing to note is that you will need cash in most places, they love their coins in Japan (there’s a lot of them) so it’s very different than Ireland, where we rely so much on our cards.
Here is a list of places I visited, recommended time in each and some recommended activities:
I would recommend 3 or 4 days in Tokyo to do it right
We stayed in Imano Hostel in Shinjuku and the Wise Owl Hostel in Shibuya. Both were fine – great locations but not as nice as the hostels we stayed in in other cities, Tokyo is more expensive of course. The hostels were similar to the famous Capsule hotels in style, perfect for a group of our size.
Things to do:
-Enjoy a drink with the skyline view of Tokyo from the top of the Park Hyatt hotel (New York Bar)
-Stroll around Yoyogi Park and visit the Meiji Jinju Shrine
-People watch and shop on the streets of Harajuku (Takeshita Dori is the main street)
-Visit a cat café (they have lots of animal cafes in Tokyo – hedgehog, dog, rabbits, cats, etc) I think the cat one seems the most fair as it would be their normal environment. It’s cool to see!
-Shop and see the amazing mirrored ceiling at the entrance of the Tokyu Plaza Shopping Centre
-Have lunch and watch a show at the Kaweii Monster Café
-Visit Asakusa Temple & have your fortune told from the wooden stalls they have
– Go to the TeamLab Borderless Museum and visit all the cool rooms! Instagram heaven. It’s approx. €25 for a ticket and I would recommend booking in advance and going early to avoid crowds (it’s a little outside the city)
-Grab a coffee in Starbucks at Shibuya Crossing and watch the busiest crossroads in the world (2500 people cross every time on average)
-Have dinner at the Pokemon Café (make sure to book in advance)
-Drive around the city in Mario Cart (make sure you book in advance and have an international driving licence, you can apply for one before you leave your home country)
-Enjoy drinks in the famous Golden Gai area in Shinjuku (it’s a street with lots of tiny bars that only fit 5-10 people each)
-Get a bus from the Shinjuku Bus Terminal to Lake Kawaguchiko to get an amazing view of Mount Fuji. Check the weather before you go to ensure it will be clear enough to see it, and book the bus in advance as when we went to go the buses were all booked up.
– Visit the national botanical gardens
I would recommend 2/3 days in Kyoto to get everything done
We stayed in the R Star Hostel here – it was so clean and modern! I loved it!
Things to do:
-Visit the Gion District and keep an eye out for Geishas
– Watch a Geisha Show in Gion Corner
– Rent Kimonos and take part in a tea ceremony (En Tea Ceremonies in the Gion District is where we had booked, we just rented our kimonos in the shop beside it. There are lots of Kimono rental shops in Kyoto)
– Visit the beautiful red arches and temples at Fushimi Inari Taisha
– Visit the Arashiyama Bamboo Garden
– Grab lunch at Nishiki Market
– Stroll around the Kyoto Imperial Palace & take in the history
-Take a day trip to Nara (we were supposed to do this but it rained too much that day) and visit deer park. The deers bow back at you if you bow at them. Nara is supposed to be particularly beautiful during Cherry Blossom season.
I would recommend 2 days in Osaka to get everything done.
We stayed in the Drop Inn Hostel in Osaka. It was lovely and the staff were incredible. They helped me so much when I lost my rail pass.
Things to do:
-Go up to the top of the Umeda Sky Building
-Visit Hep 5 shopping centre and go on the Ferris wheel
– Visit Amerikuna street and enjoy the street food
– Try the famous fluffy pancakes at Gram Café
– Take a trip to Osaka Castle
– Namba Yasaka Shrine
One day in Heroshima is enough to see it, but if you want to do Miyajama island as well I’d make it two days.
We stayed in the Kawayte- Ya Hostel – it was fine. The dorms were bigger here but luckily we were off peak so it was quiet, not sure I’d like to stay here when the rooms are full as there was 24 beds in our dorm.
Things to do:
- Visit the Atomic Bomb Dome
- Walk through the Peace Memorial Park
- Learn about the devastating history of Hiroshima in the Hiroshima Peace Memorial Museum (one of the best museums I’ve ever been to!)
- Try Okonomiyaki at Hazeya restaurant – it’s a special savoury Japanese Pancake & it’s so delicious
- Get the ferry out to Miyajima Island (2000 Yen each way (€16) or you can use your JR pass for this too), walk around the shrine there, and hike to the top of the mountain. You can get a cable car down from there if you’d like. This island has loads of deers wandering around too, in case if you missed them in Nara like we did.
Ten funny things I noticed about Japan:
- They have seriously high tech toilets – they give you different options for cleaning yourself (lol), flushing and even a privacy option where they play music/sounds as you go. I got the fright of my life when I first arrived I hadn’t a clue what was going on!
- They have whitening products in a lot of the skincare here. They want products that lighten/brighten their skin which explains their amazing complexion, but some of the products ingrediants are illegal in Ireland and can be dangerous so I avoided buying any and would recommend doing a lot of research into the skincare/ toiletries there before buying.
- There is a serious lack of bins in Japan, I’ve since learnt this is to do with a terrorist threat in the 90’s. But for a country with such little bins there is no rubbish! It’s actually so clean. The Japanese carry there rubbish with them, this is something I found hard to get used to haha. They don’t eat and drink on the go like we do. It’s actually considered rude to eat on the street.
- They use umbrellas in the sun, rain and even when it’s cloudy! They are very cautious of the damage the sun can do which means they end up carrying umbrellas around most days!
- They smoke inside. Coming from Ireland this was weird as no one smokes inside anymore. There were smoking rooms in most public places including the train. In some bars/ rstaurants you can literally just smoke wherever!
- It has the most vending machines in the world – there is one vending machine for every 23 people. You can buy everything from drinks to eggs to even underwear in some of them! There is literally one on nearly every street!
- Napping is encouraged. Even at work – in Japan this shows you are committed to your work as you will work more productively after your nap. We need to bring this rule to Ireland lol. We actually saw quite a few people napping in public places while we were in Japan, it’s not something you see all the time in Ireland so I did think it was funny.
- There is more pets than children! And they especially love dashcunds – which made me so happy as I am obviously quite obsessed with my dog Cooper.
- It is one of the safest countries in the world with one of the lowest crime rates in the world and you really feel this when you’re there. Not once did we feel unsafe in the whole two weeks we were there.
- They have bells/buzzers on the tables in a lot of restaurants for you to call your waitor/waitress when you’re ready to order! How handy!
Other things you have to do:
-Eat sushi, ramen, udon noodles, onigiri, tempura
-Try all the snacks – they are soo good. Chocolate, ice creams, crisps, biscuits (eel, honey & nuts)
-Buy the wifi box in the airport we got ours from Softbank/anyfone. It worked out at €90 for 2 weeks – between six of us it was only €15 each and we had unlimited wifi (as long as we could keep the box charged haha)
– Get something from the vending machines!
– Robot cafes are supposed to be so cool to see – you can go to these in Tokyo
– Nikko north of Tokyo looks beautiful! It is a bit of a journey so we didn’t make it on this trip but I’ve heard it’s really worth the trip if you have time
-Visit the consignment and vintage stores – they are really good in Japan
– If you’re into cars you have to check out some of the garages/ museums. Toyota is a Japanese car brand and we stumbled across the museum on the way out from the Team Lab museum!
– If you have time go to Nagasaki after Hiroshima. It’s another town that was hit with an atomic bomb during WWII. It is another few hours on a bullet train and our JR pass were expired so we decided not to go – but I’ve heard it is worthwhile.
– You HAVE to do KARAOKE – it’s so much fun! You’ll find good karaoke bars all over Japan, we did it twice in Tokyo while we were there and we loved it.
Japan really is an incredible country – it was so much better than I expected it to be in so many ways,
I know a lot of people are travelling for the world cup in Sept/ Oct of this year and I already know I’ll be so jealous,
I think I have covered everything in this blog post – if I’ve left anything out just drop me a message and check out my highlights on Instagram too, they might be helpful
Chat to you all soon