So having been pretty lax at updates I am finally going to do a round up of tips for travelling Japan – obviously this isn’t exhaustive just based on my short time in the beautiful country!
General travel tips (also see my post chapter 42 for more)
I would highly recommend a JRail pass – for three weeks I managed to hop around the country using boats, Shinkansen or bullet trains and local trains and I think I ended up seeing so much more that way as I wanted to make the most of the pass. Individual train tickets are actually super expensive. It is definitely a chunk out of any budget but made getting around so so easy and so fast. Train travel in Japan is just so brilliantly efficient and so easy, particularly with the Hyperdia App which is brilliant for working out how to get around and gives you plenty of JR pass options and details the journeys really well even down to relevant platforms and any additional costs for local trains outside of the JR Pass.
Convenience stores are everything and paired with Don Quixote and Daiso you can get anything you need for really super cheap!
Loads of train stations, temples and tourist attractions provide a free stamp so if you want to collect them then bring a little notebook for free and packable souvenirs!
For reliably cheap and delicious Japanese chain restaurants, Ichiran does great ramen and try gyudon (rice topped with beef) at Yoshimura and Sukiyaka.
For inner city transport you can get a suica or pasmo card which you are able to top up much like the oyster cards in London. If you plan well and split Tokyo into sensible neighbourhoods you should be able to keep suica card top ups to 1000 yen ish a day! For example you can, if you are cool to do 30 min ish walks throughout the day, bunch together sights in Shibuya, harajuku and shinjuku, similarly Asakusa and Akihabara are close enough to stroll between in one day.
I stayed at Bunka Hostel on my first night which wasn’t social but was super cosy and aesthetically very minimalistic and beautiful. Space hostel nearby was much more social and Anne Hostel in Ryogoku was awesome for finding a group to travel with. I also really liked the Hotel Graphy Nezu but only stayed one night – I imagine it would be a pretty nice place as a base right by Ueno Park. There didn’t seem to be many hostels in Shibuya/shinjuku areas so just be prepared if you want to experience Tokyo’s nightlife that you will have to travel a little to get there!
Get your fortune told at the Shrine in Asakusa using omkuji sticks
Visit the UNU market in Ometesando
Go to Daikanyama for concept stores and vintage shopping
Shibuya crossing is a must visit for photo opportunities
Harajuku also has great shopping especially close to the Design Festa Gallery and you can get delicious all you can eat okonomiyaki here too
Karaoke is definitely a must do but the all you can drink option is often overrated and over priced especially if you end your night there
Try arcade gaming at Akihabara but once was definitely enough for me!
I met people who went to the tuna auction and it did look very cool but not sure its worth sitting in the cold for hours! Instead we did the Tsukiji Fish market arriving for breakfast at 9am and headed in when the main market opens for tourists to wander around at 10 still great big bits of tuna about and amazing fish to ogle at
The Golden Gai/Piss Alley is great for bars if you are in a group of four or five max – we were very lucky to squeeze in 8 of us as the bars are tiny!
If you are there during cherry blossom season, make sure you have a cherry blossom party on tarpaulin under the trees – Ueno Park has some great spots
Yoyogi park always has a really fun vibe with people bustling about and impromptu parties everywhere
Shimo-kitazawa is awesome for a much more hipster vibe in the city its a mission to find but very worth it!
The trains stop running in Tokyo around midnight so make sure you don’t miss the last one home or you face a night out until 5am ish when they start again or a veeeeeery expensive taxi home!
I stayed at K’s hostel which wasn’t the most sociable when I was there but was very well located close to the train station to get to all the major sights.
Try Tonkatsu at Kyoto station – just follow the escalators up to the restaurant complex at the top!
You should be able to see all the sights in one or maybe two days max – the top three are so touristy. To avoid tourists at the Fushimi Inari shine use the maps.me app to find a trail away from the crowds to the top – get your obligatory photos here instead!
Arashiyama Bamboo grove is again very tourist filled – the park nearby is much moe peaceful and from here you can try buckwheat cold soba noodles with a dipping sauce which are so good!
The golden pavilion is beautiful and a great place to try the green tea soft serve ice cream that is served EVERYWHERE but aside from that it is really only a 20/30 min stop with tourists everywhere.
Kuruma isn’t far from Kyoto and is a lovely place for outdoor onsen. Just remember to bring a 100Yen coin for your lockers and you can rent towels here. Soap is provided just make sure you have a good wash before entering the baths. Don’t let your towel touch the bath water- just leave it on the side or if you have balance you can fold it neatly onto your head!
If you are there in time Nijo castle has great cherry blossoms but try and get there before castle opening as I went on a week day and wasn’t expecting queues before the tickets were even on sale!
Nara is seriously only a day trip if you get a sunny day but if you do stay the night before there is a BEAUTIFUL hostel called Guesthouse Nara Backpackers with a lovely Japanese garden!
Stay in Hayashima at the beautifully old Igusa Guesthouse for access to Naoshima and tatami mat sleeping experiences!
Naoshima is amazing – best seen on a sunny day but in rain its definitely sill do-able.
Best to check out my previous post for a more advice on this!
Make sure you try the Hiroshima style okonomiyaki! On the 5th floor of a huge building opposite the train station there is a massive selection of okonomiyaki places to choose from.
The Peace Memorial Park is amazing and can be comfortably seen in a day alongside the incredibly moving Peace Memorial Museum.
Location wise my hostel in Miyajima – Omotenashi Hostel was great for access to the shrine gate of Itsukushima-jinja but I would suggest staying in Hiroshima for a more atmospheric stay and day trip out to Miyajima if you want to experience any of Hiroshima’s nightlife as trains stop running around 11pm between each area.
The shrine gate is beautiful at sunset, just be aware of the deer everywhere as they will definitely try to snack on your rail pass if you don’t keep an eye on your stuff!
I’m not sure if this was massively worth a trip. If I could have taken a connecting ferry out to yakushima as planned I guess it would have been more worth it but for the short time out at the volcano Sakurajima I wouldn’t add this onto my itinerary again. I did stay in another pretty lovely hostel though with a rooftop so if you find yourself here check out Green Guesthouse. The staff were pretty cold but the rooftop has great volcano views
Koyasan was amazing and the Koyasan Guesthouse Kokku that I stayed in was so cosy and run by such lovely people! They do a great dinner of butter chicken if you want something to warm you up! It was minus 2 degrees when i was there so bring warm clothes especially if you plan on going to the early morning chanting at Oko-no-in.
If you get a chance to try a meditation class definitely do it and for the full experience try and sample a Buddhist feast, I went for a cheaper option at a restaurant called Hanabishi which was delicious but wasn’t actually within a temple stay which many are.
Okinawa was awesome and I was blessed with beautiful weather. I didn’t spend too much time on Naha island as it was pretty grotty but the Agu pork, peanut tofu and seaweed tempura is worth a try there! If you do stay there I stayed at the lovely Sora House which has a fab rooftop and is super close to the ferry port
Check ferry times in advance and it is probably best to try and book the day before to secure a place on the ferry out to its smaller islands
If you go to Tokashiki Island follow the main beach to the left through the final stone arch at the end where you will reach both stairs up to a gorgeous view point and also from there a lovely more secluded beach!
Zamami Island is a must and while I was blessed with amazing weather I still think it was a really great place to visit regardless! I stayed at the lovely Zamamia International Guesthouse which is run by lovely staff and does a happy hour on food and drinks too!
Khaosan World Namba hostel is amazing- I stayed twice and it is perfect to make friends at their tacoyaki making parties and an in-house bar. It’s also in a brilliant location to get around.
Visit Dotonburi, America Mura and yotsubashi areas for shoppping
For amazing scallops and street food visit the Kurumon market nearby.
The Umeda building’s ‘floating garden’ observatory on the 39th floor is great for sunset and night time city views. They don’t advertise it but a student ID gets discount so tickets are 800Yen
On a rainy day the aquarium is actually pretty good and spa world is a hilarious experience but definitely not for everyone!
Nagoya really wasn’t the most special city just home to a pretty castle. If you do stay I would say our hostel Guesthouse Wasabi was pretty great however with the capsule style experience at a cheap price!
The Hakone open air museum is brilliant and a trip to the lake side is worth doing for views of Mt Fuji on a clear day.
I stayed at the most amazing hostel, Hakone Tent, with two private onsen free to use! So seriously worth a visit just for that!
Hope this helps!
Any questions are very welcome