Japan Travel Guide & Information

Japan Travel Guide & Information

Kevin PohShinjuku at night

Japan is an absolutely fascinating, weird and wonderful mix of old versus new. From modern skyscrapers to traditional wooden temples, from conservative business men to cosplayers dressed as anime characters; Japan is an amazingly mysterious land, and to this day it is the most unique country I have ever been to. It’s a place you can really feel like you've landed on another planet where so many things we learn to be normal in our own cultures simply don’t exist. Japan is incredibly expensive but you can be guaranteed each and every day will be full of surprises.

Travelling cheap

Japan, and Tokyo especially is one of the most expensive places in the world, if not the most. The cheapest hostels start from around €20 per night. A 500km bus journey will cost around €40-€60. A cheap meal in a restaurant will put you back around €10, even a beer from 7/11 will cost you nearly €3… Travelling cheap in Japan is not easy, but it is possible to at least keep these costs down.

Couchsurfing can be challenging as most Japanese not only have very small apartments but are also very private people, but with a bit of preparation and effort it's definitely not impossible to find hosts throughout your stay, try to also organize a backup plan so you don’t end up stranded though.

Hitchhiking will also save you 100s on your transportation costs if you plan to see more than just Tokyo, and you should! I found the best way was a sign with the city written in Kanji, or a sign saying “please” in local writing while standing at a highway entrance or local road. Then once you get into the highway system have a note in the local language explaining where you are going and what hitchhiking actually is as most of the people you meet on the road have never heard of hitchhiking. This often works in your benefit though as people are more likely to stop just to see what is wrong with the foreigner on the side of the road!

For food you can try to arrange eating together with your host, there are also several cheap on-the-go options such as Yoshinoya which serve rice meals for as little as €2-3, ramen (noodles in soup) is usually quite reasonable and delicious. Convenience shops also sell many types of cheap food and offer free boiling water for things like instant noodles/rice soup, though I wouldn’t suggest living off these for any length of time 😉 For your nights out there are several cheap izakayas (traditional bars) around, many offering nomihoudai (all-you-can-drink) deals for quite cheap, just be careful as some of these deals have hidden costs like expensive, compulsory peanuts. Night clubs can also be very expensive in Japan but if you search around there are several clubs that offer free entrance to foreigners, these are usually in Roppongi, Tokyo. There are also quite a few cheaper options you can drink like happoshu which is basically a type of “fake” beer the Japanese invented to escape paying the high tax that beer has, genius!

WWOOFing

Daniel Norris WOOFing in Japan

Daniel Norris WOOFing in Japan

If you really want to reduce your budget in Japan though the best way is to use a volunteer program like WWOOF. The basic concept is that you work for a few hours (usually 4-5 hours) per day in exchange for free accommodation and food. I once travelled for 3 months on less than 50 euros per month while hitchhiking and WWOOFing my way around the entire country. While I didn’t see much of the cities I had many other amazing experiences and learnt a lot about real Japanese culture while enjoying the beautiful countryside of Japan.

Japanese Food and drink

Hajime Nakano Japanese Bento

Japanese food is not just about raw fish! Don't hate me but I personally think sushi is over rated and definitely overpriced! Japan has a massive variety of food from steaming hot bowls of noodles to delicately steamed and seasoned vegetables, fried dumplings, soups, curries, deserts, I could go on. If you are travelling around a bit make sure you ask a local what is special in their area, no matter how small you might think a town is they will more than likely have at least one speciality there! Especially if you can get down to Osaka make sure you try takoyaki and okonomiyaki, both kinds of savoury pancakes. Also in Hokkaido you can try Japanese soup curry which is so good it makes my mouth water just to think about it!

There are also many varieties of alcoholic beverages that can be found only in Japan. Sake is a mild wine made from rice and can be sweet or dry depending on your taste. Shochu, a white spirit usually made from wheat or potatoes. Umeshu, an extremely sweet syrupy wine made from plums. And many other kinds of sweet wines made from different fruits like apples, pears, etc. All of these can be found at almost any convenience shop or supermarket as well as most bars & izakayas.

Nature

Japanese people love hiking, and I’m sure if you ask the people you meet there they will be happy to show you many places you can visit. Most famous mountains are also dotted with shrines and temples to view along your path. There are 2 times that are especially perfect for enjoying the nature of Japan. At the end of March/beginning of April the entire country fills with colour as the sakura bloom from almost every tree in sight and people flock to the parks to have picnics and drink their body weight in sake. Another great time to visit is at the end of November when the leaves change to a mix red, yellow and orange. This is a great time to hike for a nice viewpoint of the mountains.

Best time to travel in Japan

Japan has a very seasonal climate. Spring and Autumn are the best times to travel there, winter is also quite mild in most places and also with many winter sport areas opening. Try to avoid the summer, especially from June to July where it is incredibly hot, humid and rains a lot.
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