From tea tours in Kyoto to vintage shopping in Tokyo; Mount Fuji to mount(ains) of ramen; experiencing onsen and the bullet train, hiking UNESCO heritage sites and exploring the dynamic art scene (without mentioning everything in between) travelling in Japan can’t be considered anything less than abundant in its ability to provide unique opportunities.
Whilst Japan is at the top of many a traveller’s bucket list, the prospect of planning a trip effectively can, for many, seem a little daunting. With this in mind, the brains behind National Geographic Traveller lined up a panel of Japan experts and enthusiasts who provided insight into planning a trip during the latest addition to the magazine’s Travel Geeks talk series. This article will seek to provide an insight into the recommendations offered, hopefully providing those with a desire to travel to Japan some itinerary inspiration!
“Japan is well connected and affordable, public transport wise, so investing in a nation-wide train pass comes highly recommended. “
1. Use public transport
Japan is well connected and affordable, public transport wise, so investing in a nation-wide train pass comes highly recommended. Not only does using transport allow you to move quickly and comfortably between locations, it also provides a great setting for starting conversations with fellow passengers according to Paul Christie, CEO of Walk Japan.
2. Stay at a Ryokan
For a traditional experience hospitality when travelling in Japan, Kylie Clarke from Japan House recommends a stay at a Ryokan. These guesthouses are budget-friendly, can be found throughout the country and often have hot spring facilities. Food is seasonal and regional, with breakfast coming particularly recommended!
3. Follow a pilgrimage route
For the founder of Walkopedia, William Mackesy, following a pilgrimage route whilst in Japan is a must. He particularly recommends a route through Yoshino and Omine, Kumano Sanzan and Koyasan, which combines an experience of Japan’s ancient woodland with sacred Shinto and Buddhist sites.
4. Get into the countryside
In addition to embracing the buzz of Japan’s megacities, consider escaping to the countryside. Whilst it’s only possible to climb Mount Fuji during July and August, cycling and canoeing against its backdrop are year-round options.
5. Hit the slopes
Oliver Hilton Johnson, director of Tengu Sake, recommends swapping The Alps for Japanese ski slopes, and with good reason! Over 500 ski resorts can be found throughout Japan, with the northern island of Hokkaido to Tohoku arguably providing the best conditions and facilities. If you’re a keen-skier, consider adding a few days in the mountains to your itinerary.
6. Art and technology
With a dynamic contemporary art scene, Japan is an art-lover’s paradise. Immerse yourself in rural, cultural festivals that take place throughout the summer months and consider a trip to Naoshima Island, an island home to some of Japan’s finest galleries (oh and Yayoi Kusama’s Yellow Pumpkin)
Travelling in Japan is a great opportunity to expand your culinary horizons. In short, consume as much food as humanly possible during your time in Japan. The Travel Geeks panel agreed, unanimously, that on account of food preparation being considered an art form, it is of a consistently high standard. Whilst high-end restaurants can be enjoyed, wandering into small, local restaurants will return high-quality, delicious food!
The informal, Q&A style evening was filled with engaging conversation and humorous stories (the highlight being the tale of a speaker’s wife wandering nude into a coffee shop that she had mistaken for the door leading to an onsen.)