Have you ever wondered what is the best way to explore Japan and whether there is anything special or seasonal that you can plan your travel in Japan with? This article will cover the Top 10 things you can do while travelling in Japan, including the many styles of travelling that you can take and how you can make every trip to Japan unique. The permutations are endless and I hope you can find planning your own trip to Japan to be fun too!
This article was fuelled by Trip Base Style when I was brainstorming what an ambassador of #TripBaseStyle could do if they had one full year to travel in Japan. Just thinking about it re-ignited my passion of travelling especially after 16 months of non-travels in Singapore. I got down to 10 things that I would love to do if I got the opportunity so here goes! May it be useful for you too in exploring Japan 🙂
1. Plan your travel route according to the UNESCO World Heritage Sites around Japan
There are 23 UNESCO world heritage sites in Japan -19 cultural and 4 natural ones. It’s not surprising at all how culturally rich Japan is by just looking at it from an outsider’s perspective through their architecture, religious sites, media and entertainment and one I enjoy the most, their food!
These world heritage sites span across the whole country and give you a great reason to travel from one end of the country to another. This is a travel style you can adopt as you plan your trip across the country or on a piecemeal basis each time you visit Japan. You can then spend a few days at each location as you visit the UNESCO World Heritage Site. Allocate some time to explore the vicinity of the area as well, experience the different cultures and enjoy the food of each place or prefecture.
2. Learn the Japanese language and connect with the locals
This is the second thing on my list for anyone on a trip to Japan – learning Japanese! You may be thinking about how to do that if you only have a short 10 days trip to Japan? Trust me, there are basics of Japanese that you can pick up in your daily conversations and activities in Japan. You can use phrases like “Konnichiwa” (Hello/Good afternoon), “Arigatougozaimasu” (Thank you), “Onegaishimasu” (Please) and more! The Japanese are always very welcoming as you learn or even try to speak their language and will be very excited to help you out too.
I’ve first learnt Japanese back when I was 15 at Bunka Language School and I absolutely loved it. I continued learning it for another 5 years before I finally attained my Japanese level N3 certification. My love for Japanese media increased my exposure to the Japanese language but nothing beats learning it directly when you use it every day in Japan. I remember my trip to Japan back in 2014 when I brought my mum to Japan for the first time. I had many chances to practise my Japanese by asking for directions from the train conductors, making special requests for food, and even explaining a hairstyle to the hairdresser for my mum’s haircut. Those experiences forced me to use my half-broken Japanese so much that it actually improved in just 10 days there.
Nearly 15 years later, my love for the Japanese language still did not diminish. It has also always been a tiny wish of mine to become fluent in Japanese, 日本語が上手になりたい！Hence, why not pick up some Japanese too when you’re visiting Japan?
3. Find the fun in drawing a unique trait or experience for each place through your local Japanese experiences
Thirdly, find the fun in searching for something unique to each place in Japan during your travel. It could be anything! Anything that is special to you just because you haven’t experienced that anywhere else is also something worth remembering. I encountered numerous interesting experiences during my trips to Japan so do check out my Top 5 unique experiences in this article too if you’re curious!
Something unique I really remembered was also my homestay experience in Utsunomiya(宇都宮). I stayed with a Japanese family who lives in a house that’s directly connected to the temple(お寺). I thought that was already very unique and then came a chance to strike the temple’s bell then! How often does one get to do that? It made me feel so important then telling everyone in the little town that it’s 6pm from the striking the bell six times!
I’m certain that if I have the time to continue travelling in Japan, be it through the Trip Base Style opportunity or even in my own time in future, I’ll be sure to collect more of such unique Japanese experiences and share them with you all. Each place in Japan is so culturally rich in every aspect, from its architecture to its food. I’m sure you will also find something unique to each place for yourself!
4. Create your own Japanese photo album to document your journey through the seasons and the country
Fourth, create a photo album! To me, taking photos is not for looking your best but rather capturing memorable moments that remind me of that instant. The best part of a photo is that gush of memories that flow through just from one look at it. With that said, my favorite photos are usually candid or in-the-moment shots. Especially during this Covid period, such candid photos actually helped me relive those moments when travel is not possible. Just as I was looking for photos for this post, I went through so many photos and the one I picked for this section at Jigokudani Monkey Park reminded me of the snow, the freezing mountains and the cute monkeys then.
This is also one of the main reasons why I created OneWayTicketz – to share my travel stories with my photos and words. I hope these would make you feel as if you went on the trip with me and eventually inspire you to embark on your own travels too. I look forward to seeing the photo album that you’ll create too from your own lenses!
5. Learn to cook Japanese meals using local produce from each location or prefecture
I like cooking (although I may not be good at it 😂)! If you like cooking too, I personally feel you can understand and experience the authentic local culture of a place through learning the way they cook too, especially through their cooking methods and local ingredients that they use. Each location or prefecture would also have local produce that you can learn to make a dish from.
When I did a 6-month working holiday in New Zealand, I started cooking for myself everyday and also observed a lot of local cooking methods from the Kiwi family I lived with. Kiwis bake, grill and deep fry a lot, while the Asians boil, steam, stew and stir-fry etc. For me, I learnt to be creative with my cooking as I used what was available and seasonal then in New Zealand. I actually made apple sauce for the first time in New Zealand after collecting too many unripe apples at my apple thinning job then.
Same for Japan, I do wonder what’s the most common cooking methods used in Japan. I love the way small izakayas cook as they can prepare many small portions of different dishes of various cooking styles. I would absolutely love to learn some of their techniques if possible. Probably that’s what a #MyTripBaseStyle trip would enable me to find out as I immerse myself entirely in the country’s lifestyle and culture. Maybe I can then whip up a Japanese meal the next time!
6. Time places to visit according to the seasons in Japan
Plan your travels according to the seasons in Japan! Japan is a beautiful place known especially for its cherry blossoms (Sakura 桜) in spring, from March to April. It has always been my wish to have a picnic in the pink parks of Japan during the Hanami (花見) and just bask in this beautiful pink season of the country. However, I’ve not had a chance to fulfill this wish because of various reasons for the past years during the Sakura season – exams, work, and now Covid 🙁
On top of the cherry blossoms, you can also time your travels to different places of Japan too as you can:
- Enjoy the jaw-dropping winter illuminations in Tokyo, Kobe or Sapporo during winter
- Ski at the world-renowned ski slopes at Hakuba, Nagano or Niseko, Sapporo during winter too
- Catch the autumn foliage throughout Japan or in Kyoto through the Sagano Scenic Railway
- Bask on the sun-kissed beaches at the “Hawaii of Japan” – Okinawa during summer
7. Tour all 47 prefectures of Japan
I’m finally on the 7th thing on the list for things you can do while travelling in Japan! Japan is made up of 47 prefectures, each boasting of its own unique culture, history, cuisine, traditional crafts and activities. It is categorised into 8 large regions – Hokkaido, Tohoku, Kanto, Chubu, Kansai, Chugoku, Shikoku and Kyushu. If you’re not sure where to start from, how about going through from prefecture to prefecture?
Personally I only managed to cover 8 out of 47 prefectures so far, which is very far from my goal of completing all 47. The picture above is of Yudanaka, Nagano prefecture when we were on our way to experience the Yudanaka onsen town after visiting the Snow Monkeys! I initially also planned a trip for exactly one year ago to explore Kyushu when I could have checked off another 5 prefectures. However, after spending weeks planning the entire itinerary, I had to painfully cancel it when the Covid-19 situation worsened. I sincerely do hope that free travel can happen again in the near future so I’ll be able to complete this unfinished trip!
8. Hike the massive mountains of Japan
Lucky number 8! Did you know that 80% of Japan is made up of mountains? With that, there’s no doubt that there would be some scenic spots worth hiking to for the most spectacular mountain scenery you can get in Japan. I love hiking and also made it a point to hike nearly every week when I was having my working holiday in New Zealand. Here are some of the popular mountains of Japan that you can add to your itinerary too if hiking is your cup of tea too:
- Shiretoko, Hokkaido – One of Japan’s most beautiful and unspoiled national parks
- Kamikochi, Nagano – Northern Japan Alps with one of Japan’s most spectacular mountain scenery
- Kirishima, Miyazaki – an active volcanic mountain range showcasing multiple pretty volcanic cones and craters
- Irimote Island, Okinawa – Unique hiking through jungles
- Mount Fuji, Shizuoka – Japan’s tallest and most famous mountain iconic of Japan
- Fushimi Inari Shrine, Kyoto – Features a route of thousands of torii gates to the top of the sacred mountain
9. Participate in the traditional festivals of Japan
Japan is so traditionally, historically and culturally rich that an estimated number of festivals that take place over the course of the year estimates from 100,000 to 300,000 😱 Planning different places to visit during the course of the year to coincide with a festival seems very doable isn’t it? So let’s do it! Here are some of those high on my list:
- Sapporo Snow Festival: To see the magnificent snow and ice sculptures in Odori Park
- Yokote Kamakura Festival: Hundreds of mini igloo-like snow houses built at various locations across the city
- Gion Matsuri, Kyoto: A massive parade of 20m tall festival floats, ranked as one of Japan’s largest annual event
- Kanto Matsuri, Akita: Over 209 long bamboo poles with up to 46 lanterns attached to each balanced by members of the festival
- Awa Odori, Tokushima: One of the most famous traditional dancing festivals held during the ovon season in mid August
How about you? What’s the festival you most want to participate in while in Japan?
10. Visit the colourful fields across the country
Finally, the last item on my list of things to do while travelling in Japan – visit the colourful flower fields in Japan with their seasonal blooms across the country. There are so many different types of flowers you can see in Japan, from sunflowers to wisteria. Here are some of my favorites on my list that I really hope to visit one day too:
- Sky blue nemophilas in Ibaraki (April – May)
- Colourful tulips in Tonami, Toyama (April – May)
- Pastel shades of Wisteria flowers in Fukuoka (April – May)
- Yellow Canola at Yokohama (May)
- Purple lavender at Furano, Hokkaido(July)
- Bright yellow sunflowers in Akeno, Yamanashi (July – Aug)
That’s it! I hoped you enjoyed reading this and that it gave you some inspiration on the things you can do while travelling in Japan the next time too 🙂