uncharted backpacker japan travel guide

Japan Travel Guide

Why Travel To Japan

Japan is another world. It’s a world where modern meets traditional. From the impossibly bright neon lights of Tokyo, to the peaceful zen temples of Kyoto, one thing is for sure. Japan will leave you in awe. If the Japanese are known for two things it would be this. Hospitality and perfection. Hospitality being the countless smiles and generosity you receive from even the most unlikely of people. Perfection, deeply rooted in the Japanese culture, which shows in their sublime, perfectly edged gardens, and the everyday activities. From serving tea in a tea ceremony to simply cutting that perfect piece of sushi. I can promise you. You will never forget this place.

The Basics

Language – Japanese
Religion – Shinto Buddhist
Visa – On arrival for most nationalities
Currency – Japanese Yen JPY
1 USD – 110 JPY

Typical Costs and Getting Around Japan

Accommodation – Most people are surprised when I tell them there is still budget accommodation in Japan. For example I stayed in a shuttle hotel downtown Tokyo for 1800 JPY. And outside Tokyo you can find even cheaper hostels. For an average backpacker expect to pay around 2000 JPY for a dorm bed and 3000 – 4000 JPY for a private double. If you are looking to stay in a Ryokan (traditional house) or business style hotel expect to be paying around 6000 and above depending on the location and quality of the Ryokan. And of course Japan does have its fair share of resorts and beautiful modern style hotels, there price range rises well into the hundreds of dollars per night.

Food – If you’re looking for cheap eat head over to the nearest Izakaya (Japanese style pub), they serve delicious and cheap Japanese food at any time of day. Orders are usually paid through a small machine at the entrance in which you receive a food ticket to give to the front. You can get a bowl of Soba/Ramen with a few sides for as low as 400 JPY. Besides the Izakaya Japan has a wonderful restaurant scene, but beware price can sky rocket depending on where you are and what they are serving. If you’re looking for Sushi, in most cities you can find Sushi restaurants that have rotating tables and you just pay per plate, usually ranging around 200 -300 JPY per plate. On average budget yourself to spend around 2500 JPY per day on food and snacks.

Here is where Japan can kill your budget. Japan has some off the most connected and efficient transport in the world but it comes at a cost, a bullet train from Tokyo to Kyoto will cost as much as 14 000 JPY. But there are a few ways to save money. First there is the Japan Rail Pass. Prices are as follows:

Japan Rail PassOrdinaryGreen Car
7 Consecutive days29, 110 yen38, 880 yen
14 Consecutive days46, 290 yen62, 950 yen
21 Consecutive days59, 350 yen81, 870 yen

If you decide to choose this option make sure you book before your arrival to Japan as this option is not available in Japan. If you do not take the rail pass then try to avoid the faster trains as they can be more than four times the price of the slower trains. Japan also has a great bus network. Buses are slower but you get to slow down and see a little bit more of Japan. A quick sample fare is from Tokyo to Takayama by bus I paid around 4800 JPY where is the train was close to double that price.

My Favourite Places in Japan

Kyoto – Kyoto is the culture capitol of Japan. If you imagined Japan to be Zen temples with rock gardens and Geishas strolling down the streets then this is it. Kyoto has so many amazing temples all which are unique to themselves, and the districts of Gion and Ponto-cho are so traditional you will feel as if you have stepped back in time, oh and keep an eye out for Geisha’s here. Don’t forget the Arashiyama’s Bamboo grove, the impossibly thick bamboo forest is a great place for a morning stroll before the tours start.

Tokyo – Tokyo is a vastly complex contrast where old meets new. Ancient temples still in use wedged in between massive neon lit party districts making it an amazing site itself. But for me walking down Shinjuku is like entering a HD version of life, the neon lights are never ending and every corner will leave you awe struck. If you can time your visit to see the Sumo tournaments than this is also a major highlight, but if not there are some Sumo stables that will allow tourists to watch from the street.

Takayama – Takayama nestled deep in the Japanese Alps is a great way to see traditional rural Japan. If history is your thing there a cultural villages with straw roof houses (still in use today), or if you need a break from the neon cities then you can hike amongst some of the most beautiful alpine scenery the country has to offer. After a long day’s hike dipping in an Onsen (Japanese natural hot spring) is a great way to unwind.

Osaka – Most people don’t rave about Osaka, I do! Osaka itself boasts Neon lit food streets that rival Tokyo, houses one of the largest Aquariums in the world but most of all its within day trip distance to great site like the castle of Himeji, The grand temple of Nara and the serene Buddhist graveyard of Koya-san. Osaka is a unique corner of Japan you should give the time to see!

Top Experiences

Okonomiyaki – Okonomiyaki, Okonomiyaki, Okonomiyaki my friend Shawn and I yell as we flip, cut and form this delicious seafood/pork/mystery pancake into the delicious yet strange meal we crave. Have a few Sapporo and head over to your nearest Okonomiyaki and have fun!

Martial Arts Kyoto – War screams of Samurai can be heard down the street from the Kyoto Budo centre, a visit here in the evening will include the perfected art of sword drawing, elder women precision shooting long bows and the epic battles of armour clad samurai (who sometimes are less than three feet tall). This is Japan at its rawest form.

Robot Cabaret Shinjuku – The robot Cabaret is good… no its life changing. It’s a complete hour of large robots, Kabuki warriors, and bikini wearing anime women battling to the death in a neon explosion of color and fire. Anthony Bourdain was confused as was I but the confusion is masked by how amazing of a spectacle it really is.

Sake – Sake to my surprise comes in many MANY flavours and grades. Learning about Sake from the nearest distillery or my preference locals at the nearest Izakaya will lead you to make friends and break cultural berries with the locals. Did I mention it tastes great?
Japan Travel Guide

Top Japan Travel Tips

  • Learn basic Japanese it’s a great ice breaker
  • Take the bullet train at least once, it’s a sight itself
  • Learn your noodle terminology fast, Soba, Ramen, Udon.
  • Set a budget in Shinjuku, money somehow disappears there.
  • Get beer from family mart, and sake too…
  • Public transport is great and much cheaper than cabs
  • See the Robot Cabaret
  • Check online for hotel discounts
  • Stay at least one night in a Ryokan
  • Research Japanese food before and try everything at least once
  • Check bus and trains sometimes buses are faster and cheaper
  • Buy an umbrella, it tends to rain often
Stephen Gollan

Uncharted Backpacker is a glimpse at the past eleven years of globetrotting I have done. Now at over ninety countries I share my travel knowledge for you so you too can travel the world and see what wonders it has to offer.

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