There are a lot of things to do and see in Japan: the deer in Nara, the cherry blossoms in spring and the red and golden leaves in autumn. There is Shibuya Crossing in Tokyo, the bar at the Park Hyatt where Charlotte met Bob in «Lost in Translation» and the infamous Mount Fuji. There are so many things to do in Japan, it’s hard to feel overwhelmed, so I thought I’d list 5 essential experiences I think you should not miss when you travel to Japan.
1. Visit an Onsen Town
Hot springs – or Onsen as the Japanese call them – are a Japanese tradition dating back 1.300 years. Japan sits on the so-called «Ring of Fire», a string of volcanoes around the edges of the Pacific Ocean. So there are not only many earthquakes, but also many geothermal water springs all over Japan. This means that you can find public Onsen across the country, even in the middle of Tokyo. But instead of heading to a bathhouse in the city, I recommend a visit to an Onsen town.
There are many to pick from. My favorite Onsen-Stay so far was at Kinosaki Onsen, a small town north of Kyoto. The village boasts seven public baths and some beautiful traditional Japanese guesthouses. But there are many other places worth going to, like Arima Onsen near Kyoto.
2. Stay at a Ryokan
Staying at a traditional Japanese guesthouse / Ryokan is quite different from staying at a regular hotel. Not only will you be sleeping on futons rolled out on tatami mats, but you will also be able to enjoy traditional food made from seasonal produce and learn more about Japanese customs and traditions. Often Ryokans have their own hot spring you can enjoy during your stay.
While we stayed at different Ryokan and traditional inns, I liked the one in Kinosaki Onsen best. It was truly beautiful, the service was impeccable and the food divine. The place is called Mikiya if you want to check it out. You can find several other Ryokan through Booking.com or via Japanese Guesthouses.
3. Witness a Ceremony at a Temple
On our first trip to Japan, we spent a night at a Buddhist temple in Mount Koya. The boyfriend and I are not the most spiritual individuals, yet this was an experience I would not want to have missed.
We slept in a beautiful room with beautiful silk tapestry and enjoyed a delicious, vegan monks menu. Yet, the highlight was the ceremony that took place in the wee hours of the morning. It was magical and the icing on the cake to that trip to Mount Koya.
There are many temples that offer accommodation in Mount Koya. We stayed at a place called
4. Ride the Shinkansen
I already mentioned the Japanese Rail Pass in the first chapter of my Japan Travel Tips, but I can not mention it enough. Not only is it super convenient for getting around Japan, but it allows you to ride the Shinkansen!
I have never experienced a better functioning travel system than the Japanese rail system and especially the Shinkansen is quite an experience. It is super fast and punctual. Also, it gives you great insight into the Japanese way of life.
5. Spend Time in Tokyo
The biggest mistake we made during our first trip was to plan too little time to truly get lost in the neighborhoods of Tokyo. Before we headed to Japan, many people told us that we should spend a lot of time in Kyoto and to go to all kinds of other beautiful places.
Yet, it was Tokyo I truly fell for. It broke my heart when we had to leave. So, during our second trip, we did spend more time in Tokyo and went out to explore a selection of the cities neighborhoods. I can only recommend you do the same. Yes, Kyoto is beautiful and there are many things to see in Japan. But please do not neglect its capital. Promise!