This is a throwback destination guide. People often ask me which place has been my favourite travel destination. Years of travelling around the world means it is difficult to choose a favourite place. I have been fortunate to go to so many great places but if I had to choose one favourite, it would be Japan. I visited Japan in the summer of 2017 and absolutely fell in love with the country, the culture, the food, the people etc. It’s a very special place and an easy and safe destination to travel round solo. Key tourist sites are well sign-posted, the high speed and efficient Shinkansen bullet trains make getting around the country a breeze and you will always find people happy to help you should you need guidance/directions.
- You need to buy your railcard before you go. I bought my pass here http://bit.ly/2LXFvV5 The pass is excellent value for money and gives you unlimited travel provided you follow the instructions. Your Japan Rail Pass entitles you to free seat reservations on valid trains. Reservations can be made in person at train stations. This site offers great advice https://www.seat61.com/Japan.htm
- When in Japan, buy a Pasmo card (similar to London’s Oyster card) that you can top up to pay for public transport. You can buy these from Metro ticket machines.
- Download the free Tokyo Metro App to help you navigate your way around this sprawling city.
Give yourself plenty of time to explore this huge city. Suggested things to see/do:
- View Shibuya Crossing from Starbucks.
- Visit Tsukiji Market and have a fresh sushi lunch.
- Go to Tokyo National Museum in Ueno Park.
- Go up the Tokyo Skytree.
- Visit a cat cafe.
- Catch the show at the Robot Restaurant.
- Visit Sensō-ji temple.
- Stroll along Takeshita Street in Harajuku.
- Sing Karaoke in a branch of Karaoke Kan.
Day trips from Tokyo: Nara, Kamakura, Nikko and Mount Fuji (train journeys from Tokyo)
Nara Famous for the freely roaming deer and temples.
Kamakura: An understated seaside resort with a large buddha statue.
Nikko: National Park with a famous shrine and mausoleum.
I didn’t get to go to Mount Fuji during my trip unfortunately as I had left it to do when I returned to Tokyo after exploring the country and I misjudged how much time I needed to do it. If you can, you should definitely go; you can find a suggested day trip itinerary here https://www.jrailpass.com/blog/mount-fuji It’s at the top of my to-do list when I am next in Japan…
A city with a beautifully preserved old town. You only need a night or two here. Many travellers come here before hiking Japan’s Alps. I really enjoyed my visit here. Such a cute place with small shops, saki bars and restaurants. Stay in a traditional Ryokan if you can and you definitely have to visit an onsen (a hot spring that is a quintessential Japanese experience).
A modern city with some fantastic sites to visit. Suggested things to see/do:
- Kanazawa Castle – impressive historical site.
- Kenrokuen Garden – lovely landscaped garden.
- Go for matcha tea in one of the geisha teahouses in the Higashi Chaya district.
- See contemporary art at the 21st Century Museum.
Absolutely loved my time in Kyoto. It’s less manic than Tokyo, with so many beautiful temples to visit, and no trip to Kyoto is complete without a walk around the geisha district. You can see a geisha performance for an affordable price at Gion Corner. Other suggested things to see/do:
- Fushimi Inari Shrine – famous for its thousands of red torii gates. Kyoto’s most visited shrine.
- Visit Arashiyama’s bamboo forest. It can get over-crowded so try to visit early in the day.
- Walk the Philosopher’s Path (known for cherry blossoms in the spring).
- Dine in a restaurant in Pontocho Alley.
A modern and vibrant city with a thriving culinary scene. A fun day trip is a visit to Universal Studios Osaka – go just to hear Harry Potter speaking Japanese and ensure you stay for the dementors light show in the evening. I also recommend eating your way round Dōtombori or booking a food tour.
HIROSHIMA & MIYAJIMA
Many travellers visit Hiroshima and Miyajima as a day trip from Tokyo but both places are peaceful at night and are good options for an overnight stay if you don’t want to rush. I chose to stay overnight in Hiroshima and I was glad I did this as Miyajima is a train and ferry ride away from Hiroshima, and it may take you longer to get there and back than you expect. I visited Miyajima in the morning which then gave me plenty of time to explore Hiroshima’s Peace Park. The Peace Museum is excellent, and the park itself has several monuments, such as the Children’s Monument, worth seeing.
I spent three wonderful weeks travelling round Japan focusing on the main places I had read about during my trip research but there is so much to see in this magnificent country so I will definitely be going back. For now Japan, Sayōnara. We will meet again one day.