As I sit down to write this post, I keep asking myself “why would anyone need a list of reasons to visit Japan? It’s amazing and everybody knows it!” However, as my dear friend once told me, there is always a clear why behind everything. So, I’m putting together a thorough list (extending beyond cliché bullet trains and heated toilet seats) which will hopefully satiate your curiosity and infect you with quality wanderlust. Here are all the reasons why you should book a ticket to Japan and how I can help you plan your dream vacation.
The customer care, not service, are the words that best describe the treatment you receive as soon as you arrive to Japan. While high-quality hospitality is not unique to any country, it most definitely stands out and takes an art form here. You are wrapped in an invisible veil of thoughtfulness, grace, and respect which is extended in every aspect of your daily interactions and experiences. The deep-rooted philosophy behind Japanese hospitality is omotenashi, the utmost concern for the needs of your guests and commitment to providing the best possible experience.
Interestingly, the way in which Japanese hosts pay attention to detail and anticipate their guests’ needs stems from a Japanese tea ceremony. Each gathering is treated as ichigo ichie or a once-in-a-lifetime experience. This, in turn, requires thorough preparation to ensure the most memorable experience. The host puts special care into choosing the most suitable teaware and decorations to fit the theme of the ceremony and convey a message of sincerity.
Today, this spirit of hospitality permeates the daily lives of Japanese and is extended with equal quality at train stations, convenience stores, and luxury hotels. In fact, Japanese do not strive to meet their customers’ needs. They are committed to exceeding your expectations in every aspect of your experience. Every single detail is anticipated, meticulously thought-through and perfected. Train seats which revolve depending on which direction you want to travel in; taxi doors that open automatically; special umbrella lockers; paper shopping bag wrapped in a transparent plastic layer when it rains to make sure it doesn’t get wet; or a collective greeting – irreshaimase (welcome!) – when you enter a shop or restaurant; spotless streets and scrupulous punctuality; airport staff on tarmac bidding you farewell with a bow once your plane starts taxing – all of this is just a tip of the iceberg. You truly have to experience it to believe it.
Unique Cultural Experiences
Despite its yearning for modernity, Japan continues to carefully preserve and revere its rich cultural heritage. Harmoniously mixing the old and the new, the country offers countless experiences that allow visitors to learn more about its history and deep-rooted traditions. Among many other things, you can enjoy a performance by geisha and maiko, dress up in a kimono/yukata, spend a night at the Buddhist temple and interact with monks, attend a Kabuki performance or one of the traditional festivals, or indulge in a centuries-old Japanese tea ceremony.
I love hands-on experiences and had a time of my life learning how to make Japanese washi paper and forge my own Japanese knife in Shinkoku and even learn how to make Japanese sweets wagashi during the Fujinomiya food tour. Other workshops and classes that I recommend are preparing a beautiful bento box, pottery-making, calligraphy, the art of kintsugi, the art of ikebana flower arrangements, a chasen-making (matcha tea whisk) workshop, roketsu/indigo dyeing workshop. In short, the ways you can immerse into the local culture are countless.
Architecture: The Old and The New
Whether you appreciate the ultra-modern or the traditional, Japan is a true feast for the eyes. On one hand, you have ultra-modern architectural gems which impress with their clean lines and sophisticated designs. On the other, you have centuries-old shrines and temples, traditional landscape gardens, atmospheric neighborhoods and meticulously preserved villages where you slip into the Japan of yesteryear. I’ve mentioned before how much I personally thrive on shitamachi vibes which scream old Japan. Neighborhoods like Yanesen in Tokyo, Gion in Kyoto, or Higashichaya in Kanazawa are just a few of my favorite places that ooze history and heritage.
Inspiring World of Arts
Art lovers have a lot to explore in Japan. For unique exhibitions by local genius creatives, a visit to Yayoi Kusama Museum and unmatched digital art exhibit by TeamLab Borderless is a must. For a touch of history, peruse Tokyo Open-air Museum, Edo-Tokyo Museum and Nezu Museum. Those willing to interact with infamously smart Japanese robots should not miss The Natural Museum of Emerging Science and Innovation in Odaiba. Lastly, a visit to Studio Ghibli Museum is well worth the time if you are a fan of the world-famous Japanese animation studio. By the way, did you know that 2022 promises an opening of Studio Ghibli Theme Park? Speaking of cartoons, Moomin Valley Park and Snoopy Museum will both open their doors in 2019!
Boy, where do I even begin? From anime to video games and everything in between, Japan is home to one of the most fascinating pop-cultures in the world. There is so much to take in: Tokyo’s bizarre maid-cafes; psychedelic Robot Restaurant; frantic collectors rampaging speakeasy manga shops; J-pop bands and their obsessed fans; cosplayers with insanely creative and downright crazy outfits; kawaii (cute, lovable) culture and Lolita girls; retro arcades (Anate No Warehouse is a must); and, of course, teenagers that inspire fashions trends worldwide with their quirky aesthetics. A few of the neighborhoods in Tokyo where you can unleash your inner otaku (nerd) are Harajuku, Akihabara, Ikebukuro, Kabukicho and Nakano.
Stunning Nature & Seasons
Japan might seem a small country, but it offers a stunning array of landscapes and myriad of activities for nature lovers. Sand dunes of Tottori prefecture, rainbow-colored flower fields of Hokkaido, turquoise waters of Okinawa, verdant rolling hills of Kyushu, raging rivers of Shikoku, snow-capped mountain ranges of Japanese Alps, beauty of cherry blossoms in spring and saturated autumn leaves in fall – there are a lot of reasons why Japanese nature will take your breath away and keep you coming back like a magnet.
Fantastic Food Scene
Japanese people love to dine out and there is an over-abundance of places to eat – anything from cozy cafes and dinky mom-and-pop-shops to refined Michelin-starred restaurants. I think this is because Japanese homes are generally very small, so there is less hosting/entertaining and more eating out when they want to hang out with family and friends.
There are one too many odes written about the beauty of Japanese cuisine which extends far beyond sushi and ramen (not to say that you have to skip any of these). During your trip, book a kaiseki dinner, an elaborate haute cuisine hailing from the 16th-century Imperial Kyoto. Other Japanese foods which are my personal favorites include wagyu beef, soba (buckwheat noodles) and tonkatsu (Japanese take on a schnitzel). Tokyo also has a fantastic array of artisan coffee shops and brunch spots which are very much worthy of your attention. Other food experiences I highly recommend: have a casual meal at one of the izakayas (local, dinky gastro-pubs), stop by for a cup of artisan coffee in a Showa-era kissaten (tea-room), learn how to make a bento box or sushi, enjoy matcha tea at a random Japanese garden or a tea salon, get a cocktail or two in one of Japan’s famous swanky bars, visit Tokyo’s underground food parlors, and take a walk along local food markets (Tsukiji in Tokyo or Nishiki market in Kyoto).
Heavenly Hot Springs
Due to its volcanic terrain, Japan boasts with a large number of thermal baths called onsen. Soaking in the steamy water is a beloved and deep-rooted part of Japanese culture. There is a strict onsen etiquette that must be followed: no tattoos are allowed unless you book a private room; no cover is allowed, you must be completely naked; you must shower before soaking in the water (stay tuned for my detailed post about this!). Onsen water in various regions are said to have different qualities and healing powers. For example, some hot springs have a strong sulfur odor, others consistency of milk and honey or reddish color. I am not sure about its overall healing powers, but I can vouch that I have the silkiest skin after I soak in the onsen.
I’m a huge fan of rotenburo, which is an open-air onsen typically tucked away in a beautiful nature. There are countless onsen towns and resorts all over the country and some of them are incredibly atmospheric. A few of my recommendations would be Hakone (closest to Tokyo), Takaragawa onsen and Kusatsu onsen in Gunma, Shirahone onsen in Nagano, Kurokawa onsen, Yufuin and Ibusuki onsen in Kyushu, Dogo onsen in Shikoku (opened in 1894 and said to have inspired Hayao Miyazaki’s masterpiece Spirited Away), Ginzan Onsen in Yamagata, Gero onsen in Gifu, and Tsuboyu (Yunomine) onsen in Wakayama, which, by the way, is the only hot spring bath in Japan to be designated a UNESCO World Heritage Site. This list can go on endlessly. I hope you get to experience it at least once because it truly is an incredibly relaxing experience and a perfect way to pamper yourself during a jam-packed travel itinerary.
Convenience & Safety
Last but certainly not least, Japan is a perfect destination for solo travelers, couples, friends or families. You feel safe everywhere, at any time of the day. Transport is incredibly efficient and reliable (cue punctual train system and bullet trains), streets are always clean and there are plenty of lodging and food options to fit any budget (stand by for my next post about budget-friendly food spots in Japan).
And that’s a wrap. If all of these reasons didn’t convince you to plan a trip to Japan, I don’t know what will. And this is where I come into play!
I have spent 3 years in Japan traversing its beautiful nooks and crannies and sharing it all through my FREE guides. As fascinating and exhilarating Japan is, it can also be challenging to explore and understand even for the most experienced travelers. A little guidance from a local could go a long way and that’s where I’d like to offer my travel planning services. Whether you want to see touristy spots, focus on food, or go off the beaten path and get unique cultural experiences, I’d be happy to craft a bespoke itinerary for your dream vacation in Japan. Find out more about the travel planning services that I offer here and don’t hesitate to reach out to ask any questions.
Have you been to Japan? What was your favorite part? What would you come back for?
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