Japan Travel Guide

Fuji

 

To complement our Geek Guide to Japan, our good friend Rob Amos has written a more traditional guide to this wonderful country. I used this guide as a starting point for my adventures, I hope it serves you well.

Bok’s Guide to Japan

Guides

On our first trip I mostly relied on Japan by Rail, which is pretty good. If I win lotto one day I’m going back to follow each of the longer routes described, stopping at every station. The Lonely Planet guide is also decent, but give the iOS apps a miss – they have little useful content.

Rail

Buy a Japan Rail Pass, Flight Centre have them at reasonable rates. A 7 day ordinary (economy) pass will set you back roughly the cost of a single Shinkansen from Osaka to Tokyo, and it gets you free economy class travel on any JR line train, bus or ferry in the country. Not private subways or trains though but still enough to be worthwhile.

If you plan on being at your start or destination for a few days you might able to get away with a 7 day pass and pay for your trains outside of that. A Suica on the Tokyo end will get you into everything in the country, and they have “fare adjustment” machines in all stations to top up if you don’t have enough credit to exit the station.

Getting Around

Google Transit. EOF.

Accommodation

We’re a bit boring on this one. Ever since staying in our first Toyoko Inn in Hiroshima we’ve stayed with them everywhere. They have hotels near the stations in most major cities, the accommodation is decent quality for a consistent ¥6-9000, depending on the location. Plus membership is free and you get discounts on every stay, points for free days (10 days = 1 free), and so on.

P1000597

Most don’t speak English, but that has never been an issue for us, they’re used to dealing with foreigners. I can point out the better ones in each city if you go this route.

If you’re into that sort of thing also, I’d recommend trying a Ryokan – a traditional Japanese inn. You’ll sleep in a futon and be fed a traditional Japanese dinner and breakfast, several courses in all. Definitely an experience.

Kansai Region

Osaka

P1000207

We haven’t spent much time in Osaka to be honest, but I can highly recommend the Aquarium as the best in the country. You take a long escalator to the top and then work your way down around a massive centre tank with little tanks everywhere. You should also scoff at the Australian restaurant in the nearby shopping centre for selling only VB and Fosters.

We also did the Open-Air Museum of Japanese Farmhouses, which was interesting, as was the nearby park when the school kids were around.

Kyoto

A must! The old imperial capital for 1000 years, there’s so much history here. Stay near Kyoto Station and use the subway or buses to get around.

Kinkakuji

The Golden Temple. I haven’t actually been here as its stupidly packed, even by Japan’s standards. It’s on my list to go back next time though. The entire temple is covered in gold which is reflected off the lake.

Ginkakuji

The Silver Temple, out of the way a bit but you can walk from here south to other temples, just follow the canals. Ginkakuji has a nice stone garden and walking paths up the mountain is nice to visit.

Kiyomizu-dera

You might have seen this one in photos of the autumn colours – its a popular and rather iconic spot. Just east of the city (if you catch the bus make sure its going the right direction, it circles the city and I spent two hours going the long way once), there’s a lot of shops in the street up to the temple, which is built into the side of a hill.

Fushimi Inari

South of the station on the JR Nara line, this has thousands of the red Torii on paths up the side of a hill. Check the pictures.

P1000386

Arashiyama

Another popular place, a massive bamboo forest on the side of a mountain. Walk down to the bridge over the river also for another well known and iconic view.

Sanjūsangen-dō

There are photos of this place around, despite photography not being permitted inside. It has 1000 Kannon statues in various poses.

Gion

A lovely area in the evening with still practicing Geisha wandering around.

Kyoto Tower / Kyoto Station Skyway

Kanazawa

If you’re into gardens, Kenrokuen here is one of the three best gardens in all of Japan, as rated by the locals. A couple of hours north of Kyoto, its a decent day trip. There’s Samurai and Geisha districts, which haven’t really changed since those eras.

Chubu Region

Nagoya

We were late to visiting Nagoya but totally worth it for the Shinkansen and Toyota musems.

SCMAGLEV and Railway Park

So many trains! From all era of Japanese railways including the history of the Tokaido Shinkansen, the worlds first high speed rail. They have many trains there you can wander through, including the first Maglev Shinkansen. Many simulators, including a Shinkansen simulator (with an instructor, drive from Osaka to Tokyo, but you go into a draw for this one), a Maglev passenger simulation and a lovely model train.

P1010007

Toyota Museum

I haven’t been here myself but I’ve heard a lot about it. So many working steam looms and older machines. On my list for next trip (ran out of time last year).

Nagoya Castle

If you can’t get to a castle in another city, its definitely worth visiting this one.

Tokyo (Kanto Region)

I’ll break this one down into neighbourhoods since its so large. We generally stay in Ikebukuro but a lot of people pick the more expensive hotels in Shinjuku for their Tokyo stays. There’s the usual array of shrines and temples around also if I forget to list them.

Typically you want to stay somewhere near the Yamanote Line though, as it circles all of the major cities in Tokyo.

Ikebukuro / Shinjuku

Sunshine City is the main attraction around Ikebukuro.

Shinjiku-gyoen is a large park in the Shinjiku area. Well worth the visit and is a fine Japanese garden. Nearby is the old and now future Olympic precincts.

Shinjiku is also the busiest railway station in the world. If you’ve seen the videos of people getting pushed into the train that was in the Metro station downstairs.

Shibuya

P1010153

Shopping! Tokyu Hands and Loft are two of the better stores for Japanese shopping in the city. They have stores around the place but we usually visit these ones.

Shibuya also has the busiest pedestrian crossing in the world also, subject of many videos and photos. Worth a look.

Ebisu

The Tokyo Museum of Photography is here, if you’re into that sort of thing.

More importantly, so is the Yebisu brewery

Odaiba

On a man-made island out in Tokyo Bay, Odaiba has a few interesting things like a replica of the statue of liberty, a real-size replica of a Gundam and the Japanese interpretation of shopping malls, so more shopping.

Also has driverless bus-trains over Rainbow Bridge to get you there, and Tokyo Teleport Station, which is sadly just for the subway.

Hamamatsucho

Tokyo Tower is around here, and is still worth the visit (much quieter now).

Ginza

The up-market district, with an awesome Apple store. There’s also the main outpost of the Ginza Lion – a beer hall with Sapporo draft as the main stay. The one underground sells Das Boot. The 2.8L glass boot full of Sapporo Draft. Mmm. Let me know if you’re interested and I’ll write directions – I stumbled upon it the first time and have had difficulties locating it on subsequent visits.

Akihabara

Also known as Electric Town, Akiba was known for its electronics and computer gear. Now its more known for Anime and Manga merchandise, but there are still computer stores near the station. Also, plenty of cute Japanese girls in maid outfits (and whole cafes full of them).

P1010133

The best store ever, Yodobashi Camera, is on the east side of the station. 9 floors of mostly electronics. We always spend way too much money here.

Asakusa

Sensoji is here, a nice (and famous) temple is here. Lots of shops line the walk from the station. You can also take the ferry from here down to Odaiba, a nice way to see the city from the water. There’s a stop at the fish markets also, if you like getting up at stupid hours of the morning to see that.

Sumida

Tokyo Skytree! Second only to Burj Khalifa for the tallest structure, Tokyo Skytree is the tallest tower in the world. Visible from all over Tokyo, its still new and so rather popular.

Maranouchi

You can’t get into the Palace itself, but the East Imperial Gardens are worth a visit if you like gardens. Plus you can also see the newly renovated Maranouchi Station building at Tokyo Station. Its like a red brick version of Flinders Street.

Hokkaido

The far north, snow country.

Sapporo

The capital of Hokkaido, Sapporo is one of the two main cities in Japan laid out on an American-style grid (just like home). Mostly due to the influence of the US when they forced open the Japanese borders a long time ago. Your main landmarks will be Sapporo Station and Odori Park, a long park that runs East-West across the centre of the city.

Your best way here is to fly. The Shinkansen doesn’t stretch this far (yet). We flew up from Tokyo then worked our way back down on the train.

P1010105

Sapporo Beer Museum

If you’re not a fan of the snow and skiing, then this is the reason for heading all the way up here. Tours are available as well as a pretty good restaurant and some beers that you can only get here.

While we’re on that subject, you have to try Sapporo Classic. It’s a fantastic beer, and my favourite. It’s only officially available in Hokkaido.

Hokkaido University Botanic Garden

A small but very nice botanic garden near the centre of the city, easy strolling distance from the station.

Sapporo TV Tower (Odori Park)

Modelled after Tokyo Tower, the main TV broadcast tower in the middle of Sapporo has an observation deck with a nice view. Located at the eastern end of Odori Park.

Others

There are a bunch of other places to see in Sapporo. See here for more. Next time we go back Moerenuma Park is at the top of our list.

Hakodate

On the train back to Tokyo the next major city will be Hakodate. It was here that Japan’s borders were forced open by the US, and there’s plenty of historical stuff to see related to that.

We only had half a day here, but I’m told that the ropeway up to Mount Hakodate had breathtaking views of the city, especially at dusk, and is one of the three best night time views in Japan.

P1010079

Travel note: if you’re on the train to/from Aomori (Honshu – main island) to Hakodate (Hokkaido) using a JR Rail Pass you will need to make a reservation. The section through Seikan Tunnel is one of the few areas where there are no unreserved seats.

Fort Goryokaku

An old star-shaped fort. Be here in May for the cherry blossoms. It is one of the best viewing spots in Japan for its hundreds of cherry trees. There is a tower overlooking the fort also.

Honshu – Chubu Region

Back on the main island.

Lake Kawaguchi

One of the Fuji Five Lakes, Kawaguchiko is generally the starting point for climbing Mt Fuji. Most people’s photos of Mt Fuji tend to come from this area also.

To get here take the Chuo Line from Tokyo (Shinjuku Station) to Otsuki where you will need to swap to the local private railway for the rest of the trip. (There’s a hot food vending machine at Otsuki Station.)

Our two visits to here were to stay in a Ryokan – a traditional japanese guest house. These usually come with public or private Onsen (hot springs). And to take photos of Mt Fuji, naturally.

Fuji-Q Highlands

Japanese theme parks are something else. This one is known for its roller coasters (Jet Coasters as they’re known locally) as well as Thomas the Tank Engine (there are also Thomas-themed trains on the private railway heading up), and Evangelion World

Kanazawa

Up on the sea of Japan side, the Shinkansen won’t reach Kanazawa for a few years so you’re on local trains again. As mentioned in the side trips from Part 1, Kenrokuen is one of the three best gardens in Japan and is very beautiful. The Samurai district is kind of small and disappointing but worth a wander if you’re in Kanazawa.

P1010060Western Honshu

Okayama

Worth a stop if you’re in the area, Okayama is home to Korakuen, the second of the three best gardens in Japan as well as Okayama Castle. Korakuen is a strolling garden with a few different regions and a lot of open grassy areas.

Hiroshima

Another very beautiful city, and an almost mandatory stop. Stay near the station – most things are accessible from there or via the local trams.

Bombing

The A-Bomb Dome and Atomic Peace Museum are the required attractions. Very solemn and moving.

P1000522

Miyajima

Still our favourite place in all of Japan. Itsukushima Shrine is something else and a trip up the cable car to Mount Misen is nice also. There are very friendly deer everywhere.

Take the train from Hiroshima (about 40 mins) to Miyajima-guchi and jump on the JR Ferry (covered by your JR Rail Pass) to get here.

P1000561

Kyushu

The southern most of the main islands that make up Japan, Kyushu is a bit out of the way for most tourists but is definitely worth the trip.

Fukuoka

The capital of Kyushu, Fukuoka is one of the most historically significant cities in ancient Japan. As the city closest to Korea (and has a daily ferry there), the introduction of foreign culture, especially Chinese, in ancient Japan (think language and legal/cultural things) typically came through Fukuoka and spread east across Japan.

Fukuoka was our introduction to Japan and since there was so much to take in for that first trip we really missed a lot. I’m planning to return here in 2014.

Saitozaki

One thing we did do was take a side trip on local trains to Saitozaki (via Kashii), a small peninsula across the bay from Fukuoka. There’s a theme park near here also. Take the ferry back to Fukuoka for a chance to see the city from the water.

Fukuoka City Museum

Due to its importance in history, the Fukuoka museum naturally has a lot of information about the evolution of Japan from pre-historic times through to the present day.

Canal Walk

A shopping centre wrapped around some canals.

Nagasaki

I cannot think of a more beautiful place. There is a land-locked harbour; at the entrance are islands …the ship winds up the harbour which is more like a very broad river, with hills on either side levelling down towards the extreme end where the town of Nagasaki stands.

Elizabeth Alt

While I said Miyajima is our favourite place, but Nagasaki is definitely our favourite city and not far behind at all. Way out of the way, local trains are needed to reach Nagasaki but it is worth the day of travelling you will lose to get here, but a long margin. Also trams, trams are fun.

Nagasaki Peace Park and Atomic Museum

Nagasaki was not the primary target, but bad weather over Kokura forced a change of target. Unlike its Hiroshima counterpart, the Nagasaki one focuses a lot more on what happened to the city, and not on atomic warfare or the development of the bombs themselves.

Below the museum is an open park with a monument to park the hypocentre of the blast, so you can stand almost directly below where it went off. (Hiroshima’s hypocentre is in a carpark.) Then around the corner is the Nagasaki Peace Park, with fountains and statues and other tributes to peace.

The bomb itself didn’t do as much damage to the city as the fires that followed, but there is a lot of bomb damage still visible around the city, like the one-legged torii at Sanno Shrine.

Glover Garden

A large park exhibiting the history of western influence and interaction with the Japanese people (something Nagasaki is well known for). Beautiful views back over Nagasaki from here, with an awesome little lane way with craft shops and what not on the road up.

Gunkanjima

Made famous by the latest James Bond movie, Skyfall, Gunkanjima is an abandoned island off Nagasaki’s Coast.

Mount Inasa

One of the three best night time views in Japan. On my list of places to visit in 2014.

Kanto Region

Yokohama

This should probably have gone in Part 1, as it is within the Tokaido corridor, but eh.

Yokohama is a trading/commercial port just south-west of Tokyo and is easily accessible by train. It’s a rather young city, having been forced opened (like Hakodate) as a port by the US in 1854. It’s now the largest “city” in Japan (Tokyo having been split into 23 wards).

There are a bunch of things to do here, including one of the better Chinatowns in Japan, some nice gardens and Minato Mirai, the new commercial heart of the city (around the second tallest building in the country) with loads of tourist-related things nearby.

Most importantly perhaps, there is also the Kirin Beer Village, with free tours of the brewery.

P1000582

And so ends Bok’s Guide to Japan. This covers everywhere we’ve been so far at a high level, but there’s still a lot of places I haven’t mentioned. If you’d like specific details on any of these places (or other places/things) hit me up and I’ll go dredging around in the slush that is my brain.

 

Reckoner had its humble beginnings way back in June of 2013.

Founded by James Croft, along with Peter Wells and Anthony Agius they created what would go on to become one of Australia’s most highly regarded and award winning independent tech blogs.

With its uniquely Australian voice Reckoner is committed to offering a “no-holds-barred” approach to its writing. Beholden to no one but its audience. Reckoner’s goal is to remain completely transparent and honour the trust it’s built with its faithful readership.

Support Reckoner!
Thanks for stopping by. It looks like you're really enjoying the content so why not help a brother out and pitch in for a coffee.

Your support makes all the difference!