A Month Around Japan
Japan is a beautiful country with a rich history and such kind and graceful inhabitants. With so much to offer from the ski slopes of Niseko to the bustling streets of Tokyo, there's something for everyone. Most visitors travel to this island nation for the powdery ski slopes, the vast and rich history, the beautiful scenery, delicious and exotic foods, and/or the bustling nightlife and Karaoke bars.
Getting into Japan is relatively easy with flights from most of the world operating regularly through busy Tokyo Narita, Tokyo Haneda or Osaka Kansai International Airports. The vast majority of us will not need a visa to travel to Japan and you simply turn up and have your passport stamped. If you're an Aussie tourist you have 90 days visa free travel up your sleeve.
If you're arriving through Tokyo, like most of us do, getting into the city is the first challenge. You can take a taxi, but be prepared to pay for it. Alternatively get the train right into the city. If you're coming from Narita Airport the journey will take you about 50 minutes on average. The JR Narita Express (NEX) is the best way to go and will take you right into the city centre including popular locations Shinjuku and Shibuya, however it is the most expensive. If you want the cheaper option consider the Keisei Train line which will take longer and will be busier, especially at rush hour. This is a good way to experience the chaotic Japanese trains first hand. Arriving through Haneda Airport is more convenient in that it's closer to the city and cheaper to get there. The Keikyu Train line will see you arrive at the likes of Shinjuku or Shibuya in about 30 minutes.
For those of you that don't speak Japanese it might be slightly daunting at first when attempting to communicate with the locals. The vast majority of them do not speak much English! Give it a go though, try a few words, they'll love you for it. The Japanese are extremely polite people and will not be offended by your half baked attempt to speak in their difficult and challenging language.
The world's largest city is a bustling hype of excitement filled with weird and wonderful things where people are always on the go. Be captivated by the busy streets in Shibuya and Shinjuku while tasting the various local Japanese cuisines and staring in awe at the constant vibrance of this beautiful metropolis. The most popular areas to stay in Tokyo are in the Shinjuku and Shibuya areas where you will find everything from backpacker hostels to 5 star hotels. You'll find yourself right in the action and be able to freely and easily get around to see the sights.
Using the subway to get around Tokyo is super convenient and relatively cheap. Subway tickets are purchased from the machines in the stations and most are in both English and Japanese. It can be tricky to work out at first, but you'll get the hang of it. For those who want the easy option Tokyo has a hop on hop off bus that will take you to the many sights around the city including the Tokyo Tower, Roppongi Hills, and midtown Tokyo.
For those who wish to escape the chaotic city, consider a day trip to the beautiful Mt Fuji, located about 2 hours away. Mt Fuji can be reached by the bullet train (Shinkansen) or by private coach organised through the many tour operators or through booking online.
Bullet Train (Shinkansen)
After spending a few fun filled days in Tokyo and eating your way around Shinjuku it's time to head to Tokyo train station and jump on the bullet train (Shinkansen) to your next exciting destination. The bullet trains in Japan are extremely efficient and if you're running late they won't wait! The most convenient and cheapest way to utilise the bullet trains throughout Japan is to pre purchase a JR Pass. Depending on how long you are travelling in Japan JR passes can be purchased for 7, 14, or 21 days with costs around AUD $330, AUD $530 & AUD $680 respectively. Whilst this may seem expensive, the JR passes are unlimited and can be used across all JR train lines and some bus/ferry lines. It will easily work out cheaper then purchasing several one way tickets. Once you have the JR pass you simply turn up to the train station, show your JR pass and passport, and get booked onto the next train to wherever it is you may wish to go.
Jump on the bullet train and head to your next exciting destination, Nagoya! Nagoya is the third largest city in Japan, located approximately 2 hours and 40 minutes to the south by bullet train. Whilst Nagoya isn't usually on most peoples Japan bucket list, it does have a few attractive sights to see. Nagoya is a good half way point as well as a seamless connection point for other Japanese cities, including the mountains!
If you do decide to spend the night here, be sure to check out the Nagoya Castle, The Nagoya TV Tower, and Hisaya Odori Park which lights up spectacularly at night. For a good feed head to the Osu Shopping district. A great place to wander around have some dinner and do some shopping.
The next morning head to Nagoya train station and ride up into the mountains to the small quiet town of Takayama, about a 2 hour journey. Takayama is famous for its beautifully preserved narrow streets and traditional Japanese houses. Step back in time and stroll through the old town to get a feel for an ancient Japan that retains its traditional touch unlike other places. Spend a few hours on the Higashiyama walking course where you can pass ancient castles and temple town.
By night Takayama is a quiet and calm place, peaceful and free of the chaotic city atmosphere experienced into Tokyo or Nagoya. Find yourself a quiet bar and indulge in some traditional Sake and freshly made Sushi. There are also a number of vendors on the peaceful streets offering lights snacks and traditional Japanese street food.
The following morning head to the Takayama bus station, located next to the train station. There you can take a bus to the town of Shirakawago, about a one hour journey. Shirakawago is famous for its traditional farmhouses that are over 250 years old. The Ogimachi Village is the largest in the area. In winter, the farmhouses and the region as a whole are covered in snow... a truly spectacular sight. Hike up the side of the mountain and check out the view looking over the whole village. In the summer time you will see lush green vistas with beautiful colours and landscapes. A few hours walk around this ancient village is both relaxing and captivating.
After you've finished checking out the mountainous region, jump back on the train at Takayama and head for Kyoto, Japan's seventh largest city and often referred to as the most beautiful. The journey on the bullet train will take about 1 hour and 50 minutes. Bear in mind you will need to change trains at Nagoya.
There is much to do in Kyoto and I recommend a few days to take everything in. My favourite part was the Inari Shrine, often referred to as the red gates. A short subway journey from the main part of Kyoto and you're there! Admission to the shrine is free and you can wander through the red gates as slow as you want, there are plenty here to get that perfect selfie. Outside of the shrine you will find an array of locals cooking up a feast of street food, do yourself a favour and grab a snack before you go.
Often one of the most recognisable and noteworthy destinations in Japan is The Golden Pavilion or Kinkakuji Temple, located about 25 minutes by public transport from Kyoto station. The best way to access Kinkakuji Temple directly is by public bus or getting the subway to Emmachi Station and take a short bus ride to the Golden Pavilion. Admission to the site is 400 Yen and you can spend as long as you wish wandering around.
For a peaceful and tranquil walk head to the Arashiyama Bamboo Grove located about 20 minutes by train from Kyoto main Station. Arrive at Arashiyama station and walk the short distance until you get to the Bamboo Grove entrance, free admission! Take the time to walk around and take in the natural beauty of the tall and lush green bamboo. You will also pass through more ancient homes and quiet neighbourhoods.
After a long day of walking around and checking out the sites outside Kyoto, take a stroll down to the main part of town called Gion, Kyoto's famous Geisha district. Located around Shijo Avenue, you will find an abundance of restaurants, shops and bars located down the many narrow walkways including down the famous Pontocho Alley.
After a few days exploring Kyoto head back to the train station for your next adventure in Osaka. The bullet train will have you there in about half an hour. Osaka is the second biggest city in Japan and the third most populous. Osaka, like all Japanese cities is well connected by public transport, particularly the subway.
Dotonbori is their hub of entertainment filled with karaoke bars, nightclubs, restaurants and sushi bars. This vibrant district will have you in awe at the bright lights and vast variety of places to have drink and some dinner.
Unlike Tokyo and Osaka, Hiroshima has a more relaxed and quieter feel to it... whilst still being a major Japanese City. There are no subway lines though. If you arrive by train you will need to change once you're in the city to a street tram or take a taxi.
Once here, make sure you get down to the Peace Park located right in the CBD Centre. Here you can reflect on the history of the 1945 atomic bombing in this now peaceful city. There is no entry fee for the park and you can come and go at any time you like.
After getting a feel for Hiroshima and exploring the Peace Park, jump on the tram and head to Miyajima. The journey will take you about 35 - 40 minutes. When you arrive head over to the ferry terminal and take the quick boat ride across the water to Miyajima Island. On the Island you will find the famous Miyajima Shrine and deer roaming freely around the pathways looking for something to eat. The island also has many restaurants, cafes, street food, markets, historic districts, attractions, an aquarium, and a chair lift. To get the best view of the island, ascend up the mountain using the pathways to the chair lift/ropeway entrance. Take in the astonishing view of Mt Misen from high up. After returning from the top of the mountain take a stroll through town, buy some souvenirs and snack or some street food before jumping back on the ferry to the mainland.
After spending the last two weeks travelling around japan taking in the sights and getting amongst the culture it's time to hit the slopes for some skiing and snowboarding in the famous town of Niseko, located in the northern part of Japan In Hokkaido.
Take a flight from Hiroshima to Sapporo Chitose airport... landing on the snow covered runway. Your journey to Niseko will take around 2.5 hours on a coach. Along the way take in the sights and spectacular snow covered mountains. By the time you arrive, it's time to relax with a cold Asahi Beer in a local bar before hitting the slopes the following morning.
Grand Hirafu and Hanazono are the two main ski resorts in the area and the quality of the powdery snow does not disappoint! The spectacular scenery atop of the mountain is truly beautiful to go along with the flawless slopes. The resorts are open daily from 8am until 8:30pm at night for those who don't want to leave, or if you prefer having the mountain to yourself. The terrain caters to all levels of skiers/snowboarders from beginner to expert.
After a day shredding the gnar, nothing compares to a relaxing beer in the onsens located throughout Niseko. An onsen is a traditional Japanese hot spring or bath great for the muscles and to warm up from the cold temperatures outside. The pools might not be for everyone as you are all completely nude, thats right, no swimming costumes!... but you will have a small towel for modesty to cover up those private areas. This might be somewhat unfamiliar territory for westerners, but hey, when in Japan!
If you feel like a break from the slopes, consider a day trip to the nearby town of Otaru. It's about a 1.5 hour train journey which can be taken from nearby town of Kutchan, 15 minutes from Niseko. Trains do run regardless of the snowfall. Otaru is a quiet town located on the water. Filled with bars, restaurants and shops, seafood is plentiful and fresh! Because of its proximity to the coast it is cold! Wear lots of clothing to stay warm.
So there's Japan for ya... now go on and book your flight! If this post seems a bit daunting, hit us up for your custom Guidetinerary and we'll use our first hand knowledge to build your perfect hassle free Japanese getaway!