The Ultimate Guide to Traveling Japan (for Beginners)

Whether you’re an avid manga reader, or lover of Japanese culture, or just fascinated about Japanese technology, there is always something mystifying and beautiful about Japan that draws millions of tourists in the past decade.

Today, I’m thrilled to share one of my three favorite cultures encountered while traveling: Japan. This is a three part series response to the 21 Weeks of Travel Blogging Challenge, so please check out the rest of my responses!

The Ultimate Guide to Traveling Japan for Beginners

Who is this Guide For? 

This guide is for anyone and everyone to peruse. Though, I am writing it specifically for:

  • People who have general knowledge of Japan and want to catch a glimpse of the magnificent country in 3 weeks.
  • People who like cool technology and want to see it in person.
  • People who like anime, but want to know what real life Japanese culture is like.
  • People who like adventures, because really is one big adventure.

When to Go

The timing of going to Japan is very important as it could change your itinerary completely. Japan is a very versatile country. On top of a million reasons to visit the country, here some highlights of seasonal activities in Japan.

  • Winter for the hot springs and skiing/snowboarding.
  • Spring for the famous and beautiful Cherry Blossoms.
  • Summer for the fireworks and climbing Mt. Fuji.
  • Autumn for the beautiful foliage amidst Japanese culture.

Japanese Festivals (Matsuri) occur year round, entailing large parades, floats, food, traditional clothing, and costumes. Each shrine has its own local festival, so you will encounter one unique to the location you are visit.

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Transportation

Japan is mostly accessible by plane, where tickets are typically quite expensive to buy, unless you could find the cheap off season ticket deal. Throughout the year, there are various Japan flight deals from theflightdeal.com, as little as $600 for a roundtrip ticket!

Once you’re in the country, there are railway systems everywhere. Tokyo Metro is the subway system of Tokyo, taking you anywhere you need with in 30 minutes. Be mindful of the time though, because unlike NYC subways, this one is not open 24/7. These are much more economical than taking a taxi, as those could run you a hundred dollars. We had to take the taxi on hour first night in Japan because our flight had arrived too late and the metro had closed.wp-image-1577289470

If you want to catch a good glimpse of Japan in a short amount of time, I highly recommend purchasing the Japan Rail (JR) Pass, which was by far the most expensive thing we bought (about $200/pass). However, it is entirely worth it to ride a bullet train (on my bucket list) and cruise through the country within hours. They also have an option for regional passes, which are more economical. 

Luckily, through Couchsurfing, we met our good friend Keisuke, who had a car and showed us around Yokohama for a couple of days.

Biking is a great way to explore the streets of Japan, especially while exploring architecture in the rural areas. Imagine riding around Kyoto on a beautiful afternoon by beautiful temples in the Autumn. /sigh

Useful Things to Bring

If you’re traveling with backpack, check out my comprehensive guide to what to pack! However, I just want to reiterate the importance of bringing:

  • Smartphone, with pre-installed:
    • Google Translate
    • Google Maps

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Walking down the streets of Tokyo, there are minimal amounts of English in writing or speaking. We heavily relied on our translation apps, including when we interacted with our Couchsurf friend.

Accommodations

Generally, accommodations in Japan are cheaper than the United States, but only by a smidge.

Airbnbs

For those who aren’t familiar with this site, it is a fantastic accommodation option for travelers to stay with hosts (though still like a hotel, because all bedding and linen are provided). We used Airbnb throughout our travel in Japan. Without knowing language or pricing in Japan, Airbnb provided us an authentic, cheap, and no nonsense stay with our hosts. Do get $40 off your first stay with Airbnb through our referral link here!

Capsule Hotel

Sleeping in a Japanese Capsule Hotel is exactly as it sounds, and has always been on my bucket list. I finally had my chance! Surprisingly, it not as cheap as you would expect, pricing around $30 to $50 per capsule. It features exciting amenities of a tiny door with blinds, a tiny TV, and a tiny desk to eat on!

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Manga Kissa

Have you slept in a manga book store before? It’s actually quite common in Japan! The pads in our private cubby makes a great bed for tired souls. This was our chance to take a break from wandering, and sit, read manga, cruise the internet, and sleep.

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Where to Go

Tokyo

Tokyo is the capital of Japan. One of the the most populated urban areas in the world, and a giant hub for technology, business, travel, culture, foods, weirdness, and much more. Tokyo is made up of several large districts with its own character.

  • Akihabara– electronic, anime, video games center.
  • Shibuya– temples, culture, foods. Don’t forget to check out the Shibuya Crossing (just a really busy pedestrian crossing that looks like a giant ant colony collision from above)
Kyoto-Osaka-Nara

Do visit the Kyoto-Osaka-Nara for the rich, authentic culture and traditions. The temples are beautiful and palaces magnanimous.

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Hiroshima

We were touched by the remnants of the Hiroshima bombing during World War II. Such a sad history for such a beautiful city. We were taken through a heart throbbing journey of recovery. History class lecture is nothing like being in the city itself.

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Things to Do

  • Check out the Tokyo Tower! It’s essentially a version of the Eiffel Tower, except it’s 13 meter taller!
Explore Culture and Temples

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  • Asakusa Temples – this area features a variety of beautiful temples. Traditional foods and souvenir items are bountiful here as well!

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Explore strange, but cool things in Japan
  • Cup Noodle Museum – We made our own cup noodles!!! I’ve been a huge fan of Ramen since my youth. Now, I finally made my own unique label and packaging (and eating it!), standing in front of the wall of ramen– feels amazing.

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  • Robot Restaurant – possibly the craziest dinner show I’ve ever been to. Our tickets were $40/person (includes dinner and drinks). No regrets, because this gave me just the experience of Japan that I expected. See my post on our adventures at the Robot Restaurant here!

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  • Vending Machines – Ramen vending machine? Yes, please!

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  • Who wants a black burger?

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  • Using the Toilet is an adventure in itself. No English to indicate whether or not there’s going to be water splashed up my butt. Awesome.
Feed your nerdy interests:
  • Ghibli Museum (anime fan) – Upon going to Japan, I knew I had to visit Studio Ghibli. I’m a huge fan of the animated films and their soundtracks. The studio is as amazing as I imagined!! Don’t forget to order your tickets early, as they are booked out veryyyy far back. <3 Let me know when you go!

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  • Manga Kissa – Rows on rows on rows of manga! *drools*

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  • Pokemon Center – My favorite starter Pokemon, Torchick!

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  • Hop on the Hogwarts Express at Harry Potter World!!!

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Feed your love for cute things:
  • Hello, Kitty!

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  • Maid Cafe

What to Eat

Great Tea Kit Kats – 258 yens ($2.30 dollars), whereas in the US could run up to $6/bag. If you’ve never heard of this, it may sound a little weird to you, but they are so delicious.

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Sushi – What’s Japan without Sushi? Even though we’re vegetarian, there were awesome options for us on the Sushi belt! 

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Soba Noodles, Ramen, and Tempura

Dango (Sweet Japanese Dumplings)- if you’ve seen Clannad, you’ll know what I’m talking about. wp-image-86198478

Onigiri (Rice balls) – sold across all 7/11, possibly one of  my favorite Japanese foods, it is so delicious. A perfect snack with all the ingredients I love.

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Fun Culture Facts

  • Walking and eating is frowned upon. We ate our home-cooked meal out of a grocery bag on the sidewalk.
  • Tokyo Metro rush hour in Japan is BAD, even comparable to NYC rush hour subway. The trains are so cramped! The best way to step into the cart is by facing the other direction and stepping in, so that no awkward looks pass as you shove yourself into the crowd. Very professional.

While there is an endless amount of things I could write about Japan, I would love to hear any questions, stories, and comments you all have! I would happy to write more or clarify, and especially to hear your thoughts! 

Thanks for reading! This is a response to the 21 Weeks of Travel Blogging Challenge!

Interested in participating in the Weekly Travel Blogging Challenge? Feel free to make your own today!

Week 1:  A favorite travel photo of you and intro
Week 2: Little known tips
Week 3: Funny story
Week 4: Misadventures
Week 5: Top three cultural foods
Week 6: Unusual travel activities/photos
Week 7: Inspiration for traveling
Week 8: Five favorite travel blogs
Week 9: Gross/disgusting stories
Week 10: Best adventures while traveling
Week 11: What’s in your backpack?
Week 12: Happy and sad stories
Week 13: Unique cultures encountered
Week 14: Top three favorite destinations
Week 15: Travel regrets
Week 16: Scary and cool travel stories
Week 17: Things to purge
Week 18: Humbling things learned from traveling
Week 19: Confessions
Week 20: Travel bucket list (countries/activities)
Week 21: Your challenge post highlights and what you’ve learned during this challenge

These awesome people are also doing the challenge!!! Click to see their stories!

 

Gross/Disgusting Travel Stories

Welcome back, my fellow travel enthusiasts!


This week, I’d like to share some of the grossest and most disgusting things that has happened to me while traveling. (I apologize in advance if I grossed you out with this post)

This one’s a difficult one to write, because it takes a lot to gross me out. I’m a very laid-back traveler, could eat from a (clean) floor and sleep in a hole if I needed to.

So what in my travels has given me the irks?

My first thoughts came back to the time I had almost died on my motorbike. I thought of the image of how my wounds had infected, pussed, healed, infected- and repeat- for about a week because of my constant activity. Then I thought of how I had witnessed a ping pong show in Thailand, in a “when in Bangkok” night out with my friends. Which after a lot of contemplation, I decided that I did not want to write about because it did not contribute informatively or positively to my blog.

Generally, the easiest way to gross people out is through dirtiness, unfortunate gory events, and food.

Finally, I decided with my specialty. Food.

You see, Southeast Asians are very creative when it comes to food. As a food enthusiast, let me introduce you to some of the grosses foods I’ve encountered while living in Southeast Asia.

I should give a full disclosure that I am vegetarian, and have been vegetarian all my life! I have been exposed to these foods through culture, friends, family, and travel. Take my input with a grain of salt.

Number 1: Balut (Fermented Embryo)

Hailing from the country I was born in, Philippines. Balut, hột vịt lộn, fertilized duck embryo is EGGxactly as it sounds, HA!

You may have heard of this one, or may have even encountered and tried it! Fertilized egg, boiled, and served is one of the most famous strange delicacies in the Philippines and Vietnam.

You can even hear and feel the crunch and slither of the baby duck in your mouth. Ooh!

Image result for balutAs you can see from the photo, there is plenty of juice in the egg to have a sip of it to get the full experience. This gem is typically enjoyed with beer. Check out an this guy eating his first balut with locals’ guidance!

Number 2: Tarantula

Tarantula is a famous street delicacy in Cambodia (and I’ve also seen these on Thailand’s streets). They’re usually deep fried, but I’ve also seen them eaten alive before! Spiders were eaten dating back to the Khmer Rouge days, where food were in short supply. Image result for fried tarantulaOften times, you can still their little tarantula hairs sticking out! I’ve never eaten these (being vegetarian), but they have been described by my friends as “tasting like chicken.”

Number 3: Deep fried insects & grub

One step up (or down?) from tarantulas are all the other critters. Scorpions, crickets, cockroaches, larvae, you name it. I saw hundreds of these vendors on the streets of Bangkok. Often times, with signs saying “pay to take picture.”

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Number 4: Libido boosting foods

  • Snake Wine
    • It turns out that using snakes as medicine can help clear a lot of illnesses. In the case of snake wine, snakes are stuffed and fermented in rice wine until its poison seeps throughout the jar.
    • Sounds cruel right? Well, fun fact: in 2013, a snake that has been fermented for 3 months jumped out and bit a woman who had wanted to take a swig of the medicinal wine.
    • In all seriousness, stuffing/drowning snakes in a jar is inhumane and illegal- one of the few souvenirs to avoid while on vacation.

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  • Penises and testicles of deer, snake, bull are believed to provide plenty of energy. There are restaurants upon restaurants dedicated to this wonder of a treatment. Gross. Image result for penis restaurant

Number 4: Grass juice

  • I first encountered grass juice in Thailand, where everybody was drinking it like it was the elixir of life.
  • Only upon research did I find out that there were health benefits to drinking wheat grass.

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You may have heard of the telltale infamous/famous Durian.

Personally, I love durian. It’s one of those foods that you just have to get accustomed to! But it’s smell is possibly one of the most pungent in this entire world. It is also very suitable as a weapon (average cause of fatality per year: 1). If you get your hands on it, do try!

Did you try any of these foods? Would you?

I’ve always loved watching Bizzare Foods. These foods makes a great story and challenge. Very mind opening to know there are those who eat like that across the world. It’s not to say that other countries don’t have any crazy cuisines, but Southeast Asia certainly trumps it for me.


That’s all folks!! What did you think? What are some gross travel stories you have?

Thanks for reading! This is a response to the 21 Weeks of Travel Blogging Challenge!

Interested in participating in the Weekly Travel Blogging Challenge? Feel free to make your own today!

Week 1:  A favorite travel photo of you and intro
Week 2: Little known tips
Week 3: Funny story
Week 4: Misadventures
Week 5: Top three cultural foods
Week 6: Unusual travel activities/photos
Week 7: Inspiration for traveling
Week 8: Five favorite travel blogs
Week 9: Gross/disgusting stories
Week 10: Best adventures while traveling
Week 11: What’s in your backpack?
Week 12: Happy and sad stories
Week 13: Unique cultures encountered
Week 14: Top three favorite destinations
Week 15: Travel regrets
Week 16: Scary and cool travel stories
Week 17: Things to purge
Week 18: Humbling things learned from traveling
Week 19: Confessions
Week 20: Travel bucket list (countries/activities)
Week 21: Your challenge post highlights and what you’ve learned during this challenge

 

These awesome people are also doing the challenge!!! Click to see their stories!

Travel Blogging Challenge – Week 2 (Little Known Travel Tips)

Over the years, I’ve learned so many things from trial and error. I’ve slept on the border, I’ve fallen from a motorbike, I’ve almost drowned while scuba diving, I’ve lost some of my most prized possessions, I’ve almost fallen from a coconut tree, and many more which I can tell you about in Travel Challenge Week 4 (Misadventures). This week, I want to tell you what mistakes I’ve seen people make (including myself).


Little Known Travel Tips, by order of importance

For an authentic experience, skip the tourist destinations, do what the locals do. … I know right? Easier said than done. But from my experience, touristy landmarks are always crowded, commercialized, and expensive. They are almost always full of street sellers, all up in your face.

On the other hand, I’ve done some really cool things and met awesome locals through Couchsurfing, an excellent resource for meeting locals and have a free place to stay. Talking to other travelers also help in my decision for the next destination! Here are some awesome experiences I’ve had, off the beaten track.

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Semana Santa (Easter) floral carpet on the streets

To get the most authentic things to do, I turn on my creep mode, and start watching the locals. I steer clear of tourists, and follow the locals to the best spots in town. For example…

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Found this wonderful indoor market while wandering around the village.

Food is a big part of my travels. I always seek local foods while walking about. Here are some platos tipicos from Couchsurf hosts and local markets! Delicious~~ <3

Don’t plan everything. I know it’s really hard to do when you only have a week of vacation. I’ve met people who visit New York City with their every hour scheduled out. It becomes more of a chore than a vacation. You’ll start stressing out when things don’t work out as planned… and altogether unpleasant.

I like to put in an extra free day or week so that I can just wander around serendipitously. My partner and I always travel slower than we planned out. When we moved to New York, we had only intended to stay for 3 months. We ended up staying for almost a year!

Don’t be too stingy. I am so guilty of this. Spending, especially in a foreign country where the money value is lower than the United States, can be tricky sometimes. I have once slept in a tent outside someone’s house (with permission) in the rain instead of paying $15 to get a motel room. Yeah, I know. It’s crazy that I didn’t do it. But $15 was considered a lot of money in Honduras!! Another time, I rode on a rickety bus for $1 instead of paying $20 for a shared private van. There, I got my brand new cellphone stolen.

Phew! So be it whether I missed out on experience or end up losing things, I have made it a goal to learn when to spend and when to save. Being too thrifty can hurt.

It’s okay to travel alone. I’ve felt the most freedom and met some of the coolest people while traveling solo. I loved it because I was free to do anything I wanted. I traveled on my own on some days, but more than often, I met dozens of people at random hostels and traveled together.  Spontaneity is 80% of the fun. After I met my partner, I experienced the joy of sharing my experiences with a significant other. I appreciate and love both travel styles. Don’t be the one who is scared of traveling alone!

Working while traveling is a wonderful substitution for a 9-5 job. In today’s digital age, people can now work with flexibility. I teach English as a Second Language, earning $22+ an hour. Learn more about my post on it here!

Invest a little bit in the right gear. For a year, I lived out of my backpack. That means a few things. All the clothes I wear needs to be hand picked carefully. I’ll admit, most my clothes are cheap, mostly from thrift stores. However, I want to stress the importance of travel gear.

Because I carry so much stuff on my back, I decided to buy a backpack with a suspension system. This was my best decision ever. I chose a 40L bag to easily fit the bag as a carry on on a plane. It fit everything, including my tent, tent poles, and clothes. On my back, with straps on correctly, I hardly felt any weight!

Check out prices on Amazon!

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Hiked 13,000 feet up a volcano with my awesome backpack!

I would say my backpack was the most expensive thing I owned. I would also invest in down feather jackets for its warmth and light weight, a lightweight backpacker tent, and an ultra light inflatable sleeping pad. Clothes were cheap where we traveled, and I knew I would be shopping, so I didn’t bring that many. My shoes were just from Walmart. So take my advice with a grain of salt. 😉

Immerse in the travels, get off your phone. When I lost my phone (pick-pocketed in Guatemala), I thought my world had ended. Then I began to realize how much my phone had controlled me. I began to see independently, outside of my selfies. The freedom was eye-opening. I suggest everyone try it. Instagram can wait!


That’s all folks!

Thanks for reading! This is a response to the 21 Weeks of Travel Blogging Challenge!

Read more of my posts from the Travel Blogging Challenge:

Week 1:  A favorite travel photo of you and intro
Week 2: Little known tips
Week 3: Funny story
Week 4: Misadventures
Week 5: Top three cultural foods
Week 6: Unusual travel activities/photos
Week 7: Inspiration for traveling
Week 8: Five favorite travel blogs
Week 9: Gross/disgusting stories
Week 10: Best adventures while traveling
Week 11: What’s in your backpack?
Week 12: Happy and sad stories
Week 13: Unique cultures encountered
Week 14: Top three favorite destinations
Week 15: Travel regrets
Week 16: Scary and cool travel stories
Week 17: Things to purge
Week 18: Humbling things learned from traveling
Week 19: Confessions
Week 20: Travel bucket list (countries/activities)
Week 21: Your challenge post highlights and what you’ve learned during this challenge

This challenge showcases your experience through travel stories, cultures, foods, advise, lessons, and more. You don’t need to be a world traveler to join. I encourage everyone to write and share your cool experiences, near and far! You can check out the entire challenge in the original post here! Please also visit Julie and Vikkilawman as they will be with me in this blogging journey!