We have had first hand experience as to how difficult it is to try to plan a trip to japan if you want to head away from the big cities. There’s a guidebook to be written about everything that lies between Tokyo and Osaka that no one has ever written about.
What we have put together is an essential travel guide to Japan. This guide features what to look into before you leave to ensure you get as proper an experience as possible. This is a collation of some of the best travel tips that we have got from our followers. It has helped us prepare and hope it helps you too.
This is useful to calculate time travelling and fare: http://www.jorudan.co.jp/english/
The Mind of a Chef Season 1 – David Chang visits Japan multiple times each episode. Seriously. Just download it.
Destination Flavour – Japan by Adam Liaw. Watch here.
The Next Phase of Craft Beer in Japan: Al-Kee-Hol
Stuff You Should Know – Sushi
Stuff You Should Know – Karate
Planet Money Podcast – Waiting for Robot Nannies
Planet Money Podcast – Japans Lost Lesson
These books before you travel:
Unbroken, Laura Hillanbrand (read it before Jolie fucks it up as a movie). Warning may make you hate the Japanese. Still a good insight into their mindset.
Ryu Murakami, In the Miso Soup. Seriously fucked up, bit scary.
A guide to Tokyo, from an outsider (and insider) by the New York Times.
These books while you travel:
A copy of the book food-sake-tokyo, you can use it in Tokyo, but also throughout Japan as it helps to demystify the cuisine.
Japan Trains: Apple. Andriod.
The website http://www.insidekyoto.com/ was really helpfull
Airbnb is the future as hotel prices will cripple you in Tokyo. We used it exclusively during our travel. Get involved.
We found Inside Kyoto really helpful.
David Chang’s guide to the regional ramen of Japan.
- Shimokitazawa is the district we stayed in and it was great. Two stops to Shinjuku and 1 to Shibuya. We stayed here and it was adequate. Close to the station. Another simple Tatami mat room. https://www.airbnb.com.sg/rooms/3077265?s=S-mh
- In Shimokit check out Bear Pond Espresso and Village Vanguard.
Tsukemen, Rokurinsha 六厘舎- Tokyo Station, Ramen St.
Kagari Ramen. Tonkatsu made with Chicken. 850m from Tsukiji fish markets so makes a good lunch if you’ve gone to the outer market opening at 9am and had a bit of sushi. I used this blog to point and order. From Lucky Peach. http://www.eataku.com/post/76667079407/kagari-ginza-tokyo
Narukiyo Izakaya, Shibuya
Visit the fish market super early and then have sushi in one of the restaurants really close by. Go to Asakusa and visit the famous temple there and then walk to Ueno park or to Akihabara for all the technology shops. If there over the weekend, go to Harajuku and see all the youth culture then explore the shops and streets around Omotesando. Experience the buzz around Shinjuku at night time…. Try a computer games parlour.
Wish we had another night as it’s much more about the nightlife than Kyoto. See craft beer map. We stayed at Hotel Misono. For fucks sake don’t stay there it was the worst. But there was a super Okonomiyaki place a few doors down. Name not in English but with green signage and a monster queue out the front. Staying close to Namba is staying pretty close to the action. Think NYE every night, in a good food way.
Visit Sakai. It used to be the sword making hub of Japan and these days is where the best Japanese knives come from. It’s only 15 min by train from central Osaka. On that note, Sennichimae Doguyasuji, the “Kitchen Street” is a must – it’s in the heart of Namba.
- We stayed at Sim’s Cozy guest house Kyoto, http://www.simscozy.com/ booked it through AirBnB. Simple Tatami mat floor, shared bathroom. Was a short walk (15mins) from Gion or a really really quick Bus. We found ourselves going back to Gion daily so would consider staying even closer next time. Sims location is right near one of the most photogenic temples in Japan. Kiyomizu temple. Because it was so close we went 3 times, sunset was great. They also have bikes and Japan is very cycle friendly.
- The best afternoon I had was walking the back streets of Gion peering into the private ‘restaurants’. The main road is crowded with tourists but they don’t seem to venture off the main road.
- The buses in Kyoto were the best way to get around. 500yen day pass 230yen single trip. We definitely used it about 4 times a day making the day pass good value. They sold them at the guesthouse. But we loved biking around more
- This Gyoza was pretty gangsta. Good for a nibble and a beer before moving on: http://www.insidekyoto.com/senmonten-southern-higashiyama.
- Gogyo Ramen was really tasty, A more posh dining room than a normal Ramen restaurant, good for dinner. Close to the market: http://noramennolife.wordpress.com/2014/01/10/burnt-miso-ramen-at-gogyo/
- Takesebune. As recommended by Andy Hayler. Is like stepping into a time machine. Not the cleanest joint but excellent value. Just not that Andy Haylers Google Map is way fucking off.
- 100% Arabica – Just down the hill from the Pagoda that is near Kiyomizu Temple (see accom).
- We did this meditation class in Kyoto. 2200yen. It took about 45mins to get there by bus but was worth it. Much like the one we did in Laos but with better instruction, temple tour and tea: http://www.shunkoin.com/Meditation.html
- I’m didn’t think i’d really be into temples and shit but the Tenryu-ji Temple was one of the coolest places i’ve ever been. A perfect picture of Japan. Close to the Bamboo forest thing.
- Kyoto where you’ll want another 3 or 4 days. It’s not a huge city so if you stay somewhere not too far from the train station you can walk most places. Spend a day walking the temple route from Kiyo-mizu Dera northwards, along with the little back alley detours. On another day visit the golden pavilion which is a bus ride away and also Ni Jou Jou with its ‘nightingale’ floorboards.
We also had a pretty cool Onsen experience at Hakone-Ginyu. Hakone is a pretty sleepy place and there is not much to do other than soak naked in the bath.
· Hiroshima – interesting city for obvious reasons.
· Fukuoka – a great town but less obviously touristy.
· Nagasaki – again, interesting due to the atomic war museum (similar to Hiroshima), but has the benefits of a great location by the sea, the trading history and the inspiration for madam butterfly
· Shikoku – the smallest of the 4 islands – a bit more remote and great to drive around and explore – there’s a pilgrimage people do round the island on foot covering something like 80 temples – but I don’t suggest you do that as it takes about 2 months!
Wherever you go, you must stay at an onsen (spa) town for a few days and completely chill out – if you find the right one you’ll spend all day wandering around a quaint mountain village dipping in and out of natural hot springs, eating amazing food and sleeping like you never have before. My favourite – and one of my favourite places ever – is called Kurokawa in Kyushu. It’s picture perfect but out of the way. If you did make it there then also visit mount Aso and the national park around it – one of the world’s most active volcanoes. There are loads of other spa towns all over the country but make sure its traditional and stay in a traditional inn (ryokan) where they have Japanese style rooms and they’ll serve you amazing 7 course meals in your room. This is where to invest your holiday money – should be about £70-£100 each inc two meals. Cannot recommend the onsen enough – you get a real taste of old Japan (plus you get to walk around villages in a dressing gown thing bowing at other dressing gown people. That appeals to me. Obvs). The food we had at the onsen was incredible – it’s so important to them that you like it and that it is served beautifully.
Do you have any other tips to share? Just leave them in the comments below.