Japan: A Travel Overview

Japan, how I could talk about you for days. You have such a rich culture, such a long history, and such great food. So for all of you who have Japan on your list: go. Go because as soon as you come back, you'll want to go again and again and again.

But where should you go? I mean obviously you have to make choices here and there, you can't see everything and visit everywhere in a finite amount of time. So I'm here to give a basic, very very basic, overview of what are must see place and must do experiences.

First off: get a direct flight, if you can afford it. Getting to Japan is the first step, and if you can do it in one fourteen hour (from the Eastern US) flight go for it. It gives you more time in Japan, and you don't have to go through various country customs. The flight is the only part that sucks about getting to Japan, so make it as short as possible.

Where do you want to go?
There are a few questions you have to ask yourself when you visit Japan. Do you want to be in the city? Do you want to travel the mountain sides of Honshu? Do you want to experience the rural side of Hokkaido? Do you want a tropical paradise of Okinawa? The questions could go on and on and on. I personally would recommend going and staying in the cities of Japan. You are never too far away via train ride to get to the country sides, and the dichotomy you see while in the city is awe inspiring. The fact that you can go from one of the busiest places, e.g. the Shibuya crossing, to the serenity of Meiji shrine all within the same city is just mind blowing. There is also tons of things to do in almost every city so whichever one you land on, you'll be good to go.

Top Places
This is going to sound very generic but the top places you have to go in Japan are Tokyo, Osaka, Hiroshima, Niigata, and Kyoto. If you vacationing there I would choose one of those, or multiple. To give you an example I spent a week in Tokyo, a week, and all me and my friend were able to discover and experience was around what is considered "downtown". Tokyo is huge. Like unimaginably large. So do not expect to see everything one go around. But if I had to narrow down a few places, it would have to be Meiji shrine, Golden Gai (even though it is widely considered a tourist trap), almost entirety of Shinjuku, Ueno Park, and the Tsukiji Market. This is only a small handful of places to go within Tokyo, a small portion. And you'll find one thing common with all the cities I listed above: they all have a wide variety of shrines, accessible to different areas around them, and have a good nightlife. I live by the rule in Japan: Shrines in the day, bars at night. Why shrines and temples? Well besides from the fact that they are absolutely drop dead gorgeous, it allows you to really experience the real Japan. The culture that a lot of western media seems to "ignore" when reporting on it. Most people in the west see Japan as just technology and anime, when in fact it is so much more. These give you that insight. And this might just be biased of me, but they are honestly some of the most peaceful places I have ever visited. But when night falls, you can experience the opposite side of Japan. The wild, the fun, and the exhilarating side. If you have not seen Anthony Bourdain's episode on Tokyo in Places Unknown, I would highly recommend you watch it. And a prime example of the Japanese nightlife is can be found in Shinjuku. One of my favorite places in Tokyo is Golden Gai. While yes, the cover charges you may face seem outrageous, I would say the environment they have is priceless. The intimacy you experience with the bartender there is just so amazing. It's almost indescribable. These bars only have about five to 8 eats, so if you with a large group then well you out of luck. I easily can justify to myself that higher prices result in higher quality because generally it's true. Will you come across someone trying to rip you off? Of course you will, it's human nature. If something seems way to sketchy to be true, generally it is. Also bartenders in this area generally can get ripped off by tourists. I'm talking about the one's who don't do their research and act completely disrespectful. For example we went into this one bar who's only "cover" was that you buy at least one drink. That's very reasonable considering their prices were standard. This larger group of six people came in, sat down, and DIDN'T order. If I was the owner I would have been infuriated too. These places can't hold many people, so if you have people just taking up space it really effects their earnings as a business. So I would say take the cover charges with a grain of salt and be respectful, and you'll have a good time.

Must Do Experiences
Now I'm going to give you a warning: Not all must do experiences will be here. For me to do that would involve me quitting my day jobs and shutting myself in. While that sound appealing, I'd rather not. Instead I'll just give you a few recommendations. The first would be getting yourself to see a show at Robot Restaurant. Now yes again, this is also considered to be a "tourist trap" but this show is just an intense attack on you senses, with the drinks and the lights and the sounds, and - you get the picture. Watch a YouTube video on it and you'll see what I mean. The second would be getting up at the crack of dawn to see the Tsukiji tuna auction. It's almost indescribable how much these tuna go for, and prices people are willing to buy them for. I mean believe me, the taste of these tuna is absolutely delicious. You'll also want to make sure you go to a Japanese beach. My favorite has to be on the shore of Pacific in Toyohashi. The waves are just so calming and it's a nice place to relax and just enjoy. You'll also want to get to a themed bar. Let's just say these places commit 100%, no corners cut. It's just a great dining and drinking experience. Eat everything and anything you come across. As Andrew Zimmern says, "If it looks good, eat it". Japan's food is some of the best, the sushi (which if you didn't know is all about the rice) is amazing, the sashimi is fresh, noodle are fantastic, and the presentation is just drop dead gorgeous. Be gluttonous when your there, trust me you won't regret a thing. The final must do experience is (if you can and have the time to) climb Mt. Fuji. It's a truly rewarding and exhilarating time that will give you tons of stories and keep you entertained for decades to come.

Safe Travels


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