Let me start by saying that this trip was by far one of the most interesting, exhausting, but amazing trips I’ve ever been on. It almost tops Tanzania as far as crazy things that happened while we were there. It was an amazing experience, and most definitely a trip of a lifetime. And the bottom line is that if you’ve ever wanted to go to Japan, you should totally go, even if you get to the end of this blog post. Haha!
Before you ever plan to go, be sure you have a great travel buddy. I went with my amazing travel buddy and friend, Allison. We have now traveled 3 continents, 4 countries, and many states through the US together in the last 3 years. So before this trip, we at least knew we could handle spending lots of time around each other. Well, like I mentioned, this trip was quite the adventure, and no matter what happened (you’ll find out more below), we were able to figure out whatever weird situation we were in with positive attitudes and hardly any complaints. We are also quite the navigators and adventurers, so we went everywhere and were able to navigate with little wi-fi and figure most things out on our own before asking for help. Though, when we did ask for help, the locals would literally walk us to our destination or draw us a map.
Many of you that I know are probably wondering how the idea of traveling to Japan came about. Well, it all started with a plan to go to France with my same friend, Allison. But then I got the flu the day before we were suppose to leave. Without getting anyone else sick, we decided it would be best for me to stay behind. But Allison was kind enough to say, “we’ll just go on another trip soon, so be thinking of where you want to go!” So, I started researching pretty much everywhere in the world to find the best place during April, when we both had a wedding-less weekend. Apparently not many people wanted to get married over April Fools weekend. Anyway, we talked about going places like Fiji, Bali, somewhere in South America (because neither of us have been yet), Italy, and many more. Then we found some cheap flights to Japan, it was cherry blossom season, and that’s where it all began.
From here on out, I’ve outlined our trip and tips along the way in a bullet point fashion. Read the rest for fun or if you ever plan to take a trip to Japan!
Tokyo > Nagano > Osaka > Kyoto > Himeji > Kofu > Head (near Mt. Fuji) > Tokyo
We both enjoyed Kyoto the most and could have stayed there a whole week. So, I definitely recommend going there!
Insight & Travel Tips
A little more than a few tips if you plan to go to Japan:
- Backpacking is possible – even as a photographer with 2 cameras and 4 lenses.
- Carry less things and weigh it before you leave. I don’t recommend carrying 90 lbs on your back…I may or may not have experience and back problems now. Haha
- If you don’t own a pair of noise cancelling headphones, you need to buy some before you leave. You’ll be glad you did. I brought mine and only had to charge them once and probably used them over 75 hours with all the traveling. It was seriously the only way I was able to sleep on the long plane ride.
- Leave bags in coin lockers at train/subway stations you want to enter/leave from and just carry a backpack around when sightseeing.
- They’re so clean, you won’t need to bring a toothbrush, toothpaste, hairbrush, or anything for the shower – they have it all for you!
- Book hostels early! There are some great ones and they’re SUPER affordable. Like $25-50/night!
- Stay 2-3 days in one spot to really enjoy it! We hopped all around, and it was great, but I wish we stayed in one spot for longer.
- Carry a small trash bag – there a very few trash cans in all of Japan. And many places won’t even take your trash. Trust me, I tried. Even tried to be sneaky, and one of the employees came and found me to give me back my cup that I threw away.
- Be prepared to take a plane, train, subway, taxi, pretty much anything but a boat (unless this is your plan) to travel around Japan.
- Of course, before you go, get an international cell phone plan through your cellular provider.
- One thing I wish we did was purchase or rent a wi-fi hotspot. It would have come in handy many times, but we made it without it. You can actually rent them from the airport on your way into the city, but we forgot to do that. I hear it’s around $7-10/day that you use it.
- Definitely take advantage of the onsens which are natural, Japanese hot springs all over the country.
- Always have Yen – most places don’t take credit cards.
- Order the train pass in advance and have it shipped to you – this worked so well for us getting around in Japan!
Apps you’ll Need to Download
- Hopper – this is the best app for finding flights. It allows you to put in a destination and the dates you plan to go, and if the price drops or rises, it will notify you. It will even alert you when flights to a similar location are at a great rate.
- Splitwise – if you plan to go on ANY trip with someone you wish to split bills with, this is the app you’ll need!
- Say Hi – Translator app – there are many translator apps to choose from, but we liked this one most out of several that we had because it allows you to speak or type a conversation and it translates instantly.
- Trip Advisor – you can download maps of different cities before you leave and use them without internet.
- Google Trips – a great app to plan things to do in different cities.
Food you must try (if you’re an adventurous eater):
- Crab on a stick – we had this in Kyoto near the Torri Gate paths
- Rice balls (bacon wrapped)
- Cabbage pancake – there’s a Japanese name for this, I just can’t remember what it was.
- Cherry blossom ice cream – we found this only in Himeji across from the Castle
- Rice bowl
- Milk Tea
- Kobe beef (on a stick)
- Octopus – at least try it – I had the octopus balls and thought they were okay, but not amazing.
- Anything on a stick or at a food stand – it’s all SO good.
Facts from our Trip
- Our trip was 10 days, and in those 10 days on the ground, we:
- Walked 60 miles and over 155,269 steps
- Traveled over 1,100 miles via train
- and many more miles (rather, kilometers) of Taxi rides, train rides, and buses
We felt pretty good about those facts! Especially considering we carried everything we had, including camera gear, everywhere we went.
Things I Learned
- Japanese people are SO nice and hospitable – we were welcomed so well
- Whenever we went to a restaurant, it was customary to take off your shoes.
- Most restaurants have blankets (total win for me – America needs to catch on!!).
- Restaurants also have buttons on the table for when you need a waiter. Amazing!
- Places usually don’t open until about 10am or 11am and typically close around 10pm, unless you’re in a small town like Heda, where everything closes at 6pm.
- Everything is on the left, not the right!
- Everything is very orderly and clean, however, there are hardly any trashcans. I’m still not sure how this is possible.
- Always have Yen!! I had about ¥33,000 (about $300) with me, then I ran out near the end of the trip and we were basically stranded in one area until we were saved by Catsia! So, carry at least $500 worth in Yen!
These are SOME of the weird/interesting things that happened in Japan:
- A random guy riding his bike stopped to hug us and asked us where we were from.
- Many people stopped to take our picture or ask us where we were from. If you are blonde (and have light skin) you’ll be stopped an average of once a day for a question, statement, or picture. So, if this is you, and you love attention from strangers, this is the place for you! Haha
- Hitchhiking is a thing in Japan – without going into 5 paragraphs of details, we did this once. Thank you, Catsia!
- One hotel that we booked didn’t have a working phone number, so when we got there after 11pm, the hotel was already closed. This was another long story, but to make it short, we were able to get to our beds before 2am and didn’t sleep outside.
- We tried 100 wines in a day – if you love wine, go to Kofu for $10, unlimited wine tastings.
- Apparently we booked a hotel in the ritzy side of Tokyo for our first night and hardly saw anyone, so we thought it was quite funny we didn’t see people in Tokyo the first day. But we found everyone when we stayed there the last two nights on the other side of town!
- It was not uncommon to have walked 10 miles/25k steps in a day
- Broke my first lens… 🙁 I had my camera on my cross-body strap and it fell off on the last day we were there. Of course it was my $2,500 lens. #thankgoodnessforinsurance Oh, and if you have a cross-body strap for your camera without a second attachment, ditch it and get a holdfast, which is what I should have brought with me.
- Adult only hotels are a thing there (not the Mexico, resort type) – just forewarning you!
I hope this was in-depth enough for you to decide if you want to go to Japan! And if you were considering going before, you should still go! Ok, now you can go and enjoy some pretty pictures of Japan!
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