Why You Should Experience Japan at Least Once in Your Life

In Travel Destinations by Phoebe Nicolas

There is nothing not to love about Japan. Everything is spectacular – the scenic environment, the delectable food, the rich culture, and the friendly people. These are just some of the reasons why you should experience Japan at least once in your life.

To be able to travel to different countries for even just a few days  is always an amazing experience. I am blessed to be one of those people who are able to do so. Let me share with you my experience, traveling to one of the best destinations in my bucket list, the land of the rising sun – Japan.

Japan is an archipelago with four major islands. Each major region has a different landscape but the same climate all throughout the year. With that, there are so many places to visit in Japan – small towns to large cities.

After staying for a few days in this country, I realized that the list of reasons why people travel to Japan can go on and on. Japan’s unique culture, beautiful nature and sweet people make this country a destination popular among tourists who crave not only a relaxing scene, but a country with so much more to offer.

1. Experience Japan for their nice and friendly people

When asked what I love about Japan, one recurring answer I always give is the friendliness of the Japanese people. I wanted to place this as the first reason to love about Japan, because it is what you will surely remember the most. What I remember fondly is how the Japanese people are quick to warm up to tourists and very polite despite the language barrier.

The Japanese practice a long standing history of hospitality termed as “omotenashi”, meaning, to wholeheartedly take care of your guests. Omotenashi is widely present among the Japanese, from a simple greeting, bowing of head, saying a simple thank you, to offering you a drink.

Aside from being friendly and polite, most Japanese are willing to help out tourists despite the language barrier and difficulty of understanding each other. It can be quite difficult to travel around Japan without knowing how to speak their local language, so getting around is kind of tricky. It is a good thing the Japanese bystanders are keen on listening and would try their best to help with directions. They use their phones to translate questions and even talk to other Japanese people if they aren’t sure themselves. Because of the Japanese courtesy and friendliness, tourists often get easily spoiled and love being around them as well. The nice Japanese people make Japan a fairly safe country with a low incidence of crime – petty or not.

In response to the kindness and politeness the Japanese show to tourists, here are some manners and gestures we should keep in mind to reciprocate that kindness and not accidentally offend them:

  • Do not eat while walking. To the Japanese, it is disrespect to the food. Find a quiet corner to finish your food.
  • Do not point at people or objects, as it is considered rude to them. Use open hand gestures instead of pointing.
  • When in a crowded public transport, avoid crowding and free up some space by holding your backpack in front with your hands.
  • Take off your footwear when entering houses, temples, or even some restaurants. This is a courtesy practiced among many Japanese places.
  • Having been used to staying on the right for slow pace when on stairs and escalators in most places, we brought this habit to Japan and stayed on the right side most of the time. In Japan, it is actually the opposite. When in a hurry, stay on the right side and when slowing down, move to the left side.
  • It is considered annoying to talk inside a moving train, so keep your story telling for later and enjoy a quiet subway ride.

2. Experience Japan for their food

There are plenty of restaurants around Japan with house specialties – dishes that they have perfected over the years and considered as the restaurant’s best seller. If you are the foodie type of traveler, then you will definitely love how the Japanese prepare their food and be amazed with the cooking techniques they use.

Japanese food is delicious because most dishes are made only from the freshest local ingredients, cooked to perfection, and served beautifully too. While the food is amazing, this is one aspect of your Japan trip that you might be spending a lot on, since good food will not come cheap.

Amazing, delectable, heavenly, mouth-watering, and sumptuous – to describe Japanese food in one word is impossible. It is not always raw fish, but there is no better place to try sushi than from its origins. But remember that Japanese cuisine is not just about the sushi rolls and fresh sashimi. There are plenty of other Japanese dishes to try. Here is a quick list of the different food you can try in Japan (that’s not sushi!):

  • Onigri – These are rice balls typically wrapped in nori seaweed. These are portable snacks you can eat on the go.
  • Gyoza – These are the Japanese version of dumplings, stuffed with chopped vegetables and ground meat and come fried or steamed.
  • Sukiyaki – This is a dish consisting of thinly sliced meat and vegetables simmered in a sweet soy sauce broth.
  • Katsudon – This simple dish is made up of rice and deep fried pork cutlets usually served with cabbage on the side and can come with a curry sauce.
  • Okonomiyaki – This is a grilled pancake batter with seafood, vegetables, and meat mixed into it.
  • Ramen  – These noodles originated in China but became widely popular in Japan over time. They are noodles placed in a soup with various toppings such as meat, tempura, egg or vegetables.
  • Zaru Soba or Cold  soba noodles – This chilled noodle dish is made from buckwheat flour and served with soy sauce based dipping sauce called tsuyu.
Matcha

One unique flavor that is popular in Japan is matcha, or green tea. You can find matcha-flavored sweets anywhere and almost in any food: milk, chocolate, ice cream, cookies, and even in burgers! To some people, matcha may taste like grass or even soil, but to many, it has a unique taste that they cannot get enough of.

Different flavored KitKat

If you are planning on buying your friends back home some sweets from Japan, buy them limited edition and unique KitKat flavors. KitKat bars in Japan come in a wide range of flavors, steering away from the convention white chocolate, milk chocolate, and dark chocolate variant. In Japan, you can get KitKat in these flavors: strawberry, matcha, pear, citrus golden blend, cinnamon, strawberry cheesecake, and even wasabi flavored.

I brought home several unique flavors of KitKat as souvenirs for my family and friends and they all absolutely loved it. Although some of these are also available in our country, the prices have shot up and it is way cheaper to buy it back in Japan.

Food presentation

The Japanese are also known for the visual presentation of their food. It is part of the Japanese culture to properly plate dishes, and in most restaurants, they plate food in a very cute fashion. The people who prepare the food take time to make them presentable.

3. Experience Japan for their efficient transportation system

Next to food, you will be paying a lot for your train rides in Japan, especially when in Tokyo. They can get pretty expensive, but do not fret, as they are very clean and modern – you actually get what you pay for.

Experience Japan’s Shinkansen (Bullet Train)

Japan has an efficient and very modernized public transportation, making it very easy to get from one place to another. It is also notoriously famous for Shinkansen, or the bullet trains, that reach speeds of up to 320 kilometers per hour, reducing travel time by more than 50%. Riding a bullet train in Japan is part of the whole travel experience – and even in a crowded train during rush hour, you’ll witness how organized, neat and polite Japanese people are.

Since trains are the main means of transportation in Japan, it means plenty of reading and deciphering maps. If you come from a place with a railway system, you would be at an advantage since you already know how they work.

For others unfamiliar with the railway system, riding a train in Japan can be overwhelming. It can be very confusing at first, with so many lines, crossovers, and labels on the map. However, after the first, second, and third ride, you will probably quickly get the hang of it. It is best to download transportation apps like  Hyperdia, Japan Navitime or Google Maps before travelling to Japan. Plus, the trains in Japan are super punctual. It is very rare for the trains to be delayed of their scheduled arrival and departure.

Riding trains in Japan does not only get you from one city to another, but provides an amazing view of the city too as you travel.

Transportation by means of trains in Japan can get pretty expensive. One way to save on money is to buy rail passes. It may sound like a big amount to pay at once, but in the long run, it will save you a lot of money, especially when getting around different prefectures.

When I was in Japan, I bought a Japan Rail Pass, which allowed me unlimited access to all Shinkansen lines for a defined period of time. This allowed me to hop on a bullet train and traveled from Nagoya to Osaka, then Kyoto all the way to Tokyo and back to Nagoya, without worrying for my transportation expenses. For discounted rail pass, head on to Klook and order your voucher which you can use to exchange as Japan rail pass (JR Pass) once you arrive in Japan. Buying from Klook is safe and hassle free so I highly recommend this.

Overall, the trains are clean, comfortable and efficient. The rail system covers almost the entire country, making it a wonderful way to get around.

Other transportation

Aside from the bullet train, other means of transportation in Japan include buses, ferry boats, and taxis. Similarly, these modes of public transportation are always punctual, ensuring you that you are on track with your itinerary. It is also good to note that while hailing taxis in Japan is quite easy, they are also quite expensive, so I wouldn’t recommend this if you’re on a tight budget.

4. Experience Japan for their rich culture and history

Long standing, rich history

Japan is a country with a rich and colorful history – one that is still infused into their modern life and practices. Japanese culture is really interesting, and has been around longer than anyone can remember. The Japanese culture is well-preserved in all aspects of their lives, and religiously passed on from one generation to another. When traveling in Japan, there is a lot of history to take in when visiting shrines, temples, castles, and even mountains.

Japanese cities may be highly urbanized with sky high buildings and modern transportation, but underneath it, the country’s traditional culture is everywhere you look.

Beautiful architecture

Japan boasts of beautiful architecture, both old and new buildings. The traditional Japanese design and architecture features unique designs, yet practical and not overwhelming. You will see these designs come to life as you see and enjoy the castles, shrines, and temples.

Go temple hopping

There are thousands of temples found everywhere in Japan. Some of them are conveniently located in the city while others are in the mountain lands. Aside from the beautiful architecture and design, each temple has a beautiful story behind it. Here are some of the famous temple and shrines in Japan.

  • Fushimi Inari-taisha
  • Kiyomizu-dera
  • Meiji Shrine
Visit world renowned areas

I had recently found out that Japan has 21 World Heritage Sites. This means that these selected sites are areas or landmarks selected by UNESCO as “having cultural, historical, or scientific significance, and is legally protected by international treaties”. That said, these areas in Japan are more than just picture-worthy ones, but have a deep meaning behind them.

Here’s a shortlist of these heritage sites:

  • Himeji Castle
  • Buddhist Monuments in Horyu-ji
  • Mount Fuji
  • Hiroshima Peace Memorial
  • Monuments of the Kyoto and Shiga Prefecture
  • National Museum of Western Art
Dress up in a kimono

To add the cherry to your photos, dress up in a kimono as you pose in front of a temple, shrine, or in front of the cherry blossoms. You do not even have to buy your own kimono or know how to wear one. There are a lot of kimono-rental shops all around Japan that let you rent and choose kimonos of your style and preference. The locals would be more than happy to assist you and offer hassle-free services.

The rental fee for each kimono depends on how long you plan to use it and how many of you will be renting it. Some kimono-rental shops even have tea ceremonies and other accessories such as parasols and mats, to get the perfect and most authentic photographs.

5. Experience Japan’s amusement and night life

Stroll around the famous Shibuya crossing

When in Tokyo, The Shibuya crossing is certainly something that you cannot miss. I have only seen it in movies before, and I could not believe that I was already standing on the famous crossing. It is thought to be one of the busiest crossings in the world – with thousands of people crossing simultaneously in a very orderly fashion.

I would not miss having my photograph taken at this street. My friend and I crossed so many times to get decent photographs and a lot of people, tourists mostly were doing the same.

Snap a photo with Hachiko

If you are a dog lover or a movie lover, then you probably have heard of the cute Akita named Hachiko. Also known as the world’s most loyal dog. Hachiko was famous for remaining loyal to his owner even after his owner’s death and is considered an icon by the Japanese. Do not forego the chance to snap a photo with this handsome dog. Hatchiko’s statue can be seen at the Shibuya station right in front of the famous Shibuya crossing.

Have a memorable night out at Shinjuku

With its towering skyscrapers, crowded streets and neon lights you can never miss a night at Shinjuku. One of Tokyo’s busiest subcenters, there are endless things to do in Shinjuku.

Shinjuku is the city’s hub for entertainment, dining, drinking, party and shopping. Shinjuku is also known to house one of the biggest Red Light district of Tokyo. But you wouldn’t notice it just walking around as it all goes on underground operation.

From its tiny quiet bars to the famous robot restaurant, plus the world’s busiest train station, Shinjuku will fascinate you at every turn.

Enjoy the rides and views at Disney Sea

One of the famous Disney theme parks you should not pass on visiting is Disney Sea. However, queues can get pretty long and you have to wait for minutes before you get to enter the park rides. A solution to this problem is to arrive early before the park opens so you can get fast passes – these allow you an express lane when falling in line at the rides.

Don’t miss the Harry Potter theme park at Universal Studios in Osaka

Another attraction not to be missed while in Japan is the Universal studios in Osaka. One of the best theme parks inside Universal studio in Osaka is the The Wizarding World of Harry Potter. I am not a big fan of Harry Potter, but I sure did enjoy the rides and the whole concept of castles and magic. Don’t forget to try the butter beer for a full Hogwartz experience!

Book your ticket in advance to Universal Studios in Osaka using Klook.

Visit a Japanese garden

Japanese gardens are intricately designed with well-maintained ornamental and flowering plants. In Japan, you can find any of these 3 types of gardens: miniature ones, sand and gravel ones, and gardens nearby tea houses.

You can admire the beauty of a Japanese garden anytime of the year. The cherry blossoms look pristine in spring, and the earth tones give you a warm feeling in autumn. Some gardens you want to try out include: Rikugien in Tokyo, Ritsurin in Takamatsu, and Ryoanji in Kyoto.

Take a dip at an onsen

Japan has abundant natural wonders, including a lot of inland bodies of water. Onsen are geothermal hot springs found all throughout Japan. The mineral content of the water in an onsen can vary depending on what region of Japan you are. The Japanese believe that soaking in an onsen produces health benefits such as skin hydration and relief from aches, sores, and pains. More than a relaxing experience, bathing in an onsen is part of the Japanese culture.

Watch a live geisha performance

To complete the Japan travel experience, head out to a geisha performance. It can be a treasure hunt looking for establishments that still have geishas performing. The best places to catch these beautiful geishas are to the traditional towns such as Higashi Chaya in Kanazawa or Gion in Kyoto.

If you cannot seem to book a geisha performance, hang around the streets around dinner time and wait for geishas to pass by as they head towards their respective areas.

Go skiing or snowboarding

Some of the best ski resorts can be found in the mountains of Japan. Perhaps the most famous location for these winter sports is Niseko, the largest one in Japan. It is located in Hokkaido island, just a few kilometers from Sapporo. It boasts of a various terrains from easy to difficult ski areas. It also has the highest average snowfall in Japan, giving you soft, powdery, white snow. Sadly, I didn’t get to experience skiing as I traveled to Japan during the autumn season.

Witness a Sumo wrestling match

Another thing Japan is known for is Sumo wrestling, featuring large, scary-looking Sumo wrestlers. Sumo is a form of competitive full-contact wrestling wherein competitors try to pin down their opponents in a circular ring.

Although known in Japan, Sumo wrestling matches are not available throughout the year and are scheduled several weeks apart. If you are lucky, you can catch a wrestling match, which can be held in either Tokyo, Nagoya, Osaka, or Fukuoka.

6. Experience Japan for their unique shops and restaurants

Japan is not only known for its culture, food, and natural wonders, but for its high rise buildings that house many shops and out-of-this-world restaurants.

Anime

Japan is a widely diverse country, from street markets to high fashion brand, they have it all. If you are an anime or cartoon fan, then you are headed to the right destination. Japan is also known to be the birthplace of anime, manga, and many video games. You can have your anime fix when you visit these popular stores: Akihibara, Tokyo Anime Center, J-World Tokyo, and Pokemon Mega Center Tokyo. No matter of our age , we will always be kids at heart – so shop to your content in these large toy-filled shops. If buying toys and mementos are not your thing, you can always enjoy an arcade game at Kawasaki Warehouse Arcade. Here, you can see various arcade games and play them too.

Fashion

It is true, that shopping in Japan can be expensive and prices are inflated, however, at the right store and right time, you can get pretty good bargains. Want to shop on a budget? Aim to shop during end of season sales, when stores are preparing to have a new rack full of clothes more appropriate for the next season. You can head to the Grand Mall in Osaka, which is one of the largest malls in the country. It is focused on selling different kinds of clothing: tops, dresses, pants, and footwear.

If you have a little more budget or simply want to window shop for luxury brands, head over to Ginza area in Tokyo, a luxury and affluent area. It is one of the best (and most expensive) places to shop in Japan, carrying almost all luxury brands and posh boutiques around the area.

High-tech restaurants

Another fun thing to experience in Japan is the high-tech way of ordering food. In some restaurants, there are machines that resemble a vendo, standing outside the door. All you have to do is choose your meal, insert your money and the machine will produce a receipt with number. This high-tech ordering system saves time and manpower, amazing isn’t it? A typical meal at these restaurants would costs less than JP¥1000.

If you’re looking for something more expensive and in the theme of fine dining, Tokyo has the most Michelin awarded restaurants than any other city in the world. When in Tokyo, drop by these most popular Michelin star restaurants:

  • Ginza Kojyu – this restaurant, opened in 2003, offers sushi, over 60 kinds of wines, sake, and other dishes available on its menu. This restaurant is small, but has very good value for money given the authenticity and flavor of its food.
  • Sukiyabashi Jiro – This is a 10 seater restaurant specializing in different kinds of sushi. Here, you will witness the art of sushi and how to properly taste and eat it.
  • Yamadaya – This restaurant specializes in fugu, or pufferfish. If not prepared properly, this can be poisonous but the chef is highly trained and skilled, making it safe to eat. When here, make sure to order the fugu sashimi.
Convenience stores and tax free shops

If you’re budget is tight, convenience stores like FamilyMart, Lawson and 7-Eleven are scattered everywhere. Japan’s convenience stores are full of delicious, yet affordable delicacies, from rice meals, barbecue and noodles, perfect for a budget friendly trip. You can also find 24-hour ATMs inside these stores, wi-fi access and even copy machines.

If you’re on the hunt for souvenirs, travel essentials or in need to pick up a Japanese snack, another famous Japanese shop that you can go to is Don Quijote. It is your one stop shopping store for anything you can think of. From little knick-knacks and souvenirs to anything from beauty products, medical supplies, clothes and costumes, household stuff, electronic and gadgets, food and entertaining Japanese products. If I remember it right, tax free shopping is available to foreign tourists at licensed stores like Don Quijote when your purchases are over JP¥5000. A passport may be required when shopping tax free.

7. Experience Japan for its cleanliness

Japan boasts of a lot of beautiful places and picturesque sceneries. There is so much to explore and see such as azure blue ponds, waterfalls, forests, flower gardens, and amazing shrines and temples. With all these attractions, it is surprising to see how the Japanese maintain all the places clean and speck-free. Everything in Japan is clean. When you arrive at the airport, floors are polished, chairs are arranged; when you walk down the streets of Japan, no litter will be seen lying around; when you stay at accommodations, rooms are pristine clean and pleasant-smelling.

The Japanese people respect their surroundings, and that entails preserving nature and cleaning even their man-made structures.

The cleanliness of Japan and its cities and towns are incomparable to what I’ve seen in other countries. Truly, one of the things you will remember fondly of Japan is its cleanliness and the Japanese people’s discipline in maintaining their place clean and sanitary.

8. Experience Japan’s Internet service

As a remote worker and traveler, Internet service is one of the staples of my trip. It also becomes an important factor for me when choosing a destination to head to. Luckily, Japan has one of the best internet speeds in Asia, Japan is a highly modernized country and nothing less is to be expected from its technology.

Japan consistently lands on the top 10 fastest Internet speeds in countries across the world. Though not as fast as that of in South Korea, downloads were smooth and easy when I was in Japan. Videos loaded without a hitch and I was able to do some of my work while travelling without a problem.

For short-term Internet access in Japan, you can either purchase a data SIM, or rent a Wi-fi router like what I did. You can get these online or purchase one when you land at the airport. For your convenience, I highly suggest using Klook to rent a pocket wi-fi in Japan for a discounted rate. They have services at all Japan International airports and you can pick up and drop off your device at different locations.

Final thoughts

Japan not only boasts of its highly urbanized cities, amazing technology, and advanced transportation, but it also boasts of rich culture, picturesque landscape, and serene temples. It is an interesting blend of contrasting features; and to top it all, warm and hospitable people. I can only list a few reasons why you should experience Japan at least once in your life, but these are enough to know why so many tourists visit the country every year, and why many keep coming back.

Want to experience Japan soon? Check out our top recommendations page to see if any of the products can be beneficial for your future trip. If you are looking to save on your next activities, tours, and attractions, I highly suggest that you book with Klook. Please read my review of Klook to know more.

Phoebe Nicolas

Project Manager at Coles Management Ltd
I quit my office based job after 10 years and started to work remotely as a project manager. Working remotely gives me the flexibility and freedom to travel and work at the same time which I really love. I want to share information and tips on how to work while traveling, work from home lifestyle and my travel adventures.
Phoebe Nicolas