Japan had never been a destination that I had ever really considered visiting. However with the country hosting a Rugby World Cup in October 2019 suddenly my attention was gained. As soon as my name was pulled out of the ballot for match tickets it was time to make plans!
I called upon several friends who had far greater knowledge and expertise on the country than I did and before you could say “Dim Sum” I had a list of recommended places to visit as long as my arm.
Whilst I always love to see iconic places I do also love the sense of adventure and have always liked to go off the beaten track and explore. As a result, I have never been keen on set group tours as witnessing for myself that little village where tourists rarely tread is to me what it’s all about.
So once the planning was done what followed was one of the trips of my lifetime. Japan is a destination that opened my eyes in so many ways and questioned how I live my life back in sunny Sussex, England. I had always thought of Japan as a destination for the retired. A place to go on one of those regimented tours and marvel over bonsai trees and cherry blossoms or stare at ancient porcelain. What I had not envisaged was that Japan was a place for all. For families, couples, nature lovers, the party animals, and the adventurous!
|Tourist Office||Japan Tourist Board|
Travelling in Japan is without doubt one of the greatest concerns of those planning a trip. However, with the lure of a ride on a 320kph Shinkansen or as we know it, the hi-tech state-of-the-art “Bullet” train, all the initial worry and confusion is soon replaced with excitement and admiration. For this a travel network that is both precise in its execution and outstanding quality in its design.
Tokyo is served by two major airports: Narita (NRT) and Haneda (HND). You will find that at both the service is great, there is plenty of space and the queues move fairly fast. I experienced both airports and found that within ½ an hour of landing I was on my way via either bus or rail transit links to the city.
Japan’s internal flight network was cheap and easy to book through portals such as Skyscanner. I flew on Skymark Airlines which is the Japanese equivalent of our Easyjet or Ryanair with a good selection of regional airports.
Most regional routes are operated out of Haneda whereas Narita tends to take most of the international flights however do check!
Tokyo’s Metro can be a little daunting. More so the getting to the correct platform rather than when you are on it. Something you will soon realise is that you have to form a wonderfully orderly queue to board the train. Simply look for the signs on the floor!
I would recommend purchasing a SUICA card which is like your London Oyster card and valid on bus and metro trains. You can also use your Suica to buy food or drink at convenience stores which is handy if, at that moment, you are running low on cash.
The Bus system is straightforward with clear signs at bus stops, on-board electronic guidance and of course Japanese precision in terms of timing and service. The driver’s English though is likely to be non-existent.
Another way to experience parts of Tokyo and Kyoto, particularly in the more ancient areas is to have a runner pull you around on a traditional Japanese Rickshaw. This is a fantastic memory to take away and will usually set you back about 3000 yen.
For Taxis, there are two tips. Firstly, watch out as a taxi pulls up because the rear nearside door opens automatically. It soon becomes quite an observation of fun but only after it clobbered you in the crutch a couple of times! You can hail taxis down on the street although there are taxi ranks wherever you go in terms of the main cities.
The only difficulty I discovered was the drivers don’t tend to speak English. Therefore a map or in particular assistance from your hotel porter to send you off in the right direction is always a good idea. You will soon realise the hotel concierge will become your best friend.
One thing you will certainly need if you are travelling around the country is a Japan Rail Pass. This is a special ticket available only to travellers visiting Japan from abroad for sightseeing. The pass offers unlimited travel on trains operated by Japan Railways Group including most Shinkansen (bullet trains) and buses throughout Japan plus the Miyajima ferry.
It is worth booking this in advance and then when you are ready, you activate it and from that moment have access to the network. You can purchase 7, 14 or 21-day durations and these start at about £225 per person for 7 days.
The Tokyo Sakura Tram sometimes referred to as the Toden, is the only tram line left in Tokyo. It runs from Minowabashi Station to Waseda Station and covers 12.2 km with 30 stations.
Places To Stay in Japan
Hotels are expensive throughout Japan but particularly in the major cities. However, the ANA chain of hotels in Tokyo was well priced and common throughout the city. The famous Gracery hotel in Shinjuku complete with its Godzilla T-Rex on the roof that roars on the hour to the delight of waiting tourists is a perfectly positioned quality central hotel near the action and nightlife.
If staying in a well-known chain like Crown Plaza or Hilton look out for the free airport shuttles although the per night prices tend to be steeper.
For an unusual experience then pods are a cheap and fun way to spend a night however don’t book yourself in for a week.
Simple hotels in the area around Kawaguchiko, Fuji are more reasonably priced but don’t expect too much as rooms are basic and furnishings dated. For most guests, however, it’s all about the outdoors here.
As with anywhere in the world location comes at a price but if you get in quick there are bargains to be had!
Memories Of Japan
The Japanese people are just incredible. They are just so kind, so courteous, so welcoming and so warm. How it had taken me 51 years to discover this I will never know but I would urge you to visit this beautifully diverse country, even if only to restore your faith in mankind.
I shot this simple video as I left the Rugby World Cup Final in Yokohama. The Japanese volunteers from young to old were magnificent and on this final occasion, they formed a line which for me epitomized the friendly, wonderful welcome we had received all across the country.
Japan is more than the bright lights of Tokyo or the mystical charm of Kyoto, it’s a country that makes you feel alive and wanting more.
Without question Japan is up there in my top destinations in the world – it’s incredible and I just love the place.
Pre-Bookable Excursions in Japan
The Japan Tourist Office provides a wide choice of useful information including places to go, things to do and what you can expect from the weather.