Sunday, March 8, 2015

Guest Post: A Beginner's Guide to Japan

Hello friends!

After putting out a call for guest articles, I was recently contacted by Caroline, a well-traveled long-term expat, and a wonderful writer. Here's some more about her:



Caroline is a long term expat and traveler who has lived in various locations across the world including Japan. Although she has a day job, writing about her international experiences is her passion. Traveling from a young age with her family, Caroline’s goal is to see as much of the world as possible and soak up as much culture as she can!

Caroline offered to share her top tips for first-time travelers to Japan, and I'm super happy to share these with you today. If you're considering traveling to Japan sometime in the future, this article has some fantastic advice, so I highly recommend reading. Let's get started! 

A Beginner’s Guide to Japan
Whether you are a worker in the tech industry or a traveler, it is not unusual to find Japan calling to you. This island nation of roughly 126 million inhabitants manages to combine history, natural beauty, modern electronics, and all the amenities that a traveler might need into one easy package. Visit shrines and temples, stunning landscapes, or tech showrooms and allow yourself the adventure of a lifetime.

Cost of Living
Although the cost of living in Japan—and especially in Tokyo—can be much higher than the cost of living in surrounding countries, don’t let that stop you from visiting this unique country. You will likely pay about $7 for a meal in a cheap restaurant and about $15 a night ($715 per month) on accommodation in either a hostel or a small apartment. The cost of groceries is not too bad. And there are plenty of free activities to do around the country that can help you save some money.

Transportation
If you’re looking to travel around Japan while you’re there (which you should, as each city has its own flavor!), you’ll need to figure out how you want to do that. Obviously you can rent a car, but this can get expensive. There is an extensive network of trains linking various cities in Japan, and you could look into getting a rail pass. Or look into low-cost flights either on national airlines like ANA or Japan Airlines or regional budget carriers like Air Asia or Jetstar Japan.
Apps
Travelling with a smartphone makes figuring out the logistics of travel easier and easier. Before you travel to Japan, you might want to equip your device with the Navitime Japan app, which is a free app that will allow you to search transit times, train routes, and free Wi-Fi hotspots around Japan. You may also want to download Triposo, another free app, which will show you many of the attractions in the area around you. Remember that you will probably want to set up a VPN to protect your personal information any time you plan to use your smartphone abroad!
Festivals
You’ll want to think hard about when you wish to be in Japan, as the country hosts many wonderful festivals annually. In fact, some estimate that roughly 200,000 festivals are held in Japan over the course of a year—check out a list here. The most popular festivals are the spring Cherry Blossom Festivals, Kyoto’s Gion Matsuri Festival in July, and the Sapporo Winter Festival. Festivals can be a great way to immerse yourself more fully in the culture, so be sure to plan your visit to coincide with at least one of these!

Tokyo
Tokyo is the current capital of Japan, and although widely known to be one of the most expensive cities in the world to visit, there are many free opportunities for you to avail yourself of. Learn about traditional Japanese arts at the Japan Traditional Craft Center, and explore the more modern side of Japan at the Sony Showroom or the Panasonic Showroom where you’ll be able to browse through and get your hands on many of the companies’ current and upcoming products. If you’re interested in architecture or religion, be sure to check out the 7th-century Sensoji Temple or the Shinto Meiji Jengu Shrine.
Kyoto
The city of Kyoto, once the capital of Japan, retains a lot of impressive and historical charm. You’ll want to check out the imperial palaces and villas—but know that you’ll need to fill out an application at the Kyoto Imperial Household Agency Office a few days prior to your intended visit. You should also visit the city’s three Geisha districts, where you’ll be able to see Geishas going along the streets on their way to entertain wealthy patrons with performances. Also head up to Kiyomizu-dera Temple, which sits on a mountaintop and thus offers great views of the city. Near the temple are open-air pavilions where you can shop for food and souvenirs.

Hiroshima
This city, most famous for being the site of the world’s first nuclear attack in 1945, should be included on your itinerary for your trip. Visit the Peace Memorial Park and Museum and contemplate the atrocities that occurred there. The park itself is free, and the entry fee to the museum is nominal. Also visit the Flame of Peace, which has burnt since the mid-‘60s and which will continue to do so until all nuclear weapons are destroyed. Although a more sombre note to your trip, this is an important place in history and bears remembrance.
Outdoor Activities
One important and recognizable icon of Japan is Mt Fuji. If you’re looking for something to do outdoors, you might want to try climbing it. Or head to Nagano, host of the 1998 Winter Olympics, for some excellent skiing and snowboarding. Are the mountains not your thing? There are also plenty of places around Japan where you can go diving. Don’t worry if you aren’t a city person; this country still has plenty to offer you!
Although the places to visit in Japan are far too many to name comprehensively, this guide has hopefully given you some insight into what the country has to offer. Whether you’re planning a sightseeing vacation or an active adventure, Japan has something for you! Experience as much as you can. 

Thank you so much for your guest post, Caroline! The information is really useful for people coming to Japan for the first time, and provides a great overview of travel recommendations and tips. I definitely echo her recommendations about travelling by train, and checking out the rail pass. And as you can see by some of my own posts about festivals, I think they are wonderful events to check out, and one of the best ways to experience traditional Japanese culture. Finally, I love that you included my personal favourite place in Japan, Hiroshima! If you have any questions for Caroline (or me) be sure to leave them in the comments below. Or, if you'd like to see your post featured on Origami Kiwi, contact me at theorigamikiwi@gmail.com

Caroline, ありがとうございました!

- Annabelle.

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I've been a high school English language teacher on the JET Programme since August 2013. Read about my experiences, advice on being accepted into the JET Programme, and travel tips around Japan on my blog:
 
 
よろしくおねがいします!

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