When you start to plan your trip to Japan, you’ll find there is a lot of information out there. There are many website, blog posts, media articles and other information sources about Japan. These often give lists of “must-sees” or “top 10” recommendations. Then there are countless itineraries presented as the best route. This includes what is often called the Golden Route, from Tokyo, through Hakone, Kyoto to Hiroshima.
All this information can be overwhelming and confusing for the first-time traveller to Japan. Sometimes the advice given in all these sources can be conflicting, and cause worry about missing out on something important.
What is important is you, and the people you are travelling with; this is your trip. There is nothing compulsory that you have to do. It is a relaxing holiday, not work, and you can do whatever you choose to do.
How to choose what to see?
It can be difficult to choose among the many sights and activities on offer in Japan, so how do you go about this? The best way is to start by thinking about you and the others you are travelling with. What dreams or expectations do you have about your trip to Japan? Success is making sure your dreams come true and your expectations are met. If you understand what would make the trip a success for you, then you can include sights and activities that will give you this.
When you visualise what your ideal trip would be like, and the mood and the experiences that you want, what springs to mind?
Excitement, fun, action
Maybe you would enjoy nightclubbing, theme parks, or cycle tours? There are festivals all year round, but particularly in the summer months, and these have a fun atmosphere.
Cultural experiences, history and tradition, art
Temples and castles are the obvious choices here, but you could also look at classes in traditional arts such as calligraphy or Japanese sweet-making. History-lovers might like to visit towns with streets of traditional buildings, where traditional crafts, sweets and sake are sold.
Nature, scenery, outdoors
While mega-city Tokyo is often the first thought of visitors to Japan, there are some wonderful natural areas to explore in the Japanese countryside. In many places there are cable cars to take you to a scenic viewpoint, or for the more active, something like walking the Kumano Kodo will really get you in touch with nature.
Urban life, modern technology
Japan’s major cities have everything from stunning modern architecture to old-style neighbourhoods which makes exploring them really interesting. Technology buffs might like to look at the latest products in electronics stores, or travel by shinkansen and stay in a robot hotel.
Food and restaurants, nightlife
Japan is a foodie paradise, with options ranging from expensive Kobe beef to a humble but delicious bowl of ramen. Japanese cities have a wide range of nightlife for all tastes including busy izakaya where people drink after work, dance clubs, and small bars seating only a few people.
Tranquillity, relaxation, inspiration
Opportunities for this can be found all over Japan, particularly in smaller towns and rural areas. Soaking in an onsen (hot spring bath) is very relaxing, while staying overnight in a temple may provide tranquillity and inspiration if you’re looking for that.
Pop culture, trends and fashion
In Tokyo, Akihabara is the go-to place for geeks, while Harajuku is known for youth fashion. Manga fans might like to visit the Kyoto Manga Museum.
Something exotic, different, or a new experience
Japan has a very distinctive culture which leads to great opportunities to experience something different. This could be dressing in a kimono or meeting a geisha. There is also constant innovation in Japan, with something new all the time, be it a hedgehog café or the Mori Digital Art Museum
There are many beautiful places to see in Japan, such as landscape gardens, castles and temples reflected in water, and the seasonal delights of cherry blossom and autumn foliage. Staying in a traditional Japanese inn may be your kind of romantic getaway.
Being with friends or family
You might be looking for activities you can do together. This may be visiting theme parks, going skiing, or seeing the deer at Nara or Miyajima.
Or maybe there’s something else? Take a moment to think about what you would enjoy.
The idea of visiting temples, theme parks, or landscape gardens, going hiking, cycling, or on a scenic cruise might be really appealing. You might also strongly dislike the idea of doing these activities. It’s worth thinking about what you like doing and whether there’s anything you’d really rather not do on your trip.
By being clear about your personal preferences, you won’t blindly follow someone else’s “Top Ten” list or itinerary, and waste time on something that doesn’t give you satisfaction. You will be able to consciously do more of what you like, and minimise or avoid what you don’t like. With this in mind, you can start selecting places you will enjoy seeing and activities that are interesting to you. These will be the building blocks for your dream trip to Japan.
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For further information, the ebook Japan Just for You is a practical step-by-step guide to planning your trip to Japan, starting with developing your own personal trip concept. It’s now available on Apple, Amazon and Kobo, with other ebook stores to come soon.