We ask our wonderful friend Sayuri who lives in Niigata to give us some travel tips about Japan to make your trip more easier and enjoyble.

Japan is a world apart. Can you tell us why it is an interesting country for travellers to discover?
I think because our culture has grown in an isolated island country. We imported a lot of new things from other countries in the past and improved them with adding some sources. Ramen noodle is a typical example. It’s originally came from China, but Japan improved it in our own society and created various tastes of Ramen noodles that can be enjoyed around the world today.

Which 4 places (which are not mention in any travellersguide) should travellers visit when they are visiting Japan?

  1. Izumo Taisha Shrine with taking a nightride train
    It’s popular among young women to visit Izumo Taisha Shrine with the night train. The shrine is not only famous for its historical back ground but also famous for “matchmaking”. You can also make your own lucky charm called “Magatama”.
  2. Snow Festival held in Niigata with taking two-stories Shinkansen
    The most biggest and famous snow festival in Japan is held in Sapporo. But it’s too crowded and cost a lot of money for transportation and accommodation. Instead of that, I recommend you to visit the one that is held in Niigata, my hometown. It’s about 2 hours by Shinkansen train and the local train from Tokyo whicht is less crowded than Sapporo. Even though it’s not such a big festival, you can still enjoy snowdorms, local cuisine like “Sake” and hot springs.
  3. Fireworks Festival
    During the summer you’ll find a lot of fireworks festival in Japan. Some people enjoy to see this by boat. There is a boattour called “Yakata bune” which you can hire. And other people enjoy the fireworks over a BBQ party. Trains are SUPER crowded on the day, but this long-lasting beautiful culture is must-to-see.
  4. Factory Inspection tour
    It’s also been popular to join “Factory Inspection Tour” in Japan, especially for family. Cosmetics, drinks, confectionaries and so on. There are various kinds of factory tours. Some factories offers these tours for free and English guides are available sometimes. It would be interesting to see the Japanese culture from the different aspect.

What’s the best way to get around in Japan?

I think taking the Shinkansen train (also know as bullet train), is the most convenient way to travel around. Nowadays LCC carriers are getting popular in Japan, but this hub airports are far away from the city center. They are surely cheap but airport locations are inconvenient. Some low cost bus companies are also available in Japan and they are cheap too. If you can understand Japanese, these low cost buses would reduce your travel expenses.

Japan shinkansen
Japan Yokohama City

Another option is the Japan Rail Pass. If you plan to travel around Japan by Shinkansen, you should get this before you arrive. You can’t apply this ticket after your arrival in Japan, so don’t forget to get it in your country.

Suica/Pasmo is a travel card for taking trains and buses. Once you charged certain amount of money and touch this card at the ticket gate, fare is autmatically deducted. It makes your travel much easier. You can buy these cards at the train station.

How big is the language barrier?
Big cities such as Tokyo, Yokohama and Osaka etc. you’ll find English written signboard relatively easily. More and more Japanese people have studied English these days and they will kindly help you. But I recommend you to prepare “useful expressions” which are written in Japanese.
If you have any difficulties in communication, just point it out and we can understand what you want to say.

When is the best time to travel to Japan?
Spring and Autumn are the best time to visit because of the beautiful colors of nature.

Is it safe to travel alone?
It is said that Japan is a relatively safe country for traveling. However, it’s not recommended to hang out alone late at night. It’s unfortunate but serious crime sometimes occur in the area such as Shinjyuku Kabukicho.

Are there any cultural tips travellers should know about to avoid cultural offence? Can you give us some tips what not to do?
In Japan people who has tattoo on his or her body is prohibited to enter Onsen(Japanese hot spring). If you have tattoo and it’s not so big one, you can cover this with a plaster.

Are there for accommodations good and cheap hostels or safe alternatives? If so can you give some tips where to stay?
If you’ll stay at city center, there are some cheap hotels called Business Hotel which is mostly for business person. YHA and Back packers are also available and these are much cheaper than business hotels. If you want to try staying with native Japanese, service like Air BnB would be better. Accommodations in Onsen area like Hakone are usually expensive so if you want to save your budget, I recommend you to stay at YHA or back packers hostel in this area.

What is the must do things for first timer travelles in Japan?
If you want to see all the MUST-TO-SEE sightseeing spot in your busy schedule, it would be good to take a sightseeing bus tour. Hato bus and Sunrise tour are famous bustours. It’s basic but visiting some temples and shrines would be interesting by joining these kinds of sightseeing tour. Also visiting a local supermarket or shopping mall are the best way to check the prices of many things.

What kind of shoes do you advice travellers to take with them when they are visiting your country?
You may walk a lot and I recommend you to wear sneakers. Especially at a historical place like temples and shrines, because some areas are not paved. In case you’ll visit a place where formal attires required, it would be good to take flat shoes like ballet shoes.