September 19 – November 22, 2018 (plus mid-November 2016)
Japan is such a stunning county. It has taken our hearts during the first visit in 2016. In less than three weeks there, we’ve made all the must-sees as Tokyo, Ósaka, Kyoto, Nara, Hiroshima, Miyajima island but added a little bit of the beaten track in Matsumoto and Kagoshima. And it was not quite a surprise that those less known places were sometimes better than those on everyone’s list.
The first visit is always the best one. In our case, it was even the first visit to Asia, so the effect was probably multiplied. But knowing Asia a little bit more nowadays, Japan is still a different world. If you need to compare to any other country, then South Korea could be the closest one in certain aspects. However, neither of the countries is a real tourist hotspot. Which is a shame, but it is great for us, travellers.
The second visit was different and much longer. More than one month in Hokkaido, over three weeks in Kyushu and one week Okinawa. All the places had its character. If I had to choose one area, then Kyushu is probably the best one. But still, for the first comers, the classical loop that we did on our first visit would be more suitable.
Places visited during 2018 trip:
Hokkaido: Sapporo -> Shari -> Shiretoko National park -> Mashu -> Kushiro -> Otaru -> Lake Toya -> Noboribetsu -> Niseko/Hirafu -> Chitose
Kyushu: Fukuoka -> Dazaifu -> Kitakyushu/Mojiko -> Kunisaki peninsula -> Beppu -> Kurokawa Onsen -> Mt. Aso -> Kumamoto -> Shimoshims island -> Shimbara peninsula -> Nagasaki -> Hirado -> Imari/Okawachiyama -> XXX peninsula -> Fukuoka
Okinawa: Motobu peninsula/Nakijin
Three weeks vacation in 2016:
Tokyo -> Kawaguchiko -> Matsumoto -> Magome -> Osaka -> Nara -> Kyoto -> Himeji -> Hiroshima -> Myiajima -> Kagoshima -> Ibutsuki -> Tokyo
Majority of people put Japan into a box of the most expensive countries you can visit. Everybody’s first reaction when we said we spent more than two months in a row there was “it must be very pricey”. Not sure where Japan has gained this status. Maybe it was true in 90’? It is hard to say. But to get to the point and to be honest as well: Yes, Japan can be very expensive if you let it be as well as it can be relatively cheap if you want it to be. We are giving more details in the Cost section here below.
Stretching from north to south for more than 3000 km, you can always choose the right place with weather that suits you. The general rule is to avoid summer when it is too hot and humid everywhere. Autumn is usually great. The North is veiled in colours while in the South you can wear shorts or even swim.
Some can say that Japanese are cold fish and too serious and not keen to see foreigners. Despite what we heard, our perception is truly different. We have always been welcomed by smile and curiosity that comes from peoples hearts.
Oh, Jesus. Heaven on Earth. It is everywhere, it is cheap, and it is tasty. Yes, sushi is popular, but daily bread is ramen. That are noodles, mainly in pork broth. Meet, or fish are involved in any meal, and you may face some serious variety issues being vegetarian. Not talking about vegans (on top of that, they may face another cultural issue walking barefoot…)
This is the ultimate thing. After a while, you will get into a parallel universe where you don’t need to watch your belongings at all.
Like saunas in Finland, onsens rule Japan. No surprise we have a separate article about it.
Japan Rail pass
For a short vacation, this is a must. No other way. Standard transportation fares can ruin you.
So different from ours in every aspect. It is too wide to say it like this, I know. Well, another reason to explore it on your own.
There are some written or unwritten rules for everything. Luckily as a foreigner, you have no clue about them, and you are usually forgiven if you break any by coincidence. But try to follow their habits as much as thou can even you would never or rarely do that at home. Like waiting for a green light at a deserted road crossing. Not eating while walking. Queueing up while waiting for a metro. Not blowing your nose (not sure why this is so unpolite when noisy slurping your ramen is considered as a good manner…)
It is like in the old joke. It is comfortable, fast and cheap but newer at the same time. Maybe you can even add “and never really cheap”. Details are provided in a separate article about transportation.
Yes, it is still expensive if you compare with Vietnam or Thailand, but cheaper than other “western” countries. More thoughts on this are below.
You could rename this language barrier to the Great Wall of Japan. Three types of script with an incredible number of symbols. Multiple variations for situation who speaks to whom. Those are just two difficulties to mention. It is not possible to handle the language. While Google Translate works well in other countries, it has significant challenges with the Japanese. Too often it returns total nonsense. At least, for us from central Europe, it is easy to read and pronounce Japanese words when written in Latin alphabet. Did I mention that almost no one speaks English?
Our costs for more two months in Japan
Accommodation and transportation
To make Japan on a budget, you need to solve these two things at the beginning. Lodging is in a range of most Western countries, while transport can be significantly excessive. If you are coming for the first time, it is wise to book certain cheap hotels or guesthouses in advance. Some places tend to be sold out. One example for all. We were on our way to Hiroshima to find out that there is just one, yes, only one room left on Booking. Suite in Sheraton for circa 600 USD per night. Luckily we found one and only room via Airbnb in Miyajima that fit our budget.
Other must do is buying the Rail pass that is not cheap but will save you a lot of money, and you will be free to travel anywhere you want. Plus trains can be used as public transport in big cities. If you have been to Japan already or you are spending more time there, you should consider renting a car or hitchhiking and having a tent to sleep for free or on budget. More details are in an article related to transportation, camping and renting a car in Japan.
Cost of food
Food is generally cheap there. Not like in Vietnam where you eat for 1 USD, but it is quite cheaper than Western standards. Count about 5 USD to a maximum of 10 USD per ramen (noodle soup) in an ordinary eatery. Ramen or other noodle dish is the most common and affordable. If you don’t speak or read Japanese, you will not be starving. Stop at any place that does not look posh and say “Ramen”. If any question follows, just make your body expression say “whatever you give me” 🙂 Water or tea is for free, no tip is expected or excepted so don’t even try. This helps to keep the cost down. You will soon realise that even on a budget, Japan is food heaven especially if you follow all our recommendations from the article about food.
Read more: Exceptional Japanese cuisine
Any other costs? Not really. Most of the things in Japan are either for free or for a few bucks. If there is an entrance to a park or shrine, it usually fits 500 JPY (4,5 USD). Some most popular and spectacular places may be 1000 JPY (9 USD). Nothing to break a bank for. Most importantly there is always something to do for free. While in Hokkaido and Kyushu, we spent the most money on onsens (hot springs). Sometimes you can find it for free as a part of your accommodation. If not, prepare 300 to 600 JPY (3-5 USD) Exceptionally 1000 JPY for fancy places.
In total, without initial flight tickets, insurance etc. for our 64 days in Japan, we spent 546,000 JPY = 4,900 USD. That makes daily average per person equal to 4,267 JPY = 38 USD. That’s not bad, right?