June 2, 2019

5 reasons why you’ll get hooked on Japan the first time you visit (like I did)

Words by Matt Leedham
Travel Better
Yamanouchi, Japan

You don’t have to be in Japan long to get captivated by the beauty and calmness of the people and its multi-layered culture.

Japan is not really a destination you can make comparables with, to anywhere really. It’s just Japan. Doing its own thing, in its own, highly efficient and ritual filled way, as it has done timelessly since the sun first rose there a very long time ago.

Whether you’re visiting for just a few days, or travelling through the country for a week or longer, there are so many elements of mystery to Japanese culture that are sure to get lost in translation – and that’s ok because as with all travel, its all about opening your mind to what you experience for yourself.

Japan is booming as a destination right now, with more people globally visiting than ever before and record numbers of Australian’s coming back to travel further afield than the traditional hubs of Hokkaido, Tokyo and Kyoto.

There’s a good reason for that. Read on to find out why.

Hakone Shrine

1. Because solo adventures await

Travelling to Japan with a friend, your partner, family or in a group is naturally an excellent way to share the experience and enjoy Japan’s boundless charms.

But what about travelling solo? Now a rapidly-growing trend, travelling on your own can still be challenging in many countries, especially for women wanting to go it alone.

Japan, however, offers the assurance of being an incredibly safe place to travel for everyone and especially solo travellers.

There are of course the odd isolated incidents, but these are rare and you can get around easily thanks to the welcoming aid of the Japanese people who are usually more than willing to help you out and ensure you have an excellent adventure in their homeland.

Kyoto Prefecture

Given respect for others is at the top of the list for the Japanese people, you won’t have to worry about standing out on your own either. For example, it’s totally normal for women in Japan to eat out alone and walk around by themselves, including at night without being harassed.

You’ll also find female-only accommodation options all over Japan, with friendly smiling locals ready to help if you get lost, amazing transport systems that work and are safe to travel on anytime of the day and generally a culture of courtesy and hospitality wherever you go.

Kabukicho Robot Restaurant in Tokyo’s Shinjuku

2. Embracing the ‘Bizarre’ is a beautiful thing

The word ‘Bizarre’ meaning weird, random or just plain out there gets banded around often when people describe Japan.

The bottom line though is, Japan is just different.

Japan has an endless bounty of kooky stuff to wow you and it’s zany, hilarious, mysterious, eccentric and often just downright bewildering – which is after all, why we travel right? To be inspired, challenged and amazed by difference.

From taking in the Shinto rituals of Sumo wrestling, to dining at the outrageous Kabukicho Robot Restaurant in Tokyo’s Shinjuku where the cabaret showgirls are a mix of humans and androids or spending time in Ninja cafe’s, cat cafe’s, monster cafe’s, vampire cafe’s and even hedgehog cafe’s – you can guarantee there will always be something different to pique your ticker here.

“Another milk latté madam”

Then there are the famous capsule hotels, the vending machines stocking all kind of weird and wonderful items (Fresh eggs anyone?) and the Japanese food itself which has the potential to make even the most hardened foodie gasp.

Just watching the local TV and the outrageous game shows or stepping into a Seven-Eleven (Which are everywhere and truly open 24/7) will blow your mind as you walk around the tightly packed shelves bursting with brightly coloured foods and random snacks of the kind you will never have seen before.

The famous Shibuya crossing, Tokyo

3. You can enjoy the peace and quiet and chill…

If I told you that buzzing Tokyo as a city of 13.7 million people is actually one of the quietest, cleanest and most relaxed city’s in the world, would you believe me?

The truth is, for the most part, Tokyo is a blissfully quiet city for noise, which is mostly down to the Japanese’ Shinto way of living – with respect and courtesy for others.

Sure there are people everywhere, engine noise and all the usual hum of the city and it does, of course, have its loud moments after dark, but for the most part, you will not hear people pipping horns, shouting or blaring music out of anywhere.

And trust me, once you leave Tokyo it gets even quieter.

Bear that in mind when you travel to Japan in your own behaviour and you’ll have an amazing time. I visited Tokyo and then Kyushu Island in Japan’s south at the end of last year and came back feeling as refreshed as if I’d been on a beach holiday. Which was a slightly odd feeling.

Why? A combo of eating healthy, tasty food, lots of fresh air, comfy hotel beds (Which is the standard by the way – not just reserved for 5-star only) and just travelling at a slower, more relaxed pace. Which doesn’t make it boring either, just, well different?

Yamanouchi, Japan

4. Japan does have it all (truly)

Where do we begin? Vibrant, dynamic cities, history and culture, quality hotels everywhere, phenomenal food, stunning nature, fantastic snow in the north, tropical beaches and diving and snorkelling in the south, amazing infrastructure including trains and roads as well as super-fast internet, friendly people, a passive religion and it’s virtually litter-free.

The wanderlust is endless…

Japan’s rise to prominence in recent years has seen new destinations such as Okinawa in Japan’s tropical south, Osaka (Which now has direct flights with Qantas from Sydney) and Kyushu Island to name but a few spring up as new hotspots for Aussies as more of us seek new experiences outside of the norm.

The myth of Japan being overly expensive is changing too with day to day expenses now on par or lower than Sydney. Whilst accommodation may still be your biggest outlay (In Tokyo especially), eating out, shopping and generally getting around is reasonably good value compared to that of Australia.

For example, the price of a coffee in Tokyo can range from just AU$1.35 (100 YEN) to AU$5.30 (400 YEN).

5. It’s wildly addictive

Once you’ve been, you will want to go back to Japan again – Guaranteed. And soon.

Japan is like a video game that lures you back with the promise of completing another level of understanding. Once you’ve been there you feel like you’ve been privy to some kind of exclusive club where you were treated like a rock star.

Are you ready to play?

How can you travel to change the world?

Congratulations! By reading this post and taking some of these insights on board, you’ve already made a difference.

Now you can easily create your impact by sharing your new-found knowledge with other friends who you think would also be interested.

Ultimately, responsible travel comes down to common sense – stay curious, keep yourself up-to-date with the challenges at hand and make yourself accountable for your actions on your travels.