A brief guide for traveling in Japan.
It is hard to debate that Japan is one of the world’s most mysterious countries. It’s a place shrouded in contradiction: neon lights next to ancient temples, an uber-modern society that at the same time is rooted in ancient traditions. To travel Japan is to concurrently put one foot in the future and the other in the past. There is so much to do and so much to experience here that it’s sometimes hard to sort out, which is why we put together the following list of places you must go to on a trip to Japan.
You can’t go to Japan without spending some time in Tokyo. The 12 million person city is the beating heart of the country and a place that clearly manifests the contradictions that make Japan such an interesting place to travel.
Most tourists head to the Central Tokyo, or Chiyoda, where they can get a feel for the city. This was the location of the old city and many of its vestiges are still there, such as the Imperial Palace, where you can stroll through the gardens and daydream about ancient Japan.
Tokyo’s Taito district is an area where visitors can get a taste of Tokyo the way it used to be. Rather than towering skyscrapers and neon-lit bars and restaurants, Taito has ancient temples and historic architecture. When visiting here be sure to go to the Asakusa temple and the Ameya-Yokocho market.
Or if you’re into a more modern experience then head off to Shibuya, the shopping and entertainment epicenter of Tokyo.
But when the sun goes down, be sure that you’re in Shinjuku, the heart of Tokyo’s nightlife that’s packed with brightly lit bars and clubs lining the streets.
For those who enjoy gaming, Tokyo is full of pachinko parlors and is one of the few places in Japan with full fledged casinos. Digital options include sites like Mystino Japan.
Or if watching a living tradition is more your thing, go to Tsukiji, the largest fish market in the world. The market first opened 83 years ago, shut down for a bit, and then reopened at the same location. It’s still business as usual here, as thousands of pounds of fish are processed and sold each day. If you want to eat some fish, go to the Toyosu Market, where you can eat sushi and all variety of seafood.
While Tokyo is the political and economic heart of Japan, Kyoto is its cultural epicenter. For over a thousand years the city was the imperial capital of Japan, and the vestiges of this past glory is still present all through the streets.
When visiting Kyoto, be sure to go to Gion, which is a traditional area full of tea houses, picturesque side streets, and wooden homes. You may even get lucky and catch sight of a Geisha as she moves down the street.
Also be sure to go to the Ryoanji Temple and contemplate it’s famous rock garden, a 248 square meter collection of stones of different sizes that were laid out on white gravel in a particularly mystifying way in 1799.
When you get hungry, be sure to head to the Nishiki Market, which has over a hundred stalls selling various types of Japanese food that you can sample until fully satiated.
If you’re feeling a little more adventurous, be sure to trek up to Hokkaid, Japan’s most northern prefecture. This is a place of mountains, forests, and wildlife, which is perfect for the traveler who likes to get out into the wild.
Sapporo is the capital of Hokkaido, and is a rollicking metropolis full of bright lights and modern amenities. Its biggest draw is the Sapporo Snow Festival where hundreds of ice and snow sculptures are created all around the city. The epicenter of the event is in Odori, where 100 sculptures are on display.
If you want to get out into nature, then be sure to hike up Mt. Hakodate or Mt. Yotei. Hakodate is near Hakodate City and offers incredible views. While Mt. Yotei is often referred to as Hokkaido’s Mt. Fuji due to its resemblance to Japan’s iconic volcano. You can climb Yotei in the summer, and there’s multiple trails to the top of varying intensities.
Every traveler should visit Japan at least one in their lifetime. The country’s culture, scenery, and history are nothing like anywhere else in the world. So pack your bag, follow this guide, and go!
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