Japan Tours and Travel Guide
Japan Attractions & Landmarks Guide
A tour of Japan can swing wildly between the dazzling lights of Tokyo and the pastoral pleasures of a rural ryokan (traditional inn), the exquisite temples of Kyoto and a trip to towering Mt. Fuji. Whether it's the always intriguing Japanese culture that draws you in, or the chance to hike or sample hot springs in memorable countryside, Japan is sure to charm and surprise you at every turn.
What to Expect from a Japanese Cultural Tour
Traveling in Japan you are welcomed into the fold of their ancient culture; a calm, peaceful, and minimalistic approach permeates everyday life throughout Japan. Your Japan tour guide will provide historical context and local insights throughout your tour.
Japanese people are very welcoming, if reserved by western standards. They take hospitality seriously, and are among the more open and friendly people when it comes to offering a beverage or meal. Homestays are a very popular accommodation type on tours of Japan - as they let visitors to the country learn about the Japanese culture of hospitality on a much deeper level.
Along with their reverence for hospitality, Japanese people also place heavy importance on politeness. The country is regularly listed as one of the most polite countries in the world. It’s important to remember this as you travel in Japan.
How to be a polite traveler in Japan
1. Use the correct side of the escalator!
(Really this politeness rule really should apply around the world). But in Japan it’s a particularly funny and potentially confusing expectation. Because different sides of the escalator are used depending on what city you’re traveling in. In Tokyo, stand on the left, with the right open for passing. In Osaka and Kyoto, stand on the right side.
2. Wash before entering an onsen
This counter-intuitive rule must be adhered to if you don’t want to appear extremely rude and dirty! Going to an Onsen is a highlight for many travelers wishing to partake in this traditional bathing ritual. But be very cognisant that you rinse yourself off with soap before entering the Onsen waters. This is an important step and you’ll feel a much more amiable atmosphere from others in the Onsen.
3. Remove shoes inside
It is expected that you remove your shoes before entering homes and sometimes other establishments as well. This is a cultural expectation throughout Japan, and you’ll get used to it very quickly. Also note that slippers are not to be worn for walking over traditional Tatami mats - these should be tread on with socks only.
Food in Japan
Many people have a unique reverence for certain Japanese foods, which have obtained near cult status around the world. Ramen and sushi both hail from Japan originally and are adored by foodies.
While there is certainly a never ending supply of ramen and sushi to enjoy while you travel in Japan, there are also many other foods to try.
Especially as you travel through the Japanese countryside and smaller towns, you’ll have the opportunity to sample traditional Japanese food beyond the comfort zone of ramen and sushi.
Japanese food is full of interesting flavors and textures. When traveling in Japan, you’ll sample a lot of vegetable based dishes, broth based dishes, noodles, and fish. Don’t expect a lot of heavy meat dishes.
It can be difficult to adapt to Japanese food if you’re not used to it. And particularly difficult given the cultures emphasis on politeness - if you don’t want to finish your meal, it can be an uncomfortable situation. The best thing to do is approach each meal with an open mind, and try and be welcoming to new flavors.
Top dishes to sample in Japan - beyond Ramen and Sushi
1. Okonomiyaki - these savory fried pancakes are best enjoyed after you’ve watched them prepared right in front of you! The exacting timing and knife skills, are a joy to watch and it’s a great activity for being out with your new friends in your tour group. Okonomiyaki usually come with cabbage and beyond that several varieties of topping are available.
2. Udon - Wheat flour noodles that can be served warm or cold. Udon noodles are very versatile and are delicious with with vegetables, in soups, or served with meat. They are also tasty on their own with just a little bit of seasoning!
3. Gyoza Dumplings - If you travel almost anywhere in Japan, you will see a variation of Gyoza. These bright white dumplings, usually decorated on the top with brown character markings are filled with either pork, beef, chicken, beans, or vegetables. They are a great grab n go snack, often found for sale in train stations.
4. Yakiniku - Japanese barbeque at its finest! A very popular dish in Japan, Yakiniku is small chunks of chicken served on skewers. Beware! Traditional Yakiniku is designed to use the entire chicken; comb, heart, liver, you name it.
5. Japanese sweets - Japanese people love sweet foods and you’ll never have any trouble finding something to satisfy a sweet tooth. A lot of Japanese sweets are made with bean paste which can be a surprising taste for westerners. Green tea is also a common flavor.
Can't Miss Attractions in Japan
There are some main attractions that are must sees when in Tokyo including the Tokyo Tower, Meiji Shrine, Shibuya shopping, the Royal Palace. At Shibuya Station there is a statue of a dog named Hachiko, a famous meeting spot in the city. Oriental Bazarre is the one stop shop for all souvenirs and gifts from chopsticks to furniture.
Japan also has some great department stores, and Tokyo Hands is one of the best. There are beautiful parks throughout the city, one near the Royal Palace another called Arisugawa Park, and the Ueno Zoo is also a fun activity for families. And don't miss a chance to walk across the largest crosswalk in the world!
2. Hakkaido & Sapporo
Mostly known for their Sapporo beer, Sapporo is the main city on the northern island of Hokkaido. The Sapporo Ice Festival is a large winter festival with massive ice and snow sculptures, sculpted in formations of cartoon characters, pagoda buildings, and fun ice slides. Hokkaido is a great place for winter activities including skiing and snowboarding and ice drifting.
Kyoto has the iconic Japanese pagodas, including the Golden Palace. It is a beautiful, large park area with dozens of temples and pagodas to visit. The sites here are gorgeous especially during fall and cherry blossom season.
Hiroshima is infamous for being the site of bombings by America in WWII. In the center of the city is a memorial, peace bell, and one building still standing with damage. It is a place for remembrance, and for the history buffs.
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