For those seeking a drastic culture change away from Western countries Japan is a fantastic destination. Made up from a demographic of almost exclusively ethnic Japanese (98.5%), it truly is a different piece of the world to explore. I made a visit to travel through its unique sights, taking in both the Japanese cities and mountains. Here’s what I learned from my short but action packed adventure to Japan and the Asia Pacific.
Travelling to Japan
Flights to Japan are available from most major cities across Europe, Middle East and America. I flew from Glasgow to Dubai and then onwards to Tokyo. Prices range from £600-700+ not unreasonable given the distance of just under 6,000 miles. Emirates are using the newer Airbus A380 for their long haul flights on this route. Its a nice modern plane with a more spacious cabin even in economy and if you can afford it, it has some truly amazing first class accommodation.
The flight from Glasgow to Dubai took around 7 hours leaving enough time to watch a few movies. There was a long lay over until the next flight with Emirates, which wasn’t ideal. Arriving into Dubai at midnight meant needing to be back at the airport again by 6am. Emirates were however nice enough to put me up in a hotel. This allowed me to get that all important shower and a couple of hours sleep. Waking up with just enough time to chomp down as many Rice Krispies as possibly in 10 minutes before being herded onto a bus away.
The final leg of the flight from Dubai to Tokyo took around 9 hours. I had the luxury of the plane being only half full so could stretch out even in economy. A few lucky passengers even had a whole row to themselves, deploying it like a bed for the night. For a long haul flight it was surprisingly survivable. I had been put off in the past by the flight length but the longer lay over actually helped to break things up.
On arrival into Tokyo at midnight all public transport had ceased. I was limited to a taxi to into the city rather than the recommended train route. I opted to take an Uber ride, which worked out to be around £60 GBP for a fairly short distance. Taxi charges are expensive in Japan as I found out the hard way. Try to avoid this method of transport if you can but on the up side it was cool to experience my first ride in a fully electric car. Public transport should it be available is fortunately very cheap with a trip on the Tokyo metro costing around 200 yen.
Travelling through Tokyo at night was like a jump into a Blade Runner movie set. For anyone not familiar with the film it is full of dark city scapes, bright lights, bill boards and lots of hustle and bustle. New York and London are said to be 24 hour cities. While true to a certain extent I found late night in these cities mainly full of tourists and people having a good time. In Tokyo ordinary people work long hours and so you see them going about normal daily activities even after midnight. If you like people watching its the perfect place to visit.
Getting around Japan
During the day travel around Japan is easy to navigate. A rail pass covering most of the country is available from £200 GBP per week. Covering both local inter city trains and also the high speed bullet train, its great value for money. It’s worth noting that it doesn’t include metro tickets for the underground system but these are exceptionally cheap anyway.
Save yourself time when going to collect your rail pass. Bring both your rail pass voucher and passport with you to a JR ticket office. I made the mistake of spending quite a while tracking down the nearest office at Tokyo station only to have to return empty handed as I’d left my passport.
The JR train pass allows you to book the high speed train in advance saving time between trips. I visited Osaka and Kyoto for a few nights by being able to travel hundreds of miles in a couple of hours. A fantastic service that has plenty of leg room, clean and runs on time. If only my commute to work was this well run!
Despite being predominantly made up of Japanese speakers the main cities are tourist friendly. Both signs and announcements were made in English as the main international language. Staff in the stations were really helpful and I managed to muddle through with limited knowledge of Japanese.
Around 90% of people live in urban areas so expect everywhere to be busy particularly at rush hour. The intense sound of 1000’s of workers pounding the pavement into the office has to be heard to be believed. The metro should be avoided during these times as it can be crammed and quite claustrophobic.
One of my main goals visiting Japan was to experience the local culture and normal every day life. That meant getting out of the comfort zone of major hotel chains in central locations and into the suburbs of the cities. Hotel rates start on average from £100+ GBP per night. I saved a substantial amount booking traditional Japanese housing using Air B&B instead. Typically these ranged from around £50+ per night.
There’s no way getting around it. Everything in Japan is in miniature. Cars are tiny, vans have suddenly shrunk to half the normal size overnight and standard room sizes are almost non-existent. I didn’t find this a huge problem as my intention was to explore the outside more than spending time in a hotel room but just be aware so you aren’t disappointed.
Away from the hustle and bustle of the city there is still plenty to see in Japan. The most famous mountain is of course Mount Fuji. Standing at a height of around 3,800m, it is in fact a dormant volcano that last erupted in the 1700’s. Mount Fuji is one of the three holy mountains of Japan, associated with prayer and spirituality.
At About 60 miles outside of Tokyo, Mount Fuji can be visited on an organised day trip from a variety of travel providers. Peak climbing season for those intending to make it to the summit is from July to August. A variety of graded routes are available covering different abilities, with mountaineering huts present at specific points along the way.
Mount Haku is also part of the holy trilogy of Japanese mountains. The other being Mount Tate. Making up part of the Hakusan National Park, Mount Haku is packed full of interesting features to explore. Ancient temples, fresh water lakes high up in the clouds and natural hot springs. Not forgetting the climb to just over 2,700m to reach the summit.
Looking for a less arduous hike? Why not consider Mount Takao. Standing at only 600m tall, Mount Takao is easily accessible from Tokyo via a 1 hour train ride. Hiking to the summit will take under 90 minutes for those of general fitness. Those looking for a more relaxing day out can take the cable car up the slopes and still get to enjoy the scenic views stretching out towards Mount Fuji.
Go see Japan
I had a really enjoyable trip to Japan. Everything was so different to any where else I’ve visited. From the super clean streets to the unique mix of traditional and modern living, all the way through to the down right odd. It was an unforgettable experience. Outside of the main cities such as Osaka and Tokyo there is a more relaxed pace to life surrounded by stunning views. With plenty to explore I’d recommend at least a 2 week visit or longer should you have the time. You won’t get bored looking for things to see and do.
Compared to the UK the cost of my visit was surprisingly inexpensive. Food was around 20% cheaper than home, meaning eating out didn’t hit my wallet too hard. It’s an insult to tip in Japan so service charges don’t mount up in the same way as a visit to North America. Food is generally fresh and of high quality but isn’t an ideal location for non-meat eaters to visit with most dishes being cooked from fish sauce.
Although there were few tourists to be seen during my visit, locals were all friendly and helpful. The public transport system was a joy to use and made it almost stress free to see as much of the country as possible during my short stay. I’d like more time to explore further into the mountains and remote countryside on offer in a future trip. With so much to take in I’d recommend having a limited list of must see items during your stay so you don’t go home disappointed. Be sure to consider Japan for your next long haul holiday to see some mountains. You won’t be disappointed.