Japan: Travel advice and tips

A lot of you have asked for this – so I made it publicly available

Start with Tokyo
(Narita Airport Landing. Caution – Narita Airport, though serves Tokyo, is almost 2 hours away despite excellent train lines. Do not take a cab – it’s quite expensive. Trains are very well-organized)

Tokyo is a very fast-moving and crowded city. It has all the modern flavours of a typical western capital. But in midst of all the modernity is eclipsed the real and traditional Japan which most foreigners would love to see.

So all tourists begin with a sightseeing tour of Tokyo. As Tokyo has been a cultural, political and economic centre of Japan since 1603, it has some places of interest. Though Tokyo has been destroyed many times by fire, earthquake and bombing , it has risen from its ashes.

  • Must see places in Tokyo are:
    • The Nijubashi Bridge
    • Meiji Shrine
    • Shinobazu Pond In Ueno area, the most interesting is the traditional entertainment area Asakusa. This has been the Japanese amusement area in Tokyo for centuries. There is also a temple here.
  • One can also take a one day trip to Nikko National Park which is a popular resort area and is located about 150 kms north of Tokyo. It can be reached both by train and car.
  • Another day tour can be made to Kamakura and can be reached by train in about one hour. The city is full of ancient temples and shrines. It has one of the biggest bronze statues of Buddha.
Apart from seeing the old Japan , Tokyo has one of the its most bustling , colourful and lively area called Shinjuku. It has  the worlds busiest pedestrian crossing almost from eight sides (which is often highlighted in broadcast media). Its metro stations are so crowded during peak hours that professional pushers are employed to gently elbow the people in. You see Japanese life in all its shades and forms here.

Phase 2 of the trip to the Kansai area
South of Tokyo, about 500 kms, 3-4 hrs by Bullet train – Shinkansen.
Major cities are Osaka, Kyoto, Nara and Kobe

It’s important to go to Kansai area especially Kyoto and Nara – which are the cultural capital of Japan – therefore a must see for all tourists.

For 1000 yrs, Kyoto was the imperial capital of Japan. As it was not bombed during the second world war, the whole ancient city has been well-preserved.

  • In Kyoto places to be seen:

    • Kiyomizudera (Temple on Water)
    • Higashi Honganji
    • Kinkakuji the Golden pavilion
    • Sanjusan gendo, which has a 1000 statues as guardians
    • Cherry blossoms in April at Heinan Shrine and beautiful maple trees seen all over the city during the fall season (The cherry blossoms might work well with the timing of your trip. Its quite a sight that Japanese people yearn for themselves)
Kyoto also has umpteen no. of traditional Japanese gardens which make the city cheerful and relaxed. The Japanese gardens are basicall two types- the pond and plant type and the rock and sand type. The Japanese generally walk through the first one. The second type are usually looked at from the verandas.

  • Must see gardens in Kyoto:
    • Saiho-ji
    • Daisen-in
    • And the very famous rock and sand garden at Ryoan-ji.
  • Also a must do thing in Kyoto is to walk through its ancient market places which are usually located in and around the temples.
  • The traditional Japanese inn called Ryokaan are still very authentic in Kyoto (you should be able to rent it out for a couple nights)
  • Must try the Kaiseki Ryori-the typical Japanese cuisine of this area.
Moving on to Nara which was the ancient capital of Japan for 75 yrs. has really maintained the old world charm. You can feel it in its air.

  • Important temples and shrines are:
    • Todai-ji
    • Kofukuji
    • Yakushiji
    • Toshodai-ji
    • Kasuga shrine

Some of them have paintings and sculptures which have been declared national treasures. The citys mascot is deer and no wonder you find deers crossing in front of your cars. They come trailing behind you in the Nara Park often looking for some food. They are docile and friendly.

  • While in Japan one must see the ancient performing arts like Bunraku, Noh and Kabuki either at Tokyo or Kyoto.
  • Also while in Kyoto must take part in a tea ceremony called Chanoyu. It is meant for relaxing the mind and to appreciate the natural beauty around while sitting in midst of a garden.
  • Awaji Bridge is another thing you can add-on if you have time. Its a feat of engineering – but might not interest everyone.

You should be able to fly out of Osaka (Kansai) airport. It’s connected to most of the worlds large airports.

Hope you enjoy your trip. This note is more of a guidance of things to incorporate – you might however find that your Japanese travels open up to new places that you would like to share back with us too. Enjoy

Credit to Alka Varma (Alkasjottings.com)