We had been wanting to visit Japan for quite some time, so we decided to take a trip there in November 2017. We had a few expectations going into our trip:
- It was going to cost a fortune
- We had to follow their etiquette to a tee so we didn’t offend them
- We’d be able to communicate easily
- “We’re well traveled! We’ll have no problem getting around.”
We were wrong about all of these. Some of them were pleasant realities. We didn’t spend as much money as we anticipated and they accepted our gaijin (foreigner) mannerisms kindly when we forgot how to set our chopsticks or accidentally put our luggage on the tatami mats. The tougher realities, like getting around and communicating, were difficult to figure out at first, but we got through it! That’s what travel is all about!
Despite everything we expected, Japan far exceeded those expectations and is now one of our favorite countries. We wished we could have stayed longer and absolutely plan to return in the future. Here’s our list of the top 10 reasons to visit Japan.
1. The People
Japanese people are truly incredible. They are the kindest and most respectful people we’ve ever met. As a whole! You won’t find that one random jerk on the streets or that one impatient waitress waiting for you to finish your meal because respect is embedded in their culture. Even though we were gaijin, they loved trying to talk to us, take pictures with us, and give us departing gifts or trinkets after we dined at their restaurant.
2. Incredible Food
I could write an entirely separate post on how incredible Japanese food is. Now, we were fans of Japanese food even before visiting Japan so we were already a little biased, but we fell more in love with the flavors and the presentation after three weeks of eating our way through the country.
You definitely won’t go hungry in Japan. There’s noodle shops with amazing ramen, soba and udon dishes on every corner. Street food is never ending and there is ice cream everywhere. Everywhere!
Our favorite meal was an okonomiyaki dish in Osaka from Okonomiyaki Chitose, which is rated as the #1 restaurant in Osaka. This dish is described as a Japanese savory pancake and can be found all over Japan, but varies slightly in each region. Each time we had okonomiyaki, we loved it, but this place was exceptional. We would have eaten here every day if we had the chance. Here you see okonomiyaki with Japanese noodles, pork, squid and shrimp topped with an assortment of sauces and cheese. I’m salivating.
I’d like to note that Japan would be a challenge for a vegetarian or vegan and especially someone on a strict diet. Most of their dishes are meat and noodle/rice based. We bought groceries to make dinner salads multiple times just to get some greens in our bodies. While it’s possible to find vegetarian/vegan shops, they’re very rare. So, unless you’re in a situation where you can cook most of your meals, I’d do some research on your options in Japan.
The public transportation in Japan is the epitome of efficient. Timetables for every train, bus, subway and boat are exact and we didn’t experience even a one minute delay in our 21 days there.
Their railway system is one of the most sophisticated in the world and we used it frequently during our travels. We got a 14 day JR pass and got to use the bullet train, or “shinkansen” which greatly reduced travel time and we ultimately ended up saving money. It isn’t cheap to travel throughout Japan quickly, so it’s important to weigh the pros and cons of using the shinkansen versus slower trains/buses, depending on how much time you have.
For more information about the JR pass, visit the JR site. Note that you must purchase your pass before you get to Japan, so plan ahead if you want to buy one!
4. It’s Insanely Clean
Tokyo is one of the biggest cities in the world and compared with other huge cities, it is by far the cleanest. All of Japan is, really. This goes back to their culture, just like respect and it is instilled in them from a young age. In Japanese schools, the children are the janitors. It is part of their daily activities and chores to clean up their classroom and bathrooms. It is also common Buddhist belief that cleanliness is essential for a peace of mind. The Japanese pride themselves in the cleanliness of their country and I have to say– kudos, because it was remarkably clean.
5. Amazing Toilets
Hear me out– I know this is a weird reason to visit Japan, but seriously, the toilets are out of this world. First of all, they have more functions than our washing machine. They have heated seats, a front and back bidet (don’t knock it ’till you try it!), and they can talk to you and play relaxing music while you’re doing your business. All I know is that when we build our house one day, these babies are going in it!
6. An Excuse to Relax
Japan is a volcanically active country, making it prime real estate for thousands of hot spring pools, and the Japanese know them as onsens. And they love them. There’s an entire etiquette to follow when you’re in an onsen. Typically they are separated by gender because onsens are to be enjoyed in the nude. You must bathe yourself prior and cannot use any sort of soap, shampoo or products while in the onsen. Also, tattoos are forbidden in most onsens, especially public ones.
There’s well over 75,000 onsens in Japan. You can find them just minutes outside Tokyo, in mountainside resorts, in the forest and basically in the middle of nowhere. Hakone is a popular onsen destination for tourists because it sits near the base of Mt. Fuji. However, we visited an onsen at a ryokan in the Gunma Prefecture outside of Tokyo. It was an incredible experience and you can read all about it here!
Japan has repeatedly been ranked as one of the safest countries in the world, especially given their humongous population. They have implemented several laws and procedures to improve safety and they are definitely noticeable. For example, there is a large number of police officers and security officers on the streets and in shopping malls. Also, the ATMs are always located inside buildings, which is a great safety precaution to avoid robbery. Their crime rate is extremely low and there is essentially zero gun violence or drug abuse. I would have no problem walking the streets of Japan at 3 AM by myself and was never concerned about getting robbed on the subway or in our hostels.
8. Diverse Scenery
From the bright lights of Tokyo to the zen gardens of Kyoto, Japan has it all. In three weeks, we enjoyed the serenity of Lake Ashi at the base of Mt. Fuji, explored bamboo forests, walked through perfectly groomed temples and gardens, hiked to waterfalls and took in mountain top views in Miyajima.
Not to mention, when we visited in November, the autumn leaves were in full bloom and it escalated the beauty of the country ten fold. The cherry blossom season in April is a really popular time to visit, but if you can’t make it then, I can tell you with confidence that November will not disappoint!
9. You Will Never be Dehydrated
Japan is one of the few countries in Asia where it’s safe to drink tap water, so you can always refill your water bottle. However, if you find yourself without something to drink, just walk along the street and choose something from the vending machines on every single block and down every single alley. They’re everywhere! The selection is great too! You can find water, vitamin water, coffee, energy drinks and even beer and sake!
10. You Get to Learn Some Japanese!
There is quite a language barrier in Japan, which we didn’t really prepare for. We assumed more people would speak English, but we all know what happens when you make assumptions! It was rare to find menus in English, so we relied heavily on picture menus when we ate out. It’s more fun that way, anyway, right?! We took the opportunity to learn a few key phrases in Japanese to get us by, such as kon’nichiwa (hello), sumimasen (excuse me), arigatou gozaimasu (thank you) and oishii (delicious!) The Japanese people were always very impressed when we used these phrases and would sometimes clap and bow. We wished that we could have learned more Japanese. It’s a really fun language!
I could come up with 50 more reasons to visit Japan, but in the sake of not having an extremely long blog post, I’ll leave it here! This should provide enough persuasion! Whether you never had Japan on your radar or it is on next on your list of travels, I hope this post provided some insight into how amazing the country is.
Leave us a comment! Are you planning on going to Japan or have you been?