When traveling to another country, having a guide to tell you what to do, where to go, and what to see is essential to maximize your learning about and enjoying it. Visiting another country completely oblivious about its language, history, and culture could set you up for a rough time, so it is crucial one brushes up on this information and prepares before going. Japan is no exception when it comes to this.
To be honest, guides are easy to find – whether they’re in the form of online articles, personal advice from a friend who’s been there, or in a booklet for sale in brick and mortar stores. Indeed, information is abundant everywhere. However, as a tourist, it is smart to foresee exactly what you’ll need guides for. Do you need help with the country’s language? Maps? What are the best recommend experiences? Top hotel? Here are a few tips to help you get started on organizing your guides to get you the best of Japan.
Personal Tour Guides When Travelling in Japan: Are They Necessary?
It’s well-worth it for the valuable information you receive about the area you’re touring in exchange. You wouldn’t have known such facts about the area, and wouldn’t have had the same perspective had you not hired that personal tour guide, which can help you from everything to taste the best food in the city, hidden spots only locals know about, and how to get around using the transportation system.
What to Do in Japan: A Compiled Guide by From Opinions by Locals
Japan is bigger than the outside world usually perceives it. It’s much more than the usual tourist spots in Tokyo. With locals being used to what foreigners usually marvel at, they have greater insight on what would really blow your mind in terms of sightseeing and fun – both all over Japan, and in Tokyo itself. Here are a few of their suggestions.
Cat Island in Ishinomaki (called “Tashirojima”) is a haven for cat lovers. There really isn’t much here except for a cat shrine, and a whole bunch of friendly cats. With that said, be wary that it’s just a bare island, so bring food (as well as some cat treats) and a bag to place your trash. There are also no bathrooms, so some tissue and isopropyl alcohol may be handy. To get here, you’ll have to spend around 2,200 jpy per person for a round trip on a ferry.
Ghibli Museum in Tokyo would be great for fans of their movies (Spirited Away, My Neighbor Totoro, Ponyo) that have gotten worldwide success. Even the museum looks like it came out from one of their films. It’s been described as a “Disneyland for Ghibli Fans”, With that said, you’ll need to buy your tickets online, and a month in advance - it’s the only place they sell them.
Jigokudani Monkey Park in Yamanouchi is also located in a place called “Hell Valley”; perhaps it was named as such because all around the area are naturally-occurring onsen (hot spring) from the underground geothermal heat. Aside from the beautiful view and gorgeous lake, there are snow monkeys that live on the island. They love to indulge themselves in the park’s man-made onsen. It costs 800 yen to enter, and it’s open from 8:30 AM to 5 PM from April to October, and 9 AM to 4 PM from November to March. It takes a bit of a walk to get here; one from a parking lot (15 mins) and the other route, through a forest (30-40 mins).
A Quick Guide to Kyoto, Japan
Did you know that beginning the year 794 until 1868, the capital of Japan was Kyoto? Being the center of attention in Japan for a millennium does make a difference in how a city develops – that means temple, shrine, and cultural spots galore. Kyoto has such vibrant history and culture because of the concentration of activity that occurred here long ago, making it a prime spot to visit. Here are some of the top places to go to while you’re in Kyoto.
When it comes to segments of Kyoto, people love central Kyoto’s Nijo Castle, Kiyomizudera in eastern Kyoto, the Fushimi Inari Shrine in southern Kyoto, Knakuji in northern Kyoto, and Arashiyama in western Kyoto. The festival that serves as number one in terms of how popular it is Gion Matsuri also happens here. Don’t forget to have a go at their food; the trend of recipes and ingredients used are different for every region. Kansai is known for having a lot of Japanese gastronomic delights.
A Guide to Making Friends in Japan
Because of the language and cultural barrier, it can be difficult to make friends in Japan. There are ways around this, whether you plan to stay for just a short while and want to make acquaintances, or you’re set on staying for years and want to build relationships.
The most important virtue you need to have throughout this is enthusiasm, and the main advice you must need is to go out. This goes for both long-term and short-term friends. Be it to bars, parties, event – any social gathering, get yourself out there. Do not be ashamed to try out your newfound Japanese skills, even if they’re a little rough around the edges. The Japanese are very welcoming and warm, and though they might see you as a foreigner initially, they will warm up to you eventually.
Don’t know where to go? The internet can solve that. You may find out what’s going on around your area via social media (Couchsurfing meetups, Facebook groups, events around your area). If you aren’t brave enough to interact with the locals because of the language problem, connect yourself to foreigners who know the area better than you do. Befriend them, and let them show you the way, initially, and feel your own way from there.
Make Your Own Guides Before Traveling to Japan
With so much accessible software and information available at your fingertips, it isn’t hard to make your own traveling guide. First, lay out exactly how you’ll get to that place, what/where you want to eat, stay, what you want to do, see, or attend. To do this, you can look up sites or blogs for suggestions that suit your unique preferences to see if anything will come up in the area you’re in (for example, you may be a fan of one of the previously mentioned shows made by Studio Ghibli, so you won’t want to miss the Ghibli museum.)
Once you have all your information down, cite the locations, times they are open, means of transportation between locations, and an estimated amount you’re going to pay in each place. All this information is usually available on their online sites or on forms. Your next move is to map this out using Google Maps. Here, you can plot your itinerary by measuring the best routes by figuring out how far the distances of each location are going to be from each other. This minimizes travel time and maximizes what you spend. Though it may entail a bit more work, it’s well-worth it, as it familiarizes you with the names of the streets around the area you’re going to be in.
Arrange all the information you need using a timetable on an excel sheet or word file. Keep an offline version available on your tablet or phone, or print it out. The name of the location, the time you’ll be there and time allotted, what you’ll need (ticket print-outs, extra food, or clothes), and fun facts or valuable information about the area that you can read on-the-spot. Admittedly, this is a lot of work – but you get an ultra-personalized and thoroughly planned trip in return.
Travel Guides for A Girl Travelling Around Japan Alone
While this may sound a tad bit sexist, the reality is some countries really aren’t that safe for women to travel alone. Luckily, Japan is fantastic for girls who plan to travel solo. There is an abundance of reasons why. Japan, in general, is a safe country compared to other countries, and even cities in the United States.
If you feel unsafe sleeping at night alone or hauling long hours on public transportation, you can book hotels that are female-only, same goes for some options of public transportation too. Top that off with the fact that the Japanese are generally very helpful and respectful. You won’t feel threatened if you accidentally bump someone (you’ll get a very quick “sumimasen!” a.k.a. “sorry!”) instead of a glare.
Aside from the reassurance of safety and sex-segregated amenities, there isn’t much of a difference when it comes to a girl traveling around Japan alone compared to a guy.
Join Courses Made By The Japan Guide Association
Do you want to become a tour guide? A good way to start is to learn how to get a license to be one. The Ministry of Land, Infrastructure, and Transport control a non-profit organization called “The Japan Guide Association” nicknamed “JGA”. Founded as early as 1940, it’s known to be one of the oldest non-profit org. Japan Hot Spring Association takes first place.
This organization funds programs (5-day courses, lectures) that help people learn how to be tourist guides. This has been going on since 1963, which has led to 8,000 people participating in this project, many of whom have top-notch jobs in the tourism industry around Japan. Courses come with their own tours; the one about Kanto surveys places like Kamakura, Tokyo, Nikko, and Hakone, and even the Narita Airport. The course about Kansai is held around Kansai itself; Kansai Airport, Nara, Kyoto, and Osaka.