If you think of yourself as a traveller rather than a tourist, you’ve probably got a dog-eared Lonely Planet Guide tucked away in your olde worlde library. You may have been a fan of the Lonely Planet TV show (AKA Pilot Guides or Globetrekker) or a current devotee of their website, lonelyplanet.com but one thing is certain, they know their destinations inside out.
To get your imagination running riot, take a look at these Japanese travel tips, curated by Lonely Planet’s Destination Editor, Zara Sekhavati, with (unsponsored) links to Lonely Planet’s booking system.
You’ve heard all the clichés about Japan: the people are polite, it’s where old meets new, it’s a country of contrasts. Having lived there, I can wholeheartedly say that these clichés ring true. I’m thinking of the low bows of a pristine-looking bullet train conductor and the oldest temple in the capital, Sensō-ji, sitting so close to the modern Tokyo Skytree tower. One day you’re awash in the ferocious lights and loud cries of the Akihabara arcades, the next you’re taking a peaceful stroll in Hakone while gazing upon majestic and magnificent Mt Fuji. (My biggest regret from my time in Japan is not climbing it.)
But where to go in Japan? There are the all-time favorites of Kyoto, with its stunning temples such as Kiyomizu-dera, and Osaka, a pulsating city with edgy nightlife and an impressive culinary scene. Then there’s Tokyo, one of the most intoxicating places on earth, where I learned one of life’s greatest lessons: to really take in your surroundings and to be truly present.
To create your own unforgettable journey around Japan, meet Elsewhere by Lonely Planet’s local expert Venese Lau, who will help plan the perfect itinerary.
Mt Fuji, I’ll be back.
Imagine your trip
Here are some of the things you’ll experience when Elsewhere by Lonely Planet’s local expert Venese Lau plans your trip.
- Enjoy a stroll in peaceful Nara Park where you will be greeted by some of its friendly deer population. Discover Tōdai-ji Temple and Kasuga Taisha Shrine in the ancient city of Nara.
- Visit the incredible wooden temple Kiyomizu-dera, a Unesco World Heritage Site. Located on a hillside, the temple offers magnificent views of the city below.
- Head to Dotonbori, an energetic street, in Osaka. Indulge in tasty local specialities such as takoyaki (octopus balls) and okonomiyaki (savory pancakes).
- Visit the pretty coastal town of Ito, where you can enjoy the beach, beautiful views and hot springs. Wander through Ito’s historical district, home to traditional wooden buildings, local shops, boutiques and cafes.
- Admire Kumano Nachi Taisha, an important shrine in the Kumano region. You may even see traditional ceremonies take place here at certain times of the year.
Plan with a local hero
Trip planning with a local like Venese Lau allows you to dig deeper into a destination. She will give you an insiders view of her home country, beyond its major cities. We asked her all about her homeland.
What are your basic tips for travellers to Japan?
Tokyo, Osaka and Kyoto are fantastic places, but think about exploring other destinations too, such as the Izu Peninsula, which offers a beautiful coastline. When planning your trip, don’t limit yourself to cherry blossom season. It’s expensive and busy during this time. It’s undoubtedly beautiful, but so many different trees blossom at different times. No matter which season you come, there is something to do.
What attracts visitors to Japan?
Anyone interested in video games, manga and anime is instantly drawn to Japan. Then there’s the culture. Japan feels like its own planet as it’s so different to the rest of the world. And of course the food is what brings people to Japan. Everyone has to try proper Japanese food – the options are unlimited.
“The people are key to making Japan great”
— Venese Lau
What can you expect on a visit to Japan?
Friendly people. Most people who go to Japan have an encounter with someone, and they’re like “woah”! Most of the time, when you look lost, people will help you find your way. The people are key to making Japan great, and they give it that extra oomph.
Can you describe the Japanese food scene?
A lot of guests who come to Japan want to go to expensive restaurants. My advice would be to book one or two high-end places, but then let yourself get lost in the city. Head to random places that you stumble across and try the amazing street food. There’s so much to try, from sushi to udon. In Japan, you can’t really go wrong with food.
Are there any cultural dos and don’ts?
Don’t talk on trains, everyone is quiet on them. (Unless it’s the last train of the day when everyone has been drinking!) Japanese people love that travelers love their culture, but, it goes without saying, do be respectful of it.