Japan – A wonderful mix of ancient traditions and cutting-edge technology

If you’re looking for a travel destination that harmoniously blends ancient customs with cutting-edge technology, then Japan is for you. Here’s how one traveller explored Japan’s futuristic cities and serene countrysides.

Shibuya Crossing Japan Image

Image © Simran Kabotra

Where to stay in Japan

In Japan’s capital city, Tokyo, I stayed at Hotel Wing International Tokyo Akabane. I picked this place because I wanted to be close to the main areas of Tokyo at an affordable price.

In Hakone, I stayed at K’s House. This hostel was a perfect base to visit the local attractions in Hakone. I wanted to cook meals so the large kitchen was useful. A bonus was that this had an indoor and outdoor onsen (a natural hot spring).

In Kiso Valley, I stayed at Komao as it was a good base to visit Kiso Valley and see the buildings from the Edo period.

In Kyoto, I stayed at Hostel Niniroom. I chose this hostel as it was affordable, had a large social space to meet people and a kitchen to cook meals.

In Japan’s second city, Osaka, I stayed at J-Hoppers Osaka Universal as it was very close to Universal Studios Japan (USJ) – only 15 mins walk away.

Kiso Valley Japan Image of road and traditional houses

Image © Simran Kabotra

What to do in Japan

In Tokyo:

Akihabara neighbourhood. This is a vibrant and bustling area, renowned as the centre of Japanese otaku culture, which includes anime, manga, video games, and electronics. It was fun to walk around and enter the various buildings to soak up the atmosphere. I recommend trying a ‘rhythm game’ in a Gigo building – can be difficult but super fun!

Shibuya Crossing. An iconic landmark, the Shibuya crossing is a must-do experience. As well as the crossing, the surrounding area is a bustling hub of activity day and night. With tall buildings, neon signs and giant screens, this is the epitome of Tokyo.

In Hakone:

Tenzan Onsen – a natural hot spring for day and night use. This was one of the best experiences I have ever had. This onsen has multiple hot water pools at various temperatures and there is a perfect temperature milky water pool that will give you soft skin. Men and women are separated as you need to be fully unclothed to go into the water. For those who are body conscious, don’t worry – no-one will care how you look. You’ll see bodies of all shapes and sizes and will get used to being naked pretty quickly!

Owakudani – a volcanic valley with visibility of Mt Fuji. Here you can see steam vents, bubbling pools of hot water, and sulphurous fumes rising from the Earth’s surface. On the cable ropeway to get to Okwaudani, you can see the fumes right below you. If you’re lucky, you’ll get to see Mt Fuji on your right if it’s a clear, sunny day. Also try the black eggs boiled in the hot springs of the volcanic valley. It’s rumoured that eating one egg will extend your life by 7 years!

Hike the Old Hakone Highway / Old Tokaido Road – one of the oldest highways in Japan. Created during the Edo period, this cobblestone path winds its way through lush forests, past tranquil rivers, and alongside traditional villages. I took the route from Motohakone-ko pier to Amakaze Teahouse which took about 45 minutes. Fun fact: the teahouse hasn’t changed its interior in over 200 years! A wonderful hike in the quiet countryside really makes you wonder what life was like back then.

In Kiso Valley:

Hike around and explore the natural beauty. I hiked from Magome to Tsumago which took about half a day. On the trail you get to explore traditional Japanese houses and streets that have been maintained for 200 years. Much of the landscape hasn’t changed and you can really soak up the rich history by walking through the villages, forests and rivers.

In Kyoto:

Walk around wearing a kimono. In the geisha district of Gion, you’ll see many tourists dressing in traditional Japanese kimonos. There are many shops in this area for you to rent a kimono for the day and walk around the area. The kimono is slightly uncomfortable at first but you get used to wearing it very quickly and it makes for great pictures when standing next to traditional buildings!

In Osaka:

Universal Studio Japan (USJ). One of the best days I’ve had was at USJ. It’s an incredibly immersive experience full of thrilling rides and variety. No two rides are the same and each area has captivating set designs. USJ often opens earlier than its scheduled time so get there an hour or two earlier than opening time. If you want to go into Nintendo World (my favourite place of the park), you need to get to the area before 9:30am, otherwise you’ll need a timed entry ticket. The Flying Dinosaur ride in the Jurassic Park area is VERY intense but I highly recommend going on it.

Nintendo World Japan Image

Image © Simran Kabotra


What I loved (and did not love) about Japan

I love how hospitable and clean Japan is. The customer service is unparalleled as the staff always make sure you have what you need and no request is a burden! There is no litter on the streets and everywhere you go, it’s very clean. Japan is also extremely safe, I did not feel uncomfortable at all – day or night. I left my phone in a restaurant and the owner didn’t clean the table as he was waiting for me to come back and get my phone. The train system is something I love. The train stations are practically shopping centres and the train seats can be moved forwards and backwards.

I did not love that vegetarian food was hard to come by. Unless you pay a premium by going to a specific vegetarian/vegan restaurant, it’s hard to find cheap veggie food. It’s difficult to ask the waiters to take out meat as well.


Top tips for visiting

Bring cash. Japan is still traditional in the sense that it still uses cash in a lot of places so make sure to bring enough Japanese Yen with you. Some places offer card payments but you’ll find a majority of places will ask for cash. Not to worry though, ATMs in Japan have no withdrawal fees.

Learn some Japanese (or download Google Translate). Speaking a little bit of Japanese can go a long way for you; English is not widely spoken there. Phrases such as ‘excuse me’, ‘hello’ and ‘thank you’ can make a world of a difference!

Respect onsen rules. Make sure to use the showers provided before entering the onsens. You can’t take your towel into the onsen area either but you’ll be given a tiny towel to take with you. You’ll just have to embrace being naked in front of other people!

Book things in advance. Unlike many other parts of East Asia, things will get booked up quickly, so book in advance. Arrive early to popular restaurants as you’ll likely be waiting in long queues.

Would you go to Japan again?

Absolutely! I fell in love with Japan and its contrasting nature – the bustling, hectic cities and the serene, picturesque landscapes. There aren’t many places where I would redo my itinerary but I would definitely do my trip to Japan all over again if I could. I would also love to visit Japan’s north all the way to the south.

Kyoto In A Kimono in Japan Kiso Valley Japan Image

Kiso Valley Japan Image © Simran Kabotra

Travel Writer Bio

Simran Kabotra is a writer, avid reader & crocheter who loves travel. She is currently travelling across Southeast Asia, searching low and high for new adventures, beautiful landscapes and rich history.

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