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Without a doubt, Japan is one of the most cutting-edge travel destinations in Asia. It is well-known for its super modern and unique pop culture, beautiful nature and its ancient traditions. If you are a nature lover, history nerd or cutting-edge culture seeker, you will for sure find something that interests you in this timeless country. Some people have an idea that Japan is an expensive country to visit and not suitable for a backpacker. However, there are many options to get around these issues these days, like cheap flights, accommodation options, affordable and tasty high standard Japanese food, discount shops, etc.
Sushi? Sukiyaki? Ramen? How many Japanese dishes can you name, off the top of your head? Japanese cuisine is now widely available around the world, but what is authentic Japanese food in Japan? Locally called “washoku”, it’s an infinite variety of seasonal and regional dishes, created by “rule of five” - 5 cooking technique with 5 basic flavourings and 5 colours for balanced decoration.
Diverseness of restaurants is huge from mobile food vendors, cheap chain shops, Japanese or western style family restaurants, tapas-style drinking places, to authentic century-old ryotei. While many restaurants offer their single specialised dish, others serve a variety of dishes. Izakaya is highly recommended as they are normally located near stations and in drinking districts, offering the extensive food and drink menu. In the major cities, there are Japanese adapted versions of the world cuisines as well.
Visiting themed cafés can be a positively strange and unusual experience of Japanese pop cutting-edge food culture. If you are into robots, vampires, cats, maids or owls, there are themed cafés perfect for satisfying your interests.
Drinking is another important element of Japanese gastronomical culture. Alcoholic beverages are drunk commonly at restaurants, festivals and seasonal leisure time outdoors. Many varieties of alcoholic beverages are available at liquor stores, most convenience stores, supermarkets, and even on the vending machines. Sake is the rice wine that Japanese people have been drinking for centuries. Countryside sake brewers (kura) are open for tours and tastings. If you enjoy sake, you can tour around Japan tasting different types of this traditional drink. Shochu is another century-long commonly drunk alcoholic beverage that is made from sweet potato, wheat or sugar cane. Keep in mind that its alcoholic content is usually higher than sake. In spite of a long history of sake and shochu, the most popular alcoholic beverage in Japan is beer, especially draft beer.
For non-alcoholic drinkers, you can enjoy a variety of Japanese teas (which aren’t as common overseas), such as genmai-cha - green tea leaves with roasted brown rice. Houji-cha is roasted green tea, while konbu-cha is an infusion of dried konbu seaweed. There are also dried shiitake mushroom tea, kumasasa-cha (bamboo tea), etc... You name it! It is fun to visit a tea shop and try different varieties to experience Japanese tea culture.
Japan is a shopping haven as their countless stores sell everything that you can imagine from traditional souvenirs to the latest electronic goods and hip fashion items. Some people have the idea that shopping in Japan is expensive. Yes, it can be, but that is not always true… For budget shoppers, there are 100-yen shops, 300-yen shops, discount department stores (famous 24-hour Don Quijote), and massive outlet stores. Even for high-end fashion boutiques, you can shop cheaply at the biggest sales in winter and summer. Clothing colors and materials change according to the season, so shops will release products at discounts ahead of the next season. The sales duration is long, and the closer it gets to the end, the bigger the discount you can find!
Japanese pop culture is one of the largest attractions which brings many visitors from all over the world. Its unconventional fashion and peculiar entertainment styles have been influencing many people worldwide. If you are into otaku (‘anime fan or/and game addict’) cultures, you can let loose your inner otaku and explore deeper! There are several anime districts in Tokyo, i.e. Akihabara and Ikebukuro, where you can find your favourite anime memorabilia from key chains to doll figures to human size anime character pillows. Several times a year, a massive anime/manga convention takes place in Tokyo, where people come from all over the world.
Travellers in Japan are often interested not only in its unique modern cutting-edge pop culture but also its beautiful nature. Japan consists of 6852 islands with 5 main islands - Hokkaido, Honshu, Shikoku, Kyushu and Okinawa. Due to its narrow and long shape, Japan has 6 different climate zones. In Hokkaido, you can enjoy snowboarding in the powder snow in the winter. In Okinawa, you can go snorkelling in the turquoise colour sea throughout the year. Spring is famous for cherry blossom all over Japan, and autumn is popular for changing colours in the mountains.
There is an image of Japan being very busy with people everywhere. However, about 65% of the land is the forest, and less than 10% is used as a residential area. Major cities, especially Tokyo and Osaka, are crazily busy. Nevertheless, there are many beautiful gems of nature to be discovered, often conveniently located, not far from cities. For instance, visiting Shinto Shrine, which is hidden in nature, might be a great way to enjoy the traditional and seasonal elements of Japan.
The best way to absorb the essence of Japanese nature is the onsen experience. Onsen is a natural hot spring. Since Japan is a volcanic country, you can find onsens everywhere. There are different styles of onsens to choose from - traditional vs modern facilities, gender-separated vs mixed, indoor spa-style vs outdoor untouched wild natural style. Each onsen usually displays its health benefits from the contained minerals in the water. Onsen ryokan is the Japanese style inn with non-stop pouring onsen water bath, usually located in nature. Staying overnight at an onsen ryokan is a highly recommended experience. However, if you have limited time, there are plenty of onsen bathhouses you can drop in for a short visit and explore the onsen culture.
As the host of the Summer Olympic in 2020, Japan is getting ready for more tourists. There has been a change in the ethnically homogeneous society to become more multicultural. More English signage is appearing all over Japan. English has been more widely spoken. However, that change is not really a big deal for experiencing this lovely country. Once you arrive at the airport, the politeness and friendliness of Japanese people will blow your mind. Their service standard is exceptionally high throughout all industries. So, enjoy interacting with locals, and they will add a special memory to your travelling in timeless Japan, besides its super modern cutting-edge culture, beautiful nature and ancient traditions.
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