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Six tips for first-time visitors to Japan

Japan is easily one of the most popular destinations for Australian travellers keen to experience the thrill of its unique culture and geographical contrasts.

With so much to see and do in a country well-known for its individuality and ability to find alternative ways to do just about anything, any first-time visitor to Japan should go prepared with a few top tips to guide them through. Here are our suggestions to get the most out of your stay in Japan.

Don’t be afraid to travel alone

In some countries, people feel that being alone in public carries a stigma – but not in Japan. In fact, partaking in activities, eating, or just going about your day-to-day solo is celebrated in Japan as a sign of individuality and independence, and they even have a word for it: “Ohitorisama” refers to those who embrace living and doing things alone. Unlike many destinations, Japan is the perfect place for explorers without a travel companion.

Make time for a quintessentially Japanese onsen experience

You might have a busy schedule planned for your trip, but nobody can say they’ve experienced all aspects of traditional Japanese culture unless they’ve spent time unwinding in one of the many onsen (hot springs) dotted all over the country. Onsen are the perfect place to take a moment of reflection and gather your thoughts while being soothed in naturally heated waters, sometimes surrounded by the most picturesque natural scenery.

Eat in Japan’s casual dining establishments

As a nation that truly values its traditional cuisine, quality food is affordable and easily accessible all over Japan, so don’t be put off by the relaxed appearance of some of Japan’s dining establishments (or the fact that you might not be able to find online reviews to back up your choice). In fact, some will say that there’s no such thing as a ‘bad restaurant’ in Japan, and wherever you find food being served, you’ll always be satisfied.

Ramen houses, izakaya (pub-style venue), and self-serve restaurants are examples of the types of informal dining places where you might be served in a private booth or at the bar and where the food is always inexpensive and great value.

Explore the many cycling routes

Driving in an unfamiliar environment where you don’t know the language can be stressful, which is why hiring a bicycle could be a great way to cover more ground without the pressures (and expense) of navigating busy urban roads. Japan prides itself on its many cycleways, some traverse the country’s most remote islands while others flank rivers or create safe connections between major hubs like the 60-kilometre Shimanami Kaido between Japan’s main island of Honshu and Shikoku Island. Kibi Plain in Okayama Prefecture is another popular cycleway that is 17 kilometres long and passes through several shrines, temples, and burial sites.

Exploit the flexibilities of Japan’s comprehensive, clean, and efficient rail network

If you’re looking to visit different parts of the country during your visit to Japan, or even just explore within prefectures, it is not essential to go to the trouble and expense of hiring a car to make this possible. You can get anywhere in Japan fast and inexpensively by train with services so frequent, that you won’t have to compromise your flexibility. Numerous rail passes are also available for purchase before you travel to ensure you get maximum bang for your buck while travelling all over.

Stay in a hostel

Unlike other countries where hostels can have a reputation for being rather gloomy places to stay, most Japanese hostels have real energy and vibe about them as they bring together like-minded people in a clean and friendly environment, usually with quirky themed décor. They’re also incredibly budget-friendly too which can help you save money while spending time in some of Japan’s more costly cities.

Join a tour

There are all kinds of tours operating all over Japan that acquaint visitors with some of the country’s most incredible historical sites, its bustling cities and enchanting natural wilderness. Joining a tour guided by a local can be a great way to immerse yourself in and learn about some of Japan’s most unique experiences from remote and adventurous activities like hiking, canyoning and kayaking, to diving deep into the urban and rural culture – you might even make a few friends along the way.

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