* How to get to Japan and why I decided to go to Japan * A recommended packing list * Some things to think about when first coming to Japan * Memorable places I visited and things I did in Japan. * My thoughts and opinions about Japan as well as how they have changed with time. * My way of how to effectively study Japanese. * 50 noteworthy things about Japan * And of course some pictures Some parts will also be written as a tutorial so that those of you who are thinking of going to Japan to study Japanese can easily follow! Prepare yourselves for what is going to be a very long post!
How to get to Japan and why I decided to go to Japan:
Why did I go to Japan? I don't really know. Every time someone asks me this question I answer with something like “Because I love manga and anime” or “I wanted to be able to play games in Japanese”. The thing is, I didn't really have a grand goal in the beginning, I just wanted to understand what they say in manga and anime, and maybe understand Japanese enough so I can play games from Japan without waiting a year for them to be translated. When I really got interested in Japan was when I started going to conventions and cosplay. At that time I made a lot of friends with similar interests, and our time together is the time I hold most dear in my memories.
Alas, I had decided to go to Japan and I contacted a company called GoGoNihon (you can also try with Blueberry) and they helped me for free with all the preparations for what was going to be my 6 months trip to Japan. (NOTE: Even though they help you, I recommend that you search for an apartment or share house by yourself as well, and don't entrust everything to them) I started saving money around a year before departure and my mother promised me that she would add 1SEK for every 1SEK I managed to save up until the time I left for Japan. I managed to save 30000SEK and it was enough for the tuition fee for 6 months of Japanese studies at a normal Japanese language school. The extra 30000SEK I received from my mother covered the flight back and forth as well as rent + living for 2 months. The rest of the money for my (what was by that time going to be a) six months trip, I've been borrowing from my mother. (NOTE: By the way, my rent in Japan was around 5000SEK a month, but if possible I recommend going together with a friend and sharing a room, it cuts the rent by almost half! Try searching Oakhouse on Google if you are headed for Tokyo area!). If we speak about my living expenses I estimate it to around 5000SEK a month (including travelling and sightseeing). Use those guidelines if you want to estimate your budget if you are planning on going to Japan. Before going to Japan I studied the Japanese language and took courses for around 1½ year (2 hours per week, so not much) and that was in addition to my normal engineering studies. I roughly learned to read and write hiragana and katakana, and 100 kanji as well as the most basic grammar. If you are going to Japan to study Japanese, in my opinion you should at least learn how to read and write hiragana, katakana and some basic phrases before going. Also before going on to my recommended packing list I just want to tell you that, there is a risk (chance) that you will not be satisfied with 6 months in Japan. Partly because you might feel that there is more to see in Japan. But mainly because learning enough Japanese for being fluent in daily conversation will probably take a minimum of 1 year full time studies, and at least 2 or 3 years for being able to read novels and manga containing more complicated words like in attack on titan, sci-fi etc. After one year you should however have the means to continue studying by yourself. Packing List: This packing list isn't a complete list of everything you should bring, but recommendations of good things to have in Japan.
*Laptop, seriously bring a laptop. A smart-phone just isn't enough *A converter so that you can charge your devices with the Japanese outlets (NOTE: If they in the electronic department store offer you one with a large metallic pig in the middle of the converter, don't buy it. It's only supposed to have two simple “flat” pigs). Google Japanese outlet if you are unsure. *Power Strip from your country(!!!) (Grenuttag in Swedish). Can not be easily bought in Japan and most of your chargers for computer, camera, etc are from your home country and it would suck only to be able to charge one of those devices at the time. *NOT hair-dryers or irons (if you are from Sweden anyway). The voltage is lower in the Japanese power outlets and usually devices like hair-dryers don't have an built-in converter. This means that they will be much weaker and almost non-functionable. Save the space in the bag and buy one in Japan instead, they are cheap anyways :) (If it says 110V-240V on your hair-dryer or iron you can use it in Japan as well. The Japanese Voltage is 110V) *Printed out satellite-view maps how to get to your apartment or share house from the nearest station. *A paper with numbers to your country’s embassy, the school, the share house manager etc. There are payphones on almost every station. *Toothpaste(!!!), a lot of toothpaste. Seriously, good Japanese toothpaste is hard to find. *Money (about 30000yen), since you almost never pay with credit card in Japan. You will need it until you find an ATM you can withdraw money from. That's about it. The rest is up to you ;) Some things to think about when first coming to Japan So you have arrived at Narita (Or Haneda) airport with your luggage, your new home is on the other side of Tokyo, you don't have internet and can’t speak Japanese. Don’t panic. First of all, most Japanese people don’t speak good English, but at least they speak enough English to be able to tell you how to go to a station, or show you where the bathroom is, etc. So don’t be afraid to ask! When you find the train station, ask the staff (they are everywhere) for help to pay a train ticket and tell them where you are going. Also ask if you have to change trains somewhere. And on the train if you are unsure about anything, just ask away! Don’t be afraid to ask! Three things good to know about the trains in Japan. *If you speak on the phone in the train. It’s regarded as bad manners and people will cast angry looks your way. *There are basically three different kinds of trains: local trains, rapid trains, and special rapid trains. Only local trains stop at every station, meaning that if you take a rapid or special rapid train, pay attention so that you don’t accidentally miss your station. (there are signs on every station telling which kind of train goes where) *Everything (like if it’s a local train or not) is written in both English and Japanese on the stations, so don’t worry. When you finally arrived at your home, congratulations! The hardest part is over and you can relax. However, you will have to learn how to live life from scratch again. So when you have rested, go explore your surroundings, find out where the closest post office is (because that, and 7/11 convenience stores are the only places you will be able to withdraw money from with a foreign credit card) Also stock up on food from the nearest supermarket! If you are about to study Japanese, try finding your way to the school in advance. Also, if you ever need anything, try go to a convenience store, they are open 24/7, have bathrooms, food and water, you can even pay your bills and print out stuff there. Everything comes with an affordable price too! If you are staying for a longer time, I recommend getting a cell phone. There are “flip flop phones” you can get rather cheap, but if you want a smartphone, remember that it comes with a price. (you might be able to get a WiFi sim-card to the smartphone you brought from home if it’s unlocked, try asking in electronic stores like “Yodobashi Camera” or “Big Camera”). Last but not least. If you wonder if you can drink tap water. I could. However I was told that it might not be good for foreigners for some reason, and the water you buy from super markets and convenience stores taste better anyway so go for that!Oh, and one final note! If you are staying a longer period, make sure to ask your school to help you recieve a health insurance card! As a student you only pay like 1300yen something a month, and it really pays off in case something happens. You pay the bills for the health insurance card in convenience stores. Memorable places I visited and things I did in Japan This is where I am going to talk about my experiences in Japan. You can use it as a guide to what you can do in Japan. Just remember that how I experienced it and how you will experience it will not be the same. I will only bring up the very best of the best, because otherwise, this would be a very very, very long post. If you want more information on these places I mention, I heavily recommend looking them up at http://www.japan-guide.com/
Yokohama and Tokyo area I’ll start with the Tokyo and Yokohama area because that’s where my base of operations (read: home) was, and if you are new to a country. You usually start with exploring the neighbourhood, right? ;) Minato Mirai (Yokohama) Minato mirai means “Future Port” in Japanese and that’s exactly what it feels like. First of all there are big shopping malls many stories high (with a pokemon center, and a shonen jump shop) and movie theathers. One of the most famous amusement parks in Japan is also located in Minato Mirai. Then there is the “akarengan (red brick house)” where they hold events like hanabi (summer fireworks), octoberfest, also you can do ice skating there during winter. Other than that there are also a number of nice restaurants and souvenir shops there.
(Minato Mirai at night)Also, there is the Landmark Tower, which is a very tall building that you can go up in with the fastest elevator in Japan. Once up there you can see the view over all of Tokyo. I especially recommend going up there during sunset or when it’s dark. And bring a good camera with you ;)
(View from Landmark Tower)
Minato Mirai also has the biggest China Town in Japan nearby (~20 minute walk) It’s definitely worth checking out. One more thing worth mentioning about Minato Mirai is that with the gardens and amusement parks near the sea with tall skyscrapers in the background it makes for a great dating spot, also the fact that there are so few people around make for a beautiful yet a little bit melancholic atmosphere (especially during the evening.) Akihabara You most likely know already, but Akihabara is famous for being a whole district dedicated to anime, manga, games and electronics. It’s Otaku’s heaven. There are also lots of cute Japanese maids running around on the streets of Akihabara. They try to seduce you into visiting one of the many Maid Cafés in Akihabara. (A maid café is a weird yet fun place where you get served food that looks cute, by Japanese schoolgirls in maid outfit and cat ears. Oh and you have to say “nyan (meow)” to order or they will ignore you. Oh and don’t worry. It’s not perverted in any way, probably...)
(One of the streets in Akihabara)
If you are interested in buying games in Japanese this information is for you: First of all, find “book off”. It’s a huge second hand shop and they have generally the lowest prices in all of akihabara. In Book Off you can also buy almost any manga for around 100yen (7SEK) per volume. If that won’t float your boat you can also try the three “Trader” stores that are scattered around the Akihabara district. They have a “Junk Corner” where you can get games almost free because the manual is missing, or the sleeve for the box is a fake, and so on. Usually the games work just fine, but just keep in mind that you don’t have any warranty on those games. Last but not least, try go to the Super Potato if you are looking for something you can’t find anywhere else. If you are into Retro, they have a lot, but they also know what everything is worth. Shibuya Like fashion and shopping? Go to either Harajuku or Shibuya! There are so many clothes stores here that it’s impossible to go through them all. This is also near the center of Tokyo meaning lots of skyscrapers and lit up neon billboards. Next to the station you can also find the famous Shibuya Crossing and nearby Hachiko Statue. There are also a lot of Izakayas (Japanese bars that you go to with your friends to eat and drink alcohol) My favourite one is one that is called “Alcatraz”. A prison themed Izakaya with a scary atmosphere where busty nurses serve you drinks and food that are nasty (in a good way), weird or X rated. (For example, there is a drink which you can order and if you are a girl, you are allowed to bitchslap the waiter bringing the drink. However, if you are a guy you get bitchslapped by the waiter bringing it)
(The bar called "Alcatraz")
Also if you and your wallet feel like taking a break from all the shopping, go to the nearby Yoyogi Park. It’s a huge park without any entrance fee, where you can see a lot of street performers training, and people having picnics etc. The atmosphere is very lively! Shinjuku and Shinjuku Imperial Garden I got the impression that Shinjuku is like the business district of Japan. Just like Shibuya it’s heavily urbanized with a lot of skyscrapers and stuff. It’s also the biggest, most crowded and most confusing station in Japan, so don’t get lost! There is of course shopping and a lot of stuff to do in Shinjuku as well, but I personally think Shibuya is the better spot for that. What is great about Shinjuku in my opinion is the Shinjuku imperial garden. Hands down the coolest garden I have ever seen. It takes about 2 hours to circulate the whole garden and the garden is divided into different sections displaying different vegetation. The garden closes at around 16:00 and after that the gardeners make sure the garden looks perfect for the next day. Try be there during the Sakura season for an even better experience.
(Shinjuku Imperial Garden)
Ueno Park Ueno park is a huge area in Tokyo with the largest Zoo, and the largest park in Tokyo (if I recall correctly) There is also a pond nearby where you can feed bread crumbles to birds from your hand, or ride swan boats with your friend (XD) Also on the streets behind Ueno Park (near the station) you can do some shopping or relax with a beer and some food outside in an atmospheric and lively environment. Odaiba Odaiba is an artificial island outside Tokyo which you can reach with the Monorail. There are amusement parks, shopping, beaches, and hot spring resorts there, there is even a statue of liberty there! To be honest, I had bad luck exactly every time I was in Odaiba since it was raining, so I can’t really say so much about the outdoor activities there, but I’ve heard there is a very famous ferris wheel there and I am pretty sure it’s worth paying a visit to. Also the rainbow bridge is amazing during night. Then there is the miniature version of the statue of liberty which is also cool. When I went there the first time, me and my friends went to Joypolis, an indoor amusement park. While it felt like the technology was a little aged, I still enjoyed it. It can be a little crowded though! Then I went to Oedo Onsen Monogatari. A hot springs amusement park! It was amazing! You get to wear yukatas, bath in hotsprings, get into the right mood in the romantic foot bath area, and then there is lots of nice food there. If you feel like it, you can also take a rest in the rest area, or get massage (for a price of course).
(Foot bath area in Oedo Onsen Monogatari)
Kamakura/Enoshima Feel like getting out from the city and to take it easy on the countryside? I recommend Kamakura! A places with lots of beautiful temples and shrines. I can’t remember the names of all the temples but once again I recommend japan-guide.com for details and way descriptions. The easiest way to reach these temples is by renting a bike in my opinion.
(One of the many tempels in Kamakura)
(Some couple held a traditional style wedding inside)
You can also do some hiking in Kamakura. There are many hiking trails with a good view and temples to visit along the way! You can also see a beautiful sunset by the sea. Last but not least I want to mention Enoshima, it’s an island outside Kamakura which you can reach by either bike, or train. I recommend bike. ;) In Enoshima there are local delicacies that are made out of a lot of tiny tiny white fish that are cooked in different ways. It’s a very special taste and an experience for life so try it! In Enoshima you can also climb stairs all the way to the top of the island, visiting shrines and lit up gardens along the way. On the top is a beautiful garden with a tower to climb for a beautiful view over the sea and shoreline.
(Enoshima at the evening)
Mt Takao Mount Takao is located around one hour outside of Tokyo, and you can easily get there with trains. Once you arrive you will notice how the air seems fresher than in the middle of Tokyo. That is the smell of the countryside. Mt Takao it’s a great place to visit if you like nature, hiking and the atmosphere of traditional japan. You can choose between 7-8 different paths to climb up to the top of Mount Takao, or be lazy and take the lift. On the top of Mount Takao there is a path that goes around the summit, and along that path is a lot of different temples and shrines, some restaurants, some spots you can take great pictures, a monkey park, etc. A story about my first experience on Mt Takao: Me and my friends Amanda, Andreas, and Jonas arrived at Mt Takao around 14:00. At the foot of Mt Takao there was like a small village with a very traditional Japanese atmosphere. There were lots of tourists and it was bustling. If you want to climb Mt Takao there were six different roads to take with different kinds of scenery. One had a waterfall, another had wildflowers, another had dense forest, etc. We didn't know which was which so we just took one that we found. It was a paved road leading all the way up to the summit and as we began our climb we soon noticed that it was going to be tougher than we thought! The road was very steep and about 4km long. Along the road was until that point, the most beautiful nature I've seen in Japan and maybe also in my life! The flora was totally different from Sweden and the forest is much denser then we are used to! Also along the road there were warning signs for monkeys that could either steal your stuff or attack you (I didn’t know which because 阿他瀬賀浜差漬and I couldn’t read Japanese at the time・。・ ) The climb was supposed to be around one hour, but for us, it was closer to three hours because we stopped so many times along the way and took pictures and enjoyed the scenery. When we had walked the hardest steepest path we came to a path that circled around the summit. At this path were lots of Shrines, Temples, Traditional Japanese buildings and other things worth seeing, aswell as small food stands that sold grilled Dango! When we were at the path circling around the summit the sun set and before we knew it, it was pitch black. The sun sets really fast in Japan! As we were wandering around aimlessly we found our way to a very slim path with a precipice on the left and a very very steep hill on the right. It was pitch black and you could barely see your hand in front of you. We couldn't see any other tourists and started wondering if the park had closed or not. Also we were lost. As we walked this narrow road in the darkness there came cars driving on that narrow road from BOTH DIRECTIONS. I mean how the fuck did they manage to pass by each other? Just barely one car could fit on that road and there was a precipice on the left side of the road. In order not to get hit by a car I had to wave with the flashlight in my cellphone and then we had to climb up the very steep hill on the right side and hold on to vines or roots so we would'nt fall down. It was very exciting walking on this unknown road in the darkness and the atmosphere invited us to scare each other more by telling things like "Are the monkeys that they warn for night time animals" And "Are we allowed to be here? What if the park is closed and we can't get out?" As we followed the road we eventually found a sign in Kanji that said something something summit and then an arrow. We followed that arrow and found the way to the summit! Yatta! We climbed 640m high Mt Takao! And it was pitch black and the view from the mountain over the lit up Tokyo was so beautiful! Too bad we couldn't take any good pictures since darkness combined with landscape photos is very hard even for a professional camera. Afterwards the climb down began. For some reason Jonas walked ahead of us in his own pace as he had done before the sunset once as well, and eventually disappeared out of sight. We took another path down towards the path circling around the summit and once again we were lost in the darkness. Jonas was gone and we had passed some split paths and since we don't know if he chose left or right we were pretty sure we wouldn't see him again. Then we hit something that looked like a dead end. They had closed an area that was open before sunset and next to the closed gate was a very small path circling around the closed area with a "No entry" sign that had fallen down. We didn't know where it lead and if we were allowed there. Our batteries in all of our cell phones were almost depleted and mine was the only one with a flashlight. I thought the situation was so hilarious I started filming and as I was filming we walked down the path we didn't know if it was forbidden or not. Then out of nowhere Jonas comes from behind a tree and scared the shit out of us! After some "Where the fuck are we? Are we allowed here? Whatever, let's see where this leads" we continued on the path and it actually led to the path that circled around the summit and so we found our way back and were able to walk back the 4km the same way as we came. I'd say it was a once in a lifetime experience!
(By the station of Mt Takao)
(Ascending Mt Takao)
Disney Sea & Disney Land Disney Sea and Disney Land are huuuuge amusement parks that look amazing! The rides are not thrilling in terms of speed and action, but rather for the fancy technical innovations and effects! They also have huge firework shows and parades every day! It’s a little bit expensive but well worth it! I went to both amusement parks with my school, and for me it felt like Disney Sea was the greater experience. Much because Disney Land felt more aimed towards children while Disney Sea was more for adults.
If you can, avoid going there on holidays and weekends, it’s going to be so crowded that you have to queue for hours to the rides. Hakone Another GREAT spot for hiking is Hakone. You can take either busses, or the rail lift to move around the area. (It’s expensive though, you’ll be spending around 10000yen on transportation alone) Either that or the much less expensive option; just climb over the freaking mountain on the hiking trails like a boss (I recommend) just be ready though, it’s a long walk! From Zoun-san which should be your starting position. It takes about 3 hours to reach Owakudani and another good 5-6 hours to reach the lake of Hakone. It’s a challenge, but a very good warm up for the even harder challenge, climbing Mount Fuji. During your climb you’ll see: 1.) Very variating nature. 2.) A very good view of Mount Fuji (if it’s sunny).
(The view from high up on the Hakone Mountain)
Owakudani is a place on the mountainside, where the Hakone Mountain last erupted. The result is that there is steam emitted from the whole mountainside. Amidst all that you can buy souvenirs, eat stuff, take a break if you walked here on the walking trails. And also buy eggs that have been boiled in hot springs (it is said that eating one makes you live 7 years longer :D)
(On the way towards Owakudani)
When you reach the Hakone lake, there is either a ferry going from one side to the other that might be cool. You can also walk along the shore, try heading towards Moto Hakone. Nearby is a shrine gate in the water and temples that I recommend visiting. (Try take pictures by that shrine gate when the sun is setting :D) In the small village, Moto Hakone you can go eat at very local Izakayas and experience the calm atmosphere of rural Japan. There are also busses that go back to civilization from there, but don’t be too late if you don’t plan on staying the night.
(Me and my Girlfriend at the Shrine Gate in the water, near Moto Hakone)
Actually there is much more in the Tokyo and Yokohama area, things like the Penis Festival, a tropical paradise island 1 hour outside Tokyo, Ikebukuro, Owl cafés, Hot spring resorts, Halloween parade, etc. Just name dropping here. If you want more information on what you can do, feel free to comment after this post! Memorable places in the rest of Japan Osaka, Kyoto, Nara First off, the Kansai region, I am naming them all together because they are so close to each other that you can take the train and reach the other in 1 hour. They are like the three edges of a triangle. I recommend going during either sakura season or autumn season! Just remember to book hotels a long time in advance as they get booked VERY fast. If you are out of luck and can’t find a hotel, I recommend staying at one of the “super sentos” in Osaka! It’s kind of a spa hotel where you can bath in hot springs and sleep in “resting chairs”. A sleepover costs around 3000yen. Just make sure to be there before or around 9 o clock in the evening to be sure to have a place to sleep, or you might have to sleep at the floor xD. (NOTE: They charge you for charging cell phones and cameras, so I recommend a separate solution for that) Also I recommend staying in the Kansai area for at least a week, since there is so much to see! Ok, first of, what can you do in Nara: Nara is hands down my favourite place in Japan. Imagine a temple city, with an urban core, surrounded by gardens, temples, shrines, and a whole lot of deers that are tame and bow for food. No, I am not making that up. The whole town is filled with deers that are tame and can bow for you. Combine that with the sakura season, and you have found the most harmonic, atmospheric, awesome place on the entire earth. At least if you ask me.
(Raindeers that wants 煎餅, aka cookies!)
(I can't resist posting this cute face xD)
If you want to go to Nara on a daytrip, it’s doable but make sure you arrive early since there is a lot of things to see. Alternatively come back and spend two days here. You have to walk away from the station and the urban core to actually reach the good stuff. I urge you to take it easy and not stress to see everything, rather than that, just enjoy the atmosphere and feed some deers. Visit the giga large temple in the area, buy souvenirs, eat traditional soba noodles, there is a hill which you can climb to get a better view and see the sunset. And when it starts getting dark, if you are lucky, you may see hordes of hundreds and hundreds of deers running in a Y formation into the forest.
(The "Giga temple" in Nara)
(How it otherwise can look like in the area)
(Fun fact: No one is taming the deers in the area, and no one teaches them how to bow. While some deers bow better than others, they learn from each other not to be afraid of humans and that they get food if they bow. Evolution, yay!) Ok, now let’s take Osaka: Japans Osaka is like Swedens Gothenburg. Just as Stockholm people and Gothenburg people ridicule each other, so does Osaka and Tokyo people. Osaka also has its own distinct dialect that is famous (infamous?). Just take the example Honma ee na―! versus Hontouni ii ne―! Sounds different right? It kind of means “Soo good―！” by the way. xD So what can you do in Osaka? A lot, actually. There is the great Osaka Castle that you have to visit. If possible during Sakura Season. Trust me, it’s amazing.
(The great Osaka Castle)
Afterwards, go to Namba. During the day there is a shopping streak there that is so long that if you clear the whole shopping streak you can get a diploma. However, I recommend going there during the evening since the bustling nightlife air is awesome. While there, Try out Osakas “Takoyaki” and “Okonomiyaki”. It’s probably the best I had food wise in Japan. Also one must not forget Universal Studios Japan. I never actually went there because money. But it’s like Disney Land and Disney Sea. I’ve heard it’s great! Last but not least, Kyoto! Kyoto is in comparison to Tokyo, actually a pretty small city. Small enough that I would actually recommend renting bikes for exploring! From one side to the other it takes about 1 hour with bike. Just remember that you can’t park your bike anywhere! Before anything I just want to say, prepare food boxes from convenience stores or bring something to eat. You will not find much food around the temple areas for a reasonable price. So what can you do in Kyoto? Omg that is a lot, but it all revolves around visiting temples and shrines. Kyoto is nice during Sakura season, but it’s magical during autumn season. (Especially when they illuminate the temples areas, the gardens and shrines during evening/night!) Since Kyoto has so many memorable spots Kyoto is the main reason why you’ll want to have at least one week in the Kansai area to be satisfied. I can’t remember the names of all the temples, so I’ll namedrop the ones I do remember, and leave the rest for you to find at www.japan-guide.com. First try to go to the Inari gates. While climbing up a mountain in the forest you go through around 10000 gates. I recall it’s said to bring good luck to go through a gate. So why not 10000? It can’t hurt, right? :P You’ll see a nice lake, some temples and bamboo trees along the way so give it a shot! Oh, and the whole climb up and down takes around 4 hours including taking pictures, resting and so on.
(A passageway made by only shrine gates)
(Lots and lots of shrine gates :3)
Then I recommend Kyoumizudera temple. It’s the most famous temple in Kyoto. And when they illuminate it during the autumn evening it’s absolutely fantastic! However, they queue for entering the temple is staggering so be prepared to wait a couple of hours to be able to enter. (There are also other temples that are amazing an autumn night in Kyoto, but I can’t remember the names of them)
(Kyoumizudera during Sakura. It's even cooler during Autumn!)One mustn't forget the Golden Pavillion! It's a small temple near a lake that is painted in gold. One of the most famous temples in Tokyo!
(The Golden Pavillion in the background)
The Gyon quarter is a little bit hard to find, but is also amazing. Get there around 23:00 and pay much much money to have a tea ceremony with Geishas! Or just go there anyways and enjoy the evening atmosphere. Just remember that the geishas don’t like to be taken pictures of, and actually don’t like to talk with you either. There are some temples nearby as well worth checking out. There is also a bamboo street in Kyoto that is really amazing. Go there! You can also find a cool temple nearby! (NOTE: They lit up the bamboo street in the evening, but I don’t remember which time during the year. I recommend doing a little research because I imagine it would be very beautiful)
(The bamboo street. I imagine it to be even more amazing lit up during the evening!)
Finally, I do not recommend going to Studio Park. It is a theme park that has a Edo-period Japan setting where they sometime record movies and stuff. It was way too expensive (3000yen) and it felt like it was mainly made for younger children. Instead: Take that money and eat something really cool, traditional at an expensive restaurant ;) Nikko Nikko is a mountain village area located north of Tokyo and you can reach it with train, it takes about 3-4 hours. I’ve been to Nikko two times, and it is one of my favourite places in Japan. Both times I went there during winter.
(The main train station in Nikko)
First time I went there was in January together with my Swedish friends and our friend Wen from Thailand. We stayed at a japanese style hostel and slept in futons on the floor. The hostel was located far into the countryside where there were barely any people around at all. The locals had never seen a foreigner before and were very happy to see us blondies xD The first day we arrived at Nikko we were amazed over the scenery and the fresh air. However, it was way colder and windier than we expected and the cold combined with the moisture in the air freezes you to the soul. Still, we pushed forward and explored things like the world heritage site, and a famous bridge, and so on. The second day we bought warmer clothes and went with bus up to Mount Nantai. We were aiming to climb to the top, but it was impossible because there was simply too much snow. Even though we couldn’t climb to the top, the area around Mount Nantai was simply amazing. There was snow, wild snow monkeys running around the streets, a beautiful unfrozen lake amidst all the snow, a tall mountain right next to it. An amazing waterfall, and local food worth to die for.
(The lake close to Mount Nantai and Wen building his first Snowman xD)
The third day we went to “Edomura” a theme park where they had constructed a village to look as in the old days. (The enterance fee is around 3000yen by the way) You could see people cosplaying as Samurais staging a fight on the streets, some parades with geishas, feudal lords, samurais etc, there was a ninja show, some outdoor food stands serving dango and yakitori. Also you could go into houses and read up on different fun to know facts about Japan in the old days. (IMPORTANT: The shuttle busses back to the station stops going before the theme park actually closes, so make sure when the last buss leaves! We missed it and had to take a black taxi back T^T) The second time I visited Nikko was together with a lot of friends as we were interrailing our way towards northern Japan. This time we also visited mount Nantai and the Lake so I won’t go too much into details there, but we also visited the Senjogahara Marchlands, and walked around with snowshoes! That was really really awesome! (But very very cold as well, so make sure to bring lots of socks and a couple of “Kairos” to put into your gloves and socks)
(Marchlands during sunset in Nikko)
Yudanaka, Snow monkeys bathing in hot springs and Oonumaike Lake One day, me, Andreas and Marcus decided to take a weekend off from the hectic city life and go recover in a spa resort area. So we went to Nagano Prefecture with a bus from Shinjuku (Willer Express) to Nagano, and from there took a train to Yudanaka. Yudanaka is another one of my favourite places in Japan. It’s a remote village located in the highlands of Japan near the mountains. The village is in itself a spa resort area and you can find a lot of hot spring hotels. Next to the station is a free hot spring where you can dip your feet. The calm air is great, and just like every other place, you should try to avoid being in a hurry to see everything, but rather just walk around and enjoy the atmosphere.
(Chilling in a hotel in Yudanaka)
From the central station of Yudanaka, you can find busses that goes to a place where you can find snow monkeys bathing in Onsen. It’s not expensive and I really recommend it.
(Some Snow Monkeys bathing in Onsen)
What I recommend even more however, is taking a bus that goes to Oonumaike lake. You will have to change bus once. (Or you can just walk once you rode the first bus, since changing busses is a pain and it only takes roughly 20-30 minutes to walk to where the next bus would have stopped) Ideally I recommend going during autumn! Just remember that since Oonumaike lake is located so high up the autumn leaves change colours 1-2 months earlier than in Tokyo!). Anyways, when you have arrived by foot or with bus to the bus station nearest Oonumaike lake. You have some hiking to do. It takes about one hour to reach the lake by foot. But when you do (if you time it right) you’ll see a super blue lake surrounded by mountains in all the autumns colours, and clouds coming down between the mountains. It’s a magical scenery and the greatest I’ve ever seen in Japan. If you go around to the other side of the lake you can see a beach and a small shrine in the water (Actually, I couldn’t resist taking a swim there xD it was so cold it hurt though).
(The Oonumaike lake in autumn)
(Taking a swim by the shrine gate)
You can then either return back the same way, or go the other route back to civilization which will take around 2-3 hours and take you across some marchlands and other cool things. I recommend the long way!
(Some marchlands if you continue the long way, note that this isn't fog, it's inside a cloud)
Okinawa Okinawa is the southernmost island of Japan, and has a tropical climate and even jungle in the northern parts. If you want to go snorkelling in the coral reeves you should go to the smaller islands outside Okinawa. Snorkelling in the coral reeves was definitely my best experience in Okinawa, the water was very blue, and the rainbow coloured fishies in the water weren’t afraid of you in the least, you could even touch them sometimes before they moved out of the way. The main island of Okinawa has some really nice beaches too. If you go north to a town named Onna you will find nice ones for example.
(Outside a village named Onna)
(Sunset at a beach in Okinawa)
If you get tired of sunbathing I recommend Kokusai street in the middle of Naha (the capital of Okinawa kind of). They have killer tacos and you can do a lot of shopping there. In the evening you can drink at one of the many Izakayas there. One more thing about Okinawa. Just know that there are a many very poisonous animals on the island. Have that in thought and don’t wander into the jungle or dive into the water where others aren’t swimming for example. Cat Island The Cat Island is an island located in the northern parts of Japan. You can take bus or train from Sendai to reach where the ferry to Cat Island leaves from. Cat Island is an almost abandoned island where almost everyone is over 60 years old. There are a lot of remnants from old houses and shrines and it makes for a pretty melancholic feeling. Oh, and there are lots and lots of cats! If you are a cat lover, this is a destination for you while you are traveling around northern Japan! Don’t forget to bring some cat food!
(Feeding some cats at the Cat Island)
There is also a shrine for the great cat god in the middle of the island. If you want to walk around the island it takes about 2-3 hours. (The great cat gods shrine) Climbing Mount Fuji
First of all, I want to warn you. Right now, it seems like Mount Fuji is on the verge of having a volcanic eruption. It will probably happen in accordance with the next big earthquake. Thus I do not recommend climbing Mount Fuji until this has happened. Just for your own safety! If you sometime in the future decide to climb to the top of Mt Fuji, let me tell you that the view is absolutely fantastic! By looking at Mt Fuji from the bottom, you can’t realize just how high the mountain is. You have to look down from the top in order to realize this! If possible, try climbing up during night to catch the sunrise, it’s a magical scene that you will remember for the rest of your life. The climb up takes longer time than you might think. Count with at least 7 hours up and 5 hours down. It’s actually the most exhausting thing I ever did in Japan so if you don’t feel you are up to the task, don’t take any unnecessary risks. Also the descent is even worse than ascending the mountain. This is because it will be a large burden on your knees walking downhill for 5 hours.
(People watching the first sunrays hit Japan on top of Mt Fuji)
(Starting the Descent of Mt Fuji)
(Getting closer to station 5 descending Mt Fuji)
It’s one of those things that while you do it, you’re probably going to hate it, but once you have done it and look back upon it. You will be happy that you did it. It’s an achievement of a lifetime ^^ One more thing, it’s really really cold and can be windy, even in the middle of the summer, so bring gloves, warm cloths/jackets, and something to cover your face and head! Fuji 5 lakes and the Suicide forest A long time ago, Mount Fuji had a major eruption, and so ashes and lava poured down into the nearby lake, dividing it into five, and that is what is now known as the Fuji 5 lakes. The lava also destroyed the nearby forest, and the new forest that grew up from the ashes was corrupted, twisted and lifeless. That is today known as the “Suicide forest” or Aokigahara Forest in Japanese. While in the area, I recommend to stay for 2-3 days and renting a bike to go places. Just remember that even with bike, it takes quite a while to get somewhere since the area around the Fuji 5 lakes is large.
(One of the Fuji 5 lakes)
In the area there is also a great field with 800 000 pink flowers where you can take pictures with Mount Fuji in the background. Just be sure to time it right! If they are not fully in bloom it will be a very boring experience. Last but not least, the Suicide Forest: Check this link for all the information you want to know: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=pgAHP4M84ZE As you might see in the documentary, the forest looks very peculiar because it grew up from the Ashes of an erupted Mount Fuji. The forest is also extremely quiet, and I’ve heard that little to none animals reside within that forest. Within the forest there is a “forbidden area” which is not actually forbidden, but rather recommend not to venture in so that poor souls don’t find anything they don’t want to see. This area lies behind and between the “Ice Cave” and “Wind Cave”. As the documentary says, inside there you will find things like threads or marked trees, which people have left behind in order to find their way back out should they change their mind about committing suicide. If you want to see how it looks like inside with your own eyes, go ahead, but do not venture in too far into the forest.
(One of the hiking trails inside Aokigahara Forest e.g. "Suicide Forest")
Fuji Q Fuji Q is the most awesome amusement park in Japan and is also close to Mount Fuji! It has some of the most thrilling rollercoasters in the whole world! And a lot of other amazing stuff. While it’s a little costly I definitely recommend going!
(One of the crazy rollercoasters)
(Another of the Crazy roller coasters)
A tip is going on a day when everyone is at work or in school, ultimately a day when the weather is cloudy yet it’s not raining. All because the queues for the rides can be horribly long. Zaou Onsen and Yamadera temple The Zaou mountain lies in northern Japan and you can reach it with trains and bus from either Fukushima or Sendai. For more details on how to go there, please check japan-guide.com as I do not quite remember names of the stations. The Yamadera temple can be reached on the way back to Sendai from Zaou Onsen. Zaou Onsen lies far up in the mountains and thus it’s very cold and snowy. It’s a Ski and Hot springs resort and the best one I’ve been at in my entire life! In the village you can visit a variation of different natural hot springs with prices as little as 500yen. Try finding an outdoor one, and time it with snowfall during the evening for an amazing experience. We found a hotel there for as little as 2000yen per night! Also if you like skiing you can rent equipment! I also recommend going to the local Izakayas and family restaurants in the evening.
(In the village on the Zaou Mountain)
(This building is one of the many public onsen facilities. It's unmanned and you are supposed to put a 100yen in a box before entering. The Outdoor onsen facilities are amazing!)
On the way back to civilization you can take a small detour and stop at the Yamadera station (if you are heading towards Sendai). Yamadera means mountain temple, and it is exactly that. The climb up takes one hour, but its well worth it and the view is great!
(The view from the Yamadera Temple)
My thoughts and opinions about Japan as well as how they have changed with time. When in Japan, one of my friends Jesper told me this: Once you go Asian, you never go Caucasian. And I find this really accurate. When I went to Japan, I planned to stay there for 6 months studying Japanese. I soon felt that 6 months wasn’t nearly going to be enough, and so I extended it to a year. Then when the time to go home drew closer, I felt that I still hadn’t finished writing that chapter of my life just yet, and so I extended my stay for another 6 months. Even after finally coming back to Sweden, I will soon go back to Japan for another 9 months. (More on that later). The time in Japan was without a doubt the best time of my life. I met so many people, and even a Japanese girlfriend. I learned to speak a new language (I’m still not done learning though). I explored so many different amazing places. And I explored myself and found out what I want to do with my life. For me, my heart still lives in Japan. And while I acknowledge that every place, every society has their own pros and cons, I find that it’s up to you to see past the faults within and make the best out of your experience. It’s all about one’s attitude, and way of looking at things. I heard that people say living in Japan makes you go through 4 phases: 1.) Exaltation: You are exalted about exactly everything and there is no doubt in your mind that it’s the most amazing place in the entire world. 2.) Realization: You start to slowly realize that everything might not be as great as you thought in the beginning, and start to see Japan from a different light, making you question the society and criticize it. 3.) Loneliness: They say that as a foreigner you can never become truly Japanese, and fit it. And thus you will sooner or later find out that you are the odd fish in the sea. You might be struggling to find Japanese friends, (especially if you don’t know any Japanese) this will eventually lead to home sickness and loneliness. 4.) Acceptance or Rejection: In the end, you will either find harmony and learn to accept the Japanese society for what it is, or you will grow to hate it, simply not fitting it. My opinion: I never found myself to be lonely nor did I start to criticize the society. Your experience is simply what you make out of it. As my mother always says, don’t search for problems, rather search for solutions. To summarize: My thought about Japan hasn’t changed since I came to Japan. It was awesome back then, and it’s awesome now. Japan is the 1UP mushroom of my life, by which I mean my second life. A place full of possibilities where I can start a new life in a whole different world. And to haters I say this: Don’t judge my opinions based on your experiences. My way of how to effectively study Japanese The Japanese language consists of 漢字(Kanji), ひらがな(Hiragana) and カタカナ(Katakana) The hiragana and the katakana are Japanese syllables (much like our alphabet) and kanji are symbols with different meanings whose pronunciation (reading) is composed by a combination of different hiragana. The difference between katakana and hiragana is that katakana is used for loan words, scientific terms, slang and sometimes to add a feeling of emphasis. To fully understand the Japanese language you will need to know about 2000-3000 kanji. This may seem as a daunting task, and I assure you that it will take at least 2 years of full time studies in order to achieve this. My first and most important tip is that the easiest and fastest way to learn Japanese, is to surround yourself by it. Start listening to Japanese music, watch anime as much as you can. Listen to Japanese music, change the settings on your computer and mobile phone to Japanese etc. This will help you getting accustomed to the language, making it easier to learn, and you will actually learn phrases, pronunciation and grammar automatically, just by pure exposure. And this is good because the less effort you have to do to learn, the more motivation you will have learning. Motivation is key. Lose motivation and you lose the race. My second tip is to find Japanese friends that don’t speak English (or even better, a girlfriend/boyfriend). Because learning how to speak Japanese is the hardest step of them all. And the only way to learn this is by speaking, and making mistakes. You have to get used to speaking to be able to speak. And the best way to do this is to put yourself in situation where you have to speak Japanese. My third tip is regarding how to learn Kanji. All the kanjis are made up from a variation of radicals bunched together. For example the kanji 怒 “anger” is composed of the radicals 女(girl)、又(still)、心(heart). As you learn kanji you will see that these different kinds of radicals are coming again and again, and so after a while you will find yourself instead of memorizing each single stroke, you just have to remember which radicals combine what kanji. At this point memorizing kanjis will be much easier. Also, when learning kanjis, don’t forget to learn to the meaning of the kanjis as well as how they are pronounced, since by knowing this, it will be easier to remember words combined by these kanjis as the kanjis combined will make more sense (not always). Example: 可愛い kawaii (cute) is composed of the kanjis 可(possibly)、愛(love)、so cute = possibly love. Thinking like this makes it so much easier to remember words and kanjis in my opinion. Finally, I’m going to show you how I study when I study Kanji. I do lists like this every day: 漢字 かんじ Kanji 日本語 にほんご Japanese 勉強 べんきょう Studies 休憩 きゅうけい Break 教える 教える To teach etc. 1.) I write down the left row with the words I want to learn in Kanji 2.) In the middle row, I try write the reading in Hiragana (without looking) and if I can’t figure it out, I look it up. 3.) In the right row I try to remember the meaning of the word and write it down (if I can’t I look it up). 4.) When done writing the list, I hide the middle and right row, and try to guess the reading and the meaning of the Kanji. If I fail I put a small mark next to the word. Then, when I have gone through my list of words from top to bottom, I repeat the process until I get them all right. 5.) Lastly I hide the left row and the middle row, only seeing the word in English, and from that I try to figure out how to pronounce the word, as well as write the Kanjis. If I fail, I put a small mark beside the word. Then I repeat the process until I can read and write all of the words in my list. 6.) Lastly, before going through the next list of words, I repeat the above steps 4 and 5 to make sure I remember the words I’ve learned the day before. 7.) Repeat steps 1-6 for as long as it takes until you can understand and write Japanese. You will notice that in the beginning, this will be hard, and it will take a while even to learn the first 30 kanji. But as you keep doing this, you will become better and better, faster and faster at remembering Kanjis. After doing this for about 2 years I am now able to remember about 30 new words every day. And to make a list like this and go through it doesn’t take more than an hour. Of course you can’t just do this and expect to learn Japanese, this is simply a good way to learn how to read and write Kanji fast. 50 random noteworthy things about Japan 1 You can often find elderly people in the train playing 3DS and reading manga.
2 Japan has a subtropical climate, meaning a large variation of nature can flourish there
3 When the sun starts setting, it goes faster before its dark compared to Sweden 4 There are wending machines in every corner of Japan, even on the country side. The drinks are relatively cheap and in autumn, spring and winter you can buy hot, as well as cold drinks
5 The Karaoke culture
6 There are Game Centers a little bit everywhere. They have a variation of ufo cathers, rhythm games, arcade games, fighting games, gambling etc.
7 The train system which is probably the best in the world
8 Most things except large sums are payed in cash
9 If a japanese person and an English person read the same sentence in their respective languages, the Japanese person would read and take in information faster.
10 Mount Fuji is most likely going to erupt in the near future
11 The unparalleled respect Japanese people generally show others
12 Public toilets in every convenience store, and train station, they are generally very clean and they are FREE (for fuck sake).
13 Themed cafés everywhere (maid cafe, butler cafe, cat cafe, owl cafe, goat cafe, Final Fantasy café, gundam café, robot café etc.)
14 Japanese people living in remote villages rarely ever see foreigners and thus you are going to pique their interest (especially if you are blond/blue eyed xD)
15 The gaijin card. (This is a bad thing in my opinion)
Basically “pulling the gaijin card” means that you can get away breaking Japanese social codes
(talking on the phone in the train, cutting the line etc) with low risk of anyone holding it against you. Because you are a foreigner. This also means that you can never truly become
"Japanese". Doesn’t matter if you are fluent in the language, or even born in japan, as long as you don't look Japanese, the majority of the Japanese people who don’t know you in person will assume that you don’t understand their ways and might treat you accordingly.
16 Japanese TV is weird sometimes. (especially commercials and talk shows) I have never had this much fun watching TV before.
17 The low price of going out to eat.
18 Pocky. Becuase, pocky is awesome.
19 Sweets paradise. All you can eat cake buffet. Do I need to say more?
20 Cat Island, Rabbit Island, Fox Village, Monkeys bathing in Onsen, Nara with bowing tame Deers, O.O
21 Onsen. One mustn’t forget mentioning the hot spring culture that exists in japan
22 The old ways (temples, shrines, festivals and traditions) mixed in perfect harmony with the new (the world largest metropolis and constant new technological innovations)
23 Convenience stores. They are everywhere, they are convenient, not too expensive compared to super markets, open 24/7, they always have toilets, all the daily necessities you might need, and you can print papers, withdraw money, pay your bills, and more.
24 Ramen. If you go out and eat real ramen each and every store has its own touch to it. And the ingredients and way of making can differ greatly.
25 Onigiris, (rice balls) also has a broad range of variety and is very convenient for bringing as lunch on daytrips etc. Also tasty.
26 The fact that people leave their bag at the seat and go to the bathroom without worrying that it will be gone when they come back.
27 You might think you don't look good enough in your country. Don't worry. You might in japan! They have different opinions on what looks good and not and being blonde or blue eyed is rare and attractive most people think xD 28 if you cosplay (and do it good) people will admire you. You will be the new role model for kids, even elder people will accept you (unlike a certain country where people just think you are weird if you cosplay)
29 one reasonable price (210yen) and you can go as far as you want with the bus
30 “Kairos” are sold everywhere, small bags of sand that you shake and they get warm for around 4 hours. Perfect to have in shoes or gloves during winter. 31 You can buy great Super Famicom games (Super Nintendo games) for as little as 100-1000yen, but you have to know Japanese 32 There are women only train cars during rush hours, don’t go into them by mistake if you are a guy :P 33 Tokyo metropolis is about as big as if you would take build urban area between, Uppsala, Södertälje and Stockholm.
34 Osaka in Japan is much like Gothenburg in Sweden I’ve heard. 35 GIGA PUDDING! (look it up!) 36 Fruit is very expensive in Japan and you don’t pay per kilo, you pay per piece. 37 Manga costs 107yen/piece second hand at Book Off. That is about 7SEK 38 Most toilets in Japan has an ass spray to clean yourself 39 Even though Japanese university isn’t free. WAY more people go to university than in Sweden. 40 Most times you are expected to use “bathroom slippers” in the bathroom 41 Japan doesn’t celebrate Christmas as we do, instead Christmas is a dating holiday where you hang out with your partner or ask out the one you love. Oh, and eating KFC is also a tradition during Christmas for some reason 42 Love hotels are a thing… :P 43 There is a “suicide forest” 44 KitKat is famous in Japan and there are very many different flavours to choose from 45 While praying at a temple/shrine, offering a 5 yen coin brings the most luck it is said. 46 Pachinko is very wide-spread in Japan. It’s a form of gambling where you steer small iron balls into a hole, and if you hit enough you win. Can’t really explain it that well, but it’s noisy >__< 47 Shintoism, Buddhism and Christianity all live side by side peacefully in Japan. 48 You don’t tip in Japan. If you do, the waiter/waitress will think you accidentally paid too much and will run after you to give the change back 49 The “Penis Festival”. Enough said. 50 Face Masks. Most people carry them because they are sick and don’t want to infect others, or they didn’t have time to do make-up, or that it’s cold outside, or that they work at a crowded place in contact with many people and don’t want to get sick. The reasons are many to carry a face mask.And that's it for this time! I hope I have made you more aware of how to get to Japan, what you can do in Japan, and my opinions about living in Japan. If you made it all this way, I am impressed! If you have any questions, or find something that isn't correct, or just want to say hello. I will be happy for all the comments you can muster! From now on, my posts will be more concise, and I wont just talk about what I do in Japan, I will also talk my mind whenever something comes up, make some game reviews, and post random stuff about whatever I feel like. Also, I will write everything from now on in Japanese as well! (although my Japanese is not perfect yet)Oh, and one more thing! If you know anyone interested in going to Japan, or just is interested in Japan. Feel free to tell them about this blog, and this post!