In Travel SOS, Lee Mylne shares her top tips for the best things to do in Japan.
Jamie has seven days to spend in Japan but with so much to see and do in the Land of the Rising Sun, he needs some direction on how to make the best use of his time. Lee Mylne comes to the rescue.
I’ve always been mad keen to go to Japan but when I started looking at where to go, I became a little overwhelmed by all that’s on offer. If I had a week to spend there, would I be able to fully experience Tokyo, Osaka and Kyoto? Or should I limit my time there to one or two cities?
A. I’m with you on this one, Jamie! I’ve never been to Japan either, but I know a number of people who’ve been this year and have been very envious seeing their images and hearing all about it. I asked my friend Alison, who lived in Japan for 23 years and had lots of visitors while she was there, for some advice for you.
If you’ve only got a week, Alison suggests spending three or four days in Tokyo and three days in Kyoto. You don’t have to spend all your time in the cities, either. From Tokyo, take a day trip to Hakone Lakes and or to the lovely seaside town Kamakura to see the Great Buddha. From Kyoto if you have time you can do a day trip to Nara, to see the other big Buddha and the deer park.
For a first-time visitor to Kyoto, Alison suggests that you don’t miss the Kiyomizu Temple (and then take a walk through the quaint streets of Sannenzaka and Ninnezaka), the Yasaka shrine and nearby Maruyama Park, Ginkaku ji (the Silver Temple & the Philosophers path), Kinkakuji - the Golden Pavilion and nearby Ryoanji (Zen Rock Garden) and Nijo Castle. As you can see there’s plenty to keep you busy for a few days.
If you’ve got time, visit Arashiyama for more sightseeing, including the Tenryuji temple, with its exquisite Zen garden, and walk through the bamboo forest and along the river.
Kyoto is also home of the tea ceremony, so make sure you allow enough time to enjoy one.
If you are not averse to sleeping on a futon, stay one night in a Japanese ryokan (homestay), or go to a hot spring town for a night in a ryokan; some suggestions are Hakone Yumoto from Tokyo or Kinosaki Onsen from Kyoto or Osaka.
The very helpful Toni Fan from the Japan National Tourism Office in Sydney tells me that most Australian visitors stay an average of two weeks in Japan, but that a week is still definitely enough to cover three cities. She suggests that if you want to see all three on your list, spend three days each in Tokyo and Kyoto and one day in Osaka.
In Tokyo, top of her list of suggestions for must-do sights are the Senso-ji Temple, the observation deck of the Asakusa Culture Tourism Center, and the Meiji Shrine (if you’re there at the weekend, you may see a traditional Japanese wedding). For those famous neon lights, head to the Shinjuku area (but she warns against the bars; this area is similar to Kings Cross in Sydney).
Other “must-do” experiences to consider adding to your plans are dining out - try sushi anywhere, but in Tokyo a good place is the Tsukiji Outer Fish Market; head to Ramen Street at First Avenue Tokyo Station for Ramen (Japanese soup noodles) - visiting traditional gardens, taking in a sumo match or kabuki performance, and soaking in hot springs.
As for shopping, head to the Ginza neighbourhood for clothing and keep an eye out for the 100 yen shops (similar to dollars shops in Australia).
Toni says you could also do Osaka, but it’s a big city and there is a lot to see and do there It might be better to spend one night there on the way out to enjoy the fun and colourful night life and amazing food. You can fly in from Tokyo and depart from the Kansai airport (next to Osaka and not too far from Kyoto) or via versa.
You said the choices were overwhelming and hearing all this, I’m inclined to agree with you, but it’s also certainly whetted my appetite to travel to Japan too!
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