Japan Travel Guide

My travel guide to Japan is as subjective as a travel guide can get, but given the number of Japan-related travel posts on this site, this post aims to provide a list of those posts in a more logical manner with the hope that it may help you to plan your trip to Japan.

They say planning is the best part of any trip. Well, maybe not so much when your destination is Japan. There are some positive reasons beyond this first-world problem, like the abundance of places that all catch your attention but are impossible to fit into a one or two-week-long itinerary. But then there are also legitimately challenging aspects, including the lack of English sources about some remote destinations, phone booking requirements still applicable in the case of a surprisingly large selection of accommodation, and a general language barrier that greets you long before you arrive in Japan. 

Reflection of green leaves in a temple in Kyoto
Ruriko-in Temple in Kyoto

I am not a travel guide writer or even a useful travel blogger. Most of my posts involve ramblings or my highly subjective opinions about destinations rather than helpful tips. However, there are still a few posts on this site that aim to help you plan your trip to Japan. Some of these include destination suggestions (cities, hiking routes, islands, hot springs), and some lay out several tips to help reduce your travel costs. There is even a post listing Japan-themed books that may make a good companion on any trip to Japan. So this is my Japan travel guide for you, a very subjectively curated one.

Table of Contents

    Places to visit in Japan other than Kyoto and Tokyo

    There are countless places to visit in Japan, and this is not an exaggeration. I have been living in Japan for more than four years and have spent the better part of those years traveling around the country both for leisure and work trips, and there are still countless and fairly well-known places that I have not yet had a chance to visit.

    Assuming that Tokyo and Kyoto are already in your itinerary (and I think there is nothing wrong with that), in this post, I wrote about several destinations that you can easily fit into a week or two-week itinerary that is centered around Tokyo and/or Kyoto: Where to Visit in Japan Other than Tokyo and Kyoto?

    Japan money-saving tips

    Please believe me when I say Japan is not as expensive as it is infamously known to be. Yes, it is not a budget destination, but I believe it is substantially cheaper than most Western destinations.

    In this post – Traveling Japan on Budget – I listed some of my tips to reduce your travel costs in Japan, touching upon some transportation tips, accommodation options, and alternative eatery suggestions.

    Best hostel experiences in Japan

    The hygiene standards in Japan are so high that you usually do not need to spend a fortune to have access to a decent night’s sleep while traveling in Japan.

    Kochi no Ya - photo credit Kochi no Ya Hostel
    Kochi no Ya Hostel in Shikoku

    From B&B style accommodation (minshuku in Japanese) to business hotels and high-end ryokans, there is a rich category of accommodation options that will please almost anyone. If you are into hostel-style accommodation, the country, thanks to a hostel movement now spread outside of big cities like Tokyo and Osaka, is home to many stylish hostels that rival hotel-style accommodations. Here is a selection of some of my favorite hostels in Japan.

    Where to experience Japanese hot springs

    Japan has nearly 3000 hot spring facilities, known as onsen, and everyone has their favorite. The ones that I tend to like more are the stand-alone onsen ryokans/huts that are not part of a larger onsen town or the onsen towns where each facility enjoys a secluded location; Nyuto Onsen Village in Akita is a good example.

    Snowy forest with onsen in Japan
    Nyuto Onsen Village in Tohoku

    It sure took me a while to get used to the onsen culture in Japan (even though I am from Turkey, which has its own unique public bath culture), but I now cannot imagine finishing a day of hiking without a visit to an onsen. Many people feel shy and worried about the nudity requirement (I was), but honestly, no one really cares, no one makes you feel uncomfortable, and you get used to it very quickly. These are some of my favorite onsen/hot springs in Japan.

    Where to go hiking in Japan

    I spend almost all my vacation days, including long holidays, visiting hiking destinations within and outside Japan. Japan is a wonderful country to hike, especially if you are into solo hiking. It is safe, and the trails are easily accessible thanks to the efficient public transportation network covering the entire country.

    Hiking in Japan
    Mount Miyanoura in Yakushima

    The diversity of hiking trails within Japan is another appeal. You can explore ancient pilgrimage routes during weeks or days-long hikes or hike right next to an active volcano. These are some of my favorite hiking trails in Japan.

    Walking the pilgrimage routes of Japan

    Japan is home to many pilgrimage routes that, for centuries, hosted worshippers traveling between Buddhist temples. Walking these pilgrimage routes introduces you to the side of Japan that I deeply appreciate: the harmony between culture, nature, and spirituality.

    One of the most famous pilgrimage routes in the country is the Kumano Kodo, which is listed as a UNESCO Heritage Site. There are four main routes that form the Kumano Kodo. The most popular one is Nakahechi, for all the right reasons: incredible scenery and reliable travel infrastructure. But my favorite is the lesser-known Iseji Route, which takes you through picturesque fishing villages. Having walked both trails of Kumano Kodo, I believe you will have a wonderful experience regardless of the route you choose.

    Tariyuji Temple Shikoku
    Tariyuji Temple along Shikoku Pilgrimage Route

    The Shikoku route that connects 88 Buddhist Temples is another very popular pilgrimage route that takes up to two months. I only explored parts of the Shikoku Pilgrimage Route and wrote about my experience: Walking Shikoku.

    Kyoto travel guide, accommodation, eateries and sights

    Kyoto is one of my favorite cities, not only in Japan but also in the entire world. I try to visit the city at least two to three times a year and always find a new site to get excited about.

    Couple sitting in a zen temple in Kyoto
    A summer day in Kyoto

    In this post, I listed some of my favorite Kyoto related travel suggestions.

    Get off the mainland, best island experiences in Japan

    As an island nation home to approximately 14,000 islands (you might have read the recent news where it was reported that Japan just discovered another 7,000 islands forming part of its territory that it was not aware of the existence before), the islands of Japan are home to an abundance of nature and cultural sites rivaling those on the mainland.

    Man paddling in ocean under rainbow in Okinawa
    Early morning in Tokashiki Island

    While there are plenty of sites to see on mainland Japan, I have always been captured by the allure of its smaller islands, where one can truly feel the enigmatic sense of disconnection that only a piece of land detached from the mainland can bring. These are some of my favorite islands in Japan.

    Favorites cities in Japan

    While I love Tokyo and Kyoto, there are many other wonderful cities in Japan that are all worthy of a visit, with the richness of the cultural and historical sites that they are home.

    In this post, What is Beyond Tokyo and Kyoto, I wrote about three of my favorite Japanese cities.

    Where to experience the fall colors in Japan

    Autumn is, in my view, the best season to visit Japan. Starting in November, the weather becomes relatively more reliable (with the typhoon season being over), there are – often – fewer crowds than the more popular spring/sakura season, and the colors are simply wonderful.

    Fall in Japan, by lake Yunoko in Nikko
    Lake Yunoko in Okunikko, October 2021

    If you happen to visit Japan in autumn, these are some of my favorite places in the country to experience the autumn foliage.

    Tohoku, the enigmatic beauty

    Tohoku, the region of Japan tucked between Hokkaido and Honshu, turned out to be everything that I dreamed it would be: beautiful nature, onsen tucked in the forests, some of the most underrated temples in Japan, and charming mid-size cities that somehow feel traditionally contemporary.

    Whenever someone asks me where they should visit in Japan other than Tokyo and Kyoto, Tohoku is always among the top places that I recommend. You can check out my Tohoku travel guide here.

    Books to read before or during your trip to Japan

    Japan is culturally one of the most fascinating countries, but it does not unveil itself quickly. The language barrier, a very strong one, makes it difficult to get a deeper understanding of the traditions and cultural context that make the country a unique destination.

    But fortunately, there is an extensive selection of books about Japan originally written in English or translated into English that help one to put initial observations about the country in a better context or get pre-acquainted with its culture before the trip. These are some of my book suggestions, each touching upon a different aspect of the country’s culture that may make good companions for a trip to Japan.


    Sakura season in Tokyo

    This is definitely not a comprehensive Sakura post. However, it still provides information about the annual cherry blossom blooming forecast and talks about my two favorite and lesser-known Sakura viewing spots in Tokyo – Sakura Season in Japan.

    Tokyo subway
    Tokyo – Japan

    How to ride the Shinkansen – Bullet Train

    I find the Shinkansen to be one of the most comfortable and peaceful modes of transportation. I love it so much that I prefer to ride in Shinkansen if I have the option, even if it doubles or even triples the travel time over a plane ride. In this post, I listed some of my suggestions for a little less painful experience while booking your Shinkansen tickets for travel within Japan: Shinkansen Guide: Passes, Discounts and More.

    This is a collection of some of my posts in this blog that were written with the aim of helping first-time or repeat travelers to Japan. And if you have any specific questions, you can always reach me via the email in the footer. I always write back.