Sarah Freeman on 21 April 2023
Japan has finally removed its Covid travel restrictions and bookings for this country that had its borders closed for so long are now booming!

I was lucky enough to explore this fascinating country as part of a two week small group tour, given I was travelling solo for this trip I thought it would be more fun to join a group of like-minded adventurers to discover a new country.

Our itinerary was jam packed but allowed me to immerse myself in 5 key destinations, Tokyo, Tsumago, Kanazawa, Hiroshima and Kyoto, taking me from urban jungles to mountain villages.

Japan is a complex mix of ancient traditions and modern wizardry and it was so fun to see the juxtaposition of these in the main cities.

To travel around Japan, you really need to leverage their highly efficient train system, which allows seamless connectivity from the metro to the local and rapid express trains to the high speed Shinkansen “bullet trains”. I can also recommend their bus service and in places like Kanazawa there’s even a tourist bus that offer two loops to the main attractions and is very easy to use.

As expected, English is not very widely spoken especially outside the main tourist areas but you can get by with some sign language and residents were always pleased to try and assist, plus lots of signs are in dual language.

Like any modern country, the array of accommodation is extensive with all the major brands having hotels, plus lots of local Asian companies, however one of the things that is unique are ryokans – these are traditional Japanese guesthouses where you sleep on a futon on tatami matting and for a fun experience, I’d definitely recommend staying a night or two to experience.

For foodies, get ready to experience a taste overload, from sushi, udon and ramen to dumplings, shabu shabu and okonomi-yaki Japan’s best soul food, and for dessert lovers try strawberry sandwiches and red bean paste pancakes!

There is too much to put into this short article but here are some don’t miss highlights: For Tokyo, visit the Sensoji Temple in Asakusa and also the Meiji Jingu Shrine in Harajuka, while one is in the bustling centre the other is located in a beautiful park. For entertainment, head to Shinjuku and the neon, then explore Kabukicho with its love hotels and Golden Gai a district of 200 small bars.

Tsumago is a protected cultural town dating back to the Edo period where motorized vehicles are prohibited. To get to this charming location we had to walk through the countryside passing rice paddies and waterfalls. Enjoy soaking up the atmosphere and don’t miss the heart pumping walk to the Tsumago Castle ruins.

Kanazawa served at the seat of the powerful Maeda Clan up until 1870 and became a centre of culture with gold leaf, tea ceremonies and lacquerware all having significance. Make sure to visit the Nagamachi Samurai Residence District with preserved houses and compact but fascinating museums Shinise Kinenkan and Maeda Tosanokami-ke Shiroykan. Also worth visiting is the Myorinji “Ninja Temple”, Kenrokuen Gardens, Kanazawa Castle and the Kaga Yuzen Kimono Centre.

Hiroshima is famous for the devastation caused by the very first atomic bomb. Pay your respects at the minimalist designed Peace Memorial Park and thought provoking Museum. For a great day trip head to Miyajima Island with its Itsukushima Shrine, iconic floating torii gate, free roaming deer and cable car accessed Mount Misen.

Kyoto the old capital is great to act as a base, take a trip to World Heritage Site, Himeji Castle widely considered Japan’s most spectacular castle, stroll through Gion (the Geisha District), visit cute, pedestrianised Sannenzaka and the Yasaka Shrine. Finally, don’t miss the Imperial Palace, Nijo Castle, the Samurai Museum and Kinkakuji “Golden Pavilion”.

Japan is back on the tourist map and it really won’t disappoint!