Our feelings after travelling for 6 weeks in Japan!
One month and a half in Japan is enough to have a sense of the culture, food, landscapes and in general to feel a tiny bit more like a local by the end of the trip.
We were expecting quite a lot of Japan but it even surpassed our expectations in many senses. So let’s summarize our good and bad feelings after travelling for 6 weeks in Japan!
The good feelings about Japan
People’s hospitality, kindness and curiosity (it’s long because it’s one of the highlights)
Japanese are really considerate and nice to people. They have a culture of being polite and friendly to tourists and always try to help you, even if they just have a feeling that you’re lost or that you would like to do something they’re doing. Also, they are in general very curious and asked us many times where we were from and about our travels in Japan. Back in 2016 Èric already had felt that and was itself one of the highlights of the trip. This hospitality makes Japan one of the best countries in the world in our opinion because feeling welcome as a traveller is very nice.
For example, when we were travelling in Nagano to see the beautiful colors of autumn at the leaves of the trees, one person just came to us and asked whether we wanted to try some of the food she was enjoying because she thought we had never tried such food.
In Kyoto, close to the philosopher’s path, two people had prepared many leaves together with some flowers for the people who were walking by in order to drop such leaves to the stream of water of some of the small rivers for good luck.
At Takamatsu’s Ritsurin garden, two different groups of people at two different places of the garden shared food for fish with us because they saw we were excited about giving food to the carp fishes (Koi)
On the bus in Beppu, when they saw that we had some bags and it was difficult for us to keep stable, they stood up and they let us sit there. In many other countries people would have maybe complained that you were entering with bags in the bus…
At Beppu station, I was reading some sentences of a sculpture, including the sentence “be nice to foreigners” and a guy with a wheelchair came to me and said some words in English and Japanese, he asked where I was from and after a while he asked for help. I felt bad because for a moment I had the feeling he wanted money but he just wanted some help to learn some Spanish words such as nice to meet you. After I helped him, he even gave me some food because I had helped him… it was quite an emotional moment to be honest. And taught myself to be more trusting with others, especially in Japan.
The landscapes in Japan are amazing. There is a huge variety of places, from some of the oldest trees in the world, to amazing wild animals such as bears, monkeys or huge deer, to beautiful trees and autumn colors, beautiful natural hot springs and beautiful cities and mega-cities with many things to discover such as Tokyo and Kyoto.
Hot springs: we’ve been in New Zealand and Iceland, which have beautiful hot springs. New Zealand even has some hot spring rivers and waterfalls, which are amazing. But The Japanese open air hot springs are so beautiful that it probably makes it number one ^^ The hot springs at Hokkaido and Yakushima were especially beautiful and warm with views to the sea and lakes. And there’s an environment of calmness when you bathe on them, even if from time to time there are other locals joining you.
Temples, shrines and Japanese gardens: most of the temples and shrines are concentrated in cities or close to cities. There is a huge variety of shrines and temples that make the visit to many of them worth it. Many of the shrines and temples in Nara, Nagano and Kyoto were amazing for so many reasons. You can check them in each of the posts.
The food variety is as rich as the landscape variety, or even more. They have the typical food that you get in Europe such as sushi and ramen but even tastier! But they also have an infinite amount of different recipes of things that are not known or very little known in European Japanese restaurants.
From Shabushabu (hotpot style food), to Sashimi (raw fish), to Tempura and all the varieties such as Karaage or Toriten, or katsudon, butadon and all the different ways of cooking the pork meat. Also Teppanyaki would be a way to cook in front of you with a kind of “plancha” (a kind of iron frying pan). Teppanyaki includes the famous Okonomiyaki, which means “whatever you want”, in which you make a pancake that is cabbage-based or noodle-based (if you’re in Hiroshima) and then put extra ingredients that are fried on top.
They also have curry soups such as the Hokkaido curry soup. You can also try Tamagoyaki, which is a special way to make Omelets with dashi soup and with a sweet flavor.
They have of course all kinds of Gyoza (Japanese dumplings), including Gyoza of the famous Wagyu or Kobe beef. All kinds of Yakitori (Japanese pinchos) with many different kinds of meat, from chicken heart, to chicken skin or legs with many different sauces such as the Teriyaki sauce. They have Okonomiyaki, which are some flour-based balls with octopus inside.
And the list could go on with many many other dishes that we have also tried. What I mentioned above are just types of dishes! Then, you have a Gyoza restaurant, or a sushi restaurant, etc.
And last but not least you have the Izakayas, which are bars that have alcohol and Japanese tapas. There you can have some vegetarian options such as dishes prepared with eggplants.
I’m sure I forget many of the types of dishes and restaurants but I think you get the feeling. I think, if you want to try each of the dishes at each of this type of restaurant you would be eating each day for one entire year something different.
The safety in Japan is really good! You feel safe everywhere at each hour at night. Of course, things may happen like anywhere else but in Japan it’s very unlikely. It’s one of the countries with the least crime in the world. In fact, we saw a list of wanted people (about 10 people) with old pictures that were the same at least over and over again in the different regions of Japan we’ve been to.
Very linked to safety is of course trust. Since people always want to help you and you feel very safe, you can of course trust others and trust each other. This is a very nice feeling that gives you an automatic relief of not having to worry about anything during your trip.
Japan is full of tiny cute shops. Almost all shops, even in the most touristy places, are super prepared and nicely decorated to make you want to buy! They have many nice ideas of things to sell such as imitation food made of plastic that looks very realistic and makes you hungry by just looking at it. Or an unimaginable amount of figures related to manga and anime. Or super nicely prepared food that looks like a cute panda, cute cat or a Pikachu. You’re basically attracted to each shop in every corner, even if you’re not a crazy shopper like us. It was hard to resist the temptation not to buy things.
Really beautiful hand crafted objects
In Japan, they have long standing traditions and people tend to follow them. This means that people need to learn in traditional ways to be a master in something such as tea ceremonies, calligraphy, wood crafting or pottery. Learning such things to become a master takes years and is hard, which makes the masters really good at their work. We have been to several pottery shops because it’s one hobby that Trixi and I share in Germany, and their work is really good!
Most of the tourist attractions are free or really cheap so that everyone can visit the country
In Japan tourist attractions are almost always free (such as hikes, waterfalls, public hot springs) or cheap (usually not costing more than 500 yen, which is about 3€), except for a couple of things like the Beppu’s hell’s tour, which is about 12€ or the Osaka’s aquarium entrance. And, in general, if you pay for a parking fee on an attraction you don’t need to pay for the attraction itself.
Renting a car in Japan is easy and practical
As long as you book a rental service in advance, we would recommend renting a car in Japan, especially if you’re out of the main cities. It is not expensive and the petrol is very cheap (about 1.2€). It’s true that there are tolls but you can always avoid them and the time difference is in general not very big. But you get a huge flexibility in terms of being able to stop at many places, which we would highly recommend in Hokkaido, the alps region, Kyushu and Yakushima.
Moreover, driving in Japan is also super save. People respect a lot each other and don't drive very fast!
Japan is very clean
People are very civilized and therefore, people don’t throw garbage on the street, which makes it one of the cleanest countries we’ve been to. You could eat from the floor if you want it haha
Even the toilets are super clean (cleaner than at our house haha) in some of the most remote places such as a random parking place at the north of Kanazawa, where the toilet even had a heated seat.
The toilets are awesome
At the first sight, you will probably be overwhelmed by the Japanese toilets but once you get used to them, they’re just awesome. I mean, after doing number 2 you can use the spray which cleans everything much better than you would ever clean it with toilet paper. And then you can just use the toilet paper to dry yourself. But some toilets even have a drying button to dry your behinds. And some of them even have a button to make noise so that the others don’t hear you when you do your business, which is a very nice way not to feel bad with your coworkers I guess.
We've never seen a country that had so many toilets available everywhere! It is extremely convenient because it is so easy to find one everytime you go hiking or stopping at any attraction of interest, or even shopping at any convenience store.
You can just drink water from the tap
Without having to worry at all about the quality of the water or getting a stomach ache.
No stomach ache
Related to the water and the good quality of the food, we didn’t have any stomach ache in Japan except for once with raw chicken and once with raw sea urchin… but this was risking it a little bit as well :D
Trains are really punctual
This is world-known and many people may think that trains in Germany are punctual but it is not true, especially in comparison with Japan. Trains in Germany are about 50% of the time not on time, Shinkansen trains having about 1 minute per year on average of being late only. Once, in Tokyo, there was announced that there were significant delays and the delay was of only 2 minutes 😀
The not so good feelings about Japan
Tickets at trains, JR pass, or the metro of Tokyo
The way the JR pass works is not modern at all. You need to order it outside of Japan, you need to carry it physically in paper, risking losing the price of it, which has been 400€ for 3 weeks up to October 2023 and is about 650€ right now… Then, you cannot just go anywhere with this pass: you need to be careful and check which lines are actually JR lines and moreover in many cases you need a reservation! The reservation is free but it has a huge time cost. You need to queue for up to an hour at a station to ask the staff to book your tickets for the next few days. If you do it on the same day, chances are high that you will not be able to reserve. This makes it extremely inflexible and annoying to lose time for such a thing that could and should be online. You can check this post on mistakes to avoid when using the JR pass.
The metro of Tokyo it’s another mess… you can only buy tickets using cash in super old fashioned machines. Moreover, there are many lines from different companies, which is really confusing. This means that some of the machines will only print tickets for one specific metro company within the same station so you need to be really careful and be sure that the machine is for your line.
There’s a metro pass in Tokyo that is really worth it, since it costs about 1500 yen for 72 h but you need your passport to buy it since it’s only offered to tourists and you need to show your stamp of visa on arrival.
No place to throw garbage
This is a very annoying one as well… Japan is super clean, which is great but it is not because it’s easy. It’s so annoying to carry your garbage all day long until you arrive at the hotel because there are almost no places in the street or at shops where you can throw your garbage. In the hotel, the trash cans sre usually quite small so they fill up very quickly in one day. That was the main reason we asled for room service daily to clean the garbage can.
We knew that one before arriving in Japan… but we didn’t know why it was like that. Speaking with the locals, they told us that they’re taught to write and read English but they almost never practice speaking, which makes it of course hard, when they have to do it with the tourists… Furthermore, we were also told that they are afraid of making mistake in English. However, it’s not as bad as it seems because if they don’t understand something they will ask. You can also use google translate and if you are motivated you can learn some words as I did, using Duolingo for example. This in combination with English makes it much easier to communicate and you can have much closer interactions with the locals, especially in remote places. Moreover, Japanese people were really nice to us when speaking in Japanese. It is greatly appreciated. Otherwise, the most important words are “arigato gozaimasu” and “sumimasen”, thank you and excuse me, respectively.
Almost non vegetarian options
Another thing we missed in Japan, especially Trixi, were the vegetarian options. They’re almost non-existent in the majority of restaurants. Even when it seems vegetarian, it will have something of fish or meat in it even if its just the broth of the miso or noodle soup. Regional specialties usually are non-vegetarian. You can get some tapas that are vegetarian, such as edamame, eggplants, lotus flowers, mushrooms and other vegetables, but it is not as popular and not all restaurants or convenience stores have such options.
Little room for flexibility
You can trust everything because every rule is followed very much. This is a bit like in Germany but we think it’s even more extreme.
One example of such a thing is that when queuing for a restaurant, they told us to move exactly a little bit more to the right to leave more space for the people walking next to it. And it was literally no more than moving 10 cm to the side…
Also, to fly drones you need to get a permit before entering Japan, pay 9€ and then, when you’re there, you will need to ask whether you can fly the drone almost anywhere you want to fly. And very often, the answer is “Dorono not OK”, which means it’s not ok to fly drones haha.
At the check-in counter to Hokkaido, Trixi wanted to put her sweater in the checked backpack but they refused because the bag had officially already been checked in.
In some remote regions, they are not so open to tourists
In some regions in the Japanese alps, close to Nagano, they said that the bar was closed, despite us seeing many places available… and we had a feeling they were not so much into tourists, which was as well written in one of the reviews…
This happened as well in the port of Yakushima, where the rental car workers were saying that they didn’t have a car available… and when we asked other coworkers in Japanese / English at the same shop they said they actually had it.
I didn’t have that in my memory from the last time I visited Japan in 2016. But this time we realized together that they use a huge amount of one-time use plastic. For everything you buy in the supermarket, they will put it in a separate plastic bag and then put everything together in another plastic bag and for each of the items, they will seal it with a plastic band to mark it as “paid”. Even one time we denied wanting a plastic bag at the supermarket but our groceries were put in a plastic bag anyway.
In some places they still don't accept cards, especially at the public transport machines. They are super advanced with many things but with payment methods they are still not quite there ;)
We would recommend going to Japan for anyone. It’s extremely tourist friendly with a great hospitality and you feel secure at all times. This makes it the perfect land to visit no matter the age, your disabilities or whether you travel with family, as a couple or solo.
Moreover the landscapes are really awesome and very different from the north of Japan to the south. And whenever you’re not in the big cities you’re almost alone, especially if you take a car. The food is amazing and they have a huge variety of dishes or even types of dishes, considering you’re not vegetarian. Most of the time you see that there are channels on the TV that are just talking about food.
We would recommend renting a car in many of the places since the JR pass is not worth it anymore because of its price increase at the end of 2023 (it didn’t catch us luckily ^^) and the way the ticketing system and reservation system works is very annoying. Travelling by car gives you lots of flexibility for a cheaper price.