Four days ago I returned to Australia after spending three weeks travelling around Japan.
Now before I go on any further, I want you to add Japan to your travel list, because I GUARANTEE it’s a place you’re going to want to visit after reading this blog post.
It’s safe to say that my time spent in Japan was nothing short of amazing.
Filled with delicious food, fascinating cultural experiences, and quality time spent with family that I truly will never forget; Japan was a place that stole my heart.
Here are 10 reasons why YOU should add Japan to your travel list.
Take a trip during winter to the snow
At the beginning of our trip, we spent a week up in Hokkaido.
Located in northernmost of Japan’s main islands, Hokkaido is known for its volcanoes, natural hot springs (onsen) and ski areas.
We spent an absolutely incredible week at Club Med Tomamu, where we ate, drank, ski’d and spent quality time as a family.
Sprawled over 145 hectares of Tomamu Mountain, Club Med Tomamu is the most perfect winter wonderland, with powdery slopes that will make you want to ski down all day, everyday!
We ski’d, snow trekked, explored the area, swam in Japan’s largest indoor wave pool at the nearby Mina Mina Beach, and shared amazing moments with family and new friends that we made at this all-inclusive resort.
What I loved most about Club Med Tomamu was that they thought of everything.
From having ski and snowboard lessons for adults and kids, included in your stay, as well as a full buffet for breakfast, lunch and dinner, to nightly entertainment; this resort only opened in 2017, so all the facilities were fresh and new!
The brand new complex contains understated rooms with contemporary interior design, spread across a collection of 9 storey buildings and is a delightful blend of Japanese minimalism and French chic.
Everyday we would wake up, eat a delicious breakfast, get the kids (my cousins whom we were travelling with) off to skiing lessons, and then each of the adults would get to their respective ski lessons.
These lessons would last for a couple of hours in the morning, before you had a break for lunch, and then you would have a couple of hours skiing in the afternoon before an evening of fun activities!
Every night, guests at Club Med Tomamu are treated to shows and performances by Club Med staff, whether it be a stage show, comedy or trivia! We really looked forward to these every night, and it was a great opportunity for us to mix with the staff and ski instructors too.
The ski instructors were incredible – so knowledgeable and helpful, which made the experience so much more enjoyable for me considering I hadn’t ski’d since my last knee injury. Safe to say my lessons at Vertikal Indoor Snowsports also helped a lot too!
Honestly if you’re looking to go skiing in Japan and want an all inclusive experience for the whole family; Club Med Tomamu is where you need to stay.
Spend time exploring Tokyo
After a week spent skiing, we were a little sad to leave, but headed onto Tokyo where it was time to pick up the pace and explore as much of the city as we could.
Our time spent at the snow was slow and relaxing (apart from when we ski’d down some steep slopes!), however our time in Tokyo was fast paced and electric.
Theres something about being in Tokyo that makes you want to get up early and stay out late, because there is SO MUCH TO DO.
I’m not joking when I say that we would be up and out of our hotel by 8am, and not return back until 11pm most nights, simply because we didn’t want to miss a thing.
This would be my biggest tip for Tokyo – try and do as much as you can (you’ll understand why when you arrive!).
Because the city is so big and filled with so many people (The Greater Tokyo area has a population of 38 million – almost 60 per cent more than the population of Australia), we planned our days out so that we didn’t waste time travelling around, deciding what to do.
This meant that we were able to cover most of the districts in Tokyo, and see and do all that we wanted to.
Go shopping in Shinjuku, Shibuya, Ginza and Harajuku
Before we left for Japan, my Dad (who has travelled to Japan before), mentioned to me that the shopping in Japan is some of the best in the world, and that I should pack lightly.
Well, part of me didn’t believe him, which meant I over packed, and then was OVERWHELMED by how good the shopping was in Tokyo.
Shinjuku (which is the district we stayed in), Shibuya, Ginza and Harajuku all have incredible shopping areas.
From department stores on every corner, to designer boutiques, and even 6 storey buildings dedicated solely womens fashion, it’s safe to say that I may have gone a little crazy…
Top department stores included: Mitsukoshi, Takashimaya, Daimaru, Isetan and Ginza Six.
In Harajuku you’ll be absolutely overwhelmed not just by the crowds of people, but also with the shopping! Cat Street is where you’ll find some great vintage clothing stores with quality pieces, and along Takeshita Street you’ll be fighting the crowds to get into some cute boutiques.
I also recommend visiting the Harry Hedgehog Cafe, we all absolutely loved it!
Visit the sumo wrestling training
It was recommended to us by a family friend to attend sumo wrestling training whilst in Tokyo. Wow – what an experience this was!
We booked this Sumo Wrestling Tokyo – Early Morning Stable Tour, and it did not disappoint.
We got to see live sumo wrestling at an early-morning training session (it was their first one for 2019), and got a great close-up view of sumo training!
I knew little about sumo beforehand and we were really impressed with their speed and technique and how intense the matches can be.
Highlights for us included: Seeing Japanese sumo stars close up, learning about the historical roots of sumo wrestling, and gain a deeper understanding of sumo rituals.
Head to Disneyland or DisneySea
When I was younger, I would beg my parents each year to take me to Disneyland. What child doesn’t want to go to the happiest place in the world?
Well, I can say that at 25 years old, I got to go to Tokyo DisneySea!
Tokyo DisneySea is unique to Japan, and is inspired by the myths and legends of the sea. While suitable for all ages, Tokyo DisneySea was designed to specifically appeal to a more grown up audience, which meant it catered to us adults and the kids as well.
My tip if travelling to either Disneyland or DisneySea would be to get there early, and purchase tickets that include the Fast Pass too.
This means you will be able to get onto rides that are super popular!
Take a day trip to visit Mt Fuji
This is an absolute must when visiting Japan, and most certainly isn’t overrated.
We booked the Mt Fuji, Lake Ashi and Bullet Train Day Tour which meant that we got to see the mountain from many different view points.
This tour included travelling by bus to Mt Fuji’s bustling 5th Station. We then continued to nearby Lake Ashi for a short boat cruise and lunch (which was included), followed by a ride on the Mt Komagatake Ropeway. From here, we climbed to the top of Mt Komagatake to see fantastic views of the Owakudani volcanic valley, Lake Ashi and Mt Fuji.
The tour then included a trip back to Tokyo by bullet train in the evening, which was a fantastic experience.
Get a Japan Rail Pass and travel via bullet train
After a week spent in beautiful and bustling Tokyo, it was time for us to head to our next destination – Kyoto!
Before leaving Australia, we purchased a Japan Rail Pass. This meant we were able to travel via Shinkansen (bullet train) to Kyoto.
It took around 2 hours and 20 minutes to get from Tokyo to Kyoto, and it was a super comfortable trip and VERY fast. The Shinkansen is the smoothest and easiest way of traveling from Tokyo to Kyoto, so I highly recommend.
Stay in a traditional Ryokan
In Kyoto we stayed in a Japanese ryokan – Gion Komatsu. This was absolutely spectacular.
The building maintains traditional Japanese architecture, with a classic Japanese garden where you can relax and appreciate Kyoto’s beautiful scenery in any of the four seasons.
We stayed in a traditional Japanese room that, while being within easy reach of Kyoto’s major cultural attractions, provided us with a peaceful and relaxed atmosphere at all times.
Take a free walking tour in Kyoto
On our first full day in Kyoto, we went on a free walking tour around the old town. This was recommended to us by a friend, and she was spot on when she said that this is a MUST do when in Kyoto.
We found our free walking tour on this Facebook page.
Our guide was very friendly (spoke great English) and was really informative. She took us on a 2 hour walking tour, and happily answered all our questions and shared her own experiences as a local too.
We got to explore this picturesque city, from little back streets in Gion to shrines, and it was a great way to see the city.
It was on this tour where we learnt about the history of Geisha and Meiko in Kyoto.
Kyoto is the heart of Japan’s geisha world. In Kyoto, however, fully-fledged geisha are properly called geiko (pronounced “gay-ko”). Young ladies, usually between the ages of 15 and 20, train for five years to become a geiko. During this period, they are known as maiko (pronounced “my-ko”).
On this walking tour we ventured through the gay-ko and my-ko area, and on our last night in Kyoto we spotted a gay-ko, which was truly magical as its actually very rare to sight them!
Experience the food and culture as much as you can
We travelled to Japan with open minds, meaning that we were open to experiencing as much of the incredible culture and food as we could.
We visited many shrines and temples in Kyoto, and Fushimi Inari Shrine was my personal favourite.
Famous for its thousands of vermilion torii gates, which straddle a network of trails behind its main buildings, the trails lead into the wooded forest of the sacred Mount Inari, which stands at 233 meters and belongs to the shrine grounds.
In Kyoto, we would wonder around the old town area for hours and hours, peeking into laneways and people watching.
We made sure that we spent as much time as we could exploring and getting lost in this beautiful city!
The food we ate whilst we were there was some of the best we have ever had!
We tried to experience as much of the cuisine as we could, and there was only one day where we had ate western style food.
We tried fresh sushi, sashimi, ramen, okonomiyaki, udon, tempura, yakitori and so much more.
Other things to consider when travelling to Japan:
Get a subway three day pass when in Tokyo
We did most of our travelling around Tokyo via the subway, which was surprisingly easy to use considering how complex the subway map looks! We purchased three day subway passes whilst we were there, which meant we could travel to all the various districts easily each day.
Staying in Shinjuku meant we were close to one of the main subway stations as well.
Bring a portable WiFi with you
Before travelling to Japan, we rented a portable WiFi device that we carried around with us at all times.
This meant that we didn’t have to connect to our mobile data, and we could use it to access maps for directions and stay in contact with each other as well.
Know some of the basic Japanese phrases
Studying Japanese back in high school meant that I knew some basic Japanese phrases, which actually helped us a lot when travelling around.
There are plenty of restaurants, even in tourist-friendly cities such as Kyoto and Tokyo, that have no English menus and no English-speaking staff, so learning how to say “hello” and “thank you” in Japanese can help a lot!
There are no bins so be prepared to carry your rubbish
Don’t be surprised if you don’t see many bins around the streets in Japan.
There is actually a very strict garbage disposal law in place in Japan where people have to separate and organise their household trash and only take it out on certain days of the week or month. This means that the Japanese actually take their rubbish home with them to dispose, rather than in bins on the street, so be prepared to do the same.
Use a cash passport for handling money and have cash on you as well
We all used cash passports to handle our money whilst in Japan, and purchased these from Australia Post.
Just load it up with the currency you need, and use it just as you would a bank card in stores and ATM’s as well. The best ATM’s to use for this card were in Family Mart and Lawson convenience stores.
We also carried cash around with us for use in smaller boutiques and for paying for subway tickets etc.
Family Mart and Lawson convenience stores sell some great things
We ventured into Family Mart and Lawson convenience stores frequently whilst we were in Japan.
They sell an incredible range of things from fresh sushi and hot food items that are actually delicious (and great if you’re travelling on a budget), as well as snacks, candy, a vast range of drinks, and other items too.
From skiing with family and making new friends at Club Med in Hokkaido, to spending 14 hour days walking and exploring Tokyo, to experiencing the culture of Kyoto, can you tell that we absolutely loved our trip to Japan?
With so much to see and do, it’s a place that I know I’ll be visiting again very soon.