The first stop on our gap year tour was Japan and, SPOILER ALERT, we loved it!
We chose Japan simply because of the reward flights that were available on the dates we wanted to go. Save up those Avios points! Our points got us two first class return tickets for a fraction of the price. Japan wasn’t somewhere we’d considered visiting before but it quickly became one of my favourite places.
Where: Tokyo, Kyoto, and Osaka
Duration: Two Weeks
Time of Year: July (some rain)
Hotel Budget: £55 per night
Food Budget: £15 per person, per day (¥2007)
Overall Rating: We loved Japan and can’t wait to go back!
THINGS TO DO…
Seeing the sights
There are plenty of gorgeous temples, gardens and beautiful buildings to take in, you’re spoilt for choice. Head to the Shibuya Crossing and watch from Starbucks (upstairs). Over 2.4m people cross each day – there are good photo ops to be had.
Try to spot a Geisha in Gion, play video games in Electric City, and visit the Tokyo Tower. Kyoto’s Imperial Palace was beautiful and full of picturesque scenes. Everywhere we went, there were gorgeous temples and shrines. We wrote down our hopes and wishes with a contribution to the shrine and got poetic fortunes and good luck charms.
The Robot Restaurant, Tokyo
Low-key the craziest experience. A live show of performers dressed as/riding on giant robots. I’d recommend you grab a couple of drinks at the bar first to prepare you for what you’re about to watch. It’s like nothing you’d see anywhere else plus, you get to join in with your own glow sticks at the end. (Note – there’s lots of strobe lighting and loud music. If that’s not your bag, there’s plenty of other options.)
Karaoke – EVERYWHERE
Karaoke is a popular hobby in Japan so there are plenty of venue options when it comes to singing your heart out to your signature tunes. If you’ve always wanted to try karaoke but get too nervous, these little booths are a perfect solution. We grabbed two hours in our own private booth for £7.50per person. This included unlimited cocktails, soft drinks and ice cream – sold! Trust me, the cocktails will get rid of the stage fright.
MiPig Cafe, Tokyo
A random one for the list, but I made sure it was on our itinerary. Relaxing for a beverage surrounded by baby pigs? Sign me RIGHT UP! At MiPig Cafe, it’s Y800 (around £6pp) for 30mins in the cafe and then an additional Y500 for every 30mins if you want to extend your stay. You also have to buy a drink in the cafe but I had no problem parting with my money to cuddle with baby pigs.
Baseball is big in Japan – like, really big. We went to a game in Osaka and it was the liveliest crowd you ever saw. Each team had a full marching band playing its songs and at different points in the game, everyone blew up balloons, waved them around to the team song, and then let them go together – so extra. If you’re a fan, or have simply never been to a game before, it’s so worth the trip.
WHERE TO EAT
There is no shortage of restaurants in Japan – whether you want to try some takoyaki (octopus balls) or grab a bowl of ramen. Even if you’re craving home comforts like Wendy’s or Shake Shake – they’ve got it all.
Japan has food markets a-plenty, and they’re a great place to try new things and grab a cheap bite to eat. We snapped up some Kobe beef skewers at Nishiki Market – something we’d probably not normally try (it can be pretty expensive) and sampled some tasty things we’d never eaten before.
Beef bowls (Gyudon)
Good advice from a local – the beef bowl. Such a quick and cheap bite to eat – perfect for staying on budget, and there are other options too. We really liked these places for a quick bite at lunch – we became regulars at Sukiya.
Head to the pub – Izakaya
We met up with some of my friends who took us to a local Japanese pub (these pubs are called Izakaya and are casual places locals go to). We ordered some small plates to share and tried sake; it’s a good place to go if you want to feel like a local.
GETTING FROM A TO B
Tokyo has a good subway and metro system which is easy to follow and not too expensive. Tourists can get a good deal on a subway & metro pass – either head to tourist info in the airport or near your hotel. Also available at Bic Camera (where we bought ours) you can get a 72hr pass for ¥900 (£6.73). Take your passport – they’ll check the date of the stamp.
To travel from Tokyo to Kyoto we took the night bus (£30pp). It probably conjures up a grim image of trundling through the night on a rickety wagon, but it was very comfy and I had a good night’s sleep. I always pack noise cancelling headphones; if you’re easily disturbed, do follow suit. The bus was by far the cheapest option and also meant no need for a hotel that night – I love a bargain.
There are lots of shops, malls, and markets to enjoy in Japan. Cash is often preferred so it’s smart to make sure you always have actual money. I use Monzo and Starling cards to travel. No foreign transaction fees or withdrawal fees – winning. Monzo has a withdrawal limit per month, and does charge a small amount once you reach the max. Starling has no withdrawal limits so it’s perfect for a long trip.
When it comes to groceries and essentials, 7-Eleven is EVERYWHERE. There’s also Bic Camera – a huge department store where you can find pretty much anything you’ve run out of or forgotten to pack.
I always think it’s important to look up any social etiquette or laws that might be different from your own country – just so you don’t accidentally offend the locals or commit some obscure crime… I worry about these things. So, while it’s probably too much to include here, I’d just say do your research.
For example, in Japan it’s rude to walk around whilst eating so people usually stand or crouch to the side of the street. There are a lot of rules surrounding chopsticks and eating so do a little reading on the plane and bring your most polite self to Japan.
And for the finishing touches…
Most people you’ll come across will speak English very well, and you’ll likely be given an English menu so you know what you’re ordering. But a little courtesy goes a long way when you’re a visitor in a foreign country so try and remember the basics: Konnichiwa (Hello), Arigatou (Thank you), and Sumimasen (Excuse me).