Towering mountains and mythological beasts, shiny robots and shinier samurai; Backpacking in Japan is a truly fascinating experience. Over seventy percent of Japan is covered by towering volcanic peaks and snow-capped summits, and these mountains, which still hold important religious and cultural significance, provide nothing short of a paradise for budding adventure junkies.

Whilst backpacking in Japan, I never once felt threatened, and I was rarely frustrated. This is such an amazing country.

The main challenge in Japan is trying not to spend too much money; it’s not a cheap country to travel in. I managed to spend an average of $30 a day over a three-week trip; I doubt it could be done for less, but there are a few travel hacks to backpack Japan on a budget and experience the country cheaply. There’s even one way you can travel around Japan for free!

I’ve written this Japan travel guide so that I can share my insider knowledge with you. I’ll show you how to travel in Japan cheaply and where you absolutely need to go. By the end of this guide, you’ll be armed with more tools than ninja assassin and will have everything that you need to have an amazing time in this country!

A traveller entering Arashiyama Bamboo Grove, Kyoto - a top sight in Japan to see
Now Entering: Backpacking in Japan

Why Go Backpacking in Japan?

For me, Japan has always been the land of the Samurai. I have long admired the staunch bravery of the Samurai and the sheer tenacity of the Imperial Army during World War II. The wonderful thing about Japan is the painless mix of traditional feudal scenes with that of a buzzing, technological beast of a country.

Every area you travel to in Japan is wildly unique yet still, distinctly (oh, so distinctly) Japanese. The cities in Japan are unlike any other; they crackle and pop with energy. Tokyo is a futuristic wonderland of gliding transport, soaring buildings, and bright lights.

Backpacking in Japan
Most backpackers start their adventure in Tokyo…

Just a short way from Tokyo lies the ancient city of Kyoto and the first Japanese capital of Nara. In Nara, Geishas still patrol the streets in traditional dress, temples lie hidden in tranquil bamboo forests and it feels as though you may encounter a band of marauding Samurai at any moment.

Whether you are after a chilled day-walk or a harder, multi-day, trek; backpacking in Japan has plenty to offer; I never got a chance to hit up any of Japan’s hiking trails although I will be sure to have a crack at Mt. Fuji upon my return!

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    Best Travel Itineraries for Backpacking Japan

    Honestly, there is so much to do and see in Japan. You can easily spend weeks, or even months, exploring the massive Tokyo and barely scratch the surface. If you have the time (and money) I suggest spending extra time staying in Tokyo and Kyoto! If you don’t have the time, then check out these two awesome itineraries, which will give you some solid exposure to beautiful Japan!

    3-Week Itinerary for Backpacking Japan: Mountains and the Central Highlights

    Japan Itinerary #1

    This is the perfect itinerary if you have 2-4 weeks to explore Japan. Start off the adventure in Tokyo. I recommend staying here for 5 days at minimum. Like I said above, you can spend weeks in Tokyo and barely scratch the surface, but it is an expensive city. There are so many places to visit in Tokyo so plan your time well. We’ve put together a 3 day Tokyo itinerary if you need any help.

    Get the Odakyu express train (2x hours) from Odakyu station to Odawara (the base town of Hakone). If you buy the Hakone Freepass and combine it with your normal ticket fare you can save a bunch of money. Hakone boasts stunning views of the iconic volcano Mount Fuji!

    The scenery here is incredible and it’s famous for its trekking. It’s also the cheapest area in Mount Fuji to conquer the summit. You’ll need to spend at least 3-4 days here, especially if you wish to do some trekking.

    Next, take a train from Odakyu to Shinjuku (870 yen), followed then by a highway bus to Matsumoto (3400 yen), which is famous for its old original 16th century castle Matsumoto, commonly known as Crow Castle.

    Next, head to the Japanese Alps, which has some of the best skiing in the world! That said, you won’t be here for winter season if you are timing your Japan trip with cherry blossom or trekking season. The Alps offer hiking, canyoning, mountain biking, and kayaking in the summertime.

    Speaking of cherry blossom season, make sure you visit Kanazawa and stay during the springtime! Kanazawa is home to Kenrokuen, one of Japan’s most beautiful gardens.

    japan sakura
    Glowing cherry blossom

    In winter it’s the end destination of the Alpine Route. There are a few attractions around the city like the Ninja Temple, Samurai & geisha districts too. If you stay overnight, there are a couple of epic hostels in Kanazawa as well.

    Shirakawa and Takayama are next on the list. Shirakawa is a remote mountain town is also a UNESCO world heritage site, famous for their traditional gassho-zukuri farmhouses, some of which are more than 250 years old. Takayama makes for a great day trip.

    Finally, head to Osaka and Kyoto to finish up this amazing trip! The two cities are neighbours but couldn’t carry more different vibes if they tried. Visiting Osaka gives you a more laidback Japan – eccentric nightlife, quirky dialects, and less-reserved locals (within reason)

    As for visiting Kyoto? With numerous temples, beautiful gardens, imperial palaces & bold, bright red gates at Fushimi-Inari Shrine, Kyoto is an unmissable destination.

    The city upholds formal traditions like Kiseki dining with a Geisha. The bamboo forest is enchanting to stroll through & the nightlife is pretty good here. You’d want to spend at least 4-5 days staying in Kyoto.

    2-Week Itinerary for Backpacking Japan: The Southern Highlights and Delights

    Japan Itinerary #2

    For this itinerary, we will also start by staying in Tokyo, where you should try to spend at least spend the weekend – preferably more. Next head to Kyoto, another amazing city in Japan.

    Next up is Nara, a city filled with history and Japan’s first permanent capital. It’s home to some of the biggest & oldest temples in Japan like Todai-Ji, the largest wooden building in the world. Hang out & walk around the city among the deer that wander about the city.

    You’ll only need to spend a day or so checking out Nara. Then head to Hiroshima.

    Hiroshima was largely destroyed by an atomic bomb during World War II, but has since been rebuilt. You can visit the Hiroshima Peace Memorial Park visiting ruins surrounding ground zero. Make sure you visit the Hiroshima Atomic Bomb museum & Hiroshima Castle which is a fortress that is surrounded by a moat, next to a park. You only need a 2 or 3 days exploring Hiroshima, but make sure you take a day trip out to Miyajima Island one of the days.

    Miyajima Island is full of ancient temples and forests. Just offshore is the big beautiful orange Grand Torii Gate marking the Itsukushima Shrine entrance.

    The above itinerary is plenty to keep you busy for 2 weeks, but if you have a bit more time, catch a flight to the Okinawa Islands area. Okinawa is renowned for its incredible scope of activities: epic festivals and culture, year-round beautiful beaches, and off the beaten path adventure.

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    Places to Visit in Japan

    You really can’t go wrong no matter where you go in Japan. Even a simple stroll down the road is guaranteed to contain something pretty and a tasty snack from the konbini.

    Still, here are my top places in Japan to explore!

    Backpacking Tokyo

    Tokyo is an awesome backpacking destination. There is a lot to do here but it definitely helps to have a Japanese friend to show you around. When I first arrived in Tokyo, I crashed with a CouchSurfing host for the first couple of days which really helped my budget and also helped me get the most out of the city.

    Even if you only have a passing interest in Anime you really should visit the Studio Ghibli museum. This needs to be booked in advance and can be booked from a machine in most convenience store chains.

    The impressive Tsukiji fish market is the largest fish market in the world and is free to visit. Get there bloody early!

    It is well worth booking a ticket for the Tokyo SkyTree. Being the tallest tower in Japan, not only do you get to see amazing 360 views of the city from the observation deck, but on a clear day you can even glimpse Mt. Fuji in the distance!

    Explore the food culture. Food in Japan is really a level up, delicate, balanced, and decorative… Each dish a small work of art. If you love sushi get ready to indulge; do your research in advance so you know what to look out for, what you might like to try and appropriate dining etiquette.

    There’s a lot to do here so whether you’re spending a weekend in Tokyo or much longer, be sure to plan out your time properly.

    Sightseeing in Tokyo - local cosplay girls posing
    Go absolutely bonkers!

    The Kodokan (free entrance) is worth a visit although it’s only particularly impressive if it’s in use when you arrive; it is the largest Dojo in the world.

    If you happen to find yourself in Tokyo during the winter, be sure to check out the Marunouchi Illumination, where the cobblestone street of Nakadori is lit up beautifully.

    There are plenty of temples and palaces, and although these are worth visiting many of them have an entrance fee. If short on cash, I recommend waiting until Kyoto as the most impressive temples are found there. tokyo

    The nightlife is also typically insane in the endearing Japanese fashion, and Tokyo is a super safe city to get loose in. Some of the parks in Tokyo can be rather good fun to visit too, and it is worth wandering around Harijuku to catch a glimpse of the infamous ‘Harijuku girls’.

    There are absolutely LOADS of awesome day trips that you can do from Tokyo. For further inspiration, you’ll just have to check out some more of our content!

    Have a nutty trip to Tokyo!

    map iconCheck out Tokyo’s places to visit.

    calendar icon Plan a killer itinerary for Tokyo!

    bed iconHow ’bout a swanky Tokyo Airbnb apartment?

    backpack icon Stay at an epic hostel in Tokyo!

    Backpacking Mount Fuji

    Mount Fuji is Japan’s most iconic mountain and watching the sunrise from the top is on many a backpacker’s bucket list. Although it is one of the most popular things to do when travelling in Japan, bear in mind that it stands at an altitude of 3776m and altitude sickness is a real possibility even though the climb itself isn’t very difficult. Anybody with a reasonable level of fitness can climb Mount Fuji but, if you can, it makes sense to do a bit of training first.

    The Hakone township itself lies within the Fuji-Hake-Lzu National Park area & boasts stunning views of the iconic volcano Mount Fuji! The scenery here is incredible , and it’s also the cheapest place to conquer the summit of Mt Fuji. Use your Hakone Freepass to explore all the attractions in the city like the Odawara Castle & Open Air Museum or relax in one of the natural hotsprings.

    You’ll want need to put at least 3-4 days on your itinerary here, especially if you wish to do some trekking.

    Start the climb for Mt. Fuji from the fifth station around evening so by the time you reach the summit it is dawn and you can catch the awe-inspiring sunrise. Make sure you tackle the climb slowly; no need to rush. There are several rest stops on the way offering food, drink and a restroom and you can even buy oxygen (you’re unlikely to need it) at these huts if you have altitude sickness.

    Make sure you are loaded with plenty of water, enough warm clothes, energy bars and great hiking shoes. Also, put yourself up in a dope hostel around Mt Fuji; somewhere you can rest your head before and after the climb and meet some other cool peeps.

    backpacking Japan budget travel guide
    Stunning Mount Fuji in Autumn

    The climb is best attempted during the official season – From July till the end of August although this is the Mt. Fuji’s busiest time and it can become crowded. At other times of the year, the trekking route is shut due to low temperatures and snow. If you’re looking for a quiet sunrise and to be alone amongst nature, Fuji is the wrong mountain for you. But I will say that if you are going to Japan, you really should try to fit in a visit to Mount Fuji.

    There is a popular Japanese saying – ‘One who never climbs Mount Fuji is a fool; one who climbs it twice is twice the fool’. So go ahead and give it a shot!

    Backpacking Matsumoto

    The city is famous for it’s old original 16th century castle Matsumoto, commonly known as Crow Castle. Explore Matsumoto city, visiting Nakamachi street, it’s lined with old merchant houses, the river is also a nice spot to eat dinner at night.

    Matsumoto castle in Japan
    Matsumoto’s Castle.

    You only need 2 days here to see everything. To leave, in the morning get a train from Matsumoto to Shinano-omachi. Then take the incredible Alpine Route to Kanazawa. Just FYI, the Alpine Route is only open from April to November.

    Backpacking the Japanese Alps

    Japan is surprisingly a great place for winter sports. One of the most popular spots is the Japanese Alps. I must warn you that it is not the cheapest to go skiing in Japan.

    There are plenty of resorts in the Japanese Alps where you can hire (or buy) equipment but it’s obviously cheaper if you take your own stuff with you. Although a bit expensive, you could take a snowboarding lesson, most places offer coaching in English.

    backpacking Japan budget travel guide
    Tackling a ski slope in the Japanese Alps

    If you’re hitting the slopes in winter, you’d want to head to Hakuba. It’s in the heart of the Japanese Alps & is where the 1998 winter Olympic games were held. You’re surrounded with 11 different mountains, so you’ve got quite a choice.

    Hakuba Alps Backpackers is the place to stay during snow season. They also cater for summer too with hiking, canyoning, mountain biking, kayaking etc.

    Backpacking Kyoto

    Kyoto is pretty damn special. It is crammed with temples, shrines, castles and legends…

    If you are planning a trip to Kyoto fo the first time, you should try to stay in Gion, the Geisha district; it is crazy colourful. A Japanese friend gave me some tips on the correct etiquette when interacting with Geishas; Never talk to a Geisha or try to stop them for photos as this is considered extremely rude.

    Kyoto’s famed Golden Pavilion is well worth a visit; it’s a stunning place to spend half an hour or so quietly contemplating the beautiful gardens set in the shadow of the impressive temple. Unfortunately, the entrance price is pretty steep and often it’s pretty crowded; arrive early.

    Nijo-jo is an impressive castle from the outside but is sadly rather empty on the inside; still worth exploring. Kiyomizu-dera (free) is well worth visiting. Dairoku-Ji was my favourite temple complex in Kyoto.

    Kyoto upholds formal traditions like Kiseki dining with a Geisha. The bamboo forest is enchanting to stroll through & the nightlife is pretty good here.

    There are hundreds of temples and shrines in Kyoto and you could spend a lifetime trying to visit them all. Among the ancient temples, you can also explore the hip, alternative side of Kyoto. Kyoto has a sweet underground scene too, though maybe not to the degree of Osaka.

    Consult your guesthouse to find out which temples are nearest to you. I have heard great things about Arashiyama’s bamboo forests, which an easy day trip from Kyoto.

    For backpackers looking for an epic trekking adventure, consider going on the Kumano Kodo Pilgrimage Trek. This 3-day hike takes you to 5 UNESCO World Heritage sites and even some hot springs so you can soak your weary bones.

    Plan out the perfect visit to Kyoto.

    Backpacking Nara

    If you have a free day, you can make an easy day trip (by train) to Nara, Japan’s historical capital. Nara is full of historic neighborhoods, chilled out parks, and more temples including Todai-Ji, the largest wooden building in the world.

    Todai-Ji was the only building in Nara which I thought was worth paying to get into. Most of the other temples are less impressive and yet still cost around $10 to get into.

    Check this picture:

    Backpacking in Japan
    Kicking ass with a shiny Katana…

    That’s me kicking ass with a Samurai I was introduced to through Couchsurfing. Seriously folks, in Japan, it’s all about having unique experiences and discovering cool places you wouldn’t normally hear about. My secret weapon for this is always travelling by Couchsurfing: it is simply the best way to get to grips with a new place and land on your feet with a social life.

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    Backpacking Hiroshima

    Poignant Hiroshima Peace Memorial Park is heartbreaking. The park tells the story of how Hiroshima, a previously untouched (by the war) city in Japan, was nuked towards the end of WWII by American forces.

    In the park, you’ll find the Atomic Bomb Dome – site of where the first atomic bomb hit, and now just a skeletal reminder of the past. The park is free to get into and it costs under a dollar. It’s well worth it to visit the museum.

    You can store your bags in museum lockers for free. When visiting the museum, I recommend splashing out on the audio tour. There are two free films you can watch in the museum’s small cinema. You can get free WiFi here as well so it’s a good place to chill if you’re stuck for a bit.

    There is a library in the park where you can use a computer for up to an hour for free. That said, most backpacker hostels in Hiroshima have WiFi and computer capabilities.

    japan backpacking

    I personally found visiting Hiroshima to be a really worthwhile but somewhat distressing experience – do some research beforehand so that you have a basic idea of what occurred here before booking somewhere to stay.

    If you have a spare day on your hands, head off to beautiful Miyajima. An easy day trip from Hiroshima, Miyajima is a fantastic island covered in gorgeous woods. Hike up into the hills to escape the tourist crowds and discover some awesome views as well as herds of cheeky deer.

    Backpacking Osaka

    Osaka is number three of Japan’s major tourist destination cities. Not quite as culturally encroached as Kyoto yet not quite as… insane as Tokyo, Osaka is the brash, rash, and oh so lovable youngest sibling of the three.

    Osaka canals looking pretty at night

    The locals in Osaka pride themselves on being a touch less tightly-wound then their kin across the isles. They have their eccentric slangs, are looser with their tongues (relative to other Japanese people), and even enjoy the odd comedy show.

    There are no shortage of cool places to stay in Osaka – it’s one of the places to go in Japan that are more suited to hosting backpackers. With tonnes of cool hostels and plenty of esoteric nightlife, it’s a very good part of Japan to visit if you’re feeling the isolation that sometimes creeps up when backpacking there. Foreigner or Japanese, you’re bound to make some friends in Osaka.

    Before you travel to Osaka, learn a bit more about the city!

    Backpacking Nagasaki

    Nagasaki is located on the southern island of Kyushu. Like in Hiroshima, there are museums about the bombing, a peace memorial, and a peace park with lots of sculptures and beautiful flowers.

    Backpacking Japan hiroshima
    Hiroshima in the evening time.

    Nagasaki is a really nice city to wander around – there are lots of Buddhist temples, gardens and an interesting Chinatown area. It has a pretty chill and laid-back vibe. You could happily spend a couple of days here.

    Backpacking Sapporo and Hokkaido

    Most travellers don’t plan a trip to Sapporo and Hokkaido. In fact, Hokkaido gets way too little love amongst the backpacking scene in Japan, so I’m here to fix that! In summer, Hokkaido is a vibrant lush green wonderland of mountains, wildflowers, and fruits to pick.

    Come winter, however… holy shit is it cold! But it’s a dreamy Narnia-like snowscape with some of the most majestic fields of powder and frozen lakes that you’ll ever lay eyes on.

    The northenmost of Japan’s four main islands, Hokkaido is to Japan what South Island is to New Zealand: a sparser population in a harsher landscape where only the most chill and off-beat of Japanese choose to live. If you’re looking for the off-kilter black sheep Japanese (particularly the ones that like a little greenery in their ciggies), you’ll find them in Hokkaido.

    Sapporo is the capital of Hokkaido island, and, honestly, it’s a pretty cool city. It doesn’t have quite the smashing of tourist attractions that a lot of other Japanese cities do, but there are still plenty of cool hostels in Sapporo, quirky things to do, and infinite amounts of unrelenting food comas to swelter through.

    Sapporo tourist attraction - Television Tower and Odori Park
    Sapporo is pretty in all seasons.

    Also, it’s a pretty city! Mountains, greenery, and forest. Truthfully, I just have a real soft spot in my heart for my time staying in Sapporo.

    Overall, Hokkaido is about as off the beaten path in Japan as you can get. Travelling it by hitchhiking is going to mean you meet the quirkiest and best of Japanese folks. And if you happen to travel it by motorbike, well, that’s just a rite of passage for many young Japanese seeking their first adventure.

    Backpacking Okinawa

    Well, we talked about the frozen north, so now we’re talking about the summery south. The Okinawa islands are considerably further than you may expect from mainland Japan: they’re about halfway between Japan and Taiwan.

    As such, they have a much more temperate climate. I’d also go so far as to say that Okinawa’s beautiful beaches kinda blow Japan’s rather weak offerings out of the water. Much as Indians travel to Mauritius for their ultimate Hawaii-style holiday, that’s why many Japanese visit Okinawa.

    Kouri Island, Okinawa

    EXCEPT, Okinawa is not Japan – not really. Long before it’s annexation and subsequent pilfering by American military bases, Okinawa was it’s own vibrant land with its own people, language, culture, and music (not dissimilar to many Polynesian peoples).

    Travelling to Okinawa is both a chance to see a different side of Japan and to peek at the ugliness beneath the Geisha’s mask of perfection (on that note, ask about the Ainu people when you reach Hokkaido).

    Artefacts of history aside, there are plenty of fun things to do in Okinawa and its surrounding islands. Most of them involve beaches, sure, but backpackers love beaches! Beautiful, blissful, sunny beaches. Diving, surfing, and lounging about getting tanned all day – what’s not to love!

    Backpacking Ishigakijima

    Ishigakijima is about 400km south of the main island of Okinawa. The colour of the ocean and the fragrance of the flowers is mesmerising. It has the clearest blue waters and if you go snorkelling you will be surrounded by coral and tropical fish.

    This is a pretty sweet spot for a romantic getaway, what with the peaceful waters, starry skies, and some of the best beaches in Japan that you’ll find.

    backpacking Japan budget travel guide
    The Hirakubosaki lighthouse.

    Want to get into some scuba diving in Ishigakijima? The real magic of the island lies beneath the surface of the ocean. You can go for dives and earn your scuba certificate in just a couple days, which enables you to go diving anywhere in the world after leaving Ishigakijima.

    Ishigakijima has the most beautiful night sky in Japan! You could also go explore the Hirakubosaki lighthouse. This is the island to go to if you want to immerse yourself in the nature of Okinawa’s outlying islands.

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    Top Things to Do in Japan

    Backpacking Japan is all about having unique and crazy experiences that you cannot have anywhere else in the world. Below are the top 10 craziest, must-try things to do in Japan:

    1. Watch a Sumo Wrestling Match

    Large men pretty much rocking thongs and battling it out. Where else in the world do you get to see something so delightfully odd?

    2. Real Life Mario Kart

    Get ready to race! Nothing like speeding around one of the world’s largest cities, in tiny go-karts, full-blown Mario Kart-style minus the blue shells and lighting bolts.

    Travellers in Tokyo doing a fun go-kart tour activity
    Damn street punks – they askin’ for a blue shell
    Photo: Liz Mc (Flickr)

    If you are looking for a bit of thrill and some fun then street go-karting is where it is at.

    3. Drink Coffee with Cats

    While the rise in popularity of this trend has it spreading across the globe, cat cafes actually originated in Japan. For those of you who haven’t heard of this delightful treat yet, it’s basically a normal cafe, but there are a bunch of cats… so you can sip on your coffee and pet a cat while you’re at it!

    But why stop the fun here?! There are also rabbit cafes, bird cafes, reptile cafes… there’s even an owl cafe and goat cafe. Don’t tell me your cappuccino doesn’t taste ten times better when your non-coffee sipping hand is patting a goat’s head.

    4. Find out What an Earthquake Feels Like

    Keen to feel what a real live earthquake feels like without, you know, experiencing an actual earthquake?

    Earthquake damage done to a famous castle in Japan
    Nature’s a bitch.

    Ikebukuro Earthquake Hall is awesome – you get the extremely interesting feeling of being in an earthquake with any of the risks while learning what to do should you find yourself in a real earthquake. And if you’re a traveller, you’re probably going to land yourself in some places where it could happen.

    …Like Japan.

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    6. Eat at a Cosplay Restaurant

    The basic idea here is that it is a normal restaurant, except the ladies are dressed in French maid outfits, and address you as “master.” Any ladies reading this and not totally loving the idea?

    Don’t worry – they’ve got butler restaurants for you, too. Hell, there’s even one where chicks dress up as the butlers. Basically, there’s a rather strange themed restaurant for you, whatever your tastes, in Japan.

    7. Then go to the Meguro Parasitological Museum

    Not exactly the museum you had in mind? Well, entrance is free, and it’s not exactly the type of museum you’re going to find anywhere else on planet earth. With 300 parasite specimens to view, save this for a few hours after your tasty Ramen has been digested.

    8. Random Robot-ness

    If over-the-top performances and costumes are your thing than you need to check out the famous Robot Resturant Show. It is hard to describe this full on craziness. Everything from the entrance to the handful of extravagantly over done floors are pushing this Vegas like energy as you descend into the robot pit. The show itself is full of different themes and acts as two sides battle each-other.

    9. Go to the Ramen Museum

    Yep, this exists. Learn about the many flavours of Ramen, and, more importantly, taste them! This is so much better than the just-add-water kind we’ve all been rocking. This is one of the coolest things to do in Osaka.

    10. Hang out in a Village of Foxes

    No not foxy ladies. You can hang out with the wild animals, foxes, at Miyagi Zao Fox Village. Seriously. The foxes run around freely, some curiously approaching visitors, while others sleep away in the bushes. You can also buy some food to give them, and part of the village is more like a petting zoo – and who can say no to petting adorable foxes?!

    Backpacking in Japan
    Small Pack Problems? 😉

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    Packing cubes for the globetrotters and compression sacks for the real adventurers – these babies are a traveller’s best kept secret. They organise yo’ packing and minimise its volume too so you can pack MORE.

    Or, y’know… you can stick to ziplock bags.

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    Backpacker Accommodation in Japan

    For backpackers on a budget, Couchsurfing is your best bet whilst backpacking in Tokyo. Outside of that, Japan’s hostels and backpacker accommodation are cheap-ish (depending on where you are) but also undeniably excellent in that typical Japanese fashion.

    There are however some truly awesome accommodation options as listed below…

    The Best Places to Stay in Japan

    Where to Stay in Japan

    LocationAccommodationWhy Stay Here?!
    TokyoEmblem Hostel, Sakura HostelThe Emblem hostel is pretty cheap and awesome.
    HiroshimaK’s House HiroshimaMy top choice in Hiroshima for backpacker friendly beds is K’s House Hiroshima. It is a cozy and friendly backpacker’s hostel where you will get to meet other backpackers!
    NagasakiNagasaki International Hostel, Nagasaki House BuraburaThe Nagasaki International Hostel is a beautiful riverside property with traditional historic temples around which you can explore on foot.
    Mount FujiK’s House Fuji ViewMy suggestion would be K’s House Fuji View with Japanese style private rooms and shared dorms with a great lounge on the roof top. You could visit the five lakes around Mount Fuji from here.
    KyotoBird HostelA great place to crash here would be Bird Hostel. Clean and comfortable with air conditioning, wifi and free tea!
    Ishigakijima IslandShiraho Friends HouseThis is the only real hostel property on this island It is a cozy little place with separate dorms for men and women.
    Japanese AlpsK’s House Hakuba AlpsAwesome spot if you want to hit the slopes in the Japanese Alps. They have reduced lift tickets for sale at the hostel, as well as a 20% off voucher for rentals! There’s even extra space to dry clothes from snowboarding & an awesome kitchen to cook your own food.
    NaraDeer Park Inn, Oak HostelMy favourite hostel in Nara was the Deer Park Inn, the only budget accommodation in the Nara World Heritage area. This place has a mountain-lodge feel and a great vibe. And like most hostels in Japan,  they have wifi and a shared kitchen.

    Japan Backpacking Costs

    Backpacking Japan on a budget is possible, but I have to admit it is going to take some well-calculated planning and some sacrifices. If you map out your route and the things you want to do, you can book discount flight tickets, a multi-day rail pass, and other helpful money-savers ahead of time.

    It is possible to backpack Japan on $35 a day, but this will mean hitchhiking and wild camping while splurging on a few dorm beds, eating at convenience stores and food courts, and only picking a couple sites to visit. Transportation is the largest cost, so staying put will help cut costs too.

    backpacking Japan budget travel guide
    Go slow, be Zen, and the rest shall be cheap… relatively.

    But this is Japan. If you want to eat sushi and go to a Robot dinner show, soak it up in hot springs and visit several beautiful shrines, and have a couple nights out on the town, you will want a minimum of $75 a day.

    Were you expecting more? Many people think you need hundreds of dollars a day to visit Japan, but there are a lot of ways to save money and travel comfortably for well under $100 a day. Read on!

    There are some good options set up for backpackers. A bed in a ten-bed dorm often costs around $30. (Hey cheaper than Western Europe!) If you have to book a hostel I recommend the chain K’s House – as they will give you a loyalty card allowing you to make savings throughout the country.

    I know a couple of girls who just hitchhiked and wild camped around Japan, so it’s definitely possible to camp. Just be wary of the wild boars! You’ll have to tie your food up in a tree, but the upside is that you’ll be able to sleep for free!

    Travelling by Couchsurfing in Japan is a fantastic option if you’re travelling solo. There are plenty of gracious hosts ready to flex their hospitality cred. And finally, if you are travelling with a group, hotels and Airbnb may be an affordable option too.

    Food can be expensive if you’re eating sushi all the time. The cheapest food is available at one of the many 7/11s gracing every street. I mostly ate rice balls and pizza slices and was able to get by on around $8 a day for food. There are some cheap restaurants where it is possible to find a meal for around $12.

    If you don’t want to eat pizza slices all day, Bento boxes are also cheap and can be bought from any convenience store. You can also get Ramen and Udon for around 1000-1500 Yen. Food courts also serve cheap food!

    If you plan ahead, you can definitely save your pennies. The best way to get around is by metro and train, and buying a Japan Rail Pass beforehand can be a big money saver. It’s really wise at looking into this in advance of your trip.

    There are also some multi-day rail passes which are essential for getting around the country with ease and swiftness. A multi-day rail pass can end up saving you a lot of money.

    JAL (and Oneworld) and ANA Airlines each offer special domestic fares exclusively for foreign visitors to Japan for not much over 10,000 yen per flight. Just make sure you book these tickets outside of Japan, so before your trip.

    Not so much an itinerary planner? I recommend you hitchhike.

    Although metro services are fairly reasonable, trains can be expensive unless you book them in advance. The best form of budget transport for major distances is bus; I recommend using Willer buses as they are the cheapest around and they operate night services allowing you to save money on accommodation. When booking buses try to book them in advance as this is always cheaper.

    Exploring traditional markets, visiting shrines, or absorbing the vibes in Harajuku are all either free or have really low entrance fees! That said many major sites and attractions in Japan charge a hefty entrance fee, so either choose what you want to see carefully or get a day pass rather than a few individual tickets.

    A Daily Budget in Japan

    ExpenseBroke BackpackerFrugal TravelerCreature of Comfort
    Accommodation$10-$20 (camping advised)$20-$30$40+
    Transport$3-$10 (hitchhiking advised)$10-$30 (JR Pass advised)$50+
    Nightlife Delights$4-$8$10-$20$30+
    Total per day:$23-$61$64-$130$185+

    Money in Japan

    Fun fact! The Japanese 5 yen coin (the gold one with the hole in it) is called a go’en (i.e. go-yen abbreviated (with ‘go’ meaning five and ‘yen’ meaning yen). BUT ‘goen’ also means destiny in the Japanese language which is why a certain spiritual significance is placed on the 5 yen coin in the Japanese cultural traditions.

    Is that relevant? Na, a go’en will still barely buy you four grains of a rice ball, but it’s kinda cool! If you’re visiting shrines in Japan, save up your goen’s to make a wish at the money boxes. Maybe you can wish for a slightly more useful denomination of cash!

    A stack of the currency of Japan - the Japanese yen
    Though not the most colourful, there’s a certain refined elegance to Japan’s currency.

    As of December 2020, 1 USD = 104 yen which is really such simple maths – 100 yen = 100 cents! You barely have to try.

    ATMS are all over the country as are convenience stores, banks, shopping centres, and just about anywhere else you could imagine getting money out. You won’t have to work hard to stay loaded up.

    However, international ATMs in Japan do usually carry a chunky fee. Make sure you’re getting out fat stacks at once to save on fees and then make sure you’re hiding your money well when travelling. Even Japan has some buttwipes.

    Top Tips for Visiting Japan on a Budget

    Japan can be a very expensive country, luckily though if you follow the classical budget travel tips below you can backpack Japan on the cheap…

    • Cook your own food: I took a small gas cooker with me to Japan and cooked a lot of my own meals whilst hitching and camping, I saved a fortune. Check out this post for a breakdown of the best backpacking stoves.
    • Couchsurfing: The best way to explore any country when you’re broke is to get on Couchsurfing!
    • Eat local: Avoid the big restaurants and stick to street food, food courts, and convenience stores!
    • Camp, camp, and camp some more: Wild camping makes a HUGE difference in Japan, and it’s super easy to get away with… you just take the right adventure gear!
    • Hitchhike: In Japan, it is so so easy to thumb a ride and it is an ace way to keep your transport costs down and instead spend it on smashing experiences. So hitchhike as much as you can when backpacking in Japan.
    • Cook your own food: I took a small gas cooker with me to Japan and cooked a lot of my own meals whilst hitching and camping, I saved a fortune. Check out this post for a breakdown of the best backpacking stoves.
    • Couchsurfing: The best way to explore any country when you’re broke is to get on Couchsurfing!
    • Eat local: Avoid the big restaurants and stick to street food, food courts, and convenience stores!
    • Camp, camp, and camp some more: Wild camping makes a HUGE difference in Japan, and it’s super easy to get away with… you just take the right adventure gear!
    • Hitchhike: In Japan, it is so so easy to thumb a ride and it is an ace way to keep your transport costs down and instead spend it on smashing experiences. So hitchhike as much as you can when backpacking in Japan.

    Why You Should Travel to Japan with a Water Bottle

    Plastic washes up on even the most pristine beaches… so do your part and keep the Big Blue beautiful

    You aren’t going to save the world overnight, but you might as well be part of the solution and not the problem. When you travel to some of the world’s most remote places, you come to realise the full extent of the plastic problem. And I hope you become more inspired to continue being a responsible traveller.

    STOP USING SINGLE-USE PLASTIC! If you’d like some more tips on how to save the world, be sure to watch the video below.

    Plus, now you won’t be buying overpriced bottles of water from the supermarkets either! Travel with a filtered water bottle instead and never waste a cent nor a turtle’s life again.

    Save $$$ • Save the Planet • Save Your Stomach!
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    Single-use plastic bottles are a MASSIVE threat to marine life. Be a part of the solution and travel with a filter water bottle.

    We’ve tested the Geopress rigorously from the icy heights of Pakistan to the tropical jungles of Cuba, and the results are in: it WORKS. Buy a Geopress: it’s the last water bottle you’ll ever buy.

    Buy a Geopress! Read the Review

    Best Time to Travel to Japan

    Japan is best visited between March to May and September to November. If you want to catch the famous cherry blossom season (and, yes, you do) your best bet is to go backpacking in Japan between March and May.

    backpacking Japan budget travel guide
    Delicate cherry blossom trees

    The delicate cherry blossom of spring and the vibrant hues of the autumn leaves are absolutely stunning!

    Festivals in Japan

    Cherry Blossom Festival: Between March and May, Japanese families picnic and party in the park amongst the blooming cherry trees.

    What to Pack for Japan

    Get your packing for Japan right! On every adventure, there are six things I never go traveling without:

    Somewhere to hide your cash
    money belt compressed png
    Somewhere to hide your cash

    Active Roots Money Belt

    This is a regular looking belt with a concealed pocket on the inside – you can hide up to twenty notes inside and wear it through airport scanners without it setting them off.

    A travel water bottle
    Grayl Geopress Water Purifier Bottle
    A travel water bottle

    GRAYL Geopress Filtered Bottle

    Having a filtered water bottle means you can drink from just about any source. The GRAYL Geopress is hands-down the most effective one we’ve ever used as well!

    For those unexpected messes
    AR Towel
    For those unexpected messes

    Active Roots Microfiber Towel

    Hostel towels are scummy and take forever to dry. Microfibre towels dry quickly, are compact, lightweight, and can be used as a blanket or yoga mat if need be.

    When the power goes out
    Gifts for backpackers
    When the power goes out

    Petzl Actik Core Headlamp

    A decent head torch could save your life. If you want to explore caves, unlit temples, or simply find your way to the bathroom during a blackout, a headtorch is a must.

    Sleep anywhere
    Hammock for backpackers
    Sleep anywhere

    Active Roots Camping Hammock

    Taking a tent backpacking is not always practical but hammocks are lightweight, cheap, strong, sexy (chicks dig hammocks), and allow you to pitch up for the night pretty much anywhere.

    To stay a clean backpacker
    To stay a clean backpacker

    Hanging Toiletry Bag

    I always travel with a hanging toiletry bag as it’s a super-efficient way to organize your bathroom stuff. Well worth having as it helps to have quick access to all your stuff.

    For plenty more inspiration on what to pack, check out my full backpacking packing list.

    Staying Safe in Japan

    Japan is safe to visit – one of the safest countries in the world to visit in fact! Honestly, there isn’t much crime here, and people don’t really steal! You can leave your purse unattended in a metro station, and chances are, you’ll get it back.

    Solo traveller in Osaka enjoying the nightlife while touring Japan
    You’d be hard-pressed to have a hard time in Japan.

    All the same, here are a brush up on our top safety tips for backpacking before you visit Japan!

    Sex, Drugs, and Rock ’n’ Roll in Japan

    Japan is big on sex, alcohol, and pop music to an often extreme degree. What you will not find very easily though is weed. They have very strict rules around the possession and consumption, and in Japan, you are guilty until proven innocent. The number of cops is insane and rumour on the street is that the cops are actively looking to bust anyone who looks foreign. So you’re probably better off avoiding getting high whilst backpacking Japan.

    Tokyo has one of the world’s best concert scenes. The city is full of small and medium size concert halls called “live houses” in Japanese. There are plenty of genre specific venues in the city including punk, hip hop and jazz clubs. If you’re in town you should definitely check out a show — even if it’s a random band you’ve never heard of!

    Most small shows cost 2000 – 3500 yen and might feature 2-4 bands. Japan also hosts one of the coolest music festivals in AsiaFuji Rock. This festival is famous for its chilled open-air forest theme – rural Japan at it’s best! What better way to explore it than with a groundbreaking music festival. If you’re around in Japan in July, make sure to check this festival.

    Tinder is pretty common in Japan. Keep in mind that the Japanese are pretty old fashioned when it comes to love and sex. They prefer to be physically intimate only after confessing their love for each other. Also, it is not uncommon for a woman to ask a man out. So yeah don’t be surprised if a Japanese woman is somewhat forward. Swipe away!

    Travel Insurance for Japan

    Traveling without insurance would be risky so do consider getting good backpacker insurance sorted before you head off on an adventure.

    I have been using World Nomads for some time now and made a few claims over the years. They’re easy to use, professional and relatively affordable. They may also let you buy or extend a policy once you’ve started your trip and are already abroad which is super handy.

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    There’s one travel insurance provider The Broke Backpacker trusts for all his wildest shenanigans… World Nomads!

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    How to Get Into Japan

    The most common flight destination in Japan is Narita Airport (NRT), which is about an hour from Tokyo. There are a ton of international ferries to Japan, from Korea, Taiwan, China, and Russia, but for backpackers, Busan (Korea) is likely to be the only practical destination from which to take a boat to Japan.

    japan guide
    The ferry departing Busan en route to Fukuoka, Japan.

    Boats are generally cheaper than airfares, but their schedules can be unreliable, and travel times long and tedious. Unless you’re travelling with cargo, spending two days on a ferry is really no fun. It’s fairly straightforward to sort out your Japanese visa before you arrive!

    Entry Requirements for Japan

    A lot of countries do not need a Visa to enter Japan and will receive 90 days on arrival. All other nationalities need to apply for a ‘Temporary Visitor’ visa prior to arrival, which is generally valid for a stay of 90 days. Be sure to check out the official page for visas for Japan, and then get the visa if required!

    Travelling to Japan During COVID Times

    japan covid
    It was the best of times, it was the blurst of time.

    Visiting Japan for tourism purposes right now is simply not a thing. Under special circumstances (either you’re a foreign resident or you have a exceptional reason to travel to Japan), it’s possible with an expected associated bureaucratic pain-in-the-ass.

    Still, for now, Japan remains closed to tourism. They have set a very tentative date of April 2021 for a reintroduction of phasing tourism back in, however, as we’ve seen throughout the pandemic, these things tend to be as loose and uncommitted as marriage vows.

    That said, don’t forget the Olympics were totally meant to be a thing in 2021! Japan’s already sunk a metric shitton of cashola into that little disaster, so you can expect they’ll be wanting to get things kicking back on ASAP once they’re in a position to. Sometime in the first half of 2021, Japan should HOPEFULLY be a thing again.

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    How to Get Around Japan

    Japan has one of the world’s best transport systems. Getting around is usually very easy but transportation can really dig a hole in your pocket. Although Japan is fairly expensive, there are a variety of passes for foreigners that can make travel more affordable.

    Trains in Japan are super fast and always on time! The confusing aspect of Japan’s railway system is that several private railway networks overlap with the most popular – JR network. I would advise you to download Hyperdia to figure out train routes and schedules.

    Your best bet is to get a Japan Rail Pass, which allows unlimited travel on almost all JR trains, for a fixed period of 7, 14 or 21 days. This will save you a ton of money! If you are sure about your route, what you can also do is get local or regional passes. There are several types of trains available too, but the Shikansen or the bullet train is the fastest and the best! This is the most affordable way to backpack Japan on a budget.

    Buy your JR Pass before you arrive in Japan.

    Japan’s excellent Shinkansen network has rendered flights more of a luxury than a necessity. However, the only way to reach Japan’s outlying islands is by plane.

    Given that Japan is an island nation, boats are a surprisingly uncommon means of transport. Most major islands are linked together by bridges and tunnels.

    However, the ferry from the north of Honshu – at either Aomori or Oma – to Hokkaido is a blast. Particularly, the ferry from Oma is sweet: you’re at the misty northernmost point of Honshu island here and a proper fishing village wayyy off the beaten track.

    Long-distance highway buses serve many routes covered by trains at significantly lower prices, but take much longer than the Shinkansen, and let’s agree, they are much less cooler! You could also take local buses in smaller towns. Be sure to check the price before you venture into one. They can be surprisingly expensive at times!

    There are taxis available everywhere in Japan. They are very clean and comfortable but can be pretty damn expensive.

    Taxi meters are strictly regulated and clearly visible to the passenger. Make sure to get a trip cost estimate from the driver. If you do this, some taxi drivers will stop the meter at the estimated price regardless of how much further the destination may be, which can save you money, but remember this doesn’t happen every time.

    Luckily, Uber is now available in Japan and a great way to get around

    Rental cars and driving in Japan are rare since the public transport is so kickass! Plus, most major cities are riddled with traffic jams and the parking is expensive. So it’s best to give renting a car a slip

    My advice would be to backpack Japan using the super cool bullet trains. Shinkansen away my friend!

    A shinkansen bullet train speeds past Mount Fuji in the background - best public transport in Japan
    Hitchhiking is still the best way to travel, but let’s be honest… those shinkansen know how to do.

    Hitchhiking in Japan

    Hitchhiking in Japan is the key to true budget travel and the way to escape the country’s ruinously expensive transport costs, but it can be fairly tricky. Though it is close to impossible to hitch a ride in Tokyo and other large cities, it gets easier as you move away from major cities.

    Make sure to always hitch at an interchange or at a gas station and not on the expressways as it is prohibited to go there on foot and the police will rock up. Hitchhiking in Japan is still pretty uncommon so it is likely that you might be the first hitchhiker that your driver has ever even seen, much less picked up. The key to hitchhiking is to look as friendly as possible.

    That said, this is one of the safest countries you can ever travel by hitchhiking.

    A Japanese backpacker writes a hitchhiking sign in Kanji before the day's travels
    Prepping for the hitch.
    Photo: @themanwiththetinyguitar

    Broke Backpacker Tip: Put up a sign in Kanji (Japanese script) that says Nihongo dekimasu which translates to ‘Japanese can’. Put smileys in between your kanji characters to earn extra brownie points and more rides!

    Onwards Travel from Japan

    Being a series of islands, Japan shares maritime borders with:

    1. China
    2. North Korea (less of an option though)
    3. South Korea
    4. The Philippines
    5. Russia
    6. Taiwan

    Flights to any of these places plus other major destinations around Asia tend to be pretty cheap. And as a bonus tip, Japan is one of the best places to fly to the Americas and the US from on this side of the Asian continent.

    Unless you’re heading to Western Europe, Japan is an excellent travel hub!

    Working in Japan

    While it’s a much more common country for backpackers to visit as tourists, plenty of travellers do choose to work in Japan. I did! Did I have a work visa?


    It’s not a strict recommendation considering the infamy of Japan’s working culture.

    Work visas for Japan understandably require some hoop-jumping. You’ll need to choose a work visa for your type of occupation (there are separate visas for different types of skilled occupations, a dedicated program for English teachers, and even Japan working holiday agreements with a list of countries).

    You’ll ALSO need a Certificate of Eligibility to obtain a work visa which will require a letter from your prospective employer or sponsor. Work visas for Japan usually run for 1 or 3 years. I’d recommend this source on Japan’s working visas since it’s a complicated subject with a lot of ins and outs.

    Alternatively, there is always the call of the life and times of a digital nomad! With ample WiFi, crackin’ services, and all the cheap ramen in the world, walking the life of a cyber traveller in Japan is an excellent idea! (Minus the hustle with accommodation prices.)

    There’s no visa for digital nomads. You could tell immigration about your job and face that admin nightmare that awaits, but considering I tried explaining to a Japanese immigration officer that I was a volunteer and even that was too left-of-field for his understanding, I wouldn’t bother.

    Besiiides, we didn’t become digital nomads to do admin and pay taxes. Enjoy your grey areas; Japan is a good place for it. 😉

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    An eSIM works just like an app: you buy it, you download it, and BOOM! You’re connected. It’s just that easy.

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    Buy an eSIM!

    Volunteering in Japan

    Outside of legal work or illegal work (some might say the BEST kind of work!), volunteering in Japan is another kickass opportunity which I also did. Guess what? It was sick!

    A volunteer at an eco-project in Hokkaido plays with the children
    Japan takes its Pokemon Go very seriously.
    Photo: @themanwiththetinyguitar

    Finding volunteering gigs in Japan is pretty easy – even just talking, expressing interest, and (sincerely) playing the role of the inquisitive and well-intentioned traveller will land you some work with a place to stay and ridiculous feasts and hospitality.

    Alternatively, scooch on over to Workaway or any of the alternative sites to find yourself a gig lickety-split! Agriculture, hospitality, tourism, volunteering with kiddos (which basically amounted to me going swimming and playing Mario Kart with kids for six hours a day) are just a few of the awesome opportunities you’ll find.

    As a further personal note, volunteering in Japan is a good way to live the local life and peek beneath the mask of perfection. Japan is very adept at only showing tourists what it wants you to see: volunteering can help you see the real Japan.

    Aside from Workaway, Worldpackers also offers some substantial and rewarding experiences alongside a whole host of other community features unique to their platform. Plus, if you join the Worldpackers community as a Broke Backpacker reader (use the code BROKEBACKPACKER) at the checkout, you get a fat chunk off the signup cost – 20% OFF your annual fee!

    Hai, itadakimasu!

    Teaching English in Japan

    Yassss – like I said, there’s even a dedicated program just for living in Japan and working as an English teacher there. The wage is good – enough to put some extra away in spite of Japan’s high cost of living – and you’ll likely be given a place to stay on a contract job too. That helps!

    Woman at a Shinto shrine in Japan wearing traditional dress
    Live in Japan… if only for a bit.

    The two things you need to teach English in Japan is an undergreduate degree and a TEFL certificate. Now, possibly you can skip on the degree (he says imagining his diploma and what fine roach paper it made); having both is simply going to make finding a job much easier.

    You don’t want to skip on getting a TEFL certificate though. They’re definitely going to look closer at that!

    Luckily, getting a TEFL certificate online is easy-peasy! There are heaps of awesome online entities of the learned kind thatrun the course through the power of the internet.

    Personally, I’d recommend checking out MyTEFL. Members of my team have used them in the past to great effect, and they’re a professional company that gets you your certificate without the extra faff. Maybe you’ll get hooked and run some more of their courses…

    The digital nomad life awaits! Just remember to use the code BACKPKR to get 35% discount at the checkout. It’d just be daft not to.

    If you aren’t ready to go full nomad, try out a gap year in Japan with an agency!

    Worldpackers: connecting travellers with meaningful travel experiences.

    What to Eat in Japan

    The food in Japan is both unbelievably diverse and un-fucking-believably tasty! A cheap instant ramen from the convenience store will be the greatest you’ve ever had. Find an actual steaming hole-in-the-wall ramen bar and it’s food coma country.

    A late-night ramen bar serving food to the nightlife in Tokyo
    Food coma country is the only country I want to go backpacking in.

    You know how some days in India it’s like, “Oh, what am I going to eat today. Probably rice.” In Japan, there is so much diversity in the food (while remaining disctinctly Japanese) and so much diversity in the carbs too!

    Every area, town, city, ward, whatever – they all pride themselves on their signature dish. You can get ramen anywhere, right? But you can only get Sapporo ramen in Sapporo, and it’s a bloody good ramen too! (I can confirm.)

    Japanese food is never too anything; flavours are balanced in a delicate fashion, and Japanese people take their cuisine very seriously. It’s also rare to ever eat anything too spicy. Spice tolerance is not a thing in Japan, and most people will look at the gaijin (foreigner) snacking on wasabi like he just started breathing fire.

    But, man, the food, holy shit – trust me: you could forget the skiing, the theme parks, the nightlife, and all the other money-sinks. Just travel to Japan, eat like a Snorlax, and sit in onsens (also probably like a Snorlax). You’d be one happy backpcker!

    • Sushi: As I am assuming most of you already know, sushi is raw fish served on rice seasoned lightly with vinegar. It’s available in a variety of flavours and textures and goes extremely well with soy sauce. You might think sushi sounds all fancy but it actually originated as street food in Japan. Rolled up in toasted nori seaweed or pressed into fat rectangular logs. Delicious sushi can be found all over Japan in every price range.
    • Ramen: Egg noodles in a salty broth and is Japan’s favourite late night meal. It is simple to make and is oh so filling! One of the most popular ramen shops in Japan is Enji, it has ramen noodles dipped in a thickly concentrated fish-and-pork-bone-based broth – YUM!
    • Takoyaki: Octopus balls is a widely available snack in Japan. A crisp exterior surrounding a gooey center of octopus, pickled ginger and scallions – this is truly delectable!
    • Unagi: Fresh river eel grilled over charcoal and with some sweet barbecue sauce. It is said to be the ideal antidote to the heat and humidity of Japan’s exhausting summers.
    • Tempura: Light and fluffy tempura is Japan’s contribution to the world of deep-fried foods. It is usually seafood that is batter fried in sesame oil and served with either a tiny pool of salt or a soy sauce-flavoured broth. My favourite was the Prawns tempura!
    • Miso: Where would Japanese cuisine be without miso? This salty fermented bean paste forms the base of so many soups, sauces and marinades. Every region in Japan has its own special recipe.
    • Tonkatsu: Breaded and deep-fried pork cutlet which is melt-in-your-mouth tender. It is served with a side of miso soup and a mountain of shredded cabbage. This shows some sort of Western influence on Japanese cuisine.
    • Yaki-imo: Tokyo’s streets are filled with the nostalgic, nutty aroma of roasted sweet potatoes that are sold by these Yaki-mo trucks. It is the feeling of familiarity and home that pulls people to these trucks.

    Japanese Culture

    While it is difficult to stereotype an entire society, there are some important things to understand about Japan.

    Japan is organized into a hierarchy: age and status matter, and younger people show their elders respect and honour. It is rude to refer to seniors with informal language. In Japan, tone of voice and facial expressions matter a lot since spoken words can have several meanings.

    A geish in Kyoto crosses that street at night in front of a konbini
    Despite the elegant and pristine mask held on top, Japan is a deeply complex country of stormy dichotomies below.

    Another highly ritualistic and meaningful custom in Japan is the gift giving etiquette. Gifts are given in many occasions.

    In business and social settings, punctuality is a must. Seriously, no one is ever late. Even the public transportatino is on time. Time management is important in Japan. It is courteous to show up to a business meeting or social gathering early.

    Japanese people value harmony and etiquette in a highly structured and traditional society. Japan isn’t as “individualistic” as many Western countries. Your actions tend to reflect more on your family, community, and peers.

    Make no mistake: Japanese culture is one of a kind. It’s extremely fascinating not to mention totally unique. With a good dose curiosity, mixed in with the usual respect for local traditions, there will hardly be a dull moment for you while getting to know Japanese people.

    Useful Travel Phrases for Japan

    Japanese is not an easy language, however, learning a few travel phrases long way! Many Japanese people do not speak English well, or feel embarrassed to, so knowing these travel phrases will help you connect with the locals!

    • Hello – Konnichiwa
    • Thank you – Arigatoo gozaimasu
    • Please – onegai shimasu
    • Yes – hai
    • No – iie
    • Excuse me – Sumimasen
    • Where is the __? -__ wa doko desu ka?
    • I don’t understand – Wakarimasen
    • I don’t speak Japanese – Nihongo ga wakarimasen
    • How are you? – Ogenki desu ka?
    • Do you speak English? – Eigo o hanashimasu ka?
    • Where is the subway? – Chikatetsu wa doko desu ka?
    • No plastic bag – bin?ru-bukuro nashi
    • No straw please – Waranaide kudasai
    • No plastic cutlery please – Katorar? wa arimasen
    • Is the tip included? – Chippu wa fukumarete imasu ka?
    • How much does that cost? – Kore wa ikura desu ka?
    • Can you help me? – Tetsudatte itadakemasu ka?
    • Where is the bathroom? – Ofuro wa doko desu ka?
    • Cheers/ Bottoms up – Kanpai
    • Fool/ Idiot/ Moron – aho, baka, bakayaro
    • Eat shit – Kuso Kurae
    • Pervert – Hentai

    Learning Japanese though, that’s where it’s really at. Global Work and Travel offer the opportunity to learn Japanese in either Tokyo, Kyota or Fukuoka. You can stay anywhere from 2 to 12 weeks with small class sizes so you get MORE attention (you’ll need it, Japanese ain’t easy). Plus, what better way to learn than to fully immerse yourself!

    Global Work and Travel Promo Code

    Books to Read About Japan

    • Kafka on the Shore When you talk about Japanese literature, Murakami is the first name that comes to mind. A master craftsman of words, this guy is one of the coolest writers in the genre of magical realism. This book is an elegant and dreamlike masterpiece.
    • The Tale of Genji Lady Murasaki’s great 11th century novel, this is a beautifully crafted story of love, betrayal and death at the Imperial Court.
    • Memoirs of a Geisha A masterful portrayal of the intriguing Geishas of Japan, this novel became the centre of a lot of controversies, but remains one of the most poignant portrayals of Japanese Geisha tradition.
    • I am a Cat The world knows about Japanese and their obsession with cats! This book is based on a nameless cat’s observations of upper-middle-class Japanese society of the Meiji era, the essence of I AM A CAT is its humour and sardonic truths.
    • A Geek in Japan: Discovering the Land of Manga, Anime, ZEN, and the Tea Ceremony Comprehensive and well informed, the book covers a wide array of topics with numerous photographs, providing a lively digest of the society and the unusual culture of Japan.

    A Brief History of Japan

    In efforts to keep this section brief, I will only highlight Japan’s modern history, and focus on the 20th century.

    Japan and China have a long history of war. In the 20th century, Japan staged a bombing, known as the Manchurian Incident of 1931 to invade Manchuria, Northern China. This occupation reached its peak with the Nanking Massacre. This occupation was opposed by the US and other Western powers because of economic implications. Japan then allied with Germany during WWII.

    Japanese soldiers in Taiwan circa early 1900s in a historical photo.
    Japanese soldiers in Taiwan, early 20th century.
    Photo: Wikicommons

    The Japanese government was structured around imperialism, which also caused them to enter the Second World War. They seized several Pacific colonies, such as the Philippines and Malaysia. Much of their occupation in other countries ended in the second war when Japan was forced to surrender because of the nuclear atomic bombings.

    This is probably one of the saddest and most significant turning points in Japanese history. Hiroshima was bombed by the US first in efforts to end WWII. They soon after bombed Nagasaki. These are the only nuclear bombs to ever be used. After the world saw the catastrophic implications of nuclear warfare, it has been a constant tension since. There are many moral implications here, as most of the casualties and people affected were civilians, not soldiers. Truly a sad event in human history.

    Relations with the US were restored with the San Francisco Peace Treaty of 1951. In the decades following the Second World War, Japan’s economy grew considerably. Japan still remains one of the world’s most culturally and economically vital countries on the planet.

    Sunrise over a a famous shrine attraction in a lake in southern Japan
    It’s always darkest before the dawn.

    Some Unique Experiences in Japan

    Experience Japan in all its kooky, weird, and wonderful ways! And the nature. Mmm, the nature.

    DON'T DIE OUT THERE! …Please 🙂
    packable travel medical kit

    Things go wrong on the road ALL THE TIME. Be prepared for what life throws at you.

    Buy an AMK Travel Medical Kit before you head out on your next adventure – don’t be daft!

    Buy on REI Buy on Amazon

    Joining an Organised Tour in Japan

    For most countries, Japan included, solo travel is the name of the game. That said, if you are short on time, energy, or just want to be part of an awesome group of travellers you can opt to join an organised tour. Joining a tour is a great way to see a majority of the country quickly and without the effort that goes into planning a backpacking trip. However—not all tour operators are created equal—that is for sure.

    G Adventures is a solid down-to-earth tour company catering to backpackers just like you, and their prices and itineraries reflect the interests of the backpacker crowd. You can score some pretty sweet deals on epic trips in Japan for a fraction of the price of what other tour operators charge.

    Check out some of their awesome itineraries for Japan here…

    Final Advice Before Visiting Japan

    Just be a responsible travller in Japan.

    Being a responsible backpacker is quite simple: be respectful of Japanese people and their culture. Japanese people value etiquette, respect, and punctuality. Abide by these things, and be respectful when you are visiting temples, shrines, and sites.

    The cities of Japan are the ultimate playground, with plenty of crazy and unique things to do, so enjoy yourself; just don’t be a drunk asshole!

    Japan is a truly intriguing land with something for everyone and will give you a million “What in God’s name…” moments – which is awesome!

    Japan is one of my favourite destinations and you should definitely check it out even if you are on a tight budget!

    Classic postcard photo of a famous Japanese temple and Mount Fuji in the background
    Wish I was there, xx

    Thanks for reading – that was fun! 😀

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