Last November, I was lucky enough to travel to Japan with my husband and my 6-month baby bump, and I can say with complete confidence that this adventure was one of my most treasured travel experiences! After a mere 12 days in the country, I got a glimpse of a culture and place so fascinating that I can’t wait to go back. I am so thrilled to share my experiences and inspire others to visit this incredible destination.
As I was limited on time and knew there may be some language barriers, I chose to travel on a small group adventure tour that my Merit Travel Consultant recommended: Japan Express with G Adventures. The tour took me from Osaka to Tokyo with stops in Hiroshima, Koyasan, Mt. Fuji, and Kyoto. Our group consisted of 15 like-minded travellers ranging in age from their 20s to their 60s from all over the world including Europe, Australia, Canada, Brazil, and Thailand. Our local guide, Mariko, went above and beyond at every opportunity to make the trip memorable and overall it goes down as one of my top trips! Here are my top 5 highlights:
Believe it or not, often in my travels I’ve struggled to truly experience a culture-shock; the comforts of home and the English language are at times too easily found. But in Japan, finally, I found a place where I was constantly surrounded by a language I didn’t understand, customs I wasn’t familiar with, food that I couldn’t figure out, menus I had to point my way through, signs and train systems that were completely indecipherable…and I absolutely loved every second of it! Thanks to virtually no immigration and some areas with little tourism, Japan delivers an authentic cultural immersion that is absolutely fascinating to experience.
The food in Japan is a blog post all on its own! In general everything tastes delicious, is beyond interesting, and is always beautifully presented. Many restaurants, like an Izakaya, offer a wide variety of dishes to please a group; while many places serve literally only one thing (i.e. sushi, tempura, ramen, or the local delicacy). My favourite new dish was okonomiyaki which is kind of like a full-loaded Japanese crepe; the cooking of which was just as enjoyable to actually eating it. In my experience, restaurants are more than happy to accommodate allergies as long as you can communicate it in Japanese. And when in doubt, there is always, always, always rice!
One of the best things about my tour was that we got to stay in a diverse range of properties throughout Japan, including fully equipped modern hotels, stunning ryokans (traditional Japanese inns with communal baths and dining where walking around in your kimono is encouraged!), and my favourite spot, a Buddhist monastery where we slept on futons, ate a fully vegetarian diet, and got to experience a prayer ceremony.
Virtually everywhere in Japan offered some of the most impressive sights, views, and natural landscapes that I’ve ever seen. The photo opportunities are endless! It’s as if everything is always perfectly framed in Japan ready for amateur photographers. With any given vista, you’ve got a majestic mountain and serene lake, or a colourful temple and falling leaves, or a sunset and a massive Shinto shrine. It’s like magic! Pair that with a trip in the spring for cherry blossoms or the fall for the colourful leaves, and you’ll be building an incredible photo album of memories.
As beautiful as the scenery, the people in Japan are warm, polite, welcoming and funny. Even with a very challenging language barrier people were quick to try to offer a lending hand if we were lost, always gave up their seat for me on the train, are always kind and orderly, and genuinely made an effort to get to know us and where we were from. Not to mention that the Japanese are amongst the best people on the planet to enjoy an evening out at one of Tokyo’s many unique hot-spots including watching robots and burlesque dancers put on a once-in-a-lifetime show. Or even a slightly more subtle night of costumes and karaoke; whatever you’re into – you can find it in Japan.
These highlights don’t even touch on the transportation, the technology, the fashion, the peaceful spirituality that is perfectly balanced with modern chaos, and all of the other fascinating things to experience while in Japan. It is my opinion that anyone who can travel to Japan absolutely should. It checked all the boxes for me in regards to what criteria will deliver a great vacation. Go in with an open mind and you will forever be happy that you did!