Going to Japan for 10 days is not enough to dip in the local culture so that you can start to understand it but it is what most of us can afford as time and money. The cities that are included in this post will give you different experiences – from the lively modern life to ancient historical places and back to high skyscrapers in the middle of the largest city in the world. They are very different and yet represent the Japanese life and culture as it was in past and as it is now. Here is an example of what you can plan to see in Japan for 10 days.
Osaka is a surprisingly enjoyable city. Its lively nightlife and young face will let you charmed and well entertained. This is the first reasons why you should visit Osaka. The second, very practical, reason is that from here you can make one-day trips to few interesting places – Kyoto, Nara, Kobe and Hiroshima. For this, you will use the Japan Rail and its well-developed network to travel to your destination. It is the best and fastest way to travel in Japan. Plan 3 or 4 days stay in Osaka to have enough time to see all around.
Sightseeing in Osaka:
- Dotonbori – it was previously Osaka’s theater district and even now keeps the theatrical atmosphere. It is one of the most visited tourist places in the city and the reasons for that are many. The district is situated in the city’s heart, along the Dotonbori canal. At night there are thousands of people here. The local youth is strolling around in fashionable outfits, both locals and tourist are enjoying the cheap but tasty food at street restaurants and colorful illuminations of the facades are enchanting. The shops are opened late at night and the karaoke bars attract customers making a big noise.
- Kayokan Aquarium – The aquarium is one of the largest in the world and exhibits species from the Great Barrier Reef, Antarctica, the Ecuador Rain Forest and many others. You will walk through beautiful and sometimes scary sea creatures and most probably will be surrounded by happily screaming Japanese kids as the aquarium is frequented by organized groups of young children with their patient and kind teachers.
- Umeda Sky Building – this spectacular building rises above the city and the 360-degree view from its rooftop is amazing, especially at night. The two towers of the building are connected by a “Floating garden observatory” and you can enjoy the view from it against 700 Yen admission fee.
Visiting Kyoto is the main reason why you should visit Japan. The old capital of have many magnificent places to make you understand the local culture and history. Here you can have an idea why the Japanese are what they are – with their so different from the Western culture, with the special understanding about life and all connected with it.
So, where to start?
- Kinkakuji – the Golden Pavilion: It is probably the most beautiful and the same surrealistic place in Japan. Seen during a gray, rainy day, Kinkakuji looks like a décor of a Japanese theater, not a real construction. Its proportions are so perfect and the gold so shining that it is difficult to believe it is real. In the past, this Zen temple was the retirement villa of one of the shoguns (lucky guy!) but later was transformed into a temple.
- Ginkakuji, the Silver Pavilion: its construction was inspired by the Golden Pavilion. Even if it is not so impressive like the covered with golden leafs Kinkaji, the Silver Pavilion is surrounded by a beautiful garden. In fact, the Silver Pavilion was never covered with silver but its name probably came as an alternative to the equally interesting Golden Pavilion. Unfortunately, the pavilions are constructed at the both side of the city and if you don’t have much time for exploring Kyoto you will need to choose which one you want to see.
- Nijo Castle – the Shogun’s Palace: For me, this place has some unexplainable atmosphere which probably is closely connected with the heavy and sweet smell of old wood that you can feel all over the palace. Everything, from the floor to walls and selling, is covered with dark wooden panels. As it is the Japanese custom, the rooms are empty and just the floors are softened by tatami mats. In the past, it was used as an imperial palace but now the only governor here is the silence that even the tourists don’t dare to disturb.
- Gion, the Geisha’s district, is probably the part of Kyoto that every woman wants to see. I totally understand that curiosity and share it myself. The mystery around geiko and maiko traditions are well described by movies like “The memoires of one geisha” but are somewhat misunderstood by our Western culture. It will be good if you read a bit more about this old tradition before you visit the place in order to really understand what do you see and not to interpreted it wrongly.
It’s one of the places I have to admit I didn’t have time to visit. It is the first permanent capital of Japan and because of that, it is full of historical sights. The city is part of the trio Osaka-Kyoto-Nara which is located within a close range from each other and can be visited easily from Osaka by railway.
The most interesting sites seem to be:
- Todaiji Temple – one of Japan’s most famous temples that it is also the landmark of Nara. The temple is one of the oldest Buddhist temples in Japan and it is known also for the deer’s park.
- Horyuji Temple – except it is one of the oldest temples in the country, this place is also the oldest surviving wooden construction in the world. It sounds like it is worth visiting.
- Isuien Garden – the Japanese gardens represent the art of harmony in its purest form. This garden is divided into two parts and all around there are spread out teahouses. I can’t imagine better scenery for enjoying my matcha tea. Can you?
Together with Osaka, Kobe is one of these cities where you can see the real life of Japanese people. It is a city much less frequented by tourists and thus very nice and pleasant to visit. It is an industrial but very clean place, with modern skyscrapers (of course, there is no big Japanese city without these), wide boulevards, some neoclassic architecture and very friendly citizens. In this city, you have the amazing opportunity to see an industrialized city from the perspective of nature full of green color. I just loved to walk around because the city is so peaceful and yet full of life.
What to see and do:
- Nunobiki waterfalls, Nunobiki Herb gardens – it is unexpected and pleasantly surprising to walk out of the Shin-Kobe Station (the railway station where you will arrive if you visit the city from Osaka) and after few hundred meters to hike between greenery and mountain streams. Right behind the station is the Rokko mountain chain. Climbing the path, you will reach first the waterfalls that even if not impressive by their size are very beautiful. You next stop will be at the Herb garden, the largest in Japan, where the scent of chamomile will fill your nostrils. After the tiring walk, you will probably want to taste the sweet lavender ice cream offered at the stall in front of the garden. But what you can enjoy for sure for free is the amazing view of the city down. It is shocking to see the modern industrial construction in the bay through the lush green mountains.
- Shine-Kobe Ropeway – By this point, you can continue to enjoy the beautiful view from the ropeway. The station is at the front of the gardens and it will take down to the city. A quick way to get back but also very spectacular!
- Nankinmachi – Kobe’s Chinatown – once you get used to the relaxed atmosphere of Kobe downtown, the appearance of the Chinatown will be a little bit shocking. In a good sense. The splendor of colors, odors, and noises is indescribable. The abundance of food on the street is enough reason to stop for lunch here.
- Walk along the Kaigan-dori street – In the past, this part of the city was home to the European and American expatriates and probably that’s why the buildings on this street are in European style. It is a beautiful and very clean area where you will feel as you are not in Japan anymore.
Well, it is easy to become overwhelmed by its size and over construction. Tokyo is the largest/most populated city in the world, and not only now, but in the human history in general. So, there are a lot of interesting sites to be visited and you can choose from various activities. Bear in mind that transportation from one place to another in Tokyo takes time and organize your days by going to nearby places like Shinjuku-Tokyo Metropolitan Government building-Kabukicho.
Some of the interesting sites are:
- Ginza is Tokyo’s fashionable district where all the fashion brands have their stores. It is somewhat the Champs-Elyse of the Japanese capital. Best time to visit is at weekend afternoons because the area becomes a pedestrian zone. Ginza is not only good for shopping but also for dining and night outs.
- Shibuya is a popular area around one of the busiest stations in Tokyo. The place is famous mostly for two things: Shibuya Crossing, large intersection where all the vehicle traffic stops and a large flow of pedestrians are crossing in different directions; and the statue of Hachiko – the dog from the heartbreaking movie about its story where he was waiting for his master every day at this place, even years after the master passed away;
- Shinjuku is the business district of Tokyo. Near is the skyscraper’s district where the beautiful building and wide boulevards will remind you of New York and Manhattan. It is a good idea to position yourself in this part of the city while you are in Tokyo because you have good transport connections and choice of international hotel chains to stay at. Shinjuku Station is the busiest rail station in the world and from here you can take city buses too.
- Tokyo Metropolitan Government, Buildings 1 & 2 – it is free to visit the huge buildings of the Tokyo’s government. The high-speed elevators will bring you to the top of the building and from there you can see Tokyo from bird’s eye view.
- Meiji Shrine and Yoyogi Park will give you very different experience from the rest of the modern city. Entering under the tall trees on the both sides of the alley, you will let the fuss of the huge city behind you. The silence is natural, the nature is green and looks like that these trees are here from a very long time. After not long walk, you will reach the entrance to the Shrine and if you are lucky enough will become witness of a traditional Japanese wedding.
How to travel around
The railway network in Japan is one of the best developed. It is the most convenient way to travel in the country and in order to save money you can buy Japan Rail Pass before arriving. For more information check the link: http://www.japanrailpass.net/en/
Most of the places that you will wish to visit have entry fees. However, there are places that you can enjoy for free.
Experience the Local Food
The Japanese cuisine offers vast choices. Everything you taste will be new for you, be enough courageous to try different meals. For me, a soup served for breakfast is a unacceptable choice, but all the rest is delicious and one-of-a-kind experience. The different regions have different specialties and if you so not know what to order, ask the locals. Often, restaurants display sample foods (in plastic) on their windows. It doesn’t really look tasty but gives you an idea what you can expect.
When to Travel
If you want to see the blooming cherries, the best time is at the end of March. Otherwise, every season is beautiful but also the climate varies depending on the region. The winters can be very cold and summers are hot and humid. The spring may be the best period to travel to Japan, but better try to avoid the ‘Golden week’. It is the period from 29th April to 6th of May when there are Japanese national holidays and many people travel and as a result, the prices will be higher.
The citizens of all these 67 countries do not need a visa prior to their arrival. They will be allowed to stay in the country 90 days. Citizens of other countries need to obtain a visa before their arrival.