Travel Tips & Advice

Traveling in Japan - A Rewarding Experience For Those Who Love Culture

Oct 15, 2009

Hi Every Body, How are you all? Despite being a well-known and respected country all around the world, unfortunately few Western tourists visit Japan. Perhaps that is due to the misconception that Japan is an extremely expensive country, an idea that stems from the bubble era in Japan when things were expensive relative to Western countries. But nowadays prices in Japan are on par with those of North America and Western Europe. Another reason few tourists come to Japan is that there is no standout tourist attraction. China has the Great Wall, Paris has the Eiffel Tower, Italy has the Coliseum, but what does Japan have? The truth is that Japan has a lot of value to offer the visitor, but that value is not to be found in any single site. It is to be found in the overall experience and cultural richness of Japan.

Kyoto is Japan's cultural capital, and former imperial capital, and contains UNESCO declared the "Historic Monuments of Ancient Kyoto" as a World Heritage site. That is not a single site, but rather 17 sites within the Kyoto area. Perhaps the most well-known around the world is Kinkakuji, the Golden Pavillion, but really the cultural value of Kyoto is to be found across a range of sites. None of these sites individually will blow you away, but you will be overwhelmed by the sheer number of cultural and historical sites, temples, shrines, and gardens. Kyoto as a whole is Japan's cultural treasure, and one of the world's treasures.

Approximately an hour away from Kyoto lies Nara, another of Japan's ancient capital cities. Like Kyoto, Nara is saturated with cultural sites, especially the Nara Park area. It is a lovely green city in which you can calmly stroll and encounter deer while heading towards the next cultural site. The most exciting site for tourists is probably

Todaiji Temple, the largest wooden building in the world. Inside lies the Great Buddha statue, a towering and impressive figure suitable for such as impressively mammoth building. There are many other temples and museums in Nara, and it is well worth spending a day in Nara when you are in the Kansai region. Nara is more relaxed and more walkable than Kyoto, which is a fairly large city.

In the Kanto region near Tokyo you can find two more splendid historical cities full of cultural and religious relics. They are Nikko and Kamakura. Kamakura features many well-known Buddhist temples and Shinto shrines. One of the most famous is Kotoku-in temple. Like Nara's Todaiji temple it features a giant Buddha statue, which was once located inside the temple hall. But in the 15th century a powerful typhoon destroyed the temple hall, leaving the statue in tact but outdoors.

Nikko lies in the beautiful mountains of Tochigi Prefecture, a couple of hours north of Tokyo. The natural surroundings of Nikko and its wildlife are beautiful enough to warrant an excursion, but its cultural sites combine with the stunning scenery to create something wholly impressive. Among its temples and shrines is Rinnoji temple, established in the year 766. It is a lovely and tasteful temple to visit. Much more flamboyant and colorful is Tosho-gu shrine, home of the Three Wise Monkeys. This shrine contains the tomb of Tokugawa Ieyasu, the founder of the Tokugawa shogunate. There are other beautiful and historically important sites in Nikko, and you can explore amidst the gorgeous natural surroundings and roaming monkeys.

Even though it is simply a city, Tokyo is a city like no other and is a must see, at least for a couple of days to get a feel for this massive metropolis. The sheer size and scale of Tokyo are mind-boggling. From the free observation deck of the Tokyo municipal building in Shinjuku, you can look out over the city and literally see no end to the sprawl of buildings. Every street and every corner is full of something new to see, and while there are few famous tourist sites, Tokyo is full of interesting neighbourhoods with different flavors, full of great restaurants of all varieties, and full of overwhelming sites, sounds, and smells that assault you from every angle. For those seeking some culture and a relaxing escape from the urban insanity, the Imperial Palace and the large park surrounding it offer a glimpse into the life of the Japanese royal family. If you visit on New Year's Day (January 1st) or the Emperor's birthday (December 23rd) you can join a crowd of gatherers to see the royal family, who come out of their palace to greet the crowd with waves and a short speech from the emperor. This is open to the public, but be prepared for tight security.

Japan is a rewarding place to visit for people with a little more cultural curiosity than the average tourist. If you just want a big and flashy tourist site that you've seen on tv a million times, then you may not be impressed. But those with a taste for culture, religious heritage, and history will be impressed and moved by the wonders of Japan.

Best Regards.....

Andrew H.

Last edited by marty8084 on Oct 15, 2009 02:08 PM

Oct 15, 2009

I would have to agree that Japan is a very worthwhile place to visit. Last year, my 15 year old son and I visited Japan for two months. We had the best time. We were foreigners but were well taken care of everywhere we went. We traveled to all of the places you mentioned but also went to others such as Nagasaki, Hiroshima, Hui Ten Bosch, Nagoya, and we also traveled to northern Japan as well.

It is very easy to get around in Japan too. Their train system is phenomenal and always right on time. However, Japan is not cheap. The travel on the trains are expensive. However, if you are a tourist, you can save lots of money by purchasing a rail pass. This must be done prior to your arrival into Japan. It saved us hundreds of dollars.

The Japanese culture is very different as people are very responsible and have a sense of self accountability. I was so impressed how my son and I did not have to be worried about our luggage being taken as we sat in the train cars while our luggage was between cars on unattended luggage racks.

There is much to be seen in Japan. They have their monuments to be seen just like any other country. If you do your homework prior to traveling their, you will find it has a lot for a tourist to see. Hiroshima by itself offers the whole A bomb monuments, museums and and world peace attraction. Nagazaki has something similar. Then across the water from Hiroshima one can go to Miyajima and see the famous Itsukushima Shrine. People go there from all over the world because it is sacred ground.

I could go on and on. I would certainly put it on my to do list/bucket list.

Charles S.
Aug 30, 2021

Hi Marty and Charles,

We're fairly active Australian 70 y.o.'s interested in culture, history, art and food. After a trans-pacific crossing from Vancouver, we'll be doing an 11-day around-Japan cruise in October next year('22). At its conclusion we'll be staying for another week to travel independently - could you suggest an itinerary? Should we use the trains or hire a car? Realistically, what would be the best use of our time there? We'll be disembarking and flying out of Tokyo.


John S.
Aug 25, 2023

Nicely explained Andrw. Japan is in my Bucket list of Countries to Visit.

David W.
Sep 07, 2023

I would really love to visit japan someday. It's always been my dream to know their culture and visits beautiful places there. Thank you for your insights!

David T.
Nov 07, 2023

Thanks for sharing all those trip details about visiting Japan. It definitely seems like there are so many cool cultural sites to check out beyond the big name attractions. Kyoto and Nara especially sound amazing with all the history. I've always been interested in Japan but wasn't sure where to start planning a trip. This gives me a much better idea of what to expect and explore. Appreciate you taking the time to outline some potential itineraries - it's really helpful info for someone hoping to visit someday soon. :)

Sarah W.

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