So, which books are they? Here are three classic books I’d recommend if you’re planning on traveling in and around Japan.
The Inland Sea, by Donald Richie (Originally published in 1971, re-released in 2002 by Stonebridge Press).
Once you find how affordable a long-term rental guesthouse in Japan can be, you might find you want to extend your stay in Japan. International guesthouses, colloquially called gaijin houses (foreigner houses) can be very affordable if you’re staying in Japan a month or longer. For example, you can get a room for 48,000 yen (includes electricity and gas) with a shared bath, kitchen and living room. That’s what five nights in a Japanese-style minshuku or ryokan would cost you!
Because of the current high value of the yen, Japan may not seem such a cheap destination anymore. But don’t worry, you can still get by very cheaply in Japan, as long as you are armed with some inside information. Here are some tips the guidebooks won’t tell you.
If you’re visiting Japan, you’ll no doubt want to see a few shrines and temples. Shinto shrines and Buddhist temples are main draws for all travelers, domestic and foreign. Especially if you’re traveling in the Spring or Autumn, however, I recommend you get off the beaten track a bit and take the some of the more scenic routes to these temples and shrines. During these shoulder seasons when the weather isn’t so hot, you’ll find many more opportunities to enjoy the great outdoors, and one way is to combine shrine and temple viewing with hiking to your destination.
Most people who come to Japan will not miss the Hiroshima Peace Memorial Museum (also called the “Peace Park”) in Hiroshima city which commemorates the bombing of the city by the USA in 1945. This first-hand experience with an atomic bomb is largely responsible for Japan installing Article 9 of their constitution which stipulates that Japan will never again go to war.
Fall is a great time for kayaking, canyoning and rafting. These sports also offer a great way to see some of Japan’s amazing scenery. Imagine kayaking with views of Mt. Fuji, paddling down Shikoku’s scenic Yoshino River or gliding among the calm waters of the Seto Inland Sea. From rivers to seas, these sports will be sure to give you a Japanese thrill.
Japan’s Inland Sea, called “Seto Naikai” in Japanese, is one of Japan’s best kept secrets. While most people only know the bigger islands (called “shima”) such as Awajishima and Shodoshima with extensive ferry services to bring people, cars and trucks from the mainland, the smaller islands are accessible only by the occasional ferry or private boat. As the smaller islands become more popular even among Japanese travelers, the options for getting around to them are increasing, but tourism along the Inland Sea is still in its infancy.
The third Monday of September is Respect for the Aged Day, a national holiday in Japan. The Japanese call national holidays "red days" because they appear in red print on the calendar. As this will make September 12–14 a long weekend, be prepared for heavier than usual traffic and crowded trains if you are traveling.
If you’re young and hip, or just want to act like you are, then Tokyo’s Akihabara district is the place to be. And luckily now, as it is becoming somewhat of a tourist-attraction (I say somewhat because if you catch it now, you can still see it before the tourist hordes discover it) you can even get a tour of Akihabara in English.
Schools in Japan break for summer holidays at the end of July. Kids go back to school after summer vacation at the end of August. As a result, Japanese children only have four weeks of summer holidays, as opposed to the US where they have 12 weeks. Universities also follow this schedule, but with six weeks off in the summer. In addition, university students have another four to six-week holiday in the springtime. These two long holidays together give Japanese college students the same amount of holidays as American college students.
Japan can be a difficult place to get around if you don’t speak Japanese. If you stick to the big cities, you’ll have no problems as information in English is available, but for anyone who wants to get off the beaten track a bit, you just might want a guide who can communicate in English, show you around town to some of the sights and take you to a regional restaurant known for it’s local specialty.
From the beginning of June to mid-July is “tsuyu” Japan’s rainy season. However, it is a misnomer in some ways. Most Japanese agree that the rainy season used to be a far more significant event than it is now, mainly due to global warming. The rain isn’t as heavy or frequent as it used to be. Sometimes it hardly rains at all during the rainy season.
A recent visitor to Japan told me that she had an uneasy feeling visiting Yasukuni shrine as a foreigner. She reported that there were very few Japanese people there, especially considering it was a public holiday, a time when most shrines and temples in Japan are overflowing with temple tourists. “Not only that, it was kind of eerie and sad,” she said.
Recently, there has been an increased interest in Japanese people visiting haunted places. Where are these places? Below are some of the creepiest places in Japan. What makes them so scary? Why not go find out for yourself?!
People often ask me when the swimming season is in Japan. This is difficult question because nearly every beach and pool opens at a different time.
The swimming season officially starts when the Shinto priest holds Umi Biraki (opening of the sea) ceremony. In this ceremony, the priest purifies the sea and water, making it safe to swim. Where I live, on an island in Western Japan, Umi Biraki is always held on the first Sunday in July, which seems a little late for a public swimming beach, but the crowds start coming only after this.