Top Things To Do In Japan

Fuji-Hakone-Izu National ParkMany people will be familiar with Japan as one of the most industrially and economically successful countries in Asia, but it can also boasts a wide range of activities that visitors can enjoy too.  Whether you are looking for an amazing shopping experience in one of the world’s most cosmopolitan capital or you are looking to relax in idyllic surroundings, then Japan is the right destination for you.  Japan has certainly suffered in terms of tourism recently, but the country is still one of the most attractive in Asia and has plenty of activities to help keep visitors busy.

Visit The Icon Of Japan – Mount Fuji

Mount Fuji is one of the most distinctive mountains in the world, standing well above the tiny foothills that lie around it, and this has helped the image of the mountain become known around the world.  For those who have an adventurous streak, Mount Fuji is certainly a very popular mountain to climb, with the majority of people ascending to the summit during the summer months.  Mount Fuji is also a particularly popular spot for paragliders in Japan, and the low number of other mountains in the vicinity and the wonderful surroundings make it a great place to see from the sky.

For those who are a little less adventurous, the views of Mount Fuji from LakeYamanaka are absolutely spectacular, particularly during the calm days when the waters are so still they can demonstrate a clear reflection of the mountain.

Travel On A Bullet Train

The development of the Bullet Train, or the ‘Shinkansen’ as it is known in Japanese has been one of the great post-war successes in Japan, making travel between the major cities in the country a very quick and enjoyable journey.  The Tokaido line on the train also offers magnificent views of Mount Fuji as it whisks you quietly and comfortably between Osaka and Tokyo at up to 186mph.  No trip to Japan is complete without one of these ultra fast journeys on the sleek ‘Shinkansen’.

Enjoy The Cherry Blossom Festival

During the spring in Japan the cherry trees come into flower, and between the months of March and May many people will gather for a traditional celebration under the cherry blossom in many public spaces.  This tradition is known as ‘Hanami’ in Japan, and the type of celebration held will often vary depending on the people.  Younger people will often host a party in these spaces and enjoy food and drink with their friends, while older people will relax with a picnic below the cherry blossom.

Shopping In Tokyo

The bustling streets of Tokyo are a godsend to those who would love to spend their time shopping, and with such a large city it is natural that there are shops catering to almost everyone.  Many of the districts see similar types of shops opening in the same area, which can often make it easier for those looking to shop for specific items.  Ginza and Marunouchi are great for those looking for designer names and luxury goods, while young people looking for cutting edge shopping should head to Harajuku.

Skiing In Hokkaido

Hokkaido is the northernmost island in Japan, and the distance from the equator along with a suitable mountain range has helped to give a wonderful backdrop for a number of skiing resorts.  Whether you are new to the sport or are experienced and looking for a challenging black route on the slopes, resorts such as Kamui and Sapporo have a selection of routes to enjoy.  Because of the excellent flight and train connections, it is also quick and easy to get to Hokkaido to enjoy some time on the slopes.

The Top National Parks In Japan

Fuji-Hakone-Izu National ParkOne of the great features about Japan is that although that it is a largely industrialized and developed country, it has also protected many of its most beautiful and important natural sites using national parks.  Being a nation that is made up of a number of islands, the various surroundings and altitudes of the different areas of Japan mean that there are many different types of natural areas that are included in these national parks too.  For those who are looking to enjoy a holiday including some of the natural beauty of Japan, a visit to one of these national parks is well worth the effort.

Fuji-Hakone-Izu National Park

Probably the most famous natural feature in Japan is the mountain that has graced a thousand postcards, and Mount Fuji is at the heart of this national park.  However, it can also boast a number of other sites of great interest for visitors, and the Izu islands that lie off the coast near Mount Fuji are especially attractive.  The islands themselves are green an lush islands that are crammed with flowers, and the waters around the islands are particularly popular as sites for scuba diving.  Izu Oshima is also home to a volcano that erupted as recently as 1990.

The magnificently named ‘Great Boiling Valley is another of the attractions in this national park, where the sulphur vents and hot springs bubble away beneath the visitors on the walkway.  One of the local delicacies is the hard boiled eggs that are boiled in the waters of the valley.

Nikko National Park

Another of Japan’s most beautiful and scenic national parks lies at the heart of Honshu island and although its scenery is stunning, it is the marvelous temples and shrines in the area that make it truly special.  The Shinto shrine of Nikko Tosho-gu that lies within the park is designated as an UNESCO heritage site, and the stunning five storey pagoda is filled with ornate carvings and religious symbols.

The Buddhist Temples of Rinno-Ji also make up one of the important sites within the national park.  This complex of temples lies in a particularly remote area, and this made it an ideal site for monks looking for a simple life.  The site is also home to the mausoleum of the third Tokugawa shogun.

Setonaikai National Park

The inland sea of Japan contains over 3,000 small islands, and many of these have tourist sites and also important shrines and sensitive natural areas.  Although the sea itself is known for its whirlpools, it is generally considered to be a calm sea with a mild climate.

Probably the most famous site in the SetonaikaiNational Park is the Itsukushima Shrine, which has been an important religious site for many centuries.  The shrine itself is a spectacular building at high tide, as it has been built on piers that make it look as though it is floating on water during high tide.  One of the interesting aspects is that it is considered so sacred that it cannot be soiled by births and deaths, and neither has been registered in the area for over a century.

Unzen-Amakusa National Park

Considering that Japan is considered among the most volcanically active areas in the world, it is no surprise that this national park in the south of Japan does have the volcanically active MountUnzen at its heart.  The last major eruption of the volcano happened in 1991, but this site is still considered important among those that study volcanoes.

Many of the visitors to the Unzen-AmakusaNational Park do so because of its strong associations with the early years of Christianity in the country, where worshippers had to keep their religion a secret.

The Top Hotels When You Stay In Tokyo

tokyo_towerChoosing the right hotel can make all the difference to your enjoyment of any journey, whether it is a holiday or for business purposes, and Tokyo has a wide variety of different hotels available.  For such a large city with a significant financial district, many of the hotels in Tokyo do cater to the business market, but we have considered a number of factors when picking out our favorites.  Hotels in Japan do tend to have smaller rooms than can be found elsewhere around the world, with economy of space being especially at a premium in Tokyo.

The Park Hyatt Hotel

This is a hotel that has been made famous due to its appearance in a movie, but it is the high standard of the service and the exquisite rooms that make this hotel one of the best five star hotels in the city.  The hotel itself takes up the top fourteen floors of the ShinjukuParkTower, and standing way above the surrounding streets the hotel is actually quite peaceful considering it is right at the heart of one of Tokyo’s most popular shopping districts.  The hotel also boasts some superb views over the city and beyond, with Mount Fuji visible on a clear day.

The film ‘Lost in Translation’ actually takes place in the hotel, and while the views from the bar in the hotel are superb, the service and fittings are equally impressive.

The Conrad Hotel

Another of the luxury hotels that can be found in the city centre of Tokyo is the Conrad Hotel, and with its exceptional views over the bay it certainly is very attractive in terms of the location of the building.  For those using the hotel as a short stop before exploring the country, its transport links are also great being located very close to the Shiodome train station, which makes it easy to get to the airport.

However, it is the interior of the hotel which is really impressive, and with a stylish look in all of the rooms and a very high quality of furnishings, this is a very nice hotel to stay in.  The hotel also boasts two restaurants run by the famous chef Gordon Ramsay, with one offering formal dining and a second restaurant offering quality food in more relaxed surroundings.

Hotel Sunroute Plaza

Like many other hotels the SunroutePlaza is one that caters to a significant portion of business customers as well as leisure visitors.  Although the hotel is one that is much more competitively priced than the five star hotels above, the rooms are still reasonably sized and are very comfortable for an overnight visit.  The bar and restaurant are both reasonably priced and the food is fine, with an Italian restaurant too for those looking for something a bit different from the traditional Japanese fare.

The key feature with this hotel is that it is located right at the centre of Tokyo with good transport links, making it an ideal stop for those traveling on a budget.

Hotel Yanagibashi

For those who are looking for a real bargain when traveling to Tokyo, the rooms at the Hotel Yanagibashi are available at a very affordable price compared to some of the others on offer in the city.  As you would expect at the bargain end of the market the location of the hotel is a short distance from the city centre, but this can be quickly traveled on the subway.

For the hotel itself the rooms are compact but very comfortable, and because it is slightly out of the city centre it is in quite a quiet location too.  While it may not be the Conrad or the Park Hyatt in terms of luxury, this hotel is as good as you can get on a tight budget.

Adventures in Tokyo

tokyoIt was almost 2am and I had just finished my shift at the language school where I was teaching English. I had come here just over 3 months ago through a teaching agency that found me a good school to teach in. The students are great – mostly they are adults who are learning English for their work and i get along very well with them.

Well anyway, I was walking home at 2am – tonight I had vowed to politely refuse the karaoke bar offer from colleagues – I really needed sleep. The language school is in the Sumida district downtown and I live in Minato. The bus was late for some reason so i started walking keeping an eye out for a taxi on the road to hail.

I had barely taken 15 steps when I heard a barely audible voice say “Kane!”, while I felt something sharp pricking up against my back. I tried to turn around by now a hand grabbed my shoulder and shook me while poking harder with the sharp object, urgently saying: “Kane! Kane!”

It was obvious the man wanted my money. I knew that much in Japanese even though I’d only been here a few months. I was extremely nervous, but I slowly reached into my jacket while saying “ok” and turned around.

It was a kid just a bit younger than me with a Justin Bieber style hairdo. He looked really uncomfortable with his stanley knife in hand and gave me a shy grin. I looked at him and asked him: “You want a drink?”

He nodded. I walked with him to a bar across the street, got him a cocktail, ordered a beer and then we started to talk.

Japanese Food

japanese foodA key part of learning about any new culture is getting to know their food. In fact a meal for many people is their first introduction to a country and a people. I will never forget my first bite of Thai food- life changing, not an exaggeration, although at the time I took it I could not have told you anything about Thailand.

The restaurants common in any city are often signposts to the history of immigration to the region and to the current diversity of the population. In Milwaukee, a medium sized city in the Midwestern US, we have Irish bars, Jewish delis, historic German, Polish, Italian, Chinese and Soul food restaurants, and somewhat newer Indian and Thai establishments.

The newest arrivals to the city dining scene have been Korean and Japanese restaurants. Japanese cuisine, while always popular on the West Coast, has been growing in popularity in other parts of the country and in fact the world. Considering that Japan counts with some of the oldest people in the world- there is great incentive to learn to appreciate this healthful, flavorful cuisine.

Naturally, the traditional dishes of Japan developed based on its own unique history as well as the geographic and climatic situations of the country. Rice has been the most important staple crop for over 2,000 years. In fact the importance of rice cannot be overstated. It is not only the base of most meals but for several products including: cakes, crackers and miso. Vegetables, seafood and tea round out the daily diet. The most commonly recognized Japanese dishes include sushi, tempura, tofu and flavorful noodles. Interestingly, tea was introduced to Japan from China along with chopsticks and soy sauce; the deep-frying of foods such as tofu and tempura was introduced by the Dutch and the Portuguese in the 16th Century.

The most practiced religion on the island, Buddhism, has influenced cooking and dining styles. Buddhism places great influence on the seasons and the harmony within a meal. Seasonality of foods is key in Japanese dining. Buddhism also introduced the idea that meals should feature five flavors and colors: sweet, spicy, salty, bitter and sour; and yellow, black, white, green, and red. Emphasis is also placed on the presentation and appearance of dishes. The better a dish appears, and the more suited it is to the environment the better it is said to taste.

A few notes on politeness. A hot towel is often provided before a meal but is used to clean hands only. The bowl is held in the left-hand and the chopsticks in the right to avoid collisions at the table. It is impolite to pour soy sauce directly on to rice or soup. Instead a bowl is provided on the table and foods should be dipped into it. Picky eating and special requests at restaurants are generally frowned upon the more socially acceptable thing is to eat what is provided. As a traveler, just be sure to ask nicely if you have special needs.


I traveled to Toktoshogu shrineyo in the middle of May so that I’d avoid both the busiest tourist week and the rainy season. While I was there I wanted to see a few of the cultural landmarks that both defined the city and how I’d always thought of it.

The first place I went was Akihabara. It was crowded, noisy and pricey but that’s what I went there to see. Essentially, it’s an area dominated by computers, electronics and anime with tons of shops both big and small. They cater to tourists as well as locals so it never felt like a shopping center meant purely to placate tourists with cheap souvenirs. Instead, there was some fantastic merchandise but since I’m not all that knowledgeable about the latest electronics, anime or computer parts, I didn’t actually buy anything. My trip there was more to enjoy the sites and sounds than to purchase merchandise and I justified it because it was only four or five minutes away (by rail) from Tokyo station. I did however stop in at one of the maid kissaten for a coffee. It was certainly an interesting cultural experience I could only enjoy in Japan.

My time in Akihabara was brief and I spent most of that day in Ueno Park. Regrettably, I missed the cherry blossom season by a few weeks so I didn’t get to see Ueno Park’s 1,000 cherry trees in bloom. However, there was plenty to keep me busy since the park is home to a number of museums, a zoo, a temple and much more. The highlight of my trip to the park was visiting Toshogu Shrine.

The shrine is dedicated to Tokugawa Ieyasu who founded the last Japanese shogunate. There are apparently more than 100 of these shrines scattered around Japan but I doubt they’re all as intricate as the one I visited in Tokyo. There was a small admissions fee in order to enter the shrine itself but it was worth it. As a nerd who has always been interested in Japanese history, being in a shrine dedicated to Tokugawa Ieyasu was pretty cool.

The next day being a Sunday, I stopped at Harajuku station. The Harajuku area is home to a number of up-scale fashion boutiques and also functions as a place where young, fashion-conscious Japanese young people hangout. I took a brief walk around the area and while I didn’t want to be rude by staring at individuals, I did find the culture on display to be fascinating. The costumes of the cosplayers were quite elaborate and the odd combination of Victorian and gothic dress was fascinating.

The whole time I felt as though the outfits belonged in a museum but the fact that people actually dress that way made it a totally unique cultural experience. These were just a few of the places I visited while in Tokyo but they made the greatest impression on me. I’d wanted to see them for years before I actually went to Japan in May and I have to say that the wait was worth it.