A Foreigner’s Guide to Japan

Once upon a time – a long, long time ago – I used to live in Tokyo, Japan. And each day I would commute, by train, to my high school in the (relatively) nearby city of Yokohama. In the early days, it was this rail commute that first gave me a taste for exploring this incredible country.

You see my mother would often receive calls from me, outside of school hours, saying that I was lost. And one of the first things she would ask me to do was look beyond the payphone (there were no mobile phones then) and identify the surrounding area. Sometimes my view would be an urban one and sometimes it would be beautiful countryside.

In the years that followed, I was fortunate to explore many parts of Japan. From the Buddhist temples in Kyoto, to Sado Island – well known for its sake. From the young and trendy streets around Harajuku Station to the Henry Moore sculptures at the Hakone Open-Air Museum. And then, of course, there was the incredible skiing in Zao.

Thanks to the Internet I have managed to stay in touch with many of my former classmates. And some of them still live in Japan. So what better resource to tap into for a foreigner’s guide to Japan than someone who has made their home there? What follows is a list of places you should definitely check out if you ever visit the Land of the Rising Sun.

  1. Kinosaki Hot Springs: Located in the Tajima region, Kinosaki is known for its invigorating hot springs (onsen). So kick back and relax at one or more of the seven sotoyu (public hot spring bath facilities).
  2. Karaoke in Toyko: You can’t go to Tokyo without experiencing one of Japan’s favorite pastimes – Karaoke. There are many Karaoke joints in the city – ranging from the small and intimate (often with private rooms), to much larger and more public venues and bars. Either way, there are plenty of options for those wanting to try out their vocal skills, or just have a bit of fun.
  3. Cherry Blossom: April is the perfect viewing time to see Japan’s famous cherry blossom trees in full bloom. Whether you are in Tokyo, Yokohama, Fuji, Nagoya, Osaka, Hokkaido or some other region of Japan, you are almost guaranteed to see this lovely pink vision.
  4. Hiroshima Memorial Peace Park: This 120,000-square-meter park is dedicated to peace and is in memory of the 6,500 people who lost their lives when the first-ever atomic bomb in history exploded directly over the Nakajima district on August 6, 1945.
  5. Yakatabune Dinner Cruise: These are small ships that offer an opportunity to dine in style while cruising around the Tokyo Bay and the Sumida and Arakawa Rivers in Tokyo. It is a great way to see the glittering reflection of the Tokyo skyline at night.
  6. Aomori Japanese Nebuta Float Festival: From Aug. 2-7, 2012, visitors can enjoy the famous Aomori Nebuta Festival which boasts towering floats of heroic samurai warriors and energetic haneto dancers who move to the beat of traditional Japanese music.

While northeast Japan is still recovering from the aftermath of the tsunami and nuclear incident in March 2011, visiting Japan is safe, according to the U.S. Department of State Travel Alert Update f0r Japan. As a matter of fact, the Japanese government has gone to great lengths in recent months to encourage tourism and reassure potential visitors that Japan is open for business. BBC video here if you want it.

What are you waiting for? Book your flight to Japan now!

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