Japan: Off The Beaten Track
Posted on 14th November 2022 at 12:33
A Blog by BBC Travel Show presenter Carmen Roberts
Japan is back in business. And I couldn’t be more thrilled, that after two and a half years, one of my favourite countries has re-opened its doors for you to explore.
I've lived and worked in Japan for eight years, so let me share a few off the beaten path destinations as well as some general travel tips to enrich your upcoming journey to the land of the rising sun.
I’m sure you’ve heard all about the popular must-sees, but there is so much more to explore and now is a great time to do it – while the yen is weak against the dollar and the influx of foreign tourists is still relatively low.
What I really miss about my time in Japan is the skiing. Oh to be bombing down slopes over that famous Japanese powder snow. I remember learning to ski, practically on ice in France, but once you’ve experienced j-pow, you’ll never look back. And this year, Japan’s Meteorological Agency is predicting an above average snowfall for the coming season.
While the resorts in Niseko and Hakuba are hugely popular with overseas visitors, you might also want to try some of the smaller, lesser-known resorts, like Nozawa Onsen. This tiny town is known for its hot springs, perfect for a soak after a big day on the slopes. A trip to see the Zao snow monsters is another unique adventure. Every winter on top of Zao Mountain, entire forests of fir trees are transformed into otherworldly shapes. It's one of the few places in the world where just the right combination of snow, strong winds and low temperatures trap trees in layers of snow and ice to form ‘snow monsters’ or juhyo in Japanese.
Japan is a hiker’s dream. A pilgrimage that's been on my bucket list is the Nakasendo Way - a three or four day trek from village to village along forested trails and overnighting in the traditional inns of the Kiso Valley. Or venture further north to hike along the plunging cliffs overlooking the Pacific Ocean along the Michinoku coast trail in the Tohoku region.
Further afield in the Toyama Prefecture, there’s guided walks through rural villages, where you can visit a Bhuddist bell workshop and stay in a small luxury hotel, created in a restored farmhouse.
Adventure seekers can try traditional log rafting on the Kitayama River in the Wakayama Prefecture. It’s white-water rafting, but not as we know it. Instead of an inflatable boat, travellers are standing up, clutching a thin metal rail attached to an open log raft weighing seven tonnes. It’s the only place in Japan, and quite possibly the world, where you can indulge in this unique experience.
You might not realise, but Japan has some spectacular beaches. Swimming with manta rays off Ishigaki Island in Okinowa is one of my favourite memories. While, Miyako-jima is one of the country's most popular snorkelling and diving destinations. The island also benefits from mild weather that keeps the beaches open all year round.
Make sure you always have cash. Lots of places won’t accept credit cards, especially in locally run izakayas and restaurants.
Get the JR rail pass. This needs to be bought BEFORE you arrive in Japan. It can save you a fortune in rail and/or airfares and riding the shinkansen is a fantastic way to see the country.
Bring a facemask. Although most countries around the world have done away with facemasks, they are still commonplace in Japan. You’ll most likely require them on public transport and at certain indoor attractions.
Learn a bit of Japanese, this will put you in good stead outside of the main cities. Or at least have google translate to hand. Most Japanese are hugely accommodating and welcoming to tourists, so you can usually find a way to communicate – even if they have to phone a friend or ask a passer-by if they can help translate.
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