I had a great time in Japan. It is a country full of interesting history, incredible natural beauty, wonderful people and tasty food. I saw almost everything I planned to see with only a few exceptions. I also learned some lessons along the way:
- I would rethink buying the Japan Rail pass. I think the pass is a great deal, especially if you will be using it to travel on the Shinkansen to farther cities like Nagano and Kyoto, but the pass only worked on some of the trains that I ended up taking. I was under the impression the pass would work on almost all trains in the eastern region, but this is incorrect. This is a planning failure on my end due to an itinerary change I made at the last minute. Lesson learned.
- Although the transportation in Tokyo is extremely efficient and well marked in English, this is not always the case in the more remote areas. A couple of times I found myself in places where nobody spoke any English and there was no English writing. I basically just had to say the place I wanted to go, and the incredibly friendly and helpful station workers sent me in the right direction.
- I underestimated how long it would take to complete train travel in certain parts of the country. I did not have a good understanding of how the trains and buses worked before I arrived, so I winged it more often than not, which often led to me missing trains or getting on a non-express train by mistake. In the future, I would feel more comfortable figuring out these details in advance so I knew exactly what I was doing.
With these lessons in mind, the next time I visit Japan I’d like to stay a little bit longer and come in the spring when the cherry blossoms are blooming. Specifically I’d like to do the following:
- Spend more time exploring the Shinjuku area
- Visit Meiji Shrine and Gyoen National Garden
- Walk Yoyogi Park and see the dress up on Sunday mornings
- Attend a sumo match
- Take an Imperial Palace tour
- Revisit some sites at night to get a different feel (e.g., temples and Akihabara)
- Sample Kobe beef
- Explore other areas of the country I did not visit, with Kyoto being at the top of the list
The next stop on my trip is Australia. I’ll be happy to get somewhere warmer!