When I ask people what countries they want to visit, Japan is always one of the top answers. Just what makes this country so great to visit and why do people love it?
I asked some people what they thought about these questions. Their answers made me reflect on why I wanted to live in Japan for several years. So, based on the responses I got, I will discuss my thoughts on why Japan is such a great country to visit.
The cast of characters
- Aaron, a history professor, who loves going to Japan.
- Ariss, a lawyer, who has visited Japan multiple times.
- Bambi, a freelance writer, who has visited Japan with her family.
- Elaine, an assistant restaurant manager, who hasn’t visited the country, but is planning to do so in the near future.
- Igor, a Library Science professor, who’s been in love with Japanese culture for years, but hasn’t visited the country yet.
- Olan, a freelance artist, who has visited Japan with his family.
- Ozman, a student who is saving up for his future trip to Japan.
- Sophie, an online English tutor to Japanese students, professionals, and retirees; she is currently planning to go backpacking from Hokkaido to Kyushu.
Questions and answers
What do you think makes Japan great?
Aaron: The culture, food, and people
Ariss: It’s a perfect destination for a first time traveler; short flight from where I live; food is the best (you can practically eat anywhere and still be satisfied); there are a lot of beautiful places; weather is great (at least when we went there); very peaceful and orderly; and has a rich culture and heritage. Would be happy to go back.
Bambi: The fusion of old and new.
Elaine: The people and culture.
Igor: The culture.
Olan: The culture and architecture, which is a mix of the old and new, the food, friendly locals, and very very low crime rate.
Ozman: Advanced and convenient technology.
Sophie: Japan is great because they are still able to incorporate their rich culture, history, and values into the modern, everyday society that they live in now. Such a feat is not easy nowadays!
Why do you think people like to visit Japan?
Aaron: For the various activities and festivals held in the country
Ariss: The place is great in all aspects of traveling (see above).
Bambi: The scenery, exoticism, and mysticism the air gives off.
Igor: Sakura, anime, gadgets, snow, J-pop music, cosplay, and samurai, etc.
Olan: Because of Anime.
Ozman: Lots of tourist spots.
Sophie: The people, culture, and values
What did you like about your visit(s)? What did you not like about Japan?
Aaron: The only complaint I have is the extreme cold during the winter season. I come from a very warm place, so I am not used to it!
Bambi: The language barrier was difficult. But the people were generally polite and helpful, so we found it easy to ask around during the times we got lost. We visited during sakura season to see the iconic cherry blossoms, and was a very awesome experience. To see all the places we see in anime, movies, and manga, was also a thrill. The food was also excellent! (Though sometimes expensive.)
Olan: Everything from the architecture, environment, and how society seems to be so structured and oganized. It was a very expensive trip.
What place do you want to visit or activity do you want to do?
Elaine: I want to try authentic food from Japan like Takoyaki and Ramen.
Igor: I want to visit during cherry blossom season.
Ozman: I want to see the sakura (cherry blossoms).
Sophie: I want to experience all of Japan. I plan on taking a 3-month backpacking trip there someday.
Any final thoughts about Japan that you would like to share?
Aaron: Japan is an amazing country
Ariss: I forgot to mention that the efficient transport system makes moving around easy. The only downside is it still quite expensive to stay in Japan.
Bambi: Given the chance, I would definitely visit again!
Igor: Japan gave us idols, BABYMETAL, Hard Gay, Dragon Ball, JoJo, a lot of martial arts, samurai and ninjas, weird game shows, etc. What’s not to like? (For those scratching their heads: BABYMETAL is an all-girl cutesy looking band that plays a fusion of heavy metal and pop music; Hard Gay is the nom de guerre of Japanese comedian Masaki Sumitani who dressed in tight black lycra)
Olan: Japan is a place which people should visit at least once in their life. Whether one is a fan of their culture and food or just a big time traveler.
Sophie: Japanese love it when you know about their culture beforehand. My Japanese students love it when I ask them about it.
1. Pretty much Everyone likes Japanese Culture
This answer encompasses the traditions, rules of etiquette, religions, rituals, clothing, etc. of the country. “Mysticsm the air gives off” as Bambi put it.
Japanese culture is so unique. When you think of Japan, you immediately get this picture of kimonos, hi-tech, or sushi. Japanese culture is always a mixture of old traditions, futuristic weirdness and modernism.
Even in a city as highly industrialized as Tokyo, it is easy to find pockets of nature, temples, and shrines that evoke the feel of old Japan. In other cities, you will find structures that are hundreds of years old. In other areas, you can witness traditions and rituals that are even older.
For example, Bambi, Igor, and Ozman mentioned the sakura (cherry blossoms). Foreigners may think that sakura refers only to one type of flower. There are actually over a hundred varieties of sakura in Japan.
Hanami (cherry blossom viewing) is a uniquely Japanese tradition. This happens during April or May when sakura starting from the north and ending in south, bloom for a couple of weeks. During hanami, people have picnics, parties, and even karaoke events under the trees. Sometimes hanami season coincides with really windy days, but people don’t seem to mind. This just gives them a reason to party harder.
A lot of the people I interviewed also mentioned anime and manga. These are uniquely Japanese too.
The illustrations of anime and manga can easily be distinguished from other animations and comic books in the world. That essence of kawaii, hardboiled action mixed with comedy, or everyday life flavored with something quirky is so unmistakably Japanese.
Also, in Japan, anime and manga are not just for children or teens. It’s normal to see adults reading manga on trains or on the streets. This is why anime and manga run the gamut of genres, from kid-friendly (Doraemon or My Neighbor Totoro) to action-packed adventures (Attack on Titan or Boku no Hero Academia) to sports (Haikyuu or Slam Dunk) to heart-pumping romance (Sailormoon or Fruits Basket) to adult issues (Monster or Cowboy Bebop) to everything else in between.
You will see many adults collecting their favorite anime or manga collectibles in Akihabara or Nakano. Anime seiyuu (voice actors) are considered celebrities in Japan. They’re on par with the status of singers and actors in Japan. They even have their own die-hard fanbase.
Now, no one mentioned these, but I want to add other Japanese cultural experiences that you should try out when you visit the country.
- Sento (public bathhouses that use regular heated tap water) and onsen (public bathhouses that uses natural spring water). The Japanese have very strict rules of etiquette about using these public bathhouses. Going through the proper steps is an experience you will never forget. If you love having a bath at the end of the day, then you definitely have to try soaking in one of Japan’s hot springs.
- Ryokan (traditional Japanese inns). Rather than staying in a fancy hotel, staying in a ryokan can give you a more thorough experience of what it’s like living in a traditional Japanese inn. In a ryokan you can:
- Get local food prepared by the inn’s chef;
- Enjoy walking barefoot on tatami mats (traditional rush-covered straw mats);
- Spend hours under a Kotatsu (a low table with a big blanket over it and a heater under it) if you visit during winter;
- Wear a Yukata (light, cotton kimono that both men and women can use); and,
- Sleep on a futon (a Japanese quilted mattress that is rolled out on the floor and used as a bed).
2. The Art of Japanese Hospitality
As shown in my article on cultural differences in Japan, the Japanese will go out of their way to make you feel welcome. If the locals are so kind, thoughtful, considerate, and polite, what’s there not to love?
They may not know your language, but they will do their best to give you what you need. They may not be the most eloquent or warm people on the planet. Some of them will be downright stoically laconic and will leave you guessing about what they’re thinking. They will not hound you while you’re eating and ask if you like the food. They will not hug you excessively when greeting you.
But if you say some words in Japanese, be polite, and show that you respect their rules, then you’ll definitely see more smiles from the locals.
The Japanese know that you’re a foreigner and they will make allowances for you. But, as Sophie shared, they love it when you show that you’ve done your research beforehand and know something about their culture.
3. Japanese food is one of the best.
Japan has one of the best cuisines in the world. Get your checklist ready and start ticking off your favorite Japanese food.
There are the usual:
- Sushi (if you’re on a budget, try eating at a sushi conveyor belt restaurant where sushi is placed on small plates and the plates are placed on a conveyor belt that rotates around the restaurant; each plate has a different color corresponding to a different price, you grab the plate you want and at the end of the meal a waitress will tally the plates)
- Sashimi (get some from the Toyosu Market fresh from the sea)
- Ramen (each city has its own specialty of this soup-based noodles)
- Udon (thick noodles with broth)
- Soba (buckwheat noodles sometimes served with tempura)
- Tempura (seafood and vegetables coated in batter and deep-fried)
- Gyudon, Oyakodon, or Katsudon (bowl of rice topped with cooked beef, chicken and egg, or pork slices)
- Okonomiyaki (Japanese-style savory pancakes, mix and match the toppings and find out which one you like best)
- Takoyaki (fried batter stuffed with octopus)
- Gyoza (dumplings, Japanese-style)
- Onigiri (rice wrapped in nori or seaweed, sometimes stuffed with salty or sour things like salmon or umeboshi, which is a type of sour plum)
- Sake (rice wine that’s considered Japan’s national beverage; you can drink it chilled, warm, or at room temperature)
- Beer (try drinking it the Japanese way by pouring a glass for someone else and having another person pour one for you)
- Matcha (matcha is made from finely ground tea leaves; see just how intricate a matcha tea ceremony in Kyoto or Fukuoka; or try one of the hundreds of matcha-flavored desserts there are across Japan)
Of course, a trip to another country would not be complete if you don’t try some of their local, oftentimes weird food. For Japan, here are some of my picks:
- Natto (fermented soybeans; it’s very healthy but the smell and slimy consistency turn a lot of people off, even those who are Japanese)
- Square Watermelon (where else can you find a watermelon in this shape but Japan?)
- Yakitori (grilled chicken offal and innards)
- Mentaiko (Pollock roe)
- Curry-flavored Lemonade (convenience stores sell these)
You might say, I can eat many of these in my hometown.
Let’s face it, even though we can get sushi and ramen in our countries, eating them in Japan is a very different experience altogether. As Elaine pointed out, authentic food made in the country it comes from is something to always look forward to.
Japan contains a lot of Michelin-starred restaurants. Some of these offer affordable lunch sets. Even the vending machines and convenience stores also sell food that’s considered world-class.
In Japan, you’ll always get meticulously prepared food with top quality service. You’ll get this not just from a high-end sushi restaurant, but even from a common street-side eatery. Street food is still prepared and served with respect and high standards given to all Japanese food.
And the best thing is, you don’t have to tip your server to get great service because the Japanese have a no-tipping culture. So, you can just sit back, relax, and enjoy your food without having to worry about how much of a tip you’ll leave after your meal.
Before you leave the restaurant, don’t forget to take a photo of those realistic-looking food displays. If you eat with your eyes, those displays would make you full even before you enter a restaurant.
4. Japan is a very safe country
As Ariss and Olan said, Japan is considered a safe country and has a very low crime rate. In the article on what to watch out for in Japan, I discussed that Japan is a relatively safe place to travel. I say relatively because crime still happens in Japan. It’s just that the crime rates are lesser than, for example, the USA.
In Japan, you don’t have to worry about falling asleep while on the train. You’ll wake up with your baggage still intact. If you plan to travel alone through the country like Sophie, you can do so without worrying about your safety. Just use common sense!
The language barrier might make you hesitate a bit, but as Bambi shared, the locals will do their best to answer your questions, even with a mix of broken English, Japanese, Japanglish (a combination of Japanese and English words), and some interesting charades-like gestures.
5. Japan offers something for everybody
As Aaron said, there are so many activities being held in Japan.
Whatever your hobby may be or whatever you’re into, Japan will most likely have something for you.
If you’re into the tourist-y stuff, there are a lot of tourist spots in Japan. If you’re going to stay in Tokyo, read my article on what I recommend to do in this city.
If you’re into technology, Tokyo has the first digital art museum in the world and a robot-theme restaurant. Also, doing something as normal as using a toilet is already an introduction to Japanese technology and convenience.
If you’re into architecture like Olan is, there are a lot of shrines, temples, hundred-year-old buildings, churches, and new structures to scrutinize.
If you’re into manga, anime, and video games, you have not just Nakano and Akihabara in Tokyo. Did you know that there is a manga library in Hiroshima?
If you’re into cosplay, get some of the best costumes from Japan and live like your favorite character during the whole stay in the country. You can always fine events at Ikebukuro Sunshine, or come during Halloween and dressup for the huge unofficial event in Shibuya. You can also keep your eyes peeled for any cons happening in Makuhari Messe Exihibition Hall in Chiba.
If you’re into J-pop or J-rock, you can try to catch tickets to the annual Fuji Rock Festival every summer, attend a concert at the Tokyo Dome or Nippon Budokan.
If you’re into history, go to Nara, which was Japan’s capital before Kyoto and Tokyo. Or you can go to Nagasaki or Hiroshima and see how the cities rose from the ashes of World War II. There are also plenty of castles throughout Japan to visit, displaying tons of history and information to fill your brain up with local information that you may not have known about!
If you’re feeling like a samurai or ninja, why not be a ninja for one day in Kyoto?
If you’re into winter sports and ice sculptures, go to Sapporo.
If you’re into nature, Japan has some of the best beaches, parks, gardens, forests, mountains, and zoos.
If you’re into fashion, try out Japan’s vintage, Gothic, and avant-garde themes. I’d definitely recommend Harajuku, and Shimokitazawa in Tokyo. If you’re looking for something a little bit more normal, be sure to hit up Uniqlo and GU for Japanese fashion staples to add to your wardrobe.
6. The transportation system is very efficient
Japan is one country where you will want to use public transportation more than taxis. Punctuality is something the Japanese are known for. As Ariss said, their trains and buses arrive and leave on time.Japan’s JR Railway has actually apologized for a train that left only a few seconds early.
Of course you have to decode the Japanese train system map. But if you’re lost, just know that you can ask the locals, or officials who are more than trained to deal with tourists.
If you’re a tourist with very limited time, having a transportation system that you know works like clockwork takes some stress off the visit.
7. Cleanliness is life for the Japanese
No one said this but I really love how clean everything is in Japan! There is hardly any litter on the streets, and the public toilets do not smell like a full septic tank.
I’ve discuss in this article just how serious the Japanese take cleanliness. Just how clean you ask? Here’s a picture of koi fish living in the drainage system in Japan.
8. You’ll be unhappy with only a few things.
It’s a given that there will be a language barrier if you go to a country that has a different language than your own. But since you’re the one visiting, you can try to learn some of their words so that you can communicate a little bit with the locals.
The people I interviewed complained about the weather and the expensive visit.
For people who come from tropical areas, Japan can be cold during the winter and fall. But for the rest of us, Japan’s great to visit any time of the year. Even its extremely humid summer is tolerable when you go to the beach or the mountains. Spring is sakura season. Fall is beautiful with the trees showing so many different colors of leaves. Winter is all about snow.
Now, going on a trip anywhere necessitates a lot of money and Japan is no exception to this. But you just have to plan your trip right. Here are some tips to save some bucks while traveling in Japan:
- Find a reasonable accommodation. Capsule hotels, guesthouses, Airbnb, manga cafes, and temples are just some of the alternatives to the usual Hotels.
- If you do get a hotel, find out if the “free” breakfast and WiFi are really free. Most of the time, these are actually tacked-on surcharges. You’ll probably save more if you buy breakfast from a convenience store or get a WiFi hotspot plan before you go to Japan.
- Buy discounted train or bus tickets. For example, if you go to Mount Takao, you can buy a ticket that can cover the train and entrance fee to some of the mountain’s tourist spots for less than what you’d pay normally.
- If you need to go to another city, use the overnight buses, which are cheaper.
- Eat at an all-you-can-eat or all-you-can-drink restaurant. Or try to find a shokudo (casual restaurants that often have plastic displays of food at the entrance and offer quite affordable food).
- Go to tourist spots that do not charge entrance fees like shrines, temples, and parks.
- Shop at 100 yen stores.
- Never use a taxi. They are extremely expensive.
These tips and thoughts could inspire you to visit Japan. The only thing I can add is: go experience everything that Japan offers. Then drop me a line.
If you’ve already been there, share with me your answers to my questions at the start of this article.