International travel enthusiasts, gather around. Are you tired of being cooped up due to the pandemic and thirsty for some exotic wanderlust? East Asian countries are opening up for travel post the pandemic. We will explore one of the destinations that has recently eased entry for foreigners - Japan.
Anime fans or even those who grew up watching Doraemon and Shinchan will be thrilled to explore this island nation. But of course, Japan is a lot more than just its Kawai anime.
I just returned from a short trip to Japan and there's a lot to share. So here's what to expect if you want to explore Japan:
Is Japan open to foreigners?
Come October 11, 2022, Japan will resume visa-free (not for everyone though) and independent travel. This comes after nearly 2 years of shutdown.
Japan will also remove the daily cap (50,000-60,000 visitors) imposed on the number of visitors.
Tourists will no longer be required to book their travel through a travel agency to visit Japan.
For those who are triple-vaccinated (that is with a booster dose) with accepted Covid-19 vaccines, a negative RT-PCR test will not be required. There's no quarantine requirement either.
For Indian travellers:
Indian travellers will need to obtain avisa before travelling to Japan. You will need to find out which visa type suits your requirement.
It is better to start planning at least 2 months prior to your departure; one month will also do.
What is Japan like? Japan is not a hot destination for most Indian travellers, who usually prefer nearer Southeast Asian, European or Western countries for travel. But that is not to say there are no Indians in Japan.
In a nutshell, Japan is an experience in itself. The culturally and historically rich country has different shades to it and there is no doubt that as a visitor you will be awed and get to explore new things all the time.
Are the Japanese people friendly? With the rising incidents of racist attacks targeted at brown people and Indians all over the world, this is the question most of my friends asked when I returned.
I was fortunate enough to not face any unfriendliness or racism from Japanese people. Rather, throughout my stay, the locals were nothing but polite and helpful. Japanese people are known for being courteous. You will find the locals bowing to you and each other in public for normal gestures like holding the lift, etc.
But of course, Japan is largely a homogeneous country. Its foreign residents are on the rise now though.
It may come as a cultural shock for someone travelling from a loud place like India, that Japan is very quiet in public. Locals are rarely ever loud. If you are on the Metro in Tokyo, you will find that there is pin-drop silence in cabins full of people.
I'm also told that most Japanese people will avoid interacting with foreigners mostly because of the language barrier. But they will certainly try to help you if you ask them anything. Try broken English or speaking in keywords or using Google translate.
Where to travel? Japan is picturesque, and that's understating it; even the local streets are Instagrammable. But don't forget to live the experience in the photo-clicking craze. Here is a list of some places you should try to explore during your travel and plan according to your schedule:
Tokyo: Of course, you have to explore the capital of Japan. Roaming Tokyo cannot end in a day's time.
Make time to take in the city views in the evening at Tokyo Tower and Tokyo SkyTree.
Walk along Sumida river in central Tokyo, take a boat ride.
Go street shopping in Harajuku for fashion, Asakusa for souvenirs, Akihabara for electronics and anime hauls, etc. (You may want to keep your wallet out of your own reach to stop buying everything in sight!)
Visit Tokyo Disneyland, Imperial Palace, gardens, museums, historical temples and shrines, etc.
Cross the street at the world's busiest crossing in Shibuya.
Day trips from Tokyo: There are a lot of day trips you can take while staying in Tokyo. Here are some you can plan for -
Kyoto: It is one of the best-known tourist spots in Japan and is considered to be the cultural capital of the country. There are a number of historic temples, shrines, Shogunate castles, and palaces to explore in and around Kyoto. Osaka is also an hour away from Kyoto to explore the city life infused with historic sites.
While in Kyoto you may want to stay in 100-year-old traditional Japanese homes, available for affordable prices on Airbnb and elsewhere.
You can walk along the Kamo River and spend some quiet time along the banks in the evening or rent a hotel room overlooking the river.
You may also spot a Geisha out on a walk after lessons in Kyoto's Gion district. If you want pictures with a Geisha, you should ask politely rather than clicking their photos without consent.
You can also have an immersive historic Kyoto experience touring the city wearing a Kimono. Also, be sure to book your Samurai experience at experience centres.
Hiroshima and Nagasaki: These two places have gained historical importance following the atomic bombing in World War II. But they are not exactly near each other. So you will need to plan accordingly.
Depending on how long you are staying, there's a lot more to explore in Japan, from the west coast to the east. You should try making time to visit Doraemon and Shinchan museums too if you are a fan.
How to travel in Japan? Travelling inside Japan is an experience in itself.
Almost all the cities and places are accessible by local and metro trains, which operate frequently and on time.
If not trains, then there are local buses.
You may also find tour buses taking you to all the must-visit locations making your travel easy, or loop buses in places like Kyoto.
You can get a rechargeable IC card when you arrive in Japan, which can be used on local trains, Metros, and buses.
When you are in Japan, you have to take a trip by bullet train, which is called Shinkansen. The most famous line is from Tokyo to Kyoto or Osaka, where you can spot Mt Fuji on your way if the sky is clear.
There are also day/s passes, which makes it cheaper than usual to travel multiple times to various places on a particular line on a bullet train.
Taxis are very expensive in Japan, so you may want to keep that in mind. Besides that, you may not find taxis easily available in most locations.
If you can get a driving permit in Japan, your travel will be made much easier and cheaper.
Walking and riding bicycles in Japan is very easy. Every street is walkable. Riding bicycles is also quite common among locals and tourists; you can rent one in the place you are staying to make your local travel easier.
Check the weather: Indians aren't used to checking the weather before heading out. But in Japan, it's a must as the country is often frequently hit by typhoons, earthquakes, high waves, etc. You may not want your trip rained on. Carry an umbrella with you at all times.
WiFi: You will definitely need Internet access at all times to figure out the routes and travel in Japan. On the good side, most public places from train stations and buses, to cities, are equipped with free WiFi.
What to eat? Japan is famous for its simple flavoured, but exotic cuisine like nowhere else. Tokyo is home to the highest number of Michelin star restaurants, so there is no end to the kind of food you can explore and eat. Most of the restaurants will have appealing presentations of their dishes, portion and what to expect displayed.
For Indians who are vegetarians, fret not, in most cities from Tokyo, Kamakura to Kyoto, there are several Indian restaurants that have Indian veg and non-veg options.
Shopping: In several shopping centres, tourist shopping places included, non-Japanese passport holders can shop tax-free for purchases over 5,000-5,500 yen (Rs 2,818-3,100). So, be sure to check with the shopkeeper.
Each Japanese city and place has its own unique charm, which is pretty discernible. For example, you will find Tokyo people a lot more reserved and quieter than the people in Osaka, who appear more carefree. The country is also pretty safe and having the lowest crime rate in the entire world shows, so you may not have to worry much about safety.
You are likely to come out of Japan more peaceful and patient. The country seems to do that to you.