Japan turned out to be one of the best countries I’ve ever visited outside of Canada. Clean, efficient (everything runs on schedule), superior service and friendliness of people no matter where you are. There are so many fascinating places to visit that even the whole year in Japan may not be enough to fully explore and appreciate everything this unique country has to offer.
The best way to travel around Japan is by rail and to use air travel only to get in and out of the country. Rail service in Japan is highly efficient (as is, in fact, everything else in the country) and fast and with high density of rail lines all across the country and high frequency of service, you are sure to get to your next destination in Japan quickly and hassle-free. The most cost-effective way of using the rail service in Japan is to purchase Japan Rail Pass (JR Pass) while you’re still in your home country (since this pass cannot be purchased once you’re already in Japan). The pass allows for unlimited travel on most JR trains (including Shinkansen) for a fixed period of time at a fixed cost.
I was fortunate to experience a variety of different accommodations throughout my trip, but my favorite overnight stay in Japan was at a ryokan (a traditional Japanese inn) in the town of Kaga. I enjoyed my stay there because it was a very unique place in a town that is not frequented by foreign tourists, so it was as authentic Japanese experience as one can only get in Japan. With its hot spring baths, traditional Japanese meals, tatami-matted rooms and superior service, this was an experience I will never forget.
My favorite city was Kanazawa. I liked the city because it has a very Japanese feel to it: it’s a very popular destination with Japanese tourists but it’s off the beaten path for many other tourists (especially from North America). Kanazawa offers a number of unique and beautiful places to visit. Best known for Kenroku-en, which is considered one of Japan’s top 3 gardens, it also offers a number
of other unique sights and attractions for every taste, like Kanazawa Castle (a well-restored castle located adjacent to the garden), Nagamachi Samurai District (an area, where you can experience the feel of samurai era), and well preserved geisha districts (with Higashi Chaya District being the largest and most interesting of them). In addition, there are a number of temples, shrines, and museums well worth a visit: Ninja Temple, Oyama Shrine, and 21st Century Museum of Contemporary Art, to name a few.
Kenroku-en is probably the most beautiful attraction I visited. The garden is so stunning and beautiful that it was very sad that we only had a very limited time to explore it. With its stunning scenery, unique collection of trees and stone structures, beautiful paths, alleys, ponds, and one of Japan’s oldest fountains, I was totally impressed and fascinated by it. Now I understand very well why it’s considered one of the top gardens in Japan. This garden is well worth for at least a half-day visit.
Throughout my whole trip, I was extremely lucky to visit only authentic Japanese restaurants. In many of them, as one may imagine, even menus were not offered in English. Every single restaurant was unique in its own way and in every single one of them the food and the service was above and beyond my expectations.
There are so many souvenirs available in Japan that it’s very hard to pinpoint anything in particular. This really depends on person’s own tastes and preferences. But I would say that traditional Japanese candies, snacks, chocolate, matcha-flavored treats, and of course Japanese green tea and sake would all make very good souvenirs. Among non-food souvenirs, I would include kokeshi dolls, Japanese porcelain, and Japanese kitchen knives, to name a few.
With its mild temperatures and cherry blossom progressing through the country from March to May, spring is probably the most pleasant time to visit Japan. And with its spectacular colors and moderate temperatures, fall, which runs from October to late November, is another great season to explore Japan.