Backpacking in Japan - a few tips

3 minute read

I recently visited Japan for the 4th time, and spent another three weeks there moving around Honshu and Kyushu seeing new places, but also returning to previously visited ones. In the past I've been a bit slack in giving travels tips on Japan, but here are some of the gems we found while we were there.

Kyoto

  • Ramen - our favourite Ramen was Ichiran (better than Gogya and Ippudo).
  • Udon soup noodles - Omen, while expensive, is very good. There are two, the most convenient is in Gion.
  • Old school toy shop - I bought an old Tamiya battery car (from the late 80's/early 90's) for Y800. The store had all sorts of old model planes, cars etc... in it.

Takayama

Center For Burger's Hida Beef Burger
  • Food - Do not miss out on Center For Burgers. Get over the fact that you're eating a burger in Japan. And make sure you don't skimp out, order the Hida Beef Burger! It's excellent on a world class level and the atmosphere and staff are great. We went twice (we were in Takayama 2 days!).
  • Food - for a good value local experience there's a good Ramen/Noodle restaurant close to the station.
  • Bicycle - hire a bicycle. It's worth it to get around town quickly for a day and visit the nearby temples and folk village. It saves a lot of time over walking.
  • If you're going to Shira-kawago, then don't bother with the Hida folk village (it's a model village rather than a lived in one) as you'll see the real thing in Shira-kawago. The folk village is fairly expensive at Y700 and not terribly interesting.
  • Sukyo Mahikari temple is worth a look for its shear scale and cult shivers.
  • It's worth spending a night in Shira-kawago despite the cost. You get to see the village in the early/late hours without hordes of tourists around. Staying in one of the houses is good fun too and the food (at Guest House Kanja at least) is excellent.

Yakushima

Hirauchi Kaichu onsen
  • Rent a car if you are 2 people or more. It costs more than the bus but gives you so much more flexibility. Being restricted to buses means a lot of waiting and potentially not seeing everything you'd like to.
  • If you do decide to stick to the bus, grab a bus pass the second you get off the ferry. It'll save you a fair amount.
  • Don't miss out on Hirauchi Kaichu onsen by the sea. It's only Y100 and a very rare experience as you need to go during low tide. Take a towel!
  • If going to Shiratani Unsuikyo don't bother with the red (easy) hiking route. It's paved, boring and full of tourists. The orange route is good for dense forest, while the green route is the best route overall and has Princess Mononoke-like trails.
  • Yakusugi Land is worth a visit too. Oddly we found it more fun than Shiratani Unsuikyo. You need 3 hours there to get the most from the hiking trails.
  • In Anbo there's a great little Thai/Indian inspired restaurant, Amara opened by an ex-fisherman who has learnt to cook and in the aforementioned countries. The food is fresh and tasty and generally good value. It's about 100m walk past Anbo tourist office.

Tsumago/Magome

  • Tsumago is the more authentic looking of the two and a better place to stay the night.
  • The walk between the villages is nice but nothing special compared to treks in places like Yakushima or Aso. So if you're going to those places, Tsumago/Magome could be missed. Having said that, for a couple of hours it's a pleasant hike. Make sure you stop in the local tea house. It's free (but give a donation) and run by the local community.

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