Is Japan Worth Visiting? 13 Reasons That’s A Yes

Japan is home to Mount Fuji, magnificent sakura, anime and manga, bullet trains and leading car brands, samurai and ninja, and delightful dishes such as ramen and sushi. I can go on and on but this string of words alone has inspired travelers from all over the world to book a trip to this island nation.

And yet, despite everything that has been written on the subject, many are still wondering, is Japan worth visiting?

Japanese temple in the sunset

I’m here to tell you that yes, Japan is definitely worth a trip… or two! From natural wonders to skyscrapers, from ancient traditions to urban culture, there are plenty of reasons why you should visit the Land of the Rising Sun.

But first, let’s take a look at reasons why some travelers hesitate with or entirely avoid Japan.

Why some travelers avoid Japan

1. It’s frequently struck by earthquakes

The Great East Japan Earthquake in Iwate

If you have a great fear of natural disasters such as earthquakes and tsunamis, Japan’s notorious earthquake history may scare you. Understandably so, given that there are about 1,500 earthquakes in Japan every year. Major (those of magnitude 5 and above) earthquakes happen 3-5 times per year.

It shouldn’t come as a surprise — Japan sits along the Pacific Ring of Fire and has 111 active volcanoes. Some of the world’s strongest quakes do happen in Japan, but the country is prepared for such disasters.

Buildings and homes are built to withstand tremors to a degree. Even its shinkansen (bullet trains) are earthquake-ready, with sensors that are triggered to freeze every moving train in the country if needed. And after the big 2011 earthquake and tsunami, Japan has only improved its preparedness and emergency response.

2. You can get lost in translation

Japan train map in Japanese

Compared to other Asian countries like Singapore, the Philippines, and Malaysia, English proficiency in Japan is not that high. There are a few reasons for these but suffice it to say that Japan’s economy had thrived long enough without needing to learn English.

What’s more, many Japanese people are quite shy and reserved so they’re unlikely to go out of their way to converse with you in English, even if they can speak the language.

As travelers, we’d do well to learn the Japanese language to at least read the restaurant menus or street signs in Japan. But Nihongo has not one but two syllabic scripts, making it one of the hardest languages to learn for English speakers.

That being said, prior to the Tokyo Olympics, Japan started to invest in teaching English. And most of the big cities in Japan are well posted with English signs. If you’re only visiting Tokyo or major tourist destinations like Osaka, you won’t need to know Japanese at all. Still, it doesn’t hurt to know a few basic Japanese phrases.

3. It can be expensive to visit

Japanese yen

But this depends on where you’re coming from.

From the standpoint of Southeast Asians like myself, the cost of living in Japan is sky-high. A meal at an inexpensive restaurant will cost $7 on average, a one-way ticket will set you back $2, and a one-night stay at a budget hotel will cost roughly $45.

However, visitors from other first-world countries like the US and UK will find these costs reasonable. And certainly, there are ways to enjoy Japan on a shoestring, like staying in “capsule hotels”, getting a Japan Rail (JR) pass or metro day passes, and buying set meals at convenience stores.

Bottom line, it’s not cheap to travel to Japan but it won’t cost an arm and a leg either.

Why is Japan worth visiting?

Now, on to the fun part! Here are the top reasons why you should book that flight to Japan.

1. Japan has stunning natural landscapes

Japan landscapes
Autumn foliage in Ibigawa

When we think of things Japan is known for, we can’t skip Mount Fuji, the country’s 3,776-meter-high icon. But this active stratovolcano is just one of the many awe-inspiring sights in Japan.

About 73% of Japan’s land area is covered by forested mountains and hills. There are lots of natural wonders to explore regardless of the season. Of course, a visit in springtime means partaking in hanami — picnicking under sakura (cherry blossom) trees.

In autumn, lakes across Japan turn even more picturesque with fall foliage. Beaches, rivers, and the magical Arashiyama Bamboo Forest are popular in summer. In the winter, you can marvel at powder snow-covered landscapes. And any time of the year is a good time to practice shinrin yoku or forest bathing.

2. Japanese cuisine is incredible

Japanese dishes

Ah, my favorite thing about Japan — its food!

Japan has the most number of Michelin stars — that’s how globally recognized its cuisine is. With the popularity of Japanese food, even people who haven’t been to Japan have had its food (or at least the popular dishes like ramen, sashimi, sushi, and tempura).

Now, imagine having these dishes in their homeland.

Having Japanese cuisine in Japan is an experience of a lifetime primarily because of the vibrant culture that surrounds it. Washoku (traditional Japanese cuisine) values nature and seasonality so you’ll be eating food that’s authentic and fresh, with ingredients that are probably hard to come by in other parts of the world.

You also get the chance to see traditions in cooking and food preparation and witness Japanese etiquette in action. Plus, there are lots of traditional dishes like fugu, motsunable, chawanmushi, and basashi that are not commonly found outside Japan.

3. Japan is one of the safest countries in the world

Japanese student walking home alone

Wondering if it’s safe to travel solo in Japan? The answer is a resounding yes!

Japan is frequently rated as one of the safest countries in the world, while Tokyo is named one of the safest cities. This country prides itself in having an extremely low crime rate and most especially very few reports of theft.

Japan is so safe that children go to school alone, locals leave their doors unlocked, and drunk office workers pass out after one too many drinks… and still have their wallets and phones in their possession! Locals also often leave their belongings unaccompanied in restaurants and bars and do not get them stolen.

While I don’t recommend leaving things behind or passing out on trains, you can find comfort in the fact that you’ll be able to walk around in Japan without fear.

4. And one of the cleanest

Clean Japanese streets

Soon after your arrival, you’ll be pleasantly surprised at how clean Japan is. It is among the cleanest countries in the world and you can see it in the airports, the streets, the hotels, and train stations. It doesn’t matter if you’re staying in Tokyo or the countryside — Japan is virtually spotless.

So ingrained in the Japanese psyche is the respect for nature, surroundings, and other people. You will rarely find trash cans in public spaces because the Japanese take their trash home. They’re also big on recycling and upcycling following the culture of mottainai which can be translated into “waste not.”

5. The people are polite and kind

Japanese lady bowing in front of her house with beautiful kimono.

Japanese lady bowing in front of her house with beautiful kimono.

The Japanese people are known the world over as being extremely polite. As mentioned earlier, they tend to be shy and reserved, especially towards foreigners who don’t speak the language. But they are very welcoming. They may not initiate a conversation but if you ask, they are willing to extend help.

Once again, there’s this deeply-rooted sense of respect for surroundings and people. They don’t want to bother anyone (you’ll often hear sumimasen — sorry or excuse me — everywhere), trains and streets are super silent, and etiquette is always observed.

6. It has the most elaborate toilets

Modern high tech toilet with electronic bidet in Japan.
Editorial credit: supawat bursuk / Shutterstock.com

A visit to the National Museum of Emerging Science and Innovation, Akihabara Electric Town, or a Japanese robot café will cement what most of us already know: that Japan boasts some of the best innovations in the world.

But if you need to experience first-hand what Japanese technology means, it’s best to start with the humble public toilets.

Japan’s high-tech Western-style toilets have heated seats and come with a dizzying array of buttons to control the bidet’s spray and water temperature. There’s also a brow dry option. You can even play ambient sounds to disguise the sound you make while doing number two!

7. Public transportation is so efficient

The public transportation system in Japan is uh-may-zing. Consisting of buses, local and rapid trains, and bullet trains, this reliable system offers a comfortable commute, superb service, and unmatched punctuality.

Most notable are the shinkansen or bullet trains operated by Japan Railways (JR). This network of high-speed trains has nine lines connecting major cities across the country. Running at 320km/hour and boasting spacious, comfy cars, this is ideal for long-distance travel. Thanks to the JR Pass, it’s also a cost-effective way to get around Japan.

Local and short-distance buses serve as secondary means of public transportation. However, the lack of English information can be intimidating to some foreigners. For those looking for cheaper alternatives to trains for long-distance travel, highway or overnight buses are worth trying.

8. Japan is home to anime, manga, and Studio Ghibli

Studio Ghibli

Forget Disneyland and Universal Studios — if you’re an animation and film aficionado, you should head over to the Ghibli Museum.

Located in Mitaka, Tokyo, Ghibli Museum is the only museum that showcases the work and history of the most famous animation studio in Japan. Exhibits include sketches and models of My Neighbor Totoro, Spirited Away, Howl’s Moving Castle, and more, as well as info on Hayao Miyazaki’s works.

If like me, you first fell in love with Japan through anime (Japanese animation) or manga (Japanese comics or graphic novels), you’ll also want to visit Japan’s anime and manga theme parks and merch shops.

In Tokyo alone, you can find J-World Tokyo, Joypolis, Tokyo Anime Center, and Pokémon Mega Center. Outside the capital, you can check out Kawasaki’s Fujiko F. Fujio Museum, Hyogo’s Nijigen No Mori, and Tottori’s Detective Conan Museum.

9. And first-rate architecture

Temple in Japan

Home to over 80,000 temples and shrines, over a hundred castles, modern minimalist homes, and avant-garde structures, Japan is heaven for architecture geeks.

Traditional Japanese architecture brings to mind wooden structures, screens and sliding doors, verandas, and lots of natural light. Popular Japanese buildings like the Yakushi-Ji Temple and Himeji Castle are worth visiting to get a taste of traditional architecture.

As for contemporary wonders, some of the prime examples include Tokyo’s Skytree, Yokohama Landmark Tower, Kobe’s Akashi Kaikyo Bridge (the world’s 2nd longest suspension bridge), and any of Tadao Ando’s splendid works.

10. You can try different types of accommodation!

Japanese hostel pod

You can find all sorts of accommodations in Japan, from the luxurious to the weird.

Western-style hotels are spread out across Japan. But if you want the most authentic Japanese experience, a ryokan is the way to go. This type of inn has been around since the 8th century and features tatami-floor rooms and communal and private onsen (hot springs and baths).

Another traditional option is the shukubo or temple lodging, similar to Korea’s temple stay. Here, you can try lessons on vegetarian or vegan cooking, and take part in some Buddhist rituals.

Looking for something modern? Try capsule hotels. These tiny and mostly futuristic-looking pods are a cheaper alternative. Recently, however, luxury capsule hotels are becoming popular. This newer kind of capsule hotels offers spa treatments, premium toiletries, and high-tech amenities.

11. It’s shopper’s paradise

Street signs in Osaka

It’s probably true for many nations as well, but Japan is indeed a shopping haven. Although many international brands are present, shopping for local finds is much more enjoyable.

Large cities such as Tokyo and Osaka sport lots of shopping districts catering to different budgets — from 100 yen shops to upscale boutiques. You’ll find everything here from traditional souvenirs and handicrafts to the latest electronics, art, otaku finds, household items, and fashion brands.

Outside of the big cities, there are outlet malls, suburban shopping malls, and traditional markets. Bottom line, wherever you plan on staying in Japan, bring enough money for shopping!

12. Japan loves weird

cubic watermelon

Japan has all kinds of weird quirks. And I mean weird.

Here are just a few you’d find incredible:

  • “Perfect” fruits such as square watermelons
  • Blue traffic lights
  • Rice paddy illustrations
  • Automatic taxi doors
  • Themed cafés (e.g., robot café, maid café, anime café)
  • Vending machines selling socks, surgical masks, and love letters
  • Ramen noodle baths
  • Nai Sumo Baby Crying Festival

I can go on and on but basically, there are lots of “only in Japan” experiences that should give you more reasons to visit.

13. Japan is known for the best customer service

I saved the last spot for something all travelers appreciate — good customer service. And there is no shortage of this in Japan. As a nation that values respect, humility, and hard work, Japan has become a model of impeccable customer service.

Staff in Japan are trained to be polite and service-oriented. It is a standard rather than an exemption. No demand is too big or too small and you can expect topnotch service not just in luxury hotels but also in convenience stores and street stalls.

While this cultural trait is obviously a good thing for travelers, it’s can also be rooted in something else entirely. A survey concluded that the Japanese are likely to take their business elsewhere after one bad service experience. This may be inconclusive but definitely interesting. Either way, travelers benefit from this high expectation.

Conclusion

Japanese cherry blossoms

So… is Japan worth visiting? I can certainly give more but I think the above 13 reasons are enough to get you planning that trip!

The truth is, I’ve barely scratched the surface. Japan has nature, adventure, culture, and more than enough quirks for all kinds of travelers. This unique country is not just a tourist destination but a learning experience for those who are willing to see new things, taste new food, and experience new cultures.

That being said, before visiting, do know that the Japanese appreciate tourists being respectful, too. They’ll cut you some slack if you make a faux pas but they also follow the saying “Go ni haitte wa go ni sitagae” which loosely translates to “When you join another village, follow the rules.” This is like the Japanese version of “When in Rome, do as the Romans do.”

So, do study the culture. Read up on Japanese etiquette and customs. Try to study some key phrases. Research. And be willing to grow, regardless of how long or short your stay will be.

Happy trip planning!

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