Call2Call’s top five student gap year destinations. No.4 – Japan.
It’s no mystery that Japan thrives around its transport system. You never hear a word that it’s failed or is running late. The ‘11:45 from Tokyo to Osaka is running 15 minutes behind schedule’ is as about as uncommon as the Harlem Shake still being cool next year. The trains really do run like clockwork, and on top of this, they’re relatively cheap, with a 7-day rail pass costing as little at £150.
As well as the trains, Japan’s subway system is quite extraordinary. Clean, safe and again cheap, it will definitely take you from A to B without any fuss. For sightseeing around cities, we would recommend the underground; it is quicker than walking – save those worn out feet and travel with ease. However, like the UK, the underground is manic at peak times, so just make sure you either avoid it or be prepared to be squeezed on board.
Catch some snow.
Largely overlooked by travellers and snow sports fans, Japan is actually a great ski/snowboard destination. It is known that Japan is quite mountainous, however people often forget that up in those mountains is a thriving ski community with green to black runs, accommodation and ski hire facilities.
One of the most famous mountains in the world and one that is traversed by explorers and tourists in their thousands every year. It is recommended that you begin climbing the mountain at a time so that you reach the top at dawn, to see the sensational views in all their splendour. There are numerous stations where climbers can rest, sleep, eat and also purchase oxygen if they’re feeling a bit light headed.
It’s worth pointing out that Mt Fuji representatives recommend that you climb during July and August, to avoid more treacherous conditions such as ice and snow. This short time period makes the mountain pass quite busy at times, even having queues between stations. That said, you would be silly not to climb or get a sight of the mountain, it is breathtaking and one of the top priority destinations if you ever travel to Japan. Go here for more information on climbing the mountain.
Have a dip in a bath.
An activity we’ve heard a lot about is going to an Onsen, which roughly translates as ‘hot spring’. They are built in many different shapes and sizes, ranging from more modern builds to natural springs, but no matter where you are, you will definitely find one. The only downside (or upside) is that Onsen’s require you to bathe naked, which could be daunting or a breath of fresh air (literally). If you can get past this, then they really are one of the most relaxing experiences you will ever have. It's worth pointing out that you’re there to relax and not wash, so please make sure you are clean beforehand and leave that rubber ducky at home.
It isn’t all just about culture.
So far we have only mentioned the more natural and cultural locations and activities. But, as you would have seen in the movies, Japan is also a bustling, technological hot bed of neon signs, future gadgets and noisy cities.
Trips to Tokyo and Osaka are a must if you are in close vicinity or a short train ride away. Kyoto, the old ancient capital, is where you’ll find the Japan of your imagination, as well as a busy city. Take a walk through the Zen Gardens and then enjoy some serious retail therapy - the perfect balance of sightseeing and shopping sprees.
The capital of Japan, Tokyo runs smoothly, like a well-oiled machine. Fashions come and go before you've taken clothes off their hanger, and technology seems to be eons ahead of everybody else. The obsession with all things shiny and new is addictive, and so is this gleaming city. We've picked our top 5 favourite experiences while you're there.
• Crazy sushi - The largest wholesale market for fish, fruits and vegetables in Tokyo, Tsukji Market has become a major tourist attraction due to its hectic atmosphere of scooters, trucks, sellers and buyers frantically rushing around. The inner market houses the famous tuna auctions that take place daily, with also a few restaurants here to savour some delicacies. Just remember this is a working market and try not to get in the way!
• Shop 'til you drop - Home to that famous pedestrian crossing where there are seemingly thousands of people, (It's a brave move to drive there!) Shibuya is one of the more popular shopping and entertainment centres, and over a dozen major department stores can be found in the area, providing something for every shopper. Make sure you cross the large intersection in front of Shibuya station's Hachiko exit - swarmed by pedestrians each time the crossing light turns green, it's fun to be a part of a legendary movie and photography landmark.
• Meet the family - The Imperial Palace is located close to Tokyo Station and is home to the Imperial Family and Akihito, Japan's 125th Emperor. Nowadays having just a symbolic function, the Emperor participates at ceremonies and diplomatic meetings and is still very much highly regarded within the country. The grounds are only open to the public on Jan 2nd and Dec 23rd, yet the view of the palace and the Nijubashi (two bridges that form the entrance) can be viewed from Kokyo Garden, the large plaza to the front.
• Historical Tokyo - The Edo-Tokyo museum, so named as Tokyo was originally the fishing village Edo, the village was first fortified in the late twelfth century. That's a lot of history, including architecture, cultural heritage, politics and commercial among others, there's more than a day's worth of learning to be had there. Spend time at the numerous models of towns, figurines and life-sized figures that make it fun to find out how Japanese towns were constructed in the past.
• Have some fun - As well as home to Tokyo Disneyland, the first Disney theme park outside of the United States, Tokyo DisneySea is unique to Japan and well worth a visit and appeals to a more grown up audience. With seven themed ports of call including the Mermaid Lagoon and Mysterious Island, the history surrounding the myths and legends of the sea, accompanied by lots of different water rides and themed eateries, make this fantastic place fun for all.