Discovering Japan

Mercury Holidays’ traveller Emma talks to us about her recent trip to Japan, why she found it such a fascinating destination and how it’s captured her imagination. We’re talking everything from what to wear, food to try, essential phrases, what not to miss and how to make the very best of your time.

What made you want to go there?

I’d always imagined Japan to be a place where I could go and experience a culture that is the most far-removed from those I had ever known before.

Emma and her boyfriend - A journey through Japan

What should we pack?

The usual really – comfortable walking shoes, a small day bag for trips and a lightweight jacket – I took one of Uniqlo’s Ultra Light Down jackets which folds easily into a compact pouch which was perfect for the varying weather conditions.

Were there any culture shocks you wished you’d been prepared for?

Not quite a culture shock but I found it strange that the Japanese do not “jay-walk” on any streets, even small ones and they laugh at you if you do!

Bride in Toyko - A journey through Japan - Mercury Holidays

Which food do you think every visitor should try & what was the strangest thing you could eat there?

There are too many to mention! Okonomiyake (a kind of savoury pancake often filled with octopus, pork or shrimp) is delicious, a bowl of ramen is a must – my favourite being the creamy noodle broth known as Tonkotsu ramen, I ate the breaded pork cutlet dish known as Tonkatsu probably too frequently whilst my partner sampled Mochi (a small, sweet glutinous rice cake) wherever he could find it.

Asian Ramen - A journey through Japan _ Mercury Holidays

What was the weather like?

I travelled from mid-March through to mid-April, starting in Tokyo then continuing to the far south and back again. We had a cold spell in early March and the evenings were often quite chilly so I’d advise taking layers including a hat, gloves and scarf if you are travelling in the winter months. 

What was the best moment of your trip?

Walking through the thousands of red shrine gates at Fushimi Inari-Taisha in Kyoto – their vibrant colours made for the perfect photo opportunities, (this was included in our itinerary).

Fushimi Ingaris - Kyoto - A journey through Japan - Mercury Holidays

Did you buy any souvenirs?

I bought a few cotton Yukatas – a bathing robe used whilst visiting Onsen (hot spring baths) for family along with some edible treats such as wasabi flavoured Kitkats and even a Tonkotsu ramen set.

What was the transport like?

The shinkansen (bullet trains) are a dream, thy’re fast, comfortable and run like clockwork. The subway system can be quite confusing but easy enough once you get the hang of it and locals are always friendly and willing to help. I’d advise picking up a paper map from one of the stations as this will be handy too.


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What was your favourite landmark or tourist sight?

The Golden Pavillion (Kinkakuji) in Kyoto is just stunning and incredibly beautiful, it’s best seen early in the morning before the crowds arrive.


Kinkakuji (Golden Pavilion) - A journey through Japan - Mercury Holidays

What’s the best piece of advice you could give someone thinking about visiting Japan?

The bullet trains are so unbelievably fast that it makes it easy to visit a lot of places in a short time, for example day trips can easily be taken from Kyoto to Kobe, Osaka and Nara, whilst Hiroshima is only few hours from Kyoto and can be done in a day as well. If you are not travelling as part of a group, or if you decide to extend your stay in Japan after a group tour it is essential to buy a Japan Rail Pass. The pass gives you hugely discounted fares on the trains and can be bought to cover a 7, 14 or 21 day duration. It must be bought in advance and then validated at the airport terminal on arrival.

Which was the best photo you took?

A photo that I took from the New York Bar on the 52nd Floor of the Park Hyatt Hotel in Tokyo received over 50 likes on Instagram, so that might be it! The bar is famous for featuring in Sophia Coppola’s Lost in Translation.

New York Bar - Park Hyatt Tokyo - A journey through Japan - Mercury Holidays

Did you make any amazing off the beaten track discoveries?

An owl café in Tokyo’s electronics district Akihabara was a hilarious introduction to the city. For a small fee you can hold and stroke a different variety of owls whilst enjoying a tea of coffee. Pet cafés are a popular pastime in Japan and others include cat cafés, dog cafés and also a recently opened hedgehog café – warning, the hedgehogs do bite! You can find it here – Owl no Mori’s, 4 Chome-5-8 Sotokanda, Chiyoda-ku, Tōkyō-to 101-0021 5th floor

Did you pick up any useful phrases?

Japanese is a tough language to learn despite being phonetic, however arigatou gozaimasu, meaning “thank you very much” is a very helpful one to learn.

Do you have any advice on etiquette/dos and don’ts? How to greet a person, tipping, ask for the bill for e.g.

It is not customary to tip in restaurants or bars in Japan, so make sure you don’t as you may find the waiter running after you to give you back your change. The Japanese don’t like to say “no”, so if it seems like they are saying no and yes at the same time, this is why!

Was it any different to how you expected it to be?

It was even better than I had expected, a trip of a lifetime.

cherry blossom - A Journey through Japan

Is there anything you would change about your trip?

I wouldn’t pack as much as I did, I ended up posting half of my bulging suitcase home half way through.

Has it changed you?

It certainly opened up my taste palette to a wide variety of foods which I hadn’t tried before and made me realise that there is far more to Japanese food than just sushi!


Book your journey through Japan!

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Treasures of Japan Tour 11 days from £3399pp VIEW TOUR


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