Japan makes one of the more unusual expat havens, because its population is 98% ethnic Japanese! So why would you want to visit or live in Japan?
Well, the expats that do live there report being very happy. They love how safe Japan is, the food, that unique blend of old and new, the fascinating culture and the organization. There are so many interesting things to discover there, whether on holiday, volunteering or on business. Let’s dive in!
Japan in Japanese is Nihon or Nippon, which means the origin of the sun. This name actually comes from China, which makes sense because Japan is to the east of China! It has been given the nickname “the land of the rising sun”. but is it sunny in Japan?
The answer is yes, it is sunny a lot of the time, but it depends on the season. There are clearly defined seasons in Japan, just like in the West. Spring – from March to May, is the best time to visit. The weather is mild, the cherry trees are in bloom. Average temperatures in April are around 68°F (20°C ), depending on where you are. Flights are more expensive around early May due to Golden Week.
Summer runs from June to August. This is also the rainy season everywhere except Hokkaido. It’s often overcast and a bit dreary, so head to Hokkaido, or a hot spring resort like Hakone or the wooden temple mountain Koyasan. Temperatures in July are in the 77-88°F range (25-31°C). Expect rain!
August is hot and humid in most of Japan, and there are many local festivals and fireworks. Obon week is in mid-August. It’s certainly something you wouldn’t want to miss, but accommodation rates increase, as does general travel activity.
September to November is Japan’s autumn and the crowds die down during this time. However, it’s the peak of typhoon season, so you might have to endure a couple of days of strong rain and wind, (followed by good weather!) if you’re heading over there during autumn. Temperatures in October are around 68-82°F (20-28°C), and the trees start to turn pretty colors in the north and at higher elevations.
Fancy spending New Year in Japan? During the winter season from December to February, the weather is usually sunny and dry, and the sightseeing spots are quiet. The northern regions have snow. Are you a skier? Winter sports are popular. Nice spots include Hokkaido and Shirakawago during the winter.
What to Do
Parks and Museums
No matter where you go in Japan, there’s plenty to do. Most temples and museums are free to enter, though popular attractions may cost around 1,250 JPY (~10USD) per person. Many of the city parks are free and make a great way to escape the busy streets.
These Japanese bathhouses make the perfect place to relax. Go early in the morning for more privacy.
The Tsukiji fish market
This market is the largest tuna market in the world! It opens at 4am, and is a great place to experience just-caught sushi for breakfast, whatever time you get up.
At over 11,000 foot high, this mountain located near Tokyo is usually covered by clouds during the day, so ascents often happen early in the morning. It’s great for anyone who likes a bit of an adventure.
The Geisha District
Locally known as the Gion District, this area is great for window shopping, ogling the architecture and, well, geisha spotting.
Maika also offers pseudo apprentice geisha treatments. You can have your makeup done like a geisha and try on a formal kimono. The photos make for a wonderful souvenir, and you’ll learn a lot about the geisha tradition.
Doing this scenic “shrine island” is a great place to spend the day. Go on a walking trail nearby once you’ve taken the ferry (for 180 JPY – less than $2).
Bitchu Matsuyama Castle
This is the only original castle that’s still standing in Japan! Well worth a visit.
Kyoto isn’t much like Toyko. It’s much more relaxed and full of beautiful temples and gardens. Don’t forget to go to the bamboo forest!
The Tempozan Ferris Wheel
If you fancy heading to Osaka, this 17 minute Ferris Wheel ride is the best way to experience the amazing views of Osaka Bay and the surrounding scenery. The Osaka Aquarium Kaiyukan is right next door, too.
This high-tech city has a population of 13 million! It’s the biggest metropolis in the world, but very safe. Check out the fashion, the bars, the heritage sites, the shrines, the clubs. There’s a lot to see. Four days is the minimum you’ll need to enjoy a good portion of what the city has to offer.
Check out Part 2 for more on Japanese culture, food, transport and the expat lifestyle!