Note: This article was first published on 12 April 2016 and is being republished now because the tips here are all still relevant. Some sections have been updated to make the article more timely.
Spring is a special time in Japan because it marks the blossoming of cherry blossoms across the country. Widely regarded as the unofficial national flower of Japan (Japan does not have an official national flower), the blooming of cherry blossoms in Japan is also seen as a sign of the coming of spring.
During this period, many Japanese flock to gardens around the country to partake in the practice of “hanami”, which translates to flower viewing. But more accurately, it refers to picnics and parties in the parks under cherry blossom trees. And it is not only the Japanese that are caught up in cherry blossom fever. In fact, many tourists from around the world visit Japan during this season to soak up in the festive atmosphere and also to enjoy the breathtaking sights of cherry blossoms in full bloom.
I recently made a trip to Japan to catch the cherry blossoms in full bloom and here are some things that I learned from my trip. If you are heading out to Japan soon, here are some tips to help you get the most out of your trip.
As the saying goes, "if you fail to plan, you are planning to fail", so do some research before your trip. If you fail to prepare properly, you might end up making trips to places and missing out on important things to see. For those on "free and easy" trips and have to plan your own itineraries, research and planning your day's activities and route is paramount to ensuring that you make the most out of your time in Japan. The great thing is that there are plenty of good websites to use to plan your trips. Here are three of my favorite sites.
Japan Guide is great for a few reasons. First of all, it’s really extensive and covers the entirety of Japan, from smaller cities like Nara and Hakone to larger cities like Osaka and Tokyo. Secondly, it’s also extremely easy to navigate and use. Thirdly, it has a good write-up of each region, city and attraction, which includes its history, directions, fees and also places that are worth visiting. All in all, Japan Guide is a great starting point for researching on your trip.
If you are visiting Japan for the first time, chances are you’ll be traveling around the country and visiting other regions and cities, and for that, you’ll probably be getting a Japan Rail Pass (JR Pass). Though costly, the Japan Rail Pass can pay for itself if you are traveling across Japan to multiple cities. Plus, the JR Pass can also be used within cities themselves too on local JR lines and buses. JPRail will explain how Japan’s train and subway system work, how to use the JR Pass, and also tell you how to get to popular attractions around Japan using your JR Pass. The site also suggests itineraries that use the JR Pass so that you can maximize your JRPass and time in Japan.
Trains are arguably the most convenient mode of transport for visitors in Japan. However, the train network in Japan can be complicated. Likewise, train stations in Japan are equally massive. Coupled with the foreign language, what this all means is that it can be difficult to understand the train schedules and where to board the train.
Hyperdia is practically a bible for any visitor in Japan as it can suggest train schedules for you, tell you how much it will cost, also tell you how long your journey will take, and also when and where the train will arrive at the station. For JR Pass owners, you can even restrict the results to show only trains that are eligible for JR Pass holders.