Japan is a destination that has drawn us back again and again. We recently returned from our 7th trip over the last 25 years, the last 5 being in the past 4 years. This accelerated pace reflects several factors, including having family there (my mother is Japanese and her family is there), studying Japanese (slooowly) and Japan being a safe and user-friendly destination.
But wait, that’s easy for you to say, you speak some Japanese and you have family there! That’s true, and while that has made it easier, I’d still argue that Japan is a fantastic destination for the traveler and traveling photographer who doesn’t speak a word of Japanese.
Five great reasons to consider travel to Japan
- Personal safety
- Comprehensive, punctual transport system
- Excellent cuisine
- Interesting, diverse culture, from tradition-bound practices to the cutting edge
- Reasonably priced options
Let’s drill down on this closer. I think few would argue with Japan being an extremely safe destination, even for single woman travelers, and the transport system is enviable. In a future post, I’ll focus more closely on transportation specifics. If you eat sushi, you are set for food. Japan can be more difficult for those who don’t eat raw products or seafood. Even many vegetable-based dishes are infused with dashi, a broth made with bonito flakes. The only item on my list that might raise eyebrows would be number 5, reasonable prices.
It’s true, Japan CAN be expensive. But, transportation costs are reasonable, as I’ll delve into in a future post. The sky is the limit when it comes to high-end ryokans and hotels, and Michelin-starred restaurants. That said, I’ve enjoyed traveling in Japan at levels from low budget to high style. There are clean, safe and attractive options at every budget level. Especially now, in the Airbnb era, there are more options than ever. Another factor to consider, Japanese style accommodations may lend themselves to sharing with your traveling companions, with multiple futons available for the asking. It is perfectly possible to find accommodation for $50-100 US/night.
The same goes for food. It is quite possible to spend a small fortune collecting Michelin stars, which is fun to do occasionally. Very satisfying meals can be found relatively cheaply throughout Japan. Along the way, you’ll be able to sample staples of Japanese cuisine that can be relatively hard to find in the US, like okonomiyaki (Japanese pancake, a savory and filling meal).
The most expensive version of okonomiyaki I’ve ever found was less than $20 and many versions are more like $6 US. A delicious meal of gyoza and ramen at one of the multiple branches of my personal favorite Ippudo, including beer, might total $20. Of note, there is no tipping in Japan, greatly simplifying transactions for the traveler and lowering overall costs. On a recent nature photography trip, we ate a surprising number of meals at “konbinis,” convenience stores like Lawsons or 7-11. They have a range of quick meals which are surprisingly edible and cheap. Bonus: they are heated for you as necessary.
Five great reasons to consider Japan as a traveling photographer
- Temples, gardens, and traditional culture
- Seasonal splendor (cherry blossoms and fall color for example)
- Contemporary art and architecture
- Nature and unique wildlife
I hope this introduction has whetted your appetite for a photography trip to Japan! In follow-up articles, I’ll show how to get around, destinations to consider and specific logistics for shooting temples, gardens, scenics, and wildlife you may encounter in your travels to the Land of the Rising Sun.