A trip to Japan is high on many people’s bucket list. With its unique culture, complex transport system and unusual food, it can be a confusing place to visit. But travel blogger Alexei ‘Lexx’ Gaynanov says that shouldn’t put you off going to this fascinating country.
Lexx spent weeks travelling around Japan, discovering its more unusual sights and experiences, which he’s written about on his Travel Lexx blog. He offers lots of useful tips for the first-time visitor to Japan, including guidance on one of the first problems a newly arrived person is likely to face – how to use the hi-tech loos! “The toilets in Japan are definitely quite interesting when you first see them,” said Lexx. “The panel resembles an extra large remote control and every button has a different function!”
Lexx said that even the most old fashioned-looking places can often surprise you with modern gadgets. “You’ll go to all these traditional, old-school Japanese restaurants and then you’ll find iPads for ordering your food. Or there’ll be robots walking along department store floors. It can be quite interesting to see the juxtaposition of the modern and the traditional.”
So I was really interested to get Lexx’s views on Japan’s most traditional and cultured city, Kyoto, located around three hours from the capital Tokyo by high-speed bullet train. “You couldn’t find a more different city in my opinion,” Lexx told me. “It’s got so much culture and history woven into the streets. You’re just wandering around seeing incredible castles and temples. I spent four or five days there and I probably didn’t see half of the things that you could see.”
Lexx told me that Kyoto lives up to most people’s vision of Japan. “The Guyon District, which was historically famous for the Geishas, definitely resembles the old Japan, where you can peer into people’s houses and see tatami mats on the floor and where people are having traditional dinners,” he told me. Lexx felt Kyoto was quite ‘touristy’ but said that shouldn’t put you off visiting. “You notice the history and the traditional aspects first and then you notice the hoards of tourists,” he said. “But for the images that people have of Japan – then Kyoto is the place to go to.”
Lexx clearly loved Kyoto, but there was one place in the city that really stood out for him – the Fushimi Inari Shrine, about ten minutes from the city centre. “It’s famous for its thousands of torii gates – orange arches that line the path to the top of the mountain,” explained Lexx. “It’s possible to go all the way to the top, although there isn’t much of a view. It’s more of a religious, sacred place.”
And Lexx recommends setting your alarm clock to really make the most of your time there. “I was at the shrine before six o’clock in the morning, so before sunrise, but it was one of the best things that I’ve ever done,” he said. “There were no other tourists. I was joined only by locals walking their dogs or jogging. I felt like a part of the local life. I’d say hello to people and they’d smile and point me in the right direction up the mountain. I would recommend getting up as early as possible to explore the area.”
Japan has a reputation for being an expensive place to visit, but Lexx told me that’s not necessarily the case. “I really expected it to be super expensive but if you’ve lived in or visited London it won’t come as much of a surprise,” he said. “It’s possible to eat very cheaply if you’re travelling on a budget. Vending machines and convenience stores are absolutely everywhere. You can find a Seven-Eleven store in most places and it’s a good way to grab snacks, drinks and even alcohol.”
To find more great tips on visiting Japan, take a look at TraveLexx.com.