Japan isn’t just the Land of the Rising Sun – it’s a place where you can explore the latest and greatest technology, traditions that date back centuries, and artisan craftsmanship taken to its very highest levels.
In this episode of Out Travel the System, host Nisreene Atassi delves into the infinite possibilities of Japan with the help of Rie Homura, Japan Area Manager for Expedia, and Shayla Silva, a social media manager for Expedia.
Take in their tips for how to start researching the many, many, many things you can do in Japan, when the time is right for you to travel. That includes where to stay, what to see, and how to save yourself some money – like the JR Rail pass specifically designed for tourists.
From cherry blossoms to hidden gem dining spots to when you can spot Godzilla, this episode of Out Travel the System takes a deep dive into your next dream vacation.
-it is not the usual custom to tip in restaurants
-many places are strictly ‘shoes off’, so make sure you’re wearing clean socks in good condition!
Japan, The Land of Infinite Travel Possibilities
Nisreene Atassi: It’s a land of great contrasts, a place where ancient traditions flourish next to the world’s leading technology companies, a place where you can find the busiest cities in the world just hours away from the most calming spots in nature. Today, we’ll be setting off on our last destination deep dive for the season, so pack your bags because we’re taking a virtual trip to Japan.
Nisreene Atassi: I’m Nisreene Atassi and this is Out Travel the System. For me, I know I’ve landed in one of my favorite places, when after my first trip, I can confidently say I wish I lived here and Japan was no different.
From the time I landed in Tokyo, I was instantly swept away by the culture, the people and the energy of Japan, which is why I’m so excited to finally get a chance to talk about it today. It’s been on my list for quite some time, so I can’t wait to dig in and share all of our amazing tips with all of you. As always, I’m not alone on my exploration of this destination. Here with me is Rie Homura, Area Manager in Japan for Expedia. So glad you could be with us here today, Rie. Welcome.
Rie Homura: Konichiwa, thank you for having me.
Nisreene Atassi: Also here with me is Shayla Silva, social media manager for Expedia. Welcome, Shayla.
Shayla Silva: Hi, thanks for having me.
Nisreene Atassi: There’s a game I always play in these destination deep dive episodes. I’m going to shake things up by doing it right off the bat. Rie, you’re my contestant today. It’s rapid- fire style based on a traveler looking for a specific type of experience. Say the location that first comes to mind, okay?
Rie Homura: Yeah. Sounds awesome.
Nisreene Atassi: Okay. Beach.
Rie Homura: Okinawa.
Nisreene Atassi: Family friendly.
Rie Homura: Family friendly, anywhere.
Nisreene Atassi: Outdoor adventure.
Rie Homura: In the spring, Shimanami Kaido, in, the summer, I would say Nagano and for winter sports, I’d say Niseko.
Nisreene Atassi: Okay. What about nightlife and dining?
Rie Homura: Nightlife and dining, hands down Tokyo.
Nisreene Atassi: Okay. And then finally, heritage and culture.
Rie Homura: The obvious answer would be Kyoto. I would say Nagasaki.
Nisreene Atassi: Okay. Why is Kyoto the obvious answer?
Rie Homura: Kyoto is very famous for their temples and shrines. They have a very rich history as well. It was where the imperial family first started to take residence, so it’s a very important site for our Japanese people as well. And I think when people picture Japanese culture, history, most people think of Kyoto, but there are actually a lot of different across Japan that has interesting cultural backgrounds and I think Nagasaki is one of them.
Nisreene Atassi: Awesome. This is why I absolutely love playing this game because I think it showcases the depth and breadth of a destination. I feel like so many people are just completely unaware that Japan can have outdoor adventure when they travel to Japan. Let’s dig into some of these locations a bit more. So you told us a little bit about Kyoto, which was great. In a nutshell, can you sort of talk about some of the other places that you mentioned that people should consider checking out while they’re visiting Japan?
Rie Homura: Sure. I mean, Japan has a lot to offer. For instance, for the beaches, I mentioned Okinawa. This place has one of the biggest aquariums in the world, but it’s also a very famous diving spot, very coveted among divers around the globe. There’s actually a lot of different islands within the premises of Okinawa that you can discover as well. If you’re very lucky, you get to see turtles and manta rays. It’s just a very wonderful beach resort type place to go. And then the Kansai region is just hustle and bustle. You can go to Nara where you can greet deer and see the castle in Himeji and then the colorful lights of Osaka. Everything’s really wonderful.
Nisreene Atassi: Rie, if people want to check out more than one city on their trip to Japan, does it make sense to fly or to drive or maybe even take a train? What do you recommend?
Rie Homura: Yeah, so transportation in Japan is overall great. They’re very reliable and very well connected. We have airports in all the main cities and high- speed railways and bullet trains that connect the entire country. If you’re traveling to Hokkaido, which is at the very north of Japan or Okinawa, which is at the very south of Japan, I would suggest you take a flight there. It’s only a couple of hours, maybe an hour and a half to Hokkaido and two hours to Okinawa. I think it’s easier by flight. Otherwise, if you’re traveling across the country, the only place that the bullet train doesn’t reach is Okinawa.
So you could travel to anywhere in Japan, very easily, using the high- speed railways. If you’re doing this, I suggest you buy a JR Rail Pass. It’s very convenient and a very budget friendly way to travel across a Japan. If you want to experience the nature and little nooks and crannies of Japan that are not reachable by the train, then I would suggest to driving. You can rent a car and easily drive across Japan as well. And actually the rest stops in Japan, they are very, very famous for being tourist destinations as well, because they often serve a lot of local delicacies within the rest stops as well and they’re very, very clean.
Nisreene Atassi: Okay. Shayla, let’s turn to you. What prompted you to travel to Japan?
Shayla Silva: Yeah, so Japan has been on my bucket list for probably as long as I can remember. I’m actually a quarter Japanese and my mother is half, so it’s been part of my life for a long time and I’d always wanted to go there to experience that part of my heritage. So that is why I went with my mom for the first time. It was really amazing to be able to see a lot of the things that I thought was just always part of things that my family did, but it’s actually part of everyday life in Japan. So that part was really important for me as a reason to go, besides all the depth and breadth of stuff that Japan really offers. We stayed six nights in Tokyo and I think we packed in everything possible into that trip.
Nisreene Atassi: How did you go about planning your trip and what tips would you have for our listeners who might be doing the same?
Shayla Silva: A lot of my research actually took place on Instagram. I basically, over a long period of time, saved a bunch of posts and made collections of specific areas that I wanted to visit. Spoilers, it was mainly food, and apart from that, I actually just asked people. I knew a few people who had gone and they had novels of information to give me. Seriously, if you just ask someone who’s visited, I feel like they are so eager to give you advice about what you should see and do in Japan, so that actually ended up being the most valuable to me. But apart from that, if there was something I wanted to delve in a bit more, YouTube is really the place to go if you want to really get a step- by- step of certain areas or activities and things you want to do.
Nisreene Atassi: I like this idea of creating a digital scrapbook, which it sounds like you did as well of just grabbing all of the pictures and all the places and sort of putting them into one location, so whether it’s saving them on Instagram or creating a Pinterest board or even, I just did a word document at the time when I went and just started dumping everything in there and then actually while I was on the flight, I went through and I just made some final decisions and cut some things out based on what I felt like I could squeeze in. So how did you go about picking your flight and hotel and things like that?
Shayla Silva: Being that it was an international trip, things can obviously start to add up, but I found that the cheapest option was bundling the flight and hotel together on Expedia. I literally went through every single combination of flights and hotels doing them alone and this saved me the most money.
Nisreene Atassi: It does take a little bit of time to find some of the different combinations, but when you find the right pairing of a hotel and a flight, you can definitely get some really good savings. So Shayla, I’m going to play a little clue that will help us to figure out exactly where you ended up staying.
Shayla Silva: So that is The Godzilla Hotel, or its official name, which is Hotel Gracery Shinjuku. It’s located in the heart of the Kabukicho area in Shinjuku, and it’s really, really close to the Shinjuku Station, so it made it the perfect home base to be able to go out and explore. But as the name stated, it was all Godzilla themed and it has a giant Godzilla head on top of the hotel and at certain hours of the day, you could go out and puts on a little show for you. And the bonus is that it was also an Expedia VIP Access hotel, so I got a ton of fun little perks when I got there for being a member so it was a really nice and quirky experience.
Nisreene Atassi: Throughout the season, we’ve been talking a lot about how now more so than ever, the place that you stay really adds to the experience of your trip. I think before it was sort of just a place to rest your head. Rie, there is absolutely no shortage of hotel options in Japan. What tips do you have for people looking to save money while booking some accommodations?
Rie Homura: If you want to be really, really budget conscious, I would recommend you stay at a capsule hotel. It’s actually quite an experience in and of itself because you get this little pod for yourself that you slide into. You can sit up in it, but otherwise there’s not much room to move around in it. The trade- off with the space is that it’s very, very economical. So it’s maybe about 50 or $ 60 a night to stay at a capsule hotel. Otherwise, we also offer an array of different types of hotels, like hostels and also two star, three star business hotels. These are actually very, very… They’re the equivalent of maybe a three star or a four star hotel in Europe. They are very, very clean and nice to stay at.
Nisreene Atassi: That’s a really good tip for those who are a little bit more budget conscious. I think so many of us might be afraid to look at things like hostels because we have this image in our head of what they might be like. And it sounds like when you’re traveling throughout Japan, they’re newer and a little bit cleaner than what you might expect, so I think that’s a really great tip. I’ve also heard that B& Bs, or bed and breakfast, accommodations are quite popular and available in Japan. Can you tell us a little bit more about those?
Rie Homura: Sure. The B&B’s that you’re speaking about are called Minshuku. They’re family oriented, Japanese style, bed and breakfast, and they’re a great opportunity to meet local families and experience the traditional Japanese lifestyle. Usually they are located around tourist areas, some even have hot springs, so if you really like bathing, it’s a very great place to go as well. Going back, they’re also really quite affordable, between 50 to 100 USD a night, and it usually includes dinner and breakfast as well, and they’re relatively easy to book online. Similar to the ryokan , the Minshuku, they usually have Japanese style tatami rooms with futons. And when you say futons in the U. S., I think there’s an image that it’s a sofa, but it’s actually just bedding right directly on the tatami mat, but it’s very, very comfy. One thing that you would notice that the bathroom is usually shared, so if you’re a big germaphobe, then maybe I don’t recommend it, but again, they’re very, very clean, impeccably clean. If you want local tips as well, you can usually get a lot of tips from these families who run these businesses because they really like providing hospitality and experiences to the travelers.
Nisreene Atassi: Yeah, I love that. So many different types of accommodations that oftentimes we really just don’t think about, but they can really change the type of trip and experience that you’re having, so I’m glad we got a chance to go through some of those. So whether you are obsessed with food like me or all about anime, we have lots of suggestions ahead for what to do while you’re in Japan, so stay with us.
Nisreene Atassi: I’m Nisreene Atassi, and this is Out Travel the System. In every episode this season, we’ve made it our mission to both inspire and inform travelers. Whether you’re planning to fly off somewhere this year, or simply planning ahead and researching a bucket list trip in the future, we always strive to bring you news you can use about the world of travel. Catch up on previous episodes on your preferred podcast player and send us your ideas for future episodes anytime. We’re at Expedia, on Instagram, Twitter, and Facebook.
Nisreene Atassi: We are back and we are here with Rie Homura of Expedia Japan and social media manager, Shayla Silva, who jam- packed a ton into her last trip to Japan. We simply can’t talk about traveling to Japan without talking about the food. Our listeners know that food and travel is a huge passion of mine and it sounds like it is for Shayla as well. And some of my favorite meals, while traveling, have been actually, while I was in Japan. I will never forget eating ramen from a kiosk or finding some random one- off place in the Japanese fish market that had some of the most delicious Kobe beef skewers that I’ve ever had. So first, I want to actually play another clip before we dig in. Okay. Shayla, can you tell us what’s going on here?
Shayla Silva: Yeah. So this is from a conveyor belt sushi restaurant, specifically in Shibuya, but they’re all over. They’re really affordable, but I would say the novelty is that each person gets their own little touch screen where you order off of, which can be very dangerous, but the food comes on a little train and that’s the noise it makes when it arrives.
Nisreene Atassi: I’d say probably one of the most unique things about Japan that I saw when I was there is, you order food there like nowhere else in the world, whether it’s a vending machine that gives you a ticket or your food’s coming from a kiosk and then a train. I mean, the whole thing is just so innovative and unique and it could be just the smallest meal or snack, but just that whole experience I think adds so much fun. So Shayla, obviously the train sushi was fantastic, but what were some of the other most memorable meals that you had while you were there?
Shayla Silva: Gosh, so much. I swear, all I did was eat when I was in Japan, but one of my most memorable was one that I actually made myself. It was a restaurant where you can make your own okonomiyaki, which is a Japanese pancake, but it’s savory and I got to mix all of the ingredients and then I cook it right in front of me.
Nisreene Atassi: How did you go about planning and figuring out all of these different types of food places that you wanted to eat out?
Shayla Silva: Instagram is a really great place to find out where the locals are eating, so that is where I found the majority of some really amazing dishes. But the other thing I will say is when I was in Tokyo, it felt like anywhere we walked into was going to really be a great experience because there was a couple of times I did have to have a plan B because a certain restaurant maybe wasn’t open at that time. Especially with some of the smaller places, you can get tripped up on maybe it’s not open on a particular weekday, but there were a couple of times where we just went into the first place we came across and it was really just as good as what I was looking for. One of my favorite places was in one of the alleyways in Shinjuku was this very, very tiny ramen stall. I think I paid the equivalent of $2 for it and it was the best meal that I had there.
Nisreene Atassi: So Rie, I want to ask you something really quickly because you hear a lot about 7- Elevens in Japan and Tokyo, specifically, having really unique and amazing sandwiches.
Rie Homura: 7- Eleven and actually any convenience store has great food. They actually have TV programs in Japan where they have people vote and rank what their favorite dish in each of the convenience store is.
Nisreene Atassi: I love that.
Rie Homura: There’s this huge battle between the convenience store chains, so 7-Eleven, there’s FamilyMart, there’s Lawson. They’re all really great. One thing that I would recommend if you’re in the cold season, I would recommend you order the nikuman. It’s a hot bun with meat inside. You can also order it with a pizza flavor or a Mexican flavor. They have different flavors and they also have sweet buns as well. But if it’s a cold season, I highly recommend getting that. You can just eat it as you go and it’s probably about two bucks or so. If it’s a warm season, they actually have private branded ice creams in the convenience stores as well, which are really, really good.
Shayla Silva: There was a 7- Eleven beneath the hotel that I stayed at and I can agree. We went there every single morning to pick up snacks or something to eat. It was a really reliable place while we were there. I loved it.
Nisreene Atassi: Yeah. And I didn’t even know that about the convenience stores or the 7- Eleven before I went, but same, there was a 7- Eleven right next to my hotel, so I landed and I went over there just to grab a few things that I needed, like toiletries and whatnot, but I saw just so many different items, mainly so many different iced coffee drinks and green tea drinks and everything green tea flavored and I ended up going every single day. Don’t shy away from that convenience store just because you think it’s got nothing in it. That’s my tip for everyone. All right, Rie, tell me about some of the things that travelers can actually go and experience that might be a little bit more unique or something that they may not have heard of. I’ve heard that you can go and see what it’s like to actually be a Buddhist monk.
Rie Homura: As you have mentioned, not many people know that you can actually stay at some of the temples throughout Japan. So these are called Shukubo. They’re originally meant for people who are going on pilgrimages, but now it’s very accessible and open to a lot of people and they exist across Japan. Anywhere you can find a temple, there’s a high chance that there is a Shukubo there. These are great places to stay because most of the temples, they’re in very quiet, deep in the mountains, serene locations. Some of them, they have very strict rules and they have particular activities that you would partake in such as the morning rituals, where you go into the temple and you hear the monks chant as you sit in the back. There’s also Shukubos that have you help them clean the facilities. It’s a very, very grounding experience that you probably can’t get anywhere else in the world. Please check it out.
Nisreene Atassi: Do you think it’s worth the hype for travelers to come specifically during cherry blossom season?
Rie Homura: It’s really beautiful, especially when you see the cherry blossoms fluttering in the wind. It is really difficult to come at the perfect timing. Cherry blossoms, they actually bloom as early as late March and as late as early May, so you actually have a window about one month or two months to actually see the cherry blossoms. So what I would recommend you to do if you need to book in advance is come during the season that you think they would bloom, but once you arrive in Japan, do a quick Instagram check or check on the internet to see where the cherry blossoms are actually blooming and travel to that destination. So it might be towards the south of Japan or the north of Japan, depending on when the cherry blossoms are blooming, because it goes from the south up to the north. It is definitely worth the hype, but also there are a lot of other seasons that are beautiful in Japan that you could visit as well.
In the summer, I mentioned earlier the outdoor experience of the Shimanami Kaido, but this is 70 kilometers of a stretch where you can just bike through and view the beautiful ocean scape with islands here and there. And you can also come in the fall to places like Kyoto, Arashiyama, where you can see the beautiful autumn foliage. So any season, I think, you could find the beautiful nature within Japan.
Nisreene Atassi: Okay. Shayla, there are a lot of high tech experiences in Japan, too, which I think you got a chance to really go and see. Can you tell us a little bit about what you were able to do there?
Shayla Silva: Yeah. The first thing that comes to mind is an experience called teamLab Borderless, which is in the Odaiba area. Literally everyone who I asked for recommendations, this was the first one that came up. I’ll try to explain it, but it’s really something you have to see to experience, but it’s an immersive museum with a lot of digital art installations and frankly, photo ops. It’s really just a very visual museum based on some technology that I don’t know, but it was really just so stunning. I would absolutely go back and do it again. Another experience that I really loved was the Studio Ghibli Museum. I’m a huge fan of the films, so that was a really special experience. They actually don’t let you take any videos or pictures inside because they want you to experience all of the exhibits and I did find that it really helped to enhance the whole visit there.
@shaylersilverperfectly appropriate rainy day at the studio ghibli museum ☔️ ##travelthrowback ##tiktoktravel ##travel ##tokyo ##mitaka ##japan ##studioghibli ##anime♬ 原聲 – jose41000
Nisreene Atassi: If you had to give three tips for a traveler who is looking to head to Japan, what advice would you give them?
Rie Homura: So three tips, I would first recommend to do research because Japan has a lot to offer anything from beach resorts to ski resorts, to outdoor activities to indoor activities, museums, theme parks, everything, Mount Fuji. It really depends on what kind of experience you want to have in Japan, so stay true to your interests and research depending on that. Also I would recommend to pack lightly because you will be buying a lot of things in Japan, for sure, especially the snacks, if you’re a big snack fanatic, or anything from teas to delicacies.
So I would highly recommend to pack lightly so that you can bring a lot home. The last tip I would have is try to talk to people as much as you can so that you can get a local experience here. Japanese people are very, very, very, very shy, but they’re also very, very, very, very willing to help. So if you’re lost or if you want recommendations, they might not be as good as English, so you might have to try a couple of people, but you would definitely get a lot of local information that way, so I highly recommend you try doing that as well.
Shayla Silva: I rented a pocket wifi, so this was so that I could be on my phone pretty much the entire time. It really helped with navigating around the city and looking up things as we went. Another thing was making sure that we took out a lot of cash. Japan is definitely a cash country and a lot of the experiences that we did were cash only. That’s a really big tip that I would make sure that you follow. And then lastly, I bought a Suica card. So this allowed me to go on all of the Metro lines in Japan. So if you’re not doing the JR Rail Pass, the Suica card is really going to help you be able to get around and you can fill it up with as much money as you want, so you can top it up as you go or put a bunch of money and then just take all of the trains to get around and that was super helpful since we were pretty much on the trains all the time.
Nisreene Atassi: I’m really glad you brought up the pocket wifi piece because I completely forgot that that was a huge part of, I think, what helped make my trip in Tokyo just all that much easier because you can actually rent them at the airport, which is super convenient. It’s right after you collect your luggage. There are all these little kiosks that have them. You just need a credit card and your passport and you can go ahead and rent it for however many days that you’re going to be there and then they make it super easy for you to actually just drop off and return the pocket wifi when you go to check in for your flight as you’re leaving as well. So you can get it right from the airport. It makes it super, super easy.
I highly recommend. It was really helpful for me as I was sort of walking around and taking the Metro and that kind of stuff. I’m a big walker as a way to sort of experience a destination, so using Google Maps to be able to walk around and figure out how to get from point A to point B was really important for me, so I’m glad you brought that up, Shayla. My guests today have been Rie Homura, Japan Area Manager for Expedia, as well as Shayla Silva, our Social Media Manager. Thanks both of you for being on the show today. I had so much fun chatting with you.
Rie Homura: Thank you.
Shayla Silva: Yeah, thanks for having us.
Nisreene Atassi: I’m Nisreene Atassi, and this is Out Travel the System brought to you by Expedia. Join us next time as we take a look at how a bucket list trip can mean different things to different people and how one traveler doesn’t let anything get in the way of going wherever he wants to go. Until then, happy travels.