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Tips on travelling to Japan from Carey Finn

Carey Finn Hails from Cape Town, lives in Tokyo (until further notice). A writer type with a love for languages, tea and cherry blossom trees, she headed to Japan to teach English “for a year or two”, and for some reason is still there five years later. After spending some time in laid-back Osaka, she moved up to the crazy capital that is Tokyo, where she tries to hold onto as much of her sanity, and yen, as possible. You can find her cheapo travel advice at, where she helps people make the most of the city on a shoestring budget.
How well do you know Japan?
I have been living here for five years, and I have travelled around the country a bit, so I know enough to field travel questions. That said, I am still learning myself!

Why should I visit Japan?
Why not visit Japan? Cherry blossoms, samurai spirit, rich history and culture, a landscape dotted with shrines and temples dating back centuries, crazy cafes, anime... book your ticket already!

What is the first thing you do when arriving? 
Buy a rice ball (onigiri) from a convenience store (conbini) and try to guess what is inside. Savour your surroundings while you munch.

When is the best time of year to visit Japan?
Spring (March-April) and autumn (October-November) are the best times of year to visit, as that is when the weather is at its most pleasant, and the trees are at their most beautiful. Spring is the season for plum and cherry blossoms, when the whole country is brushed pink and simply beautiful. And in autumn, the trees are enflamed in brilliant oranges and reds.

Where would you send a first-time visitor? 
To Tokyo, Osaka, Kyoto, Nara and Hiroshima.

How long should I spend in Japan?
2-3 weeks is ideal.

What do I need to pack for a trip to Japan?
What you need to pack really depends on what time of year you are visiting. Summer is sauna-like, winter, frosty. Bring a phrasebook, back-up cash and travel plug. And comfortable shoes as you are probably going to be doing a lot of walking!

Are there any places that are overrated, or best avoided?
The trains, during the morning and evening rush. 

What are some of your favourite local dishes?
Sashimi and sushi, udon, soba and ramen noodles (especially soy milk ramen!), sticky rice (mochi), red bean sweets and all the unusual flavours of Kit Kat!

What is something most people don't know about Japan?
Robots are not as prevalent as the movies would have you believe. Also, people sometimes bow on the phone (I do too these days).

What should I bring home?
Said unusual flavours of Kit Kat, something from the 100-yen shop, a set of snazzy chopsticks, roasted green tea, a kimono or yukata, a Japanese fan, purikura photos, good memories.

What is the best thing to do with children?
Um … take them with you? Public transport is pretty family-friendly, and there are family-restaurants all over the place, not to mention theme parks and heaps of arcades.