The Essential Japan Travel Guide

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For hundreds of years, Japan was a society and culture closed to foreigners and outside influence. But today, after the opening of the country, industrialization, and two World Wars, Japan is one of the top travel destinations in the world.

And for good reason: It’s almost impossible to log-on to social media without seeing another friend’s Instagram shot of Tokyo’s vibrant neon lights, a snap of Kyoto’s ancient temples, a video of mouthwatering cuisine, or a link to an online shop filled with their modern, effortlessly minimalist design. Over the past year, three Manual writers had the pleasure of exploring Japan for a combined period of a month. Experiencing the very best of Japanese cuisine, cocktails, hospitality, culture, and entertainment, formed the basis for our essential Japan travel guide. We hope the people we met and the places we visited will inspire and aid you on your next adventure to this unique and welcoming country.

Travel Tip: When flying into Tokyo, opt for Haneda Airport rather than Narita. Haneda is a half hour closer to the city by train.

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The Ultimate Tokyo Travel Guide

Tokyo Japan, Japan travel guide

Vibrant, electrifying, and massive beyond comprehension, Japan’s capital city of Tokyo is one of those places that exceeds your expectations in ways you could never imagine. Our writer, Amanda Gabriele lays out the best places to eat, drink, stay, and play in Japan’s version of the city that never sleeps. See a robot show, have a drink at the Lost in Translation bar, shop to your minimalist heart’s content, and eat more ramen and udon than a human body should be able to process and follow it all up with a relaxing stay at some of the finest hotels in the world. In Tokyo, you can have your noodles and eat them, too.

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Find Inner Peace at a Ryokan, a Traditional Japanese Inn

Ryokan, a Traditional Japanese Inn

Staying at one of Japan’s traditional inns, or ryokans, is truly like stepping back in time to a world where floors are covered in tatami mats, your bed is a soft mattress placed on the floor, dinner is served in-room in kaiseki fashion (multiple courses of small, local and seasonal dishes), and all-day robe-wearing is required. Add in the fact that the oldest continually operating hotel in the world is a Japanese ryokan (dating from 705 AD), and you’ll understand why a night in a ryokan is a must for anyone visiting Japan.

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The Hilton Odawara is Japanese Hotel Luxury at its Finest

Hilton Odawara

If your first stop in Japan is Tokyo, Odawara should be your second. Located just a half-hour south of Tokyo (by bullet train, of course), Odawara is a seaside town nestled along Sagami Bay that is beloved by both tourists and locals alike for it’s beautiful scenery and abundance of options for relaxation. The Hilton Odawara takes Amanda Gabriele’s top spot for places to stay while visiting this Pacific-adjacent reprieve from the bustle of Japan’s larger cities.

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Wander through Japan’s Historic Capital with our Travel Guide to Kyoto

guide to kyoto

While it’s no Tokyo or Osaka, Japan’s former Imperial capital is no slouch when it comes to culture, entertainment, and food. Follow along with Amanda Gabriele as she offers her insight into the best places to eat, play, and stay in the country’s best-preserved historic city.

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Travel Tip: Print out the name and address of your hotel in Japanese to hand to your taxi driver to prevent information from being lost in translation.

Japanese Train Suite Shiki-Shima is So Luxe it Requires an Application to Ride

Japanese Train

Known for both their design sense and amazingly-fast bullet-trains, Japan’s new luxury train, The Train Suite Shiki-Shima is so luxurious and exclusive it requires an application to ride. And with a wait list already two years long, this might be the closets you’ll come to one of the 17 sleeping suites spread out over six elegantly appointed train cars.

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Japan’s Second City: The Only Osaka Travel Guide You’ll Ever Need

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The Japanese are known around the world for their apparently flawless skin, including the men. The reality is, they have such great skin because they have great products. Here are a few of our favorite Japanese men’s grooming products you should pick up next time you’re in the country.

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A Peek Inside the Secretive, Rarified World of Japan’s Geisha

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Our writer Elizabeth Dahl clears up some common misconceptions about Japanese Geisha–they are not prostitutes–and outlines the lengthy and difficult process Japanese women go through to become one of the country’s most iconic symbols of culture and heritage.

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Travel Tip: Print out the name and address of your hotel in Japanese to hand to your taxi driver to prevent information from being lost in translation.

Onsen Etiquette: 7 Rules for How to Hot Spring in Japan

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A visit to Japan is not complete without a dip in one of Japan’s many hot springs, or onsen. But, like most things that involve hot water and nudity, there are rules that you must follow when entering an onsen. Chase McPeak outlines the seven major rules you must follow in an onsen, with a few extra tips thrown in for a worry-free soak.

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The History and Growth of Japanese Whisky

Nikka Whisky

From sake brewing in the 1700s to Scotch-influenced whisky distilling in the early 20th century, Sam Slaughter traces the rise and growth of Japanese whisky distilling from its early beginnings to its modern, worldwide popularity.

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Shake Up Your Sake Routine with these Easy Sake Cocktails

Japanese sake

For those who aren’t experts on Japanese drinking culture (read: most of us), sake is that rice spirit served warm in sushi bars during happy hour. During his trip to Japan, Sam Slaughter learned there was so much more to sake than meets than eye, including a use for it in easy, delicious cocktails.

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Travel Tip: Try to learn a few words in Japanese, such as thank you (“a-ri-ga-tō”).

Have Your Japanese Beer and Mix it, too, with Kirin Ichiban Beertails

japanese beertails

A beertail, in case you didn’t know, is a cocktail made with beer as one of the main ingredients and the Japanese are crazy for them. From the Shandygaff to the Grilled Cherry Blossom to the Mango Brew-jito, these beertails each feature one of Japan’s favorite and most ubiquitous of beers: Kirin Ichiban and we’ve got the recipes for all of them.

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Introducing Yamazaki Mizunara, a New Whisky Aged in Japanese Oak

Single Malt Whisky

For any whisky, being aged for 18 years lends a certain specific quality of taste to the spirit that can’t be replicated in any other way. Suntory, the famed Japanese whisky brand, wanted to go further than simply creating an age-statement whisky, they wanted to create an age-statement whisky that was completely unique to Japan. Spirits Editor, Sam Slaughter, provides the background for this wonder of Japanese whisky.

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Japanese Wine: 6 Sakes for Beginners to Sample

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We’ve already given you everything you need to know about sake cocktails, now learn about the best types of sakes with which to make those cocktails. Kanpai! (That’s “cheers” in Japanese.)

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INC & SONS Eschews Japanese Tradition and Leads the Way for Modern Osaka Dining

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Osaka is home to many traditional Japanese restaurants. INC & SONS is not one of them. Amanda Gabriele sat down with food and beverage director Yusuke Fujita to talk the eatery’s blending of eastern and western flavors, cooking for the season, what’s hot in the cocktail world (including aging your own whisky), what albums he’s listening to right now, and the uniquely Japanese tradition of “keep bottles.

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Be a Matcha Matcha Man with Whip Up These 4 Matcha Cocktails

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In a country that has an entire elaborate ceremony based on making and serving tea, it’s not suprising that the Japanese have gotten the art of the matcha cocktail down to a science. Spirits editor, Sam Slaughter reveals recipes for matcha cocktails to help you get your green drinks going.

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More than Just Whisky and Soda: Understanding the Japanese Highball

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Normally a quick and refreshing drink in the US, the highball in Japan is elevated to an art in the many cocktail bars and watering holes that dot the country. This simple drink of whisky and soda is treated and crafted with the same respect and dedication as a five-ingredient cocktail.

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Japanese Food

Casa De Sarasa Serves Japan’s Most Authentic Mexican Food

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It took a Japanese DJ living, working, and loving Mexican cuisine to start up Casa De Sarasa, which dishes out authentic, hand-made tacos to the ever-hungry denizens of Tokyo. Amanda Gabriele sat down with DJ Sarasa to get the scoop on why and how she brought such a seemingly incongruent food to the Land of the Rising Sun.

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Travel Tip: Tipping is considered rude in Japan and is never, ever done.

5 Katana-Sharp Japanese Knives Your Kitchen Needs Now

japanese knives

Japan’s reputation for creating some of the world’s sharpest swords and knives is not undeserved (let’s all take a moment to praise and respect the simplicity and functionality of the Japanese katana). With thousands of years of metal-smithing behind them, these five Japanese knives are exactly what’s been missing from your kitchen’s cutting board.

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A Life-Affirming Form of Ramen Waits for You in a Tokyo Train Station

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Tucked away in a busy Tokyo train station is a small restaurant specializing in tsukemen, a truly unique form of ramen. This isn’t your store-bought Top Ramen or even the much-loved version we know from Japanese restaurants in the States. As writer Elizabeth Dahl notes, “Tsukemen differs from traditional ramen in two big ways: the noodles and soup are served separately, and the broth for tsukemen is thicker to better coat the noodles dipped in it.” Are you hungry yet?

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The Weird and Wonderful World of Japanese Convenience Stores

Japanese Convenience Stores

If you think your corner bodega has it all, trust us when we say it ain’t got nothing on Japanese convenience stores. Conbini or konbini, as they’re known in Japan, provide not only life essentials like aspirin and beer, but also absolutely delicious (and absolutely safe!) Japanese food.

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Travel Tip: Always bow politely when you meet someone, thank them, or say good bye.

How to Make Sushi at Home

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Sushi is arguably Japan’s most famous dish, but it also has a reputation for being notoriously difficult to make. Step behind the bar with Kyoto native Yuichiro ‘Junior’ Takebata of Miyabi Sushi Bar in Charleston, South Carolina, as Chef Takebata offers his tips and recipes for simple at home sushi rolls.

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Ring Jacket Has Perfected Professional Japanese Style

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It’s no secret that the Japanese are sartorial stars. With their pared-down aesthetic and attention to quality materials and details, suiting in Japan outshines its American counterpart. A major player in the Japanese suiting game, Ring Jacket, has been in production since 1954. Fashionisto Christopher Blomquist interviews Ring Jacket’s head of its North American division and shares what makes this Japanese export a favorite of  style-conscious professionals both at home and abroad.

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Travel Tip: If you’re planning on visiting more than one city while in Japan, buy a rail pass in advance and enjoy headache-free bullet-train travel.

Shuttle Notes: A Japanese Brand Worth Noting

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With a long-standing background in textile manufacturing, Japanese Menswear brand, Shuttle Notes offers up some of the best shirting that side of the International Date Line. Christopher Blomquist details the brand’s strengths and takes a peek at this seasons’s best.

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 Japan-based Goldwin Ski Apparel Crafts Olympic-level Sportswear

goldwin ski japan

Since starting in 1950 as a maker of wool hiking socks, Goldwin burst onto the international scene in the 1960s with its finely knit ski sweaters and then other ski apparel that quickly became a brand of Olympians. Of the 16 Japanese Gold Medalists at the 1964 Tokyo Summer Games, 12 we wearing Goldwin. And the tradition continues to this day with streamline, modern, minimalist ski gear and lifestyle collections. Check out Clay Abney’s top three Goldwin product pics below.

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Teton Brothers is the Japanese Backcountry Brand You Need to Know

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Like most great outerwear and outdoor gear brands, Teton Brothers was founded by an actual outdoorsman, Japanese mountaineer, Nori Suzuki who wanted alpine and winter outdoor gear that was as rugged as the brands he found in the ski-crazy Western US. With the success of his first prototype, the TB Jacket, Teton Brothers brand was recognized for its quality material and simple, functional design. There’s no better Japanese brand for winter wear. Don’t believe us? Check out our three favorite products.

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Snow Peak is Japan’s One-Stop-Shop for Outdoor Gear (and You Can Get it in the US)

snowpeak japan

Serving as Japan’s one-stop-shop for all things backpacking and outdoor, Snowpeak offers up some of the cleverest (and lightest) backcountry gear around. Clay Abney outlines are favorite products that are currently available from this nearly 60-year-old outfitter.

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Food & Drink

Heading to Hawaii? Make Your Reservations at Manta Restaurant to Eat Big Island Beef

How can cattle raised in Hawaii stand-up to beef carefully coddled for years in Japan, Australia, and the mainland U.S.? Pretty damn easily, that's how.

21 Best Travel Books to Inspire Your Next Adventure

Get out of town ... or just go to the library. Travel books simulate the sensations of sailing, sightseeing, and setting out to explore.

You Can ‘Find Yourself’ on these Ultra-Luxurious, Wellness-Inspired Tours

It's so much easier to "find yourself" amid Egyptian cotton sheets and daily spa treatments.
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Compass Box’s New Whisky, Stranger & Stranger, Contains 1-Year-Old Spirit

Stranger & Stranger is whisky it isn't technically whisky. Does that make it or break it for you?

Travel Switzerland Like a Gentleman Aboard the Luxury Glacier Express

You can sip cognac like a sophisticate aboard Europe's most iconic and breathtaking rail journey.

Detroit’s Shinola Hotel Has Us Feeling Right At Home

With stylish guest suites and a social “living room,” the Shinola Hotel honors the Motor City’s past while looking to a bright future.

‘App in the Air’ Could Help Travelers Survive the Next Government Shutdown

It's like an airport survival kit in your pocket. It will be handy long after the government shutdown ends (again).

The Best Travel and Adventure Documentaries on Netflix Right Now

If you're reading this, you're staring at a screen. Wouldn't you rather be exploring a different part of the world than the Internet?

4 of the Most Dangerous Hikes in the World

You'll need a healthy dose of fear and a desire to push your self to the edge — just not over it.

The Palms Casino’s Newest High-Roller Suites Have a Bowling Alley and Whiskey Room

The Hardwood Suite is a basketball-centric masterpiece, while the Kingpin suite is a bowling bro's paradise.

Celebrate Your Single-ness This Valentine’s Day with a Cheap Vacation

Contiki is looking to make solo celebrations even better with deeply discounted travel packages for Singles Awareness Day.

Win a Private Island Getaway for You and 7 of Your Closest Friends

Bring the entire squad on an ultra-luxe Belizean getaway worthy of a one-percenter.

10 Reasons to Visit Norway in 2019

The picturesque ruggedness of Norway is just part of the appeal of what may arguably be one of the most beautiful countries on the planet.

The Jamaican Villa Where Ian Fleming Created James Bond is for Rent and It Is Amazing

You can vacation at the birthplace of secret agent 007, complete with butlers to make your martinis.