A gap year in Japan is guaranteed to be an eye-opening experience for gap year travellers. Japan blends the ancient and futuristic like no other country. Of all the developed nations in the world it exudes uniqueness in cultural and technological terms, not bowing to globalisation in quite the same way as most western destinations.
Japan is a wonderfully safe option for a career break or extended holiday and appeals to many different types of traveller and tourist. Tokyo is one of the busiest and most captivating cities in the world and whilst it can seem chaotic, it is uber-modern and runs with hard-to- believe efficiency. At the other end of the spectrum, Japan has a vast number of picturesque rural villages and remote communities that are perfect for those wanting to escape the modern world.
Japan is also a delight for gastronomes, with Tokyo having more Michelin-starred restaurants than any other city. As well as unbeatable top-end eating, Japan is also famed for more rustic dishes such as ramen and, of course, sushi. Eating out in Japan is also relatively inexpensive, which may surprise many, and further adds to its allure for food-lovers.
Kyoto in many ways epitomises Japan and again it is the blend of the ancient and the modern that adds to its fascination. Formerly the capital city, Kyoto is renowned for its Shinto and Buddhist shrines, temples and impeccably kept gardens, several of which are designated UNESCO World Heritage sites. However, it also offers marvellous people-watching opportunities, brilliant night life and incredible food.
There are a huge range of options for anyone visiting Japan, be it for a few weeks, or for a year or more. Teaching English is perhaps the most popular option in a country thirty for knowledge, whilst volunteer programmes to help the country’s large elderly population, assist in schools or undertake conservation work are also possibilities. However, lesser known opportunities exist to work in ski resorts, such as the relatively undiscovered Tenjindaira, in farming communities and in more casual roles in the major cities. An internship at one of Japan’s many multi-nationals is also a possibility for those so inclined.
Of course, if your time in Japan is going to be more of a holiday, the options as a tourist are even wider. Hiking and trekking is a brilliant way to spend anything from an afternoon to a few days. The more adventurous could climb the 3,776m of the iconic Mount Fuji, the picture perfect epitome of a snow capped volcano. Newcomers are sure to enjoy the peaceful bamboo forests and remote shrines of the ancient Nakasendo Way. Just keep an eye out for bears!
Other highlights include the endless miles of coastline, countless islands and numerous stunning beaches, such as the idyllic Yonaha Maehama on Miyako Island. Lovers of history will also fall in love with the country. Whether your interest is ancient temples, tails of geishas, the samurai and shoguns or the more modern tragedies at Nagasaki and Hiroshima, the past is ever-present in Japan.
Travelling to Japan is incredibly safe and easy compared to many other gap year destinations. Most visitors do not need a visa, there are usually no health concerns (as ever, check the Foreign and Commonwealth Office travel advice to be sure) and getting around is quick and easy thanks to the inexpensive and extremely efficient rail network.
Japan has one of the lowest crime rates in the world and whilst common sense should be exercised it is usually safe to walk around and use public transport at any time of the day or night. Last but certainly not least, it is well worth noting that Japan is surprisingly affordable. The Post Office’s 2018 Holiday Money Report found Tokyo to be the cheapest long haul holiday destination. Using their holiday “shopping basket”, Japan’s capital came out cheaper than Cape Town, Bali and even Vietnam’s Hoi An!