Three Tips to Travel Off the Beaten Path in Japan
Sweaty crowds, overpriced products, menus with more than 3 cuisine options... These are just the tip of the iceberg when it comes to problems with popular travel destinations. For some of people, pushing through a crowd to get a glimpse of the Hachiko statue in Shibuya is enough, but for others, connecting with local people and heritage is where they really thrive. If you’re the latter, then read on to find your way off the beaten path.
The way off the beaten path starts at home. You have to plan - from the get go - to take the more demanding, but more rewarding path. Here are a few tips from what I’ve learned about immersing oneself more fully into a culture:
1. Live in a residential area
This is the beauty of home sharing platforms such as AirBnB, VRBO, etc. You now have full access to the homes of local residents! These properties are for the most part in residential areas and may be trickier to find on your own as they are off the beaten path; but this exploration is how you will truly discover the local culture.
Living in a residential area means seeing the daily lives of local people, including the restaurants they frequent, the way they dress, and many other subtle things you won’t be able to notice at busy travel sites. In local joints, you’ll find more genuine service as well— because for the most part, people are more patient with travelers and treat them with more care.
2. Learn a little bit of the language
This is so necessary for a truly off the beaten path travel experience. On this path, people are less accustomed to travelers, and thus will likely not speak as much English (unless you’re visiting an English speaking country, of course). So for basic operations, like buying groceries or ordering food, you will need very basic knowledge of the language. Local people are also often very appreciative when travelers make an effort to learn the language. It shows that you genuinely care about the culture and are there to learn.
3. Say yes to all opportunities (within reason)
I was once told by a backpacker in Japan to just say “yes” to everything and you will end up in the most random and fascinating situations and experiences. The more open you are to new experiences, the more you end up discovering. The more you do, the more people you meet and those people will create even more opportunities for you to uncover the unique culture.