Backpacking has been a growing trend in Asia mainly influenced by westerners who braced the sun and wind on their journey. This course of travelling can be a backbreaker for starters but it can be one of the most rewarding adventures if it is done properly.

Steps to Kyoto Shrine

People say you can never have enough of Japan. Once you visited the country, you would want to go back again. But for a majority, budget remains the biggest hindrance and there is only one way to the limitless exploration of the land of the rising sun–which is backpacking. 

After travelling to all 47 prefectures in Japan, Akira Iwasaki still hasn’t got enough of his home country. The Japanese-born Malaysian is one of the avid backpackers that love to wander and explore with only three things¬–his passport, money and clothes.

Akira overlooking a city view of Ehime, Shikoku

The biggest commitment to backpacking is learning how to live minimally. “It’s a choice between backpacking and fashion,” he laughs. “You can’t have new outfits for everyday wear and women can’t be bringing their whole makeup bag.  After all, the main purpose for travel is to be humble in order to learn and experience new things.”

Tsutenkaku Tower in Osaka

Akira notes that backpacking is flexible travel. You would plan more on how to organise your backpack effectively than your travel itinerary. “At most times, you just go with the flow. You will meet other backpackers on your journey and there will be impromptu trips together.” 

Having said that, be prepared for the inevitable loud snoring and unhygienic roommates in dorm rooms. Privacy becomes a privilege in this form of travel and in exchange, you will make a string of close friends across the globe. 

Japan has endless discoveries. Although the main reason for most people to travel is to see the country’s main attractions, Akira advises to best keep it to just half the itinerary. “Sightseeing is okay but spend more time doing hands-on activities. There is plenty to do in Japan from knife-making in Nagoya to lacquerware painting, fruit picking and crabbing by the coast.”

The gleaming Osaka Castle

Backpacking in Japan can save a lot of time and money. For instance, the precise timing in train departure allows you to optimize your time and make the most out of it. “Japanese counts time down to the second. So, every train is extremely punctual.” If it is 8:37pm, it will depart at 8:37pm. He adds that “Japan is a safe country especially for backpackers because we only carry our basic necessities. If you misplace your item, you can still find it at the same place a week later”.  

Akira in Shirakawa

According to Akira, the most cost-effective place to backpack in Japan is Osaka as it is surrounded by other nearby cities like Kyoto, Kobe and Nara. The public transport and railway lines make travelling a cinch and you can even find a cheap night stay below ¥800. Besides, food in Japan is not as expensive as you would think. Low-budget and filling meals in convenience stores are as cheap as ¥200 and that can be found everywhere you go in the country. 

He also shares it is possible to backpack across the entirety of Japan in a month. “Spend a week in every region. From Hokkaido, travel to Tohoku then to central Japan and all the way down to Kyushu.” And the tip is to subscribe to Japan Rail Pass (JR Pass). 

Itsukushima Shrine, Hiroshima

JR Pass can be costly at initial purchase but it is still the cheapest to commute in a long run. Since time and money are always a battle in travels, you can ride Japan’s shinkansen (bullet train) using JR Pass and save time travelling from one place to another. It is advisable to purchase the JR Pass before going to Japan and travellers can get it at Japan Travel Bureau outlets nationwide.  

September is an optimal time to backpack in Japan. It is summer until the end of September which means you can pack light without heavy articles like jackets and winter clothing. If you are still wary about making your first backpack travel, do check out JTB Malaysia website for a guided backpacking trip.

Everything is doable. You only need to carry less to achieve more. 

Words by Jessy Wong • Photos by Akira Iwasaki

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