Can you still get Lost in Translation in Japan?

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We’re guessing you’ll have seen — or at least heard of — Sofia Coppola’s masterpiece about alienation and connection in the Japanese capital. Of course, we’re talking about Lost in Translation.

And as its 20th birthday approaches, we’ve been reflecting on how Japan has changed in the time since it was released.

Back in 2003, Japan saw a fraction of the visitors it does today, and Westerners were rare enough to be treated as a novelty. An English-language sign, menu or even speaker were a novelty too, and trips were a happily baffling voyage, often weird but always wonderful.

Today, Japan is one of the most popular travel destinations in the world. International visitors and sporting events have meant more English-language signs and announcements for tourists, while the rise and rise of the internet means anyone can hear about formerly hidden spots and offbeat experiences with ease. But does all this make a trip to Japan less bewildering or beguiling than it was?

In other words — is it still possible to get Lost in Translation?

Short answer, yes.

Long answer, it’s a lot less likely if you follow the same top-ten lists and must-see sights as the majority, but in Japan the beautiful, the bizarre and the breathtaking are everywhere — including places you least expect to find them. In fact, especially those.

Here are some of the places our team have loved, and recommend visiting for anyone wanting to get Lost in Translation in Japan.

Yanesen, Tokyo

Brett Plotz, Japan Tour Leader

Yes — even in Tokyo, you can still get Lost in Translation. The old Yanesen neighbourhood is traditional Tokyo: tiny winding streets, low-rise shops, and cafés that have been in the family for generations, selling local snacks such as senbei rice crackers and taiyaki cakes. It’s not as hidden as it used to be, but I just love the place.

What’s more, if you’re looking for an atmospheric shrine with a thousand-year history (and 18th-century bullet holes in the torii gate), Yanesen’s Nezu Shrine is it. It has a path lined with torii gates, it has koi ponds and flower gardens — it has everything you want from a shrine. Nezu truly is an escape, and whenever I go, I’m struck by how lucky I am to live in such a city of contrasts.

Yanesen Credit: Nichika Yoshida

Kinosaki Onsen

Tyler Palma, Global Head of Operations

For me, bathing culture was one of the unexpected joys of Japan, and Kinosaki Onsen is a celebration of all that comes with it. The town owes its fame to its many bathhouses, each of which has its own history and unique aesthetic. Dressed in colourful yukata bathrobes and wooden geta slippers, visitors hop from one to another – the wellness equivalent of a pub crawl – stopping in between for a beer and a bite to eat from one of numerous street vendors. I can’t say that I knew what I wanted from Japan before coming, but I can say that I found it here.

Kinosaki Onsen
Kinosaki Onsen


Richard Farmer, Group Tours Programme Manager

When I was a tour leader, Kotohira was my favourite place to visit on any of our itineraries. It features on our group tour Hidden Japan, which explores the little-visited west of Honshu and rural Shikoku.

You start in Takamatsu (already “off the beaten path” for most people) then spend an hour in a rinky-dink Kotoden train, chugging through the rice and wheat fields of the sanuki plains to the delightful town of Kotohira. I really dig the retro, Showa-period atmosphere of this little pilgrimage town, which grew up to serve Konpira-san shrine and clusters around the bottom of the stairway up the mountain.

It’s 785 steps up to the main shrine, and a total of 1368 steps to the secluded inner shrine — if you can manage it! The higher up you go, shops selling udon, local wood carving products and shaved ice start to fall away, until you find yourself surrounded by trees, the racket of cicadas, and views across to the inland sea.

I like to finish a day in Kotohira at one of my favorite outdoor hot-spring baths, looking out over the shrine and the huge staircase I just summited, followed by a hearty kaiseki dinner. Days on tour don’t get much better than that.


Hiking & driving in Hokkaido

John McMillen, US Trade Manager

My best adventures in Japan have been hiking, and most of those have been in Hokkaido, the northernmost of Japan’s four main islands. Not many foreign tourists make it this far north, even today, and driving yourself around the island (as we recommend in our Wild Hokkaido itinerary) imparts an incredible sense of exploration and discovery on many levels.

Meeting fellow Japanese travellers, amazing onsen hot springs, regional food different from anything you’d find down south. Huge, rugged national parks, indigenous Ainu history and culture — and city life, as well. My favourite places were always the Furano and Biei areas, in the centre of Hokkaido, which are famous for their rolling fields of flowers (especially lavender). Then there’s the Rishiri Rebun Sarobetsu National Park, which I also love. Rishiri and Rebun are two small islands off the northern tip of the mainland, and the whole region is dotted with fishing villages, traversed by hiking trails and renowned for its alpine flowers.


Hiking up Mount Koya

Claire Brothers, Japan Sales Team Leader

A fair number of people know about the otherworldly tranquillity of Mount Koya’s monasteries and graveyards, set in thick forest on a mountaintop, but nearly everybody takes the funicular railway straight to it. So, when I disembarked the train early at Kii-Hosokawa it caused mild panic and confusion to my fellow Japanese passengers, who clearly all thought I was lost.

In fact, I was taking the little-used hiking route to the traditional, vermillion-red entrance to Koyasan. Mount Koya has been a religious centre for centuries, and the mountains are criss-crossed with ancient pilgrimage routes like this.

The whole hike was a magical experience, from being waved off by the one attendant at the tiny station, to seeing the signs to ring a bell to ward off bears, to the very end of the trail — when I thought I was going to die on the steep bit — only to emerge from the forest in front of a stunning temple, surprising another set of tourists. I only saw about four other people on the whole route, and felt very smug all day.

Mount Hiei

Van Milton, Japan Tour Leader

Looming over the northeast corner of Kyoto, not many visitors think to include Mount Hiei on their itinerary. Perhaps it’s because it’s out of town, or perhaps it’s because it’s a rather steep hike to the top – but those same factors also mean it’s blissfully quiet and peaceful. The impressive city views and beautiful World Heritage temple dating back to the eighth century are well worth the exercise. Head back down the opposite side of the mountain for views across Lake Biwa before the short train ride back to Kyoto.

Lake Biwa
Biwa Lake

Daio Wasabi Farm

Grant Ekelund, Japan Travel Consultant

The Daio Wasabi Farm starts impressing you even before you arrive at the farm proper. Approaching Daio by bike from Matsumoto is one of my favourite memories of travelling in Japan. The sun was shining, the cherry blossom was peeping out from the surrounding rice paddies, the snowcapped Southern Japan Alps rose up on all sides. It was just so bucolic and gentle.

Then, there’s the farm itself. Most people know wasabi as that spicy green paste, but there’s much more to it than that. Since wasabi has to be grown in fresh, flowing water, the “fields” are all just a diverted mountain stream, babbling along around the young wasabi plants. It’s a lovely area to just walk around and enjoy — and of course, it wouldn’t be the same without a wasabi ice cream (or even a wasabi-infused beer!) in your hand. I just find it so beautiful and unique. It’s unlike anywhere I’ve been in the world.

Driving the Noto Peninsula

Rachel Rykala, Japan Travel Consultant

My best Lost in Translation moment was pre-Covid, when I rented a car and did a solo drive around the Noto Peninsula. I started in Kanazawa (one of our favourite cities in Japan), drove north from there to Noto, then continued inland to end in Takayama in the Japanese Alps.

The local buses only go halfway up the peninsula, stopping at Wakura Onsen, so this really is off the beaten track.  Clifftop rice fields, 400-year-old seafood markets, hidden temples, handmade lacquerware, little fishing villages and amazing coastal roads.

If you can afford it, the Lamp no Yado ryokan is an incredible Japanese-style inn built into a private cove, with 13 villas facing out to sea. The hot-spring baths, impeccable food and the sound of crashing waves as you fall asleep are just amazing — it’s a must-stay.


Bon Odori festival in Gujo Hachiman

Ben Guest, Japan Sales Team Leader

Going to Gujo Hachiman for their Bon Odori one summer is still one of the best things I have ever done in Japan (or anywhere). Dancing all night to the playfully eerie traditional band onstage, the whole town decked out in yukata and jinbei (summer kimono), swigging nihonshu (sake) in the muggy summer heat. It’s like nothing else.

Travelling from Nagoya, the connecting trains get gradually more basic the closer you get. Eventually, you find yourself in a non-air-conditioned, one-man train for the last leg of the journey, with farmers hopping on at local stops to sell their produce to passengers. It’s a world away from the bright lights of the city. The whole experience was otherworldly to me. I will never forget it, and nothing I’ve done since has come close.


If you ask us, there’s still nowhere in the world better to get Lost in Translation than Japan. We could fill a book with stories like these, not just from our team but from the thousands of people who’ve travelled with us over the years, returning full of anecdotes about the mad and marvellous experiences they’ve had.

If you’re thinking of planning a trip to Japan, we can help you make it happen. Get in touch with one of our travel consultants today to get started.

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