In a matter of years, Jasmine from Zooming Japan has travelled to all 47 prefectures of Japan, visited over 100 Japanese castles and even more temples, shrines and gardens.
Earlier this week, Jasmine has been kind enough to take a break from her travels to talk to me about her experiences living and travelling in Japan, and learning Japanese.
Could you tell us about your background? How did you get interested in Japan and what enticed you to explore it off the beaten track?
I'm originally from Germany and I got interested in Japan when I was a primary school student doing karate.
Later, I became interested in anime and manga. And after that came Japanese dramas and movies.
I moved to Japan about 6 years ago. Since moving my interests have changed a lot. I started traveling without having a real interest in exploring the country. However, it became my greatest hobby.
After visiting the usual tourist spots in my early years, I was yearning to see some new spots and that's how I found places that no typical guidebook would ever mention. Or have you ever heard of the Rabbit Island before?
Personally I enjoy the sights that are ‘off the beaten track.’ They are less crowded and I stumble upon breathtaking and interesting places I can share on my blog about travel in Japan.
What’s your favourite region of Japan and why? As a traveller? To live long term?
After visiting all of the 47 prefectures, that's a rather tough question. There are so many places I like.
As a traveller I fell in love with Kobe and Nagasaki (the prefecture, not only the city) in my early years. Recently, I'd say my favorite places are Gujo Hachiman in Gifu Prefecture and Okinawa (especially the Yaeyama Islands).
As for living, I like where I am now—and that is Kansai!
Why? Because no matter how long I've been living here, there's always something left to explore. Furthermore, it's pretty much in the middle of Japan, so I can easily travel wherever I want.
I like the people, the food, as well as the local dialect known as kansai-ben.
Japanese countryside remains very different from more urbanised parts of the country. Do you prefer the city culture or the Japanese inaka?
I've never been a fan of big cities—neither in my home country, nor here in Japan.
While I enjoy cities like Tokyo and Osaka for shopping or concerts, I would never ever want to live there.
I prefer the quiet lifestyle and being close to nature. I love my apartment in the countryside that is surrounded by rice fields and old Japanese houses.
Yet—thanks to the great train connections—I can easily travel to the bigger cities. It's very convenient.
I understand what makes big cities attractive, but for me there are too many things that make me sick such as the masses of people, being squeezed into a train to commute to work and all the noise.
What’s your preferred way to get around the country? Bus, walking, Seishun 18?
I'm a huge fan of traveling by train. I enjoy observing the landscape from within the train.
For shorter distances I also like buses. I don't mind walking at all—as long as I have enough time to explore something on foot.
Recently I also like traveling in my own car for day trips. The only disadvantage is that you still have to drive home when you're already very tired.
I do try to use special tickets when I can. I like the Seishun 18 ticket, but often my vacation time doesn't match with the train ticket validity date.
If you're a fan of smaller islands, then you will have to travel by either plane or ferry. I have to admit that I'm not a big fan of ferries or small boats because I get seasick easily, but it's always worth it! One day I want to visit the Ogasawara Islands although that requires a 25.5h trip on a ship!
When you travel around Japan, do you ever have problems getting understood by the locals? Have you tried learning some of the local dialects?
Maybe in the beginning when my Japanese wasn't any good yet. Now, Japanese people usually understand me.
However, I had issues understanding Japanese people sometimes - especially in Okinawa. Luckily, other Japanese people also struggle with the dialect in Okinawa.
I never tried to study a Japanese dialect on purpose, but once I moved to Kansai I unconsciously learned Kansai-ben.
I don't even notice anymore when I speak Kansai dialect. The only time I do notice is when I'm traveling and Japanese people give me astonished looks, because they see a foreigner talking in Kansai dialect.
Do you have any advice for people considering to learn Japanese, but afraid to start?
There's absolutely nothing to be afraid of!
Japanese is a very interesting language and I always enjoyed studying it.
I think what scares people the most are Kanji.
It might take a while until you find a method that will work for you. It certainly took me a long time!
My advice is to just keep trying to find a method that fits you best. Just because it worked for somebody else, doesn't mean it'll work for you as well.
Having a goal in mind, also helps. Why do you want to learn Japanese?
Because you want to visit Japan? Because you want to be able to watch anime without subtitles?
Whatever it is, keep that as your motivation. It certainly worked for me. Good luck! :)