Aside

Things to do in Japan

In previous post, my girlfriend talked about accommodations in Japan. In this post, I’ll focus on things to do while you are there as well as some tips.

Japan is the most amazing and entertaining country I’ve been to. There should be no shortage of things to do there, whether it’s art, food, culture, scenery, entertainment, shopping, weird stuffs (see here for a list of specific attractions in Tokyo. There are many things but I’ve boiled it down to some unique and fun stuffs that you can easily do while in Japan.

If you already booked a trip and havent started planning yet (yes, I’m talking to you), this should get you started. If you dont have plan to go to Japan yet, hopefully this post will make you want to.

Good luck and have fun.

The list

Below is the list for you to scan through. It’s a long list but you will be surprised how much you can do even with a short trip. We were able to cover most of them () during our 9-day trip to Tokyo and Kyoto back in December 2015.

Some tips

Below are things we learned from our trip which should help with your travel.

  • Get data sim card and use google map (Google we love you)
  • Bring comfortable shoes (we walked > 10 km/day on average)
  • Buy JR pass if you plan to go to multiple cities like Tokyo-Kyoto (worth it)
  • Buy IC card to transit within Tokyo (we didnt get it but it should save you from the coins)
  • Pay attention to attraction hours (you dont want to come to a place all excited to find out it’s not opened yet, or worse closed)
  • Categorize day light vs night life attractions (some places better visited in the morning/at night)
  • Stay at night life district (it will always be dark when you get back to your hotel)
  • Arrive at the attraction before 10 am to beat the crowd (did I mention tons of tourists?)
  • Get breakfast at convenient store (save time and money, not many places sell breakfast)

Attend a festival

You cannot mention Japan without their festivals. Japan is famous for its well-preserved traditions and fascinating cultures, which you can experience best at a local festival. Coming to an area that has a festival going on will guarantee you a completely different experience. So make sure to check the local festival schedule to know what to expect.

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Nakamise street, Asakusa, Tokyo

Famous festival means high-season: lots of people, tourists and locals, expensive hotels/flights. That’s why some people (like my girlfriend) prefer low-season, however, if you enjoy the crowdedness and the festive air (like I do), no ragrets.

Some festival references:  Japan festivalsSummer Festivals in TokyoTokyo festivals by tokyo5
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Visit temples and shrines

One of the must-do in Japan. There are so many temples and shrines around the country that you simply cannot miss. It’s important to point out that temples and shrines are two different notions. Temples are practice and worship place for Buddhism while Shrines are for Shinto, Japan’s native religion.

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Todai-ji temple, Nara

Read up on How to visit temple and shrines to become a pro-tourist when it comes to paying respect and performing prayer.
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Visit castles

Castles are different from temples as they are residence for the feudal lords. There are many great castles all over Japan, try visiting at least one of them. We visited Himeji castle as a half-day trip from Kyoto. More on that experience later.


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Soak yourself naked in Onsen

While many people do not cherish the aspect of being naked with strangers (or friends and family), I certainly do. It felt weird at first but if you can overcome the awkwardness, and stop looking at other people, you can fully enjoy the open concept.

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Odeo Onsen, Odaiba, Tokyo

Traditionally, Onsen or communal bath existed because people did not have a private bath in their house, which is now a luxury we take for granted. Naturally, it became a place where locals came daily to socialize and make some serious bonding (much like our after-work drinking, but without clothes). Over the time, traditional Onsen became obsolete and transformed to an entertainment concept where people come to relax, eat, drink, sleep, and date (like this Odaiba Odeo Onsen we’ve been to).

Pro-tourists, read up on how to take a bath at an Onsen.
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View Sakura (Cherry Blossom)

Of course I have to mention Sakura! It’s too famous to skip. You can see them white pink fluffy trees on almost all Japan postcards.

We werent in Japan during Cherry Blossom season so no pictures there, but the above are Canada Cherry Blossom in front of my place (close enough eh?).

What you need to know about Japan Cherry Blossom: it only happens for 2 weeks around late March early April. But with global warming, things bloom and end faster so good luck. April is extreme high season due to its extreme popularity. You either love it or list it.

It which-must-not-be-named means great things – terrible, yes but great.
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Hike mount Fuji

I wouldnt call this easy but it’s a unique thing to do, fun maybe if you are up to it. It’s a 5-hour hike up and 5-hour back. It’s recommended to start in the evening and spend the night there so you can catch sun rise at the summit. We didnt do it because the hike is closed in winter.

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Mount Fuji from view from Shinkansen train

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Stay at a Ryokan (Japanese style inn)

Ryokan is traditional Japanese inn, where you get to sleep on tatami floor with futon beds, eat Japanese cuisine and breakfast. However, due to its popularity and complete package, it’s very expensive (15000 to 25000 yen/person).

We didnt do real Ryokan but we were able to find a Japanese style house on AirBnB, which offers similar experience except the meals and cheaper.
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Stay at a temple

Another great way to stay the night, temple offers a unique calming atmosphere. We spent two nights at a temple in Northern part of Kyoto (more on this experience), great place, amazing area.


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Attend meditation class

If you havent tried meditation, you can do so in Japan. Some temples offer English meditation class like the one we stayed at in Kyoto. It was a fun experience even though I cannot tell if I’m mediating or just sit sleeping.
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Attend tea ceremony

Tea ceremony is another fun experience you can do. There are many tea ceremony places in Kyoto. We had a simple version of it during the meditation class: it’s basically just eat your cookie very slowly and sip your tea even slower, then make a disgusting slurping sound at the end and pretend that you did it right.
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Wear Kimono

Definitely a highlight of our trip. The best place to do it is in Kyoto. There are many kimono rental stores around Gion street. The average price is 3000 yen/day for female and 5000 yen/day for male. However, it can easily go up if you want a nice looking dress and belt. They do your hair as well. The girls love it.

Best to rent them early in the day so you can wear around town and take pictures. We rented around 4 pm so it was already dark by the time we were out the street. Still  managed to get some pictures. More on that experience later.back to the list

Wear Yukata

Yukata means bathing clothes in Japanese. People normally wear them for communal bath, however, it evolved to be a fashion and people wear them at festivals as well. You can get this covered by going to an Onsen.

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Odeo Onsen, Odaiba Tokyo

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Spot a Geisha (Kyoto)

You may hear of the term Geisha via the movie “Memoirs of a Geisha”. Geisha are Japanese professional entertainers. You can consider them as Japan’s living legend, culture in flesh, similar to how people regard sushi as Japan’s edible art. People often misinterpret Geisha as just a pretty term for prostitutes. Nope, Geisha is not prostitute! Dont get any weird idea here.

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A Geisha on her way to work, Gion district, Kyoto

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A Geisha in a taxi in Gion street, Kyoto

I managed to take those above pictures in Gion district, Kyoto. Definite check out the Gion corner at night if you have a chance to visit Kyoto. There you have the best chance to witness the living legend.
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Use the Japanese toilet (western style)

Now I’m talking about modern western toilet style, not the traditional Asian squatting one (although you should try it too if you havent). For obvious reason, I didnt take pictures of them so below are straight from the internet.

You will be surprised how advanced our toilets have become in the hands of Japanese people. Some basic action-packed features: heated seat, soothing music, washer, dryer (with different levels). Notice how they have a male and female option: I can never tell the difference. My first time using it was a pleasant surprise. It’s kinda addicting. I will not talk about it. You should have those baddies at your hotel or you can find them at any of the department stores. Be brave.
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Shop at Department stores

Shopping malls are called department stores in Japan. Best places to shop are in Tokyo at those big famous stations Shibuya, Ginza, etc. I know you love shopping but more on those later.


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Ride the Shinkansen

Bullet train as they call it. It can run up to 300 km/hour, only takes 2.5 hours from Tokyo to Kyoto. The Shinkansen system is impressive with many different lines that run very frequent. They have those express lines that run every 6 minutes during rush hour and the best part: they are super on time.

Inside is spacious with power outlet, turnable chairs and separate smoking area. The officer bows every time he enters and exits a cart.
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Wander around rural streets

If you have time, try to wake up early and walk around town. We did this when we stayed at a temple complex in Kyoto, very relaxing walk. We got to see students in their uniform walking to school, speaking and laughing strangely familiar language.

Use a vending machine

Japan is packed with vending machines. You can find a vending machine at every corner of the street. Best place to get a quick drink and snack. They have coffee too.

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Check out convenient store

It sounds silly but their convenient stores have many things we found useful. For example, those plan cakes, rice balls, drinks and snacks.

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Eat authentic Ramen

If you dont know what Ramen is, it’s basically a pork-based noodle soup, Japan’s signature dish beside Sushi.

For those who love ramen, you cannot miss this chance! Of course, you gotta try both the soup-based style and the Tsukimen style (cold noodle with dipping sauce). If you are in Tokyo, Shinjuku, make sure to check out this Tatsunoya ramen place.
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Eat Okonomiyaki – Kansai style

Okonomiyaki is Japanese traditional pancake. What’s great about it is the way they cook it: they mix the pancake and grill it in front of your face (Kansai style). Make sure to try them if you visit Kansai area (Kyoto, Osaka).


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Eat street food

Dont miss your chance and try as many street food as you can. We soon grew out of mochi and red bean cake, but there are many more fun food. Again, more on those street food later :). Below are a few snapshots.


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Get Tokyo banana

Tokyo banana is not real banana but a soft fluffy shorty banana looking cake filled with banana goodness. A friend of my brother insisted that we must try them while we are in Japan and I’m glad we did.

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Bananana

You can find them at the airport and most of the train stations. They are delicious, but only last a few days. When we bought them, the sale girl tried very hard in her broken English to make sure we eat it before the expiry date, good girl. I ate some well passed their expired date and they tasted just fine.

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Watch a Sumo match

Sumo match is another great way to observe Japan tradition. I had it on my list but we didnt have time to see them. Next time.

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Watch a Kabuki dance

Kabuki is traditional Japanese theater where they perform those ancient scary weird entertainments. Even in the past Japan never cease to surprise us. We missed out on this one but I’m pretty sure I wouldnt be able to understand a thing.

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More exotic stuffs

Sufficed to say Maid cafe was the only and most exotic thing we’ve done in Japan. I totally forgot about the weird side of Japan until after the trip and my coworker asked “What about the exotic stuffs?”. I guess that depends on how you define ‘exotic’, but we definitely didnt think about it at all. I need another trip.

Maid cafe

I’m not sure if you heard about it because I dont know how innocent you are but it’s basically a coffee shop where only young innocent looking girls are allowed to work there. They have to wear maiden costume while serving, speak in high pitch voices and act like innocent girls. We had a short debate whether or not our girls are qualified for the job (which I should not disclose). They barely made it.

Above are the food we got at this Maidreaming cafe in Akibahara, Tokyo. It was a small empty place upstairs with only a few tables. I couldnt take any picture of the place because you are not supposed to unless you pay extra 😐 We also learned that there was a seating fee  on top of the food. There was not much to see anyway since the place is tiny. They have this mini stage where they can do a live rock band music performance with extra charge.

Here we learned how to order as a nan-nan cat. You actually have to act like a cat and say ‘nan-nan’ to get the server’s attention. The food was not good and the wait time was terrible. The girls seemed to enjoy it because they were always giggling.
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Mario go-kart

Another fun exotic thing you can do is to go-cart around Tokyo streets in Mario costumes. A friend recommended it but we didnt have the time to do so. Below are some pictures from a friend of mine.
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That should wrap up some of the fun things you can do in Japan! Next is a list of specific attractions in Tokyo.

Thank you for reading 🙂

 

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17 thoughts on “Things to do in Japan

  1. Great post – you did a lot of stuff in only 9 days! Next time in Tokyo, I really want to do the Mario Kart racing… There are some really great ideas on here, I’m going to send this list to my friend who wants to visit Tokyo soon so she can get some inspiration!

    Liked by 1 person

    • Woot! Credit to my girlfriend, she planned most of them! I would recommend your friend to check out japan-guide.com too, they did an amazing job on centralizing everything you need to know about Japan travel. They have some suggested itineraries as well. I also want to do the Mario kart. It looks so much fun. Driving on the left side is weird for me but you should have no problem with it.

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  2. Saffy says:

    Hi! Loved your post!! Just wondering, why would we need a IC card if we already have the JR pass? We would be travelling in Osaka and Tokyo and many sites have all mentioned getting a IC card! Quite consfused as we will be travelling on the JR lines so we will only be using the pass anyway, right? 🙂 thanks in advance!

    Liked by 1 person

    • Hi Saffy, thank you and sorry for the late reply. JR pass only let you travel on JR lines which include the Yamanote line (encircles Tokyo) and Shinkanshen (bullet train from city to city). However, there are many other pay-as-you-go lines within the city that you are guaranteed​ to have to use. For example: travel from Shinjuku to Asakusa or Tokyo Skytree, it’s outside of Yamanote line. Or in Kyoto where there is only a few JR lines. So for those, an IC is your best option where you preload money on it and then just tap to use. I’ve been back to Japan several times and IC card saves me ton of time. You can also use IC card for lockers, vending machines and some stores as well including Family Mart (most popular convenient store chain). Hope that helps clearing things up!

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    • Hi Elina, thanks for passing by! Here is the airbnb place that we stayed last time https://www.airbnb.com/rooms/3699271 It’s right at the heart of Gion district so pretty convenient. Hidekazu, the host is quite responsive too. I believe he has several other listings of the same style in Kyoto too so may be worth a look. Hope that help! P/s: if you are staying around Kyoto, I’d recommend to stay in Osaka, Namba area (near Dotonburi canal) as well for at least one night. It’s a great area with lots of street food at night (unlike Kyoto where everything closes by 9 pm). You can also make day trip to Kyoto (30 minutes train) so it’s another great option for accommodation.

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