I’ve been to Japan twice and, despite staying there for a combined three weeks, I still haven’t seen the vast majority of what the country has to offer.
Not even close.
There are temples and museums and onsen and ramen shops and entire cities I don’t even know exist yet. My boyfriend, Derek, spent nine years there and even he didn’t see everything he wanted. In fact, in my combined three weeks, I’ve been to cities he never had time to visit.
Don’t let the map-size of Japan mislead you. It’s a big, expansive country, with 6,852 islands and more than 127 million people.
On my first trip to Japan, I spent most of my time in Tokyo, right near Tokyo Tower. We walked around Ginza, the upscale neighborhood of department stores, boutiques and restaurants; ate at convini (convenience stories like 7 Eleven) and train station restaurants; and caught public transportation everywhere. I caught the shinkansen (bullet train) to Kyoto, snapping pics of Kinkaju-gi and cruising down the cherry tree-lined Path of Philosophers.
On my second trip to Japan, I spent most of it in the Tokoku region, visiting areas like Sendai and Fukushima. I went to see the snow monsters atop Mount Zao and ate at little eateries through the region.
I’m about to embark on a two-week trip to Japan, starting in Fukuoka, then heading to Kyoto, Tokyo and Chigasaki.
I’ve drafted a list of things I want to see. Any other suggestions?
• Otaku cafes in Akihabara (top photo)
• Shinjuku’s shopping, with its department stores and nightlife
• Stay in a ryokan
• Visit the Japanese Alps
• Nikko, a quaint town just north of Tokyo with the ornate Toshogu shrine, the centerpiece here
• Himeji, the only castle in Japan that survives in its original form
• The fish auction in Tokyo
• Eat in a restaurant that specializes in just one thing, like chicken or unagi
The list could go on and on and on.
Got any else to add?
You simply must attend a Sumo. Do this at the expense of not seeing other things. Book tickets now, hard to within the week of event. Next, take the Keiyo Line from Tokyo Station to go to the Ferris Wheel at can’t remember the name of the park, clear day would be good. It is enclosed like the one in London so you won’t be cold. The views are nice. Also in Tokyo area go to the Roppongi Hills Mori Tower. In the basement floors are great little restaurants and there is a neat museum around floor 50.
When in Kyoto make sure you eat a pizza Tutto Bene. It is in an old Geisha house.
While in Fukuoka, you could catch a Softbank Hawks game, outfield seats aren’t that bad, $25-20 bucks. If there in early may catch the Dontaku Festival. You can always catch a train bound for the coast.
You could live in Japan for years and not see or do all the cool things to see and do.
I been to Japan 5x’s and stay for 2 weeks at a time. So much things to eat, see and places to go. Still want to go back year after year. My wife and I will get on the train or subway and just get off at random stops and just walk around and check it out and get back on the train and get off again.
We always check out Harajuku on the weekends.
Kamikochi in Nagano-ken–takes effort to get there, but something magical about the place.
When in Tokyo, head for side streets & look for where the blue suits & OL’s head for snacks, drinks or meals, usually very good & reasonable on top of getting a slice of Japanese urban life.
In Fukushima, Mt. Bandai & the Five-color marsh (lake?). With its proximity to Aizu-Wakamatsu, plays into Feudal history.
Are you good enough at Japanese to hear the various dialects, ben? Given the extent of your travels, the Kyushuu, Kansai & Kanto ben should be an auditory feast for the ear, especially if you throw in the Zu-Zu ben up north.
I always liked Kyoto…
My wife did a Maiko makeover in Kyoto. We go to the Gion district in Kyoto at night and look for Maiko’s to get pictures. Lots of people there trying to get a glimpse of the elusive Maiko’s.
I lived in Kyoto for a year and still didn’t see all the things I wanted to see.
My two favorite temples there are Kiyomizudera and Tenryuji. Kiyomizu is ancient, dating back to the time of Murasaki Shikibu, and is mentioned in “The Tale of Genji.” The view from the temple platform is breathtaking. The street leading up to Kiyomizu is also fun – Gojozaka. Lots of little shops and tons of tchotchkes.
Tenryuji has beautiful views of the river and the Togetsukyo bridge.
Kitano Jinja has a great flea market on the 25th of every month. Toji’s is on the 21st. More info here: https://www.japanesestreets.com/reports/1357/fabulous-flea-markets-in-japan
One of my obsessions while living in Kyoto was collecting omamori or amulets from the various temples and shrines. They’re relatively inexpensive and unique souvenirs.
Nijo-jo (the castle on 2nd Avenue) is beautiful and the tour is interesting, but the most beautiful castle I saw when I was there was the Shirasagi in Himeji.
Hawai`i people are fascinated by the food floors in Japanese department stores (usually either basement levels or top floors). Kyoto is known for their pickles, and you can often try samples. I don’t like eggplant (nasu), but I LOVE nasubi pickles.
While you’re in Nikko, try to eat something with yuba (tofu skin). Yuba is one of Nikko’s specialties. My Sweetie and I had some ramen with yuba while we were there (happy accident) and learned about it that way.
Have a great time! I’m looking forward to seeing the pictures and hearing the stories!
If you’re in Tokyo on a Sunday, definitely check out Harajuku to see some of the cosplay folks. Just walk a little further down and in Yoyogi Park there is a group of rockabilly guys that dance around near the entrance. They’re referrred to as the Dancing Elvis’. There are usually a bunch of bands performing around the park too.
Also in Tokyo, check out the shopping and entertainment in Odaiba.
In Kyoto, go to nearby Arashiyama and go to the wild monkey park. You get to feed them and take pictures with them. And if you haven’t already been to the Fushimi Inari shrine, it’s the one with the all of the torii and was in Memoirs of a Geisha. Nearby Nara is one of my favorite places to go too since you can feed all of the deer there.
Sounds like you’re going ot have a blast! Wish I could go too…
BTW, a more affordable alternative to ryokan are minshuku. Minshuku typically have the same kinds of furnishings as ryokan but are often run by families and are more affordable.
One other regret: I’ve never been to an onsen (hot springs) or sento (public bath).
You got to go to the Onsens. I like it…
I went to an indoor/outdoor onsen near Mt. Fuji and at night in the outdoor onsen I had an awesome view of the snow capped Mt. Fuij.
We’ve been to Japan twice, once in the fall and once in spring. On one trip we went to ‘ura’ Nihon. We crossed the Japan Alps through snow country and wound up on the Japan Sea side of Japan. Wajima on the Noto Peninsula was our start down the coast. Such beautiful country. Not as ‘big city’ like Tokyo, Osaka, etc. Wonderful seafood.
In northern Kyoto is Amanohashidate (“a bridge in heaven”). It’s regarded as one of three most scenic sites in Japan… a fairyland. We stayed in a mountain side ryokan there.
Our other trip was more traditional. Of your list of eight, we did all except restaurant that specializes in chicken. Akihabara is also very well know for its electronic shops. You’ll find every kind of electronic gadget there.
A solemn site is Sengakuji Shrine. That is the burial site of the 47 ronin. There’s also a small museum there with artifacts belonging to the Asano loyalists.
Glad you have the Tsukiji fish auction in Tokyo on you list, that is a must experience.
Check out department stores like Mitsukoshi and Seibu. The basement floors are all fuud like Shirokiya top floor but only 100 times bigger.
My wife loves to shop at Toku Hands and 100 yen shops.
The Yodobashi-Akiba is the largest electronic store in Akihabara. Nine floors of the lastest electronic stuff you will ever find. Every electronic stuff you will find there, cameras, computers, toys, appliances, games, phones anything you can think of you will find it here. Even a floor of restaurants.
to me, on a sunday, it’s pretty enjoyable to grab an iced coffee at the mcdonalds on takeshita dori in harajuku, then sit there and watch the freaks go by.
for great late night eats in Tokyo, my cousins took me to a bar in Shinjuku on Omoide Yokocho. it’s a long alley way that is filled with bar after bar, each one specializing in a different type of food. one might have a big pot of nabe bubbling away while the next will have the yakitori grills going and the next will have ramen or udon. all good stuff.
in Kyushu, the canals in Yanagawa are fun and the unagi lunch afterwards is always a winner.
the thing that really struck me about the food in japan is that most places serve one type of food and they do it well. it’s not like in the US where “Japanese” means that you’ll be able to order sushi, tempura, tonkatsu, nabe, and yakitori in the same place. each time I went there, it seemed that whatever food I had was the best I’d ever had. best sushi, best tonkatsu, best tempura, best ramen…all of it heads and shoulders above what I can get in california.
also, since we are always jet lagged in Japan and tend to wake up super early, we’ve found a few good breakfast plans. in tokyo, there are a couple of sushi restaurants that are 24 hours. sushizanmai at the front of tsukiji is our favorite. nothing quite hits the spot like some seared kobe beef sushi to start your day.
if you’re looking for a more blue collar start to the day, the ubiquitous Yoshino-ya has proven to be a great 6AM option. here, in california, the chain (I assume they’re related…same logo) is a mall food staple that serves bland teri chicken bowls. there, they have very passable sukiyaki and other great fuud to start the day. it’s always filled with blue collar types on their way out to work, so we take that as a sign that it’s a good value. the bill usually comes in at about five bucks per person, so you start the day full and happy with your wallet intact (better than those buffet style “western” breakfasts that asian hotels tend to have.
I agree with Matt, everything tasted the best in Japan, even the rice.
One of my cousins in Yamaga grows his own rice. everytime one of us visits him or he visits Hawaii he brings over a bunch of his rice. at first, I wondered how it could be better…but it is. way better. pretty unreal how something so basic and bland can be improved upon.
oh, and Cat, if you find yourself flying through Kansai, there’s a small burger stand in between the two main halls in the United terminal (not sure of the name of the place but it’s near mcdonalds) that has a shrimp burger (ebi baagaa). we ordered one expecting a kamaboko like shrimp paste thing. instead, we got four shrimp fried together in a tempura like batter to form a patty. absolutely unreal.
check out this blog https://cheeserland.com/
you’ll find many interesting places to visit; the author often visits Japan. i think you will find it insightful!
Mixed onsen, preferably not full of gaijin. I have had similar thermal bath experiences in Japan, Denmark, and Germany, and the order and peace of the experience in Japan is le top.
In Fukuoka, go to Canal City, a shopping complex connected to the Hyatt Regency. Go to Fukuoka Dome to see the Softbank Hawks.
In Kyoto, go to the Inari Shrine and run though the torii gates.
In Tokyo, get lost at Shinjuku and Tokyo stations.
If you go Hiroshima, go to Miyajima Island (catch train, then catch ferry) Watch out for the deer who try to steal your food.