It’s been a solid year since the the time we frolicked in Mt. Fuji residual (durrrrty) snow, slept on tatami mats and walked along Dotonburi alleys. As springs starts to rear its pretty little sunny and flowery head, I just wanted to share to you our version of the top 10 things to do in Japan.
1. STAY AT A RYOKAN
This is not for all budget ranges. Staying at a ryokan, even a cheap one – is quite the splurge. Although staying at a ryokan is one of those experiences that take you just will not forget. Sleeping on the floors and tatami mats, getting lost in the multi-bowl fancy schmancy traditional dinner – they’re all parts of the experience.
For us, we skipped on the air conditioning and got the cold cold breeze of Hakone come through our paper thin walls.
2. RIDE THE TRAINS
Comparing the three train-centered commuting places – Seoul, Hong Kong and Tokyo – I can say with confidence that the train culture in Japan is pretty much on steroids compared to the other two places. People move like robots – more than the other two metros – they walk a little bit faster and they have narrower blinders on.
A special mention for this category is to go take a ride on the Shinkansen if you find yourself in Osaka, needing a quick lift going to Tokyo (or the other way around.
3. BUY GREEN TEA KIT KATS
More than the oodles and oodles of Kit Kat flavors in the world, Green Tea is, by far, the best and the most “Oh damn, that is sooo Japan” of all. Although you can already get your hands on them locally, nothing beats the experience of walking into a Japanese supermarket, finding a huge bin of these near the cash registers and buying them with their self-check out lanes.
4. SEE MT. FUJI
There’s seeing the mountain through HDTV documentaries. There’s seeing it through the fast-moving windows of a Shinkansen. Then there’s standing in the cool spring breeze and seeing the giant mountain spread out in front of most of your peripheral vision.
I tell you, this mountain has a very elegant feeling to it. The perfect snow cap at the top and the commanding presence of seeing most of the whole mountain from practically anywhere in Hakone is just the thing to make you think of how people of centuries past might have thought about the mountain being magical, mystical and mysterious.
5. BATHE AT AN ONSEN
Strip down. Scrub it up. Dip in.
Take a bath with all of them peeps. Oh and it’s 40 degree-water. Get ready to wade in sloooowly.
6. VISIT TEMPLES
There are lot of those. Everywhere. Each is different from the other although you only need one Facebook profile photo, am I right?
7. BUY FROM VENDO MACHINES
When I was a kid in America, the glory of soda vending machines fascinated me each and every time. The sound of an aluminum can careening through the metal and plastic parts of that magical machine is like music to my ears. Soda can vending machines STILL, to this day, remind me of America (as well as the smell of wet, freshly cut grass).
Now, take that childhood fascination and take it up to the next level as I saw the sheer scale of the vendo culture in Japan. My favorite has got to be the warm milk tea vending machines that are on all corners of the every city but the most interesting is definitely the cup noodles vending machine. I never got the chance to drop some coins on it but I can imagine slurping some beef curry noodles from one of them machines in the future.
8. SUFFER ANIME OVERLOAD
(Ok so the photo is not “anime” per se… but you get the photo inclusion.. and there’s Doraemon)
My number 1 omiyage was to have an English dubbed or subtitled copy of my favorite Studio Ghibli/ Hayao Miyazaki masterpiece: Nausicaa of the Valley of the Wind. I have a streamed source available on my bookmarks bar. It’s something I whip out when the deadlines are a foot away and I need to reevaluate my time management. Nothing like popping in an awesome flick just to reset your senses for crunch time.
Along with the what-I-think-is-highly-underrated Miyazaki masterpiece, you can also choose to indulge in other older and newer anime by heading over to the Studio Ghibli tour or spending all your yen in Akihabara on all things anime.
9. VISIT HACHIKO
Richard Gere + this dog = a box of tissues (at least ONE box)
If you haven’t ever watched that movie or don’t even know the premise of the story of Hachiko, then I suggest you do this before you even plan on standing in the presence of pure loyalty.
I stood by the bronze statue of a simple Akita dog, cherry blossoms were fluttering by from the tree right next to it and I was close to tears. Well, not really. The place is busy, spilling over with people from the subway station, so you can’t really get a quiet moment to get all emotional over a dog.
In a nutshell, here’s the story of Hachiko. SPOILERS AHEAD!
Man adopts dog. Dog walks with man up to the Shibuya train station where man leaves for work in the city. Dog goes home and then comes back to train station just before the man’s returning train comes into the station. Man dies at work. Dog still comes and waits at the train station every day for the next 9 years until protagonist dog finally died.
Alternatively, if you don’t want to go all touristy in Shibuya crossing, you can opt to visit the REAL Hachiko in a museum within the Ueno Park grounds. It’s the museum, with a diving whale outside. Within those walls, you will be able to see one of Japan’s heroes – preserved taxonomically.
10. SPEAK JAPANESE
I’ve been told by someone who knows someone who is learning Japanese that learning to write and read is hard. Little did she pick up from my story that I was saying that it was fairly easy to pick up SPEAKING Japanese. The pronunciation is easier to pick up than Korean or Thai. I don’t know what it is, but for me, it was just fairly easy to pick it up. I found myself being able to confidently utter phrases, words and requests without expecting a look on their face that resembled nausea, disgust and complete and utter dafuqdidyousay.
At every crowded train station, we found our selves uttering “Gonmenasai” and/or “Sumimasen.” At almost food establishment, you would find me and my Happy Meal yelling out “Ohayou Gozaimas”, Konichiwa” and “Konbanwa” with confidence that we will not be thrown out. I swear that we know so much more Japanese but it’s been a year, alright? We can only contain so much leftover Nihonggo.
So that’s it for now, I guess. That’s our quick 10 Things to do in Japan. Surely, there’s more to do there than that – such as partaking in Hanami or getting drunk on sake but this is a quickie list where you can find yourself checking off items faster than a shinkansen on spring break.