Headed to Japan? This island nation is full of opportunities for exploration!
Grab Some Food and Drink:
With a to-do list that’s a mile long, you’re going to need to fill up on food that will keep you going all day. Luckily, Japan is full of delicious goodies that will not only keep you full, but will provide you with experiences you can’t find anywhere else.
- Sushi: Unless you’ve been living under a rock for the past two decades, you’ve probably had your fair share of sushi. But eating sushi in Japan is a must. You’ll find dishes you’ve never tried before and try old favorite with out-of-this-world quality. One of my favorite sushi stops was a local sushi shop with what I like to call a sushi-go-round! Plates come around to tables on a conveyer belt, and you grab what you want! You can often also order specific dishes on computer screens right from your table (these often have big images, which is helpful if you’re less than fluent in Japanese). However you decided to indulge, make sure you don’t pass this cuisine up just because you’ve had it before!
- Okonomiyaki: Okonomiyaki was one of my favorite discoveries while in Japan. Before traveling there, I’d never heard of these delicious dishes. Okonomiyaki is kind of like a savory cabbage pancake. The word literally means “what you like”, so they come in countless varieties. Essentially, you’ll sit down to a table with a griddle, order your okonomiyaki, and the server will give you the raw ingredients in a bowl. You’ll then cook the dish yourself on the griddle! All the okonomiyaki restaurants I went to had the griddle at the table, though I hear that this isn’t always the case. In my opinion, grilling it yourself is half the fun! If you have the option, I’d definitely try and opt for an establishment that allows you to DIY your dinner. If you’re craving an adult beverage, I’d recommend trying a fruity chu-hi!
- Yakitori: Whether you’re getting it in a restaurant or at a street cart, it’s hard to go wrong with skewered food, and yakitori is no exception! On of my favorite nights in Japan consisted of hanging out for hours at a yakitori place ordering wave after wave of delicious skewered meat and downing more than my fair share of plum wine.
- Ramen: Don’t confuse real ramen with the stuff of you college dorm room. Actual ramen is an out-of-this-world, soul-warming experience. There are various different types of ramen depending on where you go, so just try it out and find what you like! I promise you you won’t be disappointed.
And if you’re ever feeling a bit thirsty while out and about, don’t worry! Vending machines are everywhere. Take the opportunity to try something you’ve never had!
Discover the Old:
- Meiji Shrine: Located in Tokyo, the meiji shrine is a beautiful Shinto shrine that’s easy to get to. The shrine covers 170 acres in Tokyo and is located right next to the Harajuku district.
- The Great Buddha of Kamakura: The Great Buddha of Kamakura was cast in 1252. The bronze statue is part of the Kōtoku-in temple and stands at over 40 feet tall. By public transport, it’ll take you an hour or two to get to Kamakura from Tokyo, but it is completely worth it. The statue itself is completely awe-inspiring. There are also various temples and shrines in the area that are worth your time. My favorite was the Shōkozan Tōkei-ji temple, a former Buddhist temple and nunnery. In addition to have a beautifully lush graveyard, the temple has a fascinating history. In Japan’s feudal days, the temple would shelter abused women and would grant women divorces if they stayed for three years.
Explore the New:
- Enoshima Island: Enoshima Island is a small island an hour or two outside of Tokyo. The area has the closest sandy beaches to Tokyo, so it is a bit of a tourist spot. However, it is a definitely a Japanese tourist spot. Unlike locations that might attract international tourist, I didn’t find many tourists that were not Japanese at Enoshima Island. The island is full of shops, restaurants and a tall tower you can ride to the top. It’s also home to a shrine, beautiful gardens and absolutely zero cars. Wandering around the island is an excellent way to spend the day! Don’t forget to grab a cone of sweet potato ice cream while you’re there!
- Public Parks: You may have noticed that many of the locations I recommend have beautiful grounds. I don’t know if it’s because so much of Japan (especially around Tokyo) is densely populated, but the country has some of the best public outdoor spaces I’ve ever seen. They really are innovative and creative with how they use their public park space. All of that is to say, if you’re traveling with kids or not, I highly recommend you check out some of Japan’s public playgrounds. The equipment is unlike any you’ll find anywhere else!
- 100 Yen Stores: Perhaps this is just me, but I loved wandering around 100 yen stores in Japan! These stores are the equivalent to an American dollar store and are a great way to try a few Japanese snacks, pick up some fun souvenirs or just kill an hour or so! Assuming you’ve never been to Japan before, everything will be novel and exciting… you never know what you’re going to find!
This list barely gets you outside of Tokyo! Japan so packed with places to see and explore, you can spend months just in Tokyo and find something new to do each day! Japan is amazingly safe and has an excellent public transportation system, so get out there! Have you ever been to Japan? Have any additional favorites or recommendations outside the Tokyo area? Let us know in the comments!