I absolutely LOVED Japan. From the crazy crowds and neon lights of Tokyo, to the misty, atmospheric mountains in Hakone. The food was great (albeit, not much vegetarian), the people were so friendly and everywhere you looked there was something gorgeous to see. Our stay was 18 days but this was nowhere near long enough. By the end of two weeks I was vowing that I would learn Japanese, become a Sake connoisseur and dress like Lady Gaga every time I stepped outside the house.
Here are my top things to do in Japan!
- Takeshita Street, Tokyo.
This street is a wild mix of cutesy Claire’s Accessory shops, Willy Wonka style candy, fancy dress (I think they are costumes?) and goth outfits that could rival the 14 year old emos down my local park. There is a style to be found here for everyone, but will suit those who don’t need to walk in their shoes the most.
2. Fish market, Tokyo
No, we didn’t get up at 5am to see the Tuna auction. I’ve heard that this is a good experience, but personally I don’t think I would have particularly enjoyed it, not to mention it STARTS AT 5AM! Instead we did what every traveller does: promise to get up early and sleep until 10am. Anyway, we eventually made it to a sushi restaurant and I’m glad we did. Its made in front of you, there’s unlimited green tea and a great bustling atmosphere. We loved how the chefs shouted something every time a customer walked through the door, but then this could be because we had no idea what they were saying.
3. Open Air Museum, Hakone
Hakone, famous for the gallons of volcanic water that cascade down the moutains into onsens across the town, also offers a treat for nature and art lovers. The Open Air Museum contains a collection of artwork that stands proudly in front of looming, mist covered mountains. It’s a beautiful combination and great to experience even in the rain. There are immediately recognisable Henry Moores, an Anthony Gormley figure and a gravity defying sculpture by Carl Milles of man and pegasus taking flight.
4. Go in an Onsen
You can’t visit Japan and not visit an onsen. While for the average Brit getting naked in front of strangers may sound like a cringe-worthy and shame inducing public humiliation, there are ways of doing it without the embarrassment. Our stylish hostel Hakone Tent had private onsens so you could lock the door and relax before hitting the hostel bar for a civilised vase of Sake.
5. Meiko and Geiko spotting, Kyoto
To get a good understanding of the Meiko and Geiko culture I would recommend reading Geisha of Gion by Mineko Iwasaki- a fascinating and gripping true story written by probably the most successful Geisha of all time. Visit the old, winding streets of Gion to try and catch a glimpse. You will know where to stop because crowds of tourists line up along the street with the most exclusive teahouses, like they are waiting for a celebrity. The atmosphere was electric, everyone waiting with baited breath for a meiko (trainee Geisha, recognisable by brighter clothes with a low hanging sash at the back) or Geiko. We were very lucky, two meikos walked right past us and even stopped and allowed everyone to take a photo. It was thrilling!
6. Hiroshima Peace Memorial
In August 1945 the US dropped the atomic bomb on Hiroshima, resulting in the horrific killing of around 140,000 people. I wanted to visit the place where this happened to gain a deeper understanding of the history and how the city has recovered. The most poignant reminder of the imaginable destruction this bomb caused is the A Bomb Dome, the skeleton of which still stands in the same condition as when it was struck. Visiting the memorials and museums made has made me passionately against nuclear weapons. It was a shocking and emotional visit, but somewhere I believe everyone should go.
7. Sake drinking
Served in a flask with two small cups, these ceramic sets are usually beautiful in themselves. Sip it slowly, its stronger than wine but not a shot!
8. Meet deer in Nara
I’m not sure how my heart survived this day. The deer are SO CUTE and tame, they approach you and you can pet and feed them crackers from the stalls. We didn’t choose to do this but had great fun sitting down next to them and watching them interact with each other. They are such calm and elegant animals!
9. Fushimi Inari Shrines in Kyoto
These striking red shrines are a must in Kyoto, but take my advice and get there super early. We arrived at around 7:45am and were able to get the classic instagram photo everyone desires. It’s a pleasant and calming walk up to the top and, as with everywhere in Japan, you’ll find gorgeous decorated corners along the way.
Japan is amazing, my favourite country we visited while we were away. Enjoy!
What’s your favourite place in Japan?