The 30 things you must do while in Japan – part 2
Continuation from: Part 1
- 11.Participate on a Sado – Tea Ceremony
Japan is all Zen, even the tea culture. In fact, Japan’s national tea obsession outstrips even the UK’s. The cleansing of the tea utensils, the gentle bow as you receive your cup, the three clockwise turns before you take a sip: it’s not difficult to see how deeply rooted the slow and graceful movements of the tea ceremony are in Zen Buddhism. Chado or sado, as the ceremony is known, is definitely an experience that should not be missed while in this wonderful country. I very much enjoyed mine.
I personally am a big fan of matcha, a type of green tea, which is the most popular beverage in the country, and also plays an important role in food culture: try it with sweet treats to balance its bitterness.
- 12. Check the original 3 monkeys (Nikko)
“See no evil, hear no evil, speak no evil” – we all know about the 3 mystical monkeys proverbial principle, but did you know where it came from? No, they are not just some emojis.. Guess again: Exactly, Japan. You guessed it right.
Now, trust me on what I am going to tell you.
You MUST go to Nikko, not only you will be able to see the original Three Wise Monkeys, but you will also check the shrine that holds them that is one of the most beautiful in Japan. The beautiful temples, bridges and a bunch of other attractions such ninja training and stunning mountains and waterfalls. Oh and all that is only 2h away from Tokyo. To not to be missed.
- 13. Take a Purikura (or 2, or 5, or like 30 ..)
But what is a Purikura? Putting it simply, it is a photo booth. However, is a drastic one – extreme Japanese style!!! This Print Club – the translation to english, is a sort of a vendor machine where you can take pictures of yourself. However, they are not just normal self-portrait photos, they actually come out in sticker forms and are highly brushed/photoshopped – Think of Instagram filters + Snapchat filters x 10 – but bare in mind they have been around for over 20 years.
They can be found in in every arcade, shopping mall and a lot of stores in touristic areas, and they have been designed with fun in mind – there’s hundreds of different themes and brands.
Anyone can use them but they are very attractive to the young generations, specially tennagers girls. Taking a purikura is so popular than often teenagers go out to take one and pay a set fee to borrow a costume or dress for the photo session.
Oh well, here in the West we go out for coffee or a drink. Wish we could also go out for a Purikura – it is so much fun!!!!
- 14. Cross the most famous Zebra (Shibuya, Tokyo)
Going to Tokyo and not take a walk across the famous intersection outside Shibuya station is like visiting Paris and not check the Eiffel Tour – outrageous!
If you want to understand chaos followed by order this is the place to go. I can tell you that when the lights turn red at this busy junction, they all turn red at the same time and direction so traffic stops completely and pedestrians surge into the the intersection from all sides and directions and resembles like marbles spilling out of a box and it’s pretty cool to look at. In fact, there’s a perfect place to observe this organized chaos of hundreds of pedestrians weaving in all directions at once in a mesmerizing stop-go-stop dance timed to the traffic lights, and that’s from a second story window of the Starbucks in the Tsutaya building.
Fun fact: apparently over a million people cross this intersection a day. You surely want to add that to your bucket list!!!!
- 15. Participate in a Samurai experience
Who hasn’t imagine how cool would be to be a Samurai? I certainly have after watching so many Samurai movies (and no, I am not talking about The last Samurai with Tom Cruise haha)!!!
The truth is, anyone who knows a bit about Samurai culture, has heard about Samurais – the group of warriors belonging to various elite classes who were famous for their loyalty and ferocity and they will forever be recognized as an important part of history as they have shaped the civilization.
So is natural that even in the modern day Japan, the spirit of Samurai lives on as they are symbols of Japanese culture and their code of honour is ingrained into it.
Therefore, if you ever visit Japan, do like I did, and be a Samurai for the day – or at least few hours. We had so much fun dressing up on those armours, one piece baggy garments and kimonos on top of loose pants and I have tried to believe I somehow had some Samurai spirit watching over me – which is pretty cool.
Tip: try to do it next to some beautiful castle (please check here for info on the best castles in Japan….) as the scenery will make it even more spectacular… you might even believe you are back in the feudal times!!!
16. Visit the Sagano Bamboo Forest (Kyoto)
The chances that you have seen a picture of Sagano Bamboo Forest in one of those books or when you click on a rundown of “places to see before you die” are extremely high as it is indeed considered of of the most beautiful forests in the world. It’s visual beauty truly is one of a kind.
Only roughly 30 min from the bustling Kyoto city center, this dense and thick bamboo forest it is a must to visit. You will find a mix of tranquility on the distinct rustling sounds as the wind passes through the tightly packed plants and rustling leaves, however, you will also have hordes upon hordes of tourists prepared with “guns” in hands – read cameras, smartphones, or Gopros, etc – just like you will be, and prepare to wait for a long time to manage to take a picture where there’s no one in it… that will be a major win.
- 17. Have a drink/food in an “Weird” Cafe
Japan is synonymous of bizarre. From the most absurd game shows to weird and wild beauty trends, Japan never fails to disappoint those hunting for the unusual.
And one of the most popular oddities have to be its famous themed cafes.
Let me tell you about Animal cafes – and forget the usual cat and dog cafes, Japanese take it to another level since you can find from Bunnies; Owls and all other sort of birds, Goats (yes, goats…), Hedgehogs, Snakes and other reptiles to even Pinguin Cafes. So you can be sipping coffee with a furry cuddly buddy or with some slimy ones. I have visited the Bunny and the Owls ones and highly recommend.
Other themes are the fantasy ones, I could mention the “low key” and children friendly ones such Alice in Wonderland Cafe, that last time I checked were 5: Alice in Magical Land; Alice in an Old Castle; Alice in a Labyrinth; Alice in a Fantasy Book and Alice in a Dancing Land – which is the one I visited. They are pretty places but all you going to get is crappy food for exorbitant prices so you might want to give it a pass unless you are a huge Alice admirer or want to get some pretty food pictures for your gram.
But fantasy cafes don’t finish here and there are some that are probably best avoided while on a family holiday, like the good old Maid cafes – perhaps the first of it’s weird kind coming up – open since 2001. They do provide a memorable dining experience where the “servers” roleplay as maids, schoolgirls, swimmers and even little sisters.
We can take it a notch up and talk about the “Soneya” Cafe, which translate as “sleep together shop” or how I prefer to call it, “The Cuddles Cafe”. Aimed at single men, is a sort of a cafe where you can enjoy a platonic relationship with one of the girls working there. This means from cuddling to napping together or just laying in her arms for 20min till 10h.
But if you think this is it, let me tell ya, it’s not. There’s a Vampire Cafe, there’s a Jail Cafe, there’s even a dildo/vibrator cafe…. Basically, whatever you can think of, they might have it.
Strongly suggest you to book yourself in one of those eventful themes cafes as it’s not easy to just walk in. In fact, some have waiting lists of days, so organize accordingly specially if your time in Japan is limited.
- 18. Have a cooking lesson
I would dare to say that Japanese food is one of the best in the world (well at least for me). Is super tasty and very often super healthy too.
Now, wherever I go I have this rule of trying to learn how to cook a national dish, and often get cooking classes. And of course Japan was not an exception.
In fact, in Japan was even more special, because the classes I had were not in a school but at the house of the chef, which made the experience and the whole atmosphere more friendly and family like.
As for what to cook, you can’t go wrong if you try sushi, tempura, bento, gyoza, udon, ramen, myso, teriyaki, onigiri, sashimi (not for vegans or vegetarians), okonomiyaki, etc etc. I am lucky that I have learned how to cook all of those. And you? What do you want to learn? And eat =)
- 19. Sleep in a Love Hotel
While lost around Shibuya, I would often felt like I could be in Vegas, surrounded by tacky windowless buildings with bright colours and neons signs advertizing themed rooms. They were called Love Hotels and very quickly I understood that they operated quite differently from the “usual” hotel since they charge by the hour rather than day.
Don’t ask me how but I did end up in one ahahah and what an experience it was.
Taking a “rest” in one of those spaces is a must in my explorer eyes. Thing is, they are very themed and role play oriented. Some have amenities that you have to see to believe, from jacuzzis to smoke machines, aquariums, carousels, dungeons and even waterslides…
While the whole thing might sound kinky, a Love Hotel in Japan is rather normal for the locals who often have little privacy at home.
So if you stumble in sign with hourly prices means you probably found one and I highly recommend to “sleep” in one – and yes, you can also really sleep… I actually did.
- 20. Visit the shop district of Akihabara (Tokyo)
You shouldn’t visit Tokyo if you’re seeking another mundane holiday full of the usual run-of-the-mill experiences. Tokyo offers strange and wacky attractions around every corner, including unique shops that will have attached memorable moments you won’t find anywhere else, in fact, you’ll be hard pressed to find anywhere else in the world that has more diversity and weirdness than Tokyo when it comes to the art of shopping.
And if we are going to mention a shopping district, than Akihabara is the one to be talked about. Akiba or Aki, as I prefer to call it, is the Otaku capital of Japan (otaku – əʊˈtɑːku is a young person who is obsessed with computers or particular aspects of popular culture to the detriment of their social skills). It is the best place to spend a few hours wandering around, between the crazy colourful multi-storey shops, the hole in wall cafes and the maids on the side of the street, it is an experience that you won’t forget.
Aki is also the best place to shop for all sort of geeky stuff to the weirdest stuff. I will share with you my 4 fav shops and hope you go visit them as I highly recommend:
1. Yodobashi Camera, aka, the grand zero for all the electrical stuff. I have bought my Digital Camera here which was a mission since there were millions to choose from. But if you are into tech, gadgets, all sorts of cameras, computers and phones, then this is going to be your Mecca. Plus this enormous retail outlet is full of secret tech that you might not see anywhere else in the world. So worth the visit.
2. M’s, aka, Pop Life Sex Department Store – yes, that’s the name. Now seriously, this Sex department store has 7 floors and is probably the most famous store in the entire Aki. The creativity involved in Japan’s porn industry is on full display and the best way to explore it is from top down – so it will prepare you for the shock. From all sort of sex toys, sexy costumes, porn collection, blow up dolls and other “interesting” goods, you will definitely have an entertaining time. Also, prices are quite reasonable but you must be over 18 to get in and no pictures will be allowed inside the store.
3. Mandarake, aka, the Anime Heaven. I am personally not into Anime or Manga – don’t shoot me, however, to wander around these anime stores is a must while in Tokyo. Being a fan girl or boy is super mainstream in Japan and being a collector for all sorts of strange stuff really transcends gender, age and trust me, isn’t just for the socially awkwards. Mandarake, which is the most iconic of these sort of stores with 8 floors, is definitely a fun and shocking experience.From Hello Kitty to Ghibli toys or just trains & planes, basically there’s 8 floors of anime, characters & mascots , super heroes and all sort of manga comics. Start at the top and work your way down, however, be aware of your wallet. I’ve seen toys as small as my hand costing $5,000 USD and comics costing $3,000 US. Good luck if you are a collector, you will need it.
4. The AKB48 Cafe/Shop aka, the madness. In case you never heard, AKB 48 is a super popular and super manufactured J-Pop group of girls… many many of them, 48 in fact. They are so popular that there’s official spin-off clones in other Asian Countries. They are called AKB because the phenomenon started at Akihabara – which the AKB stands for. And even tho they have nothing to do with technology or electronics, they completely represent AKI culture and as has everything to do with boyish fantasies.
Hope it helps and inspires you to visit Japan.
Last post on my “Top things to do in Japan” will be coming soon.