Japan is by far one of my fav countries. I have spent over 2 months in this incredible country and I have been lucky to experience a lot… still I am aware there’s plenty more to see and explore.
However, had so many of you asking me what was my top 10 things to do while in Japan and I realize that is almost impossible to choose only two handful of adventures to get into, so I have decided to compile a list of 30 experiences that I had while in the Rising Sun Land that I would highly recommend.
This will be divided in 3 posts.
So first top 10 things to do while in Japan:
1. Climb Mount Fuji (Shizuoka)
Here we go, let’s start with perhaps the most difficult one: Japan tallest peak, Fuji-San, as it’s commonly called is the postcard of this wonderful country. This active volcano, is considered by the locals as a sacred mountain and it’s been used as a pilgrimage site for centuries. You can only summit during the Summer and I advise you to be prepared mentally and physically. Climbing it was one of the most challenging things I ever done as I wasn’t prepared (didn’t have the proper gear, not enough clothes, didn’t have a walking stick or even food or enough water), and pretty much complained the 11h journey that took me to go up and then down, but wow, the views and the feeling were definitely worth it.
Also, I must be honest and let you know that the odds of being passed by a Japanese grandad with a walking stick are as high as you start your hike to the top and you will think “Surely, if he can make it, this will be a piece of cake” … oh well, you will be surprised..!
Advice, do it during the night (and have really warm clothes as I felt like I was going to freeze to death), in order to see the sunrise at the top around 5am.
2. Kimono Experience
If you ever in Japan you MUST wear a Kimono, you just have to. Whether you are a female, male, aphrodite, alien… well, you get the picture.
There’s plenty of places where you can rent a kimono or a yukata (Summer kimonos) and independent if you are alone or in a group, you surely will have plenty of fun, and also realize how comfortable can be. Lucky Japanese.
My only advice is to do it somewhere where you can also take a cool photo shoot like next to a shrine/temple, or like we did, in a traditional Japanese house.
3. Visit a Castle
I believe most people often imagine Europe as the land of castles… at least I did. But then Japan happened…. The castles of Samurais and regional lords in Japan are just breathtaking and harbor dramatic histories of they own.
Also, they can be found in several cities and towns.
I have visited a bunch, from the famous Himeji Castle to Matsumoto Castle (the white and black castles as they are famously known) to Osaka Castle, the Odawara Castle and even the old Hiroshima Castle that survived the atomic bomb.
It is hard to choose just one, but if you are short of time, I would say Himeji is the most iconic one.
4. Sing Karaoke
Going to Japan and not singing karaoke should be a considered a sin.
Asians, like no others, are seriously into their Karaoke and Japanese take it to another level, after all, they are the officially creators of Karaoke.
So make sure you unleash your inner karaoke diva by visiting and enjoy yourself a private room complete with English song books, mics and all sort of accessories.
I have to say that the evening (through the night) that a bunch of friends and I went to Karaoke in some “smallish” town in Japan, was one of the most fun and hilarious evenings of my trip. We spent over 5h singing all sorts of songs and for some reason there was always a microphone being given to me and I surely made use of it.
5. Sleep on the floor aka Ryokan
Think of futons, peaceful gardens, sliding rice-paper doors, yukatas, tatami-matted floors, shrines, communal baths = basically the japanese dream. That’s what you can find in this typical Japanese sleep over. Ryokans are more expensive than hotels and many have some strict rules but by sleeping in one, you will have an intimate glimpse of the traditional Japanese culture and customs. And don’t worry about sleeping on the floor, is actually very comfortable.
I have slept in a few and my favorite was the one in Kyoto, and was quite affordable: but you will find Ryokans for all tastes and wallets.
6. Go for a ride (or many) in the Shinkansen
The high-speed bullet train can take you pretty much anywhere in Japan – it covers over 20,000 km and has a 300 km/h speed, and it’s an incredible experience. It feels like flying but in the ground.
Important info, I would advise you to get a pass – a single trip is extremely expensive. There’s a 7 day, a 14 day and a 21 day rail pass that are unlimited and you can travel all around Japan. I personally got the 21 day pass and so glad I did as I managed to see a LOT of Japan with my pass. It is a great value if you have time and your itinerary includes a lot of destinations.
However, these rail passes are for tourists only and you must purchase it outside the country so plan accordingly.
7. Eat Okonomyaki
When the 2 simple words “Japanese Food” are mentioned, most people think about Sushi. Some might think of Ramen. I think of Okonomyaki. One of the best things I ever tasted.
But what is it? Well, is sort of a pancake containing a bunch of ingredients. The name is derived from the word okonomi, meaning “how you like” or “what you like”, and yaki, meaning “grill”. You can find it anywhere in Japan, but they are originally from Hiroshima and Kansai areas and the toppings and batters tend to vary according the region! The cool thing is that is always cooked in front of you! You can even cook it yourself! I surely did. Yummy!!!!
Kinda hoping to find a vegan version for the next time I visit Japan.
8. People watch in Harajuku (Tokyo)
People watching is one of my fav things to do when I am abroad, and we all know that one of the best places to do it is around the shopping districts. There was so many wonderful places to people watch in Japan, but my fav is Harajuku, where the teenage fashion is just so extreme and sort of “alien” to me. So find a nice coffee shop and enjoy the wildness of Harajuku and its people.
9. Have a communal bath – Onsen
To have communal bath, is a tradition that goes all the way back to AD 700.. Soaking in steaming hot water is meditative, relaxing and a wonderful opportunity to immerse yourself within the Japanese culture.
However, I must warn you that will be nudity involved… and it can be quite uncomfortable ahahah as I experience myself … ladies staring at me… but oh well, to me is always worth to dip into a steaming hot pool. Are you brave enough?
For obvious reasons there’s no picture here 😛 I know you want to but sorry!!!
10. Meditate for Peace in Hiroshima
I have visited a lot of places that have a horror stamp but I can’t recall any other place where I’ve cried straight for 5h, which was the total time I spent at Hiroshima Peace Memorial Museum.
Nagasaki is sad too, but Hiroshima is truly painful – still I do really recommend to visit this place that reminds us the cruelty of the mankind. However, there’s this 17th century miniature landscape garden that was restored after it’s destruction in 1945 and contains ponds, streams, islets and gorgeous bridges, called Shukkei-en Gardens. It’s absolutely stunning and not too far from the museum, and to me was the perfect spot to meditate/pray for peace.
More coming soon, <3