Japan – 15 things to do on your first visit

1. Eat all the sushi!

Everywhere I’ve been, sushi was not a budget friendly option. Well, not in Japan! If you are a sushi lover, Japan will be a paradise for you because this is actually one of the cheapest meals you can get. My favourite places were the ones with conveyor belt and all you can drink Matcha tea. Plates cost between 100-270 yen and are colour-coded. There’s plenty of small, independent places or chains like Sushiro or Hamazushi which can be found everywhere and they are always full of options. Go and stuff your face with all kinds of fish!

Conveyor belt sushi.
Bluefin Tuna nigiri for breakfast on Tsukiji Market. Unfortunately this market doesn’t exist anymore.

2. Visit Akihabara.

This district is known for all anime/manga/video games and tech news. If you’re looking for a figurine or other collectibles of your favourite hero – you’ll definitely find it here. There’s few stores high Animate, Mandarake and dozens of other similar shops and establishments. One of the main attraction in Akihabara is Maid Cafe where waitresses look like maids and treat you like you’re the master. You’ll notice plenty of dressed up girls who are handing over the flyers. The experience itself made me rather uncomfortable but hey, it’s Japan! I had to try everything.

One of the main streets in Akihabara.

3. Shop in Harajuku.

Visit Takeshita Street in Tokyo for all pink and girly stuff. This street is all what you ever imagined about shopping in Japan. Colourful clothes, pink cotton candy, cosplay costumes and cat cafes. Harajuku is all about sweetness and quirky stuff. Word Kawaii describes it well.

Always crowded Takeshita Street.
Pancakes with variety of toppings can be spotted through whole Takeshita Street.

4. Relax in Onsen.

Japanese hot springs will take you to a whole new world. Word “relaxed” doesn’t even describe the way you’ll feel after using it. The whole experience may be a bit intimidating at first. Not everyone likes to get naked in front of strangers. There’s an etiquette you need to follow, which you can learn here . Once you overcome this, using an onsen is one of the best things in the world. Bathing naked outside while looking at the stars? It doesn’t get any better then this. Feels so natural.

Of course no photos are allowed 😉

5. Go cultural in Kyoto.

While Tokyo is all about modern culture, Kyoto will take you centuries back to times of Shoguns, Samurais and Geishas. This is a very popular place amongst the Japanese tourists as well. You’ll see hundreds of teenagers dressed in traditional kimonos wandering around famous Fushimi-Inari-Taisha Temple or in magical Bamboo Forest. There’s countless amount of temples, shrines and other historically important structures to visit.

Bamboo Forest.

6. Feed the deers in Nara.

While you stop in Nara to see the biggest wooden building in the world, Todaiji Temple, save some time for the stroll down the Nara Park to feed the deers! They are surprisingly tamed and expecting to be fed. You can buy crackers made specially for them. Be careful though, once the deers see the crackers in your hand, you’ll be surrounded 🙂 I got bitten in my bum by one of the demanding pals. Treat them with respect as they are considered messengers of gods and designated as natural treasure.

Full pack of crackers gone in 5 seconds!

7. See rush hour in Shinjuku station.

The busiest metro station in the world. It has over 200 exits and 3.6 million people passing through. Daily. It’s fascinating to see how many people can fit into one train if necessary.

8. Climb Mt Fuji.

This perfectly shaped volcano is a symbol of Japan. That’s the first picture that pops out when typing “Japan” in Google images. It’s the country’s highest peak, 2776 meters. The official climbing season starts on 1st of July and closes on 14th of September. With all the huts open and nice weather, this is the safest time to climb. It attracts thousands of climbers every day in open season. You can try off-season climbing, without the crowds. More on that on separate post.

Photo taken in March. Fuji is covered in snow and all the paths are closed.
This photo was taken few days after the climbing season has finished. No snow on the paths yet.

9. Rent a camper van.

On our first trip to Japan, we rented a camper van and drove all the way to Hiroshima. Japan is very road trip-friendly. You can find Michi-no-eki (roadside rest stops) everywhere. Domestic tourism is very popular so those rest stops are usually busy. They are also nicely equipped. There’s always a toilet, store with local specialties and onsen nearby. Independent travel is a great way to see local life outside of touristy areas.

Some places can’t be reached without your own transport.
Hidden Japanese village where dolls replaced the departed. Best to visit with your own car.
Our cosy campervan.

10. Take a ride in the Bullet Train.

Don’t get me wrong, it’s not an out of this world experience. Inside it looks just like a normal train. And it’s quite pricey. It’s fascinating though that you can get from Tokyo to Kyoto in two hours and it’s 450km. As a tourist you can buy JR Pass for a week and use most of the trains. More on that here https://www.japan-guide.com/e/e2361.html.

11. Join Cosplay Parade.

Hundreds of people walking down the street dressed up as they favourite manga characters. I can’t oversell it. They love to be photographed so don’t be shy!

12. Visit Hiroshima.

Hiroshima is know for a tragic bombing in the end of The World War II in 1945. You can visit Peace Memorial Park and see the ruins of Genbaku Dome, one of the few buildings that was left standing after the bombing. The city itself is really cool and people are very friendly. Don’t miss their specialty – Okonomiyaki.

Genbaku Dome.
Barbecue with locals.

13. Try Michelin Star dining.

Japan is the country with the most Michelin-star awarded cities. There are over 200 in Tokyo, over 100 in Kyoto and Osaka. There are so many varieties as well: sushi, teppanyaki, soba, ramen, fusion. And some of them are very affordable, you just have to patiently wait in line to try it. Japan is a paradise for every foodie. Their attention to detail and dedication makes up for something truly unique. Here’s the list of all Michelin Star places in Japan https://guide.michelin.co.jp/. We visited Omakase Sushi in Osaka https://gm.gnavi.co.jp/shop/0515032501/ and one of the cheap Ramen places in Tokyo https://gm.gnavi.co.jp/shop/0116028302/.

Ramen Bowl!

14. Visit one of the many Theme Cafes.

No trip to Japan is complete without visiting one of the quirky Theme Cafes. This experience might be one of the best things ever for some people, and one of the most awkward for others. It doesn’t matter which one you are, this has to be done. There are a lot of themes to choose from: colourful kawaii places that look like someone just threw up the rainbow, for example Monster Cafe, very disturbing and weird like previously mentioned Maid Cafe, or something completely different. Here’s the list of the best ones in Tokyo https://jw-webmagazine.com/10-best-themed-cafes-and-restaurants-to-visit-in-tokyo-2018-74b9b7261099/, find your type and go. No matter if you will love it or hate it- I guarantee this will be an unforgettable experience.

Monster Cafe.
And it’s bathroom.

15. Stay in traditional Ryokan.

Ryokan is a type of traditional Japanese inn. We’re talking tatami-matted rooms, communal baths and other common areas where guests can wear traditional yukata (bathrobe) and enjoy the peacefulness. Some are so traditional that you won’t find WiFi or heating there. All ryokans should have their own onsen or sento. The difference between those two will be explained in separate post. If you want a taste of real luxury you can go for ryokan with private onsen, although these are quite pricey. We managed to book famous amongst the backpackers Kimi Ryokan https://www.kimi-ryokan.jp/english/en/. I must admit that sleeping on a futon was one of the best sleeps I had in my life. Smell of tatami might be a bit overwhelming at first but once you get use to it, it’s very soothing.

Our room in Kimi Ryokan.
Traditional room in hostel in Hiroshima.

Thanks for reading!

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