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Japan (Osaka, Nara, Kyoto, Tokyo)

Let's travel to: Japan (Osaka, Nara, Kyoto, Tokyo)

Japan is a beautiful country with a well-preserved culture. Whether you’re looking for drool-worthy sushi, unique shrines or the craziest arcades you’ve ever seen in your life, this country is sure to leave you in awe.

Useful information:

  • Transportation: Buy a JR pass if you’re planning on travelling to multiple cities – it’s expensive but you end up saving money if you use it often. You can only purchase this pass outside of the country as it’s only available to tourists.
  • Culture: Japanese culture is very polite and respectful. To show your respect, bow your head when greeting and thanking people (thank you = arigatou gozaimasu)!

What to do:

There are tons of things to do in this country, and it’s impossible to capture all of them. Here are some of my favourites from my 10 day trip in Japan:

Osaka

  • Dotonbori: This street comes to life at night with bright lights, amazing food and cool shops! Go with an empty stomach and try absolutely everything.
  • Osaka Castle & Park: Amidst this bustling city where people are always on the go, you can find peace and serenity in this park. It’s especially beautiful in cherry blossom season.
  • Osaka Aquarium: Pretty big aquarium with two whale sharks! I was pretty into it, but I get that not everyone is.
  • Nara: A nearby city which is home to many deer who just roam around in the park. You can buy biscuits for the deer and take pictures with them. Watch out though, they are surprisingly aggressive if you have food.

Kyoto:

  • Fushimi Inari Shrine: A Shinto shrine with thousands of orange torii gates. The path through these gates is quite long (~2 hours walking), but worth the trek. Running shoes are a good idea. The further you go, the fewer people there are, making it a much more enjoyable experience.
  • Kinkaku-ji: A golden zen temple which was once the retirement villa of a military general. It’s a striking temple, especially with its reflection in the water, but expect lots of tourists.
  • Nishiki Market: a market place with lots of food! Locals seem to shop here and there’s a great variety of Japanese delicacies – mini octopi, sea eel and salted dried fish are some of the most common things you’ll find here.
  • Gion: Geisha district in Kyoto. You can test your luck to see if you catch a glimpse of a geisha!

Tokyo:

  • Tsukiji fish market: Wholesale market for fish. You can watch the famous tuna auction (these tuna are literally as big as you are) where buyers analyze each tuna carefully before the bidding begins – no microphones, just a Japanese man screaming prices at the top of his lungs, a very cool sight to see. The only thing is, they cap the entrance to 120 people per day (2 groups of 60 people) and the times are 5:25 – 5:50 am and 5:50 – 6:15 am. To ensure a spot, you need to line up super early – we got there at 3:30 am and were already in the second batch of people. If the tuna auction isn’t your thing, I would still recommend checking out the market – there are a bunch of fantastic sushi restaurants. You’ll need to get there early for the best ones as they all have limited seating (SushiDai and Daiwa Sushi).
  • Meiji Shrine: One of the most famous shrines in Japan surrounded by a lot of greenery. If you go on Sunday, you might be able to catch a traditional Japanese wedding.
  • Round 1: Release your inner child and come to this all-you-can-play arcade at Diver City Tokyo Plaza. You pay to play for a certain amount of time and can access all the games in the facility. They have virtual games, classic arcade shooting/racing games, as well as sporting activities, such as a batting cage and badminton courts – you name it, they have it.
  • Akihabara: This district of Tokyo is known as “Electronic Tokyo”. There are tons of electronic shops and arcades in this area of town. The arcades in Tokyo have several stories with different types of games on each floor – DDR, claw machines and even photo booths. Definitely worth going in to play some games or watch locals beat high scores.
  • Harajuku: Fashion street where a lot of Tokyo teens spend their time. There are a bunch of shops and snacks here. You’ll spot locals in “Harajuku” style clothing.
  • Takaragawa Onsen: This is an onsen (hot spring) which is also a ryokan (Japanese Inn) just outside of Tokyo. It is a very authentic Japanese experience – you wear a yukata, sleep on mats on the floor in a Japanese-style room, eat traditional food, and experience true Japanese hospitality. The service was excellent and we had a very relaxing time. Note, this onsen allowed men to only bring a loin cloth into the baths, while women could wear “towel dresses” – you have been warned.

Foods to Eat:

There are tons of delicious foods in Japan, and I recommend being open to trying new things. Here are some specialties you shouldn’t miss:

  • Sushi: There are no ‘deluxe dragon rolls’ in an authentic Japanese Sushi restaurant, instead they have some of the freshest raw fish you will ever taste. Would recommend doing an omakase style meal, where the chef selects your courses. To be honest, even supermarket sushi was pretty good.
  • Ramen: There are ramen places everywhere – and they are all delicious. Some of these restaurants require machine-ordering. You select the type of broth, noodles, meat, and extra toppings you want by pressing a few buttons, insert the right amount of cash, and in return, you get tickets which you pass to the servers.
  • Bento boxes: These are great if you want variety and you’re on the go. I liked the ones from Daimaru, which is a department store, but you can find them almost everywhere.
  • Beef: Japanese beef melts in your mouth because of the marbled fat in the steak. Kobe beef is the most famous and is also quite pricey.
  • Takoyaki: A snack made out of batter with pieces of octopus in it. They’re small round balls and you’ll see street vendors making them.
  • Matcha: Cafes will make matcha-flavoured everything – cake, jelly, pudding, popcorn and ice cream.
  • 7-eleven and snacks: 7-eleven has a wide variety of items in Japan. They carry noodles, baked goods, onigiri and all sorts of snacks in unique flavours.
  • Cremia Ice Cream: A very rich soft-serve ice cream in a cookie-like cone.

List by: Yifan Zhou

Yifan loves to learn about new cultures and meet people from around the world. Her travel experience includes a 4 month exchange to Vienna, Austria as well as an 8 week backpacking trip through Asia. She likes to have a packed itinerary but takes detours for good food.

Follow my adventures on Instagram: @yifizhou

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