Cool Stuff in Japan

Okay, so you’re planning an amazing first trip to Japan and could use some pointers. Here’s a compliation of resources, recommendations, and absolutely crucial experiences you should not miss.

Samurai Cafe

teamLab Borderless

teamLab Planets

The Iron Fairies Ginza

Ichiran Ramen

Cafe Ron Ron

Lunch at Kyubey Ginza

Nijigen Cospa Akiba

Unicorn Gundam Statue

Hakone Geo Museum

Ashinoko Hanaori

Dug Jazz Bar

Albatross in Golden Gai

SEGA Akihabara 3rd

Fukagawa Edo Museum

nokishita 711 gin & cocktail labo.

Round1 Kyoto-Kawaramachi

Ippodo Tea Kyoto

Nijo Castle

Menbakaichidai Fire Ramen

Ramen that is on fire ūüĒ•

Gudetama Cafe Osaka

Beard Papa Creme Puffs

KFC, I swear, really

Hinoya Curry

Ghibli Museum in Mitaka

Samurai Museum

Fuunji Tsukemen

Brewpub Center Point

Bar High Five

Custom cocktails based on your tastes around $20‚Äď25. They get busy, no reservations. Dress nice. The bartenders speak English and are some of the nicest people. ‚ÄčOwner is a very chatty, lively fellow.

Hitachino Brewing Lab

‚ÄčLaid back. Very good craft brew. Eat beforehand.‚Äč

Tsukiji Market‚Äč

Go for lunch for the freshest sushi imaginable.

Rokurinsha ‚ÄčRamen

This is a small chain but very worth it‚Äč. ‚ÄčTry the yuzu broth at the end‚Äč.

Golden Gai

Expensive drinks, but a must-see regardless‚Äč. These types of places have seat charges.

Yoyogi Park‚Äč

Only go‚Äč on Sunday‚Äč if the weather’s nice.

Design Festa Gallery‚Äč

‚ÄčEasily accessible near the Harajuku/Shinjuku area, close to Yoyogi.

Ninja Akasaka

‚ÄčExtremely cheesy, worthwhile experience. The food is great! You’ll have to make a reservation two days prior. Parties of 6 or more require pre-‚Äčordering your courses.

SensŇć-ji Temple

You can spend a whole afternoon walking around Asakusa’s historical district, shopping center, and by the river.

Sumo at Ryogoku Kokugikan

This is a fascinating experience. You can rent an AM radio with a $30 deposit or bring your own and hear commentary broadcasted in English.

Shimokitazawa

Great neighborhood with shops, food, record stores. Kinda out of the way but gives you a better idea of Tokyo life outside of the 23 special wards.‚Äč

Beer Bar Ushitora

One of the most amazing craft pubs I’ve ever visited.

Minato Mirai 21

Kinda like the Navy Pier of Yokohama. Great for people-watching. 12 minutes from Tokyo‚Äč by bullet train‚Äč.

Cup Noodles Museum

‚ÄčKinda for kids but fascinating from a designer’s perspective. You can make your own cup noodles as a souvenir.

Paletas

‚ÄčPretty cool place for ice cream.‚Äč

Aritsugu Knife Store

‚Äč‚Äč450 year old knife seller in Nishiki Market, adjacent to Kiyiomizudera‚Äč Shopping District.

Tea Ceremony at En‚Äč

‚Äč‚ÄčReally friendly staff, small demonstration, beautiful tea ceremony room.‚Äč

Gear Show

‚Äč‚Äč‚ÄčBetter than Cirque de whatever, if they’re still running‚Äč.

Fushimi Inari

‚Äč‚Äč‚ÄčA must. ‚ÄčAbout 2‚Äď3 hours to the top and back.

Samurai Kembu Kyoto

‚Äč‚Äč‚ÄčDemonstrations for tourists. Very nice.

Drinking at Kamo River

‚Äč‚Äč‚ÄčGet some chuhai, beer, or whiskey and drink ‚Äčat the river‚Äč. There’s a lot of street performers and people relaxing as the city winds by.

Suntory Yamazaki Distillery

‚Äč‚Äč‚ÄčThis is truly vacation. Go here with some cash‚Äč for the whisky museum and the tasting room. If you can swing it, book a distillery tour. They’re cheap but fill up fast. ‚ÄčOyamazaki station is 20 mins from Kyoto in Osaka Prefecture.

Osakan Cuisine

‚Äč‚Äč‚ÄčStuff as much food in as you can: okonomiyaki, takoyaki, and kushikatsu are musts.

Space Station‚Äč Bar

‚Äč‚Äč‚ÄčConsole gaming and cocktails‚Äč. English focused.

Smokehouse Ape

‚Äč‚Äč‚ÄčAmazing craft beer selection‚Äč.

Miyajima

‚Äč‚Äč‚ÄčSpend a day on Miyajima island. Lots of hiking, food, and wild deer.

Peace Park and Museum

‚Äč‚Äč‚ÄčHiroshima is a powerful experience. Visit the museum and memorials in the morning, and try Hiroshima-style okonomiyaki for lunch.

Kinosaki Onsen

‚Äč‚Äč‚ÄčThis is a great day-trip or you can book a ryokan for the night. Maybe 2.5 hours west of Kyoto on trains through the mountains. The town is mostly a getaway for locals and tourists, and shops shut down around 6pm because everyone’s eating dinner in their rooms. The bathhouse itself is maybe $10 and you can spend a few hours there.

Research

You’re gonna spend hours researching so japan-guide.com is your one-stop-shop for tourism advice. Consider compiling a series of Google Maps and plotting stuff via odigo.travel so you can download them to your phone in case you don’t have service.

Costs

A trip is $3k on average, with half going towards round-trip airfare. You can find good deals via travel agencies and the like, but this is what you should expect to spend. There's some rare $600 deals in the States because Japan is in desperate need of a younger workforce and tourists with cash money.

Lodgings

Hostels are almost as nice as hotels at 1/4 the price. Guests are adventurous and talkative, and most places are cleaned daily and provide locker space.¬†Snoring is probably the biggest deterrent for staying at a¬†hostel. I’ve stayed at several K’s House and Khaosan locations, and most were good experiences. HostelWorld is accurate regarding reviews. Airbnb is not exactly on the up-and-up, but worth it if you want a local’s experience.

Transportation

Train is really the way to go in such a small country. Here's a great breakdown about train travel! JR¬†Pass is a must for most travelers, and grants you unlimited train travel for two weeks for about $350 USD. The purchase involves a¬†background check and government approval, so you must buy your “Exchange Order” about 3 weeks prior to your trip. JRPass.com offers an affordable rate and 3-5 day delivery. Depending how long you're in Tokyo, also consider getting a Suica card.

Translation

Google Translate App is a lifesaver but will drain your battery. It has this really useful button that enlarges the type so you can show it to servers, at an information desk, or whoever needs clarification. It now also offers real-time translation via photos. You can book an extremely cheap wifi device via JRPass.com, and pickup/drop it off at the airport.

Meals

Lots of Japanese cuisine is palateable to Western tastes, but some of it is very much not. Restaurants in Tokyo typically have menus in English, illustrative photos, or plastic demo food in the window. Forget being vegan¬†during the trip — “no fish” doesn’t necessarily mean they care about the fish oil in their sauce. Learn to communicate your dietary restrictions with confidence and hope for the best.

Safety

From a tourist perspective, crime is practically non-existent but take all the same precautions as you would in any major city. Police officers are everyday superheroes who would kindly offer you detailed directions since they don’t have much to do. Do watch out for a small one-inch lip¬†at the top of¬†underground¬†stairwells outdoors. This is probably designed to¬†prevent flooding, but¬†one only wonders if it’s intended¬†to kill tourists.

Hot Springs

A trip to Japan is incomplete without getting nude with a bunch of other people at the onsen. Learn etiquette and find Onsen ahead of time. You can book your stay at a nearby Ryokan and order a Kaiseki meal for the complete traditional Japanese vacation experience.