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10 Awesome Things to Do in Japan
The country that gave us sushi, karate and Pokemon has much to offer, from bustling cities and high-tech marvels, to breathtaking landscapes and delicious eats. Here are 10 things to do while visiting the Land of the Rising Sun.
Tokyo’s Top View
Having opened less than two years ago, TOKYO SKYTREE is Japan’s highest building standing 634m tall. It’s also the highest stand-alone communication tower in the world, with two observation decks, one at 350m and the other at 450m, both offering beautiful panoramic views of Tokyo and the surrounding area. It also boasts a shopping centre with restaurants and an aquarium at its base, so you can easily spend an afternoon there with your family. At night, the SKYTREE lights up with one of two colour schemes: light blue or purple, and can be admired from up close or halfway across the city.
Shibuya Crossing and Hachiko’s Statue
You know that famous intersection you always see in movies set in Tokyo that starts overflowing with people when the light turns green? You’ll find it in Shibuya, a shopping and entertainment area, right outside the train station with the same name. The huge video screens on the buildings (with sound!), neon lights and advertisements really reflect Japan’s high-tech side. But before you cross the street, seek out the statue of legendary Akita dog Hachiko, who belonged to a University of Tokyo professor in the early 20th century, and continued to wait for its master at the station many years after his death. There’s even a movie starring Richard Gere that was inspired by the loyal canine’s story. The area is also great to get some shopping done, so why not spend the day?
The Bullet Train
Japan’s shinkansen, also known as the bullet train, is the fastest way to zip from city to city. Travel the Tokaido line from Tokyo to Kyoto at a whopping 270km/h and watch the scenery fly by. Not only does the shinkansen offer a comfortable ride and great views, it’s also extremely punctual and safe. Since it started operating in 1964 (it turns 50 this year!), there have been no passenger fatalities or injuries due to accidents. On a clear day, you might even catch a quick look at iconic Mount Fuji, the highest mountain in Japan.
Temples and Shrines in Kyoto
In Japan’s former capital, you’ll find thousands of temples and shrines, each more beautiful than the next. The most famous include Kiyomizudera, Ginkakuji, and Kinkakuji, which is covered in gold. You can also stroll around Higashiyama, a beautiful historic district near Kiyomizudera, and Gion, which is Kyoto’s most famous geisha district. If you’re lucky, you might even catch a glimpse of a maiko, an apprentice geisha. For a nice walk through nature, head to nearby Arashiyama, where you can take in some lovely sights and even see hundreds of monkeys roaming free at the top of Monkey Park Iwatayama.
A Picnic Under the Cherry Blossoms
When these breathtakingly lovely pale pink flowers blossom, all of Japan comes out to see (and snap pics) of them. A lot of symbolism is attached to these trees, which have been around for hundreds of years; the Japanese celebrate the arrival of cherry blossom season by organizing hanami, which is essentially a picnic under the trees with friends and family. There are several spots around the country to enjoy these beauties. If you’re visiting at the right time of year, they’re impossible to miss!
The Tsukiji Fish Market
Tsukiji is the largest wholesale fish market in Tokyo, and one of the biggest in the world. Fresh fish and seafood are brought in daily, and there is a tuna auction every morning for intermediate wholesalers, as well as agents for restaurants and large retailers. The tuna auction is what attracts most people, and it can be watched for free on a first-come, first-serve basis. You’re in for an early morning, though, as it starts at 5 a.m. There are, however, strict visitor rules to abide by when visiting, and tourists are not always let into the inner market. But simply walking around the outer market and stopping at one of the restaurants for the freshest sushi you’ve ever tasted is an unforgettable experience in itself.
A Stay at a Traditional Japanese Inn
Even if only for one night, try staying at a traditional Japanese inn, known as a ryokan. You’ll get to sleep in a futon bed on a tatami floor-one of the most comfortable sleeping arrangements known to man. Ryokan are found all over Japan, especially near natural hot springs, which are also not to be missed. Typically, you can reserve one night in a ryokan, which includes a meal of kaiseki ryori (multiple courses of traditional Japanese cuisine), access to the hotel’s hot spring baths, and breakfast the next morning. Although the nude policy at the onsen may make certain people hesitant, once your robe is off, you’ll see that it’s all well worth it. The ultimate way to relax and take in Japanese culture at the same time.
Japanese Food (Other Than Sushi)
Of course, you should try to eat some sushi while you’re in Japan. It’ll probably be the best you’ve ever had. There are even fun fast-food style sushi shops where you can pick plates of sushi off a conveyor belt. But Japanese cuisine has so much more delicious food to offer. Don’t miss the opportunity to try real ramen noodles, tonkatsu (tasty breaded deep-friend pork cutlets), Japanese curry, yakitori (yummy grilled chicken on skewers), tempura (deep-fried seafood and veggies coated in batter), soba and udon noodles (which can be enjoyed hot or cold), okonomiyaki (a type of Japanese pancake), and much more.
A Sumo Wrestling Match
Watching Japan’s national sport, sumo wrestling, is an experience unlike any other. The lack of weight restrictions in the sport, which has been around for centuries, is the reason many wrestlers are so heavy. Sumo still respects traditions like certain rituals during the ceremony, and the fact that only men can become wrestlers. The matches are lively and exciting, and Japan is the only country in the world where the sport is practiced professionally. Don’t miss the chance to see it in full action.
Peace Memorial Park
Hiroshima is known worldwide as the site where the first atomic bomb was dropped on August 6, 1945. In order to commemorate this devastating event in the Japan’s history, Peace Memorial Park was created in the centre of the city, in the area that was most gravely affected by the explosion. There are several monuments and symbols around the park, like the A-Bomb Dome, which was the building closest to wear the nuclear bomb dropped. The Peace Memorial Museum makes for an interesting visit if you want to learn more about the bomb and its effects. It also houses plenty of pictures and memorabilia.