22 Unique Experiences to Add to Your Japan Bucket List!
1. Ride the Shinkansen (Bullet Train)
The Shinkansen is an awesome transportation experience you don't want to miss out on if you plan to travel from city to city in Japan. Its operating speed is 200 mph but test runs have gone up to 375 mph. That's just absolutely insane. Japanese trains and busses in general tend to be on time or early, but the Shinkansen has been so punctual for the past few decades that the most it has ever been late was 54 seconds for the entirety of 2014. I loved the Shinkansen and wish I could ride it again from Tokyo to Kyoto. What a unique experience!
2. Visit Yoyogi Park on a Sunday
Yoyogi Park is usually full of festivities, but Sundays are your best bet. Every group of people tend to gather at the park to do their own thing-- teenagers, young families, older folks, and, of course, tons of doggos. We got lucky this Sunday because there was even a small festival!
Find unique foods around every corner at Yoyogi. You'll never go hungry here, and everything is very affordable! Pictured above is the famous takoyaki (octopus balls).
Doggos. Doggos everywhere. I was in heaven!
3. Feed Deer at Nara Park
Now, Nara Park is not all it's cracked up to be because the deer there are quite aggressive and they will chomp on your clothes if you're not careful, but if you love animals, I would still highly recommend this place. If you wince at the thought of interacting with angry deer, maybe you should go to Miyajima Island... which we will discuss later.
For the most part, they're good..
Until they look at you with those beady eyes that say, "Feed me now or you'll become the food."
Yeah.... not the most ethereal deer feeding experience, but you get the point. They're not there to take nice photos with us, unfortunately x).
4. Visit the Rainbow Bridge
The reason why this place is worth visiting is not because of the view or the quirky obsession with NYC, but the fact that there is so much to do within the surrounding areas. You have the Gundam base, which I will explain in a bit, a 7-story mall, a Statue of Liberty, and a giant ferris wheel. This place has enough things to keep you busy the entire day!
5. Go to the Gundam Base
The Gundam base is just inside the giant mall. You can't miss it. It was everything I imagined a nerd cave would be. I was never really into Gundam, but I still had fun looking at all the cool action figures and what not. If you're in the area, it's quite worth the visit!
6. Explore Harajuku and the Surrounding Streets
If you have a day to just stroll around Shibuya, visit Harajuku and its surrounding streets! You won't regret it. There are tons of themed cafes (such as the hedgehog and owl cafes), unique boutiques, the Line store, and everything in between. We even went thrift shopping in Harajuku, which was a pretty fun experience! Sadly, we didn't spot any hyper-Harajuku trends on the streets, although people there were extremely fashion-forward!
Thrifting in Harajuku! Loved the items but didn't have the $$$ for it :P
As mentioned, there wasn't anything too crazy that caught my eye, except for maybe those intense shoes below. What are those?
7. Check Out the Tokyo Skyline from Park Hyatt
Park Hyatt is a super bougie 5-star hotel located in the center of Shibuya, close to our teeny tiny Airbnb. Naturally, we had to check it out for ourselves to see what the good life was like. The lowest-tier room they had was around $800 a night. If you don't want to spend half your paycheck on one mediocre night at the Park Hyatt, go there in the evening to enjoy the Tokyo skyline at their bar!
This is my sister, whom I adore... We had a blast messing around at the Park Hyatt as though we could afford the place x). Special thanks to Elevated Faith for keeping me stylish on this trip! They have such cute clothes and stone bracelets. Even though I was in casual wear, I still felt so hip in their Keep the Faith shirt and gorgeous wrist candy! You can purchase them here.
8. Visit the Tsukiji Fish Market
The Tsukiji Market is an absolute wonder. In operation from 5 AM to 3 PM, this fish market is the place where restaurant owners come to bid on gigantic fresh tuna and other exciting varieties of seafood at the wee hours of the morning. You'll be surprised at how packed this place can be, even in the AM! There are all sorts of treats here, so come with an empty stomach! See more pictures of Tsukiji Market here.
P and the enormous tuna fish head. Yikes!
9. Experience Solo Dining at Its Finest
Since the culture of eating alone is so prevalent in Japan, restaurants like Ichiran Ramen are capitalizing on this interesting dining experience. From the beginning till the end of the meal, you won't be disturbed by anyone around you-- even the waitress! Everything you need is right in front of you in your very own cubicle. It sounds lonely, but I actually enjoyed it. Plus, Ichiran Ramen is FANTASTIC.
The best ramen I've tried yet!
10. People-Watch at Night in Tokyo
The Tokyo night life is extremely electric, which heavily contrasts their daytime culture. Downtown Tokyo is essentially a ghost town in the morning, but at night, thousands of people come out of their homes, all dressed in chic clothing, to attend to their various festivities. It's a sight to behold!
Can you see what I see?!
11. Get a Real Japanese Shiatsu Massage
We would probably get a massage every day if we had the money for it. The Japanese sure know how to give a proper rub-down! There are literally hundreds of massage parlors everywhere you go, so we'll leave it up to you to decide on your own (through Yelp)! Be careful, though, because not every place takes people with tattoos! Email them before you go and you'll be fine :).
12. Go Tea-Tasting
What's a trip to Japan without a proper tea ceremony?! Here at the Hamarikyuonshi Gardens, tea tasting was affordable and enjoyable. We enjoyed a tea bowl of matcha and a complementary dessert cube over the gorgeous scenery.
Would do again!!
13. Visit Tokyo Station
Tokyo Station is just an immense architectural wonder, built by a Japanese architect in the European tradition. I know, why build it in that style, right? Well, it's because she went to architecture school in Europe. Hope that makes more sense now! The Tokyo Station withstood incredible natural disasters, such as the 7.9 Great Kanto Earthquake, with little to no damage. Takeshi Miyata of The Railway Museum said, "Tokyo Station is not just a station, it is a symbol of Japan."
Truly a place with rich history! I will definitely visit it again and buy some more of that bomb mochi!
14. Go on a Free Walking Tour
Did you know that there are free walking tours all over Tokyo?! Just search up "free walking tour" and you'll find a handful of options to choose from. Our tour group met up at Tokyo Station, where we learned all about its cool history and noteworthy attributes. The tour involves a LOT of walking, so make sure you wear comfortable shoes! We walked from the station to the imperial palace before ending the tour with a kimono photoshoot. It was great!
Here is Kono, our adorable tour guide, giving us a run-down on ninja stuff in front of an actual building for the palace ninjas. Yes, that is naruto you're seeing. And yes, he gave us origami ninja stars afterward. I died.
15. Spend a Day in a Kimono
Kimonos are no joke. The average kimono has at least 3 layers to keep all of your organs in place for rest of the day. That's nothing compared to what the royals used to wear, though. Imagine putting on 12 layers of fine silk every morning and lugging that around the palace! No wonder why they didn't walk much. If you head to the Gion district in Kyoto, you'll find a plethora of kimono shops ready to transform you into the next Japanese princess. I highly recommend that you check out this rental shop! It's based in the best part of town, so after you get your makeover, you don't have to go anywhere far to experience Old Town Kyoto!
Kyoto was probably my favorite city during this trip because of its traditional style and quaint atmosphere. Although still highly civilized, this city somehow maintained its historic beauty in a manner that's almost enviable.
16. Explore Kyoto on a Bike
Biking around town might not seem like a big deal, but when you're walking an average of 10 miles a day, biking makes all the difference. Trust me, if you rent a bike in Kyoto, you'll have a much better time exploring the city than otherwise. Plus, the views are incredible! Just take a look at this:
17. Go to a Popular Shrine (Anywhere)
Shrines are almost unavoidable in Japan because there are so many of them, but you shouldn't skip out on shrines altogether. Each one carries a unique feature that distinguishes it from the other. I'd say you'll probably be shrined out by the second temple visit, so make sure you stay hydrated!
Above is the Hie Jinja Shrine in Tokyo and below is the Meiji Shrine.
18. Visit the Osaka Aquarium
Osaka is a fabulous city to visit in general, but its huge aquarium is an absolute must-see! I was impressed by the sheer diversity of creatures at this place, and would come back again the next time I visit Osaka.
Take a look at the famous whale shark below! These guys grow up to an average of 40 ft, weighing around 40 tons!
19. Ride the Giant Ferris Wheel
The enormous ferris wheel is stationed just outside of the aquarium, so you can't miss it! Go on the wheel at night for the most romantic sight in town.
20. Pay Respect at the Hiroshima Peace Memorial Park
The Peace Memorial Park was perhaps the most somber visit we had in Japan. It was humbling to read about the innocent children who suffered for years after the bomb, due to the heavy amount of radiation.
The building pictured above is the landmark of where the atom bomb exploded almost 600 meters directly above, killing everyone inside in an instant. Because the bomb detonated at such a direct angle, some of the building structures continue to remain upright to this day.
21. Go to Miyajima Island
Miyajima Island is like Nara Park meets Kyoto meets Okinawa. There is everything at this island: deer on the beach, shrines, food and pure fun. I would rent a hotel on Miyajima the next time I visit because of how enjoyable it was!
22. Visit Rabbit Island
Our last stop on the trip is Okunoshima, the Rabbit Island. This was a complete DREAM COME TRUE!!! There are hundreds of thousands of rabbits on the island because during WWII, Okunoshima was used as a chemical warfare factory and the rabbits were used as lab animals. After the war, the scientists disposed of the gas and abandoned the factory, leaving the lab rabbits to their own devices. With no natural predators on Okunoshima, the rabbits multiplied a hundredfold! YASSSS!!
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