Japan has so much to offer. Whether you want to be overwhelmed with the kitsch of all kitsch in Harajuku, or an overload of neon lights in Akihabara, try all sorts of delicious street foods in Osaka's Dontonbori, or just feel all zen in an onsen in Mount Fuji. There is so much in Japan alone that you could put on your bucket list and tick off. Over the three cities - Tokyo, Osaka and Kyoto, each city is completely different to the next, with an array of different people, culture and history. Tokyo is the place for the hustle and bustle of crazy-town, whereas Osaka is a mixture of zen-like castle and fast-paced movement, with Kyoto being the spot to stop and take in all the history this beautiful country has to offer.
Below are my top ten bucklet list experiences I had in my time in Japan (if only I could fit more in, I would). But keep posted, as there will be a list of the best places to eat and drink soon.
1. Shibuya Crossing, Shibuya, Tokyo.
If there’s one thing to tick off your bucket list, it’s the Shibuya Crossing. This crossing is the best place to stand and feel insignificant amongst a sea of people. What was also so fascinating was that when you did just stop in the middle of the crossing, amongst all the hustle and bustle, not one single person pushed or shoved you. There just seemed to be this nice sense of space in such a crowded spot. When the lights turn red at this busy intersection, all the lights in every direction turn red; and pedestrians surge into the intersection from all sides. I can only imagine how insane this crossing gets at Christmas time!
2. Robot Restaurant, Shinjuku, Tokyo.
Domo Arigatou, Mr Roboto! If you want to feel like you’ve literally stepped into a world of Robots and 90 minutes of confusion, then you can’t go past the Robot Restaurant in Shinjuku. Dine in, be amazed and in awe of the kookiness and craziness of the robots and entertainers. You will seriously be questioning yourself if this is the future? From the minute you weave your way down the two levels into a basement you will be greeted by flashing lights and MJ remixed music, where you will find your way to a lobby area with robots playing musical instruments (or should I say, people dressed in robot costumes). This is the time to absorb what you’ve already seen so far and have a drink before the real magic happens. The show itself is loud, fun and complete sensory overload. The entertainers hang out on a bunch of remote-controlled floats, singing, smiling and dancing along. I won’t give too much away, but my jaw was dropped the entire 90 minutes! Featured on the Anthony Bourdain’s Parts Unknown - and he proclaimed that it was, “The greatest show on earth!” Agreed. There is NOTHING like this, and it could only happen in Japan.
3. Kawaii Monster Café, Harajuku, Tokyo.
Take a walk down Takeshita Street in the capital of quirky-town, Harajuku. From thousands of purikura photo booths, pyramid shaped fairy-floss sticks, thousands of cute and eccentric clothing shops to dress up like a Harajuku doll, and even cute clothes for your pets. But once you get to the end of Takeshita Street all you want to do is have a sit down and rest those feet. This is when I came across (and have prior research) to the Kawaii Monster Cafe. This place is a combination of Alice in Wonderland meets Willy Wonka. As soon as you push through the giant swirl doors you enter a world (which they call the belly of the monster), where there is no shortage of colour, inside or out, an impressive decor in a kitsch willy wonka fashion. You are greeted by a revolving cake-shaped merry-go-round, with four zones, each with a distinct design. The mushroom disco is where you can pick a luridly coloured circular booth with mushrooms hanging over them, or the milk stand which features animal heads imbibing milk from bottle shaped lights. The Bar experiment is a slick bar festooned with glowing jellyfish, while the team room is a teamtime wonderland full of macaroons, whipped cream and chocolate.
4. Golden Gai District, Shinjuku, Tokyo.
If you want to spend time with the locals, then going to the Golden Gai district is a definite must. This district is a one of those rare places in Tokyo that the bars are tightly packed but are buzzing with energy. It is very small (5 seats small), which makes the whole experience very intimate. Each bar has its own unique hook, whether it be its unusual decor or staff costumes, or the signature drink or the promise of drunken karaoke till the early hours. You could say our experience was one that sets others apart as we were lucky enough to come across a bar where our Japanese was awfully jumbled and the local’s English was minimal, but we still had a great time enjoying and appreciating the sounds of John Lennon.
5. Tokyo DisneySea, Chiba, Tokyo.
For the child at heart, you must go to DISNEYSEA! It’s the only one in the world! While the waiting time for rides is just as INSANELY LONG as the rest of the country, the rides do not disappoint! The architecture and design of the entire theme park seriously had me gobsmacked. Each section of the amusement park, whether I was walking through Little Mermaid’s underwater world, or stepping into Aladdin and Jasmine’s castle seriously made me think that I was apart of the movie.
So far my top 5 things to see and do in Japan have been all the intense, quirky and out of this world places, mainly found in the heart of Tokyo. But the other great thing about Japan is how calm and serene this country can be. Especially in areas such as Mount Fuji and especially Kyoto.
6.Fujiyama Onsen, Highland Resort, Mount Fuji.
I had my first onsen experience, and I know a lot of people are very unsure but it is a very interesting and warming experience to say the least. If you’ve never been to a hot spring before, it’s basically hot sulfurous water bubbling out of the ground and you get in to boil like a lobster for half an hour, 45 minutes if you’re game. Like everything else in Japan, the experience is always taken up a notch to be one better. The Fujiyama onsen you get the whole package with all the trimmings to give you a true onsen experience - from the onsen location to the homely but organic Japanese inn to the wide range of water types and therapeutic effects and etiquette. This onsen was also one of the largest facilities in Japan. And if the weather was good this day, we would have been able to soak in a hot spring and relax while gazing at Mount Fuji. While you are bathing with other naked people, that is really the last thing you’re thinking about when detoxifying your body in the bicarbonate baths.
For temples and Shrines, your best bet is Kyoto.
My favourite three historical/cultural places were the following:
7. Fushimi Inari Taisha, fushimi-ku, Kyoto.
So we didn’t really know what to expect when we visited the torii path. We weren’t expecting a lot of steps, a lot of walking and a lot of orange posts! I think that day alone we walked over 30,000 steps! But it is definitely one of Kyoto’s most beautiful sights. It’s hard not to be when it’s got thousands of vermillion of torii gates along its trails, leading up the mountain to Fushimi Inari’s various shrines. The hike can take 2-3 hours and enjoy the amazing view of Kyoto from ¼ of the way, half way and all the way at the top!
8. Kinkakuji Temple, Kansai, Kyoto.
After arriving on the bus, you walk up the long pathway to the gate where you’ll see the crowd of people lining up to pay for a ticket to enter the temple. Be prepared! As a lot temples don’t have ATM’s and there are none to be seen anywhere nearby, so make sure you have cash. You’ll be given a ticket and a pamphlet; then simply follow the crowd along the path. Once you pass through the gates, the moment becomes so surreal. Passing the dense woods, you feel like you are far from civilisation and once you catch a glimpse of the beauty of Kinkakuji, it’s hard to look away. It is definitely a sight where you can get lost in the moment even with the masses of people.
9.Bamboo Forest, Arashiyama, Kyoto.
One of the most cultural and historical places to visit in Kyoto is Arashiyama. Filled with small shops, beautiful scenery and traditional restaurants. From the Kinkakuji Temple we took a bus ride then got lost on a train to Arashiyama, then followed the signs which led us to the Bamboo Forest. This forest is like walking through nature’s own version of green, bamboo skyscrapers, which looked like that touched the clouds. The walk has continual curves and hills and paths leading to people’s homes. It can get busy at times and a lot of people stop and take a breath to take in the sheer natural beauty of this forest.
10. Todaiji Temple and Nara Park, Nara.
Out of all the things we saw and did, Nara Park was hands down my favourite experience. Not only was it for the thousands (literally) of wild deer we got to see, pat, feed and be followed by, but I just felt so calm and at peace when I was there. We walked around for an hour or so thinking “there must be more to this park than the deer”, and thats when we saw the masses walking from this cobble stone/pebbled street. So we followed. This lead us to the entrance of a gated shrine, little did we know it was the Todai Ji Temple. We payed the $5 entry fee before we even knew what we were about to encounter. We gave our ticket to the ticket booth, and thats when we were blown away by the beauty and size of this temple. I can’t even describe how massive this temple was, but there was a reason for the sheer this temple, also known as The Great Buddha Hall. But that wasn’t the only thing we were stunned by. When you enter the temple you are greeted by the daibutsu (weighing at 500 tonnes)!