I recently returned from a two week trip to Japan. Since then, many people have asked me for advice on where to go, what to do, and most importantly, what to eat. I’m just a first time visitor, but here are 30 thoughts that I had while visiting this amazing country:
1. Why is everyone so nice?
2. I’m so glad I bought a JR Pass before I came here.
3. Why are there so many people at Meiji Shrine today (January 3)? Oh… that’s when thousands of people come to pray for good luck after the new year…
Meiji Shrine during New Years
4. Is Mutekiya rated #1 on TripAdvisor for Tokyo ramen because they print their name on the seaweed?
Mutekiya’s perfect bowl of tonkotsu ramen.
5. If I had a dream about 90s video games and anime, it will be like Akihabara.
Akihabara, famous for electronics, otaku, maid cafes and more.
6. So a maid cafe is just like a regular cafe except the waitresses dress like French maids, draw cute animals in your coffee, and play Connect 4 with customers.
Maid Cafe in Akihabara, where they draw cute animals in your coffee and bless them for good luck.
7. Wow so many memories from my childhood playing NES and SNES are coming back to me in this tiny retro video game store. (It has an awesome name too, Super Potato).
Super Potato, a retro video game store in Akihabara
9. Shinjuku has EVERYTHING. I wish I booked a hotel here.
10. Is this all you can drink sake and beer yakitori place with a $3 cover for real??
11. So when all the travel books talk up Golden Gai in Shinjuku as having 200 tiny bars in 3 alleys, how come they failed to mention that each bar charges a cover?
12. The Isetan food emporium in Shinjuku puts all basement food courts to shame. As a foodie, I think this is my #1 favorite tourist attraction in Tokyo.
Go to the basement of the Isetan shopping plaza in Shinjuku and you’ll be in foodie heaven.
13. How can a chain ramen shop taste this good? (Ichiran)
Ichiran’s ramen might not look pretty, but the pork broth taste is fantastic.
14. I thought I was going to eat some tofu at Tofu-ya but I wasn’t aware that it’s an eight course kaiseki meal in a palace next to a traditional Japanese garden.
View from lunch at Tofu-ya
15. So everyone talks about the documentary Jiro, Dreams of Sushi. But if you use Tabelog (the Japanese Yelp) the highest rated sushi restaurant in Japan is actually Sushi Saito (here’s Jiro in comparison). Unfortunately, it’s impossible to get reservations, but I’m still glad I got to try a Michelin-rated sushi place while here (Sushi Tokami). If you want to try high end sushi, tell your hotel concierge to book a month before you travel. Lunch is a better deal than dinner.
Tell your hotel concierge to book a Michelin rated sushi restaurant a month before you travel.
16. Okay this hot spring is awesome despite the fact that you have to sit here with naked men (Tenzen). But it sure is relaxing after a day traveling around Hakone in cable cars and pirate ships with views of Mount Fuji.
Fushimi Inari in Kyoto in the rare moment where it’s not surrounded by tourists.
17. They really need to build a Shinkansen (high speed rail) system to replace the Amtrak and Caltrain in the US.
18. I wish I stayed in Kyoto longer and took day trips to surrounding cities using the Shinkansen.
20. This is possibly the best cappuccino I’ve had in my life. (Cafe Arabica)
Amazing coffee at Cafe Arabica in Kyoto
21. Free bananas from tourists all day and a view of the city, I wouldn’t mind being a monkey at the peak of Arashiyama.
Monkeys enjoying the view at Arashiyama
22. Yelp is actually surprisingly useful here. I would have never found this amazing soba place that serves soba ice cream (!) without it. (Sobanomi Yoshimura)
23. It feels like there’s a duty free shop around every corner catered towards Chinese tourists looking to buy horse oil.
Dotonbori in Osaka is just like Times Square — full of lights and tourists.
Day Trips: Nara, Osaka, Hiroshima and Nabana No Sato
24. Even the animals are polite here. This deer is actually bowing because I have some crackers (Nara park, an hour train ride from Kyoto).
The deer in Nara are only polite if you give them crackers.
24. Are you telling me the person (Toyotomi Hideyoshi) who unified Japan built Osaka castle, then his son was executed after the 1st shogun (Tokugawa Ieyasu) burned it to the ground?
Street performers in front of Osaka Castle
25. Ok this is a little weird. I’ve never seen so many billboards advertising male host clubs outside of Osaka. (If you’re curious about these, watch The Great Happiness Space and prepare to be fascinated).
Host club billboards in Osaka.
26. It’s totally worth taking a 2 hour train ride to visit Miyajima and Hiroshima from Kyoto. Miyajima’s torii gate on the water is picturesque, while the Hiroshima museum is a must visit for anyone interested in history.
Miyajima is famous for it’s floating torii gate. Samurai not included.
27. I’m so glad I took a three hour train and local bus ride to go to the Japanese countryside and see this amazing light show. (Nabana no Sato)
Winter light illumination at Nabana no Sato
28. At the end of the day, I think what’s most unique about Japan is the people. I’ve never met so many friendly, polite, and helpful people than here. But I wonder what it’s like to live in Japan as a foreigner, especially with 98.5% of the population being ethnic Japanese?
29. Japan is so clean that the toughest thing to find is a trash can.
30. Seriously, when can I come back?
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