After exploring the island of Honshu for about three weeks, here's a list of our top ten favorite things we did during our trip! This list is in no particular order.
In love with raw seafood? A.K.A. sushi-- Japan has some of the world's best quality seafood, caught daily! For us, a full day never went by without having some raw fish and green tea, whether in tea or ice cream form. Beyond the sushi and tea, Japan is also known for having crazy, unique, and amazing KitKat flavors! One of our favorite discount department stores was Don Quijote, where you can find a wide variety of assorted flavors in mini size and great souvenirs to take home. Arrive in Japan with an open mind, open to trying things for the first
time. There are so many exotic, foreign flavors. Submerge yourself in a culinary journey, exploring everything from street food to fine dining. Osaka's "Dotonbori" is known as a gastronomist's spot. You can walk up and down the street, eating, drinking, and gaming. A foodie's paradise! Also, checking out a 7Eleven is a must!
2. Go Sake Tasting
Fermented rice all day long? Don't mind if I do! We found high-quality sake almost everywhere in Japan ( even 7Eleven ) at super affordable prices. Our favorite local sake tasting spot was in an underground basement in Osaka. Hidden under a sake shop is Shimada Shoten, a concealed little gem! Here we tried a handful of sake's, some even 40+ years old. This place charges by the glass (220 Yen), so you get to try a range of flavorful, handcrafted sake for under $2 per shot glass. Not bad at all!
3. Stay in the outskirts of Kyoto
If you have more than two days in Kyoto, I highly recommend staying in the outskirts. We stayed in Arashiyama, most famous for its bamboo forest and nearby temples. Arashiyama is only 20-40 min away via public transportation ( depending on where you're saying ) from the center of Kyoto. By staying here, we got to experience Kyoto like a local. Staying at a traditional Japanese Airbnb home, walking into family-owned restaurants, and being the only foreigners there * don't worry about the language. If you don't understand the menu, point at a couple of things and have a surprise meal day! It's the best way to experience the culture and some of the most traditional dishes.
4. Visit during Cherry Blossom Season
Taking a stroll during the cherry blossom "sakura" season is simply magical. For many Japanese, cherry blossoms blooming symbolizes human life, transience (for it only lasts about two weeks) and nobleness. If you find yourself in Japan during this time (early April), you'll see every park crowded with festivals, families gathered for a picnic, and groups of friends of all ages and types taking the view in.
5. Find your Zen
Explore Top Temples, Shrines & Japanese gardens. Japan is full of beautiful gardens, shrines, and temples— the amount can be overwhelming and redundant after a while, so I recommend making a list of the ones that perk your interest. We visited a handful while here and found all our favorite ones to be in Kyoto. For a complete list of all the ones, we visited while in Kyoto, check out my previous post:"Japan Part II--Two Weeks in Japan."
6. Take a Hike
Go hiking and take nature in-- Japan is the perfect place to find your Zen and take nature in. There are so many stunning hikes surrounding Japan, not to mention climbing Mt. Fuji during the summer. My favorite hike was on the island of Miyajima when we hiked Mt. Misen. Hiking Mt. Misen takes about 5 hours to complete, but if you get tired, there's a cable cart that can bring you up or down. If you love hikes & nature, I highly recommend visiting Miyajima.
7. Go Geisha Spotting
Spot a Geisha in the streets of Kyoto. The best places to spot Geishas in Kyoto are Gion & Ponto- Cho between 4 pm-8 pm when they go on tea house appointments. Geishas are a dying art form. In the 1920s, there were about 80,000 Geisha in Japan. Today in Kyoto, there are only about 67 Maiko & 177 Geikos left. So what's a Geisha? Geishas are traditional Japanese females that act as hostesses. They are artists, and they're an enigma to the world. They spend all their lives perfecting the arts of dance, classical music, conversation, games & tea ceremony to entertain the world's elite. Some start training as early as three and become a professional by 15. They prefer to be called Geikos instead of Geishas. A Maiko is an apprentice of a Geiko (Geisha). Their Kimonos cost between $10,000-30,000 Dollars, and contrary to many beliefs, they are not prostitutes; the word Geisha means "art doer."
8. Visit the Snow Monkeys
Head on to the Japanese Alps and visit the snow monkey park in Jigokudani --in this park, you'll find wild monkeys during winter gathering at an onsen (hot spring) near the onsen town Shibu Onsen, to relax, warm up and pick out each others flees. Talk about teamwork! These fascinating little creatures are super expressive and wild, so keep in mind that petting them is not a good idea. If felt threatened, they can attack and become violent, give them some space, and take your pictures without disturbing them.
9. Experience a traditional Ryokan
Japan is full of them; our favorite one was in Shibu Onsen, a hot spring town in Yamanouchi full of ryokans, culture, and tradition; We stayed at the ryokan "Kokuya" and had the best stay of our entire trip! Our traditional Japanese room ( the size of a loft ) came with a tatami floor mat and our private onsen on the patio overlooking a koi pond. Our room also included dinner and breakfast (8+ courses each.)
10. Soak in an Onsen
An onsen is a Japanese hot spring. As an active volcanic country, Japan has thousands of onsen. We loved relaxing in these naturally extremely hot waters, sometimes way too hot for our comfort zone! But after 45 min of slowly soaking in, we got the hang of it. To enter an onsen, brush up on proper etiquette as onsen bathing is part of Japanese culture and tradition. You must be fully naked, throughly scrubbed down, and tattoos are not allowed in a public onsen. Most public onsens are gender separated.
This is my personal favorite Top Ten Things I did during my stay in Japan. Have a favorite thing to do I did not mention? Leave a comment below!
Thanks for reading!