Things to do in JAPAN
I’ve lived in Kyoto, Japan twice: the first time was from 2015 to 2016 as a student, and the second time was for 6 months on a working holiday in 2018. There are many reasons why I love Japan! Here are some places, activities, food and drink that you can try on your next visit!
Highly recommended! ✓ Not for me... ✗
PLACES to visit:
Arashiyama • 嵐山 ✓
I love everything about this little district!
The Monkey Park, the Bamboo Grove (cough overrated), the Tenryuji temple garden, cute souvenirs, traditional treats like matcha and yatsuhashi, the gorgeous night-view of the Kimono Forest, and traditional clothing rental shops all mean that you have a long and busy day ahead! Travel in October and you can see the mountains burst with colour from the vibrant autumn leaves!
Kobe • 神戸
A lovely day trip spent strolling along the restored port, taking a short boat trip, and gazing at the night sky from Kobe tower. Kobe beef was quite expensive but it made for an unforgettable culinary experience! …and I have bragging rights.
Fushimi Inari • 伏見稲荷大社 ✗
After 100 red gates, you've seen them all.
Gion • 祇園
Expensive and crowded but great for potential late-night maiko and geisha spotting! While you’re in the area, I recommend strolling around Yasaka Shrine and then seeing a traditional performance at Gion Corner as you wait for the lanterns to turn on and the maiko and geisha to scurry to work.
Kinkakuji • 金閣寺
Tourist-central…but I’m glad I got to witness the setting sun bouncing off the beautiful gold leaves. I'd love to see it covered with snow in the winter!
Heian Shrine • 平安神宮
It was very peaceful and quiet. In my opinion, the gardens are worth paying for!
Philosopher's Path • 哲学の道
In my honest opinion, it's not worth the trip outside of cherry blossom season (April). However, in Spring, it becomes the most beautiful path you've ever seen!
THINGS to DO:
Hot springs/ Public baths • 温泉 / 銭湯 ✓
Being naked with strangers (of the same sex, calm down) is only weird until you get distracted by how relaxed you feel. Not only is it great for your skin and your blood circulation to dip in and out of the hot and cold baths and saunas, but it’s also quite liberating and refreshing to enforce the idea that with clothes off we’re all the same. I recommend Hyotan in Kyushu after checking out the 7 Hells of Beppu, and Nizaemon in Katsura.
Karaoke • カラオケ ✓
My favourite past-time! It’s great to sing your heart out, especially when slightly to incredibly intoxicated from all-you-can-drink! I often frequented Rainbow.
Go to a maid café • メイドカフェに行く
I went to Maidreamin in Osaka and it was a wonderful and unusual experience! It really brought out the girly side of me!
Go to an arcade • アーケード
Japanese arcades can be quite overwhelming!
You can show off your mad skills on the rhythm games, throw money at the claw machines to try and win a giant plushie, gamble at the pachinko machines, or take and decorate sticker (-sized!) photos!
THINGS to EAT:
Doria and Omurice • ドリア & オムライス ✓
Doria is like an Asian lasagna and omurice is a rice dish covered with a beautifully sculpted omelette. There are few things more interesting and delightful to consume. Pomme’s is Omurice Paradise!
Ramen • ラーメン
A classic dish!
Warning: it can be very filling so do not attempt to eat before or after to avoid combusting!
Traditional sweets • お菓子
Dango (rice cakes on a stick. I prefer the tri-coloured one),
taiyaki (a fish-shaped pastry. Custard filling is delicious),
dorayaki (two pancakes squished together),
yatsuhashi (comes dried or non-dried. Cinnamon was my favourite flavour),
castella (a fluffy cake that originated from Portugal),
purin (a custard-like pudding),
kinako (soybean powder. Kinako warabi-mochi is a must-try),
kakigori (shaved iced. As necessary as Korean bingsu in summer)
I highly recommend that you try them all!
Well, except sakura mochi. Next to Italian Limoncello, it was the worst thing I’ve ever put in my mouth…Take my word for it, sakura ice-cream or even a sakura latte from Starbucks is a lot better.
Meat • 肉 ✓
I’m allergic to seafood but I love the succulent, rich meat that Japan has to offer. Hambagu, shabu-shabu, yakiniku, steak, and cutlets must be tried!
Meat on rice (donburi) has a special place in my stomach: oyakodon (chicken and egg on rice), gyudon (beef on rice; shout out to Matsuya!), katsudon (pork cutlet on rice) are delightful.
If you prefer seafood, then the obvious choice would be sushi but unagi (eel) and Osaka famous octopus balls (takoyaki) are just as popular.
THINGS to DRINK:
Matcha • 抹茶
I mention Japanese green tea as one of the things to do in Kyoto! Authentic green tea (powder) is rich and healthy, and has an aftertaste that you eventually go back to again and again. Maybe you prefer matcha kit-kats, ice-cream, cookies, lattes, or the tea itself. Maybe you’ll prefer sencha (green tea leaves), which can have a lighter taste if not left to steep for too long. If you really enjoy the taste of matcha then you could attend a tea ceremony, take a class, or take a day-trip to Uji in Kyoto.
Alcohol • お酒
Crisp and refreshing beer; sweet yet strong plum wine, world-famous Japanese whisky either on the rocks or in a highball (a cocktail), a Strong or Strong Zero chu-hai before you hit the club, or chilled or warm rice wine…pick your poison!
The all-you-can-drink option at izakayas (Japanese-style pubs) or at karaoke is the best way to try many different alcoholic drinks, but try not to mix too much!
THINGS to SEE:
A sumo • 相撲
I saw one in passing in Nara. He was massive, tall, sported a top knot, and had a mixture of fat and muscle bursting out of his yukata. It was a rare sight and so you’re more likely to see a sumo in the ring!
The Sika deer at Nara • 奈良の鹿 ✗
They're cute and polite when they bow for your cheap biscuit bribes
...until they shit by your feet.
A taiko drum performance • 太鼓のショー
I’ve seen two great performances: one during a festival in Kyushu and the other at the Toei Studio Park in Kyoto. I, personally, found them incredibly entertaining! If you can’t find professional performances then watching the kids smash it on the Taiko drum game at a Japanese arcade is just as impressive!
I hope you got a few ideas on some things to do in Japan!
I’ve mainly traveled around Western Japan; I’m sure I’ll get around to Tokyo eventually…or not.
All images are my own and are subject to copyright.