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Why You Must Visit Japan – and Top Things to Do and See

Posted in - Travel on October 22nd 2009 27 Comments Tokyo

When the time came for me to visit Japan, I jumped on the plane. I always wanted to watch – and more so caddy – for my brother Nathan as he played on the Japan Golf Tour Organization (JGTO) with the likes of Japan’s golfing prodigy Ryo Ishikawa. After hearing Nathan brag about Japan, listening to others talk-up the country, and the appropriate timing for a trip all coming together, I just had to do it. Here’s my bizarre reasons why you too must visit the land of the rising sun along with the top things to do and see to make your stay worthwhile.

What You Absolutely Must Do in Japan – All on a Shoestring Budget

I’m not a fan of “touristy stuff” where landmarks are filled with foreigners. I’m not a fan of sticking to my comfort zone. And I’m certainly not a fan of vacuuming my wallet clean for the sake of a holiday.

With all this in mind, here are my five recommended things to do in Japan – all for less than US$100. It’s not the only guide to live by because it’s a strange type of guide and I left out a lot of great places. Some may even call this guide retarded, but it’ll give you a unique perspective to amuse yourself in Japan.

1) Tsukiji Fish Market

The Tsukiji fish market is one of the largest fish markets in the world. You won’t believe your eyes at its size! “Market” hardly does it justice – it cannot be compared to your local town’s markets filled with Nanna jams and craft work.

The fish market is free to visit. You get to walk amongst the bustle and speed of all the workers during their daily work.

Make sure you get there at 5am, which makes it great to visit after a night of partying at Roppongi. The best action at the fish markets is between 5am and about 6:30am when the auctions take place.

I don’t speak from experience, however. I was set to visit the fish markets on my last day in Japan, but I must have turned off my alarm! I went to bed at 3am and woke up horrified to see the time at 8am. That got my adrenaline pumping and shot me out the door and on the train towards Tsukiji.

Don’t go to the market on Sunday like I did my first time. It’s closed then and you’ll be left to walk around like a stupid foreigner. Grab a map at a hotel with details about the market or prepare well beforehand.

After browsing the markets for a couple of hours – yes, it’s that fascinating – I recommend you head back towards the entrance where you’ll find shops, markets, and restaurants designed for the visitor. Buy a few souvenirs. Definitely eat some raw sushi for breakfast! You’re not going to taste fresher seafood. What a healthy way to start or finish a day.

2) Eat a Variety of Foods

Enjoy their unique cuisine. Eat sushi, tempura, miso ramen, gyoza, and knock yourself out with some deadly wasabi.

Not only does the food taste great, but I found eating great dishes throughout Japan and even central Tokyo cheaper than Australian food. A nice bowl of ramen with kimchi and an Asahi beer can be grabbed for less than US$10 at most places. Don’t be scared by the myths of Tokyo food prices. You can easily walk the streets to find restaurants within your budget.

You can easily grab a box set from 7-Eleven or another convenience store. Convenience stores are everywhere and well-priced compared to Aussie 7-Elevens. Similarly, don’t feel guilty about eating at McDonalds. Their menu is diverse and unique to Japan.

Use chopsticks while you’re eating or you’ll really stick out like a clueless foreigner. If you don’t already know how, learn to use chopsticks on your vegetables at home to practice before your trip otherwise you could end up starving yourself.

Also try their beverage sake (also known as “Nihonshu”). I hated the drink, which tasted like low-quality port, but maybe that’s because I was a cheapstake and brought it in a popper.

3) Visit a Izakaya

An izakaya is a Japanese drinking place that also serves food. I think of it as a Japanese eating place that also serves drinks.

Sit on the ground with your cushion. Nibble on salty edamame over a Japanese beer. Amuse yourself at Japanese businessman laughing and wobbling around. Soak in the real Japanese atmosphere.

I went to my first izakaya in Taki within Kato City. After spending five minutes getting down to the ground and shocking my body with the altitude drop, my brother and I had fun trying to order. Eventually we managed to communicate with gestural language that we wanted the waiter to order for us. He did and by the end we were pleasantly stuffed. Two big eaters were satisfied for 44000 yen! That’s unbelievable food and drinks for less than US$50!

I recommend you go to a izakaya in a non-major city and you’ll really feel a wonderful atmosphere. If you want, go to the same restaurant as I did, print out some of the photos above taken at the restaurant and try to communicate that I referred you! The guys working there will probably remember us two Gaijans (Japanese for “foreigners”) because we literally stood out and managed to joke with them despite the language barrier.

Most Gaijans stick to major cities like Osaka and Tokyo so it’s exciting for workers in small towns to serve non-Japanese. I think the real Japan is in smaller towns that rarely get visitors.

I just noticed my first three recommendations revolve around food. Strange that. Time to normalize this guide a little.

4) Top Tourist Destinations

You still need to visit the common tourist destinations. The top ones in no particular order include:

Tokyo Tower

Imperial Palace

Mount Fuji

I never went to Mount Fuji – totally forgot about it!

Mount Fuji

Mount Fuji. No, I didn’t evolve wings to take this photo courtesy of kla4067.

Asakusa Kannon Temple

Asakusa temple

Asakusa Kannon Temple is a popular tourist destination.

Harajuku

Parents, if you’re freaked about your teen’s fashion habits, you won’t be any more once you checkout the clothing in Harajuku.

Harajuku fashion

Not so unusual styles in Harajuku. Just a sample of the fashion in Harajuku, Tokyo (photo courtesy of ehnmark).

5) Akihabara
Akihabara

Akihabara aka ‘Electric Town’ in Tokyo (photo courtesy of cocoip).

I’m putting Akihabara in here because it’s geek village and I’m a nerd. If you’re into electronics, bring several spare pants because you could wet yourself in excitement. From animation and manga, to electronics and gadgets, you’ll feel the charge pulsating through your body.

Checkout the retro gaming or take part in the Nintendo DS competitions littered outside shops. Bring your hiking boots to browse the six-floor Yodobashi-Akiba packed with nearly every piece of electronic equipment you could want.

You’ll be turned off by Akihabara if electronics isn’t your thing. To be stereotypical, maybe the guys can get weird at Akihabara while the girls get freaky at Harajuku.

I took some good photos and videos of Akihabara with my digital camera, but the camera got a memory card error and decided to erase itself of all evidence that’d make any double-zero agent proud.

Interact with the People

Japanese are the real secret of Japan. Every person, but one, was excited to help me when I was lost, which was quite a few times. They’d be going about their day in a zombie-like mode when this big Gaijan approached them saying, “Sumi Massen” (Japanese for “excuse me”). Our eyes met, their body angled towards me, and a smile grew on their face.

One of many times I couldn’t find my hotel. After “sumi massening” myself to six different persons, pointing to a small map of my hotel’s location, and wondering around for an hour trying to hunt down the elusive building, one woman lit up at the opportunity to help me find my hotel. She asked another man in Japanese (no chuckles emerged so that’s a good sign no dialog put me down) who couldn’t pinpoint the building. She then stopped two women on the streets – one of whom ran into a post office, grabbed a map, photocopied it, highlighted my route, and sent me on my way!

It’s not all glamorous. On the trains it’s funny how an empty perimeter formed around me. Commuters stood before sitting next to me. Maybe it’s just what they do around Gaijans or maybe they’re scared of someone who’s head scraps the roof of their trains. Whatever the reason, Japanese are still friendly. Their culture is extremely polite.

Simply be in their presence as much as possible. Though you may feel comfortable around other foreigners, get around Japanese. Ask them questions in broken English, point to objects, and resort to the lowest levels of human communication we all understand.

Please entertain your visitors in the lobby

Center Hotel Tokyo laying out the rules for guests. English isn’t everyone’s forte, but the language differences make for an interesting experience

How to Make the Most of Your Visit

In addition to interacting with Japanese to make the most of your visit, you must use the train system to do anything in Tokyo. I averaged six trains a day as commuters switch and swap to get where they want.

Get a cab one time to giggle at the automatic doors and a taxi driver’s white gloves then use the train line. It’s confusing at first, but snatch the necessary maps at a station and study the system before departing for your flight.

My last piece of advice is something I’ve mentioned, but needs repeating, because I saw too many afraid foreigners: talk with Japanese! Build your confidence. You’ll find yourself doing something primitive with your nonverbal communication. Communicate in a primal language akin to flapping your wings and making buck-buck sounds to describe a chicken like I did at a restaurant – and I think you’ll agree with me that Japan is a great country you were glad to visit.

If you’ve visited Japan and found something you love, share it with me and other readers below in the comments section.

As of now (27) people have had something to say...

  • K.V Subba Rao - Reply

    October 26, 2009 at 8:40 pm

    It is an excellent descripction of Japan. Send me more about countries like China, Egypt and other historical countries

  • Joshua - Reply

    October 26, 2009 at 9:09 pm

    Thanks K.V. I’m glad you liked it. I will when I visit those countries! I’ll find a country’s quirkiness if they exist!

  • gisso - Reply

    October 27, 2009 at 3:07 am

    So great intimate place with nice design! By the way, I invite you to visit Iran, too. I will be eager host, be sure. It is worthwhile to visit once. 😛

  • K N Swamy - Reply

    October 27, 2009 at 4:06 am

    It’s really interesting and amazing to see and know Japan through Josh’s photos and write-up. Please take us to different countries like this. Hats off!

  • SAMEER - Reply

    October 27, 2009 at 8:58 am

    Hi Josh,

    Thanks A Lot for this wonderful experience. Would love to have more such informative stuff.

    Regards

    Sameer

  • Oola Denis - Reply

    October 27, 2009 at 5:27 pm

    Joshua, that’s great. I was also in S.Korea two weeks ago and it was amazing. Come to my country Uganda (Africa) and enjoy the Gorilla (they are very close to humans)

    Regards

    Denis

  • Joshua - Reply

    October 27, 2009 at 9:14 pm

    You’re welcome guys. Looks like I’ve got a lot of places to visit.

    Gisso, maybe. Just maybe 😉

  • debasis - Reply

    October 29, 2009 at 6:50 pm

    Hi Joshua,
    So great intimate place with nice design! By the way, I invite you to visit India.

  • Laura - Reply

    November 6, 2009 at 8:01 pm

    What do you say about visiting Romania? You could find some interesting sights no one knows about . And the idea with this blog is the greatest.

  • amroussy - Reply

    January 12, 2010 at 6:29 pm

    Hello Joshua,
    Such a great intimate place with nice design. By the way, I invite you to visit Indonesia.

  • anurag - Reply

    January 15, 2010 at 12:58 pm

    i’ve never been 2 japan…….believe me. ur discription made me intimate 2 japan…..v expect some more frm u man!!! 😉

  • Moses uwumborche - Reply

    February 15, 2010 at 12:45 am

    Dear Joshua,
    I always read your emails and messeges with interest. I am free going type and finds it very easy to make friends. I love your experience in Japan. If you wouldn’t mind I will invit you to come to Ghana to experience Ghanaian hospitality and some trditional tourish centres. You will also get the opportunity to talk to thousands of people.
    I am therefore very happy to invit you to Ghana. I will host you.
    will be very happy receiving you.
    Many love to you and stay bless.
    Moses

  • Seuaa - Reply

    March 23, 2010 at 11:14 pm

    Thank you to accord me the opportunity to be able to watch and learn from your videos. If I had the money, I would have wanted to buy your books, but that I know will just remain a dream. Thanks indeed I enjoy your messages. Your posted photos are so wonderful. You really must be glad to have had that opportunity. Want to tell you that you also miss something, so miss the beauty of the land of the brave, Namibia and the uniqueness of its people.

  • lalitha - Reply

    March 26, 2010 at 4:06 am

    it is an excellent description of japan. thank u to accord me the opportunity to visit japan and learn more. I’m regularly watching ur
    videos which ur sending. I am very thankful to u for giving me this opportunity to build my conservation skills better than now. I am
    inviting u to visit INDIA .

  • olaniyi olayemi - Reply

    July 28, 2010 at 2:26 pm

    The job done is wonderful,i’m highy impress.tanx.

  • nicholas - Reply

    October 20, 2010 at 5:48 pm

    Thank you very much for informative posts

  • Angelo - Reply

    November 2, 2010 at 7:21 am

    That ‘s fine Josh, you know people can say things like visit Heaven or went down to jupiter and back , guys put for us the pictures which can ,move some of us to work hard or to read hard to reach these places.Please Josh i enjoy the proggie i like it and i do love it.Le poisson est toujour poisson. we like u man thanks.
    :: 😳 😳 😳 😳 😳

  • Paul P.P M - Reply

    February 3, 2011 at 8:00 pm

    Josh, Ithink you know how to bring people together to know what to. indeed iam interested but have to read hard to visit such places in the puture before visiting heaven.

    Paul Mulukwat.

  • vidhya - Reply

    February 8, 2011 at 11:56 pm

    hi
    Those are interesting pictures. Hope you had a good time. Do visit Inida…………as it is called as INCREDIBLE INDIA. You would really enjoy your stay here.

    Regards,
    Vidhya

  • vp ahmed - Reply

    March 12, 2011 at 8:15 pm

    wonderful.
    thank u for all the info

  • Eiman - Reply

    March 16, 2011 at 4:31 pm

    We are very sorry for what happened in Japan because of this disaster could shake many people but feel deeply sorry that the Japanese people distinct in everything .. Goodness, humanity and standing with others … We hope to recover from this catastrophe soon … thank you Joshua because you’re always taught us to look within us to look for others.

  • Doreen .K. keita - Reply

    May 4, 2011 at 4:07 pm

    Josh, i am amazed at your free spirit, love and desire to change this catastrophic and tumultuous world!
    giving smile to the hopeless(its my desire)
    you are my hero!
    Go Boy you have the world in your hands!!!
    concur!!!

  • Doreen .K. keita - Reply

    May 4, 2011 at 4:50 pm

    Japan here i come!!!

  • Temba - Reply

    June 20, 2011 at 6:29 pm

    🙂
    It is amazing! Many thanks Josh for sending all this about your visit to Japan. Information is power, having all this will help for planing a trip there.
    Again, Many thanks.

  • Joshua - Reply

    June 20, 2011 at 6:58 pm

    Jealous of you Doreen and whoever is reading this planning a Japanese trip 😛

    My sister is over there right now for the first time. I’ll see if I can get the photos for everyone to see.

  • Lisa - Reply

    September 2, 2011 at 8:47 pm

    Thanks Joshua!
    I’m going to Japan next month and these tips are invaluable.
    I’ve been worrying about the language difficulties but you’ve put my mind at ease…it’s all a part of the adventure I guess!

  • Jackie - Reply

    September 27, 2011 at 7:27 pm

    Hey Joshua,

    Great advice on here – I stumbled over your site while brainstorming for my next trip to Japan in spring 2012 – I can’t wait to get back to the awesome food, fascinating culture and lovely people!

    2 things to add: we overcame the language barrier with an mp3 language course from Amazon called ‘Earworm’ – really useful and made us confident we could be understood! Also, don’t miss the Studio Ghibli museum outside Tokyo – best daytrip EVER!

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