Top 10 Off-Beat Things to Do in Japan
By Kumi Takaoka
- During the 17th and 19th centuries Japan was cut off from the rest of the world. Perhaps this is the reason for the country’s intriguing uniqueness, and why it still continues to fascinate many people today. Despite being isolated for so long, this highly sophisticated and innovative nation retains its rich and traditional heritage. If you are looking to study or work in Japan here is a flavour of some well-known and not-so-known things to do while you’re there.
1.Have a bento box on a bullet train. Pick up a bento box and board a bullet train, or Shinkansen and experience this delectably compact and convenient lunch whilst travelling over 200 mph. Reasonably priced and available throughout Japan you can choose from a huge range of delicious combinations. The main staples include: rice, vegetables, pickles, meat and fish but the creations and possibilities are endless.
2.Take the overnight train. Why not take the bento box one step further and invest in a rail pass and hop onto an overnight train to experience the bento box in every region! You can wake up in a new and exciting place every morning and enjoy the local delights.
3.Visit Kyoto and Hiroshima. If you fancy a break from the bright lights of Tokyo, Kyoko and Hiroshima can be an antidote. Kyoto’s famous for its beautiful historical buildings from the period between the 10th century and the 19th century, and Hiroshima as the first place in history to bear the brunt of atomic devastation in 1945. You can feel reflective in these cities among the blossom trees and parks, soaking up the warmness of the people and their deep sense of history.
4.Cycle through Tokyo. If you’re fresh off the plane and you want to get to know a place, an alternative to exploring on foot is to get on two wheels. A tour guide can point out the sights while all you have to do is sit back, pedal and wander through thoroughfares familiarizing yourself with the charms of city.
5.Join the city hipsters. Get an insight into the subterranean world of basement bars and clubs in Tokyo. You might come across some run by whisky fanatics, jazz and silent films eccentrics hosting improv gigs or abstract electronic pop and experimental art, to name a few. And if you’re into exploring trendy and hipster hot spots in Tokyo, the districts to checkout are: Shibuya-ku; Shinjuku-ku and Minato-ku.
6.Experience the Capsule hotel. Famously described as ‘The Coffin’, a night in the Capsule may make you re-evaluate life. Despite the lack of space, it’s a cosy stay with everything at your fingertips, literally. This relatively inexpensive hotel is a uniquely ultra-modern experience that leaves you thinking of the cult films: Blade Runner or The Fifth Element.
7.Relax with the Reclining Buddha. There are a number of Buddhist temples and Shinto shrines scattered throughout Japan. However if you’re in need of a spiritual impact visit, one of the least common meditation poses aside (from the sitting and standing poses) is displayed in the statue, The Reclining Buddha in Fukuoka, south west Japan is a spectacle to behold and weighs over 300 tons.
8.Head outside the city. Hop on a train to a remote village outside the city or aim for the mountains. You could even hire a bicycle along the way or bring a fishing rod. Once settled in the depths of the countryside or beside a pond, get out your watercolours and paint a bamboo forest or the misty mountains overlooking the rice fields.
9.Stay in a monastery. Stay at a local Buddhist temple in one of the monastery towns such as Mount Koya in Wakayama, south of Osaka. Immerse yourself in spiritual well-being and natural beauty. And if you’re in the mood, participate in a zazen Buddhist meditation session or drink the green tea to complete your ‘zen’ experience.
10.Slurp Ramen. It would be rude not to, slurp your bowl of Ramen noodles, it’s the etiquette in Japan, so slurp away! Ramen is unassumingly tasty and healthy too, one of the nation’s favourite dishes. Stroll up to a Ramen bar, hop on a stool and let the one-staffed establishment conjure up a meal for you in minutes. Sit back and relax, preferably with an Asahi beer, and you’ll be in Ramen Nirvana.
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