Whoa…I Wanna Do That! My Top 7

Japan Blog MatsuriThis post is part of the October JapanSoc Japan Blog Matsuri (festival) — Japan Highlights.

The top seven experiences I’ve heard about, read about or seen that are unique to Japan.  Yeah, I know to some the list may seem “tourist-y”, but I will be a tourist when I arrive at Narita airport with stars in my eyes. I plan to balance the Japan N00biness of this post with another one, maybe six months into my stay, with the top things to do in Japan from an insider perspective. But for now here’s my list of the top seven things I’ll be itching to do the second my plane lands.

7) Hanami, or Cherry Blossom Viewing

Sakura Cherry Blossoms

I’ve listed this as number seven because it’s probably hard to miss. Hanami is when people get together –usual in a park – spread a big old blanket, break out some food, maybe a nice cold beer,  and watch the sakura (cherry tree) blossoms, uh, blossom.  The trees are gorgeous, and it must be so peaceful to sit under a curtain of ghostly pink petals, look up and just…marvel. Shinjuku Gyoen National Garden is probably the most popular spot for Hanami parties, but I want to find somewhere more remote, so it’s easier to get a spot right under a tree. Says Lonely Planet: prime viewing season is from late March to early April.

6) Visit an Onsen (Hot Spring)

Hot Spring Onsen Japan

There’s nothing that fends off the cold creeping fingers of Jack Frost like a nice outdoor bath…whaaat? Well, what if that bath was in a volcanically heated hot spring? Yes, this is the power of onsen. I struggled with this one. It’s supposed to be a relaxing and rejuvenating experience. I’ve even read that you can bathe in tea, or take an electric bath, but…you gotta be naked in front of a whole bunch of strangers. Its high school gym showers all over again. And yet onsen are such a huge part of Japanese culture, I can’t go without taking the plunge at least once.  Oh and if like me you’re thinking, “well I’m sure it’s all good while you’re in the hot spring, but what the hell happens when you have to come out? Won’t you freeze?”

I don’t know the answer, but I suspect it’s “yes”. However, there are indoor bathhouses too. So maybe I’ll just stick to those.

5) Kaiten-zushi

Conveyor Belt Sushi

At these restaurants you just sit down and a conveyor belt rolls plates with different sushi past you and you pick the ones that look the most delicious,  then pay for it all at the end. It’s like robot dim sum, but without an actual robot…or dim sum… oh man, that would be cool, but it doesn’t exist (yet) so Kaiten Zushi is the next best thing. And depending on where you go it can be cheap too.

4) Visit Studio Ghibli Museum

Spirited Away Hayao Miyazaki

Studio Ghibli is the animation studio behind the genius that is Spirited Away, (one of my favourite movies of all time) Princess Mononoke, Grave of the Fireflies and many more famous Japanese anime movies.  A lot of their movies are directed by the legendary Hayao Miyazaki, who is also the executive director of the Museum. Here’s Miyazaki’s mission statement from the Museum’s official website:

This is the Kind of Museum I Want to Make!

A museum that is interesting and which relaxes the soul
A museum where much can be discovered
A museum based on a clear and consistent philosophy
A museum where those seeking enjoyment can enjoy, those seeking to ponder can ponder, and those seeking to feel can feel
A museum that makes you feel more enriched when you leave than when you entered!

Sounds like the kind of museum I want to visit!

3) People Watch in Harajuku on a Sunday

Harajuku

Ever since I discovered this website, and began my love affair with Japanese street fashion, I’ve wanted to one day go to Harajuku and see J-style in all its eccentric, creative glory.  I’ve read that Sunday is when everyone goes all out and show off their best anime-inspired looks. The clothes transcend mere style: they are full out costumes. There’s also great shopping in Harajuku too.

2) Take Pictures of Geisha in Kyoto

Geisha in Kyoto

Geisha are almost mythical to me. These women are so poised, elegant, graceful, accomplished and beautiful that I feel like they belong in a fairy-tale. They’re the poster girls for Japan. Their kimono are intricately stunning, their hair and make-up flawless — they are walking art. I think there is some confusion about what a Geisha does, because they primarily entertain men. I was surprised to learn in an interview with Liza Dalby, a woman known as the first Western Geisha, that in fact the first Geisha were men. Don’t go picturing men in drag, the word Geisha simply means “artist”, and apart from looking fantastic all the time, Geisha also learn how to dance and play instruments, most commonly the shamisen. A Geisha’s job is to entertain with her music, dance and conversation, and their dedication to their art is inspiring.

1) Learn Japanese/Find a Japanese Language Partner

Japanese Woman

I don’t intend to live in Japan for more than a year without learning the language. I love the way Japanese sounds: all the hard “K”s, the way many words end in the letter “A”, the sound “tsu”, it’s so different from the mundane English I’ve been speaking all my life. I also like the idea of being bilingual and of confusing people in North America when I come home. No one will expect to hear Japanese coming from a black girl, they’ll flip :) .

And to learn I’ll need someone to practice with, so once I get settled one of the very first things I’ll be doing is looking for someone who’s willing to listen to me babble in broken Japanese and tell me when I say something really hilariously wrong, maybe in exchange for my listening to their Engrish without posting it online.

Think there’s some other amazing experience that must be done when in Japan? I so want to know what it is — tell me in comments.

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55 Responses to Whoa…I Wanna Do That! My Top 7

  1. Hiroshi Tracy says:

    Someday , my brother family went to Kaiten-zushi restaurant.
    Three sons said “Very delirious , especially this plates are great. ”
    My brother watch them with smiling.
    “Oh, do you like this restaurant sushi. Eat as you like.”
    When he saw a bill , he surprised that it was cast over 30000-en.
    Boys ate only 1000-en plate sushi.
    He had need to go to bank.

    Kaiten-zushi called 100-en shushi.
    “Kaiten-zushi is cheep”
    that is right generally.
    Please choose sushi plate carefully.
    Plate looks gorgeous, gold or colorful.
    Maybe It would be 1000-en plates.

    All plate in Kaiten-zushi is ?NOT?105-en(Including?tax)?

    • Amanda says:

      Oh, yes I remember reading that at Kaiten-zushi sometimes the more colourful plates are the more expensive sushi. Thanks for the warning :)

  2. Alex says:

    Good list. The Kaiten-Zushi thing is a good idea. But if I may, you gotta experience the satisfaction of a Yoshinoya Gyudon shop. Served super fast, it’s a delicious bowl of rice served with beef strips and sauce. Sounds gross I know. But truuuust me. Also, add some “Benishoga” for free and a raw egg. Again, sounds gross I know. But trust me. It’s my daily breakfast.

    • Amanda says:

      Uuuh I dunno, I’ve never been a fan of eating raw eggs. Or even slightly undercooked eggs. Very particular about that.

      • Keiko says:

        Hello?My name is Keiko.
        I got to know you in the website that introduces your Brog.
        Welcome to Japan. I’ve been to Canada in Nov. 2009. I stayed in Vancouver.
        I enjoyed myself over the blueberry muffin and coffee.
        By the way, the raw egg is crushed with chopsticks and mixed with the beef bowl though is how to enjoy the beef bowl. The taste of the beef bowl becomes mild by doing so.
        Because the taste becomes sweet a little, it is recommended to put “Benishoga” and “Shichimi-Tougarashi”. If you want to enjoy the taste of the source, “Tsuyudaku” is recommended. “Tsuyudaku” is a meaning of the beef bowl with a lot of sources.

        • Amanda says:

          Hi Keiko,

          Ah so that’s what this raw egg business is about hmm? We have nothing like that in Canada as you probably know if you’ve been to Vancouver. Well, maybe you might find it if you go to a Japanese restaurant.

          Thanks for reading and thanks for the tip on how to deal with that raw egg when it’s in a beef bowl.

  3. zoomingjapan says:

    So, roughly 1.5 years later may I ask if you’ve done all of the above mentioned things by now? ^^

  4. ferret says:

    My seven of many things I want to do on my next visit:
    Been to the Studio Ghibli Museum – I want to go again!
    Walk around Inokashira Koen, which surrounds the Studio Ghibli Museum.
    Have a (many) photo(s) taken of my friend and me on either side of the statue of Godzilla in Tokyo.
    Eat and drink entirely from vending machines for a day.
    Take photographs of the “Dry Dock”, near the Landmark Tower, Yokohama, from various angles during the day and night.
    Visit the Ramen Museum in Yokohama.
    Visit the Marine Tower in Yokohama.

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