Mithila Mehta picks twelve things you must do in the ‘Land of the Rising Sun’
You may have often heard that a trip to Japan is like nothing else you may have experienced. It's true. If you ask someone for directions, you're expecting just that. Right? But the Japanese remove their mobile phones, look for the location on GPS and personally escort you all the way. You want more? Well, its just amazing having no clue what the next corner has in store for you.
Don't be too surprised if you see a dog all dolled up in designer wear or a vending machine selling cactus plants. You can discover all this and a lot as you wander, but there are a few things you just can't miss.
Do the Shibuya crossing
It would be a real shame to visit Tokyo and not experience the famed Shibuya crossing. Movie buffs will recognize this bustling intersection—one of the world’s busiest—from the movie Tokyo Drift. Every time the lights turn red, a deluge of pedestrians pour onto the crossing, swarming in every direction. Method meets madness in one gigantic human flood.
Ride the bullet train
Travelling in Japan’s much-loved bullet trains (locally called ’shinkansen’), is an experience of sorts. These high speed trains regularly hit speeds of 300km/hour—making travel a real breeze! With frequent services connecting all major centres, travellers will love its convenience and comfort.
Geisha spotting in Gion, Kyoto
If you’re looking to spot a real-life Geisha, the Gion district of Kyoto is the place to be. If you are lucky, you may catch a glimpse of a beautiful Geisha, dolled up in a lavish kimono, her face powdered white and lips painted a vibrant red—before she magically disappears just as suddenly as she appeared. But spotting one is extremely rare.
UNESCO World Heritage Sites
Japan is home to 17 beautiful world heritage sites. Itsukushima Shrine on Miyajima Island has an iconic floating gate; the majestic Himeji Castle in Hyogo dates back to the feudal ages, and the Horyuji Temple in Nara houses the world’s oldest surviving wooden structures.
Tuck into Teppanyaki cooking
Teppanyaki is a form of Japanese cooking that uses a hot metal grill to cook food. Diners sit around a common dining table, fitted with the grill. The chef dishes up hot food and personally serves diners. Most chefs perform a series of deft manoeuvres as they cook such as stacking onion slices to produce a flaming onion volcano
Check into a capsule hotel
If you’re in the mood for adventure, check into a Japanese capsule hotel. Developed specifically for business travellers, these no-frill hotels give guests one individual block (capsule) each, to spend the night. Capsules are stacked side by side and one above the other.
Eat a meal from a vending machine
Japan has innumerable vending machines, which will give you pretty much anything from a bouquet of flowers to newspapers, cans of beer, umbrellas or cactus plants. You can barely walk a few steps without chancing upon one; for the sake of experience, buy a hot Japanese meal out of them.
Get pushed by Tokyo’s Pushers
If you ride the trains during rush hour, you may have the dubious honour of being “pushed” by Japan’s famous “people pushers.”
Their job, as the title explains, involves pushing commuters into the crowded trains, while carefully coaxing the train doors closed. And yes, they wear gloves and blazers.
Play a game of pachinko
Gaming is an obsession in Japan. If you step inside a gaming parlour, prepare to be dazzled by the countless rows of gaming machines in neon colours and flashing bright lights.
The game of choice is pachinko, a Japanese variation of pinball. It is not unusual to see grandmothers and their little ones sitting side by side, playing the game with equal fervour.
Picnic under the Cherry Blossoms
Every year during the months of March to May, Japan comes alive with blooming cherry blossoms.
The vibrant pink blossoms, combined with the stunning natural landscapes, make for some breathtaking views. Planning a picnic under a blooming cherry blossom tree is an ancient practice known locally as hanami.
Feast on black eggs in Hakone
Making a trip to the Hakone region is a must. From there you can admire Mount Fuji (pray for good weather though), soak in the natural panorama of the area, visit a traditional bath house to enjoy the famed hot springs and tuck into the local specialty eggs hardboiled to black in the hot springs.
Watch robots at work
A visit to the Toyota Kaikan Museum and Plant near Nagoya is an experience like no other. Visitors can watch hundreds of robots at work on the mechanized assembly line a sight we’ve seen previously only in sci-fi movies. You have to make an advance booking online to visit the plant.