10 MUST SEE + DO : Japan guide

Japan is my favourite country that I’ve visited so far – I’ve been 3 times now and even then, I still can’t get enough of it! A few other places I need to go to include Hokkaido and Nara but for now, here are my TOP 10 RECOMMENDATIONS on where to go in Japan!

1. Hakone

Located in Kanagawa Prefecture, Hakone is a popular destination for people from Tokyo for a weekend escape which makes it perfect for experiencing all the authentic, rural Japanese goodness. 

From Hakone, you can get some amazing views of Mt Fuji on days with clear skies.

Pirate ship

The ryokans there are especially famous. If you don’t know what ryokans are, here’s a quick rundown. Ryokans are traditional Japanese inns that are particularly numerous in areas where there are hot springs. Some have onsens that are open to the public if you not staying the night. 

An onsen is a Japanese hot spring with bathing facilities with water that is geothermal-ly heated and since Japan is a hub of volcanic activity, there are lots of these all over the country. 

Some traditional onsens are located outside but many are indoors too. In the old days, nude mixed bathing was the norm but don’t worry because gender separation has been enforced at most onsens.

 Traditional multi-course meal at the hotel

The hotel I stayed at also had an outdoor onsen

I know how awkward it can be going to an onsen for the first time so here are some tips below!

Onsen etiquette-
  • If you don’t know where to look – just don’t look! In the West, we are not used to seeing fully nude bodies of other women and men but for the Japanese, and others who are used to using bath houses, this is not unusual so just go about your business as if nothing is happening. (Swimsuits are also not allowed unless otherwise stated – trust me, it is so liberating to bathe naked)
  • Before entering the onsen area, leave your belongings in the baskets that most onsens provide. I’d advise only taking down a towel and comb and a fresh pair of underwear for afterwards so you won’t have much to leave anyway.
  • Be sure to have a shower using the facilities they have – the onsens are not a place to get rid of your dirt! Most shower stations have removable shower heads, a stool, shower gel and shampoo. Make sure you don’t enter the water with soap left on you as this is socially unacceptable.
  • There are some cautions to be taken too: it is tempting but unsafe to stay in the onsen for longer than 30mins especially as you may begin to feel light-headed; along the same lines, do not submerge your head under the water; if you have open wounds do not bathe as this will infect the water for users.
  • Used correctly, it is such a relaxing experience especially if your onsen faces pretty scenery as mine did!

I could only take photos as no one else was there that morning!

2. Hakone Open Air Museum

This museum is unlike any that I’ve ever been to – it is located outdoors with the main attractions being sculptures in the gardens. However, there are also some exhibitions indoors (unfortunately none of which allow photos to be taken) if you want to escape the heat and it’s quite likely that you will. 

They also helpfully provide you with a map to see where you are going. The famous Picasso Museum houses the largest collection of works by the renowned artist so that is definitely a must-see.

If you have children with you, there is a large ‘climbing frame’ made out of knotted fabric but even if you don’t, it’s really cool to see (and enviously watch the under-12’s who are allowed to play on it :( ).

At the end of a long day, you’ll want to have a sit down and a pamper session and the footbath is perfect for that as seen below!

 The museum cafe

Check out my photo diary to see exactly what I did in Hakone this summer as there is so much more to see than I’ve briefly mentioned above!

3. Kawaguchiko

Kawaguchiko is another area in Japan that surrounds Mt Fuji and is the most accessible from Tokyo (I took a bus from Shinjuku to get here). This area also has many ryokans with onsens.

One place that I really recommend going to in Kawaguchiko is Iyashi no Sato, a village on the shore of Lake Saiko, that was destroyed by a landslide in 1966 but then reconstructed to serve as an open air museum. 

The village is made up of various restaurants, museums and galleries that you can go in and have a look at.

 Beautiful views of Mt Fuji
 A reconstructed thatched house
Cold soba noodles!

My favourite aspect of the village was the shop that allowed you to dress in a kimono or samurai armour for ¥500.

Pretty kimonos with my friend!

4. Asakusa

Admittedly this is a very touristy area in Tokyo but still well worth the visit! Step off the main street and you’ll find yourself in spots where most people don’t think of going. 

Take the ‘kitchen’ street (Kappabashi) for example, this road is lined with shops selling utensils to fake food used on the window displays on most eateries in Japan!
 So much fake food!
Doesn't it look so real?
 Lots of street photography opportunities ;)

Rickshaw guys

5. Sushi-go-round

This chain of sushi restaurants has shops scattered all over Tokyo. I’ve been to the branches in Asakusa and Shinjuku. The food is presented on a conveyor belt around the area where the chefs prepare the sushi in front of you. 

There is also a separate menu with dishes not found on the conveyor belt that you can order as well.

 Conveyor-belt sushi

So tasty!

Being helpfully colour-coded, the plates are priced at different rates with eel being more expensive than regular Salmon. Even so, it is ridiculously cheap compared to places like Yo Sushi and Itsu in London!

6. Ito Kacho

Ito Kacho is famous for its BBQ beef - they serve Kyoto beef, Wagyu beef to name but a few. They provide you with a little stove that you cook the beef on yourself and the coolest thing is when the flames leap up when you brush oil onto it. 

Beware that you’ll probably smell a bit smoky afterwards!


7. Tokyo photo opportunities

If you are looking for somewhere to admire the cityscape of Tokyo, look no further than the Tokyo Metropolitan Government buildingAdmission is totally free to both the towers and whilst the queue to go up may be long, the views are well worth the wait! 

 It was a little cloudy but still breathtaking skyline

Appreciating the view :) 

As well as that, the canteen is open to visitors and because it is used by government employees, the prices are SO CHEAP and you get to admire the views when eating your delicious lunch.

Tokyo International Forum is another place for all you photographers as it is totally made out of glass which makes for some really cool photos!

8. Kyoto

Kyoto is another vibrant city in Japan but despite this there are some really traditional and atmospheric areas if you look for them.  

Kibune is a village in north of Kyoto city and is built around the Kifune Shrine. The area’s restaurants’ floors are built on top of the stream running through the village so you admire the waterfalls whilst enjoying your meal. There is also a hiking trail there for those of you that enjoy walking.

The lanterns made it so atmospheric

A cool place to have lunch is Hirobun where you can have Nagashi Somen. This is when the noodles are delivered to you in a bamboo shoot with running water and you have to catch each bundle to eat. It is so fun and is such a unique experience.

A word of warning though, the queue is insanely long in the summer as they can only serve about 10-15 people per sitting so when I went, they gave us a ticket number and told us to return in around 2 hours. 

 Sauce and dessert to go with the noodles
Catching noodles was really fun! (sorry for the blurry photo)

We didn’t mind because we just explored the rest of the village while we waited and we found a place to paddle in the water upstream – so nice to be able to have a splash and cool down.

The water was so refreshing!

9. Arashimaya 

Since 800AD when nobles visited for the nature, Arashimiya has been a favourite for visitors and it is easy to see why! In April it is popular because of the cherry blossoms and in November because of the beautiful autumn leaves – a good place to enjoy these views is Togetsukyo Bridge.

Togetsukyo Bridge

As well as that, the bamboo grove is equally as famous. When I went, we took the Saga Scenic Railway which runs in the mountains along the blue waters of Hozugawa River. (NB. Trains do not operate in winter from December 31 to the end of February)

 Saga Scenic Railway
 Hozu River

 The bamboo grove was really atmospheric especially when the wind was making the branches sway gently


Be sure to try as many flavours of ice cream as you can! 

They do so many wonderful flavours out there such as sesame seed, green tea, mango (the ice lolly from 7/11 is amazing!).

A display of all the flavours available in a shop in Asakusa
 Blueberry yogurt ice cream
 Grape ice cream
Green tea ice lolly

This was an extremely long post but this does not even cover half of all the amazing things that there is to be seen in Japan! 

**Check out www.japan-guide.com for more helpful info**

If you've been, where was your favourite place to go?

Hopefully this was informative to those of you planning a trip to Japan in the future!


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