5 off the beaten track things to see in Japan
As a lover of all things Kawaii (that’s cute in Japanese) I have journeyed to the ‘Land of the Rising Sun’ twice in as many years. After my initial taste of Japanese culture on a holiday there to visit a friend, I was hooked! Being in a country which is rich in cultural heritage and tradition with customs which date back centuries, alongside the latest technology, a trip here is truly mind blowing. I have experienced some interesting sights and I would like to share my top left of field Japan must-do’s:
1: Ghibli Museum
Have you heard of the films Ponyo, Princess Mononoke, My Neighbour Totoro or Spirited Away? If you are a foreign film or anime fan I bet you have! The Ghibli Museum (pronounced Jib-boo-ree in Japanese which is so kawaii) is a museum highlighting the technique and art of animation through Studio Ghibli films. The admission ticket to the Ghibli is an actual film cell from a Studio Ghibli film which you receive upon entry, talk about the perfect souvenir.
Once inside you are treated to 15 exhibitions covering most of Studio Ghibli’s titles and some of the features include a replica of the Catbus from My Neighbour Totoro, a rooftop garden featuring a five metre tall statue of the robot from Castle in the Sky and numerous internal and external spiral staircases and bridges. The museum is now in its 15th year of operation and whilst not everything is written in English, it is easy to get to and the experience is incredible. Getting a ticket to this museum is not super easy (you must buy from Lawson’s Convenience Store vending machine) but is well worth it!
2: Shinjuku Robot Restaurant – Shinjuku
The Robot Restaurant located in the nightlife area of Tokyo called Shinjuku is a sensory overload! You start off in the bar which would put Versace to shame as everything is covered in gold, bling and complete over the top.
From there, jump into two of the huge female robots which feature in the show and take a pic that you know you’ll post on Insta later.
Seated in cute red seats in the underground lair, the room goes black, the drums start banging loudly and then the show begins….WOW! There is everything in the show from Kung-Fu Panda fighting a giant robotic snake, to ninja’s sword fighting and kawaii Japanese girls in rhinestone encrusted bikini costumes all set to a jamming J-pop soundtrack. Book tickets online and get there early to enjoy a reasonably priced drink before the show.
3: Mazda Car Factory – Hiroshima
Located in Hiroshima this is an amazing tour….and best of all its completely FREE with an English option too! As a car buff, this really tickles my fancy, so much so I’ve done it on both my visits.
Kicking off in the foyer of the Mazda plant – a showroom of all current Mazda models available for sale – you’ll board a bus and be driven through the Mazda plant (which is the size of a small country). You are not permitted to take photos at this stage as there is classified information and pre-production Mazda models being tested, which let’s be honest, adds to the appeal!
Be educated at the museum which showcases some of Mazda’s most iconic models, head to the production line and watch the robots doing their thing live, making everything from MX-5’s through to Mazda 3’s. It’s a must for car lovers!
4: Rapid Boat Ride on the Hozugawa River
Just near the Bamboo Grove in Kyoto (as famously seen in Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon) take the ‘romance car’ – an open top train – up into the hills of Kyoto and catch a people-powered river boat down the rapids of the Hozugawa River. It’s gorgeously scenic and a bucket load of fun!
With a team of people using bamboo poles to propel your craft down the rapids and the river, this isn’t your average boat trip. You’ll see monkeys, snakes and even deer as well as the spectacular greenery of Kyoto. Before you vacate the boat another river boat stops next to you and you can purchase Takoyaki (octopus balls), cold drinks and even freshly cooked Yakitori meat skewers. Now, that’s service.
5: Venetian Glass Museum & Garden – Hakone
Hakone is only about an hour out of Tokyo. Take the train and enjoy the view as it zigzags up the side of a mountain on a switchback system well up into the hills. I’d recommend basing yourself in Hakone for a good three days or more as there is so much to see. On a good day you can even see Mt Fuji!
The Venetian Glass Museum & Garden is one of the many arty places in Hakone. The museum is more like a little village of sparkling Murano glass and displays the history of Venetian glass throughout the years. While this might sound very uninspiring, I can assure you that it is beautiful! There is a restaurant, amazing gardens and shops selling delicate homewares and delicious foods too. On a beautiful summer’s day, this garden shimmers as millions of glass beads adorn everything from a magnificent archway through to the flowers in the gardens which have all been adorned with dazzling Venetian glass gems.
Whilst Japan caters for everyone with so much to see and do – these are just a handful of things I’ve experienced in my two visits to this beautiful country!
Japan for first timers…
Hot tip #1: I would recommend getting a JR rail pass for ease if you are travelling between the major hubs and also if you plan on staying in Tokyo too.
Hot tip #2: Take a coin purse or buy one from the 100 yen store. Every time you get a bus or train or purchase anything you will receive hundreds of coins ranging from 1 yen through to 500 yen. Trust me, you will be inundated with coins and nowhere to store them all.
Hot tip #3: Purchase from a vending machine at every opportunity. You can get everything from ladies knickers to hot food in a vending machine and all at a super low price and on every corner!