Turning Japanese

Here is my random assortment of happy memories and thoughts on travel in Japan. Sorry this is kind of a brain dump. I haven't been since 2007, so there's potential for this to be a dated. And for me to have forgotten things. A ringing endorsement!

Above: Shibuya bar, Tokyo

A few general things you have to love:

  • The food. Always eat Japanese, and eat everything – bentos, sushi, curry, ramen, fish, soba noodles, yakitori, miso – it is all so so good.
  • Shinkansen (bullet trains) – the greatest form of transport ever.
  • Staying in ryokans and sleeping on tatami mats and futons.
  • Drinking great Japanese beer on the street from vending machines and on fast trains...and at all meals.
  • The shopping.
  • Warm toilet seats.
  • Politeness, order, the Tokyo metro system, the organisation, the perfect packaging, attention to detail, bowing to people in shops.

Above: Green green tea

Definitely walk down Omotesando-dori in Aoyama for a day of fashion and architecture. If you want to do this exploring on a weekend you could start at Harajuku Station and see the kids that dress up in costumes, then walk down Omotesando-dori  (I think Sundays is traditionally dress up day).

Above: BAPE, Tokyo

On Omotesando-dori and off in its side streets you'll find designer stores, interesting little shops, remarkable architecture, cool interiors, including these highlights:
  • Olympic Stadium (you can see this as you go by from Harajuku Station)
  • Crayon House (off main street; gorgeous children's book store; 3-8-15 Kita-Aoyama, Minato-ku)
  • Tods (high design by archi-hero Toyo Ito)
  • Prada building (Herzog & de Meuron; amazing interior and exterior architecture)
  • Marimekko
  • BAPE (very cool sneaker conveyor belt store; 5-5-8 Minami-Aoyama Minato-ku)
  • Omotesandō Hills shopping centre (an Ando building – another cool Japanese architect)

Above: Tods, Tokyo

The nearby Aoyama Cemetery is a nice walk through, especially in cherry blossom season. The trees and headstones are really atmospheric and pretty. Shibuya Station and its famous intersection is also in this general area. So you could always end there as it's a night time district, with a rabbit warren of streets and little bars.

 Above: Prada changing room, Tokyo; Below: Tokyo Fish Market

I love the Tokyo Fish Market at 5am, too, but I hear visitors might not be allowed these days. Worth checking.

For accommodation, Kimi Ryokan is sweet and the Ginza Mitsui Garden Hotel is high-end at reasonable rates. Or just stay with the businessmen in the amazing Kurokawa capsule hotel (below).

OK on to Osaka. This is like Melbourne and Tokyo is Sydney. It is grittier and funner here.

Uneda Sky Building is a great place to go at end of day when lights are coming on. You go up a glass kind of 'escalator' which seems to overhang the side of the building making you feel like you are suspended over nothing. Basically the experience of an amusement park ride for free.

Go out in Osaka at night and find some little clubs and bars - they are all up stairs, off street level. Definitely do karaoke. I loved Masuda cocktail bar, a tiny tiny hole in the wall. Order a martini.

For the full architectural pilgrimage you could take the train out to the suburbs of Osaka and go the Church of Light, which is pretty much the most impressive architecture I've ever seen. Super famous design by Ando. It is worth doing, and fun to see the outskirts.

Above: Osaka waterfront

On to traditional historic Japan. Hire a bike and ride all over the place. This is a good city for riding – it's very safe on the footpath.

Ride up to the Fushimi Inari Shrine and its thousand torii gates (below). There are really great photo opportunities here with the endless orange gates. If you walk through the gates you can explore this area and get all the way up to the top of the hill, and see a nice overlooking view of the city.

Above: Lanterns, Kyoto

And of course do the key traditional things in Kyoto: the temple of the golden pavilion (a gold plated temple that sits on a lake), and the surrounding gardens of that temple, including the famous zen rock garden. That area is all very pretty and traditional.

At night go to the old pleasure district to spot geisha running from tea house to tea house, and wander through the gardens in that area.

Above: paper cranes, Kyoto

Also check out Guardian travel as they do great content on big cities.


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Anna Metcalfe is a content maker, word writer and editor of things.