this is wholly subjectively based on my experience here
but for anyone thinking of traveling to Japan it might be a useful guide–I’m basically just gonna write up some major points about all the Japanese cities I’ve visited and my recommendations based on my best experiences there! I’m deciding to do this on the heels of a weekend where I traveled to Osaka (for the third time) and Nara (for the first).
For each city I’m going to write a “must do”(quintessential), a “try it”(off-the-beaten path thing), a “warning”, “best food”, and four photographs that I’ve taken.
I’ve also asked my host dad for a recommendation for advice and recommendations. These are his two cents: Go to see famous places with history. Don’t just pick one place! Also make yourself aware of regional differences! For example Kanazawa sushi is better than Tokyo sushi (well, he probably said this because he’s from Kanazawa). If you try local specials, especially food that is traditional, then you get the best taste of what is unique about japan. For example Okonomiyaki is very different in Osaka than in Hiroshima.
- Must do: Besides just wander around Shinjuku, Shibuya, Harajuku, and Akihabara? The Tokyo Edo museum. It is one of the coolest ways to get a comprehensive look at Japanese history–you can learn everything about Japan from 1600-today in an enjoyable, visible manner.
- Try it: Hit up the cool local university neighborhood Takadanobaba. Cheap shopping and great izakayas.
- Warning: While it’s fun to wander around Tokyo to an extent, it’s super easy to get lost. So make sure that if you’re looking for a specific destination that you know exactly where you’re going, or you could well end up very lost.
- Best food: Tokyo has everything, but my favorite in Tokyo was probably the cheap stuff-soba, kebab, udon, ramen.
- Host dad recommendation: Asakusa Temple!
- Must do: Higashiyama, a beautiful crafts district with a couple of gorgeous temples to boot!
- Try it: Monkey Park. It’s SO COOL. You have to basically climb a mountain, but once you’re up there, you get to hang out with monkeys.
- Warning: Another directions-related warning. Things are very spread out in Kyoto, so plan your trip accordingly and visit close-by sites on the same day. It’s very difficult to go to two different areas of the city in the same day.
- Best food: Fancy food. Binge in Kyoto. Fancy multi-course Japanese food, there’s even fancy Italian food.
- Host dad rec: The Golden Temple! And Heian Shrine!
- Must do: Walk around Dotonbori, Namba, Shinsaibashi, and Amerika-mura. They are all within 20 minutes of each other walking and you can see anything you want: luxury shopping, great street food, maid cafes + lots of anime, night-life, rap-music blasting local clothes shops.
- Try it: Kaiyukan aquarium! It is very large.
- Warning: This isn’t really a warning but you can end up spending so much money on food in this city… it is known as the “foodiest” city in Japan.
- Best food: TAKOYAKI. OKONOMIYAKI. nuff said
- Host dad rec: Osaka Castle
- Must do: Nara Park, chill with the deer. There are lots of them.
- Try it: Kofukuji National Treasure hall. You can see some truly stunning Buddhist statuary, almost all of it from before 1000 CE.
- Warning: The deer. Be careful when feeding them. Be careful if you have allergies. Also some of them have ticks.
- Best food: Shaved ice.
- Must do: Kenrokuen Gardens. Truly gorgeous, and you can also do tea ceremony there. It also lights up at night. hype.
- Try it: Gold leaf ice cream, sake ice cream, melon-bread with ice cream. Also 21st century arts museum (I still haven’t gone but really want to)
- Warning: Kanazawa is great but it is pretty small–not that much to do beyond a few days. However there are a lot of attractions in Ishikawa prefecture.
- Best food: Sushi/fish.
- Host dad rec: Kenrokuen Gardens, Kanazawa castle. COME TO ISHIKAWA PREFECTURE! come and have fun!!!!
- Must do: Atomic Bomb museum.
- Try it: Check out the small and plentiful lit-up back alleys with bars and restaurants.
- Warning: Lots of stray cats?
- Best food: I was only there for a few meals, so I can’t quite say that I’m sure. Had some pretty great tempura-udon though.
In other news, the program is more than halfway over! Midterm exam is done, weekend of travel is done. This week was super busy with activities including a large gathering with Kanazawa University students. I also got to play Japanese drum and make gold-leaf chopsticks.
Until next week!