15 unique things to do in Japan

Japan is a versatile country that holds on to its heritage while advancing in architecture and technology. This unusual combination means a broad range of adventure is at your disposal, whether you are on the mainland or one of the tropical islands. Its hospitable citizens, immaculate facilities and diverse landscapes make it an ideal destination to add to your bucket list.

Ishigaki beef

A small, often unheard of Japanese island, Ishigaki, is the birth place of what is touted as the best beef in the world. Perhaps it’s the great care Ishigaki farmers take when raising the Wagyu cows. The farmers walk them daily, making sure they get plenty of sunshine while feeding them a premium quality diet. Each farmer typically keeps the food they feed their cattle a family secret.

The Ishigakijima Kitchen is located on Okinawa, a neighboring island to Ishigaki, and serves the most outstanding burger I’ve ever had the pleasure of tasting. Ishigaki beef typically contains more fat than beef from other countries. In contrast to the fat in most meat, this special form contains monounsaturated fats, which are healthy and lower in cholesterol. This special fat contributes to the premium taste of Ishigaki beef, which gives it that special “melt in your mouth” sensation.

Habu sake

While tasting traditional sake is a must when in Japan, Habu Sake, or Habushu, is for the traveler looking for a strangely unique experience. Despite its name, it’s technically not sake and is flavored with honey and other herbs. A Habu, or venomous snake, is preserved in the jar itself. Primarily from Okinawa, it’s not difficult to find a street vendor or restaurant offering this intimidating spirit; they often have jars of Habu sake on display in their windows. Habu sake has quite a bite, no pun intended, and can be bought by the glass if you don’t want to commit to purchasing a full container.

Habu sake

Tsukiji Fish Market

The freshest, best sushi in the world can be found at the Tsukiji Market. Restaurants send out buyers, in the wee hours of the morning, to bid on an assortment of freshly caught fish. You can watch the auctions, buy your own selections or indulge at “real deal” sushi joints.

Tsukiji fish market

In the market, you’ll find shops, street vendors and tiny sushi restaurants sprinkled throughout the walkways. Lines quickly  build up outside of the dining areas, with one person at a time taking the next available slot. The wait is worth it and the chef serves your selection along with warm green tea and soup. We let the chef select for us, which opened the opportunity to try sea urchin, eel and a list of other delicacies I would have never considered on my own.

Pineapple Park

This unique attraction resides in Okinawa, and begins with a ride in a cart through the pineapple growing fields. Along with an educational tour, you’ll be sampling a variety of native pineapple treats, like cookies, cakes, candies and of course, the sweetest, freshest pineapple available. Pineapple wine is their claim to culinary fame, and you can sample it on site. I’m certain you’ll purchase several bottles on your way out.

Tropical beaches

The white sand and deep aqua waters are often overlooked because of Japan’s rich culture and advanced cities. But the site of the tropical beaches throughout Okinawa is unparalleled to any of my past sea adventures. Locals often host barbecues on the beach or just lounge for hours on end.

Snorkeling

With beaches so gorgeous, you may have guessed the snorkeling scene is just as spectacular. Caves, reefs and an assortment of colorful fish are every snorkeler and diver’s dream. Hours feel like minutes when gliding through the crystal clear waters. The water can be quite chilly depending on the time of year and some sea life can be a bit grumpy, so I recommend a great wet suit and flippers.

Snorkeling in Japan

Yakiniku

It’s true, many of the amazing experiences in Japan deal with food, and for good reason! The Japanese serve some of the best and most exotic foods. Yakiniku consists of a grill in the center of the table for self-cooking a variety of vegetables and marinated meats. The location we attended offered an all you can eat menu, but would charge a hefty fee if a lot was wasted. This clever tactic enables the restaurant to run a generous and elegant dining experience without undue waste. Traditional ramen noodles and Japanese, fish shaped red bean cakes are also an available menu selection. While the cakes were not my idea of a tasty dessert, it’s an age old treat I suggest trying, for the experience.

Senso-ji temple

In Asakusa resides Tokyo’s oldest temple, which was established in 628. Today, the temple is a massive tourist attraction, drawing in travelers to view the richly detailed red, black and gold Buddhist worship place. A market with various goods lines the walkway to the temple itself. You will find traditional Japanese cakes shaped like the actual temple, wood carved Kokeshi dolls and other souvenirs. Grounds are considered sacred, so food must be consumed in designated areas, or tucked away in your bag for later. After viewing the grand, golden shrine, gardens with streams and waterfalls can be found on a nearby path, decorated with unique structures and Buddhist statues.

Senso-ji temple

Street markets

I found street markets to be most prevalent in Tokyo. Everywhere, you will find people selling hand crafted goods, fresh produce and unusual foods, like squid jerky. Fruit vendors offer fruit on a stick for 100 yen, about a dollar, and serve coconut water straight from the fruit itself. In the large market area outside the Senso-Ji Temple, you will find mochi on a stick, a glutinous rice treat, made from scratch by using traditional Japanese techniques. Mochi can be found everywhere in Japan, in all flavors and sizes, but the version at the temple was simply flavored with just a touch of sweetness, making it a pleasant but not overwhelming treat.

Vendor near Tsujiki

Shibuya Crossing

A seemingly simple activity, Shibuya Crossing is an exciting depiction of the orderly chaos in Tokyo, centered in the midst of a popular shopping district. Many of the surrounding shops and restaurants provide a great view of the bustling intersection if you’d rather bypass scurrying in the crowds. Shibuya Crossing is known as the world’s busiest pedestrian intersection, making it a significant landmark to stop by during your trip.

Shinkansen bullet train

Japan has an elaborate train system from small, bench style carts to the famous bullet train, the Shinkansen. This speed train hits major cities throughout Japan, including Kyoto and Tokyo, while featuring more comfortable, airplane like seats. For as little as 320 yen, you can shoot to your destination at 200 miles per hour. Small fees are tacked on the further you travel, so pay attention to the “fine print.”

Food served on the train adds to the unique experience. A traditional bento box of Japanese foods is served in a train shaped box. Green cart tickets are available, equivalent to airplane first class, and offer a more lavish experience.

Onsen Hot Spring

Geothermal pockets of water, or onsen, are all over Japan and are typically surrounded by luxurious resorts. This relaxing, deeply healing excursion is truly unique, with multicolored, crystal clear waters all surrounded by beautiful Japanese foliage. A soak can reduce pain, ease skin conditions and even enhance mental health. Onsen rules can be strict; people with tattoos are usually banned, as individuals are required to completely disrobe. While Japan is more open minded to tattoos than in the past, they are still slightly frowned upon versus acceptance in most other countries. You’ll want to remain quite subdued while bathing, avoiding splashing or swimming. However, socialization is encouraged.

Meet Kyoto geisha

Geishas are elegant, strictly trained entertainers that are often hired to attend sophisticated parties throughout Japan. While Tokyo has Geishas, truly traditional trained ladies are usually from Kyoto. If you are lucky, you will see them shuffling down the street, dressed in beautiful clothing and porcelain makeup. The Geisha’s have somewhat of a celebrity like status and are highly admired. Geishas may also be booked for events, but can be an elaborate and very expensive choice. If you want to get a taste of the Geisha life, “experiences” are available, where you can be dressed head to toe as one Japan’s most envied women.

Visit the Gundham tobot

Near Tokyo, in Odaiba near the Diver City Shopping Center, resides a life size depiction of one Japan’s most famous anime characters, Gundham. The massive statue can move, shoot smoke and shine laser beams during a strobe light filled show accompanied by techno music.
Even not being an anime fan, seeing the gargantuan figure move around is an intimidating but exciting experience. Crowds are attracted every night to see the show, and it is a great activity to amp up your modern Japan culture experience.

Mount Fuji

The jaw dropping, active volcano has been viewed as a sacred landmark by the Japanese. Its last eruption occurred in the 1700s; it has since been used for hiking and is a much hyped tourist destination that doesn’t disappoint. If you don’t want to take the train ride out to Fuji, it can be seen from Tokyo, on clear days. We were lucky enough to catch a gorgeous view from the plane before landing in Narita.

Mount Fuji

For the adventurer, Mount Fuji can be climbed from June to September. During other months, too much snow accumulates and there is risk for avalanches. Hiking the volcano is strenuous, but not unattainable for the inexperienced. From July to August, trails can become crowded. Your best bet for a more exclusive hike would be before July 20.

Shurijo Castle

Nestled on the island of Okinawa sits a reconstructed version of Shurijo castle, which was destroyed during World War II’s Battle of Okinawa. The remnants were restored in 1992, creating a historical attraction and memorial. Shurijo Castle is large, with the massive grounds weaving through limestone walls, Japanese architecture and elaborate shrines, all once part of the Ryukyuan Kingdom. Parts of the castle provide vast views of the island that extend all the way to the blue water.

Comments (3)

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  1. Joe says:

    Those are really fascinating.
    I’ve been to Japan several times before the”Fukushima nuclear disaster”.

  2. Laura says:

    I was planning on climbing Fuji in late July next year. I see you recommend going before July 20 – is that because of local holidays or another reason?

  3. Aleks says:

    Great ones! :) For a bit surreal experience I would also add visiting the Robot Restaurant in Kabukicho,Tokio and see snow monkeys enjoying a hot onsen bath in Jigokudani Monkey Park :)

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