A few months ago, I went on a girls’ trip to Japan with two of my close friends. I had always wanted to go there, it was one of the countries to see on my bucket list. So you can imagine how excited I was!
We booked our flights 6 months ahead of time as Jetstar airline had a special from Cairns (Australia) to Osaka return for only 300 AUD! Bargain!
In 9 days we explored Tokyo, Kyoto and Osaka. So here are my Top 10 of things to see and do if you are planning a trip to Japan!
- Cherry Blossoms
If you get the chance to go over to Japan at the start of spring season, you cannot miss the beautiful cherry blossoms. They are simply amazing! I really wanted to see them so we planned our trip according to the predicted blossom season. Cherry Blossom time is really important in Japan, during that time of the year, some streets with cherry blossoms are literally closed to traffic and converted to “pedestrians only” paths where hundreds of people walk along to admire and take photos of these beautiful flowers.
- Geisha experience
When we were planning our trip, we noticed that Kyoto was often mentioned for Geisha villages and culture. We decided we wanted to try one of these Geisha make-over experiences while we were there. We went to AYA studio, located in the Gion area. And what an experience! You get transformed head to toe into a Geisha; makeup, clothes, hair with the use of a wig and black hairspray (be ready to wash your hair a few times to get rid of the color, especially if you have blond hair like me haha :p ). When you are all set, you get to do a professional photoshoot and then have some time to take your own photos before transforming back to your own self again. I highly recommend this experience!
- Kiyomizu-dera Temple in Kyoto
If you only get to see one temple while in Japan, I really recommend the Kiyomizu-dera Temple in Kyoto, located near Gion. It is huge!!! One of my Japanese friends told me that it was a must see and I am glad I listened to her advice. It is a beautiful temple built on a tall wooden pillar structure with stunning views over Kyoto. You can definitely spend a few hours visiting the area and don’t forget to have a look around the little market streets going back down to the bus stops, they have some really cute little shops.
Matcha (green tea powder) is everywhere in Japan. Trust me, you cannot miss it. You can find everything with Matcha and it is so delicious! Even Starbucks have a Matcha frappe on the menu, so don’t forget to try some during your stay.
If you want some inspiration, I made some Matcha and Coconut protein balls when I got back from Japan ; you can find the recipe here.
- Fushimi Inari Shrine
I think this is one of the most popular locations you can see on Pinterest when you search for things to do in Kyoto, and that is totally understandable. These thousands of red Torii gates, all aligned, creating a pathway leading into the forest are beautiful, especially when the sun goes through them. There, you can walk all the way to the top of the mountain for some beautiful views of Kyoto (it takes about 2 to 3 hours) or you can turn around whenever you feel like it.
- Typical Japanese Show
While we were in Tokyo, we wanted to go see the Robot show one night. After talking with the concierge at our hotel, we changed our mind and opt for his recommendation and went to see the Japanese Show Kaguwa in the Roppongi area. You have a few options during the show: you can have dinner, drinks or snacks. The show combines Japanese traditional dance with modern twists, all on a moveable stage. Some of the dancers are Japanese Drag Queens. We didn’t know much about Japanese history but we could understand roughly the stories told, including the doll culture, tragic love story, the Samurais etc. It’s truly a different kind of night out!
- Bamboo Forest and monkeys
Arashiyame is located on the western side of Kyoto and is mostly famous for its beautiful Bamboo Forest where you can walk for hours. But that’s not the only thing to see in this area while you are there, go for a walk at the top of the mountain to see the macaque monkeys! They are wild and you can feed them, but this time it’s you who is in a cage and the monkeys are outside! Stroll along the river on your way back in town, there is some amazing landscapes. It’s also the perfect place for souvenir shopping and to grab a delicious lunch in one of the many little restaurants on the main street.
- Nara and its deer
Yes, Nara is definitely famous for its wild deer, and they are everywhere. These deer are literally waiting next to the food stands so they can come right at you as soon as you purchased their favorite biscuits. It’s pretty fun to get so close to the deer, they even bow at you to get food, how polite! 🙂
Apart from the deer, there is a multitude of beautiful temples to see along the way to the Nara park and of course some really good restaurants.
You wouldn’t truly experience Japan without going to one of their Onsen. Onsen are Japanese natural hot springs. Each hot spring has different minerals providing different health benefits. It relaxes your body and your mind. Hot spring baths can be indoors and outdoors, and are usually genders separated. The general rule of thumb there is “NO bathing suit”. You are in your most simple apparel, which can be pretty intimidating at first but once in the hot spring you kind of get used to it. And really, you feel so relaxed after spending time at an Onsen. I recommend doing it in the evening to relieve any tension accumulated throughout the day. Here is a list of the most popular Onsen in the Kansai region if you are looking for a spot to go.
- The Food
Apart from the fact that we had a hard time to find some fresh fruit and vegetables during our stay in Japan, they are some must try foods not to be missed. Japanese curry is one of my favourite things, if you go to a curry house you will have a menu with dozens of different options for your curry (with chicken, beef, vegetables..). The noodle bowls are also delicious and are declined with different types of noodles and broths. A Teppanyaki table is also a must try! Over there, you have a selection of food and you can ask the chef to cook anything you want on his grill right in front of you. It’s delicious!
And there, my 10 top things to experience in Japan. I hope it will be helpful if you are planning a trip over there and don’t hesitate to have a look at my photos below.
Over to you now. Have you ever been to Japan? What was your favorite thing over there? Did you visit other cities?