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Weird Museums in Japan

Museums are wonderful places to wander about and get lost, interpret displays and discover new information, and just drown in the peacefulness of the environment. Each country has its own set of exhibition that brings forth the interesting bits of the country, and you can get a feel of the land just by visiting a few museums.

Japan is known to be particularly unique and uncanny, and those factors are definitely reflected in the types of museums available in the country. Instead of a nostalgic trip down memory lane of historical events or an inspiring journey through an artistic arrangement, Japan does it differently — some might even say weirdly. 

From cup noodles to sewage systems, here’s a list of unique museums that you’ll definitely want to visit during your time in Japan.

1. Cup Noodle Museum

Source: Holly from Flickr

Who doesn’t like cup noodles? Anyone who says they despise it actually doesn’t, because it’s so convenient, tasty and affordable. The Nissin Cup Noodle Museum at Yokohama celebrates the humble creation that changed the world. Take a few notes on the history of cup noodles and Japan’s original take on this life-changing cup.

With their own noodle park and an art gallery that’s dedicated to the popular convenience store food, this cup noodle museum also has a mini cinema that shows visual displays of a chronological run-through of the cup noodle. You can also make your own cup noodle at their laboratory including making your own soup. Shop and eat as much as you want at the Nissin Cup Noodles Museum!

2. Meguro Parasitological Museum

Source: Guilhem Vellut from Flickr

If you’re thinking about bringing a date here, think again. Established in 1953 and located in Tokyo, the Meguro Parasitological Museum introduces you to over 300 specimens of parasites. From leeches to tapeworms — including a 25-foot long tapeworm that will definitely blow your mind, if not your appetite — this two-storey museum covers everything nematodes, trematodes and malaria parasites. 

The only kind in the world, this showcase of parasites and creatures of all kinds that dependently live in or on other organisms (including humans, in fact) is a strange exhibition that reels in visitors from their curiosity about it. While most of the information is not in English, the illustrations are detailed enough to provide enough context. After all, a picture is worth a thousand words.

3. Ghibli Museum

Source: Ray_LAC from Flickr

A special dedication to the Studio Ghibli led by the award-winning Japanese animation director Hayao Miyazaki, the Ghibli Museum is all about their amazing works. Consisting of various areas like the main exhibition space, children’s play area, rooftop garden and a theatre that screens film excerpts exclusively shown here (and nowhere else in the world), this interactive exhibition features both permanent and temporary exhibits. 

Much like a walkthrough experience of the animation world, you’ll learn a thing or two about the history of animation, the development process and the lead-up to the final production. Other than the educational aspect of this museum, the Ghibli Museum has beautiful interiors and exteriors that reference various characters including those from Spirited Away and Kiki the Witch.

4. Shin-Yokohama Ramen Museum

Source: Aapo Haapanen from Flickr

Everyone thinks of ramen when the talk of Japanese cuisine, and what better way to celebrate the country’s unofficial national dish by presenting all variations of ramen throughout the country in a museum?

This two-storey exhibition is built to look like the Shintamachi townscape which was the old town of Tokyo. Wander the alleyways and explore the nine restaurants presenting vastly different and unique recipes. Catering to a variety of audiences including vegetarian-friendly menu options, this ramen museum introduces the various culinary techniques of making ramen from all around Japan.

While it’s more like a curated fancy food court especially for ramen rather than a museum, nothing is more museum-like than bringing back a souvenir. Make your own ramen, complete with personalised packaging, as a memento of this incredible visit.

 

5. Paper museum

Source: Wndrenvy from Flickr

You may wonder if there would be anything worth seeing at a museum that dedicates itself to paper, but Tokyo’s Paper Museum is anything but dull. Paper has a place in Japan’s history, and presenting the different forms of them in a curated exhibition is unique and informative.

This peaceful environment features various aspects of paper like paper toys, karuta playing cards and origami, as well as a collection of approximately 10,000 books relating to paper. There are even workshops that you can participate in — I mean, who doesn’t want to make their own one-of-a-kind paper?

Think of the possibilities for a souvenir — from eccentrically patterned washi paper postcards to origami kits, you’ll be surprised at the excitement gained from what seems like a boring display of white sheets.

6. Tokyo Sewerage Museum

Who doesn’t like a free activity? Tokyo Sewerage Museum is free for all to enter and participate. Unlike a standard museum where it’s mostly displays with description, this one involves interaction with the exhibits.

Get a glimpse of the hidden, mundane side of Tokyo: the public relations that is the support of the sparkling city you see above ground. Presenting the disposal and cleaning of used water, including the history of the development of wastewater treatment in Tokyo, this museum lets you experience working in the sewerage pumps, pumping stations and other facilities that can be found in an average system. 

Among the various exhibit is the famous sculpture of a man sitting on a toilet while he reads the newspaper. But that’s not the highlight of the museum. About 25 meters deep underground, on the B5 floor, is the Fureai Experience Room where you’ll be able to stand on a bridge overlooking an actual, working wastewater tunnel. Not your average day-to-day, am I right?

7. The Criminal Materials Department at Meiji University

Source: paazio from Flickr

Head on down to the basement of the Meiji University Museum where the free-entry museum showcasing a collection of criminal artifacts and instruments can be found.  With a diverse collection of exhibits at the museum in the university, the Criminal Materials Department run by the School of Law gives a glimpse into the history of crime and punishment in Japan.

From original tools as well as replicated ones for catching criminals in the Edo Period to books and displays that demonstrate trial, torture and even execution, follow the development of the evolution of punishment in Japan. Exhibition titles like “Culprits of the Edo Period”, “Torture and Tribunal” and “Execution and Correction” are intriguing and tempting even though it does give a chill down the spine.

8. Kite Museum

Source: NelC from Flickr

While it doesn’t sound as interesting as it actually is, the Kite Museum introduces the Japanese children’s main source of entertainment in the olden days. Also used during traditional festivals decades ago, kites of all shapes and sizes with a variety of prints including hand-painted dragons, butterflies and faces are presented proudly. 

The only one of its kind in the whole wide world, the Kite Museum is located above a popular restaurant called Taimeiken. Not only does this exhibition gives an insight on the significance of this favourite pastime, but you’ll also be able to purchase rare, handmade kites as souvenirs. 

9. Sand museum

Source: jj-walsh from Flickr

A collection of sculptures made totally from sand by sculptors and designers from all around the world, this open-air indoor museum is one of its kind. Located in Tottori where you’ll find the magical creation of nature, the Tottori Sand Dunes, the glass-sided building of the Sand Museum provides an excellent view of the natural hills of sand. 

Much like the dunes itself, these carved figures, buildings and landscapes made of sand are prone to degrade over time, but that’s just the charm of it. Each year has a different theme for the sand sculpture exhibit, so every visit a fresh experience with new displays to appreciate.

10. Tobacco and Salt Museum

Why tobacco and salt, you ask? Well, so did every other person that ever step foot, researched or seen the Tobacco and Salt Museum in any form. The answer is simple, but not obvious at all: these two items have shared history for once being goods controlled by the Japan Monopoly Corporation.

Located not far from the famous Tokyo Skytree, for just 100yen you’ll be able to explore the history of these products as well as their roles in history and culture. With both permanent and temporary exhibitions, it’s definitely worth a visit if you find yourself around the area. Their popular exhibit, The World of Salt, shines light on the difference between Japanese and foreign salt — it may not sound as interesting as it seems, but it sure is an interesting bit!

The tobacco section highlights the history of how tobacco came to Japan, replicas of Edo Period tobacco shops as well as others from the 1900s, and various displays of cigarette packets and cartons, pipes and cigars, and other smoking paraphernalia from not only Japan but all over the world. 

If that hasn’t piqued your interest, on the third storey there’s a display of their own ukiyo-e collection — a genre of Japanese art that has taken the world by storm.

 

Conclusion

It’s no doubt Japan has the record-breaking number of intriguing exhibitions in the entire world, and while it’s not the average place to take someone on a museum date, it does make an interesting day out. From paper crafts to the functions of the sewage, you’ll definitely be surprised at the takeaways from these unique, out-of-the-ordinary exhibitions.

What You Don’t Know About Living in Japan

Introduction

A holiday experience is nowhere near a migrating one. I’ve personally experienced a few setbacks when I moved to Japan. It might sound exciting to move to a new and foreign country, and fair enough, it is — I was overwhelmed with those jitters of exhilaration when I first decided to pack my bags and start afresh in Japan. 

Every country has their own way of running things, and when we move to another country, we have to accept all of it, the good and the bad. No amount of research can prepare one for the actual experience of being a foreigner in Japan, but it’s better to be a step ahead than being fully in the dark.

Don’t get me wrong — Japan is wonderful. Why would I still be here if it wasn’t? But just like any other country, there are some things left unsaid. Here’s my personal take on being a foreigner in Japan — primarily what they don’t tell you about being one in this country.

Language Barrier Even With The Language Ability 

Japan’s first language is not English. The Japanese language is used everywhere in Japan and English is never heard except for major cities like Tokyo and Osaka — but even then you’ll hear a foreigner speaking it or you find yourself nearby a tourist attraction.

There’s no doubt that there’s a distinctive language barrier in the country if you have no knowledge of the Japanese language. Sure, it may be one of the first few ones you face, but the thing is, you can be completely fluent in the Japanese language but still not feel fully accepted in the society. 

I’ve had my fair share of “外人だからしょうがない” (“you’re a foreigner so it can’t be helped”) encounters to make me realise that it’s not just because of the language barrier — it goes deeper than that. There’s another kind of barrier that’s beyond our control.

 

I’ve seen with my own very eyes — while it hasn’t happened to me (yet) — a row of seats on a train being fully empty except for a foreigner. Every other seat in the same cabin is occupied except for the row with the foreigner. Strange, isn’t it? But definitely a true story! No one knows exactly why, but it’s pretty self-explanatory I reckon.

No Japanese in The Blood

There was a saying in the past, (though not so prominent nowadays anymore) that to be truly accepted in Japanese culture, you would have to have the Japanese blood, the Japanese language and be from Japan itself. Literally only one out of the three is within our control and the other two we are physically incapable of changing. 

After all the efforts of picking up the language, you’d expect it to pay off at the end of the day. Little did you know that being able to speak the language just doesn’t make the cut. You’ll find yourself convincing people that you actually can speak Japanese than actually speaking the language itself. I’ve had occasions where I asked a question in Japanese but got a response in English — most of the time broken, which takes even more time for me to get a clear answer.

Housing Situations

One of the first few conversation topics I would have with other foreigners in Japan is what kind of housing situation they are in and how they get to it. It’s a different story each time, but one thing that we all have in common is the difficulty of finding one.

True, there are tons of companies that exist for the convenience of foreigners. There are sharehouse companies and even real estate companies that offer English-speaking services to ease the moving process for foreigners who are looking for a place to live in Japan, but it’s always so limited and these places cost more than what it normally would be.

However, even with the most fluent level of Japanese, if you’re a foreigner, your options are still limited! This is because there’s this “foreigner-friendly” thing that’s going around, which basically refers to the apartment or building accepting and allowing foreigners to live there. Some landlords are strictly against having foreigners for tenants — foreigners being rejected to live somewhere just because they’re not local is still happening to this very day!

Job Opportunities

Source: Jeremy from Flickr

To this day, Japan has a country record-high of the number of immigrants in the country. There have been tons of actions taken by the Japanese government to pull in foreign workers to work in Japan, like special work visas.

If you’re a native or close-to-native English speaker and your level of Japanese is at a “konnichiwa” level, your best and fastest bet for a job in Japan is none other than being an English teacher. 

People say that your job opportunities expand when you have a few Japanese language skills up your sleeve. Fair enough, it does open you up to other industries like media, science and engineering if you have at least a proficiency level of JLPT N2, which is the second-highest and hardest level.

Here’s the thing: you won’t be given the same opportunities a local Japanese would, even if you have a proficiency level of JLPT N1, the highest and hardest level of all. Regardless of whether or not you speak the language, at the end of the day, you’re still a foreigner in their eyes. There will always be that lingering and unsettling feeling of not being fully accepted, or even not being offered equal advancement opportunities and jobs. 

Don’t beat yourself up too much if the reason for the company not hiring you is because you’re not Japanese. 

The Strings Attached To A “Gaijin”

See, this “gaijin” standard is not good, nor is it bad — it’s the standard of not having a standard. The Japanese have a standard for themselves. There’s everything from actions like customs to words like polite speech. It’s safe to say the expectations are high.

This standard is not extended to include foreigners. For the most part, we’re not expected to live up to these expectations as the Japanese as we’re not raised in the same culture.

As foreigners, we’re able to get away with certain things to a certain extent. If a Japanese person doesn’t follow the local customs, they’re judged way more harshly than us.

Foreigners including myself have taken advantage of this “gaijin” standard. I say it as using the “gaijin card”. Mutual rules like not speaking on the phone or eating on the train — I’m definitely guilty of doing those things and just shrugging it off as “oh well, they know I’m a foreigner”. 

I personally love the occasional free pass, especially if I didn’t know it was an unspoken rule of the culture that I accidentally broke. My Japanese friends would just laugh it off and teach me the correct ways, anyway.

Don’t Get Scared Off!

Don’t get scared off — Japan is not bad, I swear! Just like every other country, there are ups and downs, and in this article, I’ve just highlighted the downs that I personally experience.

There are tons of English-speaking services in Japan, and it’s getting more and more by the day. While it won’t be as convenient as back in your home country, it’s not impossible. There’s always a service that’s available if you’re in need.

Conclusion

Once you get the hang of being a foreigner in Japan, life can be as smooth sailing as it can get. It is a bit more extra work to get settled in at the start but I swear it is worth it. After all, it’s all part of the experience of moving to a fresh new country — especially one like the culturally rich Japan that everyone knows and loves.

The Main Islands of Japan

Introduction

This island nation is not just one single island — There are about 6,800 islands in total that make up the Japanese archipelago!

Japan’s mainland, however, is made up of four big islands: Hokkaido Island is the northern part of Japan mainland; Honshu Island is at the center of the mainland and is also the largest island out of the four; Kyushu Island and Shikoku Island are down south with Kyushu located at the southernmost part of the mainland. 

Each main island has something special to offer that the other islands can’t — let’s have an in-depth look at the four main islands and what they are known for individually.

Hokkaido

Moving up north of Honshu Island is the Hokkaido island, the second largest of the four main islands — its area covers 83,000 square kilometers! It holds the title of being the 21st largest island in the world. The largest city on this island is Sapporo at 1,121 square kilometers and serves as the capital city of Hokkaido island. Following Sapporo is Hakodate city at almost 678 square kilometers.

In its northernmost geographical location, they are the ones getting the chillier weather. They still have four seasons, though — just that each season is extremely distinct from the next. Summer is generally cooler than the rest of Japan, but with that said, the winter is colder as well.

Hokkaido Is Known For…

Hokkaido island wins at effortlessly combining nature and city. The highest point of this island is Mount Asahi, standing at 2,291 meters. Because of the hilly aspect of Hokkaido combined with the cooler weather, most people head up north to Hokkaido for winter sports like skiing and snowboarding. 

Outdoor adventure enthusiasts also have a splendid range of choices for the picking in Hokkaido as there are tons of preserved national parks like Shiretoko National Park. You can’t miss out on the drift ice from the Okhotsk Sea in Abashiri — one of the most famous attractions in all of Japan!

Even though the winter does get drastically cold, the people of Hokkaido know how to make great out of a mediocre situation; winter festivals don’t get any better than at Hokkaido. None can beat them. Look out for Sapporo Snow Festival and Asahikawa Ice Festival where they go all out in celebration of the cold weather.

Honshu

Honshu Island is the largest island in Japan and also the 7th largest island in the whole world, at about 227,000 square kilometers in size. This island is where you’ll find the majority of the Japanese population of approximately 104 million people as well as the major cities — including the capital city Tokyo and the ancient capital city Kyoto. Other major cities include Hiroshima, Niigata and Nagoya.

Honshu is right smack in the middle of the mainland. This island connects to Hokkaido and Shikoku with tons of bridges, and has underground tunnels that connect to Kyushu.

Honshu Is Known For…

Being the most bustling and hustling island of them all, Honshu has tons of activities to do — both in the city and in nature. In fact, the areas of Honshu are the most mountainous of all of Japan; it has the Japanese Alps!

The famous and popular Mount Fuji, standing at 3,776 meters tall, can be found on this main island. This active volcano and also the highest point of Japan has been attracting travellers and climbers from all over the world of about 250,000 visitors in a year — that’s an average of 4,000 climbers a day!

This island’s nature is not just mountains; Honshu is also home to Japan’s largest lake, Lake Biwa, as well as the famous Lake Kawaguchiko which is just around the vicinity of Mount Fuji. 

The Honshu island is full of national parks that are extremely well preserved with rich wildlife; Nara Park is scattered with wild sika deer and is one of the most famous tourist attractions because of that. The Arashiyama Bamboo Forest is exactly what it sounds like — a natural forest full of bamboo trees that will make you feel like you’ve teleported to a whole different universe.

And of course, who can forget the entertainment parks that bring in the thousands and thousands of people from all around the world; Tokyo Disneyland’s reputation is unwavering to say the least, and its counterpart, Tokyo DisneySea, is only one of its kind. Not to mention Universal Studios Osaka where there are various themed areas including the Harry Potter World.

Shikoku

 

Source: jeff~ from flickr

The smallest of the four main islands is Shikoku island, located just southeast of the big Honshu island. The island has an area of 18,800 square kilometers with the highest point being Mount Ishizuchi at 1,982 meters tall. The biggest city on Shikoku island is Matsuyama at 429 square kilometers, and other prominent cities include Kochi, Naturo and Takamatsu.

While the island does have a few mountains, unlike Honshu and Hokkaido, Shikoku has no volcanoes at all. The whole area oozes culture and the epitome of what Japan stands for. It’s not as well-connected as some other islands but there are bridges that connect it to Honshu — making it accessible to the majority of locals.

Shikoku Is Known For…

This island oozes culture on top of its picturesque landscape. There’s all the nature you can ever ask for here. Shikoku has an abundance of Buddhist temples and tons of famous haiku poets — a type of poetry originated from Japan — proudly call this area their home. 

Rivers are one of Shikoku’s nature’s highlights; the Omogo Gorge is one of the most popular national scenic sites near Mount Ishizuchi, at the Omogo River; Niyodo Blue is named after the blue waters of the Niyodo River — the aqua reflects so beautifully you won’t even believe it’s real.

There’s one very popular reason why people — locals and tourists alike — visit Shikoku, and that is the Shikoku 88 Temple Pilgrimage experience. This journey is one of the oldest pilgrimages in the whole world and covers about 1,200 kilometers of ground all around the island to visit the various 88 temples. Originally a journey undergone for religious and pious purposes, now it has become one of the highly-rated tourist attractions.

The culture trip doesn’t stop there — Shikoku’s castles are worth the visits. Kochi Castle has been so well preserved that this Japanese castle has the original structure from when it was first created. If you’ve never seen a water castle, Shikoku has one of the three water castles in Japan called the Takamatsu Castle.

Kyushu

Source: Tim Franklin Photography from Flickr

Last but definitely not least, Kyushu takes the title of Japan’s third-largest island after Honshu and Hokkaido, with an area of about 36,000 square kilometers. It’s in the southernmost part of Japan’s mainland. Because it’s located further south, it has a warmer climate — a subtropical climate. For those who prefer the warm sun instead of the cold Hokkaido weather, Kyushu is just for you. 

The largest city in Kyushu island is Fukuoka, at approximately 343 square kilometers. Other prominent cities include Nagasaki — the city with tragic historical incidences and is now a symbol of peace — and Arita, the city of potteries.

Kyushu Is Known For…

This mountainous island is full of wonderful hot springs and volcanoes that are still very active to this day. In fact, Kyushu is even called the “Land of Fire” because of the chain of active volcanoes including Mount Kuju, Mount Sakurajima and Mount Aso.

For the less adventurous and more relaxation enthusiasts, hot springs would be what attracts you to Kyushu. It’s nothing like what you can possibly imagine — Kyushu has baths that come in all colours, some of the best coloured waters in the whole country! The glistening blue waters are great at Yufuin Onsen and Takenoyu Onsen. If you’re looking for red water, Yumigahama Onsen and Ondake Onsen are your best options. Kojigoku Onsen and Myoban Onsen are popular for their white water. If you’ve never seen yellow water, Ukenokuchi Onsen has it the best!

Conclusion

With thousands and thousands of islands, a lifetime wouldn’t be enough to explore every single inch of every one of them — but one can try. Start off with the four mainland islands of Honshu, Hokkaido, Shikoku and Kyushu. Once you’ve gotten these down, you’re set to tackle the rest of Japan’s remote islands full of treasures and undiscovered jewels.

The Cheapest Things To Buy in Japan!

Introduction

While there are things that are comparably expensive in Japan, there are also quite a number of things that are extremely cheap. What’s more, you can only find it here! Sometimes it’s a matter of luck on discovering the exact spot that sells the item cheap — but there are also very specific things that are considerably less in price than other countries.

Don’t worry, you won’t need to be hunting for these items all around the country. I’ve done the hard part for you — here’s a carefully curated list of the cheapest things to buy in Japan along with where to get them.

1. ¥100 Products

Source: Gene Wang from Flickr

Scattered throughout Japan are stores that offer a variety of products at only ¥100! Who wouldn’t want to shop in a store where everything costs only ¥100 each? You might think that just because it’s priced at ¥100 that they might not be of good quality — think again. They’re actually high quality for the value.

In these ¥100 stores, you can get all kinds of daily necessities. Kitchen utensils, washing and cleaning supplies, gardening tools, interior decor and even cosmetics and electronics — the list is endless! It’s safe to say these ¥100 stores have everything. You can decorate a whole house without breaking the bank.

Where To Buy

All these ¥100 products can be bought at ¥100 stores — duh. There are tons of franchises that offer all their products at ¥100. These include Daiso, Seira and Can Do — they are the main and most common ones you’ll see on the streets of Japan.

2. Matcha Products

What is a trip to Japan without trying and buying the most famous Japanese products of all time: matcha. Matcha is made from finely ground a special type of green tea, and eventually turning these leaves into powder form. It’s not only delicious, but it also offers tons of health benefits.

The matcha hype is insane everywhere else in the world and it’s known to be a rather expensive product outside of Japan. However, in this country, it’s one of the cheapest things you can get! In fact, you can get matcha in quite a number of ways — everything from unique matcha desserts like matcha pancakes and matcha parfait to matcha drinks and chocolates, and the list goes on and on! 

You might think that matcha is only available in edible products — you’re wrong! Even cosmetic products can be made with matcha. Matcha is actually extremely good for the skin just like green tea, and the Japanese cosmetic brands have taken advantage of this matcha hype to produce tons of matcha-inclusive cosmetic products.

Where To Buy

It’s not that hard to find matcha products in Japan. It’s scattered everywhere — so much that almost every store and restaurant you enter would have at least one matcha product to offer. The Japanese are nuts over matcha, after all. 

The best place to look for matcha food products is none other than the great Don Quijote. This gigantic chain store can be found in larger neighbourhoods like Shibuya and Shinjuku in Tokyo. Keep an eye out for a matcha corner — it’s probably any matcha lover’s heaven.

3. Video Games & Game Consoles

For some of us who have been gaming since we’re a small kid, we probably have come across either a Japanese video game or a Japanese game console. Because they are made by Japanese companies, it’s only natural that they’re cheaper to purchase in the country itself than it is overseas. 

When it comes to the older ones, Japan has special stores just for older editions of video games and game consoles, but they’re mostly second hand. On the plus side to that, these second-hand video games and game consoles go for extremely dirt cheap prices. One man’s trash is another man’s treasure.

Where To Buy

For a wide selection of Japanese game consoles, Hard Off is probably the best place to get them. They have stores in most major cities in Japan, and each store has a different variety than the next. If you have the time to spare, pop by a few to have a huge range to choose from.

If you’re looking for video games, Super Potato and Book Off are great places to start your search. Super Potato specialises in retro games, so an interesting selection awaits you here. Book Off offers a ton of second-hand products and video games are among them. Unlike Super Potato where you can find their stores only in Tokyo, Book Off can be found in major cities in Japan, just like Hard Off.

4. Electronics

Japan is extremely known for its technology. Japanese electronics are reputable for its “Made in Japan” quality, being far more trustworthy and reliable than some other countries. 

You’ll get tons of deals for local electronic goods. Everything from rice cookers and ovens to cameras and handphones, nowhere else can you get these goods at a bargain price. Even electronic toilet seats are the cheapest to get in Japan — but maybe think twice about getting one if you’re going to have to deliver it over back to your country; there’s a solid chance the shipping costs more than the toilet seat itself.

Where To Buy

Akihabara is your one-stop for all things technology and electronics. Various electronic shops and department stores are here so you’re able to compare the prices and see which deals are best for you. The selection is crazy huge, and plus, some even offer English-speaking services.

Look out for big shopping malls like Yodobashi Camera. These kinds of shopping malls are the most convenient ones for foreigners and tourists, plus wonderful deals. Alternatively, you can check out Bic Camera — they’re known for a huge selection of electronics from various brands and constantly coming up with promotions!

5. Beauty & Cosmetics

Source: Dutch Blythe Fashion from Flickr

Every girl (and the occasional guy) can understand how much the accumulated amount for beauty and cosmetic products can get. But in Japan, the prices of beauty and cosmetic products are one of the cheapest you can get in the entire world!

Even though Japanese cosmetic and beauty brands can be found globally, including the luxurious ones like Shiseido and Shu Uemura, they’re priced at such a bargain in their local country. 

A tip on shopping for beauty and cosmetics is to buy from brands of the same parent company as your favourite luxury brand. For example, if you’re a huge fan of Shiseido, the Japanese brand Kose is from the same parent company — you’ll get similar types of products for almost half the price.

Where To Buy

Basically any drugstore, pharmacy, supermarket or convenience store you enter, you’re bound to see a section just for them. The ultimate best places to get them are in pharmacies where there’s a substantial range of beauty and cosmetic products — think everything from ¥300 to ¥30,000!

It’s good to note that products and brands can vary depending on the stores they’re in, and especially in the town they’re in. If it’s in a store in busy towns like Shibuya and Shinjuku in Tokyo, chances are they’re marked at higher prices. Go down a few streets from the main street, or even out of the city center itself, to get better deals. 

Another huge tip for shopping for beauty and cosmetics is that pharmacies tend to have sales and promotions from time to time — anything from a few hundred yen off of the total bill to a 10% discount off of all items.

Conclusion

Contrary to popular belief of Japan being one of the most expensive countries offering expensive products, it’s not all that bad. There’s quite a substantial selection of cheap goods to get in this country — from daily essentials from ¥100 stores and bargain-priced fishes to entertainment like video games and manga. What are you waiting for? Get shopping in Japan for all the cheapest things you can get, and at the end of the day, you won’t feel guilty about checking your bank account!

Winter in Japan

Introduction

The cold December winter can sometimes bring about a significant drop in mood from the cheerful July summer. For some, the month is packed with gloomy days and constant wishes for warmer weather — but not in Japan. From the icy Hokkaido in the north to the busy city life of central Tokyo, there are tons of areas that are best seen and visited during the winter season in Japan. 

Japanese winter is nothing short of magical. You’ll feel like you’ve stumbled onto a fairytale world with the snow-covered trees and slopes, with illuminations that warm up the streets with their twinkling lights. Japan doesn’t hold back when it comes to celebrating its seasons, and winter is one of the most festive times of the year! 

Here are the best ways to spend the cold season in Japan — there’s something for everyone, from shopping and relaxation to outdoor activities and sightseeing.

Relax in an onsen

Enjoy December in Japan by relaxing in an onsen (温泉, hot spring). This Japanese hot spring is definitely one activity that you should never miss out on your visit to Japan — especially in December when it will be cold outside. Even though this activity is in demand all year round with locals and foreigners alike partaking in it, a dip in onsen during December is like a warm hug — especially if it’s an outdoor onsen. Regardless of whether your onsen is surrounded by the snow-covered trees or in a traditional Japanese ryokan, the experience is exceptional either way.

One of the most picturesque onsen in all of Japan is the Ginzan Onsen, a popular spot especially during winter. Located in Obanazawa in the Yamagata Prefecture, this historically-rich mountain town surrounded by peaceful nature is the perfect escape from the busy city. Relax in a toasty, peaceful outdoor hot spring and take in the air full of culture. While you’re at it, take a stroll around the city — you might even stumble across the historical silver mine built over five centuries ago!

Kowakien Yunessun is the perfect onsen spot if you’re interested in a unique onsen experience unlike the rest. While it has traditional onsen of the highest class for your pleasure, that’s not even close to the highlight of this place. Sign up for a once-in-a-lifetime experience of dipping your toes and soaking in a heated pool of red wine — if not, pick from choices of coffee, green tea and Japanese sake! Don’t miss out on their outdoor areas either, complete with waterslides and waterfalls, as well as an outdoor onsen with a magnificent view of Hakone. 

Visit winter festivals

Source: kitchakron sonnoy from Flickr

What’s the holiday spirit without some festivals, am I right? In Japan, December is one of the months that’s abundant in festivals — from special winter festivals to Christmas markets that pull in people from the outskirts of the city to come down and participate. 

Most of these festivals begin at the start of December onwards. Here’s a neat tip: the earlier you drop by these festivals, the better goods you have to select from. You know what they say, the early bird gets the worm!

As soon as December comes around, the Japanese take that as a sign to bring out the winter and snow festivals all around the country. Northern Japan goes all out, more so than the others — you’ll get to see everything from special winter performances to carefully crafted ice sculptures. Sapporo Snow Festival is one to put on your itinerary — despite the freezing cold in December, the locals lift their spirits by organising this week-long annual festival. The whole city turns into a winter wonderland with ice sculptures and illumination lining the streets. Over two million visitors each year drop by the city just for this occasion!

The Yunishigawa Kamakura Festival is another one that will definitely put you in a better mood during the cold winter. While you might have heard “Kamakura” as the city that houses the huge Buddha statue, it also refers to the traditional Japanese igloo! During the festival, tons of these dome sculptures are lined up with orange, twinkling glows as the sky turns dark. It’s a magical sight that warms your chest in the cold atmosphere.

Bask in winter illuminations 

Source: Hiroaki Kaneko from Flickr

No one can beat Japan when it comes to winter illuminations — it’s without a doubt the winner. Thousands and millions of tiny bulbs of light decorate everything in the area, from trees and bushes to buildings and lamp posts. You might even be lucky and stumble across ones that put on a choreographed light show! A single city can house multiple light illuminations of various themes and people near as well as far come all the way from their home to witness such beauties.

While Tokyo has quite a substantial number of winter illuminations, go out of the main city to Nagasaki, the home city of a Dutch theme park called Huis Ten Bosch. This theme park is extremely gigantic — over 13 million light bulbs are needed to take over the park and illuminate every inch of the grounds in winter! You might need to spare a few hours to fully explore the Kingdom of Lights!

Another illumination event in Japan is the Nabana no Sato in Nagoya, one of the largest ones in the whole country. This flower park is already getting enough visitors throughout the year, but when it’s illuminated from December onwards with millions of LED lights decorating the fragrant park, there’s no doubt thousands of more visitors are making their way here. Here’s a tip: go up onto the observation deck to witness a spectacular panoramic view of the illuminations display!

Leisurely ice skate around town

Not all cities in Japan will be covered in powdery snow in December, but there’s an easy enough solution to enjoy the cold weather and that is a man-made ice skating rink! While there are tons of indoor all-year-round rinks in major cities of Japan, the special outdoor ones only pop up from December onwards and only for a few months. Take your ice skating shoes for a spin and brush up your skating skills. 

Some recommended places are the Tokyo Skytree Town Ice Skating Park, or one outside of Tokyo in Yokohama called the Art Rink in Red Brick Warehouse — the latter is extremely unique and one to definitely check out even if you’re not an ice skater at all.

Stay at a ski resort

Nothing can beat the December cold weather than going up to a ski resort for fun and exciting ways to beat the snow! Whether it is skiing or snowboarding, hitting the snowy hills and slopes is undoubtedly the best activity to take part in when the weather gets colder. 

While there are tons of ski resorts scattered throughout the country, don’t miss out on Zao Ski Resort where you can kill two birds with one stone to witness in-person the ice-coated trees that are known as “snow monsters”. The ski resort is coated with lush powder slopes, and taking an enjoyable slide down whether on ski or snowboards, zooming past the snow monsters will send a thrilling chill down your spine. Look out the winder in the evening where they will get lit up, giving off a mystical winter vibe.

Travel to Japan’s exclusive winter sites

Source: Thirawatana Phaisalratana from Flickr

Traveling from a place to the other might sound like a pain, but trust that these exclusive winter sites in Japan are worth every second of the journey. Japan is undoubtedly stunning all year round, but when the weather cools from December onwards, the country reveals new sides to its land. 

No one would think to travel miles out of a city center, especially if it’s in another prefecture, to visit a park in December. Don’t be so sure yet, because the Jigokudani Monkey Park is extremely special. The Japanese macaques make a grand appearance when it gets cold. They come from deep inside the Jigokudani mountains to the thermal spa in Yokoyu River, dipping their toes and soaking in the warm water baths. You wouldn’t want to miss out a once-in-a-lifetime experience of getting up-close and personal with these adorable things!

Another magical sight in Japan during winter is none other than this designated UNESCO World Heritage Site, Shirakawago Village. Its conservation of the unique architecture of the houses earned them the title, and well-deserving to say the least. The village is beautiful all year round but it transforms into a stunning Japanese winter wonderland from December onwards. These Gashho-zukuri farmhouses are draped in snowfall — you might even be lucky enough to snag some tickets for the exclusive illumination light show events.

 

An underrated location of a winter spot in Japan is the Icicles of Misotsuchi. This winter phenomenon is not so far from Tokyo — it’s just in Saitama, the prefecture to the east of the main city. These ginormous icicles are created from the water that’s flowing down from the cliffs. Drop by during peak season in December for an exclusive light show where the icicles will be lit up in a blueish hue, giving off a mystical ambiance.

Shop at Christmas markets

Image Source

Two huge celebrations in Japan are Christmas and New Year. Even though these events take place at the end of the month of December, Christmas markets pop up as early as the start of the month and even earlier! Visit the dozens of Christmas markets scattered around the country — the capital city Tokyo has more than a few that will definitely pique your interest. Roppongi Hills Christmas Market is without a doubt the most popular one of them all, featuring everything from Christmas-related goods to even German delicacies.

Conclusion

Winter in Japan is a magical time to be in the Land of the Rising Sun — and yes, the sun still rises and can be seen in the country, so don’t worry about gloomy skies and rainy weather. So stop avoiding the cold season and get out and about with all these exciting Japan-exclusive winter activities!

Must-Watch Japanese Dramas!

Introduction

Some prefer movies, others prefer TV shows. In my opinion, TV shows are arguably more entertaining than movies, only because they have multiple episodes that tell the storyline longer and in a more elaborate manner. Viewers are able to get attached to specific characters and root for them — that’s the beauty of any series.

The Western TV shows and Korean drama shows have gotten tons of attention and credit in the scene — what about the Japanese dramas? This slightly underrated genre definitely deserves more hype, because it’s not only entertaining and heartfelt, but every Japanese drama gives an insight into the country as a whole and the different aspects of Japanese culture. 

Here are the best 10 Japanese dramas to get you started on your binge-watching!

1. Hana Yori Dango

Hana Yori Dango is a Japanese drama that needs absolutely no introduction because of its high reputation. This drama tells the story of the only poor student, Makino Tsukushi, at a school for the rich and privileged called Eitoku Gakuen. While it is just like any other academic school, there’s a mutual understanding that the school is informally ruled by Flower 4, known more commonly as the F4. 

The F4 consists of four boys who come from extremely influential families who might even be as powerful as the king. All Makino wants is to get through her school days as peacefully as possible. But unfortunately for her, she stumbles onto the bad side of one of the F4 boys. The series follows her school life as she battles through bullying and other mishaps happening in this prestigious school. 

2. Todome No Kiss

The first time Todome No Kiss aired, everyone who had access to the Japanese TV channel was glued to the show. This drama features a popular host, Dojima Otaro. Because of his past, Otaro has this personality of a cocky, full-of-himself man that only strives for power and money. On just a regular normal day at work, a strange thing happens. 

He faces a mysterious lady with a pale face and red lips who kisses him out of the blue, and right after the kiss, Otaro suddenly dies but not permanently. After a while, he regains consciousness, with one minor difference: he wakes up seven days in the past. This highly-rated drama follows the tale of his constant encounters with this mysterious woman, eventual multiple deaths and resurrection, and his quest to finding out why this is happening to him in the first place. 

3. 1 Litre No Namida

This extremely popular Japanese series follows the life of a fifteen-year-old girl, Ikeuchi Aya, who is just about to enter high school. She is just an ordinary girl from a family who works at a tofu shop — a type of bean curd — but she begins to experience unexpected occurrences that are not at all pleasant. Aya starts to walk awkwardly as well as falling abruptly more often than not. 

When she and her mum consults the doctor, Aya finds out that she has spinocerebellar degeneration, which is an extremely rare disease that deteriorates the cerebellum part of the brain. Over time, the victim’s speech and physical acts like walking and eating will be affected. This Japanese drama revolves around Aya’s time in her remaining teenage years till the early twenties.

4. Suits

Suits is a remake of the original American TV series that had stellar reviews internationally — it even has a Korean remake. Even with multiple versions of the storyline, this Japanese drama is just as good, if not better. Suits stars Shogo Kai, an extremely good lawyer from one of the biggest law firms in Japan who prioritises winning more than anything else, and Daiki Suzuki, a young man with multiple hardships in life but extremely intelligent with an excellent memory. 

Impressed by Daiki’s remarkable memory recall and capabilities, Shogo hires Daiki as an associate despite his lack of certificates. Suits tells the adventures this tag team duo has with lawsuit cases and the challenges they face at keeping this secret.

5. Code Blue

 

This Japanese drama series, Code Blue, has a total of three seasons revolving around the mid-2007 legalised system in Japan called the “Doctor Helicopter” system. This system involving dispatching a medical team from a helicopter to patients in need in the quickest time possible. 

The first season shows four newly assigned young physicians to the Doctor Helicopter system and their various encounters with different medical situations. The second and third seasons sets in a few years after the introduction of the system with other characters. Even with the occasional time jumps, the entire series is coherent and easily followed as it has the same concept of fragility of life and growth of the individual characters.

6. Good Doctor

Be moved by the story of Minato Shindo, a passionate man with autism and savant syndrome, in the Japanese drama Good Doctor. Shindo’s older brother passed away when they were young, and because of that incident, he dreams of becoming a doctor. Despite his special needs, he has an amazing memory. 

Akira Shiga, a respected doctor at a local hospital, was amazed at Shindo’s abilities —Shindo was able to memorize the human organs at the age of only seven. After Minato graduates from medical school and passes the national exam for medical practitioners, doctor Akira puts in a recommendation for Shindo to be a part of the pediatric surgery department.

7. 99.9: Criminal Lawyer

The crime scene in Japan is incomparable to the rest of the world. Just by watching 99.9: Criminal Lawyer, you’ll get an insight into how it’s like in the country through the form of an entertaining TV series. 

The main character, Hiroto Miyama, is a lawyer who takes on criminal cases but doesn’t profit as much because the conviction rate for such cases in Japan is 99.9%. He teams with a successful civil lawyer, Atsuhiro Sada from one of four biggest law firms in the country, Madarame Law Firm. This amazing duo goes onto uncovering the truth about the remaining 0.1% of the crime scene in the country.

8. Ouroboros

This Japanese TV drama features two orphans, Ryuzaki Ikuo and Danno Tatsuya, who were brought up by an orphanage staff that they regarded as an older sister. When these two were in elementary school, they witnessed the murder of their older sister right before their very eyes. Despite the statements made to the police, it was buried by an officer with a golden watch. 

On top of that, the same guy covered up the case and no one knows why. A decade and a half later, Ikuo became a detective while Tatsuya is a leading member of an underground organised crime group. Despite being in two different worlds, these two people come together to expose the truth of what happened to their older sister as well as taking down the powerful organisation behind it.

9. Mare

This Japanese drama will definitely warm your heart and soul. Named after the main character of the story, Mare tells a story about a girl who grew up constantly running from city to city because of her family’s debt crisis. She and her family find themselves in a small village town called Noto where she settles in and rebuilds her life. 

When Mare grows older, she didn’t want to be like her family who was always running around without a passion to strive for. Instead, she is determined to chase after her childhood dream of being a patisserie. Follow Mare’s life journey as she strives to become a world-class patisserie, with the occasional romance here and there.

10. 3 Nen A Gumi: Ima Kara Mina-san Wa, Hitojichi Desu

Follow the story of the lead character of 3 Nen A Gumi: Ima Kara Mina-san Wa, Hitojichi Desu, Ibuki Hiiragi, in his career at a high school as an art teacher and also a homeroom teacher to third grade’s Class A. His job started off normally two years ago, but it took a twist a few months prior to graduation day. 

With just 10 days to graduation, Hiiragi gathered all of his 29 students of class 3-A and claimed that they were his hostages — none of them was able to leave until Hiiragi knows the truth behind the suicide of one of a past student. 

Conclusion

There are various Japanese dramas in every genre, from action-packed and mystery to heartwarming lifestyle and romance. Without even moving a muscle, you’ll be able to learn a thing or two about Japan and Japanese culture, just like how the drama Mare introduces the pastry scene in Japan while the drama Todome No Kiss sheds light onto the host culture. Japanese dramas are both educational and entertaining — why not get into it right now?

A Guide To Tokyo’s Disney Resorts

Introduction

One of the first few things that pop to mind when one mentions Tokyo is…Disney! Japan’s capital city is home to not one, but two Disney Resorts right next to each other — and one of them is the only one in the whole world! 

Don’t get too excited just yet; because the Tokyo Disney Resort is so unique, it’s the priority of Disney enthusiasts and travellers worldwide. It is, after all, one of the most famous attractions in the country! Because of this overwhelming popularity, these theme parks are packed to the brim with people, every single one of them hoping to have their Disney dreams fulfilled. 

It’s not impossible, but it’s not easy. Unfortunately, we live in the real world and not some fairytale — happily ever afters doesn’t just fall out of the sky. We’ve got to put in some effort to make our dreams come true. But… I’m your very own fairy godmother, and this is your manual to having the best time of your life at the Tokyo Disney Resort!

Tokyo’s Disney Resorts

As mentioned earlier, Tokyo Disney Resort consists of two Disney theme parks: Tokyo Disneyland and Tokyo DisneySea. The two aren’t the same and have a completely different ambiance — and of course, rides. In a nutshell, Tokyo Disneyland is your classic fairytale; Tokyo DisneySea is the coming-of-age version of that. 

You might think that the location of these Tokyo Disney Resorts is obvious — duh, it’s in Tokyo. Why name it that when it’s not?

You’re, in fact, wrong. It’s not even in Tokyo at all! The Tokyo Disney Resort is located to the east of Tokyo, in Urayasu of Chiba Prefecture. It is a short train ride from Tokyo, though — about 20 minutes from Tokyo Station and 30 minutes from Shinjuku Station. 

That’s one takeaway of Tokyo you have already: the train system is efficient as hell.

Tokyo Disneyland

Now, let’s take a look at Tokyo Disneyland. Here’s a fun fact: this Disney theme park is actually the first-ever Disney park to be built outside of the United States! Everything from the design and structure is built in the same style as the Magic Kingdom in Florida and Disneyland in California, so you’ll get the full authentic magical experience even on the other side of the world. 

On the 15th of April 1983, its magical gates opened, and to this day, this Disney Resort holds the title of the third most-visited theme park in the world (the first two being also Disney parks in the U.S.).

While it mimics the American Disney parks, there are some special features in this one. It is in Japan, after all, so take note of a few hints at Japanese culture here and there. One great example is the food; it’s noticeably different from the U.S. You’ll be in for a treat for an infusion of American and Chinese flavours with Japanese cuisine — sounds intriguing, right? 

You’ll get steamed buns filled with teriyaki chicken, shaped like the iconic Mickey Mouse’s head, in Adventureland. There’s also a traditional Japanese dish called donburi fused with the American flavours of taco meat. 

Don’t worry, the food at Tokyo Disneyland is not all traditionally infused; you’ll be able to get your fix of classic popcorn, or even spice it up with soy sauce flavoured ones if you fancy.

Tokyo DisneySea

Remember when I said there’s one Tokyo Resort that’s only one in the world? Well, that’s Tokyo DisneySea. This theme park opened on the 4th of September 2001 right next to Tokyo Disneyland, and is the fourth most-visited theme park in the world! 

Tokyo DisneySea has a unique theme — can you guess from the name of the park? This theme park has a nautical exploration theme. There’s nowhere like DisneySea anywhere in the world; a combination of Disney, maritime rides and attractions, and Japanese-infused American nibbles. 

I call this theme park the adult version of Tokyo Disneyland, because unlike the other, Tokyo DisneySea serves alcohol!

There are plans for expansion to this park to include the famous Frozen and Tangled areas for 2023! Oh, and let’s not forget Peter Pan, my personal favourite Disney character.

When To Visit

Want to avoid the crowds? It does get very crowded — these parks are popular amongst locals and tourists alike. March and August are the months of the Japanese school holidays, so if you want to avoid the young crowd, it might be best to avoid these months.

Other months like February, October and December are also best to avoid. In these months, the weather can get unpredictable like rain and warnings of natural disasters. In these cases, rides can get interrupted and, to the extreme, park closure.

Where To Stay

It’s every princess’s dream to stay in a huge, magical castle — I know it’s mine. The Tokyo Disneyland Hotel is pretty similar to that, with themed rooms, extravagant decor, and impeccable service. You pay what you get, and this is the top-class, five-star everything.

If you’re not all that bothered about the royal treatment, there are multiple hotels around the vicinity that aren’t as costly as the main Disney Resort hotels. Boutique hotels like Ibis Hotel provide free shuttle buses from the hotel to the Disney parks — an extremely convenient service for when you’re exhausted from a day’s adventure and just want to hit the sacks ASAP.

Tips & Tricks To The Disney Resorts

Here’s where I sprinkle my magic. Just being at the resorts is good enough, but why miss out on making your experience more magical and unforgettable than what Disney promised? 

Make full use of your time at the park. Every minute counts, especially when there are hundreds of others aiming to do the same thing as you. How you ask? Well, I have some tips and tricks for you based on my very own personal experience — tried and tested, and succeeded! 

Buy your tickets in advance

I know some of you out there are the spontaneous, adventurous kind. No planning and just going for it. Well, I’m a planner. And for Disney Resorts, you have to plan. Get your tickets in advance — trust me, you do not want to be in the queue of people who buy tickets at the gate. All you have to do is just wait till the gates open.

You might need to have your booking tickets printed out as well; Japan is pretty traditional when it comes to things like that. If you forgot to do it on the day, don’t worry. There are stations at the entrance where you can print them out for free! Or alternatively, go to a konbini (コンビニ, convenience store) near you (but not at the Disney Resort — the konbinis have no printer whatsoever).

Plan your rides in advance

I’d prioritise this tip over anything else: plan your route in the theme park. What rides do you want to go on first? Which are must-go’s and which ones you aren’t so bothered about, and which ones are extremely popular? 

Factor in waiting time for each attraction — which may vary depending on the popularity of the ride — and where the rides you want to go are. Take that Disney map and a pen, and start planning. Don’t think it’s silly; you’ll be so glad you did afterward. It’s all about strategy, and not missing out on the rides you are dying for just because you got held up in a queue for a ride you don’t even particularly want to go on. 

Make full use of the Fast Pass

If you don’t already know, there’s a FastPass system where you can get a ticket with a timestamp on it to return to the attraction and use the priority Fast Pass lane. It’s one of the best ways to maximise your time at the park, so include that in your planning!

Not all rides are eligible for FastPass, but most of the top-rated ones are. You’re only allowed to hold one FastPass at a time, so as soon as you’ve used your previous FastPass, go on to the next one!

Bring your own bento (if you want)

This one is not really a do-or-die rule, but it will save you some time and a few pennies. There’s nothing wrong with going all out and trying the tasty Disney treats, but they are going to cost quite a bit. On occasion, restaurants will have a long queue.

Do it the Japanese way: bring a bento (弁当, lunch box). Not only are you going to have a few extra bucks in your pocket, but you’re also participating in the local culture!

Shop after the attractions close

I know, I know — you want that cute souvenir for yourself and your family. Save that shopping for the end of the day. Don’t waste your precious time at the park just to be in the shops all day.

It’s not well-known, but Disney shops open an hour after all the other attractions close. That means you’ll have plenty of time to browse through all those cute items with peace of mind and without sacrificing your time for rides!

Conclusion

I’ve not only saved your time at the park but also your time researching about the Tokyo Disney Resort — see, I told you, I am the fairy godmother! Fair enough, being at Disneyland and DisneySea alone is magical enough, but if you take my advice, your time at the parks will be one of the most memorable, enjoyable and unforgettable experiences ever! 

10 Best Places To Visit During Japanese Winter

Introduction

Spring in Japan is beautiful — many travellers plan their trip to Japan around that time of the year to witness the blooming flowers as the weather warms up. What you don’t know is that you’re missing out on heaps of excitement that takes place only during Japanese winter! 

Winter in Japan is magical — winter illuminations, snow-covered slopes and trees that mimic that of a fairytale are just the tip of the iceberg. The Japanese celebrate winter like no other despite the cold and snow, because it’s also the time for winter events and ice sculptures! Let’s not forget about the onsens, bathing outdoors in natural hot springs.

If these don’t make you want to venture Japan in winter, here is a list of places in Japan that will definitely convince you otherwise.

1. Jigokudani Monkey Park

Source: Douglas Sprott (flickr)

Hello, monkeys! Just two hours north of Tokyo, you can find wild Japanese macaques chilling in their very own thermal spa, up in Nagano. They inhabit the Jigokudani mountainsides and roam the extensive terrains freely, and part of their territory includes the Yokoyu River valley.

While the park is only reachable on foot through the dense forest of about a mile, I promise it’s worth the trek — I mean, who doesn’t want to get up close and personal with bathing macaques? It’s definitely a once-in-a-lifetime experience!

2. Shirakawago Village

Source: Trey Ratcliff (flickr)

Shirakawago Village is a designated UNESCO World Heritage Site due to the conservation of the unique architecture of the houses — some have steeply sloping roofs constructed without nails that enables them to cope structurally with the heavy wind snowfalls. The area transforms into a Japanese winter wonderland in mid-December, when snowfalls begin and the Gassho-zukuri farmhouses take on a snow-covered picture-perfect look. 

The most popular village, Ogimachi, has the biggest and most number of traditional farmhouses dated back over two hundred years ago! On top of it all, Shirakawago also has winter illuminations worth staying and booking in advance for, because it is a popular event. 

3. The Blue Pond

Have you ever seen the sky on the ground? The Blue Pond, located near the town of Biei in Hokkaido lets you witness just that. The lagoon-like pond that holds sky-blue coloured water was created when excavations were made to prevent mudslides from eruptions of Mount Tokachi from reaching the town. 

Because of that event, the hollow left behind from the digs filled with water. The pond contains traces of chemicals that turn its waters a rainbow of different blue hues throughout the year, and during winter the scenery is so magical as the blue pond is accompanied by the whitened tree branches.

4. Abashiri Drift Ice

Source: Ludwine Probst (flickr)

Found up north of Japan is Hokkaido, the coldest city in all of Japan! Because of that, Hokkaido experiences all kinds of spectacular phenomenons in winter, and one of them is the drift ice. The Sea of Okhotsk along Abashiri City is known to be the southernmost point to witness the drift ice, just like in the Arctic. There is also a sightseeing ship that allows you to watch the dynamic drift ice in close proximity, but only during a limited time of the year.

5. Zao

Source: Anthony Coronado (flickr)

Winter can bring out the most spectacular natural sights. One of them is the winter phenomenon that is at a popular ski resort in Northern Japan called the Zao Ski Resort. Hundreds of Zao’s ice trees, also known as Juhyo, covered the slopes of the ski resort. These unique and amazing snow monsters are a work of art made by nature.

Visitors of the ski resort can even ski and snowboard around and by the trees. In the evening, the snow monsters are lit up and put on a mystical winter scenery.

6. The Icicles of Misotsuchi

Source: tsuru_g4 (flickr)

Most of the places that experience a winter phenomenon are usually found in the colder regions of Japan, like Hokkaido. This one is more accessible from Tokyo, and it is the Icicles of Misotsuchi. They are gigantic icicles created by the flowing water over the cliffs upstream from the waterfall in Chichibu area in Saitama prefecture, located right next to Tokyo.

Not only is this an extremely beautiful natural sight on its own, during the peak season, but there will also be special light-up events held that lighten up the icicles in a blue-ish hue, giving them a mystical feel.

7. Kamakura Festival

Source: chee_hian (flickr)

Kamakura is not only linked to the city that is known for its famous and huge Buddha statue, but also referred to the dome-shaped snow sculpture that is a traditional winter item in Japan. 

Held in the northern part of the country, the Yunishigawa Kamakura Festivals takes place at the Yunishigawa Onsen Town in Tochigi Prefecture, where hundreds of dome sculptures in all sizes line up, lighting up the dark night sky with orange glows.

The event runs for about a month from February to March, and even though the Kamakura domes are the main attraction, there are also other several fun snow activities offered in the vicinity. 

8. Ginzan Onsen

Source: Jojje Olsson (flickr)

Who doesn’t love a good onsen? Bathing in natural hot springs is an enjoyable way of relaxing, and locals and foreigners often take the time out to go to them as it also has health benefits. In winter, the surrounding of the onsen is filled with snow and ice, and the air is chilly. Yet, as you dip into the onsen, you’re warm and toasted amidst the cold winter.

Ginzan Onsen is one of the most picturesque places to go for a winter onsen. Located in the Yamagata prefecture, the small mountain town is full of historical ryokans and traditional onsen inn lined along the banks of the Ginzan River. 

Stay overnight at one of these, and even consider one with a private onsen, to enjoy the full experience. Public onsens are also available for those not looking to spend the night. If you’re not feeling up for the full immersion, a public foot spa is also available. 

9. Sapporo Snow Festival

Source: David McKelvey (flickr)

Winter in Hokkaido is really cold, but instead of being down in the slumps because of the weather, the capital city, Sapporo, hosts the world’s famous Sapporo Snow Festival for a week-long that turns the whole city into the dreamy winter wonderland, covering three major sites — the Odori, the Susukino and the Tsu Dome. With ice sculptures and illuminations, over two million visitors, local Japanese and travellers, attend the event every season!

Each site cover a different thing: the Odori hosts the most spectacular and biggest sculptures, and you’ll be able to get a great view of them from the Sapporo TV Tower; Susukino has the smaller ice sculptures that are distributed between the karaoke bars and other entertainment establishments; The Tsu Dome offers loads of snow-related activities for both adults and children.

10. Winter Travel via JR Tadami Line

Source: Masahiro IIZUKA (flickr)

Who would’ve thought that a train ride would be a place to visit and do during winter? Yet the JR Tadami Line makes the cut. This rail service runs for over eighty miles through the most spectacular parts of Fukushima and Niigata prefectures, and can you imagine these landscapes covered in snow?

It’s extremely beautiful and jaw-dropping, it’s no doubt that this train ride will quite literally take your breath away. The best part of it all, although it might seem like a drag on other days, is that the train isn’t those express, fast ones. So you’re in for a plentiful time of admiring the scenic vistas through the carriage window.

Conclusion

Winter can be cold and sometimes depressing, but each season always has something to offer. Japan is especially best in winter, providing a mix of tradition and modern events, natural and man-made sights, and activities that can be enjoyed by all. 

From resort activities like skiing and snowboarding near the Zao monster trees, dipping in the hot water of the natural hot springs in Ginzan, to getting a picturesque trainride across parts of beautiful Japan, there is no reason to not enjoy the cold and snow in this amazing country.

Does Japanese Halloween Exist?

Introduction

People all over the world go on a hunt for the perfect costume, bring out their spooky decorations and RSVP to tons of themed events come October. The month of Halloween unites all the industries, even in Japan. It might as well be in the Japanese blood to go all out for anything and everything. Japan is pretty festive all year round, so why skip out on the Western spooky celebration? 

But, just like everything else in Japan, the country has a twist in how they celebrate Halloween. It’s not quite the same as in the West — no houses will be decorated and trick-or-treat is not practiced — but expect the streets and shops to be flooded with Halloween spirit.

Let’s take a look at how Halloween actually came to the country, as well as the present traditions the Japanese have during this festive season.

History of Halloween in Japan

Source: Hideya HAMANO (flickr)

So, how did Halloween get introduced to Japan? This Western tradition is quite a new holiday in Japan that it’s not even an actual holiday — much like Christmas. 

Before Halloween caught on with the locals, this celebration was only celebrated by foreigners. A lot of them dressed up in random costumes, filled up bars and packed the trains with drinks in hand. All these public spaces turned into their very own parties and disrupted the flow of daily life in Japan. 

The Japanese people saw no reason to celebrate this Western spooky festival — they have their very own (which we’ll get to in a minute). But Tokyo Disneyland made a move in 2000 by hosting its first Halloween event, just like the other Disney resorts in the rest of the world. More and more people started to visit this attraction in autumn, and with the rising popularity, even Universal Studios Japan caught on! 

And so did restaurants and retail stores — Halloween-themed merchandise popped up on the market as well. Everything from orange, black and purple combo decor to pumpkin goodies are scattered around the country. 

Japanese Halloween Traditions


  Source: Tim Brockley (flickr)

Not all of the traditions of Halloween made its way to Japan — trick-and-treating is one of them. There’s no such practice here because the idea of knocking on people’s doors randomly goes very much against the Japanese culture. In Japan, doing all of that is considered as bothering others unnecessarily — a big no-no in Japanese culture.

What did actually survive the trip from the West is the dressing up. In fact, the Japanese were more than welcoming with the activity. I mean, Japan is the world of cosplay, anyway. Regardless of age and gender, the locals participate in this tradition.

Another famous tradition of Japanese Halloween — even though it’s more like a weekly event than just on Halloween — is to go down to Shibuya and drink all night long. Locals and foreigners alike are seen mingling and having the time of their lives. This gathering event over the years became more and more chaotic, so much that a truck was overturned during one of the Halloween madness and now, public drinking is banned in Shibuya during the Halloween season. 

There are also tons of other parties, parades and festivals all throughout Japan, specifically Tokyo, with people flaunting their costumes while enjoying the music, food and atmosphere! Japanese companies and schools also have Halloween parties for their workers, faculty and kids!

Another West-imported tradition of Halloween is pumpkin-carving, even though it’s not as popular in Japan. One thing to note: the pumpkins here aren’t orange, they’re purple! If you’re looking to get the whole traditional jack-o-lantern, you might need to fork out a bit more for imported orange pumpkins.

Halloween Decorations

 Source: Hideya HAMANO (flickr)

Remember when I said that the Japanese go all out? They do, even for this West-imported holiday. You can literally see their enthusiasm on every corner and street in the country. As soon as October rolls around, expect Halloween-themed everything!

The most common Japanese Halloween decoration is food — every shop will have some sort of Halloween treat. Some will even go all the way and have special Halloween menus using seasonal ingredients like sweet potatoes. Yes, pumpkin too, but in Japan, it’s all about seasonality! Let’s not forget cutely decorated dishes, complete with witch hats and pumpkin carvings.

There are also tons of light decorations on the street lamps, alleyways and neighbourhoods — and it’s different every year! 

Celebrating Halloween in Japan: Where To Go?

Don’t panic if it’s your first time celebrating Halloween in Japan. You probably won’t know exactly where to go, but I’ve got you covered. You can easily walk into a local bar in a Halloween costume on Halloween and see others all dressed up too. 

But if you want the full experience, there are quite a few spots for that!

Shibuya

Looking for a chill but not so chill space to party, Shibuya is your best bet. It’s the original Halloween spot where the expats go to party, and nowadays, the Japanese people are also joining in the fun with their own wacky outfits!

As soon as you step off the train, you can’t miss the crowd. Surrounding the Hachiko statue and near the Shibuya Scramble, you’ll see everything from zombies and spooky ghosts to bloody doctors and animal onesies. 

On Halloween night, it gets extremely packed — so packed that you take one step every two seconds and it takes you at least five minutes to get to the other side of the Shibuya Scramble. What does that say about this popular Halloween location?

Pop in and out of bars and clubs to celebrate your Halloween night. Restaurants, however, can get booked up fast, so make a reservation in advance if you want to have a nice Halloween dinner with your group of friends.

Tokyo Disney Resorts

Source: PeterPanFan (flickr)

The best place to celebrate Halloween in Japan is where it all began: Tokyo Disneyland and DisneySea. If you want to read up some more on these Disney Resorts, check out our article, “A Guide To Tokyo’s Disney Resorts”

At these famous amusement parks in Japan, you’re guaranteed an extremely fun time; the rides are already thrilling on normal days, but when it’s Halloween, most of them switch it up and have a spooky theme. 

You might even be greeted by characters walking around dressed in costumes (on top of their actual costumes — how cute), and every corner is propped even more with webs and pumpkins. If you think the original Disney treats are tasty, wait till you have a bit of the Halloween treats. 

Visitors come all dressed up too — but of course, expect tons of Disney costumes. But anyway, you’re lucky enough to be able to snag a ticket for Disneyland or DisneySea on Halloween, a time with numerous exclusive entertainment. Who would ever say no to that?

Universal Studios Japan

Source: Hideya HAMANO (flickr)

Not in Tokyo? Don’t worry, Kanto has their own Halloween spot: Universal Studios Japan. It’s just as amazing, full of fun and attractions that are also themed for Halloween!

USJ has the whole amusement park turned upside down for the season and you’ll get exclusive entertainment that only comes around that time of the year. Don’t be bummed that you can’t get to the Disney Resorts, because USJ is even more spooky on Halloween, because they have Halloween Horror Nights! If you’re looking for a bit more of a scare than usual, this is a safe bet.

Obon: Japan’s Very Own Spooky Season

Source: Daniel Héctor Stolfi Rosso (flickr)

Halloween pales in comparison to Japan’s own spooky season, Obon. Some say that compared to Obon, Halloween is like the kid’s version of it.

Obon happens in the hot August summer and it’s one of the most famous festivities in the whole year. During this holiday season, the Japanese believe that the dead visit the household shrines and the families visit as well as clean the graves of the deceased. Similar to Halloween, ghost stories are being told and people visit haunted attractions all throughout the whole traditional spooky month.

Conclusion

While Obon is still strongly practiced, the fact of the matter is that Halloween now also has a foothold in modern Japanese culture — dressing up in dramatic costumes, drinking all night long in Shibuya and devouring spooky-themed treats. While it’s not as traditional as the other, it’s still an annual practice to go all out to get the best Halloween experience they can ever imagine.

Do’s & Dont’s in Japan

Introduction

The reputation of Japan’s culture and etiquette precedes them. Some of us have been there — breaking an unspoken yet mutual rule of Japan unintentionally. At some point, the topic of how things actually work in this culturally rich country is bound to pop up. 

If you’re not born in Japan or have lived long enough in the country, you wouldn’t necessarily know the ins and outs of it. That applies to most, if not all, countries but it’s even more prominent in Japan. The unique customs, social norms, and rules that regulate the society and relations can be pretty far off compared to what some of us are used to.

Even if foreigners tend to get a “free pass” in most situations, it’s best to not take advantage of that. Knowing a few basics here and there can go a long way, especially if you’re considering settling down (or already are) in Japan. Discover the top things foreigners should and should not do in Japan!

The Top 5 Do’s In Japan

The first few things you’ll notice in Japan are the acts that the Japanese do that you won’t witness anywhere else in the world. The Japanese have special customs unique to their culture. We, from the outside, may see these acts as intriguing, but to the Japanese, some of them are conventional and normal.

Instead of being straight-up lost in the translation of body language when you’re on the receiving end of these customary acts, why not learn about them prior to your trip to Japan? You might even end up doing some of these acts as well! You know what they say when in Japan, do what the Japanese do!

1. Do be early

I don’t know about you, but I personally have experienced being late even though I was actually on time. In Japan, being on time is considered late — being early is being on time. The Japanese value their time. When there is a scheduled appointment or even just a meet up with a friend, they’ll arrive earlier than the agreed time. This is their way of showing respect to the other party, regardless if it’s a client or a peer.

Even buses and trains in Japan are always on time. There’s the rare occasion of midday maintenance or circumstantial delay, but those happen once in a blue moon! If public transportation can afford to accurately arrive on time at their scheduled stops, why can’t we? 

In Japanese culture, it’s quite embarrassing to be late. Generally, it’s awkward when someone else is waiting for you after the passed arranged time to meet. Save yourself from these unwanted feelings by being punctual. Better yet, be early!

2. Do follow the queues

Queuing systems are implemented all across the world, but you’ll only see every single one of the citizens abiding by these rules in Japan. Whether it is queuing to go into a restaurant or waiting in line behind the cashier of a supermarket, the Japanese are all for lining up. In fact, they even queue for the lifts and escalators!

The Japanese obeying such a mutually implemented cultural rule stems from the group harmony mentality that the citizens love so much. Jumping and ignoring queues is equivalent to rebelling against this peaceful harmony of the Japanese culture. You wouldn’t want to be that gaijin (外人, which means foreigner), do you?

It might sound ridiculous to stand in a queue for something as mere as an escalator or lift but you’ll end up being more grateful than finding the Japanese’s obedience for the queuing system odd. Just follow the queues, it’s way better than getting dagger glares and stares from all around you.

3. Do respect the chopstick etiquette

Don’t be surprised if and when you’re not served a fork at a restaurant in Japan. In fact, expect no forks and only chopsticks instead. Even a restaurant that offers forks for cutleries offers chopsticks as well — no doubt about that. Chopsticks are quite significant in Japanese culture. Everything from how to use it to what not to do with it is clear and understood by the locals.

Because it takes up such a huge part of the Japanese culture, it sure has more than a few rules in the chopstick etiquette handbook. There are so many that it’s impossible to list them all in this write-up. It needs its own article (maybe even two)! Most of the do’s and don’ts aren’t unreasonable. They have proper reasons as to why it shouldn’t be done.

An example is sticking a chopstick upright in a bowl. This act resembles a funeral ritual which is why it’s prohibited to place the chopsticks in that manner. Placing chopsticks across the bowl signifies that you don’t want to eat anymore. If there’s still food left or you’re not done eating, it may come across as rude to the chef. It’s also considered unclean and dirty to use your chopsticks to pass food to someone else or use it to pick up food from a sharing platter. That’s because you’ve already used the chopsticks and placed them in your mouth, so it’s unhygienic to use them in the mentioned situations.

Don’t be scared to hold a pair of chopsticks now! Of course, the Japanese wouldn’t expect us, foreigners, to know every chopstick etiquette in the Japanese culture. When in doubt, just do one simple thing: don’t play with the chopsticks. That’s as simple as it gets. For a step further, as a sign of respect to the chopstick etiquette, it’s always best to ask! Whether it is the staff who’s serving you or a Japanese friend, they’ll be more than delighted to help you out!

4. Do mind the public spaces

The Japanese are all about respecting one another — from close acquaintances to strangers on the streets. Every corner of Japan is oozing with this respect and that’s because the Japanese are extremely mindful of public spaces. One of the most significant public spaces that the Japanese are extremely particular about is public transportation.

If you’ve seen pictures and videos of the packed trains in Japan, you wouldn’t believe when we say that even during such a crowd, the train is so quiet you can hear a pin drop! Groups of people will lower their voices as they step on the trains — some even end their conversations! Phones are on silent mode, no one is on the phone and even music played on headsets is at a level that wouldn’t bother the person next to them.

This mutual, unspoken rule of silence on public transportation is just out of respect for others who are commuting on the same transportation as them. You don’t know what others are going through — they might be having a rough morning or have had a long day. Join the bandwagon and mind the public spaces! 

5. Do shower first before entering the public baths

 

Japanese hot springs known more famously as the onsen (温泉) is a must-stop for locals and foreigners alike! These public baths are more often than not used as a form of relaxation rather than to cleanse oneself. Some people even go to the onsen for health reasons! The water in these public baths are always clean, and that’s not only because of the painstaking maintenance done by the staff. 

There’s an unspoken rule of showering first before entering these public baths. Similar to the previous rule, this is more because of minding the public spaces, and onsens are considered public space. You’re likely to see a showering area either right next to the hot spring bath or somewhere nearby. Be sure to use it before dipping your toes in the relaxing waters of Japan!

The Top 5 Don’ts in Japan

I bet you’ve heard of all the things you can’t do in Japan. Japan has a fair share of its don’ts, but loads of countries are the same as well! Fair enough, there are some unspoken rules here that aren’t the same as anywhere else in the world — but that’s what makes Japan even more special, doesn’t it?

Many foreigners, regardless of expats or mere tourists, can live their time in Japan being quite oblivious to the strict no-nos in Japan. While the Japanese are polite enough to give us a pass for that, why not be in the know of a few of them just to save yourself the awkward stares and encounters?

1. Don’t tip

The first and foremost don’t in Japan is tipping. Definitely no tipping in this country! Tipping is a huge part of the culture in some countries — it is even mandatory for countries like the United States! It isn’t the same in Japan, though. It’s strictly not part of the culture.

Service charge is already included in the bills of restaurants, and the Japanese are already expected to deliver only the best and highest quality of service in their work. It doesn’t matter if they’re staff at a restaurant or a taxi driver. The Japanese don’t see the need to be praised in monetary terms as that’s the bare minimum service for them.

In fact, if you do tip, you might even offend someone! Tipping can be rude for two reasons: it can imply that the staff is only providing good quality service for monetary rewards, and the other implication is that the staff aren’t paid well by the employer.

If you really insist on praising the staff for their excellent service, the best way to do that is by complimenting them in-person or even review the restaurant online. I found out that reviewing a restaurant for their exceptional service significantly helps them in terms of their ratings and getting more customers. Who knows, if you mention the individual staff in your review, that might even get them a raise!

2. Don’t wear shoes indoors

For some of us, we might wear our shoes indoors. When in Japan, never — and I repeat, NEVER — ever wear your shoes into someone’s home regardless of whose home it is. Outdoor shoes are unclean and dirty, and for this very reason, they are not to be brought into the house. Everyone wants their home to be clean. Having their indoor and outdoor shoes separate is one way for the Japanese people to go about that.

Japanese homes have an entryway called the genkan (玄関), and this is where outdoor shoes are placed. At this special entryway, the shoes are lined up neatly. Be sure to take off your shoes before entering the house. If there are indoor shoes which you’ll be able to see at the genkan, switch to those. 

This no-shoe rule does not just apply to homes. It extends to most ryokans which are traditional Japanese-style hotels, some temples and shrines, schools, and hospitals. Don’t be surprised if restaurants request you to take off your shoes before entering — especially traditional ones with tatami mats since they’re extremely delicate and can be damaged. It’s just the norm in Japan.

3. Don’t litter

One thing every foreigner notices about Japan is the lack of bins on the streets. Yet, regardless of this, the streets are almost always sparkling clean and litter-free. Amazing, isn’t it? That’s the beauty of Japan — quite literally. This is only possible because the people in the country don’t litter.

Preserve the litter-free image of the country by holding on to your rubbish if you have any. Only get rid of it when you see a bin nearby. It’s best to have a spare plastic bag with you to store all your trash and dispose of it at one go — that’s what most of the Japanese people always do! If not, they’ll hold on to it till they get home and then get rid of it then. 

If you want to be even more involved in the Japanese practice, separate your trash by plastics, papers, cans and other waste, and dispose of them accordingly. You’ll be surprised at how often these all come in a row together!

4. Don’t jaywalk

The Japanese love obeying the rules, which is why everything is almost always run so smoothly in the country. So of course, there’s no such thing as jaywalking in Japan! Plus, that’s not the only reason you shouldn’t be jaywalking. There’s the obvious one and that is because it’s dangerous!

There’s no harm in waiting for a bit. The plus side is that the traffic lights in Japan don’t take long at all! If there’s construction work or breakdown of sorts, there’s always a road worker to assist the traffic flow. Save yourself the danger as well as others’ danger of following your lead to jaywalk by simply not.

5. Don’t eat or drink on-the-go

Konbinis (コンビニ) are extremely popular in Japan. They have everything — they are called convenience stores for a reason. You’d expect tons of people grabbing a wrapped onigiri and munching on them casually as they get a step on towards their next destination. After all, it is killing two birds with one stone that we’re all guilty of.

On the contrary, you won’t catch a local Japanese chomping away as they take a stroll down the pavements. To the locals, the streets are considered dirty as hundreds of people walk on them daily and leave trails of dirt behind. Why consume food on these unclean surfaces? 

You’ll see the Japanese people standing right outside these konbinis to finish up their quick snack or lunch. It’s not just konbinis but also vending machines! Loitering around them makes it easier to bin the wrapping and cans or bottles in the respective bins before heading off. If you don’t fancy the standing and eating way, find a nearby bench or park to finish up your quick treat.

Conclusion

Japan is not Japan if it’s not for its order and system. Who knows if we’ll ever be fully familiar with the ins and outs of the Japanese culture, but we can only try! At the end of the day, the Japanese are extremely understanding of foreigners and every effort is greatly appreciated. Even the bare minimum like the do’s and don’t mentioned in this write-up is good enough, so let’s do our best! Ganbatte (頑張って)!