Looking for fun things to do in Japan
October 9, 2014 2:21 PM   Subscribe

I'll be in Japan for 8 days, starting 10/25. Help me fill those days with awesomeness!

I'm a single guy in his late 20s who's always been fascinated with Japan. I wound up with some unexpected vacation time, so I figured this was the perfect time for a spontaneous solo trip. I have a decent-sized budget to work with, so that's not a problem. The only problem is I haven't had a whole lot of time to plan.

I guess the first question is where to visit. I've been told I should see Tokyo, Kyoto, Mt. Fuji, and Hiroshima. However, I only have 8 days. Is it even practical to visit all those places in that timeframe? And if so, how much time to spend in each place?

Next question is what to do. I'm interested in any sort of awesome, amazing experience that I can only have in Japan. I know, that's super general, right? Well, maybe it would help if I told you more about myself. I have lots of energy; I love to try new foods; I appreciate creativity and novelty in all things : music, fashion, art, architecture, ideas, experiences, social gatherings; I enjoy the outdoors, but am a city boy for the most part; I'm outgoing and enjoy meeting new people; I love to wander around randomly and check out awesome things. Also, in addition to fun daytime activities, I'm hoping to get some nightlife suggestions as well -- bars, clubs, that sort of thing.

So yeah, I'm mostly interested in fun/city/cultural/young people things. But I'm also interested in beauty, serene moments, and the outdoors. Maybe a 70/30 mix of fun to serenity?
posted by evil otto to Travel & Transportation around Tokyo, Japan (12 answers total) 15 users marked this as a favorite
Check out couchsurfing for events in the cities while you are there.
posted by sandmanwv at 2:25 PM on October 9, 2014

You mention Mt. Fuji; you know the trails to the summit are closed Sept.-July, right?
posted by mr_roboto at 2:33 PM on October 9, 2014

Response by poster: I know that now! :)

Thanks for the heads-up.
posted by evil otto at 2:34 PM on October 9, 2014 [1 favorite]

I've lived in Tokyo, have visited all the places you want to visit, and have a tough time figuring out what direction to send you in. Let's be honest: Eight days is not a lot of time.

Tokyo: Nighclub-wise, Roppongi is your destination for your demographic--unless you're gay, then you'll want to visit clubs in Shinjuku Ni-Chome. Ueno park has a good mix of museums and the grittier parts of Tokyo. It is one of my favorite parts of the city. Japanese love to shop so there is no way to get out of it no matter what neighborhood you visit, just about. I worked in Ginza, the shopping mecca for all of Japan, and I can recommend a visit there is you've got money to burn. In Ginza, Itoya is home of all elegant things paper, Japanese-wise, and even I could afford to shop there.

Fuji can be seen from every point in Tokyo just about, especially if you visit Tokyo Tower or Sky Tree. Fuji-san is impressive up close of course, but you will not be able to get very close at this time of year.

Tokyo to Kyoto via Shinkansen is an experience all its own--as is Tokyo to Hiroshima. Hiroshima is one of my favorite places in Japan--Miyajima is magical--but you'll have to burn at least two days on the trip, even via Shinkansen, and Hiroshima is an otherwise lackluster city imo.

If you're at all a Miyazaki fan, get your tickets to the Ghibli Museum before you arrive in Japan. It is a fun, easy trip, but it will eat up at least half a day to see it between travel and visiting.

I guess I could go on (and on and on and on), but I won't. I will say that it is incredibly easy to travel throughout much of Japan without knowing any Japanese at all, but it will be exhausting.
posted by GoLikeHellMachine at 2:49 PM on October 9, 2014 [4 favorites]

This is pretty much the perfect time to experience Japan. 8 days is enough, I think, to see Hiroshima. Let's see:

Day 1: arrive, decompress in Tokyo
Day 2: Travel to Kyoto (Rail Pass starts)
Day 3: Kyoto
Day 4: Kyoto OR Nara OR Otsu (Shiga) OR Osaka
Day 5: Travel to Hiroshima
Day 6: Hiroshima
Day 7: Find a hot spring near Hiroshima
Day 8: Travel directly back to Narita or Haneda?

As you'll notice, Tokyo is not well-represented here, so if you want the big-city experience, go to Osaka when you're in the Kyoto neighbourhood.

However, Kyoto is not exactly a tranquil destination, especially if you want to see the sites - you'll be on a bus and trains and walking through town. So a trip to Osaka would be more walking and more trains.

Personally, I would head to Nara for tranquility (superb walking) or, even closer, to Otsu, which is right on the lake and has great walking at Ishiyama-dera.

Getting to Hiroshima is not to hard to do from Kyoto, although Hiroshima will eat up a bunch of time. I'm not sure what the attraction of the place is, apart from going to the A-Bomb dome and museum. Getting to Miyajima (the island with the shrine gate in the water) will take a ton of time. Anyway, if you do decide to go to Hiroshima, try staying at a hot spring.

Instead of Hiroshima, I might suggest heading back towards Tokyo and staying at a hot spring in Izu (Shuzenji; shinkansen stop is Mishima) or going up to Hakone resort (20 minutes by private railway from Odawara shinkansen station, tix is about 5 bucks).

Hiroshima will really eat into your time, and I don't know quite what the attraction is. It is indeed worth visiting but the museum is going to leave you an emotional wreck. Is that the purpose of your Japan trip?

Other suggestions:

- Try to fly into Haneda rather than Narita.
- Get a Japan Rail Pass (7-day pass can only be purchased overseas, not in Japan, and will save you a ton of money)
- JR East has free WiFi for something like a week
- Go to a hot spring

All things being equal, I would just spend most of my time in Kyoto, forgetting about Hiroshima, forgetting about Tokyo. You would have several days to walk around and get a feel for the place, rush around when you feel like it, take things slow when you don't. There are a ton of great places to hike in the hills around Kyoto - there's a path from Sakamoto up Hiei-zan to Enryakuji, for example. Or you could take the train to Nara.
posted by Nevin at 2:51 PM on October 9, 2014

Two sites that might help you:
japan-guide.com to find interesting-sounding things to do, and
HyperDia to figure out how to get there by train and how long it will take.

I like Nikko for the ancient japan culture-type stuff, and it's doable as a day trip from Tokyo.
posted by ctmf at 3:07 PM on October 9, 2014

I've been to Japan a number of times, and the two things I recommend that aren't already suggested are:
a) schedule a meetup. I thought I was going to be there on Nov 9th but have had to cancel, there's discussion in the IRL on having a meetup anyway but it's probably possible to change the date.
b) wander around Kamakura.
posted by Runes at 3:23 PM on October 9, 2014

I have one small suggestion - visit Tokyu Hands dept store.
posted by kdern at 3:27 PM on October 9, 2014

I would skip Hiroshima as well. Kyoto was the place I really loved, apart from some places in the countryside which would not be realistic to get to. Take half your time in Kyoto. Go see Ginkakuji and Kinkakuji. See some of the zen gardens--I recommend Ryoan-Ji. Wander Ponto-Cho at night, try out some of the jazz bars, get some yakitori.

Spend a couple of nights in Tokyo. Maybe wander Kabuki-Cho in Shinjuku for a Blade Runner experience.

I hear great things about Osaka--good music scene, exciting.

I liked Nikko a lot as well, as Gotanda recommends.
posted by Kafkaesque at 5:15 PM on October 9, 2014

I'm not a huge fan of Tokyo (I'll be going to Japan for 3 weeks this winter and won't be spending time in Tokyo besides switching planes at the airport), but if it is your first time to Japan then I think you have to go for at least a couple of days.

The Ghibli museum is in Tokyo. If you like animation in general and Studio Ghibli films in particular then you should try to go. Tickets are sold in advance and I don't know if dates are still available for when you want to go.

Go for some really fresh sushi at Tsukiji fish market. I can never keep track if the fish auctions are open to the public or not, but you can definitely get fresh sushi. Daiwa sushi is the one I went to and it was pretty good (although to be honest I am more a connoisseur of cheap sushi, of which Japan has the best in the world).

You should spend some time in Akihabara, go to a maid cafe and spend a night in a capsule hotel. I would also recommend spending a night at a love hotel. Whether that is in Tokyo or Kansai is up to you.

Apart from Tokyo I would recommend spending the rest of your time in Kansai. Hiroshima/Miyajima are nice, but will require at least 1.5 days for not a whole lot. You're better off spending that time in either Tokyo or Kansai.

Kansai has pretty much everything Tokyo has so you can do all the city stuff you want or missed in Tokyo (clubbing, shopping, eating) but also has lots of historic sites. End of October may be too early for Fall colours, which is a shame because Kyoto is a great place to see them. The Kyoto Visitor's Guide is a monthly magazine (and website) which has good information for what to see and do in Kyoto. If you want a bit more serenity you can either go to Nara or North Kyoto to see some temples in a more relaxed setting.

In Osaka the main attractions would be shopping, eating, people watching and clubbing. In Osaka you can easily spend an afternoon in the Shinsaibashi shopping arcade. They have recently redeveloped Osaka station and it is pretty neat (the water clock is amazing). Osaka has its own version of Akihabara, Denden town, if you want to pick up or just gawk at electronics, anime/manga or Gundam toys. Denden town is pretty close to Shinsaibashi as well.

I do not know if you are interested in art, but Japan usually gets great exhibits. You would need to check individual galleries to see what is around but tourist information centres and magazines for foreigners are good alternate sources to check these out. For the Kansai area (Osaka, Kyoto & Kobe) you can get listings from Kansai scene. They've also got listings for concerts and other events as well. The museum at Roppongi Hills usually has something good too.
posted by any portmanteau in a storm at 5:43 PM on October 9, 2014

Oh, and when you're staying in Kyoto, try to rent an electric bicycle for getting around the city for at least one day. The city is laid out in a grid pattern (which is rare for Japan) so it is pretty easy to find your way around. And as long as you stick to one side of the city you won't have to do too much cycling at any one time.
posted by any portmanteau in a storm at 5:52 PM on October 9, 2014 [1 favorite]

The Reddit Tokyo Tourist Megapost is a font of useful resources that's often applicable beyond Tokyo, links to upcoming events (Tokyo Ramen festival is on when you're there!), info on how to get a wireless card, etc.

If you haven't booked your flights yet, look into an open-jaw ticket that arrives in Tokyo and leaves from Kansai - that will save you the time and hassle of backtracking on your last day.

Or you could easily spend the entire 8 days in either Tokyo or the Kansai area... if in Tokyo, make a side trip to Kamakura/Hakone to get out of the city, if in Kyoto head to Osaka and Kobe to scratch the big-city itch.

And if there's only one thing to recommend in Japan... visit a Don Quijote (or two, or three). It's a discount store that's kind of like if Walmart and a dollar store had a baby and then force-fed that baby psychedelics. Sometimes they have aquariums or maid cafes or ferris wheels too.
posted by Gortuk at 10:50 AM on October 10, 2014 [2 favorites]

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