People all around the world have dreamed of going to Japan — whether it is for a holiday or putting down roots here. As one who has done the former and is currently doing the latter, I can safely say that regardless of what occasion you’re in Japan for, this country will far exceed your expectations in more ways than none.
At one point or another, you definitely have stumbled across pictures or videos of the Japanese sakura, maybe even the rustic streets of Kyoto. For some of us, they were what drew us into the fascination of Japan. Little did you know that this country has more in store for you than just the jaw-dropping landscapes — every corner is full of excitement and new ventures, even for those of us who are in Japan for longer than just a week or two-long holiday! Food, fun, and freshness — what more can one ask of a country?
If you’re not convinced just yet on whether or not Japan is an awesome destination, you’ve come to the right place. Be prepared to be amazed, because this country is everything but disappointing and boring. Out of the thousands of reasons why, here I’ll highlight the top ones that will definitely get your hype up about Japan!
The Summer Is Nothing Short of Fantastic
While Japan is famous for its spring season where the cherry blossoms dominate the country’s already beautiful nature, the summer in Japan is also a time of the year to be excited about. Some of us might hate the scorching heat, but trust the Japanese to make the best of any situation — even the hot and humid!
The warm weather has the perfect combination for a getaway holiday: sun, sand, and sea. Japan has more than a few beaches that are ideal for your sunbathing as well as beach and watersport activities. Okinawa might be the first stop that pops in your head — after all, it is Japan’s very own Hawaii — but even the cities not too far from Tokyo have awesome beaches that are even less crowded. Us expats aren’t the only ones escaping to Mother Nature when summer comes around; even the locals themselves take a break from their busy schedules to enjoy this beach weather.
I get that beaches aren’t for everyone; some of you might not see the appeal of a relaxing lie down on the soft sand. Not to fret, Japan has got you covered for that as well! Even the cities and towns have tons going on during the summer, so much that even the beach lovers might give a pass on a trip to the beach for a chill at a summer beer garden nearby or a day out dressed in yukata at a summer festival.
Summer Beer Gardens
What’s a summer beer garden, you ask? Well, it’s exactly like how it sounds. Japan has a trend of indulging in refreshing beer during the hot summer months — so much like it’s a seasonal rite of passage. Beer gardens pop up in these months to cater to the demand of the people. Reasonably priced with a casual party atmosphere that’s perfect for gatherings of family, friends, and even colleagues — what’s not to like about beer gardens?
They may be called beer gardens, but beer isn’t the only thing on the menu. Some of these stalls offer delicious foods that are perfect for both a la carte and food pairing to your beer. We can’t have those tummies empty after a long workday for the locals and an exhausting shopping and sightseeing day for the travelers.
Enjoyed by both locals and travelers, summer festivals are ones to definitely be on your calendar! Just like the summer beer gardens, these festivals are only for a limited time and exclusive to the warm weather.
There’s the traditional Japanese summer festival that everyone looks forward to each year. Both guys and girls get dressed up in yukata, the summer version of a kimono, and walk down the rows and rows of stalls. After a whole day of munching on local street food and playing games, visitors end their day watching the fireworks in the evening.
Summer festivals aren’t just limited to the traditional one, though. There are quite a few other types of summer festivals — music ones are quite popular, consisting of local as well as international artists and attracting people all around the world; also keep an eye out for others like film festivals.
One Word: Alcohol
Can anyone actually say no to good alcohol? When you’re in Japan, all alcohol is good alcohol; you definitely won’t be able to say no to them! Brace yourself for the huge range of drinks Japan has — it’ll blow your mind! Not only is Japanese beer the best quality you can ever get in the entire world, but you also have unique Japanese alcohol like umeshu and sake at dirt-cheap prices! Trust that once you taste the sweet, syrupy goodness of the plum liqueur that is umeshu, you won’t be able to go back from it.
That’s not even the best part. I personally love the fact that every konbini (the Japanese way of calling convenience stores) is fully stocked with a variety of alcoholic beverages! Everything from beers to fruity-flavored three percenters (my ultimate favorites) is just footsteps away from your home.
What’s more, unlike some countries in the world, Japan has no time limit on purchasing alcoholic beverages — so you don’t have to rush down to the nearest konbini two minutes before 11 pm to get your night’s alcohol fix. I know that has been one of the best parts of Japan for me!
A Perfect Blend of Modern And Traditional, City And Nature
Japan has the best of both worlds: the modern city landscape and the preserved nature. One moment you’re surrounded by high rise buildings and neon lights, the next you’re deep in the woods surrounded by the cool natural breeze. Having both at your fingertips is extremely convenient, especially for an escape from the busy city life to the peaceful nature, or a buzzing night out instead of the quiet suburban life.
With about 3,000 kilometers from north to south in the Japanese archipelago, locals and travellers alike are spoilt for choices when it comes to natural sights — everything from the mangrove jungles in Okinawa to the drift ice in the seas of Hokkaido are experiences not to be missed out on. You don’t even have to travel to the ends of the country for some natural views; take in the beautiful coastlines and breathtaking volcanoes alongside preserved forests housing thousands of monkeys, deers, bears and other wildlife.
On the other side of the coin, there’s the wild and exciting city life of Japan that has the complete opposite atmosphere as well as activities to offer. The major cities like Osaka and Tokyo are definitely city stops to take if you’re an outgoing soul who needs bubbly afternoons and pumping evenings. For the shopaholics, better get your shopping shoes on — there’s a lot of ground to cover in Japan!
Preserved Areas Including UNESCO World Heritage Sites
I wasn’t joking when I said Japan has one heck of nature. That’s just proven by the number of preserved natural areas — some are even UNESCO world heritage sites! Ogasawara Islands, Shiretoko and Yakushima are just some to mention to get you pumped up; not to forget Fuji-san — it’s also one of the UNESCO world heritage sites!
Japan has also tons of protected national parks that are extremely well preserved and maintained, including forests, beaches and volcanoes. If sightseeing isn’t the only activity you want to do, these areas also offer others like fishing, hiking, boating, diving and snorkeling. What’s not to love?
Other UNESCO world heritage sites in Japan are the cultural ones that include temples like Horyuji Temple and shrines like Itsukushima Shrine. If you’re into historical areas as well, you’re in for a treat — the Hiroshima Genbaku Dome is not only a UNESCO world heritage site but also Japan’s popular site as it’s the remains of the building where there was an atomic blast!
Developed Cities, Complete With Skyscrapers
Not everyone is a nature lover, but Japan doesn’t only offer the greens; there are also high rises and buzzing streets. In need of a city to have a weekend of crazy nightlife? Japan has that. Looking for a shopping haven? That’s Japan for you! Need a coffee shop for a morning sip, a cafe for an afternoon tea and a restaurant for a fancy dinner? Japan is the place to be with all three, and with tons of choices to boot!
We all know Tokyo is the busiest capital city of Japan, and that’s where all the excitement happens. Everything and anything you can think of, they have it! Shopping malls and sightseeing places, bars and restaurants for leisure — doesn’t that just sound more than perfect?
If Tokyo’s too mainstream for you and you want a bit of adventure, Japan has other cities that are just as thrilling and with equal or more things to do. Osaka is definitely a city that’s on par with Japan’s capital city, but don’t overlook other cities like Hiroshima and Yokohama who are fully equipped with everything Tokyo and Osaka have — maybe even more, with their very own city twist to them!
A Food Heaven
Who doesn’t love food? More correctly, who doesn’t love Japanese food? Sushi, ramen, yakiniku — you name it, of course, Japan has it; it is their local cuisine, after all. The best part of it all is that this is the only place on Earth where you can get the most authentic and truest flavours of Japanese cuisine.
Hiroshima is for okonomiyaki; Osaka is for takoyaki; Kobe is for beef; Yokohama is for ramen; Fukuoka is for blowfish; Hokkaido for cheese — but what’s best is that you can get all of them in any city in Japan! Of course, some cities can specialise in something specific, so they’re obviously going to have the title of the best place to go for that type of food.
Other than the Japanese food you already know, there are tons more you don’t! What about their unique cuisines like the kaiseki or kappo cuisine, where you sit back and relax while being served by the head chef of only the finest ingredients available during the season. You might think you know seafood before the dining experience, but be prepared to admit defeat and learn a thing or two from it. Trust me, once you’ve tried Japanese food in Japan, you can never go back! You’ll crave the most delicious ebi sushi but the only one that tickles your taste buds are the ones from that local kaitenzushi shop on a neighbourhood street.
A One-Stop Entertainment Hub
One thing’s for sure: the Japanese love their entertainment. You’ll never run out of things to do because there will always be something to do — even in suburban towns that lie further out from the city areas. You’ll be surprised at what you can find in just a small Japanese neighbourhood.
From the traditional arcades and classic gaming cafes to the unique Japan-origin entertainment like karaoke and pachinko, you’ll find yourself making time to try all of these out rather than having too much time on your hands! There’s no age limit to these entertainments; kids from elementary and high school to salarymen and working mums can be seen in these entertainment areas — and there’s absolutely no shame to it! In fact, it’s more part of the culture!
Arcades At Every Corner
If you think your local arcade is sufficient, wait till you see what Japan arcades are like! Japan has quite a number of gaming companies like SEGA and Taito. Of course, there are classic games like car racing, bike racing, basketball and air hockey, but Japan wouldn’t be Japan if it wasn’t for their uniqueness and originality. There are virtual horse racing games and tap dancing taken to a whole new level! They’re the kind where you have to see it for yourself to believe it!
Too extreme for you? Japan is all-inclusive and has “kawaii” games that cater to the ones who prefer a slower paced arcade game. My personal favourite arcade game is a Mario Kart racing game! Also, let’s not forget the famous claw machine games — you can win anything from soft toys to electronics. I’ve had my fair share of spending hours and hours on the claw machine level of an arcade trying to get a big bunny soft toy out (let’s just say it didn’t end so well).
Pachinko, ‘Nuff Said
Quite similar to the Western slot machine gaming, pachinko is a type of recreational arcade game that is more frequently used for gambling. While gambling for cash is illegal in Japan, the pachinko games are like a legal loophole for that. The pachinko balls that you win from the games can’t be exchanged directly for money and can’t be removed from the premises, but if you collect a certain amount of pachinko balls, you can exchange it for special price tokens.
It’s said that these tokens are legally “sold” for cash to a separate vendor. In some cases, these separate vendors are either the pachinko companies themselves or are working with those companies, who would then sell it back to them and thus making a profit.
Pachinko arcade games can come in all sorts — especially the newer ones that are highly customisable. Generally, you insert the pinballs in the game then launch them across the pachinko board, hoping they would land on one of the prize holes or point bars.
Unique Japanese Entertainment
If brightly-lit, music-blaring arcades aren’t your thing, maybe unique Japanese entertainment will be. There are tons of cultural entertainment for your viewing — everything from the sumo (traditional competitive wrestling) and kendo (Japanese martial arts) competitions to the kabuki performance (a type of traditional dance-drama performed in a kabuki theatre).
Viewing these cultural and unique Japanese performances and competitions is not only entertaining, but they also give you an insight into the country’s customs and traditions. It’s like a history or social studies class, only in the form of stage production and sports tournaments. That’s like killing two birds with one stone!
Of Course, Karaoke
What’s a write-up about Japanese entertainment if you don’t mention karaoke? Maybe in other countries, karaoke isn’t much fun, but in Japan, it’s more like a tradition! Everyone loves karaoke, and it takes the role of everything — entertainment, party activity and even stress reliever.
In some other countries, karaoke is a mic in front of a bar, singing to a group of strangers — to be fair, that can be quite intimidating. In Japan, there are private karaoke rooms where you sing just with your group of friends! Not only that, but there are also food and beverages to go along with your karaoke. Sometimes, these drinks are even cheaper than when you go to a bar!
As Safe As Houses
Japan is one of the safest countries in the world — isn’t that reason enough for it to be awesome? Their crime rates are only getting lower and they have the second-lowest homicide rate after Iceland and the second-lowest assault rate after Canada.
The best thing about being in Japan is not having to fear for your safety every second as you walk down the streets. No one will mug you in public, pickpocket your phone from the back of your jeans pocket or snatch your wallet on the top of the table you’re dining at.
It might be quite unbelievable to some — especially if in some countries, walking down the streets when it’s dark out seems like asking for trouble — but in Japan, none of that. It’s so safe that there is at least a police box every five minutes’ walk down a neighbourhood street, so if you’re ever feeling unsafe during your walk back home, just pop in them and let the officers know.
What’s Holding You Back?
The reasons mentioned are just the tip of the iceberg — there are so many more reasons as to why Japan is awesome. Most of the time, you have to experience it for yourself to understand the level of awesomeness this country is. There’s nothing quite like The Land of the Rising Sun, and I confidently believe that it’s a country everyone should at least once in their lives step foot on. So, what’s holding you back? Get your tickets booked now!