10. Karaoke Box or Clubs
Karaoke boxes or clubs as they are sometimes called are practically everywhere in Japan. If you are downtown, all you need to do is walk a few blocks at night and you will inevitably bumping into someone handing out tissues advertising for Karaoke.
And they are not just for singing Japanese songs. Most big chain karaoke places have a pretty wide selection of English songs as well. Admittedly, it is narrowed down to only the bands that are at least a little known in Japan. For example, you can get plenty of Queen and the Beatles, but I still haven’t been able to find Bare Naked Ladies. I long for the day when I get to show my singing prowess with “One Week.”
Most places offer a variety of different specials and packages. For example, you can have all-you-can-drink bar including alcohol or just soft drinks for the time you are renting out the box. Keep in mind too that this is a private room, you won’t been singing in front of a group of random people, so you’ll only be embarrassing yourself in front of your travelmates.
Also, if you are on a tight budget or looking to get out of the rain or scorching heat of Japan, prices are really cheap during the day. Some places will have a “free time” where it is just one fee to sing as long as you like, perfect for when you want to let your inner pop star out.
9. Stay at a Love Hotel
Japan is a crowded place and a lot of twentysomethings, thirtysomethings, and probably a few fortysomethings live with their folks, which makes it a little difficult to have some private time with a significant other. Luckily, Japan has a solution for that – love hotels. These mid-sized usually themed facilities offer a wide variety of experiences.
There are Hello Kitty dominatrix themes, classic car themes, giant heart shaped beds, and even Santa Claus gets in on the mix. These ridiculously themed hotels have something for everyone. They also tend to come well supplied with beer and other goodies. They are also relatively conveniently located in downtown areas and tend to be reasonably priced, although by far not the cheapest option.
They may not be your thing, especially if you are having a mancation or traveling by yourself, but they are at least fun to go into and check the different themed rooms available. They are usually displayed on a big lit up board, rooms that are available are lit up while ones that occupied go dark. The staff at these places are usually unseen and everything tends to be automated so don’t worry about making a fool out of yourself.
8. Stay at a Temple
At the other end of the spectrum is staying at a temple lodging called shukubo. This is obviously a very different experience than a love hotel and offers a lot more laid back experience. Dinner is usually served at 6:00 and entails a typical vegetarian monk’s meal (shojin ryouri). Then, there are morning prayers at 6:00am and breakfast at 7.
Shukubo are more like youth hostels than hotels. Bathrooms and bathing facilities are communal (seperated by sex of course). Rooms don’t have locks, just a sliding paper door separates you from the hallway sometimes.
They can sometimes be a little pricey considering what you get – 9,000 to 15,000 yen a night, but are a unique experience you can only get in Japan. The typical place where you can really get a taste of what a monk’s life is like is Koyasan, a small ‘mountain’ in Wakayama about an hour outside of Osaka.
Booking a shukubo is relatively easy with a site like Japanican or sometimes through the temple’s own site. You can make a reservation online but the typically only deal with cash. They tend be somewhat foreign friendly. You’ll usually find one monk in every temple that speaks decent English although you probably won’t be able to understand the morning prayers/sermon unless you have a native with you.
If you do decide to check out Koyasan, be aware that most of the town shuts down around 6. I went there with my wife a few years ago and we almost didn’t find a place to eat dinner because we thought we would eat in town and not at the temple, but we’re surprised to see the whole city was shut down. I think we ended eating some snacks we packed.
7. Japanese Sports
First thing that probably comes to mind when you think of Japanese sports is sumo. But, there are a lot of other sporting events you can take in as well while you are here.
Take baseball for instance. The stadiums are generally smaller and a little more intimate than those in the States. And fans really get into the sport here. There are different kinds of cheers they do and a lot of people will get dressed up from head to toe in their team’s wear.
The most popular team here in the Kansai area is the Hanshin Tigers, who have a rivalry with the Tokyo team the Yomiuri Giants. But, every major city has a team and tickets are fairly reasonable.
There are also the high school tournaments that are played in August and in spring. These can be especially exciting because the athletes can be a lot more emotional and it makes the game so much more dramatic. Also, it is scorching hot in August in Japan, so it can be a real test of endurance.
Japan also has a very active soccer league with regular games.
Of course, there is always sumo, but sumo tournaments tour the country and can be a little difficult to go to. Be sure to check the schedule well in advance of any trip you make.
6. Climb Mt. Fuji (or at least some mountain)
Mt. Fuji is the symbol of Japan and has recently been designated as a UNESCO World Heritage Site. It always seems to make it on to any to do list for things to do in Japan. And rightfully so, it stands alone from other mountains so it makes for a beautiful site just from the bottom, but the sunrise from the top is truly amazing if you can manage to go on a day when the clouds are just right.
Mt. Fuji has always been a crowded mountain though, and with its recent designation by the UN (people in Japan LOVE LOVE LOVE UNESCO sites), it has become outrageously popular. It is so crowded that they now ask for a donation to help with the clean up and preservation. And if you are thinking that this is going to be a serious mountain climb, you are mistaken. It is more like a queue to the top. Everybody moves up the mountain at a steady pace, and there are thousands of people with you. So, don’t go thinking you’ll be able to enjoy the solitude. Also, every 45 minutes or so, there is a station with food and drinks at ridiculously high prices if you happen to run out of anything.
They don’t have toilet paper though, so be sure to
steal some from the shinkansen restroom bring some of your own. And the scenery is pretty much the same as you go up – just black rock. Every station you stop at, you can see the station you came from and the station you are climbing to because there is no vegetation. It can be a little disheartening to struggle with the thin air for an hour just to turn around and seemingly see you really haven’t traveled that far.
It is worth it though. Be sure to get a cheap wooden walking stick at the bottom, so that you can brand it at each station you stop at. By the time you get to the top, your stick should be completely full with burnt brands, and for bonus points you can down another trail and have another set of brands burnt into the other side, like I did. Makes for a good souvenir, although arguably a bit difficult to get into the suitcase.
There are plenty of other mountains in Japan though, and a lot of them offer some spectacular views with less people and more breathable air. If you like to be outside a lot, I recommend looking up another mountain to try while you are here. Here in Kansai, Mt. Ibuki in Shiga is a great climb and can be done in one day. Ibuki is not as tall as Mt. Fuji, but the actual hike is taller and the air is a lot more breathable. The view is pretty amazing as well, albeit not above the clouds.
There is also a list of 100 of the famous mountains in Japan that is worth a look to see if there are any mountains you want to tackle on your visit. One of my students is determined to climb every single one. He tries to climb one a month, so far he has done about half.
That’s it for the First Half
What are some other things to do in Japan? Can you guess what will be in the top 5? Let me know in the comments.
Photo by Karl Baron