Land of temples, castles, ramen and everything uniquely bizarre.
Japan is well-known for being modern and innovative. They’ve got arguably the most efficient rail system in the world, people are generally friendly and follow the rules, plus they’ve found ways to maximize convenience. But Japan’s also got a wonderfully bizarre and wild side. Every day, I experienced something so wonderfully quirky that I felt like I discovered an entirely new world.
One of my favorite aspects of Japanese culture is the emphasis on everything ‘kawaii.’ This essentially means anything cute, innocent, or charming. Everywhere I looked, they’d found a way to turn something completely ordinary into something absolutely adorable. Stores full of cutesy plush characters, catchy jingles to announce a train arriving, even the maintenance signs had little cartoon characters apologizing for any inconvenience.
Harajuku in Tokyo is a hub for this sort of kawaii culture. Teens flood here to find eccentric fashion, take selfies, and eat sweets like crepes and rainbow cotton candy. The whole area emphasizes cuteness and a childlike spirit.
Everyone's heard of a cat cafe, but how about a hedgehog cafe? In my five weeks touring the country, I stumbled upon not just hedgehog cafes, but also a Shiba cafe, owl café, and a Bengal cat café. In case you’re new to the animal-café scene, you essentially pay an entry fee for a set amount of time. That gets you in to pet the animals along with a drink to sip on. Nothing like a coffee with your new furry best friend.
Maid Cafes are another Japanese phenomenon that left me intrigued. Maid cafes come in different themes (I saw animal, school, and even army style) where female servers dress up in costume. They treat customers…well, let’s just say, in a sort of flirty manner. Of course, the food they serve has to be cutesy as well. Ice cream sundaes, rainbow sodas and teas. If you order the omelet, they’ll even draw whatever animal you ask for in ketchup!
If you venture into the areas of Akihabara in Tokyo and Nipponbashi in Osaka, get ready for a complete shock to the senses in all the best ways! Japan’s always been known for the best anime, manga, and video games so its no surprise their underground gaming culture and vintage game scene are also the best around. You’ll find some of the most rare gaming systems, running for thousands of dollars, since they're some of the last of their kind. Of course, you’ll also find those classic systems that remind you of childhood like Super Nintendo. I was particularly excited about the wall full of old GameBoy Color games!
Anywhere you go in Japan, you’ve got to experience an arcade. Some are as big as six floors, each separated into a different type of game – Virtual Reality, vintage, even music games. They've got games you didn't know existed. Walking Dead fans should check out the zombie shoot out VR game where you use a crossbow!
5. Capsule Hotels
Capsule hotels and hostels are a great choice for any solo or budget traveler. You'll get more space than you'd imagine in a private bunk. Most are equipped with outlets, lights, shelves, and even lock boxes. When you're ready for privacy, close the curtain for a great night's sleep!
6. Awesome Vending Machines
These days, vending machines are becoming more advanced all over the world. But none compare to those on the streets of Japan! Whether you're in a city or rural area, you can almost guarantee you can grab a hot coffee or hot tea right out of the machine. I'm not talking those that give you a paper cup, these are bottled drinks that come out hot and ready to go! From the same machine you can also try interesting Japanese beverages like peach Fanta, aloe and grape juice, and Pocari Sweat (kind of like a colorless Gatorade).
7. "Bubble" Machines
All over Japan you'll find shops full of 'gachapon' (aka capsule toys). I got myself a hat for my cat (spoiler alert: he hated it!), mini bonsai tree, and a mini kangaroo keychain. Who knows what you'll find!
One of my favorite aspects of travel is encountering something so new and different, it makes you stop and do a double take. Japan was full of these interesting innovations and cultural phenomenons. There wasn't a moment that passed that I wasn't in awe of something bizarre and incredible.
Inspired to check out Japan yourself? Stay tuned for our next post in our Japan series: Why Japan is the Perfect Solo Destination.
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