If you have 15 days in Japan, I would highly recommend mixing in a few “overly tourist trappy” destinations – in Japan, these tend to have such an overpowering atmosphere of being genuine that it achieves its own level of cute (beyond kawaii!):
- Ninja – Restaurant with a Ninja theme… If you lived in Tokyo, you’d never allow yourself to go (expat or native), so as the visitor, asking a local friend/host to go there is a rare chance for both of you. 😉 – http://www.ninjaakasaka.com/
- Absolut Icebar – Er, a vodka bar constructed wholly from ice. By appointment only, but excellent for setting (or breaking) the mood on a night out in Ginza – http://www.icebartokyo.com/en_in…
- Tokyo Tower – world’s tallest iron structure, very impressive views of Tokyo (and even the surrounding region on a clear day/evening). In a quiet central part of the city, filled with quite expensive, interesting restaurants for every taste. Makes a good pre/post dining stop, especially on a date. I’m still shocked at how few Tokyo residents I’ve met have been to the top. Help them experience their own city in a whole new light – http://www.tokyotower.co.jp/engl…
- Kakegawa Kacho-en – this one is a true oddity, a “hands-on exotic bird sanctuary” in the countryside between Tokyo and http://www.kamoltd.co.jp/kke/eng… . If you’re headed to the latter city, make this a “must stop” if you have time… Being shrouded in conures, head-pecked by toucans, or given high-five by a penguin(!) has never been more fun. Oh yeah, and a pretty decent array of flowers and plant species, to boot. Follow-up with a huge chicken-based meal when you get to Nagoya (one of their specialties) for fullest effect –
- Yunessun Hot Springs Resort – In Hakone, Japan… Beyond your traditional hot spring, with all manner of novelty baths that are the “real deal” – steaming milk and coffee pools, even a red wine bath! Family friendly, including a small waterslide/park for the kids while mom and dad take in the iodine “float pool”, or perhaps the “Roman Bath” – where huge schools of tiny fish eat the dead skin off your feet. Tickles. Unfortunately, currently marked as closed, post-quake… But keep an eye on this one, and help revitalize the region if they reopen during your trip! Hakone, in general, is pretty great as a “quick trip” destination from Tokyo – even day trips are possible, and there are a ton of hokey-but-interesting attractions, including gondola and pirate ship rides – http://www.yunessun.com/english/
- Tokyu Hands – Imagine if Neiman Marcus and Ikea had a baby. Nuff said! – http://www.tokyu-hands.co.jp/en/…
- Kyoto – Beautiful, epic, and a combination of tourist trap and national shrine… But forget all that for the moment, and focus on getting yourself a rickshaw ride through the old city and temples! Waaaaay overpriced, but beyond worth every dime! Bond with your ‘driver’, be treated like royalty by all you pass by, and see more amazing sites in an hour (recommended length) than most people get to in a day’s wandering. Especially recommended for “reluctant walkers”, but anyone will enjoy it immensely – http://www.cc.kyoto-su.ac.jp/~tr…
As for more general tips, try the following for best effect:
- Pick a good guidebook – I tend to favor Lonely Planet Japan, but being able to read up in advance, do followup googling, and pick out a few spots to check out “on your own” will make your a smarter, more confident traveller. Also, lessens the chances of being confused by the “simpler stuff” – changing money, western/japanese toilets, getting to/from the airport, etc.
- Shop for clothing in Shibuya – hilarity will ensue!
- Eat a Japanese pizza – makes you appreciate the stuff back home!
- Eat at McDonalds, at least once – be amazed by “the way it’s supposed to taste”, when created by workers who actually care about doing a good job!
- Stay in a capsule hotel – I’ve yet to find a comparable experience anywhere in the world…
- Onsen, Onsen, Onsen – must do at least one, if possible as part of an overnight stay in a traditional hotel.
- Eat at a traditional Izakaya – let the small plates and big bottles stack to the ceiling. Yohhhhhhhhsh!
- Take pictures in Akihabara – Giant robots, costumed cuties, more electronic goods per square inch than a Borg Vessel, and, of course, Maid Cafés. These are the pictures that won’t put your friends to sleep when you get home. Do try to get both yourself and whatever it is you’re snapping in the shot, for fullest effect.
- Eat a meal purchased entirely from a convenience store – great way to buy food for a longer train ride, even the final one out to the airport. Japanese conbini are just such a different experience, give it a shot!
- Drink something hot from a vending machine – Hot cocoa, coffee, or even a nice can of Cheese Soup! Makes you wish we didn’t have so many damned lawyers in the US, I tell ya… These bad boys exist every ten feet or so throughout the country – just press the red buttons, instead of the blue ones, and you’re good to go!
- Watch the commercials – Japanese TV may at times be an acquired taste, even if you understand the language… But the commercials tend to be far more interesting than what an American would be used to. Case in point: http://dogatch.jp/mameshibaworld… – Mameshiba are little “bean dogs”… And I’m fairly certain they aren’t really advertising anything other than their own awesomeness. 😉
Hopefully that’s enough to get you started! And just remember to treat everyone with respect, but to feel free to make obvious first-timer/foreigner mistakes without shame… You’ll usually remember whatever lesson you learn, or tip you receive far better than if you had held back on the act/question… Don’t be shy!
This answer originally appeared on Quora: