The 10 best things about Japan

I’ve just gotten back from a whirlwind trip to Japan. To be honest, it had never been a country that had rated highly on my must travel list. Not for any good reason, I just thought of myself as more of a Europe girl (isn’t everyone?). But my husband Phil LOVES Japan. He’s lived and study there twice, for two years in total. He speaks fluent Japanese too, so I couldn’t think of a more perfect person to show me Japan!

Japan was amazing and like no other country I’ve ever travelled to before. I didn’t find it an easy country personally (it’s so different from Australia!)  but it’s fascinating and we packed so much into 9 days. If you’ve ever thought about travelling to Japan (or just want to check out some pretty travel photos!) here’s my 10 favourite things about Japan:

1. Dumplings

Pretty much goes without saying right? I think dumplings are my favourite food in the world, and the Japanese are experts at gyoza and dumplings. Phil and I both agreed that we had the best dumplings in our life in Tokyo, and that’s despite eating dumplings at the world’s cheapest Michellin star restaurant, the famed Tim Ho Wan in Hong Kong.

Where did we find these delicious dumplings? Fire Dragon in Tokyo. Of course, they don’t have a website I can easily link to here to share the love, but there’s a few ratings on TripAdvisor, and an address. Do yourself a favour if you’re in Tokyo and go!

The dumplings are handmade right in front of you at Fire Dragon.

The dumplings are handmade right in front of you at Fire Dragon.

The noodles are pretty good too!

The noodles are pretty good too!

We also went to a super fun gyoza restaurant in Kyoto. We sat at the bar drinking beer and yuzu cocktails while watching the staff make delicious gyoza. Unfortunately I can’t remember the name of this one and Google is not helping me! The most detail I can pass on is that it’s on Kiyamachi St, Kyoto. It’s worth searching for!

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2. Autumn colours

We picked a great time to visit Japan – Autumn. These photos speak for themselves, and apparently the colours will be even more beautiful in a few weeks. We don’t really get Autumn in Australia, at least not in Sydney, so it was beautiful to see the leaves changing colour.

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3. Animals

I think Japan loves animals more than I do! In nine days we managed to see monkeys in Arashiyama, deer at Nara, tiny dogs in costumes on every street corner, friendly cats at cat cafe Hapi Neko and about 10 million more animals (including pandas!) at Ueno Zoo. It almost made me miss my cat Bunbury less (well not really, but I tried!)

Patting the friendly deer in Nara.

Patting the friendly deer in Nara.

The monkeys at Arashiyama have a prime view of Kyoto

The monkeys at Arashiyama have a prime view of Kyoto

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4. Theme restaurants

I know it’s not the most cultural thing you can do in Japan, but it sure is entertaining. In Tokyo we went to not one, but two theme restaurants, the infamous Robot Restaurant and Alice in a Labyrinth

There are absolutely no words that can describe Robot Restaurant. I’m sure it’s something Japanese people cringe at. You start by having drinks in a bedazzled bar while a girl in a sequined bikini plays a harp. And that’s the high cultural point. The actual show involves 3 metre high robots (some driven by women on stage, others controlled remotely) that battle in rounds of robot boxing and other challenges. It makes no sense, but the pictures below give you an insight into the nonsense:

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As a child my favourite book was Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland, and my favourite movie was the 1950’s cartoon version (actually they still rate pretty highly now!). So when I discovered there was an Alice-themed restaurant in Tokyo (well actually there are 5), my inner child just had to go. And it was awesome.

I wanted to sit in the giant tea cup!

I wanted to sit in the giant tea cup!

Side note, despite the fact that these are both ‘restaurants’, food isn’t exactly the strong point! You don’t have to eat at all at Robot Restaurant, and I’d suggest skipping it! With Alice in a Labyrinth, you have to order 1 drink and 1 food item per person, so stick to that!

5. Temples

There was more to our itinerary then just tacky theme restaurants – we also spent a good amount of time visiting temples in Kyoto, Nara and Tokyo.

All were beautiful, but we were lucky enough to be there in November, where several of the temples are open at nightime. We visited Chion In in Kyoto and it was magical. We had access to the private gardens that are rarely opened, followed by tea ceremony in the private tea house and then spent time in the actual temple while a monk chanted in the background. These pictures do not begin to do it justice.

The tea house

The tea house

The gardens

The gardens

The temple

The temple

6. French boulangeries

Like me, the Japanese love Paris. French restaurants have capitalised on this by opening amazing French boulangeries – yum! We tried Le Pain de Joel Robuchon (without a doubt the best in my view), Sadaharu Aoki and Boulangerie Paul Bocuse (I couldn’t find a link specifically for that outlet, but it’s in the same Daimuru department store as his Brasserie).

I tried it all – Matcha croissants, curry bread, chocolate covered macarons… worth every single calorie. :)

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7. Gorgeous packaging

I know it sounds trivial right? Packaging? But it’s really an example of the country’s attention to detail, which extended right down to every piece of shopping I did. No matter what I bought, each item was beautifully packaged. Below is the carry bag containing my gorgeous new wallet from Tsumori Chisato. The packaging was impeccable, right down to the little plastic bag they put over the carry bag, as it was raining outside. So cute and thoughtful!

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8. High end dining and drinking

I know, I know… there’s a lot of food in my top 10! But Japan does it so well!

I had THE BEST MEAL OF MY LIFE at Narisawa in Tokyo (my now second favourite meal was at Amber in Hong Kong FYI). Narisawa is number 1 on San Pelligrino’s list of Asia’s 50 Best Restaurants and number 14 on their 50 Best Restaurants in the world.

So this is the bread course...

So this is the bread course…

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We also went to some amazing bars too – Gen Yamamoto and High 5 Bar. They’re the complete opposite in terms of bartending – Gen Yamamoto is very serious and refined, while High 5 is a hell of a lot of fun, but both make outstanding drinks.

Beautiful, elegant drinks at Gen Yamamoto

Beautiful, elegant drinks at Gen Yamamoto

9. Shyojin Ryori (Buddhist temple cuisine)

Shyojin Ryori is vegetarian Buddist cuisine. It’s worth trying even if you’re not vegetarian, as it’s plentiful and delicious. It’s basically a whole heap of little dishes served with green tea. And it’s usually eaten sitting on the floor. A truly Japanese experience.

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10. Contrast

There are 2 reasons I loved Japan. The first was the total lack of similarity to anywhere I’d been before and second are the contrasts that exist in the country. There are temples next door to high rise office buildings, 2 metre high sunflowers growing in the middle of Tokyo, and traditional drumming demonstrations near Uniqlo and H&M.

It’s a country that embraces cuteness and frivolity as much as respect and tradition.

Because how could I not end on a picture this cute :)

Because how could I not end on a picture this cute? :)

What’s your favourite place in the world? Let me know in the comments below!

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6 Comments

  1. Oh! This is so serendipitous. I’m about to start planning a Japan itinerary for mid-2015. I will be bookmarking this post to refer to. So many great, quirky aspects to your trip – which is exactly what I love in an itinerary. Did you go to any onsen?

  2. I never really thought of going to Japan, it isn’t high on my list, but you certainly make it look intriguing!

  3. Oh how lucky to have a Japanese speaking husband! Would have made life so much easier!! I LOVE Japan after we went in 2013, and it’s pretty high on our list of places to go back to. We went in Summer, so I would love to go in Autumn and see the fall colours like your picture! Love this list Mel. :)

    Also, thanks so much for linking up with #wanderlust last month. Sorry for the delay in stopping by to read your post – I had surgery in December, and I needed to take a little break from it all. The January linkup is live as of yesterday, and we would love to have you again if you haven’t linked up already! xo

    • Hi Talia – thanks for your feedback! Glad you liked the post.

      I don’t write many travel posts, but I am going to Vietnam and Cambodia in April, and probably Eastern Europe this year, so I’ll make sure those posts go on your monthly link up!

      I hope your surgery went well x

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