We like Japan because it’s so weird. Everyone bows all the time. A lady even bowed at us on her bike. Toilet seats are heated. In the cemeteries, little statues are dressed in knitted caps and homemade outfits. Trains are on time to the second, and if they depart 17 seconds early they will publish a deeply sincere apology. You’re not supposed to eat while walking in public, it’s considered very rude. Tattoos are associated with gangs, so bathhouses may forbid anyone with a tattoo. Sumo restaurants serve sumo sized portions, like a mountain of fries. Bikes are left unlocked because it’s so safe. Japan is also extremely clean, but there are no trash cans outside so you have to tote your trash home to throw it out. This is because there was a bomb in a trash can in the 90s. People eat tons of carbs. A bowl of udon with a side of rice is a common lunch. Our Airbnb had a bed in the kitchen, in addition to two large beds in our bedroom. Is this just for tourists or do Japanese people furnish their places like this too? Fruit is famously expensive. I saw a small watermelon in the grocery store for 30 USD. At Mount Fuji horse meat is popular in udon. We still don’t understand pachinko, Japanese gambling, which is deafeningly loud. Anyway, we could go on, but this is basically to say, where many Asian countries are Western influenced these days, Japan could care less. It’s completely in its own world, and that makes it endlessly interesting.
Aside from the fruit, Japan is not as expensive as the hype. Flying is often cheaper than taking the Shinkansen bullet train. Osaka is cheaper than Kyoto or Tokyo. That’s why we based ourselves there. Our one-bedroom Airbnb apartment next to Dotonbori in Osaka was about 1,400 USD for the month of April. We took day trips to Kyoto, Nara, and Koyasan, then went to Mount Fuji for a few days, and finally Tokyo. In total we spent about 52 USD per person per day for our entire trip. We took advantage of a monthly discount on Airbnb, cooked a lot, and did not indulge in watermelon.
- Cherry blossom viewing at Osaka Castle Park and along Philosopher’s Path in Kyoto. It really is worth coming to Japan during cherry blossom season. Everyone is out and about viewing the blossoms and picnicking.
- Miyako Odori is a geisha dance with a tea ceremony in Kyoto. Each geisha house puts on a performance twice a year, in spring and autumn. We paid about 40 USD each for front row seats. It was absolutely worth it. We bought our tickets a year in advance on the day they went on sale.
- The Cup Noodle Museum. The history and evolution of instant ramen is fascinating.
- Koyasan is a temple settlement in the mountains south of Osaka with a walking path through towering cedars and cemeteries. It’s a serene place perfect for the Japanese concept of “forest bathing.”
- We weren’t crazy about the food in Japan, but we did have a few exceptional meals, one of which was a soba and tempura lunch in Nara. The owners don’t speak English but they only make soba and tempura, so just nod to both. The combo is about 13 USD.
- The shrines in Nara are very peaceful compared to the crowded temples in Kyoto.
- Viewing Mount Fuji from Kawaguchiko. On the evening we arrived, the skies were clear and we saw Mount Fuji at sunset. It was beautiful, but the weather turned and we didn’t see it for the next two days! For better luck, monitor the weather and take a day trip from Tokyo. Buses run from Shinjuku every day.
- Handmade udon at Mount Fuji. The noodles are so chewy, you will never enjoy commercial udon again. Be aware the meat is horse meat. You can get the veggie version like us.
- Staying at a pod hotel in Tokyo. Aaron loved it. I wasn’t crazy about it, but it is a good place to meet other people if you’re traveling alone. The showers are also super clean.
- Tokyo National Museum, a treasure trove of relics and art from Asia. Don’t miss the buildings on the side. They house extraordinary collections from temples in Kyoto and Nara.
- Browsing the snack aisle at 7-11 with two sumo wrestlers. You might see them just wandering around Tokyo. They are huge. Our next goal is to go to a sumo tournament.
- Akabane Baka Matsuri, a parade that’s been taking place every April since 1956 in Akabane, a suburb of Tokyo. It was a huge parade with marching bands, a drumming performance, and groups of people chanting and hoisting mikoshi, portable Shinto shrines, down the street.
- Another festival, the Sanjo Matsuri in Asakusa, also takes place in May. If you have a chance to go to a local parade or festival in Japan, we highly recommend it.
- We celebrated Aaron’s birthday at a grill house. Every item is three dollars, you just point to what you want, and it gets grilled up in front of you. It’s pretty salty and greasy, but a fun experience.
Even after a month and a half, there’s still much more to explore.