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5 crazy things to do in Japan

Published July 29th, 2013

When it comes to oddball antics, the Japanese are right up there. From dedicated cat cafes to eye-popping manga stores, bizarre fertility festivals and the peculiar socialising habits of the average salaryman and woman, Japan does crazy like Sharknado does tornados full of sharks. It’s weird, it’s wild and quite often it requires you to warble Whitney Houston duets with the local high-school vice-principal. So crack a Sapporo and “let’s enjoying crazy, Japanese-style!” with a list of  5 off-the-wall things to do in The Land of the Rising Sun.

 

 

Indulge in some karaoke

Karaoke isn’t so much a leisure activity in Japan as it is a competitive sport. Forget glimpsing geisha in a Kyoto back alley, to revel in the true spirit of Japan, make friends with some everyday employees. That way, you can indulge in a genuine Japanese tradition – a trip to the karaoke parlour with some soused-up company workers desperate to cut loose.

Japanese karaoke parlours are best enjoyed with liberal lashings of alcohol. Most feature in-room intercoms, ensuring extra helpings of sake are a mere phone call away. Nothing spells a fun night out in Shizuoka like leaping on the table and launching into a nailed-on rendition of the Nirvana classic Lithium. Not that anyone around here has ever done that.

 

 

Climb Mount Fuji

It sounds innocuous. Climb Mount Fuji? Sure, why not? Plenty of people have done it before. How hard could it be? What your Japanese friends will unhelpfully fail to inform you – because they’re pathologically insane sadists hell-bent on inflicting torture – is that climbing Mount Fuji is an exceedingly difficult thing to do.

You will encounter hardship. You will encounter pain. You will encounter vending machines selling a delicious range of green tea beverages at every conceivable vantage point. One thing is certain; ascending to the top of Mount Fuji is around a billion times harder than anyone in Japan cares to admit. So come prepared, consider portable oxygen and for goodness sake, don’t wear thongs!

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Check out a maid café

When you’re tired of pounding the pavements of Akihabara for the latest SLR lens or that hard-to-find hentai, it makes sense to take a break and sit back with a steaming cup of coffee. What is less obvious is why the wait staff should dress exclusively as French maids – replete with frilly pink outfits – but hey, this IS Tokyo.

If French frocks don’t take your fancy, you can always kick back in a cat café. The first such feline-friendly establishment opened in Osaka in 2004 and they’ve since sprouted up all over the country. Not down with cats? Try rabbits. Not cuddly enough? You can go so far as to snuggle up with a real-life anime character at a genuine kigurumi café, if you’re super genki for getting your otaku on.

 

Take a dip with a monkey

No snickering up the back there, but bathing in Japan is serious business. Most visitors to this ancient land are keen to take a dip in an onsen – those most Japanese of institutions where complete strangers strip down, scrub up and soak communally in steamy surrounds, accompanied by nothing more than a small towel and a cheery smile.

Enjoying a soak with that salesman from Asahi is one thing, but for a truly crazy onsen experience, head straight for Jigokudani Monkey Park high up in the hills of central Honshu. Not only can you soak in the splendour of its famous hot springs, but you can share it with the resident Japanese macaque population. These ruddy-faced monkeys enjoy splashing around Jigokudani’s warm waters as much as the hordes of tourists.

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Hit the whisky bars

“For relaxing times, make it Suntory time.” Bill Murray might have been deadpanning it in Lost In Translation but the simple fact is that Japan boasts the best whisky in the world. Think I’m crazy? How else to describe the fact that brews from both the Yamazaki and Nikka distilleries are consistently voted the best in the world?

Japan hasn’t only perfected the art of distilling whisky, it also boasts its fair share of brooding wood-panelled bars to sip it in. The winding back alleys of Osaka and Tokyo are full of them, meaning you too can sit back, relax and get your Bob Harris on in a genuine 12-seat hole-in-the-wall bar, complete with dim lighting and brooding jazz music for appropriate atmosphere.

Mike Tuckerman

From Europe to Asia and many places in between, there's rarely a town or city I've not enjoyed exploring. When I'm not wandering the streets and discovering new destinations, you can usually find me hanging out with the locals at major sporting events.