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My Japan top 5

Published October 17th, 2014

Food. Booze. Crazy. Awesome. If you gave me four words to sum up Japan, these would be them. I was lucky enough to finally visit the Land of The Rising Sun for a brief jaunt on the way to Europe. Now, a week is not nearly enough time to even graze the surface of this weird and wonderful country, I knew that going in. However, if you find yourself with only seven days to spare, here are five of my top picks to get your love affair with Japan started.

 

More than meets the eye at the Robot Restaurant.

 

1. Robot Restaurant - Tokyo

It’s impossible to describe a visit to Shinjuku’s Robot Restaurant using words, pictures… or even video. You just need to go. It’s probably the weirdest thing I’ve ever experienced (and I have done a lot of crazy stuff). Practically everyone will find something they love about it, whether it’s the opulent bejazzled lounge, the sexy dancers (male and female), or the giant robots engaging each other in staged battles while you tuck into a bento box. Hint: Don’t concentrate on the food here. The more sauced you get, the more fun it becomes!

 

Serenity now at Fukiishin Temple.

 

2. Temple stay - Koyasan

The train you boarded in Osaka chugs its way up a deep green valley, past small villages and orchards. After just over an hour, you switch to a cable car, which will haul you up the last steep section to Koyasan village.  Book yourself into a ryokan (a traditional style of accommodation) and enjoy the peaceful surroundings. A great way to chill out after a few big nights in Tokyo! Make sure you wake up early to hear throaty monks chant before heading over to the ancient forest cemetery for a misty, mythical walk among 200,000 graves (a photographer's dream).

 

That small bar in Dontonbori that one time.

3. Dotonburi small bars - Osaka

The 'hood just north of Osaka’s Namba train station is where all the cool kids go to hang out. Here you can shop, eat, drink, dance and eat some more. My tip would be to get off the larger, main alleys and duck into the smaller, dodgier-looking ones. This is precisely what I did. While hurrying through a passageway not a metre wide, a voice shouted from within a hovel of a bar, “Hey, come join us!”. I stopped to look inside and saw five, smiling Japanese faces. This was a crowd in the tiny bar, which was no larger than a janitor’s closet. Friendships were made, new dishes were tasted (chicken sashimi – actually amazing) and many drinks were downed. My memory is hazy from all the Japanese whisky, but the night was easily the most fun we had in Japan and I put all down to the party hard Osaka locals!

 

Hanshin Tigers - tora! At Osaka Baseball Stadium.

 

4. Baseball game - multiple locations

I know what you’re thinking. Baseball in Japan? But that’s an American sport! It’s a mystery why it’s popular here (and I mean really popular!),  so I decided to check out a game for a lazy Sunday activity in Osaka. Tickets start from around AUD$15 and can be purchased at the stadium. After finding our seats, we were occupied by heaps of things to do (other than watch the game), like buying beers from pigtailed girls with kegs of Asahi strapped to their backs, joining in on clapping chants for the home team, and tasting local favorites like takoyaki (deep fried octopus balls on a stick).

 

Matt having a purry good time at the Cat Cafe.

 

5. Cat café - multiple locations

Kittens and beer. Who would argue against this? It’s raining. You’re bored, thirsty and up for a cuddle. Cat cafés have sprouted up all over the country, and with good reason. You will usually pay a cover charge that includes a drink and an hour to pet, play and pick favorites. The place I went into was on Dotonbori in Osaka and had a lit-up, meowing sign out front.  There were roughly 20 felines in various stages between deep sleep and full-on rambunctiousness. Multiple toys were on offer to get their attention from the classic ball of yarn to more modern contraptions. Whether you are cat person or a dog person, you will love the quirkiness at the very least. Meow go!

 

Matt Castell

If you could make travel a full-time job would you? I am. I've been called a "jack of all trades" many times over the ten or so years spent wandering the globe. Always looking for new skills to learn, whether it be lion taming or flying helicopters... I'll give it a go! Being a Travel Agent for Student Flights has been the top pick so far though!