So far, Japan is one of my favorite destinations. It’s super safe, very beautiful in many aspects from nature, food to shopping and easy to get around. I’d recommend to do a trip through the country and to see as much as possible – Though Tokyo alone is a great city to see, too. There is a little bit of etiquette to know before to go (in cheaper restaurants you pay before you eat, whereas at the bus in Kyoto you pay when you leave the bus), but because everyone is so polite they’ll make it easy for you – Although most don’t speak English (not even in Tokyo and not even at the hotel). So, this is my Japan guide:
- Go to Harajuku, Tokyo.
This is my favorite area in Tokyo. You will not only find the Manga girls here, but many cute little shops (like, in trees), cafés and galleries. I find this area very calm, too, because the streets and buildings are rather small. One of my favorite shops here is Ragtag, it’s actually a vintage store (which I always look for), but probably you will not realize – Most of the (designer) clothes look brandnew. This is where a got some Yamamoto, Marc Jacobs and Opening Ceremony clothes and shoes for a great price. In general, this street is a good point to start browsing Harajuku:
6-14-2 jingumae, Shibuya-ku, Tokyo.
- Get around by train.
All trains are always on time, always clean – and the destination is written in roman letters, so you will know where you’ll be going. As a tourist, get the Japan Railpass – you have to apply for it in your home-country. It’s like an all-inclusive ticket for acertain time period you chose and you can take all the trains to get around. You can also reserve seats at the train stations which is free of charge.
- Check out the surfers in Kamakura.
This village is only about a half an hour train ride away from Tokyo – and it has a little beach from where you’ll catch a glimpse of mount Fuji. It’s also a little warmer, a less crowded and very laid-back – maybe like what’s Montauk to New York. There is a cute little street called Komachidori next to the train station where you can try many different sweets, eat soba, buy pottery. It’s a little touristy but still very charming. If you like to embrace the surfer style: Get a burger at Hawaiin-style Restaurant Kuaaina. 4-3-9 Yuigahama, Kamakura.
- Hang out like a hipster in Osaka.
I find Osaka to be the “roughest” city I’ve seen in Japan – more industrial, a bit dirtier (if you can say so in Japan) but still vibrant. My favorite place is Biotop: A concept store, café and restaurant on the rooftop. It’s filled with plants, herbs, cool fashion, homeaccessories and stylish people. Stroll around, grab an iced coffee and chill on the terrace. Again, this hotspot is located in a nice street known as “Orange Street”, where you’ll find many cool shops (also vintage and denim specialists) and it is in walking distance to the Amerika Mura area, where all the teens hang around eating cotton candy). 1/F, 4/F 1-16-1 Minamihorie Mishi-ku Osaka.
- Eat local (and try Okonomiyaki).
Yes, Sushi is a must eat in Japan. But we never went to a restaurant to eat it, since it is available in every convenience store in very good quality – So this was always our snack on the train. Soba and ramen are also classics which are so delicious even in tiny, cheap restaurants. One of the things I didn’t know before is Okonomiyaki: It’s a savory pancake which is often freshly made by the table (there are grills attached to it), they often include somekind of vegetable like cabbage or onions and they add some cheese, a special sauce which tastes like a mixture of Bbq and mayonnaise plus grilled meat if you like. It’s a local specialty from the Osaka-region but you’ll find it in almost every city. Chibo in Osaka is a restaurant specialised in Okos’ (Dotonbori Building 1F 2F 3F 4F, 1-5-5 Dotonbori, Chuo-ku, Osaka 542-0071). And if sweet potatoe or sesame icecream come your way (Kyoto station, for example): Eat it!
- Go beauty shopping.
Ladies, this is paradise: From cheap to luxurious, cute to innovative – They’ve got everything here! The quality is incredible, especially for lash-products: Asian lashes tend to be very straight and little thin, so the curlers are great. Also the eyeliners (Dollywink is my favorite brand) work so well for creating ultra thin lines. Another amazing thing are masks: Sheet masks, foamy masks, masks with placenta… Lululun is a Japanese brand with extra cute packing and very effective ingredients. Hair essences (super light moisture sprays), colorful contact lenses, oil cleansers, gel-blushes, camellia oils are also on my beauty shopping list – You will find all these things in any drugstore and there are many! If you like a more traditional style check out Yojiya in Kyoto: Blotting paper for lips and face, soap-sheets, enzym-powder-peeling and a pretty line of make-up are sold here. It’s worth for the packaging alone to go here! The best shop is in Gion, Kyoto’s historical area. Northeast corner of Hanamikoji Street, Gion Shijo, Higashimaya-ku, Kyoto.
- Enjoy the Onsen-Tradition.
Soft, pure, hot water, a herbal scent in the air – Welcome to the Japanese spa-tradition, Onsen! There are some areas especially famous for their hot springs, like the Hakone region close to Lake Ashi. Here you’ll spot people in bathing ropes crossing the streets in the evening heading to their bathhouse of choice. Also, many ryokans have their own Onsen in the basement of their houses – Even in Tokyo we stayed at a hotel with its own Onsen. You have to shower and wash yourself before entering the hot basin (there are “stations” next to it in every Onsen) and then glide into the hot water. Bliss! 10 Minutes are already enough to feel relaxed and oh-so-clean. Afterwards it’s time for chilling, going to bed, sipping Ashii beer…
- Sip Matcha (at Muji).
I personally love everything matcha (a special green tea) – from pastries to matcha latte (and kit kat!). Nutty, creamy taste in combination with a load of antioxidants – What more can you ask for? A place I found by accident is the beautiful Muji Meal & Café Ginza. Yes, Muji has cafés here – I didn’t know either. The pure interior, the lovely bakery – It’s perfect to get into that japan-mood. ( 1-2-1 Yurakucho | 2F Theatre Crea, Chiyoda 100-0006, Tokyo). If you want a more independent spot, check out Onibus Café: Minimal interior, focused on artisan coffee.
Meguro-Ku, Kamimeguro 2-14-1, Tokyo.
- Get a crazy-good manicure.
Kawaii-Time! But only for your fingers – In Japan you will find some of the most beautiful salons ever. Super sleek, chic and cool – That girly stuff I know from Germany. So this is really a feast for eyes and fingers! My very favorite spot is Kolmio+Lim – Just look at those picture. Even if you just want plain clear polish (why would want that when you can have cute eyes and halo-glimmer?!) it’s worth a visit. But: Don’t expect those cheap asian salon prices. You might not need the chief artist, but it’s a little investement (around 50 Euro at least for fancier styles) – but absolutly worth it! Sorry, I didn’t find a translation for the address: Japan, 〒542-0081 Osaka Prefecture, 大阪市中央区南船場4-11-5 コレット南船場402.
- Practice and enjoy Wabi-Sabi.
It’s the Japanese way of seeing beauty, a zen-inspired philosophy – which includes the acceptance of imperfection. I find it somewhat ironic, because to me, Japan feels pretty perfect. But if you look at some traditional objects, like the typical pottery (go to Kappabashi Street in Tokyo, where you find everything for your kitchen) or stationary (Bingoya for rainbow-colored washi paper or pottery), you’ll see all the different shapes, organic material, authentic aesthetics which are never the same. Aging, flaws – it doesn’t matter that much. It’s more about enjoying life as it is, being unique, not streamlined.