When I leave for Japan next month, it’ll be my fourth visit to the country. You’d think that in the previous three trips I would have crossed many of the “tourist” experiences off my to-do list. In fact, I feel like I’ve just scratched the surface of the country – with much of my time having been spent in the Tokyo area.
As much as I want to live like a local when I’m traveling, there are some “touristy” things I really want to check out this time around. Here is what is in my plans.
1. Visit Tsukiji Fish Market.
Every guidebook says this is a unique experience everyone must absolutely see.
Almost every day, the bounty of the ocean is hauled in to Tsukiji Fish Market where it is sorted and sold. It is the largest market of its kind in the world, and offers tourists a unique glimpse in to how a staple of the Japanese diet gets from the water to the table.
The highlight of the market is the tuna auction, which happens early in the morning. Only a handful of visitors are allowed to watch it go down, and to get a spot, visitors have to line up well before sunrise outside the market.
The early morning arrival has always been my impediment in going to visit Tsukiji, because trains don’t run early enough from Chris’ place in Mitaka to queue for the auction. However, on this trip, I plan to overnight near Tsukiji so I can get in line and see the auction!
Time is also an imperative for me to visit Tsukiji on this trip. In just over a year from this writing, the Tsukiji Fish Market will get uprooted and moved to a new site close to the Odaiba entertainment district. That doesn’t necessarily mean the tourist elements will no longer exist – but it would be cool to see the 80 year old market before it gets shuttered – slated for redevelopment in advance of the 2020 Olympic Summer Games.
2. Stay in a capsule hotel.
In the spirit of killing two birds with one stone, my overnight plan in advance of going to check out the fish market will be to stay at a nearby capsule hotel. This is an experience not for the claustrophobic!
Developed in space-conscious Japan in the late 1970s, capsule hotels offer an inexpensive form of accommodation – typically for men who have either drunkenly missed their last train home, have left work late and have to be back early (and have no time to commute), and (increasingly) for curious western tourists.
The typical capsule hotel experience (from what I’ve read) includes a place to store your valuables, a place to get showered, possibly an onsen of some magnitude, and then the pièce-de-résistance, the sleeping area! From what I can make out in pictures, these capsules (or pods) seem to be roughly about double the size of an extra large North American dog crate, and feature personal TV and audio systems, air conditioning, and a place to plug in and charge your cell phone. The pods are stacked two high, and in some implementations resemble what I’ve always pictured to be the sleeping quarters on a retrofied moon base!
I don’t know if I’ll get a good night’s sleep, but I’m in it all for the experience!
3. Visit Kyoto. (And other cities!)
I’ve been to Tokyo, Yokohama, Osaka, Fukushima City, Utsunomia, Sendai, Sapporo, and Hiroshima. I know that there are way more places to go visit in Japan then where I’ve been. And so, getting out of Tokyo when the opportunities present themselves will be important on this trip.
I single out Kyoto because everyone I’ve talked with has never had a bad thing to say about the city. Chris has commented on its uniqueness many times, and that’s enough for me to be sure to get there on this trip.
4. Go see Kabuki.
To be honest, the only form of Japanese theatre I’ve seen has been the raucous Robot Restaurant show in Shinjuku. It’s not exactly traditional theatre!
For over 400 years, Kabuki has been one of the most easily identified cultural hallmarks of Japanese culture. From the costumes to the makeup to the art – it’s something to behold. And – it’s not hard to get to a show. In Tokyo, the Kabukiza Theatre holds performances almost every day, and they offer English subtitles to help foreigners follow what’s happening on stage.
I’ve walked past many karaoke venues during my visits to Tokyo. They’re easy to spot from the street level – with elaborate, marble lobbies which look more like a high end North American hotel circa 1989 than the entrance to a place to go and sing really badly!
Karaoke is more of a private group experience in Japan instead of being a performance in front of a large group of strangers. Once you’ve gathered your friends together, you rent a room for a set amount of time, order drinks, and take turns crooning your favourite tunes. It’s as much about spending quality time with friends as it is about the music.
Venues can also be an inexpensive alternative to capsule hotels and the neighbourhood McDonald’s as a place to crash and wait out the night if you miss the last train home. Walk past some of the rooms at 2am, and you’re more prone to see someone sleeping than belting out a Whitney Houston classic.
I’ve always been self-conscious as an adult about my ability to sing in public. In the shower or behind the wheel of the car? I’m a rock star. But among friends… well, I might need to put my pipes to the test.
Tokyo is just 33 days away! I can’t wait to jump on the plane and share these and many more experiences with you!
(Featured image credit : ©Yasufumi Nishi/©JNTO)