What to eat
Japan is known for their beautifully presented and delectable food but the locals are also known to have rather adventurous culinary palates. Here are some unique dishes you should try the next time you’re in the land of the rising sun.
Iwate prefecture has a unique soba-eating tradition (Wanko Soba) where guests are shown the true spirit of hospitality. This soba noodle meal includes yakumi, a handful of condiments and small side dishes that vary from season to season. Furthermore, the meal usually comes with tuna sashimi, mushrooms, and more dishes made with local ingredients.
What makes Wanko Soba uniquely interesting is that once you have eaten your soba, your bowl will get topped up with more noodles – almost instantly – by the attending staff (okyuji-san) armed with a tray full of noodle-filled bowls. This is truly for those who like a little fun with their meal as you can turn it into a competition with friends and family. The record holder is a woman from Morioka who managed to finish a whopping 570 bowls!
Flavourful fermented foods
Eating fermented food is not only great for your digestive and immune system, it is also beneficial for healthy skin, hair and nails. A good example of a fermented dish that helps you glow from within is amazake, a traditional milky-coloured rice beverage. You can sample a variety of fermented dishes at Cafe Fig Plate, a casual restaurant in Hyogo Prefecture’s Nishinomiya City that specialises in healthy meal sets, with a choice of mains that include shio-koji chicken, amazake beef stroganoff, and tofu lasagna.
Other places includes FaNaKa in Nagoya which offers up a number of popular special courses catered to groups (from 4 or 6 people depending on the course of choice) and Kirishima Koji Kura GEN, which specialises in foods cooked and seasoned with koji, including Koji Pork Loin Cutlet and the Koji Basket Set which includes a koji-infused stew with pork and pickles.
These are not only a feast for your taste buds, they’re a feast for the eyes (and Instagram) as well. Here are a few places to get these oh-so-pretty treats.
Located right next to the entrance to Tokyo Disney Resort is a large shopping mall called Ikspiari, where you’ll find a patisserie called havaro. Havaro specialises in exquisite desserts using seasonal edible flowers like rapeseed, perilla flowers, and salted cherry. Their signature creation is the Flower Bavarois – a clear gelatin dessert that showcases the pretty flowers suspended within.
Tsuruya-Yoshinobu in Kyoto is one of the most famous Kyo-gashi (Kyoto-made wagashi confectioneries used for traditional events like tea ceremonies) maker, having served royalty since its establishment in 1803. Their delicate flower creations are almost too pretty to eat.
L’angela in Fuji City is a unique patisserie famous for madeleines which are shaped like roses and given the name ‘Bellelaine’. Available in various flavours like lemon, green tea, vanilla, coffee, and chocolate, these Bellelaine are available in gift boxes to take home.
What to see and do
There’s so much more to do in Japan than shopping, onsen and visiting shrines and castles. Here are some unique places that you can visit to spice up your next holiday.
Bathing in hot sand
Winter is often a great time to visit Japan for its famous hot springs, or onsen. However, for something a little different, head to the onsen town of Ibusuki. Perched on the edge of Kagoshima Bay, Ibusuki is situated in an area renowned for its volcanic activity and visitors come here specifically to bathe in hot sand.
The warm, dark sands of Ibusuki are composed of an intense infusion of minerals from volcanic hot springs, and attract sand bathers from all over Japan for its healing properties. It is said that inhaling the steam improves blood circulation better than average hot springs.
Amazing train rides
The Royal Express is known for its chic royal blue train and exquisite interiors. There are two packages to suit your taste - “Platinum”, where you can enjoy a wonderful dining experience with music in a cabin with beautiful stained glasses, paintings and handcrafts; and “Gold” that is recommended for family with kids for its picture book library in its first cabin. Both come with luxury course meals with local delicious seafood and farm fresh vegetables that will delight your stomach!
Toreiyu Tsubasa is a shinkansen bullet train connecting Fukushima station and Shinjo station in Yamagata prefecture and is especially attractive for its no. 16 cabin that has an “Ashiyu” (foot massage hot spring). Passengers can enjoy the striking views through the windows while relaxing in the foot spa. After the soothing spa, passengers can head to no. 15 cabin, which is like an after-spa lounge where you can have staff from a Japanese tatami style bar counter serve you Yamagata local liquors and juices.
Enjoy Japan traditions in new ways
Japan’s traditional entertainment at Shibuya! The Cerulean Tower Noh Theatre showcases representative form of classical Japanese musical drama comparable to Kabuki. You can also find a wide range of traditional dramas, dances, concerts at this house of traditional acts.
For a one-of-a-kind experience, the Robot Restaurant will be a colourful high-energy experience that you won’t forget. Think bright lights, body-moving techno music, robotic monsters, neon-clad singers and dancers as you have some drinks and snacks.
Roppongi Kaguwa is a unique kimono show restaurant where you can enjoy a brilliant performance whereby the dancers present themselves in extravagant kimono and ninja costumes. The show also brings in the mesmerising LED projections on a huge screen with captivating lights, impressive sound effect, making it uniquely sophisticated and enjoyable to watch!
Japan is one of the most creative countries in the world, so why not stay in some of the most imaginative hotel offerings? Here are our top picks for a special stay.
Keio Plaza Hotel Tama, Tokyo
For the Hello Kitty fans, this is a hotel not to miss! The 4 star Keio Plaza Hotel houses a collection of Hello Kitty themed rooms, all featuring a spectacle of Hello Kitty Paraphernalia. Everything in the room is covered in Hello Kitty designs from the bed to the walls and furniture. Bring your friends or your family for a fun night stay in these adorable rooms!
Book and Bed Shinjuku, Tokyo
If you ever wondered what it feels like to sleep in a bookshop this is your chance. For booklovers, Book and Bed Shinjuku is a dream come true where you can sleep among books inside bookshelves, reading as long you like. The concept is simple but unique and is also a great option for budget travellers and also somewhere worth trying if you want to try something a bit different.
Ice Hotel, Hokkaido
From January to February each year, guests can stay in spectacular dome-shaped rooms made of ice! Everything in the room is made from ice, from the chairs and table and even the beds so make sure to wrap up when you’re inside. Arctic sleeping bags are provided to keep you nice and warm. One of the highlights of the hotels is the hot spring Arctic Bath, where guests can relax while gazing at the stars. There’s also a lounge made entirely from ice with a wide variety of hot drinks and alcoholic beverages.