Japan is the most searched tourist destination for Australians, according to Google’s search data released in October 2022. The country implemented harsh border control during the Covid-19 pandemic but has finally reopened for tourists. Aussies need to check Japan’s latest restrictions before they fly, as Japan currently requires either a vaccination certificate with three doses or a negative PCR result prior to entry.
However, it's the perfect time for Aussies to head to Japan, with flights and accommodation prices slashed to attract tourists. If you’re looking to discover Japan’s beautiful architecture, eat incredible food, or get lost in nature, here’s what you need to do.
5 p.m. ARRIVAL TIPS
Narita International Airport is Tokyo’s most well-known airport, but here’s a little secret: Haneda Airport is actually closer to the central city. See if you can get a direct flight to the smaller airport to cut down on travel time once you arrive. To get to Shinjuku from Haneda airport, jump on the monorail towards Narita Airport, switch to the JR line at Shinagawa and travel to Shinjuku. If you’re planning on doing lots of train travel while you’re in Japan, consider purchasing a JR train pass prior to leaving Australia here.
8 p.m. REST UP IN SHINJUKU
One of the best places to stay is in Shinjuku, it’s close to the centre with great access to train lines and exciting nightlife. For accommodation, consider trying out one of Tokyo’s famous capsule hotels, such as Nine Hours’ futuristic pods. Alternatively, Airbnb has a range of affordable options — great if you’re travelling as a group or family and want an entire space.
10 a.m. LATTE ART
Japan is famous for its Kawaii culture, with food and drink coming in many adorable forms. You can find some of the best 3D latte art at Cafe Reissue, with a number of different characters and animals to choose from. You can also show the staff a picture of your own animal, or any character or person you can think of, and the artists will bring it to life.
11.30 a.m. HARAJUKU’S STREET-STYLE
Head to Takeshita Dori in Harajuku, the bustling street home to some of the best street-style in Japan. You never know what you might see when walking through, with lolita girls and cosplayers sometimes making an appearance.
It's time for another delicious treat, and Harajuku is famous for its delicious crepes. The most popular store is Marion Crepes, which often has a line of people waiting for one of their mouthwatering combinations. This was the first crepe store to open, back in 1977, and you can choose from over 60 different flavours including cheesecake and brownie-filled crepes.
2 p.m. TOKYO FROM ABOVE
If you’re interested in seeing the sprawling city from above, head to Tokyo Skytree in Asakusa. The huge tower is not only the tallest in Japan but the third tallest structure in the entire world. It can be busy, so make sure to buy tickets online before you get there. A combo adult ticket for the two viewing platforms only costs approximately $35 AUD on weekdays. A child between 12 to 17 years old will set you back about $26 AUD while a child between 6 to 11 will only cost $16 AUD.
It’s truly fascinating to look at Tokyo from above, home to almost 37.2 million people. The tower gives you a chance to get a 360-degree panoramic view, and kids will enjoy walking over the glass floors. If you wanted to grab any food here, consider dropping into the Musashi Sky Restaurant for French-Japanese fusion.
4 p.m. ASAKUSA
The Tokyo Skytree isn’t the only thing worth seeing in Asakusa. While you’re here, check out Nakamise, considered to be one of Japan’s oldest shopping streets. Grab taiyaki as you stroll through the street, a sweet treat usually shaped like a fish and filled with red bean paste. Grab a few snaps of the Sensoji Temple that sits at the end of the street before heading towards the Asakusa Culture Tourist Information Centre.
The tourist centre has a free viewing platform which gives you a great view of the shopping street. It’s also a great place to view the Tokyo Skytree and the giant golden Asahi building, which is supposed to look like a glass of beer.
8 p.m. CONVENIENT SNACK
7-Eleven isn’t exactly known for gourmet snacks or meals here in Australia, but the Japanese convenience stores have much more than what you expect. Drop in to browse their bakery section, filled with treats like mochi doughnuts and buns, or if you’re feeling hungrier, grab some gyoza, a noodle bowl or some rice buns. You can even get fried chicken and steamed buns at the counter, with pizza buns suitable for vegetarians.
The store also sells a range of beer, soft drinks and do-it-yourself smoothies. Best of all, it’s cheap! One pizza bun costs roughly $1.50 AUD and you can get a can of beer for about $2.30 AUD.
8.30 a.m. BULLET TRAIN
It’s time to get away from the city and immerse yourself in a slower way of life. Kyoto is much less populated than Tokyo, with only 1.46 million residents calling it home. Jump on the famous Shinkansen bullet train and travel 445 kilometres in just two hours and 40 minutes! If you don’t have a JR pass, you can splurge for the Nozomi trains, which are even faster at just over two hours.
11 a.m. EXPLORE THE OLD TOWN
Gion is one of Kyoto’s most well-known districts, and you may come across geisha as you walk through. However, be respectful if you do see a geisha and refrain from taking any photos — you can be hit with a $112 AUD fine if you’re caught.
The area is filled with traditional wooden houses and is home to many tea houses. One of Gion’s most popular sights is the Yasaka Pagoda, a Buddhist structure that looks spectacular in any season.
12.30 pm KYOTO’S BEST UDON
Udon is a famous Japanese noodle style, and there’s one spot you have to try while you’re in the area. Omen Shijo Ponto-Cho is close to the scenic Kamo River and is always filled with customers. They have a range of dishes to suit picky eaters, with vegetarian options available as well. Grab one of their set udon dishes and you will be provided with delicious broth that you dip your noodles in before eating.
2.30 p.m. A GOLDEN SIGHT
Kyoto is also home to one of the most beautiful temples. Kinkaku-ji Temple, also known as the Golden Pavilion, is a beautiful structure that is covered in gold leaf. The Zen temple sits on the edge of a pond and feels extremely serene. It’s also extremely affordable, with entry a mere $5 AUD for visitors. If you need a break, consider stopping by the Sekkatei Teahouse to have some matcha tea or a light snack.
5.30 p.m. NISHIKI MARKET
Wander through the Nishiki Market to find a restaurant for dinner. Admire the fake food replicas out the front, a common practice in Japan that originated in Kyoto. Consider trying Tiger Gyoza or simply grab some street food from the stalls.
7 a.m. A TRADITIONAL SHINTO SHRINE
Arguably one of the most recognisable Japanese spots is Fushimi Inari Taisha. The Shinto shrine has become extremely popular with tourists with thousands of vermilion red gates lining the long path. If you’re interested in going for a bit of a hike, you can take a path to the summit of Mount Inari for a view of the area.
1 p.m. FRESH HANDMADE MOCHI
Mochi has become an extremely popular sweet around the globe, but if you want to try the fresh and authentic dessert for yourself, head to Nakatanidou in Nara. The small town is only about 35 minutes away by Kyoto by train.
The shop often draws a crowd who watch as the workers pound chewy green glutinous rice at a fast pace. They have the process down to a fine art, as one mochi maker uses a heavy wooden mallet while another uses their hands in between swings. The dessert is warm, chewy, not too sweet, and delicious. The outside is dusted with roasted soybean flour and filled with a red bean paste. Each piece will set you back around $1.50 AUD, but you probably won’t be able to stop at just one!
1.30 p.m. BOWING DEER
Of course, Mochi isn’t the only reason you’re here in Nara. Perhaps you’ve heard of the famous deer in Japan that bow politely to receive a snack? Nara Park is home to a swathe of wild deer who love being around tourists.
Sellers line the streets with special deer crackers which contain nutrients for the beloved animals. Grab a bundle of crackers, walk up to a deer and bow. When the deer bows back at you, reward it with a cracker. It’s almost impossible to get bored here, and the area is also home to the Todaiji Temple. You can find a giant bronze Buddha inside as well as other smaller Buddhist statues.
6 p.m. A HEARTY MEAL
After getting back to Kyoto, why not tuck into a delicious bowl of ramen? Engine Ramen offers a range of options that suit those with dietary requirements, without compromising on taste. You can find vegan as well as gluten-free options here, as well as a wide range of sake. For those who find noodle soups a messy affair, the cute restaurant provides bibs so you don’t have to worry about any rogue splashes.
10 a.m. GET LOST IN A BAMBOO FOREST
Kyoto is also home to Arashiyama Bamboo Grove, another one of the region’s most popular sights. As soon as you step into the lush bamboo forest, it’s like entering another world. The giant green bamboo poles tower over you as you walk through the path. It’s best to come early because it gets packed with tourists later in the day.
11.30 a.m. BEARY CUTE LUNCH
Japan is known for its themed restaurants, and even the small town of Arashiyama has an adorable option. Stop in at Sanrio’s Rilakkuma Teahouse in Kyoto, where the meals are all shaped like a cute brown bear. There’s a selection of bento boxes, curries, desserts and drinks all with a little bear twist. Stop by the gift store on your way out to nab a kawaii souvenir!
If you want something more traditional, book ahead for a Buddhist vegetarian meal at the Tenryuji Temple Shigetsu. You can choose from three options, with all meals consisting of rice, soup and five to seven side dishes. The most expensive set is pricey, at about $90 AUD, with the cheapest option at roughly $37 AUD, on top of the entrance fee of $5.60 AUD per person. There’s no menu, instead, you are ushered into the temple and placed in a traditional room where you sit on the floor. Your lunch will be offered to you on a small table for you to enjoy at your own pace.
6.30 p.m. SAVOURY JAPANESE PANCAKES
Head back to Tokyo by bullet train and make sure you work up an appetite, because Okonomiyaki is on the menu! Head to Zen in Shinjuku for one of these mouthwatering savoury pancakes.
The Japanese dish originates in Osaka and is made using flour, eggs and shredded cabbage, along with your choice of meat or vegetables. There are options for vegetarians, and it’s likely to be one of the food highlights of your whole trip.
10 a.m. A MESMERISING DIGITAL WORLD
You’ve likely seen some stunning images of people wading through water with projections on it, or people underneath a moving floral garden suspended from the ceiling. Museum teamLab Planets is home to some of the most incredible (and Instagrammable) digital art. Tickets cost roughly $40 AUD for adults, $26 AUD for high school students and $14.50 AUD for children between 4 and 12. It's best to buy your tickets online before you arrive, and try and visit at the start of the day to avoid large crowds.
Be prepared to wade through knee-deep water as projections of koi fish dart around you, as well as be transported to a dazzling world in their Infinite Crystal Universe experience. One of the most popular exhibits is the Floating Flower Garden, with a large metal grid holding an array of delicate plants. The garden slowly moves up and down as you wander through the exhibit, with a completely mirrored floor creating an illusion of an infinite garden.
12.30 pm JAPANESE FAST FOOD
While Tokyo is filled with Western fast food restaurants such as McDonald's and Wendy’s, there’s one burger place you may not have heard of. Mos Burger was first introduced to Japan in 1972 and has remained one of the most popular fast food options in the country.
There are all sorts of burgers with a Japanese twist, including a rice burger that uses rice patties instead of buns. You can also get a teriyaki burger or even a plant-based burger that comes with a green bun. A burger will only set you back around $2.70 to $8.20 AUD, so it’s a cheap and unique meal.
3.30 p.m. TOKYO CROWD
Of course, you can’t come to Tokyo without setting foot on the busiest crossing in the world. Shibuya Crossing is a huge intersection that connects seven roads, resulting in thousands of people using the crossing every single day. Experience it for yourself, and then head up to the second floor of Starbucks. For just a cost of a cheap drink, you’ll get a birds-eye view of the famous sight.
4.30 p.m. SHIBUYA SKY
One of Tokyo’s newest attractions is Shibuya Sky, and it has gone viral for the view located approximately 230m above ground. The observation deck is found on the rooftop of the Shibuya Scramble Square tower building, with an escalator up towards the Sky Stage area. It’s best to go before sunset so you can see vivid hues of orange and pink fill the sky — make sure you look up when it’s supposed to happen depending on the season! Book your tickets beforehand, as they often sell out due to a small limit. The online rate for an adult is about $20 AUD, with children’s prices ranging from $5.60 AUD to $15.70 AUD.
7.30 p.m. BE DAZZLED
Shinjuku is home to a bustling nightlife, as well as a famous Godzilla statue towering over the Shinjuku Soho building. If you’re lucky, you will see the giant creature’s eyes light up and foggy breath appear. Head to Kabuki-chō, where you can be enchanted by the sheer number of flashing neon signs that line the street. Consider grabbing a drink in Golden Gai, a famous alley in the area, or grab a bite to eat at one of the Omoide Yokocho food stalls.
9 a.m. FAMOUS VIEW OF MT FUJI
There’s a brand new train line in Japan that takes you directly to one of the best views of Mt Fuji. Head to Shimoyoshida on the JR Kanji line and the new Fuji-Excursion Limited Express Kawaguchiko line to get to Chureito Pagoda. Be warned, there are 400 steps to the top, but for those with limited mobility, there is a sloped path option for prams or wheelchairs.
11 a.m. GONDOLA TO THE TOP
Consider taking a train to a nearby town Fujikawaguchiko, where you can experience breathtaking views from the Mt. Fuji Panoramic Ropeway. Return tickets only cost around $10 AUD for adults and $5 AUD for kids. At the top, you’ll find some snacks as well as a gift shop — perfect for any presents or souvenirs you want to take home.
2 p.m. MORE JAPANESE FARE
On the way back to the train station, take your pick from a number of local restaurants dotted around the area. For some crunchy fried chicken or a warm bowl of noodles, pop into Ramen Fuku-chan next to Pizzeria Onda. It doesn’t have any English signage, but the menus provide an English translation along with photos. Jump on a train back to Tokyo to finish off an eventful day.
7 p.m. A SOLITARY DINING EXPERIENCE
Japanese curries are quite different to Indian curries, often consisting of a thick stew with a hint of sweetness instead of spice. Fast-food chain CoCo ICHIBANYA has multiple locations throughout Tokyo with an array of curries to try, including vegan options. Workers often visit during their lunch breaks for a hearty meal while sitting in silence. In many CoCo restaurants, seating is minimal and often side by side, rather than facing your travel partner. The food comes out extremely fast but is definitely moreish.
8 a.m. THEME PARKS
For your last day, you could visit Tokyo Disneyland or DisneySea, and see beloved characters such as Mickey and Minnie Mouse don traditional Japanese kimonos. Alternatively, you could jump on a bullet train for two and a half hours to Universal Studios Japan in Osaka. Universal Studios is home to Super Nintendo World, where visitors can be transported inside a video game. There’s a Mario Kart race-themed ride, as well as Yoshi’s Adventure, where you get to ride the dinosaur character. The Toad-themed restaurant has quickly become a favourite with visitors. Wherever you end up spending the day, it will definitely be a blast!
8 a.m. DEPART
It’s time to say farewell to Japan for now! After this taste of culture, sights, food and activities, you’ll likely want to return in the future. It's time to start planning your next trip!
Yahoo Lifestyle was a guest of Tokyo Skytree and teamLabs Planets.
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