You’ve heard of robot restaurants and cat cafes, but how familiar are you with Ninja Temples that have absolutely nothing to do with ninjas? Or beaches you can legally drive on?
Travelling through Japan is almost like travelling to another planet where the phrase ‘over the top’ does not exist, quirky is the national norm and cartoon (sorry, anime) characters reign.
We recently had the chance to experience some of the country’s unique attributes, which we found made it one of the more fascinating destinations we’ve ever visited.
So from year-round Snow Monkeys to cucumber meals, here’s a list of 34 things you can only experience in The Land of the Rising Sun:
1. Only in Japan does ice cream truck music indicate that your train is arriving, not that a man with frozen goods is approaching
It’s a familiar tune used in a completely different way.
While Australia utilises the traditional English folk music to alert young ones of an approaching ice cream van, in Japan’s subway tunnels, similar music is played to notify commuters of a train’s arrival, departure, or other announcements. These melodies vary by company and sometimes individual station, and sometimes they even use tunes from popular anime shows!
2. Only in Japan can you buy beverages such as Ion Water, Minute Maid Apple Juice and Pocari Sweat from an ever-colourful, touch-screen vending machine…
Combine new technology, bright colours and the widest range of drinks and you have a very cool, very convenient Japanese vending machine, which can be found everywhere! No joke, even in obscure places like a random side-street filled with bars and pubs.
3. … and boy does that vending machine congratulate you on making a purchase
Because who doesn’t want to be congratulated when spending money!
4. Only in Japan do they have an animal associated with a season… but that animal is actually seen year-round
Heard of the Snow Monkey? Sounds like it only comes out during winter, but actually the Snow Monkey can be spotted year-round in places like Nagano Prefecture.
5. Or you can find the oldest continuous hereditary monarchy in the world
The Emperor is the symbol of Japan. The current Emperor, Emperor Akihito, is the 125th Emperor.
True story – a group of Agents and I saw the Prince of Japan – Crown Prince Naruhito – in person at Tokyo station during a recent Japan National Tourism Organization famil.
6. It’s the only place on Earth with a Ninja Temple that has nothing to do with Ninjas
— KARRYON (@karryontravel) October 25, 2016
Myouryuji Temple in Kanazawa is deceiving on two fronts.
On one hand its colloquial title of “Ninja Temple” leads you to believe it’s associated to ninjas when it isn’t, and on the other, every wall, door or floor board will play tricks with your mind because the entire building is full of traps, rigid constructions and hidden sanctuaries.
7. But is a great example of samurai brilliance
The Ninja Temple was built during the Edo period (1603-1868) by samurai as a secret strategy to protect the Kaga Clan’s leaders from potential invaders.
Although it was never used by samurai, the temple was designed to take down enemies with trap stairs, hidden rooms, concealed lookouts, disguised bridges and even secret floors.
8. Only in Japan can you see the colours & beauty of Autumn less than 10 hours from Sydney
Equally as beautiful as Cherry Blossom season is Autumn in Japan – yellow, orange and red autumn leaves known as koyo emerge from September and spread across the country to early November.
It’s particularly impressive seeing the colours while driving along the country-side from Nagano City to Tateyama Station.
9. And really appreciate the colours of the Alpine Route
Making your way to the top of the Tateyama Mountain Range isn’t as difficult as it sounds. For the non-hikers, Japan offers many forms of transportation that will take travellers 2,400m up the mountain without breaking a sweat.
10. Only in Japan will you find lockers pretty much everywhere you go
Seemingly every train station, subway and even a few tourist attractions accommodate those who don’t want to lug around their bags with these handy lockers.
11. Or order an entire dish made of cucumbers
Taking the phrase ‘something light to eat’ seriously, Japan is maybe the only place in the world with restaurants that will serve patrons a dish of cucumbers. Apparently, the cucumbers along with the two dips, tasted amazing.
12. And it’s the only place in the world where it’s relatively normal to explore temples while dressed as a geisha
— KARRYON (@karryontravel) October 26, 2016
Whether it’s your dream to dress as a geisha or you’re just really keen to try something different, there are several stores around Fushimi Inari Shrine in Kyoto that will strip you of your western clothes and strap you into silk robes, toe socks and heeled thongs.
Once in the rented geisha getup, travellers can then take to the streets to show off their traditional look and explore local temples.
13. Japan has whole shops dedicated to socks
Great quality and most of them only cost around 1,000 yen for three pairs. That’s under $5 per pair.
14. Neither does the swastika symbol
Much like in India, the swastika in Japan is used as a symbol of peace or to identify a temple.
15. Learning numbers in Japanese is easy thanks to this tale
16. Or is there a machine that will take your bike, park it & deliver it to you at the end of the day
17. Only in Osaka is ‘Where’s Wally’ a city icon
It’s actually not Where’s Wally, but a popular character in Osaka called Kuidaore Taro who has been a symbol for the city since a life-sized statue of the red and blue striped drummer was installed in 1950 in the Dotonbori area.
In addition to becoming a landmark, he’s also been established as his own brand with his own chocolates, souvenirs, socks and more.
18. And where else in the world will you come across ‘Hello Kitty’ fences
The obsession with Hello Kitty is very real and absolutely amazing.
19. Or mannequins with over the top eye lashes like this…
20. Only in Japan is there a beach that you can literally drive on
Taking coastal drives to the next level.
In Chirihama, travellers can take their vehicles right next to the ocean on a beach drive. It’s completely legal and will only be closed off when waves are high and winds are too strong.
21. Or shoes for all kinds of people
So. Many. Styles.
22. ALL kinds of people
Seriously. So. Many.
23. It’s also one of the only countries in the world to have signs about planking on escalators
24. Or different flavoured ice creams exclusive to different regions
25. In Tokyo & Osaka there’s buildings as far as the eye can see
— KARRYON (@karryontravel) October 27, 2016
There’s big cities and then there are metropolises like Tokyo and Osaka where the high rises just never end and it’s partially overwhelming but overly stunning.
26. And several buildings dedicated to karaoke
I’m talking entire buildings (more than one) dedicated to those who love to (but can’t necessarily) sing.
27. Only in Japan are streets animated with creatures…
28. … and tuna sushi popping out at you
29. Or will you find trippy escalator mirrors that look like they belong in Doctor Strange or The Matrix
30. Of course it’s only in Japan that you’ll find a machine that will let you print your own nails
31. Not to forget, the country has robot restaurants
32. Cat cafes – where felines hold prestigious titles such as ‘store manager’
33. And next level sushi trains that sees food ordered via a computer and delivered direct to the diner’s seat via a train
34. Plus there’s nowhere else in the world you can come across that genuine Japanese hospitality