Clearly by now you know we freaking LOVED Japan – cause obviously you’ve been stalking our insta while you eagerly await our next post, which let’s be real takes forever LOL. We’ve brainstormed on what were our top, most recommendable fun experiences we had and complied a short but epic list below that takes you across the normal two-week JR pass route from Tokyo down to Fukuoka. These fun experiences are listed in no particular order and will hopefully provide some inspiration to anyone planning a Japan trip!
#1 – Street Go-Kart in Akhihabara
Seriously, what could be more fun than getting dressed up as nigiri (other characters/outfits are available!) and driving around Tokyo in a go kart! We opted for the 3-hour session and the route we were meant to take was from Akihabara to Asakusa, Tokyo Tower, Rainbow Bridge, Odaiba, Ginza and Ueno. Unfortunately, there was no legislating for the craziness of other drivers in our group of seven – two Japanese girls really struggled with the car – one girl drove the first 10 minutes with the handbrake on and the other almost got hit by a bus! So unfortunately, that meant we cut out going over the Rainbow Bridge which would have been amazing! Luckily 3 of the guests left at the 2-hour mark and so we spent the remaining hour racing around the back streets of Ueno, which was so much fun!
You almost feel like a celebrity as so many people take pictures/videos of you and wave to you – I guess it’s not every day you see a shrimp and tuna driving the mean streets of Tokyo. We definitely don’t recall seeing that in The Fast and The Furious: Tokyo Drift!
A word of warning to the safety conscious though… you don’t have a helmet and the go carts are pretty low to the ground, so buses and trucks seem enormous and a bit daunting next to you. We generally found that apart from taxis, other road users gave us space and were patient, but if you’re a nervous driver, this experience is probably not for you. You also need to obey the rules of the road in japan and obviously can get ticketed for running red lights etc.
In terms of logistics, you need to have an International Drivers Permit (IDP) to drive in Japan, and you need to get that in advance of arriving there. We got ours via the American Automobile Touring Alliance (AATA) in the USA and it cost $30, taking about 2 weeks to come through. It’s valid for a year and can be used in other countries too. We booked our experience through Voyagin (govoyagin.com) which gave us 40% discount on the usual costs, so definitely do some internet research first for deals. Also, if Tokyo isn’t on your agenda, there are other options in other cities available, like Osaka. Sign up for your IDP and get ready to vroom vroom your way through one of Japan’s biggest cities, which is also a unique way to see the sights!
#2 Sake tasting in Kyoto
Based on recommendations from Marlie’s bestie, she surprised Rid with a sake tasting tour as a birthday present that really served both of them (expert tip on buying presents – always get them something you get to enjoy too!). The sake tasting tour was set in Fushimi, Kyoto, which is one of the most famous sake making areas in Kyoto and larger Japan. The tour stated off in a classroom setting with our guide, Kotaro, first unfolding the history of Fushimi and why sake factories started there – apparently due to the exceptional quality of the groundwater – our little nerdy scientists’ hearts exploded at the very detailed graphic he showed of the groundwater aquifer 🙂 The tour then took us to Gekkeikan Okura Sake Museum (247 Minamihamacho, Fushimi Ward, Kyoto, 612-8043) where we first learned about the sake making process and the various steps that it entails, which is surprisingly quite a lot. We then got to try two different sakes and a plum wine made there. We also picked up a cool retro bottle of sake that has a lid that can be used as a cup with a ‘swing’ – designed for olden days on trains so your sake doesn’t spill (#clever)! We were also given a couple of small bottles of sake each as a souvenir which was a nice touch.
Once we returned back to the classroom, we learned about the different categories, varieties, and flavors of sake over a further SEVEN tastings – the tasting were each in larger double shot glasses. These tastings were also paired with food, so you could see how it altered the taste of the sake. SPOILER ALERT: sake tastes even better with food! Also, 10 tastings of sake is quite enough to get you buzzed, so definitely don’t go driving anywhere afterwards!
Marlie booked the tour through Viator and our guide Kotaro was great, although we don’t think he’d be too impressed learning of our habit of doing sake bombs back in San Diego! Kotaro, if you’re reading this… sorry!!!
#3 Food tour in Osaka
Ok so this wasn’t a pre-arranged activity/tour at all – we just heard that Osaka had amazing food and a city motto of “kuidaore” or ‘eat until you drop’ which had our taste buds salivating! We did a bit of research as to the type of food that Osaka had (Youtube has some excellent food tour videos) and then set out trying to find it!
First up we tried Takoyaki at Kukuru (several locations off Dotonbori). You’ll see hundreds of these places all over Osaka and each have their own variations. For us, it was tasty but the octopus (putting the tako in takoyaki) was slightly crunchier than we were used to. It was slathered in almost like a BBQ sauce to make it gooey and yummy though!
Next we tried these AMAZING buns at Futami no Butaman (3 Chome-1-19 Nanba, Chuo Ward, Osaka, 542-0076), delightfully filled with porky goodness! It had tons of diced onions along with the pork which gave it a slight sweetness but they were really generous with the fillings. We’re not ashamed to say that we ate there for snacks another three times!
We also had to try the cheesecake at Rikuro’s (Rikuro-Ojisan no mise, 3 Chome-2-28 Nanba) – it’s more like an egg-souffle cake, and we were a bit unsure about it. That said, it didn’t stop us demolishing 3/4 of it in one sitting. The remaining quarter we brought back to our hotel and ate it cold for breakfast the next day – arguably, we’d say it tasted even better (and more like a cheesecake) chilled!
Marlie already covered the sushi we ate at Harukoma Honten Sushi (5 Chome-5-2 Tenjinbashi, Kita Ward, Osaka, 530-0041; see her post – https://themarridlife.com/2019/08/20/exsushi-me-this-is-next-level-s/), but that was another gastronomic delight. This was such an epic food experience (really can’t highlight this place enough) plus it was a chance where we were totally immersed in local life as we were the only westerners in the joint with a non-English menu to contend with.. luckily we know a lot of Japanese words related to sushi. Word of advice, learn some of the words for sushi in Japanese so you can order even if they speak no English – maguro (bluefin), chotoro/otoro (fatty tuna), sake (salmon), aji (horse mackerel) ebi (shrimp), unagi (eel), and hotate (scallop) will get you a long way though!
Next on our eating tour was Mizuno Okonomiyaki (1 Chome-4-15 Dotonbori, Chuo Ward, Osaka, 542-0071) which serves Osaka-style Okonomiyaki pancakes – looks like a heaped mishmash of food but tastes incredible! We ended our days of gluttony by eating at Kinryu Ramen Midosuji (1 Chome-7-12 Nanba, Chuo Ward, Osaka, 542-0076) – a ramen store that offers one type of ramen, so you know it’s going to be good! Standing up eating ramen, as there are no chairs or even tables in this joint, during Typhoon Krosa was a chance to enjoy Japanese soul food with the appropriate mood set.
The main reason everyone makes the trek – trolley, subway, and ferry – out to Miyajima island during hide tide is to take a mandatory selfie with the famous floating torii gate looking back at Hiroshima. We actually got Marlie up at an early hour to see this beautiful sight only to pull up on the ferry to a structure vaguely resembling an orange gate being covered in scaffolding and netting… such an ironic fail! We couldn’t help but laugh at our luck as we took our selfie anyways and had an enjoyable day out on Miyajima anyways. Plus, with the JR Pass, it makes it free to visit – you can take a JR train to the ferry terminal, then a JR Ferry which is included for pass holders, so it’s an easy/free trip from Hiroshima.
What we really did enjoy was taking the ropeway up most of the way, and then hiked the last 30 minutes to the top of Mount Misen. It’s a shame that it was so unbearably hot when we were there, otherwise we’d have hiked the way up and taken the ropeway down. It’s also a shame that the weather was so hazy as we reckon the views would have been awesome had we had better weather. Plus as an added bonus, if you missed seeing the deer at Nara, they are also on the island too – so can get some close up experiences too.
#5 Japanese baseball game
The Japanese are CRAZY for baseball, with the Tokyo Yomiuri Giants and Osaka’s Hanshin Tigers being two of the best supported teams. Sadly, we couldn’t get tickets to any of the top teams’ games as they were all playing away when we were in town, so instead, we got tickets to the Orix Buffaloes vs Chiba Lotte Marines. For any US people reading, that’s akin to the Padres vs Rockies, so not exactly the best sides in the league (bottom and second from bottom)! Since Rid is a Padres fan, and long-time supporter of any underdog playing, the Buffaloes suited him just fine! It’s weird that the away fans (Chiba) were actually nosier than the home fans, but great that the Buffaloes came away with a 2-1 win! The organized chanting and flag waving is quite the spectacle, along with the beer girls/guys – you don’t even have to leave your seat for a beer!
Hopefully our fun times help you plan your next trip to Japan or take your mind off of work for a few minutes. We promise though no matter what you do in Japan, you’ll be amazed at how the good times roll!