This blog will be a bit more for fun than informative, but you might just learn something (free bonus!) Just like any other country on this big earth, Japan has a unique experience from a tourist perspective. For the foreigner, Japan is actually lower on the list of places most people would plan on traveling to. In fact, only about 10% of people who travel mentioned Japan when asked where they desired to visit! That fact is a shame, and I suspect that’s because they don’t know what a trip to the land of the rising sun might have in store for them (Obviously I'm not biased at all).
First, we have to talk about the God-created beauty of this eastern Asian land. Just outside Nagano, in the frigid Japanese Alps, exists the most incredible joys the body can feel: both a crisp refreshing cold and a soul-warming embrace at the very same time! In the small village of Jigokudani there is a gathering of steaming natural hot springs amidst the snowy region that surrounds them. Just check in to the korakukan Inn, a small Japanese style hostel that has a rotemburo (outdoor hot spring) for guests. Here a weary mind and body can soak in hot baths and be refreshed in the cooling airs of the mountain chills simultaneously. Did I mention there are monkeys that regularly join you in this?!?!
Well, we can’t go much further without mentioning the one everyone already knows: Mt. Fuji. This 12,600ft behemoth can be seen from all over Japan on a clear day, and it holds the key to witnessing the most revered view of a sunset possible. To claim this spectacle yourself, it will take starting the long hike early the night before. Don’t worry as there will be lots of company on the same mission and even the occasional waypoint station that will even place a unique stamp on a walking stick if you happened to purchase one at the bottom. Be warned: no matter the time of year, the top is chilling right down to your bones, and during the summer the walk down in the sun can be a blistering journey.
Let’s make the last natural wonder a combo deal. Two islands by the names of Okunoshima and Miyajima are home to a comical amount of rabbits and deer respectively. The rabbits will hop after you for days, their twitching noses begging for attention and food. Deer will humbly bow in gratitude as you offer up choice food. Just in case those don’t tickle your cute factor, there is also an island full of cats for good measure.
Alright, maybe you’re not exactly the hiking or animal lover type, and prefer to stick to the more first-world part of Japan. Man oh man, have you come to the right place! Lets start with the amusement parks. I don’t mean those generic pop-up fairs you can see anywhere. These are located on the rooftops in the city skylines! These are home to famous arcades, go-kart tracks, and even coasters. Hurry though! These are disappearing fast and in a few years might be extinct.
Okay, lets back to cute furry things real quick. Cafés. Yeah, they have the typical food and drink, and it’s not all the much to write home about, but some of these are themed, right down to your table companions! Bunnies, cats, dogs, and even owls are a potential friend you can meet. Best yet, these are becoming somewhat common in several cities so you may not even have to go out of your way to check one out.
On the topic of food, and because it's Nick's favorite, ramen. Every region or place in Japan has it's own take and style to this iconic greatness, but one of the best places to get this is way up north in Hokkaido. Just head over to the Susukino district and make your way down either the Ganso Ramen Yokocho or Shin Ramen Yokocho. Both of these are legendary alleyways full of this most glorious delicacy and if you aim for the shop with the longest wait, you can't go wrong! Try the Sapporo variant!
One thing you might notice rather quickly in Japan is the level of care these people have for the well-being of their environment. From the clean streets, well-manicured shrine, or the attention to detail in the buildings, they take these things very seriously. There is so much more that can be said about this topic, but for the sake of this post's length, we will keep focused on the shrines and cities themselves. If you do nothing else in Japan, or maybe just find yourself stuck with a long layover, go to Narita-san shrine. It’s only a couple minutes from the airport and can be easily walked to. The curving road to the relic of the past if filled with shops, restaurants, and bars all done in a very Japanese aesthetic way that will be sure to distract you on the way. Keep going toward the goal and what will be found is nothing short of a massive man-made wonder of meticulously kept foliage and structures that tower over you. Take your time here and I promise you will still have more trekking to be done and something more to be appreciated by he eye. Just make sure you don’t miss your flight!
This last one is a bit more geared toward the geeks and animation fans out there. If you have ever heard the name Totoro, you know what's coming next. Often referred to as the Walt Disney of Japan (though he would much rather you didn't), Hayao Miyazaki's Studio Ghibli is responsible for creating many classics such as Spirited Away, Princess Mononoke, and Ponyo. Located near Mitaka (also where our mission organizations home base is!) is a museum dedicated to their work. If you wish to visit, be prepared. This place has to be reserved in advance, and getting tickets before you go can be tricky, so make sure you Google how to make that happen before you even leave for the country.
Well, this short list is so far from exhaustive. It’s barely even a peek into the wonders and glories of Japan. You’re only one Google search away from learning more, and I would encourage you to do so! Of course, I would love to see anyone come to Japan, even if only to be a bit on the touristy side, and we certainly plan to do more ourselves! But more importantly, I would hope it would instill the smallest glimpse of the way God might see things here too: a beautiful creation of His own, but also a need to be brought back to Him.