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You’ve heard of Tokyo, sure. But here’s what else you shouldn’t miss in Japan.
1. Taste: The food at Tapas Molecular Bar, Mandarin Tokyo
With only eight diners and two chefs, one of which is acclaimed Ngan Ping Chow (famed for his celebrated molecular cooking) the Michelin-starred restaurant on the 38th floor of Tokyo’s Mandarin Oriental Hotel is theatrical fine dining. Part show, part tapas-inspired delicacies, Japanese dishes are prepared before your very eyes and delivered dramatically. Observe a world class chef while blowing smoke out of your nose from a dry ice inspired dish. Book months in advance.
2. Touch: The sand at Sunset Beach, Ishigaki Island
As part of the Yaeyama archipelago, Sunset Beach is on Ishigaki Island. Fly in from Tokyo and you can go from urban to Utopia in just over 3.5 hours. With a beautiful beach and a semi-tropical location in Japan’s south, the sand is platinum white and the emerald sea is perpetually inviting. Of course Sunset Beach also offers the optimum spot to watch the sun sink into the East China Sea.
3. See: Hiroshima Peace Memorial Park
The Hiroshima Peace Memorial Park commemorates all those affected by the 1945 Hiroshima atomic bombing; the first city in the world to suffer a nuclear attack. The park comprises several memorials and monuments, notably the skeletal remnants of a bombed-out hall known as The A-Bomb Dome, as well as a concrete Cenotaph inscribed with the names of all known victims. And then there’s the Flame of Peace; set to burn until all the world's nuclear weapons are destroyed…
4. Smell: Cherry blossom
Japan’s pastel pink cherry blossoms smells as good as they look. While the trees seldom bear fruit, the blossom flourishes every spring, and with it comes an intoxicating floral scent. The Japanese celebrate Sakura (cherry blossom) with Hanami, literally “flower viewing” celebrations which take place in March and April. Locals organise flower appreciation picnics under the blossom, sitting beneath the bubble gum petals and sipping on ‘Sakura’ Pepsi. For a limited time, even the cola’s pink!
5. Hear: The monks chant in Koyasan
Stay in a monastery in Koyasan, 80 minutes south of Osaka, and awaken at 6am to hear the monks chant. Recognised as the birth place of Shingon Buddhism, several temples offer private, traditional Japanese rooms with shared bathrooms and simple, vegetarian meals. As you'd expect, Koyasan is a spiritual place, far removed from modern civilisation and quite often coated in a blanket of befitting mist. Perfectly peaceful, it’s also Japan’s holiest place to be buried. Visit the mausoleum for ancient graves as well as those from wealthy modern families, such as Panasonic and Nissan.
HOT tips for travelling in Japan
1. Don’t put your chopsticks in your mouth. It’s considered the height of rudeness.
2. Do try the cans of iced coffee from vending machines. They’re delicious. And everywhere!
3. Do use a coin operated café (put your money in, order your dish, take a number and wait for your food)
4. Do grab sushi from a 7/11. For quick and easy meals, the sushi is always fresh.
5. Don’t crease your money as it’s disrespectful. Keep it crisp in your wallet.
6. Don’t walk barefoot in sacred places, your actual feet should never touch the ground.
Kirsty Stewart, House of Travel Hornby, shares some deets:
HOW DO I GO? There are numerous airlines flying to Tokyo but Air New Zealand is the only direct flight from Auckland. Get there in 10h 50m.
HOW LONG DO I NEED THERE? We recommend a minimum 10 days to see all the major sights.
HOW DO I GET AROUND? Ask your House of Travel consultant about a Japan Rail Pass. They’re comfortable, speedy and easy.
CURRENCY? Japanese Yen.
DO I NEED A VISA? New Zealanders can visit Japan for tourist purposes for up to 90 days.
CLIMATE & WEATHER? Temperate with four seasons. Southern Japan gets a milder winter and hotter summer than the north. Summer hits 30°C+ and winter can drop to zero.
WHAT DO I DO IN AN EMERGENCY? Call 119 for fire and ambulance, 110 for Police and 118 for the Coast Guard.
CAN I DRINK THE WATER? You can safely drink water from the tap anywhere in Japan.
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