There are five things that you must be sure to do on your first trip to Japan, regardless of whatever part of the country you plan to visit. The following list of activities can be enjoyed in any city you may decide to visit:
1. Bathe in an onsen:
Onsen are hot springs, and there are hundreds found all over Japan, in both big cities and small rural villages. Regardless of where you choose to go, there is bound to be an onsen nearby. Their water comes from underground springs, usually as a byproduct of Volcanism, and contains many minerals which are said to soothe, relax, and heal the body.
The best part: you can enjoy them naked, just as if you were bathing at home, though you are, in actuality, out in public. I recommend that everyone experience the freedom of bathing naked at least once, but if you are too hesitant to try it, be assured that some onsen may still allow you to wear a bathing suit. Definitely donít pass up the opportunity to try it.
2. Visit a shrine or temple:
Temples are Buddhist, and shrines are Shinto. Even if you do not share the same religious faith as the Japanese, it is well worth it to take a trip to a shrine or temple, even if only to marvel at the ancient architecture or observe the rituals taking place around you. The Japanese visit temples and shrines in order to pay their respects to the gods, who dwell inside, as well as to pray for good fortune.
3. Try an authentic Japanese dish:
Enjoying a Japanese meal is best experienced if you happen to get invited into someoneís home and can see, first hand, how family life is conducted in Japan. Since everyone is not always this lucky, attending a nice restaurant, or even a local ramen house, is the next best alternative.
If there is no English on the menus, randomly pick something and make a promise to yourself to at least try it. If nothing else, you can always just eat the rice, miso soup, and ginger salad that is sure to come with your meal, along with an endless supply of green tea.
4. Use an old-style, traditional Japanese toilet:
Most private homes now have Western-style toilets, but many public bathrooms still have the traditional Japanese squat-toilet, though the number of Western-style toilets has been increasing in such places. Even if you find yourself in a place that has both the Western and traditional Japanese styles, I recommend you try using the Japanese squat style, at least once, just for the experience.
Squat toilets look a little bit like urinals lying down on the ground. Instead of sitting on a bowl, you straddle the toilet, facing the hole on one end, and squat to do your business. If anything, itís good for building up leg muscles. Just be careful not to dribble on your clothes.
5. Visit a department store, video store, or electronics store:
Be sure to experience modern Japan and all its perks, along with ancient Japan. In smaller cities, itís harder to find an abundance of stores that feature high-tech gadgets or the latest fashions, but you still will find them. You just might have to look a little harder, just as you would in small rural areas of the United States, or any other part of the world, for that matter.
Japan is full of quirky gadgets, the latest innovations, and lots and lots of ďcuteĒ things. Seriously, Japan has an obsession with cute, from stuffed animals and stationary to backpacks and clothing. Set aside a good amount of money for shopping and bringing home souvenirs.