Ten surprising things to do in Japan

Thinking of heading to Japan? Here are some fun things to put on your 'to-do' list

Latest in Travel
Aa

Snow monkeys, sumos, sushi: Japan has a host of traditional, and very unusual, offerings.

Aa

There's so much more to the Land of the Rising Sun than sushi, geishas and cherry blossoms.

Japan is also the land of manga (comics or graphic novels to the uninitiated), cat cafes and ramen dispensed from vending machines. And it is now the third most popular country among Australian travellers.

However to see something a little more unusual in Japan, digital travel company Agoda has these tips - and if you take the grandchildren they will love you forever for some of these experiences:

Make your manga dreams come true at Sanrio Puroland

Sanrio created Japanese cartoon characters now so popular they are known brands outside of Japan. Think Hello Kitty, Keroppi, Pochacco and more. Like any good amusement park, there are themed attractions, shows, games and shops so you can get lost in an alternate world. You can stay in the centre of lively Shinjuku, where Agoda has almost 200 choices of hotels close to many of Tokyo's main attractions.

Watch snow monkeys frolicking in an onsen, Yamanouchi

Over the last few years, Japan has built a reputation for world-class skiing, but you don't have to appreciate powder to visit in winter. Jigokudani Monkey Park, also known as Snow Monkey Park, is open year-round; but for the full experience go when it's cold so you can see these gorgeous animals with their pink faces and mane-like hair taking a dip in the hot springs. Onsens, or natural hot springs, were discovered in Japan more than 1000 years ago and are said to have healing and medicinal properties. Yudanaka is one such onsen town where you can stay in a ryokan, a traditional guesthouse. With Japanese style rooms and the option to relax in a hot spring bath, Ryokan Biyunoyado is a lovely option.

Drive a Mario Kart through the streets of Tokyo - Shinagawa, Tokyo

Make like the Super Mario Brothers from everyone's favourite '80s Nintendo game and get behind the wheel of a custom-made go-kart. Rather than racing through the Mushroom Kingdom dodging Bowser's henchmen, you'll follow a guide through the streets of Tokyo. A valid international driving permit is required, so apply for one before you leave. Hotel Intergate Tokyo Kyobashi is a charming and comfortable base to explore all the city has to offer.

Check out a sumo wrestler practice session - Ryogoku, Tokyo

You may not be able to easily locate a real geisha, but during morning practice you can be sure the super-size sumos going through their paces are the real thing.

Sumo wrestling is a national sport and if you can't get to a tournament, sumo stables in the Ryogoku area of Tokyo are open to visitors. You're closer than you would be at the stadium, which makes for a more intimate experience. Base yourself in the heart of Sumo Town at the Dai-ichi Hotel Ryogoku where you are also close to the central business district, shopping centres and entertainment hub.

Pretend to be a samurai for a day in Kyoto

For those wanting to indulge in Samurai fantasies (albeit you'll be using a wooden katana rather than a deadly sword) you can don traditional samurai attire and be instructed in the art of kembu, which translates to sword dance. You will also learn the etiquette, culture and history of these deadly warriors. To stay nearby, Hotel Resol Trinity Koyoto Oike Fuyacho is a scenic 10-minute walk through Kyoto to the Samurai & Ninja Museum.

Dine on top of a waterfall - Kyoto

When it comes to waterfalls, most people enjoy the view looking up. But looking down is just as spectacular, and during summer in Kyoto you can dine atop the waterfalls nestled in the valley. These kawadoko restaurants are platforms built on top of the waterfall, so not only do you get the view but also the breeze, which is a sweet relief from the humidity. Nestled in the forest is Yumoto Onsen Oharasansou, a homely hot springs guesthouse with a traditional-style facade.

Sample Osaka's street food dishes

Visit the Shinsekai District for kushiage, crumbed and deep-fried skewers that make the perfect snack and go to Dotonbori for savoury cabbage pancakes called okonomiyaki or fried octopus balls served with mayonnaise called takoyaki. FP Hotels South Namba is ideally located to explore the street food scene while being close to multiple public transport options.

Be adventurous and try chicken sashimi - Kyushu Island

Otherwise known as torisashi, this local delicacy from Kyushu Island has spread throughout Japan. While raw chicken is considered unsafe to eat in Australia, in Japan it can be a revelation in the hands of a skilled chef. Only the inner part of the breast, that closest to the bone, is used as it is considered the safest. The bird is slaughtered and delivered to the restaurant immediately for preparation by the chef. While on the island, stay at Kagoshima, a scenic seaside city, at the Best Western Rembrandt Hotel Kogoshima Resort. Located in the heart of Kagoshima, the hotel has stunning views of the Sakurajima volcano and is close to Kinkoh Bay.

Get your Zen on at a tea ceremony - Osaka

Tea is more than just a cuppa in Japan; rather it is a ritual. From washing in a stone basin to sitting on a tatami mat and waiting for your host to serve you, the tea ceremony is influenced by the Buddhist philosophy of "being in the moment".  Enjoy a workshop and tea ceremony experience at The Kimono Tea ceremony Maikoya Osaka. You can then stay at the City Plaza Hotel in Osaka Natural Hot Spring and Spa, treating yourself to a hot spring bath, massage treatments and a workout at the hotel fitness centre.

Have your mind blown at the Robot Restaurant - Tokyo

This bright, big, brash, bold experience in the red-light district is something you can't get anywhere else in the world. You're not there for the food, but to see giant robots entertain you during a dinner cabaret that's out of this world. Then recharge at the stylish Shinjuku Granbell Hotel, just a couple minutes' walk from the Robot Restaurant.

Read more: Cruise Japan in autumn with The Senior in November 2019

Read more: Travel Japan by train with rail experts on Scott McGregor's latest tour

Aa