The following information has been compiled from recommendations, feedback, and photos submitted by NanoJapan program participants. From places to go and things to do and types of food to try this is meant to provide a useful starting point for your own exploration of Japan.
This site is the official Japan guide offering tools to visit Japan. Plan your Tokyo tour, Kyoto travel or visit to any other Japanese city with information on Japan trip planning, culture, festivals, tours, guides, history, and much more. Plan your Japan tour today!
One of the most useful resources that NanoJapan students have referred to over the years is the Japan Guide.comwebsite. In addition to basic information on Japan this site also contains useful travel guides for most major cities, neighborhoods, and sight-seeing locations in Japan with detailed information on how to get there. This site is often the first place students look when planning their weekend trips in and around their research host city.
The Sanja Matsuri (Sanja Festival) is an annual festival in the Asakusa District that takes place over the third full weekend in May - typically the first full weekend that NanoJapan students are in Tokyo. It is held in celebration of the three founders of Sensoji Temple, who are enshrined as Shinto gods (kami) in Asakusa Shrine next door to the temple. Nearly two million people visit Asakusa over the three days of the festival, making it one of the three biggest festivals in Tokyo.
At some restaurants in Japan, particularly fast-food curry (kare) restaurants or school cafeterias, you will need to purchase your meal first via a food ticket vending machine at the front of or just outside the restaurant. After purchasing your ticket you will give this to the worker at the counter and they will then prepare and give you your dish. Most food ticket vending machines have pictures of the dishes you will purchase but if you have a food allergy, are vegetarian, or do not eat pork or beef you will need to memorize the applicable kanji to help make sure you purchase the right type of dish.
From Green Tea and Sweet Potato ice cream in Kamakura to the yummy vanilla and chocolate ice cream on the Narita Express or Shinkansen, past NanoJapan students recommend trying as many types as possible during your summer in Japan. Popular flavors include matcha (green tea) and Azuki (red bean). Soft serve ice cream is called soft cream and is a very popular treat in many sight-seeing areas.
Kaiten-zushi are sushi restaurants, where the sushi dishes are presented to the customers on a conveyor belt. Customers can freely pick the dishes that they like as they pass in front of them or order dishes which are not available on the belt. In the end, the number of plates is counted to determine the cost. There are usually a few kinds of plates (differing in color or pattern), each being associated with a certain price of typically 100 to 500 yen. Kaiten-zushi tends to be less expensive than usual sushi restaurant.
Mos Burger, which some people say stands for Most Delicious Burger, is a perennial favorite among NanoJapan students. This fast food restaurant originated in Japan and has now spread to many other countries throughout Asia. For a Japanese twist on typical fast-food fare it can't be beat.
Onigiri (お握り or 御握り; おにぎり?), also known as omusubi (お結び; おむすび?) or rice ball, is a Japanese food made from white rice formed into triangular or oval shapes and often wrapped in nori (seaweed). Traditionally, an onigiri is filled with pickled ume (umeboshi), salted salmon, katsuobushi, kombu, tarako, or any other salty or sour ingredient as a natural preservative. Because of the popularity of onigiri in Japan, most convenience stores stock their onigiri with various fillings and flavors. They are a popular, inexpensive lunch or evening snack for NanoJapan students.
Outside most restaurants in Japan you will find a display of menu options made with plastic food. Often quite elaborate they are an easy way to order your meal if you can't read the Japanese menu - just take a digital photo of the dish or set meal you want to order and show this to your waiter or waitress. You'll sometimes even see people take their waiter or waitress by the hand to the disply outside the restaurant to point out what they want to eat. The heart of the replica food world is the wholesale shopping district of Kappabashi in northeast Tokyo. Here various stores peddle nothing but imitation goodies for restaurants across the land and around the world. Tourists are welcome too, and many come to take home copies of their favorite Japanese delicacies.
Ramen is a noodle soup that was originally imported to Japan from China in the Meiji Period. In more recent decades, it has become a very popular dish in Japan, adapted to the Japanese taste. Ramen restaurants (ramen ya) number in the thousands, and instant ramen (invented in 1958) is popular both in and outside of Japan. Ramen noodles are about as thin as spaghetti and are served in a soup that varies based on region, city and even specific vendor. Ramen's popularity stems in part from the fact that it is so inexpensive and widely available, making it an ideal option for budget travelers. Though ramen can be considered a one dish meal, gyoza are a common side dish offered at ramen ya. These Chinese style, pan fried dumplings are eaten with a soya and vinegar sauce. Shichimi (red chili mix) is usually available on the table to be added according to taste.
Tea (o-cha) is one of the most common beverages in Japan and is an important part of Japanese food culture. It is also the central element of the tea ceremony. Green tea is served everywhere and at any time of the day and usually is free with most restaurant meals. The most polite way of drinking green tea is to hold the cup with one hand and support it from below with the other hand. If eating out with a group it is polite to pour tea for the rest of the table and refill the cups if you notice they are empty. If you do not want more tea simply leave your glass full on the table as an empty glass of any beverage will be refilled.
Tempura is a popular Japanese dish of deep fried battered meats, seafood, or vegetables. Cooked bits of tempura are either eaten with dipping sauce or used to assemble other dishes. Tempura is commonly served with grated radish (daikon) and eaten hot immediately after frying. The most common sauce is tentsuyu sauce (roughly three parts dashi, one part mirin, and one part shoyu). Alternatively, tempura may be sprinkled with sea salt before eating. Mixtures of powdered green tea and salt or yuzu and salt are also used. Tempura is also used in combination with other foods. When served over soba (buckwheat noodles), it is called tempura soba or tensoba. Tempura is also served as a donburi dish where tempura shrimp and vegetables are served over steamed rice in a bowl (tendon) and on top of udon soup (Tempura Udon).
With one vending machine per an estimated 23 people (according to the Japan Vending Machine Manufacturers Association), Japan has one of the world's highest vending machine densities. Machines can be found all over cities, towns and even in the countryside. Almost none of them are vandalized or otherwise non-functional. A majority of machines sell non-alcoholic beverages such as soft drinks, juice, vitamin or energy drinks, tea and coffee for a reasonable 110 to 120 yen. These drink machines usually offer both hot and cold beverages. Vending machines that sell alcoholic beverages and cigarettes are also common. Many more varieties of vending machines can be found in smaller numbers. They sell goods such as ice cream, rice, disposable cameras, instant noodles and even omikuji, the small fortune telling slips of paper sold at shrines and temples.
Though most video game arcades in the US have long since disappeared they are alive and well in Japan. Arcades are often multi-story and house a wide range of video games, many of which cannot be found in the US currently. They can be a fun way to spend an afternoon in Japan though it is good to bring one of your Japanese friends along so they can show you how to play all of the new and fun games you will see.
In Japan, these small toys are a collectible craze! Capsule toys are usually purchased in special vending machines, and range from famous anime characters (Gundam, Astro Boy, Pokemon) to off-beat and even wacky subjects (fake sushi, deep sea fish, shoes for Barbie Dolls). An entire collecting subculture has sprung up from these miniature toys! Yodobashi Camera stores typically have a range of capsule toy vending machines on their video game and toy floors and in gaming/anime areas likeAkihabara you can find capsule toy arcades like the one above.
We all know that Japan is a huge exporter of electronics goods and shopping at an electronics store such as Yodobashi Cameraor in electronics districts such as Akihabara is a must-do while you are in Japan. Note that some of the electronic goods or video games/DVDs on sale may be region-encoded or suited only to use in Japan due to voltage and other technical differences. However, large electronics stores typically feature a selection of products for overseas use and also offer duty free (tax free) shopping to foreign tourists for purchases of over JPY 10,000. If you plan to buy a camera, laptop, other lots of video games visit the information desk at one of the major electronics stores and bring your passport to make sure your purchase is duty free (tax free).
Originally developed in Japan in the mid 1990’s, purikura has become a craze and an important part of youth culture in Japan - especially among young girls. Purikura are, essentially, nothing more than sticker photo booths, but the wide variety of themes and backdrops, as well as the lighting choices and music played during production, have made the hobby a huge success among Japanese teenagers. Many carry around albums full of hundreds of photos, just waiting for the chance to pass-by any unknown photo booth and take even newer photos to help fill their books. Found in many arcades and shopping areas purikura are fairly easy to operate. Generally, up to about 5 people can enter a single booth to pose for up to ten different photo sets. Money must first be entered into the machine, and then a variety of selections can be made. Most photo booths offer a choice of lighting effects, borders, and backgrounds, but many of the newer machines also offer additional effects, such as fans and bluescreen options. Customers are able to choose the number and size of the pictures they want, which will generally print-out on a glossy, 4x6 inch sheet. At some establishments, customers are even offered costumes and wigs to borrow to aid in the photo-making process. A fun way to have a lasting souvenir of you and your friends in Japan.
Pokémon is a media franchise published by the video game company Nintendo and created by Satoshi Tajiri around 1995. Originally released as a pair of interlinkable Game Boy role-playing video games, Pokémon has since become the second most successful and lucrative video game-based media franchise in the world and Pokémon properties have since been merchandised into anime, manga, trading cards, toys, books, and other media. The name Pokémon is the romanized contraction of the Japanese brand, "Pocket Monsters" (ポケットモンスター, Poketto Monsutā) and there are six Pokémon Centers in Japan including in Tokyo, Osaka, Nagoya, Sapporo, Fukuoka and Yokohama.
Goodwill Guide Groups, comprised mostly of students, housewives and retirees, can be found throughout Japan. As volunteers standing ready and willing to assist overseas visitors, these Goodwill Guides are registered with the Japan National Tourist Organization (JNTO) and offer tourists from overseas free local tours guided in English and other languages. Some have a pre-set walking tour for which you only need to go to a pre-established place at certain dates and times to join, while others make arrangements to meet tourists' requests. There is no charge for their service as they are volunteers. You are only expected to pay for their travel expenses and admissions to tourist facilities as well as yours, and to pay for their meals if you eat with them. To learn more about Goodwill Guides and find contact information for locations where their services are offered in Japan see the JNTO website.
"On visiting Nara, Marcus, Warren and I booked a tour with the Nara YMCA English Goodwill Guides, a volunteer group made of mainly Nara students, housewives, and retired people who want to show visitors around Nara and are especially interested in improving their English. We bought our guide lunch because she was so awesome." ~~Jeffrey Lee, NanoJapan 2010
Osaka has been the capital for bunraku, traditional Japanese puppet theater, for many centuries. The popularity of the theater form had grown in the city during the Edo Period when bunraku (like kabuki) was a rare kind of art entertainment for the common public rather than the nobility. The National Bunraku Theater in Osaka is one of the few places to view the fascinating art form today. English programs and earphones are available.
The National Museum of Emerging Science and Innovation (Miraikan) is a new type of science museum that links people directly with the new wisdom of the 21st century. At the heart of Miraikan's activities is the cutting-edge science and technology. This is the "state-of-the-art knowledge and innovation" which Miraikan aims to share with the whole society as part of enriched human culture. Located in Odaiba, this museum is hugely interactive this is not your typical science museum - NanoJapan 2009 students visited Miraikan during a free afternoon in Tokyo and many of them loved it so much they planned to go back a second time. From nanotechnology, to ecology, to biomedicaThe National Museum of Emerging Science and Innovation (Miraikan) is a new type of science museum that links people directly with the new wisdom of the 21st century. At the heart of Miraikan's activities is the cutting-edge science and technology. This is the "state-of-the-art knowledge and innovation" which Miraikan aims to share with the whole society as part of enriched human culture. Located in Odaiba, this museum is hugely interactive this is not your typical science museum - NanoJapan 2009 students visited Miraikan during a free afternoon in Tokyo and many of them loved it so much they planned to go back a second time. From nanotechnology, to ecology, to biomedical engineering and biotechnology anyone interested in science and engineering will find plenty to see and do at Miraikan.
Odaiba developed into one of Tokyo's most interesting tourist spots and the highly popular shopping and entertainment district, which it is today. Further development of the area is still underway. Among the attractions of Odaiba are several shopping and entertainment centers, theme parks, museums and the futuristic architecture and city planning. Top attractions for NanoJapan students include the National Museum of Emerging Science and Innovation (Miraikan), the Ferris Wheel, the Panasonic Center, and much more. Access to Odaiba can be an attraction by itself, as the views of the Rainbow Bridgeand Tokyo's harbor and waterfront area from the Yurikamome elevated train or boat are quite spectacular.
Opened in March 2003, this is a hot spring theme park, which reproduces the atmosphere of the Edo Period (1603-1868). You can enjoy various types of baths, which are fed by actual hot spring water from a depth of 1400 meters. See the Odaiba Travel Guide for more detailed information. The onsen is typically open daily from 11am to 9am (no entry between 2am and 5am, last entry 7am).
Panasonic Center Tokyo is a Corporate Global Communications Hub for Panasonic. With the business visions of contributing to the “Realization of a Ubiquitous Network Society” and ”Coexistence with the Global Environment” through cutting edge technologies, the Center serves as a vehicle for communications, receiving opinions and requests directly from customers while presenting the ideal model of Panasonic with actual products and services. Exhibits include Ubiquitous Digital Network Ideas, Ecology Ideas, Universal Design Ideas, the eco Ideas House, RiSuPia, and a Nintendo Game Front. The NanoJapan 2009 program visited the Panasonic Center in Tokyo as part of the Orientation program though other centers can also be found in Osaka and Beijing.
Shibuya is one of Tokyo's most colorful and busy districts and birthplace to many of Japan's fashion and entertainment trends. Most of the area's large department and fashion stores belong to either Tokyu or Seibu, two competing corporations. A prominent landmark of Shibuya is the large intersection in front of the station (Hachiko Exit), which is heavily decorated by neon advertisements and giant video screens and gets crossed by amazingly large crowds of pedestrians each time the traffic light turns green. This is a great place to visit during one of your free nights in Tokyo.
The Ghibli Museum is the animation and art museum of Hayao Miyazaki's Studio Ghibli, one of Japan's most famous animation studios. They have produced many feature length films with worldwide distribution such as My Neighbor Totoro, Castle in the Sky, Princess Mononoke, Spirited Away and Ponyo on the Cliff by the Sea. Located in Mitaka, just outside of central Tokyo, the museum is a must-see for fans of the films. The museum itself is whimsically designed in the distinct style of the studio's films, and many of their famous characters are there, including a life-sized robot from Castle in the Sky on the rooftop garden. The first floor of the museum has a permanent exhibit on the history and techniques of animation as well as a small theater which shows Studio Ghibli shorts that are exclusive to the museum. The films are rotated monthly, and your entrance ticket gets you admission to one viewing.
Entrance to the Ghibli Museum is strictly by advance purchase of a reserved ticket which specifies the appointed date and time of the reservation. You can get reservation tickets at the ticket kiosks in Lawson's Convenience stores but these are in Japanese only so if you reading skills aren't up to par you'll need to ask a more advanced student to help you. Or you can buy tickets prior to arrival in Japan from JTB USA. Date changes and cancellations are not allowed.
The Tokyo Skytree (東京スカイツリー) is a new television broadcasting tower and landmark of Tokyo. It is the centerpiece of the Tokyo Skytree Town in the Sumida City Ward, not far away from Asakusa. With a height of 634 meters (634 can be read as "Musashi", a historic name of the Tokyo Region), it is the tallest building in Japan and the second tallest structure in the world at the time of its completion. The highlight of the Tokyo Skytree is its two observation decks which offer spectacular views out over Tokyo. The two enclosed decks are located at heights of 350 and 450 meters respectively, making them the highest observation decks in Japan and some of the highest in the world.
Tokyo Tower is a popular place for NanoJapan students to visit as it is within easy walking distance of the Sanuki Club and right across the street from the building where the language classes are held. It has panoramic views of Tokyo and if you look carefully you can even see the Sanuki Club hotel. At night it is very picturesque and is a helpful landmark to look for if you aren't exactly sure which direction you are headed in - for if you can find your way back to Tokyo Tower you can easily find your way back to the Sanuki Club hotel.
Japan's leading car manufacturer, Toyota, has its headquarters and many of its domestic production plants in the region around Nagoya. The company's headquarters are located in the city of Toyota, less than one hour east of central Nagoya. Next to the headquarters stands the Toyota Kaikan Museum, where Toyota's new models and technologies are displayed to the public and robot shows are held periodically. The Kaikan Museum also serves as the meeting point for plant tours. Tours are held once daily from Monday to Friday in English and Japanese. If you wish to join a tour, you need to make an advance reservation via the internet or by phone. Tours last approximately two hours and are free of charge.
For people who cannot make it on a plant tour to Toyota City, the best substitute is a visit to the Toyota Techno Museum (also known as Commemorative Museum of Industry and Technology) in central Nagoya. The museum introduces the history of Toyota from its beginnings as a textile machinery manufacturer and also features many exhibits on automotive technologies and the car production process. Car fans should also consider a visit to the Toyota Automobile Museum, where Japanese, European and American automobiles from the late 1800s to the 1960s are exhibited.
Tsukiji Market is best known as one of the world's largest fish markets, handling over 2,000 tons of marine products per day. The sight of the many kinds of fresh fish, shellfish and other seafood and the busy atmosphere of scooters, trucks, sellers and buyers hurrying around, make Tsukiji Market one of Tokyo's major tourist attractions. A visit to Tsukiji Market is best combined with a fresh sushi breakfast or lunch at one of the onsite or local restaurants. Restaurants typically open around five in the morning and close between 12:00 and 15:00. You can easily get to Tsukiji via the metro or, if you prefer, can also jog or run there.
Visiting the Ueno Zoo is a fun way to spend a free afternoon or morning in Tokyo. Japan's first and now most famous zoo, it opened on March 20, 1882 and it location, just a five-minute walk from the Ueno Park Exit of Ueno Station, makes access from Tokyo's public-transportation network very convenient. Ueno Zoo is located within Ueno Park, a large urban park that is home to several museums, a small amusement park, and other attractions.
Baseball is probably the most popular sport in Japan. Yakyu, as baseball is called in Japanese, was introduced from the United States during the early Meiji Period. We encourage all NanoJapan students to try to get tickets to a baseball game during the free evenings of the orientation period at the Tokyo Dome or to see your local team play during the research internship period. Ask your research lab members for suggestions on what games to see and how to buy tickets.
Kendo is the martial art of Japanese fencing, developed from traditional techniques of Japanese swordsmanship known as kenjutsu. Since 1975 the goal of Kendo has been stated by the All Japan Kendo Federation as "to discipline the human character through the application of the principles of the katana (the Japanese standard two handed sword)". However, Kendo combines martial arts values with sport elements, with some practitioners stressing the former and others the latter. Taught using "swords" made of split bamboo (shinai) and extensive protective armour (Bogu), practitioners are called kendoka or "kenshi". Kendoka merely means one who practices kendo. Kenshi means swordsman. Both terms are used, though many clubs have a preference for one term. Kendoka also use bokuto (wooden katana) to practice set forms known as kata. Past students have joined their research host university's Kendo Club (student organization) and have also taken classs at a local Kendo dojo (school) during the research internship period. For more information on Kendo or other martial arts dojos in Japan click here.
Running or jogging is not only great exercise it can be an ideal to explore Tokyo or your research host city. In Tokyo there are a number of excellent jogging trails, including a very popular one in around the Imperial Palace, or you can simply explore the area around the Sanuki Club or your resaerch internship housing as the streets and sidewalks are quite empty early in the morning. One tip is to always remember to bring your Suica or metro card with you so that if you do get lost you can just find the nearest subway station and take the metro back to the stop nearest the hotel. For information on running routes in Tokyo click here or see the Tokyo International Running Club website.
Soccer is a huge sport in Japan and past NanoJapan participants have had the opportunity to attend professional soccer games during their free time. The photo above was taken by NanoJapan 2009 participant Shomesh Chaudhuri during a game he attended in Tokyo. For more information on teams and upcoming games in Japan see the SOCCER website.
During the Orientation program in Tokyo students typically have the opportunity to attend the Nihon Sumo Kyokai Grand Sumo Tournament. Sumo is a Japanese style of wrestling and Japan’s national sport. It originated in ancient times as a performance to entertain the Shinto gods. Many rituals with religious background are still followed today. The basic rules of sumo are simple: the wrestler who either first touches the floor with something else than his sole or leaves the ring before his opponent, loses. The fights themselves usually last only a few seconds and in rare cases up to one minute or longer. For more infomation see the Beginner's Guide to Sumo.
Behave calmly and respectfully. You are not supposed to visit a shrine if you are sick, have an open wound or are mourning because these are considered causes of impurity. At the purification fountain near the shrine's entrance, take one of the ladles provided, fill it with fresh water and rinse both hands. Then transfer some water into your cupped hand, rinse your mouth and spit the water beside the fountain. You are not supposed to transfer the water directly from the ladle into your mouth or swallow the water. You will notice that quite a few visitors skip the mouth rinsing part or the purification ritual altogether. At the offering hall, throw a coin into the offering box, bow deeply twice, clap your hands twice, bow deeply once more and pray for a few seconds. If there is some type of gong, use it before praying in order to get the kami's attention. Photography is usually permitted at shrines. Watch for signs.
Behave calmly and respectfully. Show your respect by making a short prayer in front of the sacred object. Do so by throwing a coin into the offering box, followed by a short prayer. At some temples, visitors burn incense (osenko) in large incense burners. Purchase a bundle, light them, let them burn for a few seconds and then extinguish the flame by waving your hand rather than by blowing it out. Finally, put the incense into the incense burner and fan some smoke towards yourself as the smoke is believed to have healing power. For example, fan some smoke towards your shoulder if you have an injured shoulder. When entering temple buildings, you may be required to take off your shoes. Leave your shoes on the shelves at the entrance or take them with you in plastic bags provided at some temples. Wear nice socks. Photography is usually permitted on the temple grounds. It is forbidden indoors at some temples. Watch for signs.
Standing next to Tokyo Tower, Zojoji Temple (増上寺, Zōjōji) is the head temple of the Jodo sect of Japanese Buddhism in the Kanto Region. It is within easy walking distance of the Sanuki Club hotel and a nice place to stop on the way to or from language classes while you are in Tokyo for the orientation program.
Many Shinto shrines and Buddhist temples offer omikuji readings for a few hundred yen. The customer shakes a wooden stick from a box. The stick, usually with a number on it, is then exchanged for a paper fortune with a matching number. Good fortunes are pocketed while bad fortunes are tied to trees on the grounds of the temple or shrine in the belief that the bad luck will be grounded there. Omikuji are most popular on New Year’s Eve and day when many temples and shrines see the most visitors.