The best things I did in Japan

Japan is an amazing experience and you should go.

1. Shopped for Manga

Of course Japan has an incredible selection of manga and anime, they invented it! There are tons of anime places in Japan, including Animate anime stores, Akihabara which is just filled with anime, electronics, and video game stuff, Mandarake with is another chain, and lots of independent stores too.

These are the best places to buy anime and manga stuff in Japan:

  • K-Books
    A popular book chain with lots of stores all around Japan that sells second-hand manga and anime stuff.
  • Animate
    Animate is a popular anime merchandise store in Japan. Although it has many branches open throughout Tokyo, the largest store is located in Akihabara.
  • Mandarake
    If you’re looking for rarities and oddities within the anime world, Mandarake is a good place to start.
  • Kotobukiya
    This store is located in Akihabara and sells a lot of figures, plastic models, and other anime merchandise.

2. Went to the Artnia Cafe

This is Square Enix’s café right outside of their main headquarters in Shinjuku. The store looks like a giant white bubble as you approach. They sell official Square-Enix merchandise from Dragon Quest, Final Fantasy, and even Kingdom Hearts. There’s a café and bar that has Final Fantasy themed drinks and foods. For example, the bar offers a Red Materia and a Blue Materia drink with a melty ice ball representing the Materia in the drink.

There’s also a special back area museum made of black granite known as the “Luxury Area” containing glass display windows showcasing some high-end merchandise. There are rare and legendary high-end figures, articulated statues, cologne, and artwork from the studios.

3. Went to the Aquarium, Yokohama Hakkeijima Sea Paradise

This is an incredible aquarium and park. We saw a walrus and several penguins and went on the roller coaster overlooking the ocean. It was a great place to visit. My favorite part about Yokohama Hakkeijima Sea Paradise was that when I went in March it wasn’t very crowded. So if you want to visit in March you’re likely to have a great experience while escaping the crowds.

One cool thing about the park is that everything is pay-as-you-go and there’s no admission price. When I went I was able to ride the rollercoaster three times in a row just for the fun of it.

4. Ate and Cooked Wagyu Beef

You can buy Japanese wagyu beef in the store and cook it yourself! Honestly the preferred way to make Wagyu is at a shop specializing in it that offers a tiny grill to cook smaller pieces in. Wagyu is just too succulent and delicious to eat in massive chunks, but when you have limited kitchen equipment you do the best you can. And honestly, it turned out incredibly delicious!

If you want to eat Yakiniku in Japan, I recommend finding a smaller shop that faces an alley as that can be where you find the best Wagyu for a still-reasonable price. You can google for ” 焼肉 ” ie Yakiniku. Do not search for the word in English, you must use Kanji when searching Google Maps in Japan.

5. Went to the Square Enix Cafe

This is different than Artnia, which has a more Dragon Quest feel whereas this cafe feels more like Final Fantasy. The number of video game and anime cafes in Japan is fantastic if you’re a fan of anime. I really loved this cafe and its use of some of my favorite recurrent characters from the Final Fantasy series. There were Cactuar and Moogles all over the place.

6. Ate Sushi in Tokyo

Sushi is the number one food in Japan in my opinion! (It’s not actually the most-eaten, because that honor goes to cheaper noodles and rice dishes). I have eaten sushi at so many places, you should read my guide on sushi in Japan. There are some problems when trying to eat sushi in Tokyo: crowding. Many of the kaitenzushi restaurants will be completely full with hour-long wait times from as early as 4pm to as late as closing time.

If you want to get into the sushi-go-round you’ll have to find one in a less crowded area or try to go at a less crowded time. Alternatively you can find a more expensive sushi shop where the nigiri and sashimi is made right in front of your eyes.

7. Visited Takeshita-dori in Harajuku

If you enjoy Japanese street fashion or anything Japanese-y, then you should visit Harajuku for a day or two. It used to be the biggest central hub for fast and fascinating fashions in Japan, however the street has gotten more and more popular and crowded and some regular brands have taken over.

8. Went to Business Meetings for AnimeCon.org

We want to bring Japanese culture to America as part of our anime conventions. We went to several meetings to connect with Japanese companies and invite producers, musicians, and creators to our convention. We have had singers of several anime opening theme songs perform at conventions like Anime Midwest. I also learned that anime theme songs are called anisongs in Japanese.

We built up tons of connections and relationships with our Japanese business partners, and we’re excited to continue bringing great elements of Japanese culture to our conventions.

9. Stopped into a Cat Cafe

Cat cafes provide an escape from busy Japanese life. Japan has well over 100 cat cafes ever since the trend began a few years ago. Many Japanese apartments forbid owning a pet, and so cat cafes have sprung up in response to people’s desire to have a pet but inability to have one.

Some people think cat cafes are mostly for tourists, but step into one and you’ll see lots of Japanese salarymen happily playing along with cats as a way to relieve stress and forget about work for a moment. Research has shown that getting away from work like this greatly improves productivity.

10. Eating authentic Chinese food.

Not like Westernized Chinese food, in a huge city like Tokyo you can find real, authentic Chinese food. I found some delicious Tien Tsin chile pepper dish that I just loved, it went perfectly with rice and was deeply filling. The peppers are pretty hard, and I’m still not certain if you’re supposed to bite into the peppers themselves, but the flavor they impart to the dish is wonderful.

11. Stopped by the Conbini Convenience Store

Family Mart, 7-11, and Lawson are some of the convenience store chains in Japan. Why would I put this on my list of the best things to do in Tokyo? Well because they are just so darn useful! If you’re hungry, stop in! If you are thirsty, stop in. If you need a brand new shirt because you spilled on yourself, yes, you can buy that here too!

Convenience stores are more than just tobacco and energy drinks like they are in America. They often serve a ton of fresh food that is pre-packaged for convenient takeaway. Some of them even have small little seating areas with 4 or 5 seats facing a wall for you to eat their food right on the spot.

12. Eating Gyoza in Tokyo

Gyoza is delicious and imported from a Chinese style of dumplings. The way Japan makes their food is different, and they both fry and steam their dumplings to give them a crunch outer texture yet a soft and moist interior. Read more about the best foods in Japan.

The original Chinese dumpling Jiaozi (pronounced remarkably similarly) used all kinds of meat including ground beef, pork, lamb, chicken, and shrimp for fillings. Japanese Gyoza filling is almost always pork with cabbage. You’d think it wouldn’t be as appetizing as it is, but it’s incredible.

Here’s a secret – I hate pork, but I love gyoza. That says a lot about the quality of this dish!

13. Eating Japanese style small pizzas.

Japanese pizza is similar to pizza anywhere else, but the sauce is more tomato-rich and the cheese less prominent as many Japanese are not well suited to heavy cheese. 73% of Japanese people are some form of lactose intolerant, but that doesn’t appear to have stopped them from enjoying pizza too!

You can find some restaurants that offer an entire personal sized pizza for just $3, which is an incredible deal even for those who come from countries where the love of pizza is ubiquitous.

14. Eating Indian Curry

Indian curry is filled with wonderful spices and is said to be pretty healthy thanks to all the green ingredients (though be warned, there’s a lot of butter used too). You’d think Japan’s best curry would be Japanese curry, but Japanese curry is a more modern invention made to commoditize curry into a simpler form. Japanese curry is usually one singular flavor that goes best with fried foods like Katsu, whereas Indian curry can come in different flavors like Tikka Masala (tomato) or Saag (spinach).

Another difference is that Indian curry usually comes with Naan, a special type of bread baked quickly in a high-heat kiln, whereas Japanese curry is served exclusively with rice.

The best reason to eat curry in Japan is that lunchtime curry often costs just 500 yen, a “one coin” special lunch promotion that often comes with naan and your choice of curry for a quick and flavorful lunch.

15. Visited the Owl Cafe

Owl cafes are an experience unlike anything else. If you’re looking for a unique experience in Japan, visiting an Owl Cafe is absolutely unique! Many cafes will place owls on your shoulder or hand and you can get a really up-close view of these majestic birds.

There are quite a few Owl Cafes in Japan. Here are just a few of them:

If you’re looking to go to Japan, you can practice some Japanese first or learn the cost of going.