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5 cool things to experience in Japan

Blogger and budget traveller Kash Bhattacharya shares his top things to see and do in Japan.

Tired of Tokyo? Looking for new adventures in the Land of the Rising Sun?

Skyscanner gets some insider tips from blogger, author and avid traveller, Kash Bhattacharya on what cool things you should try on your next trip to Japan:

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1. Visit a Shinto Shrine

When I travel, I always try to find somewhere that embodies the county’s spirit. In Japan, this is a Shinto shrine.

Shinto is the largest religion in Japan, practised by nearly 80% of the population. There are an estimated 100,000 Shinto shrines across Japan. You’ll find them in bustling markets, on the mountainside surrounded by breathtaking scenery and often in the heart of their beautiful designed gardens. The shrines represent the abode of the kami, the Shinto gods. Sacred objects of worship are stored in the innermost chambers of the shrines where they cannot be seen by those who visit the shrine to pay their respects to the kami or to pray for good fortune. Take a moment to learn the correct way to pray before you go.

Of all the Shinto shrines I visited, my personal favourite was the Meiji Jingu, Tokyo’s grandest Shinto shrine dedicated to Emperor Meiji and his consort, Empress Shoken.

2. Take a dip in an onsen

Nothing is more Japanese than an onsen: do not leave Japan without visiting one! Onsen means ‘hot springs’ and usually refers to the public baths where you can find these steamy pools. Being a volcanic country, there are thousands of springs scattered across the country. Most onsens are free and open to locals and tourists. They are a place for relaxation and contemplation. They also have an important social function. You can meet your neighbours and catch-up on their news and exchange stories.

A few key rules to remember: shower before entering the onsen. You usually must go naked and not wear a bathing suit. The point of this ‘naked communion’ or hadaka no tsukiai, is to break down barriers and meet new people.

If you feel uncomfortable with the idea of being naked in public then perhaps opt for a stay in a traditional Japanese inn or ryoken. Look for inns that have a _kashikiri buro, _a rent-yourself bath, or _kazoku buro, _a family bath, which you can hire for private use by the hour.

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3. Hop on a Shinkansen Bullet Train

The world’s most advanced railway system celebrates its 50th birthday this year! So make sure you jump aboard in Tokyo for a ride on the Shinkansen to Kyoto. There are many places to see Mount Fuji on a trip to Japan, but arguably the most famous way to admire its towering beauty is from the comfort of your bullet train seat.

Read more:

8 best geek things to see and do in Tokyo

Tokyo in pictures

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4. Visit a Maid Cafe

The ‘Maid Cafe’ trend was established back in 2001. For those of you who are unaware, in these cafes, waitresses dress in maid costumes and act as servants, addressing customers as ‘masters’ or ‘mistresses’. It’s all just a bit of innocent fun and the clientele range from canoodling couples, instagram-mad tourists. The girls serve drinks, play cards and are kawaii cute, which Japan seems to have an obsession with. I visited the Home Cafe in Akihabara. For the princely sum of 1800¥ ( €18) I got entry plus a drink and a photograph taken with maid ‘Rosie.’ Guests are forbidden to takes pictures of the maids unless paid for. An unusual, surreal but unique experience, not to be missed when visiting Tokyo and Japan.

Read more: 9 of the world’s best cat cafés, from London to Japan

5. Visit a Sake Brewery

You know your sushi but do you know your sake? Like sushi, sake is an integral part of Japanese cuisine and culture. Sophisticated and sparkling, cloudy or sweet: there are so many types of sake to choose from. To learn about how traditional alcoholic tipple is made, I recommend a trip to ‘snow country’, Niigata. There are over 80 sake breweries here to choose from. My pick is Imayotsukasa where you can learn about the brewing process from master brewer Mr Yamamoto-San and afterwards get to sample unlimited free tasters of his beautiful sake wine. If you need a taxi to your hotel after, he will happily order you one.

Check out this snapshot of Niigata:

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Read about cheap hostels in Tokyo.

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