Today the kids at my school celebrated Saiki Children’s Day. Saiki is the Japanese sister city of Gladstone (my city) in Australia. Once a year, each of our cities have a cultural exchange in order to promote world peace and to learn more about each other. Before today I was only really aware of the Intercity Images Exhibition where competition winning photographs of our city are sent over Saiki and vice versa. Today I was lucky enough to go on the Saiki Children’s Day excursion to our art gallery where the students got to make origami samurai hats out of newspaper, cherry blossoms trees out of pink tissue paper, bullet trains out of toilet rolls, Harajuku beaded bracelets , and have their faces painted in a Kabuki style (white faces with red and black streaks). It was very cool to see how much my group of seven year olds enjoyed learning and being exposed to another culture. I hope that Saiki City gets to reciprocate (I love the image of Japanese kids getting a kick out of making kangaroos and having fun learning about our culture in return).
I have visited Japan twice. My older brother has moved there for good so I am lucky enough to consider it to be a second home. In the spirit of Saiki day I wanted to share my list of things not to miss when visiting Japan.
- The food. Everything is so healthy and fresh and delicious. If you love seafood then you will love it here. I especially recommend going to a genuine Sushi train, and eating Okonomiyaki in its birthplace, Osaka (Japanese savoury pancakes). Prepared to become obsessed with KitKats. Every prefecture has its own unique flavour. Some of my favourite flavours are pumpkin pie, sake and green tea.
- Riding the Shinkansen (bullet train). It is fast, comfortable and the best way to travel. Live like the locals and enjoy a Bento boxed lunch on the way to your destination.
- Visiting an Onsen (a traditional bathhouse). I have done this three times and I cannot get enough of it. Having a traditional stay in a Ryokan (Japanese style inn), wearing the traditional robes, feasting on Japanese cuisine and finishing the evening with a bath is the best. Yes, it is the custom to completely de-robe before entering the same sex bath but because it is the done thing I didn’t feel uncomfortable. Attempting to converse in a bath with an older Japanese lady and a Chinese student who was trying to interpret for us both was one of my most random and wonderful highlights travelling.
- Visiting as many temples as you can. Each of them is unique and wonderful in their own way. I love the ritual of washing your hands and mouth before entering, removing your shoes and them taking the time to pray or write down a wish. Among my favourite temples are the Golden Pavilion, Nijo-jo castle, Fushimi Inari Temple and Kiyomizu-dera temple in Kyoto, the Todaiji temple in Nara (the roaming deer are so cute) and the Sensoji temple and Meiji shrine in Tokyo.
- Getting lost at Akihabara. This is anime and pop culture heaven. Visit a maid café, or if you are an animal lover a cat, dog or even an owl café (where you play with the animals while you dine). Enjoy the shopping (I recommend Animate, the biggest anime and collectibles store that you have ever seen. Having dinner at the robot restaurant (where you are entertained by the most incredible robot show) is fantastic. It has to be seen to believed.
- Explore Ueno park. The gardens are beautiful. With the zoo and multiple art galleries, museums and a science centre it is so easy to spend the day here.
- Visit Skytree. Now the second tallest tower in the world, the view from up there is breathtaking.
- -Enjoy the theme parks. I have been to Tokyo Disney Land, Disney Sea and Sega Joyopolis. I haven’t been to Universal Studios Japan yet (in Osaka) but I look forward to checking that off my list next time.
Japan is the home of rich culture, futuristic technology and pop culture and I am in love with it. I look forward to one day seeing the cherry blossoms, returning in snow season, visiting further north, discovering more temples and finding what other surprises this truly unique country has in store.
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