Tiffany Apatu, Team Leader at Escape Travel, recently returned from her tenth trip to Japan. A passionate advocate for this bustling Asian city, Tiffany explained it’s the culture, food, energy and contrast that keeps her going back for more. We sat down with Tiffany to get her top tips on how to experience the extraordinary in Japan. Here are her expert suggestions on getting the most out of every day in this beautiful destination.
Tip number 1 – Eat Ramen
My favourite place to enjoy this local delicacy is Ichiran Ramen. The whole ramen experience is fun! You order from a machine and make your selections on exactly how your want your ramen. You then sit in a cubicle where you are promptly and politely served behind a screen with just a small opening. Once your dish is delivered, they pull down the blind and you are left to enjoy your ramen!
Tip number 2 – Shopping on Steroids
Shopping in Japan is almost as much about the experience as the purchase. You’ll find the range hard to believe. Electronic stores such as Big Camera and Yodobashi are the theme parks of technology and be prepared to lose yourself for hours inside Tokyu Hands. Dubbed ‘the creative life store,’ it has everything from interesting health and beauty products, crafts, homewares and stationary - lots and lots of stationary.
Tip number 3 – Department Store Food Halls
Most of the large department stores, such as Takashimaya, Tobu, Seibu and Daimaru, have at least one or two basement levels dedicated to food. You can buy everything from fresh fruit and vegetables to seafood, prepared sashimi and sushi but most importantly, the sweets! The attention to detail is exquisite and they are very affordable.
Tip number 4 – Visit the Shrines and Castles
Culture and history is always within easy reach, even within the urban jungles of Japan’s big cities. My absolute favourite is the Himeji Castle, which you can visit by taking a short shinkansen train ride from Osaka. There’s also the Osaka Castle, which has been restored to be quite modern, while the Meiji-Jingu Shibuya is a great example of Japanese culture right in the heart of the city.
Tip number 5 – Find Cute Snacks
Food is one of my great Japanese love affairs and there is no shortage of cute things to eat. You’ll find that the food is often themed around something that the local area is famous for. For example, the Ueno Zoo is well known for its giant pandas, so you’ll find panda themed snacks all through the train stations. Just for fun, make it one of your goals to find as many different green tea flavoured things as you can.
Tip number 6 – Look Out for the Rooftop Gardens
It may not be the easiest thing to find but always be on the lookout for what might be on the rooftop of a major building or store. There is a surprising rooftop garden, open to the public, right on top of a major department store in the middle of bustling Shinjuku. It’s the perfect place to escape the pace for a little while.
Tip number 7 – Take the Shinkansen
No matter how many times I travel to Japan, I don’t think I’ll ever tire of the Shinkansen. Super fast trains are fun, easy and obviously quick! You’ll see interesting sights along the way. Most will have a little food and drink cart onboard, but it’s a great idea to stock up on a bento box from the train station for the ride.
Tip Number 8 - Take a Walk
And finally, Japan is a land of contrasts. There's always something interesting to see and sometimes, it's by accident. So just walk. City or country, look up, look down and soak it all in.