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10 Everyday Experiences You Should Try in Japan

Making your first trip to Japan? Don't forget about all the little things that make the country so great!

By 6 min read 1

If you’re planning a trip to Japan, you no doubt have all the big sights on your list—traditional shops and streets around Kyoto, towering samurai castles, the iconic Mount Fuji and much more. But what really makes for an interesting travel experience are the smaller things that are mundane for people living in a country but novel and captivating for newcomers. So, if you want to feel truly immersed in Japanese culture, check out these everyday experiences you should try in Japan.

1. Squeeze Into a Ramen Bar

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Prepare for slurping.

Thanks to the country’s many inexpensive noodle bars, fast food isn’t a negative term for Japanese cuisine. These restaurants cater to solo diners without the time for a lengthy meal—meaning they’re often filled with office workers—but they’re also perfect for tourists with busy sightseeing itineraries. It’s an excellent way to immerse yourself in the culture.

As a bonus, many noodle bars operate on a ticket-ordering system. You select your meal from a machine at the front door, print out a ticket, and present it to the staff. This makes it quick and easy to order food if you don’t know any Japanese.

2. Get Addicted to Gachapon

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Gotta’ collect ’em all.

Gachapon machines are simple—insert a few hundred yen, turn a dial, and receive a random toy in a plastic capsule. The name comes from Japanese onomatopoeias for “gacha,” the sound of a hand crank, and “pon,” the sound of the toy landing in the tray.

Each machine has its theme, often related to characters from popular media franchises, and toys vary in rarity—with some particularly uncommon ones becoming expensive collectors’ items. The dopamine hit of turning the handle and wondering what toy you’ll get is real, so watch out!

3. Shop Conveniently at Konbini

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Your one-stop shop.

Japan’s convenience stores, called konbini in Japan, could be considered the country’s lifeblood. Stocking every essential item, from toiletries and umbrellas to shirts and stationery. There are few places you can’t find a FamilyMart, 7-Eleven or Lawson.

Chances are you’ll make frequent stops at konbini no matter where you travel. So you’ll have plenty of chances to try Japanese food and drink options:

  • Rice balls: Onigiri and sushi rolls are among the most iconic Japanese snacks and one of the cheapest ways to get filling food on the go.
  • Coffee: You can get canned hot coffee from a special shelf (usually marked by a red banner) where the cans are constantly heated.
  • Bento: Pre-made bento meals are a popular lunch option, covering the gauntlet of Japanese cuisine and some Western meals. They can be heated up in-store if you like.
  • Cup noodles: For a cheap, fast and filling dinner, try one of Japan’s many cup noodle brands—which come in much wider flavors than in other countries.
  • Sando (sandwiches): Besides standard sandwiches, many konbini sell fruit sandwiches, a popular (and surprisingly tasty) dessert choice filled with cream and pieces of fruit.

4. Vending Machine Bender

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One of these is not like the other.

You’re never far from refreshment thanks to Japan’s surprisingly ubiquitous vending machines, which can be found on many street corners and even at temples, country roads or next to private houses. So when traveling around, it’s comforting to know a bottle of water or coffee is always within reach.

While most machines offer a range of soft drinks, teas, and coffees—and a few sell snacks, alcohol, and ice cream—it can be fun to seek out some of the country’s more bizarre dispensers. You might begin to believe there is nothing you can’t find in a Japanese vending machine.

5. Enjoy High-tech Sushi

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Get on the sushi train.

Visit any of the modern conveyor sushi restaurants (kaiten-zushi in Japanese). Rather than customers taking dishes as they pass by, newer places allow you to order on a tablet and have your sushi delivered directly to your table via the track—which is as impressive as it is convenient.

Sure, you could (and should) visit Japan’s fish market sushi bars, where quality is second to none, but conveyor restaurants are the cheaper and more accessible option. They provide a huge range of sushi dishes—plus alternative options like ramen and desserts (helpful if you’re vegetarian).

6. Sing Your Heart Out at Karaoke

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Some karaoke have all-you-can-drink menus that include ice cream.

Karaoke bars are one of the only places in Japan that accommodate big groups without being too expensive. Regardless of age or gender, it’s a common way to bring people together. You’ll often see 女子会 (girls’ parties) held here.

There are plenty of English songs and even more Japanese songs with furigana (phonetic Japanese readings). Due to their popularity, karaoke bars are just about as ubiquitous as convenience stores in Japan, so expect to see at least one near your local train station.

7. Ride the JR Yamanote Line

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All you need to see some of Tokyo’s most iconic landmarks.

If you’re visiting Tokyo, nothing will make you feel more like a local than riding the JR Yamanote Line. It circumvents the city’s major attractions that both local and international tourists flock to. From Shinjuku, Harajuku and Shibuya, see how the scenery outside changes drastically in just a few minutes to reflect each district.

Watch firsthand what stations most people get off or on at, check out the different ads playing on the train and listen for each station’s unique jingle. While there are several other train lines to choose from, there’s nothing quite like riding one of the most popular train lines in the country.

8. Visit a Public Bath

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A public bath

A visit to a local sento (public bath) or onsen (hot spring) is another everyday experience that exemplifies Japanese culture. Born out of a practice that started thousands of years ago, some view taking a bath as a form of meditation and a way to wash off the day’s stressors.

Today, going to a nearby sento or onsen is a common pastime. Most public baths add minerals to help rejuvenate visitors and offer a calm respite from the hustle and bustle of everyday life.

9. Drink at a Local Izakaya

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See a glimpse of Japanese drinking culture.

Izakaya (Japanese pubs) fill up with office workers and locals from early evenings to just before dawn. From hidden alleyways to busy main streets, it’s here where you’ll see Japanese drinking culture for better or for worse. It’s an immersive experience unlike any other. Depending on the establishment, expect little to no English and instead see all sorts of kanji (Chinese characters with Japanese meanings) written on the walls.

Do as the locals do and indulge in traditional Japanese alcohol and otsumami (food pairings). Keep in mind that most of these establishments will only accept cash.

10. Buy Omiyage

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Take a piece of Japan home with you.

Japanese omiyage (souvenir) culture is something else. No matter where you go in Japan, there’ll always be a way to commemorate your trip. Be it a neatly packaged local delicacy or a funky mascot, it’s customary to bring something home for friends, family and officemates.

You’ll often find these souvenir stores at major train stations and airports. Each box of goodies often includes individually packaged snacks to make it easier for you to give them away once you get home.

Did we miss out on other everyday experiences you should try in Japan? Let us know in the comments!

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  • Hiromasa Sugiura says:

    Dear Mr. Geroge Underwood,

    Your article “5 Everyday Experiences You Should Try in Japan” (Jun 23, 2023) inspires Japanese learners of English to appreciate their own ordinary experiences, which turns out captivating for newcomers traveling in Japan.

    I would like you to do me a favor.
    Would you paraphrase “covering the gauntlet of Japanese cuisine”(3. Shop conveniently at konbini, 5th paragraph), so that Japanese learners of English figure out what “gauntlet” mean in this context?
    I appreciate your consideration in advance.

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