Lonely Planet Writer

Just back from: Japan

wanly_friend Wanly and a travel buddy exploring the Golden Palace (Kinkaku-ji) in Kyoto, Japan © Wanly Chen

Wanly Chen, an intern at Lonely Planet's New York office, recently returned from a trip to Japan.

In a nutshell… Japan masters tourism without making you feel like a tourist. Not once was I hassled, which made this such a peaceful trip and allowed me to focus on the culture and lifestyle.

Tell us more… Known to be one of the most technologically advanced countries, Japan still treats the past with reverence. Each city I explored reminded me of this respect for their heritage; walking through the grand ancient palaces offered a glimpse of times gone by.

Fish-shaped taiyaki cakes Fish-shaped taiyaki cakes are one of many delicacies on offer at Japanese street food stalls © Wanly Chen

Good grub? It was difficult to order food without knowing Japanese, but there’s no need to worry! Conveyor-belt sushi is a tourist-friendly option; just grab what you want and pay for what you eat. If you want really authentic sushi, however, then the Tsukiji Fish Market in Tokyo is your best bet. There, you can get sushi from little pop-up stores that make it fresh from the morning’s catch. And if sushi just isn’t your thing, Japan has you covered with lots of street food. We ended up following our noses one time and found street stalls loaded with delicious gems such as takoyaki (balls of minced octopus) and taiyaki (fish-shaped cake filled with chocolate or red bean).

Fushimi Inari-Taisha shrine You'll need to hike up a mountain to reach the colourful shrine of Fushimi Inari-Taisha, but this is one of Japan's ultimate photo opportunities © Wanly Chen

You’d be a muppet to miss… If you go to Japan, you have to do the shrine: the only place on Earth that makes orange look cool, Fushimi Inari-Taisha is a tourist staple for good reason. It’s a two-hour hike up a mountain that heaves with tourists, but there are plenty of quitters on this hike, which means you’ll have a chance to enjoy this fascinating structure free from the hordes. And when you reach the top, treat yourself to some ice cream while you enjoy the view.

Bizarre encounter: Imagine if Mario Kart were real. Crazy, isn’t it? I thought my mind was playing tricks on me when I saw five life-size Mario Karts racers speeding down the street, but this happened multiple times in different cities. Unfortunately, I have no photos because they were sporadic, fast and before I overcame the shock, they were already gone. After poking around, we found out that a go-karting company called Maricar puts a twist on the typical sightseeing journey: tourists can rent karts and costumes, then race their way around Japan’s attractions in style.

Street signs and billboards in Japan Japan's vibrant cities are fascinating enough at ground level, but don't forget to look up for the Bladerunner-like electronic billboards © Wanly Chen

Souvenirs? You can't possibly leave Japan empty-handed as the souvenirs are unique. Of course, you can still get fridge magnets and so on, but make room in your suitcase for one-of-a-kind goodies. For example, Japan has these crazily flavoured American snacks, so I snagged a few bags of wasabi, chrysanthemum, and raspberry Kit-Kats.

Want more behind-the-scenes adventures? Find out what US Marketing Manager Ashley Garver got up to on her recent trip to Oaxaca, Mexico.