Top 5 Things to do in Japan: stuff only the locals know about

The holidays are almost here. Have no doubt – I’m more excited about the winter vacation than my students. Oh yes. Remember when we were kids and our elders used to say things like ‘One Day You’ll Understand’?

They were right. I finally do understand. I’m escaping the daily grind and going overseas (yay!) for the holidays. More on that when I get there. Meanwhile, here were the highlights of 2016.

1. Momijigari – autumn foliage or fall colours

Forget the overrated sakura season. Autumn is when Japan is at her most beautiful. Yellow. Orange. Red. Bright. Brilliant. Vibrant. I’m still in awe.


2. Seeing Mount Fuji from my school on a clear day

When visitors come to Japan, they inevitably want to see Fuji. I’ve been here for way too long and am jaded by the whole experience. But Mount Fuji is still Mount Fuji. Beautiful, iconic and sacred. On a clear day, my students always yell, “Sensei, we can see Fuji San today!”


3. Watching a live koto performance

What can I say, I’ve got a soft spot for old things. The koto is a traditional Japanese stringed musical instrument derived from the Chinese zheng. It’s the national instrument of Japan. You really have to experience it in person to appreciate the delicate yet austere nuances of the sounds it produces. Just…wow. 

4. Eating Unagi Don in Kawagoe, Saitama  

Kawagoe is not a popular tourist destination amongst visitors to Japan, but the locals highly recommend it. Famous for its  kurazukuri (clay-walled warehouse-styled) buildings, this little town also has a not-to-be-missed Candy Alley. You must try the unagi eel when you go there. After all these months, I can still taste it on my tongue. Yum. 

  5. Eating bentos that I don’t have to cook

In Japan, it’s REALLY common for people to byob (bring your own bento) to work. I don’t have much time to cook these days and have been ordering the kyushoku school lunch. It’s 520 yen for teachers (boo hoo!), but I’ve generally been pleasantly surprised by the quality of the food and the ingredients. The menu is seasonal, the meal is well-balanced and I get to try home-cooked (as opposed to restaurant) Japanese food.

All in all, it’s been a great year. Christmas is nearly here. I’ve worked really hard the past few months. I’m counting down the days till school is out. Christmas dinner is going to be one unconventional meal.


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