Images and words by Lacy Colley Yamaoka
With the Summer Olympics set for Tokyo 2020, Japan is top of mind for many travelers. On my first summer visit, I learned it’s a more humid time in Japan to visit, but adding a much less crowded island to your itinerary can make for a pleasant time. I danced with the locals, embraced a little sweat, and explored Japan like a true competitor! Here’s how you can fully immerse yourself in Japan’s heritage and bustling culture throughout your next visit…in the spirit of an Olympian.
Island hop and experience Japan’s smallest island, Shikoku, for Awa Odori, the largest traditional summer festival. Over a million travel to join the excitement of various groups or rens that perform and dance through the streets of Tokushima. Women and men dressed in traditional costume engulf the streets and it’s an incredible energy and celebration of Japanese culture.
Located in Tokyo, one of the oldest Japanese Gardens, Koishikawa Korakuen, dates back to the 1600s and is every bit of what garden lovers crave – stones, bridges, breezes, flora, rolling hills and serenity. This garden especially unique with its own rice field.
Newsflash, noodles are served cold in the summertime! Ramen is iconic although I recommend checking out a self-serve udon restaurant and trying bukkake udon. Typically a line out the door, locals refer to it as a ‘traffic light-change’ restaurant, literally slurping these bowls down like a noodle olympian.
Shinjuku by night is simply otherwordly – enjoy the sophisticated evening scene at the New York Bar located on the 52nd floor of the Park Hyatt Tokyo. With breathtaking 360, all-glass views above the city, you cannot go wrong with a refreshing, sakura (cherry blossom) martini.
Do you recognize this glamourous scene from a famous movie? (Hint: Bill Murray)
For Tokyo’s best food, you have to make your way down below. Department store basements, or depachikas, are filled with local favorites such as takoyaki, yakisoba, Japanese whisky, chocolates, as well some of the most exquisite French pastries. Practice your thank yous, arigatou gozaimas, as you will be indulging in some of the world’s finest food in this organized hustle beneath Tokyo.
With endless options of sights, sounds, street food, and extravagant experiences, this list will have you off to a solid running start!
How would you explore Japan like an Olympian? Let us know below!