Seven of the best things to do in Japan

It was hard to narrow it down, but these are our Japan trip highlights

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By Hannah Swerling 

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Tokyu Food Show

This food hall underneath Tokyo’s Shibuya station (above) is a cave of gourmet wonders. In fact, food hall just doesn’t cut it. This is more like food theatre. The sprawling basement has dozens of individual stores selling everything a foodie could wish for: fresh fish, meat and vegetables; Tonkatsu (breaded, deep-fried pork) and bento boxes (box-set of sushi, rice and pickles); French pastries, wine, sake and so much more. Join the hoards of commuters (scurrying to collect dinner on the way home) and more aimless tourists meandering from stall to stall. Make you visit on an empty stomach – you’ll need space for tasting.

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2-24-1 Dogenzaka, Shibuya-ku, Tokyo

03 3477 3111

tokyu-dept.co.jp/foodshow/

The Bamboo Groves, Arashiyama

Arashiyama on the western outskirts of Kyoto is renowned for its staggering beauty. So much so that it has official status - the area is a nationally designated ‘Historic Site’ and ‘Place of Scenic Beauty’. Arashiyama is home to a number of famous sites like the Daikaku-ji Temple but you mustn’t leave the area without visiting the enchanting bamboo groves. The trees on either side of the path that runs through the grove are so tall that they seem to touch the sky, creating a serene and atmospheric corridor for you to explore. Breathtaking.

jnto.go.jp/eng/

Nishiki Market, Kyoto

Be sure to set aside at least a day to explore the Nishiki Market in downtown Kyoto. The 400 yard-long indoor ‘street’ feels like it goes on forever, but in a good way. The 126 or so shops and stalls that line the market sell weird and wonderful locally produced traditional Japanese foods including pickles, Japanese sweets, dried food, sushi, fresh seafood (some of fresh fish are still wriggling) and vegetables. The signs are only written in Japanese but if you’re feeling brave, most vendors will let you have a taste. The narrow walkway can get crowded but the sights, sounds and smells of the market are intoxicating.

kyoto-nishiki.or.jp/

Onsen

An onsen is a bath in natural hot spring water. If you’re lucky enough to bathe in an outdoor onsen, the experience is like sitting in an outdoor Jacuzzi, only better. The indoor experience can be just as special and can be found in many of the ryokan (traditional inns) in Japan. Like a giant wet room, you shower first (sitting on low wooden stools) and then submerge into a cedar wood bath. The heady mix of steam, hot water and fragrant cedar wood is both relaxing and reviving after a day of exploration.

Izakaya

Izakaya may translate as ‘a bar serving food’ but don’t let that fool you, eating is by no means secondary. The fast, informal setting and service is a highlight of eating out in Japan. In most Izayaka, you sit at the busy bar, watching the chefs cook your food in front of you, usually accompanied by a frosty Kirin or Asahi beer. Atmospheric and buzzy with music, chatter and playful, noisy staff (if you’re lucky).

Ippodo Tea Co.

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The Brits might love tea but this famous tea company in the heart of Kyoto elevates the humble leaf to celestial status. Nearly 300 years old, Ippodo is renowned for producing the highest grade green tea in Japan. The store itself has a old-school, charming feel and the patient staff will let you try the nuanced varieties on offer before you buy. If you’re a die-hard tea enthusiast, you can learn about brewing techniques at the Kaboku Tearoom next to the main store

Teramachi-dori Nijo, Nakagyo-ku, Kyoto 604-0915,  +81-75-211-3421 / Fax: +81-75-241-0153

http://www.ippodo-tea.co.jp/en

Maisen Tonkatsu

Japanese food is about so much more than sushi. There are countless Japanese specialities to try (Tempura – battered and deep-fried food, Yakitori – chicken skewers, Shabu Shabu – thinly sliced meat and vegetables and served with dipping sauces) but a favourite has to be Tonkatsu (breaded pork cutlet). Head to Maisen Tonkatsu in Tokyo to try the dish with its famous tangy, savoury sauce and a mound shredded cabbage.

http://mai-sen.com

Read our review of the Hotel Granvia Tokyo

Read our review of the Hotel Peninsula Tokyo

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