Don’t ask me why we had so little time to visit Japan…it was a mixture of poor planning and a limited budget. But we knew we would rather visit Japan for just one day rather than forgo seeing it altogether, so we went for it. If you ever, for some reason, find yourself in a similar time-constrained travel situation, this is what we recommend:
Do: Travel by boat instead of plane. We looked into flights going to Tokyo, and the prices were outrageous! The flights going into Fukuoka (a small city on the eastern coast of Japan) were a little bit cheaper, but by far, taking a train from Seoul to Busan (in the southern tip of South Korea) and then taking an overnight cruise from there to Fukuoka was the cheapest option. Plus, it made everything seem a little bit magical. I fell asleep to the gentle rocking of our boat off the coast of South Korea one night and woke up the next morning in Japan! Just like Christmas (kind of)!
Don’t: Spend as much time in Krispy Kreme as we did. Sure, the doughnuts are delicious, but there are more exciting things to do in Japan than eat freshly glazed doughnuts still warm from the oven! Oh who am I kidding…I would go back to Krispy Kreme again and again if I had the choice.
Do: Visit a traditional Japanese tea garden. It only cost us a couple of Yen each to get in, and we felt as though we had been transported back in time. The garden included some lovely bridges crossing over streams filled with koi, a miniature waterfall, and some stacked stone formations that Japanese people use as an altar to pray. We also got to see the inside of a traditional tea house, and it felt surreal to me. I’d only ever seen places like this in movies!
Don’t: Carry all of your various currencies in the same wallet. What with the Chinese Yuan, Korean Won, and Japanese Yen, I tried to pay for food and merchandise with the wrong currency more than once. At one point, I just opened up my palm full of coins like a little child and gave the cashier an apologetic look, and she sighed and picked out the change that she needed herself. Arigatou!
Do: Eat lunch at Raumen Stadium at the Canal Center, a veritable ramen noodle theme park! They have a bunch of fast food restaurants all in the same area, all serving different types of ramen noodles! They even have special small portion meals available on the menu in case you want to hop from restaurant to restaurant to try each one!
Don’t: Waste your time trying expensive fancy restaurants. We went to a nice place for dinner because Justin saw them advertising their tempura shrimp. Because we had started running out of Yen (and none of the ATMs in Fukuoka wanted to accept the debit card for our Chinese bank account), all we could afford were appetizers! We left feeling hungry and a little bit grumpy, and we ended up buying some street food that was just as delicious (and much cheaper) than the fancy food.
Do: Soak up some culture at a local museum. We weren’t able to read all of the Japanese captions for the exhibits, but we still got to sample some local arts and crafts, and we got to see a short film of a famous traditional parade that takes place in Fukuoka every July. The men wear traditional garb (which, much to Justin’s dismay, includes wearing thong-like loin cloths instead of pants) and carry giant, handcrafted floats through the street to celebrate their heritage and their ancestors. Above you can see a picture of one of the floats that is on permanent display outside of the museum.
Don’t: Try to buy a bunch of souvenirs if you’re only there for one day. Everything I saw that seemed worth purchasing was very expensive, and the items that I could afford looked very junky and weren’t even from Japan—they were printed with “made in China” on the bottom. Japan is very taxing on the wallet; Justin and I accidentally purchased an $8 cup of coffee while we were there! We ended up buying a few postcards and sending them out to some friends and family. Getting a piece of mail that is postmarked from Japan is always a nice souvenir.
Do: Stay at a traditional style Japanese hotel for the night. The hotel we chose was very old and has actually been registered as a cultural historical landmark. This place costs a little more than a modern, average hotel, but we felt it was well worth the splurge. It felt surreal to be staying in a room with rattan mats, sliding screens, and a little tea garden right outside the window. They even provided us with traditional Japanese pajamas, which of course I tried on right away.
Do: Take as many pictures as you can—of people, of interesting signs, of the food you eat, etc. Because the twenty-four hours you spend in Japan may be the most memorable, bizarre, (and expensive!) twenty-four hours you have for a long time.