- Pop Culture
- Time in Japan
- Tokyo Things To Do
If you want to learn how to prepare Japanese dishes such as Sushi, Tempura, Ramen, Udon, Bento, Soba, Wagashi (Desserts) or even learn the art of the Japanese tea ceremony, we recommend airKitchen, a website where local private hosts, but also restaurants with master chefs, offer cooking lesson to foreigners. The costs start usually from around 3000 JPY for a 1.5 to 2 hours course including the ingredients, but there are even cheaper listings. Lessons can however also reach 24,000 JPY or more for a 2 hours class taught by a master sushi chef. Lessons on airKitchen are listed in Tokyo, Kyoto, Osaka, Sapporo and many other cities in Japan. https://airkitchen.me
Living in the Japanese countryside If during your Working Holiday in Japan you want to get to know the traditional Japanese countryside with people who have a strong sense of community and are deeply rooted in their traditions, try Sado Island. Sado, after the main islands of Hokkaido, Honshu, Kyushu, Shikoku and Okinawa, is Japan's six largest island. When gold was found on Sado Island in 1601, the island flourished economically and culturally, developing a unique and rich cultural heritage, including performing arts such as dance, chants and music, the world-famous Taiko drumming, puppet theater, folklore festivals, and traditional handcraft. Sado has hundreds of Buddhist temples, Shinto shrines and several historical villages from Edo Period (1603-1867), which have remained architecturally mostly intact. The island is of extreme scenic natural beauty, with 288 km of rocky coastline, dense forests, terraced ricefields and a northern and southern mountain range reaching an altitude of 1172 meters. Sado is sparsely populated, with the vast majority of the population of around 55,000 living in Sado City in the flat middle part of the island. You can find all infrastructure there that you can expect from a Japanese city of that size. As opposed to large cities such as Tokyo, you will find it easy to get in contact with the population, as the people of Sado are very community-oriented and interested in their fellows. Which Working Holiday Jobs are there on Sado Island? Working Holiday jobs mostly exist in the island's 3 main economic sectors, which are tourism/gastronomy, farming and fishing. Jobs in tourism/gastronomy include employment in ryokans, hotels, restaurants and with tourism activity providers. Most opportunities for tourism-related jobs exist during the summer months from May to October. The agricultural produce most typical for Sado are rice and persimons and helpers are usually needed during the planting and harvesting seasons, which are April/May and September/October. Fishery jobs exist throughout the year. Particularly for oysters and mussels the season is during the winter months. While for some jobs, Japanese language skills are required, they might not be necessary for others. As you might struggle arranging a Working Holiday job in the countryside on your own, World Unite! offers support services on Sado Island. They provide for instance English training about how to harvest and classify persimons, which will make non-Japanese speakers employable even by farmers who can only give you instructions in Japanese. What else can I experience on a trip to Sado? You can travel from Niigata to Sado using a Boing 929 Jetfoil. The jetfoil is basically "an airplane on the water", which gets the dynamic lift from sea water instead of air. While the wings are under the water, the passenger cabin is floating on top of the water surface, easily reaching speeds of around 80 km/h.
Amongst those doing a Working Holiday in Japan, there are many common misconceptions and myths about Working Holidays in Japan. These might result from outdated information found on the internet, or from misinterpretation of official texts. The wrong information is then passed from one person doing Working Holidays to another. But don't worry - this article will bust some of these myths! Myth 1: On a Working Holiday Visa it is not allowed to work at bars It is perfectly legal to work at bars, as long as they are "normal bars" that are just selling drinks and not offering any services which are "against the public morals of Japan". Businesses which are "against the public morals" include for instance gambling, the sex industry and hostess clubs. At such places it is totally illegal, if you are on a Working Holiday visa, to do any kind of work, even if it's not directly as a hostess, prostitute or as gambling service provider. E.g. being a cleaner or a dishwasher at any such establishment is illegal and will certainly result in a fine and deportation, should the police or immigration officers find you working at such establishment. "Hostess Clubs" are places where usually no sexual services are offered, but there are hostesses engaging in typically flirtatious conversations and providing other entertainment such as singing karaoke with male customers who are paying high prices for drinks. On a first glance, it is not always very obvious for people unfamiliar with such establishments whether a place is a "normal bar" or a "Hostess Club". If you are invited to a job interview or offered a job at a bar, you should have an in-depth look at the kind of customers and other employees it has, and in doubt reject the job. Also, don't easily trust employers running such places who might tell you that the job is perfectly legal for you, which might not be true, either because they don't know about the restrictions of a Working Holiday Visa, or they don't care. There are also so-called "Host Clubs", which are the equivalent for female customers, employing male hosts. It is of course also illegal to work at such place. Jobs at "Maid Cafés" (and the equivalent for male customers called "Butler Cafés") are generally allowed, as long as they only sell beverages and food and the services offered don't resemble those of a "hostess" or "host" club. Myth 2: On a Working Holiday Visa you are only allowed to do part-time work There is no limitation of the amount of hours you are allowed to work on a Working Holiday Visa. Some employers confuse the Working Holiday Visa with a Student Visa, which has a limitation of 28 hours of work allowed per week. Myth 3: If you want to leave Japan during the validity of your Working Holiday Visa and you wish to return and continue your Working Holiday, you must go to the immigration office and apply for a Re-entry permit This information is outdated. Since 2012, if you want to leave Japan during the validity of your Working Holiday visa and you plan to return, at the immigration counters of the airport, when you are leaving, you just have to fill a white form that you find there called "Embarkation card for reentrant". You should mark the box "I am leaving Japan temporarily and will return". The immigation officer will then staple another card into your passport called "Disembarkation card for reentrant". When you return to Japan during the validity of your Working Holiday Visa, at the immigration counters of the airport you should go to the counter which says "Special Re-Entry Permit Holders" where you show your passport with the filled-out Disembarkation card and your Residence Card, and you are allowed to enter and continue your Working Holiday. Myth 4: You need a person of reference and guarantor in Japan to get a Working Holiday Visa You don't need a reference and guarantor in Japan, but you can leave those fields blank in the visa application form. Myth 5: Everyone who has a Working Holiday Visa for Japan can get free Japanese language lessons This is not true and we don't really know the origin of this myth. There are Community Centres at every city and town in Japan that offer inexpensive (and at some cities even free) Japanese language lessons to foreigners. For some (but not all) cities it is required to be a Resident in Japan to join these lessons. If you hold a Working Holiday Visa, you are a resident, so you can join these lessons, but there are not generally free. Myth 6: During your Working Holiday, you can travel around Japan cheaply using a Japan Rail Pass for discounted train rides The Japan Rail Pass for discounted train tickets can only be purchased by tourists. Tourists are people who have either a Temporary Visitor Status (for those nationals for whom there is an exemption of Visa for short-time stays in Japan) or a Tourist Visa (for those nationals who need to apply for a tourist visa prior to their trip to Japan). If you hold a Working Holiday Visa, you are not a tourist, but a resident and therefore you cannot buy the Japan Rail Pass. Myth 7: Accommodation-wise, it is the cheapest and best option to rent your own apartment in Japan (that you might share with friends you make in Japan who are also on a Working Holiday visa) Particularly in central locations of Tokyo, where there is a very high demand for apartments, landlords can choose between many people willing to rent an apartment. They will most likely not choose a foreigner who will stay for a maximum of one year and doesn't have a permanent employment contract. In addition, almost all rental apartments are offered through real estate agents that usually charge a fee of 3 months of rent to the tennant, and many apartments come unfurnished. The most feasible accommodation option for foreigners who are in Japan on a Working Holiday visa are the so-called "Share Houses". Myth 8: It is the best option to rent a portable wifi device at the airport to have internet access in Japan Renting a portable wifi probably only makes sense if you come to Japan for a few days only. For anyone staying longer than that, the cheapest option is to get a Japanese SIM card for your mobile phone. For stays of up to 90 days the choice would be a pre-paid Travel SIM Card, and for longer stays to make a phone contract with a Japanese mobile phone provider. If you have a support package of World Unite! for your Working Holiday or internship in Japan, they will make arrangements for the best mobile phone/internet access option for you. Myth 9: You can get a tax refund when leaving Japan for the income tax that your employer has paid for you You cannot get back the income tax that your employer has paid for you in Japan when you leave Japan after your Working Holiday. If you have done any pension funds payments in Japan you can get them back when you leave Japan. It is however unlikely that Pension Funds payments were made for you by your employer as this is not a requirement for employees who are on a Working Holiday Visa. -- This article was written by Chris Engler, founder of World Unite Japan KK, a company based in Tokyo, providing Working Holiday support services to currently more than 1000 young travellers per year in Japan. You can learn more about World Unite!'s Working Holiday support services in Tokyo.
The next Olympic summer games will take place in 2020 in Tokyo, Japan. The application process for Olympic volunteers was accomplished in December 2018 for around 80,000 “Game Volunteers”, which are needed for guidance, events, mobility support, personal support, operational support, healthcare, technology, media, and ceremonies, along with around 30,000 “City Volunteers”, providing transportation information to tourists and acting as guides. Also Neha, 26, from the UK, has applied and is currently waiting for an invitation to the 2nd stage of the selection process. Neha had already volunteered at the London 2012 games. We have met her in Tokyo and have asked her about her experiences in London. Why did you want to become an Olympic Volunteer? I wasn't sure initially, but my teacher at the time told me that I should try. And I thought, if I get in, that would be fun. And I got the job and I was so excited. The whole process was so exciting because I was just telling everybody: “I'm going to be a volunteer for the Olympics” - and what are the chances that you can ever say that? Also on the resume it looks very good. If in an interview they ask you what else you've done and you can say: 'Ah yes, I've volunteered at the Olympics', it makes you stand out and it makes you interesting. After having volunteered in London in 2012, I wanted to apply again for the 2020 Olympics in Tokyo. How did you become an Olympic Volunteer? Basically, in order to volunteer for Olympics, you have to apply two years in advance. You can apply online, on the official website, by downloading some documents that you send them online. Then you wait for them to reply. I think it took like six months for them to reply. Then I had passed the first application stage. Then I had to go to a one-to-one interview. How was the interview? It was fairly casual, they just wanted to know why I applied, what my preferences are and what time I would be available to do the job or if I'm fine working the whole week during the Olympics. What happened after the interview? After that they kept updating me on what was happening with the events. When they confirmed that I got the position as a volunteer, it went quiet until around two months before the Olympics. So they called me back again because I had to let them know what my size is. Why did they want to know your size? For the uniform, jacket, shoes etc. that you have to wear as a volunteer. They give volunteers everything. You get the oyster card as well, I kept it as a souvenir. During the Olympic weeks, you were able to use it wherever you go, it was free of charge. All the trains I took didn't cost me anything, so I could get everywhere on time. They gave me everything, my entire uniform, jacket, shirt, trousers, shoes and caps. Everything I got was free, even the little notebook, it was so fun. Were you able to decide at which venue you were positioned? I had to give my top three preferences at which venue I wanted to work. At that time I loved watching tennis, so my first choice was tennis, second was swimming and third was the race track. I got the tennis one and it was so much fun. How did the preparation process continue? Two weeks before it started there was a welcoming party for all volunteers. It was in the Wimbledon arena. We were all there, it was so crowded. It was all of the volunteers and events welcoming everybody, it was so much fun. What was your actual work at the Olympics? I had to show people the way, where they wanted to go. Whatever questions they had, when people were lost or anything, I showed them the way to events they wanted to see or other venues they wanted to go to. I would let them know which trains they could take to go to all the venues. I had a timetable that I could access online. I think I worked five to six days a week. It's not very complicated. They explained me everything, gave me the map, and a plan for emergency situations. What did you enjoy the most about being a volunteer? I think the best part was, when I was done with the shift, I could go and watch the games for free. That's how I got to watch the tennis men's finals. All the players I've seen on TV I saw in person. I saw Serena Williams and I saw Andy Murray. He even waved at us. The whole experience is so much worth it, you get to meet so many people and they're all so nice, even the spectators. The London games were at an English-speaking country, obviously, so I was thinking here in Japan, they will definitely need a lot of English speakers to help them out. What did you like most about the whole experience? I got to meet so many people from different countries but also the volunteers were really diverse. There were elderly people volunteering, and also young students. Age-wise it was very diverse. There were a lot of people from different cultures and obviously you get to watch the Olympic games for free. I also got free food. Were you paid for any of the work? No, I didn't get paid. But I got all this free stuff, I got the whole uniform. I still have it in my room. I even still have the water bottle, the pens and notebook, even my ID card, but the best was the oyster card. It says Olympic 2012. So I can keep it as a souvenir. What would you say to people who want to apply? Definitely go for it, it's a once in a lifetime chance. It's Olympics, it's the best, so many people watch Olympics, I grew up watching it. Everyone is participating and that is the fun part of it. Working Holiday opportunities during the Tokyo Olympics 2020 While the official application period for Olympic volunteers has already been closed, throughout spring and summer 2020 Tokyo expects a strong increase in foreign tourist numbers. Thus, the Olympic Games prove to be a great opportunity for those coming to Japan on a Working Holiday vsa, as there will be more demand for staff who can communicate in foreign languages, particularly in the tourism, hospitality and service sectors. Many restaurants in Tokyo are not prepared to cater to foreign customers and the language barrier is an issue the industry is well aware of. Thus, restaurants will need a large number of foreign-language staff able to communicate with foreign tourists who have little to no Japanese skills while visiting the country. The same is true to hotels and other accommodation providers. Also the tourism industry will be in need of people with foreign language skills to work as guides, interpreters and translators. More generally, in Tokyo, shops of all kinds might increase staff numbers during the spring and summer of 2020, adding staff with foreign-language skills. Job opportunities related to the Olympics 2020 might arise even from now on when businesses get prepared to market to the foreign visitors for the 2020 season. World Unite! offers Working Holiday support services in Tokyo.
Markus B. (19) from Germany tells us about his experience working for a sugar cane farm on the small island of Miyakojima, roughly 300 kilometers away from Okinawa main island. He arrived to Miyakojima on May 26th and worked there for a month. With a smile he looks back at his extraordinary experience in the very south of Japan. What was the farm like? (laughs) Funny enough, I actually worked for some sort of Japanese Buddhist cult. I learned that they send the sugar cane harvest to their Buddhist headquarters, which is located near Osaka. Apparently they collect harvest and other goods from all sorts of places all over Japan and then sell it elsewhere. Every morning they'd also have like a morning prayer and at some point I had to join as well. But it sounds stranger than it was, the people were incredibly friendly and nice. I did some research and apparently there are a lot of peaceful Buddhist movements in Japan. Why did you want to do farm work? I wanted to live and work in Okinawa for a month, because I'd heard many good things about the island. So I contacted World Unite! and asked if it was possible to do farm work there. Eventually I got a job offer from a sugar cane plantation on Miyakojima and I thought: “Why not?”. So on May 26th I flew south. How did your typical working day look like? I'd wake up around 4:40am, take a shower and have breakfast. Then I'd talk to my housemates, pack my gear for the day and we'd leave for the fields, so that we could start at 6am. There were two shifts every day, the first was from 6am to 10am, and the second was from 3pm to 7pm. Like this, we would avoid the worst heat during the day. We would get around 40 degrees, which was tough. So every day was eight hours of work. What I did was basically chopping off sugar cane and making it ready for transport. You could roughly break it down into five steps. The first step was to tear off the leaves from the top. The second was to chop off the sugar cane right above the root. Third step was to collect all the sugar cane plants and pile them up on a heap. The fourth step would be to tear the last of the leaves off and the fifth step was to tie them together, so they were easier to transport. What did you earn during your time? I earned 4500 JPY a day (~35 EUR). However, I didn't have to pay for my accommodation nor for food. What would you do in your free time? During my free time I explored the island with my working colleagues, because many of them were there for the first time, too, just like me. Other than that I'd just relax and take it easy. Did your Japanese improve during your stay on the farm? Yes, definitely. Interestingly, my boss was kind of a Germany-fan, and he knew some words. And one co-worker could speak basic English. But aside from that they only used Japanese. My co-workers were all super friendly, also my boss was really cool. I'm still in contact with all of them. In general, all the people on the island were really nice, however it was also kind of funny and weird at the same time to be the only "white" person on the entire island. I was kind of an attraction for the people. Did you experience any low points during the time you worked on the farm? I have to admit, there was one. It was the first day, the day before my actual work started. It was hot in my room, I couldn't sleep and I knew I had to work outside in the heat the next day – that was when I was quite terrified of it all. But after that, it was fine and it all went well. But of course it was hard at first, and I discovered for myself that I don't want to become a sugar cane farmer, at least for the long term. But at the same time I was glad that I'd done it. What would you tell people who are thinking about during farm work in Japan as well? I think people should be aware what they get themselves into. Farm work is hard, physical labour and people should be really sure that they want to do that. It is important to learn how to control or at least filter your thoughts. It sounds generic, but you have to keep thinking positively. If you have a positive mindset, you'll have the most amazing time. In terms of the beautiful island of Miyakojima, I'd say you should be aware that it is difficult to get off the island, especially if you can't drive or you don't have a car. I was glad my co-worker would give me lifts regularly, but aside from that there is hardly anything. You definitely can't rely on the public transport. Did this experience shape you as a person? I would definitely say that this experience taught me new ways of thinking. The people on the island were insanely nice. They lead simple lives, but they are so genuinely happy and content, and I think I kind of absorbed some of that attitude. The people are always in a good mood and happy, and it really rubbed off on me. You learn to appreciate the little things, it all really inspired me. What do you do now? I arrived in Osaka on July 9th. I'm working in a guest house and izakaya, and I also live there. I'm thinking of working here for at least another month and after that, I'm not sure yet. But I'm thinking of staying in Osaka. My visa expires on April 18th, and I want to stay in Japan the entire 12 months that the Working Holiday Visa provides me. " order_by="sortorder" order_direction="ASC" returns="included" maximum_entity_count="500"]
Many people are into second hand clothes shopping: It's cheap, it's original, and it is often something you do not see everyone else wearing! Especially as a Working Holiday participant, you might want to spend money on travelling instead of expensive clothes, so we found a place where this is possible. Hipster of Tokyo If you like affordable clothes, then why not try out second hand shopping? In Tokyo, the neighbourhood Shimokitazawa is known for it's many second hand shops, cafés, and young hipster people. It is also known for live music and theater. So on a sunny Saturday, my roommate and I decided to find this place. The way there is very easy: A walk from the World Unite! share house to Kiba station, then 2 different trains, and we had arrived to Shimokitazawa station. Then we basically just walked out of the station, and were met by several second hand shops, good smells of sweets and coffee shops, and a great deal of people. We chose a random street, and then we started looking around. There was a mix of second hand shops and "normal" shops, cafes, restaurants, convenient stores etc. We went into different shops, and could see the originality of the clothes, and also how different it was to what is usually seen in the streets of - for example Kiba, where most people only wear black, white and grey. So far we could already tell that the place is perfect for people who like fashion! Colours, colours, and more colours We went past so many shops, and found a dress shop that we decided to check out. The amount of different colours were outstanding! I was wondering how people could possibly wear such flowered and coloured dresses, but it actually looks really good on many people here. In the streets we also saw people wearing original outfits, but most of the people walking in the streets did not look specifically hipster. After walking a lot, we decided to take a break at a crepe cafe. Everything was baby pink inside the cafe. A friendly male cashier greeted us when we came in, we ordered our chocolate crepes, and then we realised that all the customers were female. It was like a little girlie spot, with a beautiful lamp, small pretty details, and best of all - the smell of freshly made crepes. The place was so cozy and people looked to enjoy a lot. New York Joe Exchange One "Must-Visit" second hand shop is the New York Joe Exchange. We went there, and the place was packed! People were standing in line to look at all the colourful hipster clothes, and the line to the fitting room was long! Also, there was loud rap music and people seemed so excited to shop there. That is a place that no one who visits Shimokitazawa should miss! Sadly, we did not find anything we wanted to buy, but it will probably be a better idea to visit the shop on a weekday, and not on a busy Sunday. But it was nice to see, and we were happy that we went there. That was the last stop at our little day trip to Shimokitazawa, and we went home with yet another experience. About the Author Christina is 26 years old, originally Kenyan/Danish and she is currently interning for World Unite! in the Japan Tokyo Office. She is helping participants who do a Working Holiday in Japan through World Unite!, and when she is in the office she helps out with administrative work and social media marketing. Title picture: Guwashi99; creative commons.
Japan sure has many things to offer! Everything from manga and anime, to robots and mountains! Have you for example ever heard of a 599,15m high mountain one hour away from Tokyo? I sure had not, but then someone from my World Unite! sharehouse talked about his great hike on Mount Takao. So - that is basically how that idea was planted in my head! Step 1: Find the Mountain! I am staying at the World Unite! sharehouse in Tokyo - now it is my second month here, and every weekend I do my best to plan the most interesting things to do! I do not mind if it is being touristy, as I will only be staying here for 3 months, so I do not see myself as anything else than a tourist! I just want it to be fun and exciting. So, last weekend the menu was: A mountain climb! My World Unite! sharehouse roommate and I wanted to climb Mount Takao, so we packed our bags with water and food, charged phones, good mood, and we were ready to go. From our sharehouse in Shiohama to Takao Station took approximately 2 hours, with a little train confusion on the way - but we made it! The day was hot and humid like many other days during the late Japanese spring, so we were happy and ready to explore a nice and cooler area in Kanto! When we finally arrived, my roommate did not feel very well so we decided to split up. My roommate explored the area around Mount Takao, and I climbed it. Usually, I am not a big fan of doing things all by myself as I actually really enjoy experiencing with friends or family, because then you can share the experience afterwards, and create memories together that way! But that day I was on my own! Of course, I had my very best friend in Japan with me, Google Maps, that (again) did a good job in supporting me. So, let me just admit it: the hardest thing on this little trip was to find the mountain. Where should I start? Google Maps showed me that it would take around 2 hours to get to the top, so I just started to follow the blue dot, and I ended up in a place with music and lots of people - and a path! So it looked like I found the way up. Step 2: Climb it So now you are probably thinking: 599.15 m, that is just a small hill - and now is the time I will advise you to google Mount Takao. It is an actual mountain, and it was an actual climb to the top! As I had finally found the path up, the next step was just to climb it. So I started walking comfortably up, and weirdly enough, most people were walking down. But as I looked behind me I could see that I was not the only one climbing it, so I could not be totally lost! I walked and walked and it was so so steep! I was even sweating and I was very happy that I brought a bottle of water. The place was beautiful though - so much nature! I could hear birds singing, the wind in the trees, and I could look up and see the sky which was totally blue. I was feeling very happy, and I did not have to worry about getting lost, because as long as I was walking up, I would reach the top at some point. So I continued walking, continued sweating, and continued enjoying! After some time, I reached a viewpoint from where I could see all over Tokyo - it was so beautiful! I met a nice American couple and asked them to take a photo of me, and then of course I took one of them. They were so friendly, and told me that they were living in Tokyo and then they wished me a good stay in Japan, and we went our separate ways. I decided to take a little break, eat some lunch, and enjoy the view, and then I continued up. Step 3: Yakuoin Soon enough, I reached this beautiful Buddhist temple called Yakuoin. It was so nice and there were many people there. I walked around, looked at people, and took everything in, as it was probably a once-in-a-life experience to be there (except that I had to pass the place when going down again, minor detail)! I had read that many people visit the temple to pray to the Buddhist mountain gods, and I could also see some people praying when I was there. After exploring the temple I continued further up, and there were lots of stairs to ascend. I did not want to be slow, so I passed many couples enjoying a climb, old people taking a walk, and also other tourists like myself. The funniest thing I saw was a lady who was taking her rabbit for a walk. Yes, you read that correctly, it was a rabbit. And no, it was not a small dog that I thought was a rabbit! It was an actual rabbit, and she had it on a leash and then she was carrying a little basket - probably so the rabbit could be carried if it felt tired. Of course, there were also people walking with their dogs in baby carriages (I guess it should be called dog carriages?), but I got used to seeing those in Tokyo by now! Step 4: All the way up Finally, I saw a sign saying "Top of Mt. Takao", and I knew I was close. Just a few more stairs, and then I was there! I walked to another viewpoint and it was so so amazing. That was one of those views that a photo just cannot catch! It was something you simply have to experience for yourself. I was so happy that I made it there, and I just really needed to share it with someone. So I called my family back home, and I told them how amazing it was, and then I felt even happier after the talk. It was also here that I found a friendly-looking person who took a photo of me at the top. It was so cool! I spent some time there enjoying the feeling until I was ready to go down again. Step 5: Down The way down went so fast! It basically felt like squatting all the way down, because I really had to control my legs so they would not just start to run away from me. It felt funny, and it was actually almost as hard as going up - just in a different way! But I made it down in no time. I walked and walked, back to the station, where I met with my roommate again, and we decided to spend money on discount ice-cream which was 100% worth it. So, all in all that day was just amazing, and it was a very amazing experience! I will definitely recommend everyone coming to Japan to try to climb Mt Takao. Oh, and a little side note; I found out that there are actually much easier ways up that the way I chose! Apparently, the path I used to go up, was a hard one, and my sharehouse-mates told me that there are other paths - a lot less steep. Good to know! About the Author Christina is 26 years old, originally Kenyan/Danish and she is currently interning for World Unite! in the Japan Tokyo Office. She is helping participants who do a Working Holiday in Japan through World Unite!, and when she is in the office she helps out with administrative work and social media marketing.
A working holiday should not only be about work but also about discovering the country. There is so much to see and experience in Japan that you should not miss out on while you are here! We wanted to get out of Tokyo city life for a long weekend and it wasn't difficult to decide on Nikko. Only a 2-hour train ride away from Tokyo, this town in the hills makes for a perfect weekend getaway if you want to sniff some culture and be surrounded by nature. We booked the Turtle Inn Nikko Annex Hotel which is not too far from the train station with its own onsen (Japanese style hot spring), and after dropping off our luggage in the lobby and getting some good advice from the receptionist for our stay we headed out for our first lunch in Nikko. Of course we wanted to try yuba, a by-product of tofu production that is ubiquitous in Nikko, being a center of Buddhist activity since its foundation. We found this cute little udon noodle restaurant called Kanman Teahouse that served yuba as a side dish, perfect for our lunch. The yuba was very smooth and flavorful, and we loved the cold udon and tea with Japanese sweets that we got afterward. A good start of our weekend Our First Day: History and Beauty Then it was time to immerse ourselves in Japanese history. After passing through a foresty road with old jizo statues we headed to the Tamozawa Imperial Villa Memorial Park. Here you can walk around the huge Japanese style villa that used to be the vacation home of the imperial family. It's not just the house that breathes a quiet atmosphere, the garden also makes for a peaceful little stroll in a typical Japanese garden. If you come at the right time you can also see a very old Sakura tree bloom. This was the green oasis we were hoping to find when we left Tokyo! As a visit to Nikko is not complete without visiting its main shrine, the Toshogu, it was next on our list. As expected there were many tourists, foreign as well as Japanese, but we could also easily tell why this shrine complex is so popular. Its wood carvings are exquisite, there are so many beautiful little details that the buildings are like pieces of art. At several locations within the complex priests carried out Shinto rituals in order to bring fortune to the people, and stones on the ground were arranged to look like turtles to bring good luck. What most people don`t know is that it is worth it to walk the extra 1.5 kilometer up the hill on the east side of the temple. Here you can find the rarely visited Takio shrine in the middle of the woods, surrounded by small water streams. We enjoyed being away from the crowds and savored the silence. By the time we left the Takio shrine it was getting dark, meaning it was time to look for a place to eat because restaurants and even bars close early in Nikko (and other places outside the big cities in Japan for that matter). We decided on Bar de Nikko because of its good reviews on TripAdvisor, and we did not regret it. The food was delicious and nicely presented, and there was a large assortment of drinks available. It was open until 21.00, which is quite unique in this small town. In the evening we soaked in the hotel onsen with a nice view of the fast streaming river outside through a large window and went to bed early. The Second Day: Hiking and Nature One of the purposes of the trip was to get out there and take a long walk in a beautiful, natural area. We wanted to breathe some nice, fresh air in the spring sun! We took the bus to the Chuzenji lake, an area that used to be a popular place to vacation for foreigners as well as well-to-do Japanese people. As we were there late March it was still off-season and very quiet. We first stopped by the Kegon falls, we didn't pay the few hundred yen to go downstairs and see the waterfalls up close, but I would recommend doing it anyway because I later heard from others who have gone down there that it was worth the money. We then walked almost all the way along the northern shore of the lake, which was great as we barely saw anyone else as soon as we left the little town. It was peaceful and quiet, and we walked around 4 kilometers before we got to the boathouse where we were surprised to find the restaurant open. Of course we were the only customers, but the noodles (yes, again as they are so good here in Nikko) were tasty and we were ready to go again. As we went more inland the road went up, and after 2 kilometers or so we hit a trail up Mt. Takayama. Feeling adventurous we went in even though the sign warned us of bears and deers, the former scaring us a bit more than the latter. But the trail was snowy, and after taking a selfie of the 'courageous us' and the snow we decided to turn around and go find the Ryuzu Falls which we came here to find. We soon found fast streaming clear water and went down the trail to see a cute tea house overlooking the falls which are named after the dragon it resembles. They served delicious ice-cream with the flavor of, you guessed it, yuba. It might be a surprising flavor, but it was actually surprisingly good! We then took the bus back to the hotel and ended up having the most thrilling part of our trip, a ride down the Iroha slope. I'm sure the driver knows this road like the back of his hand, but sitting right behind him and seeing the bus steer dangerously close to the slope's edge with a drop of a few hundred meters deep behind it about 20 times, made for a blood-curdling ride. I think Julia was very happy when we were back at 600 meters above sea level again instead of the over 1000 meters that we were above sea level before. After all this excitement we first went for a long soak in the hotel onsen again before we went out for dinner again. This time we went to a Chinese restaurant near the hotel that was almost completely full, a good sign. The food was indeed delicious, I would just stay away from the hot sake as I could tell why it was sold as hot sake instead of chilled or at room temperature. We then headed back to the hotel for some card games and our futons. The Last Day: A Temple and an Old Hotel After having a perfect brunch in the Kanaya Hotel Bakery (very much recommended) we first visited the museum right next door. Kanaya hotel was once the first hotel where Westerners could stay during the period in Japanese history when foreigners were still very rare in Japan and couldn't always stay in a regular Japanese hotel. The people who work there conduct short tours, most of them don't really speak English but it is still nice to hear a bit of simple explanation of what you see. Some parts of the hotel are original which is quite rare to see in Japan, especially in Tokyo as most buildings don't last this long here. We then went to our last stop on this trip, the Taiyu-in temple. What we loved here was that it was so much quieter than at the Toshogu, and it was a lot easier to relax and enjoy our surroundings. There was another mass blessing ceremony, and there were 4 beautifully colored statues near the main hall. For those who like wood sculptures, there was also a lot to see, as almost every animal was represented somewhere in the decorations on the walls. Some parts of this temple reminded me a bit of Persian or oriental art with the many colors and wood carvings. Also, we were not sure if we were supposed to go here, but a bit east of this temple up a hill there seems to be an abandoned temple with a vshery big statue in a closed off hall. There was almost no one there and it looked like no one was taking care of it, so it was a bit spooky over there. It was unfortunately already time to go home by the time we came back to the main road, but we didn't leave before a last bowl of noodles, ramen this time, and a Harajuku style desert near the station. If you are on a working holiday (or regular holiday for that matter) in the Tokyo area, you should definitely not skip Nikko. As they say in this locale: don't say 'kekkou' (I'm good) until you have been to Nikko! " order_by="sortorder" order_direction="ASC" returns="included" maximum_entity_count="500"] About the Author Stefanie has lived in Japan for 5 years, and is working as a coordinator for World Unite! since 2017. Together with her colleague Julia she decided to get out of Tokyo city life for a long weekend.