Before I attend the INU summer student seminar in Hiroshima I figured I would make the most of my flights over and spend a week travelling around the country, trying to remember my high school Japanese and having some real Japanese experiences. Here is my top 4 tips for getting a ‘authentic’ Japanese experiences:
1) get into a Japanese hot spring ‘onsen’. These are strictly no clothing, so pack your birthday suit. Normally you will not need to bring anything but your good self, towels are available for hire from reception. Don’t forget to wash yourself in the showers before getting in the hot baths.
2) eat in a small Japanese bar ‘izakaya’. These little bars abound everywhere and are especially prolific near train stations. The usually serve some kind of food, whether it is just bar snacks or a full blown menu. The small seating arrangements (sometimes less than a dozen seats) means that it is a great opportunity to try meeting some locals, or just practice your Japanese on the bar staff.
3) learn the language. There are plenty of free guides online, but my recommendation would be a little pocket guide by lonely planet, there are some great phrases to learn and the locals really do appreciate even modest attempts to speak Japanese. You may also notice the locals are more inclined to practice their own English skills once you have given Japanese a go.
4) eat Japanese food (and only Japanese food). There is an inexhaustible array of Japanese foods that are (mostly) delicious and surprisingly cheap. Set lunch menus are very cheap and popular, and make sure to ask for a recommendation if you cant read the menu, or ask if they have a specialty (learn these phrases from the internet and write them down).