Live Like a Local in Japan
We all want one thing when we travel.
Whatever our interests—food, shopping, people—we are all after genuine, authentic experiences. Right? Experiences that you can’t find in newsfeeds, guidebooks, or on travel blogs (except this one, of course), experiences that we can only dream of stumbling across once we touch down.
We want to eat as the locals eat, do as the locals do and live as the locals live.
We want the real deal.
So, we thought we’d save you some trouble and disappointment and lay out some of our top tips for living like a local in Japan so your next trip to the land of endless discovery is one of authentic discovery!
Dine like a local
To get a real, local dining experience, regardless of which prefecture you find yourself in, it’s more so how and where you eat as opposed to what you eat that makes the difference. For example, you could enjoy a traditional Japanese breakfast—rice, miso soup, grilled fish, pickled veggies—at your hotel, and it would be a totally different experience than if you ordered the same thing at a restaurant chain filled with the city’s morning workers.
Tachinomi, or “standing bars”, are another great way to rub shoulders with locals, offering a non-fuss, casual environment for grabbing a drink and a few tasty bites. Frequented by many locals after work, tachinomi are traditionally Japanese bars that cater to the working class, so they are the perfect for budget-conscious travellers.
Fun fact: Tachigui means “eating while standing up” and these restaurants are where you traditionally eat quick meals like soba or udon noodles standing up, but more recently, steak and pizza too!
What better way to live like a local than to take an authentic Japanese cooking class with a local in their home? Learn about Japanese food culture, dining etiquette and how to make simple and tasty home-style dishes. You’ll be able to take the recipes home with you—so you can share your newly discovered skills with friends and family too! However, if you’re just looking for a quick bite on the go, be sure to pull into any one of the thousands of conbini, 24/7 convenience stores, to pick up a tasty treat.
Stay like a local
Although establishments like ryokan, traditional Japanese inns, are highly recommended in order to experience the Japanese ways of old, locals don’t actually reside or stay in them unless on holiday. Instead, look to homestays—perhaps the single best cultural immersion experience you can have while in Japan.
Available for long and short stays, homestays allow you to connect with your host family and their daily life and practices. You’ll get to wake up in a typical Japanese home, eat what they eat, catch the same bus as they do and gain access to all the day to day gems like local hangouts to which most tourists aren’t privy. What’s more, homestays are a great way to brush up on your Japanese and share a thing or two about Aussies with your host family! If you do plan on staying with a host family, be sure to brush up on some etiquette like table manners before you arrive to avoid embarrassing situations—and make sure you bring a small customary gift!
A unique twist on a homestay is the farmstay, where you can experience life on a farm. Try hands-on activities like fruit picking and enjoy home-cooked meals made with the produce you harvest. Everyone is welcome, even those that don’t speak Japanese.
Relax like a local
If shopping stresses you out more than it relaxes you and onsen and karaoke aren’t really your thing, don’t worry, there are plenty of activities that you can enjoy to unwind and/or let off a little steam.
Ever heard of forest bathing? Forest bathing (shinrin-yoku), simply put, is going out into nature, be it a forest or a park, and immersing yourself fully. Picking up some popularity over the years, this form of therapy has been practiced by the Japanese since the 80s, to no doubt escape the demanding presence of the technology and reconnect with Mother Nature.
Scientific studies have even proved that this simple practice can reduce stress, increase energy levels, and improve overall well being. What’s more, it’s a great opportunity for you to get out and about and explore Japan’s wild side!
If you’re looking for something a little more high-energy, go to a ball game! There are plenty of ball games in Japan, but we’re talking about Japan’s unofficial national sport, baseball!
Even if you know nothing about baseball, the experience alone is enough to make you want to buy season tickets. Entering the stadiums with masses of cheerful, devoted fans screaming for their teams, delicious canteen food and cold beers under the sun and the unexplainable energy coursing through all nine innings is what it’s all about. Even if you don’t speak a word of Japanese when you enter, you’ll leave the place with all the special team chants memorised, and who knows, maybe even a couple of local friends to grab some post-game dinner with!