When you think of Japan, do you first imagine sleek highrises in Tokyo’s sprawling cityscape, or do you picture a centuries old shrine nestled in unspoilt nature?
Both—the traditional and modern—have come to define this diverse country and offer exciting opportunities to explore its age-old and ever-evolving legacies. In Tokyo, discover activities that integrate state-of-the-art technology and pop culture, and then, move to Niigata where you can immerse yourself in the countryside’s traditional charm.
MoonFlower Sagaya Ginza, Art by teamLab
Imagine sitting in a softly-lit room—the walls adorned with ever-changing flora. Gentle music intertwined with the sounds of nature encircle you as you enjoy exquisite cuisine plated on treasured lacquerware. MoonFlower Sagaya Ginza, Art by teamLab is a collaboration between the restaurant, Sagaya Ginza, and the art collective, teamLab, where up to eight guests a day can enjoy multi-course dinners that combine state-of-the-art projections, AI, seasonality, and refined flavors. The permanent art installation projects dazzling sceneries of blooming flowers, swaying trees, flowing water, and more that shift according to the current dish. The menu itself features an array of dishes served on beautiful Arita ware that elegantly combine vegetables, fish, and melt-in-your-mouth Saga beef—the restaurant’s pride. Both the artwork and menu change monthly in tune with the seasons. Given its effortless integration of advanced technologies, art, and cuisine, MoonFlower Sagaya Ginza, Art by teamLab serves as an exceptional way to experience Japan’s modern side.
With its vibrant colors, quirky fashion, and adorable characters, Japan’s kawaii (cute) culture has captured the eyes of people across the globe. In Tokyo, one of the best places to experience this playful subculture is Takeshita Street in Harajuku. This roughly 350- to 400-meter long street is packed with chic boutiques, vintage shops, social media worthy snacks and sweets, and “cutifying” photo booths that are guaranteed to satisfy all your kawaii desires. Pick up some expertly-sculpted cotton candy, delectable crepes, fried spiralized potatoes, or bubble tea, and explore the path’s countless wonders! Thanks to its rainbow-fueled offerings and lively atmosphere, Takeshita Street is a perfect place to connect with Japan’s trendy cultures.
TOKYU KABUKICHO TOWER
Create exciting memories and party the night away at Shinjuku’s TOKYU KABUKICHO TOWER. Opened in April 2023, this sleek, 48-story complex (with an additional five floors underground) is home to hotels, a cinema, a theater, entertainment, restaurants, and a live venue. Two of the tower’s most popular areas are namco TOKYO and Shinjuku Kabuki Hall~Kabuki Yokocho. A gamer’s paradise, namco TOKYO is an arcade center filled with neon decor, anime-inspired music, crane machines, gasyapon (capsule toys), arcade games, cute stuffed animals, anime figurines, and more—making it an ideal place to explore Japan’s arcade culture. On the second floor, the entertainment Food Hall offers an equally stimulating experience with its collection of flashy restaurants. Modeled after Japan’s drinking streets, the food hall serves cuisine and drinks from across the country and features decorations that encompass retro, traditional, and modern vibes simultaneously. With its range of establishments, TOKYU KABUKICHO TOWER is an excellent addition to anyone’s daytime or nightlife plans.
Forgo the busyness of modern life and embrace quiet simplicity with a lodging experience at Farmstay Ushidaya. Located in Tamugi Village, a quaint rural suburb of Joestu City, Farmstay Ushidaya is an experiential accommodation run by an English-speaking farmer and wife who love to share the wonders of their small farming community with guests. The 100-year old farmhouse is filled with stunning woodwork and traditional charm, transporting you to a different era. Apart from the area’s soothing visuals, you can also join activities that provide insight into the village’s history and culture, including traditional rice-cooking, a sunrise tour at Hoshitoge Rice Terrace, and a Tamugi Village tour. For meals, the couple crafts homemade dishes filled with locally-sourced ingredients to complement their luscious homegrown Koshihikari rice. You can even enjoy a taste of local Niigata sake as you chat with your friendly hosts. At the end of the day, as you settle into your futon and reflect upon your new experiences, the peaceful chorus of the outdoors will lull you to sleep—refreshing both your mind and body.
Taraibune Boat Rides
Sado Island, located off Niigata’s western coast, is a picturesque isle bountiful in traditional heritage and scenic nature. Explore both sides with an enchanting taraibune ride, or tub boat ride! These traditional boats were designed to help fishers navigate the island’s narrow coves and were primarily used for abalone and mollusk fishing. Today, these whimsical boats serve as popular tourist attractions and were even said to inspire the boat scene with Chihiro and Lin in Studio Ghibli’s Spirited Away. Situated on Sado’s southern end, near Ogi City and Shukunegi Village, are numerous facilities that offer authentic taraibune rides—ranging from gentle coveside excursions to more thrilling ocean adventures. The tiny boats hold between one to three people, plus the paddler, who is typically dressed in traditional attire with a curved straw hat. During the relaxing ride, admire Sado’s clear water, lush coves, and volcanic coastline as you inhale the salty breeze. Some taraibune facilities even let you try your hand at paddling! While you are in the area, be sure to visit Shukunegi Village to admire its beautifully preserved wooden homes and seaside vibes.
Geigi Dinner at Ikinariya
Embrace Japanese elegance and tradition with a geigi dinner at Ikinariya. Geigi is a term for geisha in Niigata—along with other regions in Japan—and refers to Japanese female entertainers who are highly skilled in conversation and traditional performing arts, such as dancing, playing music, and singing. These graceful women typically wear colorful kimono, elaborate hairstyles, and extravagant makeup. With roots in the Edo period (1603-1867), Niigata’s Furumachi area has long been one of Japan’s famous geisha districts.
At Ikinariya, a restaurant located in this area, you can still experience this preserved culture with kaiseki—traditional multi-course Japanese dinners—and geigi entertainment. The restaurant, which is registered as a Structure of Cityscape importance, perfectly matches the geigi’s refinement with its exquisite Japanese gardens and traditional dining rooms. The beautifully-plated courses feature an array of delectable ingredients that change with the seasons. As you enjoy your meal, the friendly geigi will converse with you (if you do not speak Japanese, an interpreter is helpful), play traditional instruments, sing, dance, and even play games with you! The historic ambience and unparalleled flavors, coupled with the geigi’s kindness and skill, are guaranteed to create a dining experience you will not soon forget.