one of the many guides to japan

Welcome to my (WIP) magnum opus.

For the simplest experience, just add these lists to your google maps and thank me later! 👇️

🏗️ rest of this doc is currently under construction 🚧

Introduction & Background

I could wax poetic about Japan, but other white men have done enough of that, and in the end you’ll always just need to be there yourself. If you’ve spent extended time in Japan before, you already Get It™ and if not, well I hope you enjoy your time there as much as I did and do.

After twenty-two years and seven consecutive days of walking the hell out of Tokyo, I now realize that I’d go to the mat for this city. I still can’t believe I made my way here so long ago, and found a way to stay. The city taught me care, introduced me to aesthetics and design and literature and people that would inform my entire career. It taught me loneliness and solitude, too, and in doing so forced me to confront both, to transmute them into more than hopelessness. The city showed me and continues to show me what’s possible. Continues to set the bar for what should be expected — no, demanded — of life and infrastructure and social goodness. The city says people can live with grace, can be honored, just like this, just like you. Look, it says — grace abounds. It’s yours to bear to witness to, if you choose. — Craig Mod
My “Recommend Things In Japan” Qualifications 👇️

I’ve spent about ~2 years in Japan since I became a conscious human being (~22 years old), visiting at least once a year until the pandemic. I’ve biked more than 1,500 kilometers across Honshu and Shikoku (including from Kyoto to Onomichi, twice) and have walked hundreds of kilometers within Tokyo alone. And don’t even get me started on the trains.

I got my 15 seconds of fame on Halloween 2017 when a 4am-drunk and adorably cringe matt showed off his halloween costume on the most popular morning variety show.

Yes, that intro text says “Weird Foreigner Spotted!” and no, the pun on my chest doesn’t actually make any damn sense, I just thought it was funny with language skills at the time.

I’m mimicking the train announcements and saying “the doors are closing please stand behind the yellow line” in perfect robotic japanese as I zip up the jump suit—good bit.

I was recognized on the street once, and here’s me as some rando’s profile picture on twitter lmao

Let’s fucking goooooo (to Japan).

Guidelines for Travel (& Life)

  1. Don’t live your days by anyone’s prescription—not mine and definitely not a fucking app’s, so follow your heart and if a place looks inviting, you were meant to be there. Yeah, you should probably walk down that alley to see where it goes.
  2. You should probably say yes to the unexpected—this energy is 99% of experience.
  3. Speak to people, and go out of your way to do so—of people and places, people are everything.
  4. Travel by breadth or depth, and know that both are valid.

The Holy Trinity of Lists

I’ve compiled my favorite places into these lists, along with any personal notes for each.

I recommend putting it on your map and consulting when you’re looking for something new to do.

one of the many japan lists // Food

places to eat a meal. the best of my best, and i’ve eaten a lot of food

one of the many japan lists // Places & Spaces

places to stay, spaces to be in: ryokans, parks, museums, stores, onsens, overlooks, and seats for sitting

one of the many japan lists // Bars & Cafes

dedicated to the art of vibing, alone or with others


Customs & Covid

Fill out the digital version.

Mobile Data

Firstly, Google Fi is pretty consistent LTE here, if expensive at $10/gb. If you have an unlocked phone that supports eSIM, download the Airalo app and buy their $4/gb LTE eSIM and laugh at everyone else juggling their pocket wifis. If you don’t have the ability to use Airalo, I’ve heard talk of physical SIMs like Sakura Wireless that might work for you. Otherwise bite the bullet and become a pocket wifi-er, they generally come with unlimited data as well.


If you have an iPhone, get the digital Suica card and load it up (either within Apple Wallet via a MasterCard [not VISA] or via cash at a train station machine or convenience store register). Then you can tap-to-pay for transit, vending machines, and basically any payment point. Android and Google have a Passmo integration for the exact same experience.

Credit Cards

If you use your credit card, you probably want to charge in yen, not USD (the payment console will give you an option), but check your bank’s conversion rates to confirm that that’s the cheaper option. Many stores will also ask if you want the charge to be in 1 payment or many, and the answer is always 1.

Cash / ATMs

Use a “no ATM fee and no foreign transaction fee” debit card (Charles Schwab Investor Checking, for example) to withdraw cash from 7i Bank ATMs (available at every convenience store). ATMs in local banks probably won’t work for you. Always keep some cash on hand, lots of cash-only situations.


You can navigate through Japan without any Japanese, you’re fine, and if you’re in a city or in a tourist-heavy location people will have varying levels of English fluency/comprehension. Signs are in English, google maps is omniscient, etc.

If you want to min-max and most efficiently navigate with the least amount of language-learning effort, I personally recommend getting your pronunciation correct (specifically learning about pitch-accent) and training your ears to hear it and your mouth to say the sounds. At least for me they really weren’t that hard. By being able to hear and pronounce words with the right sounds, you’ll be able to pick up phrases and patterns faster, and also avoid the common mistake of pronouncing things wrong. With just this foundation, you’ll be able to navigate like 10x better than someone who hasn’t, just by being able to communicate specific words accurately, even if you don’t have any grammatical knowledge. Specifically like saying “jin-ja bi-ru” in the correct sounds instead of “ginger beer” in english will smooth over lots of interactions.

Anyway I actually do recommend watching anime/ghibli/whatever to pick up pronunciation — listen and repeat and practice perfect inflection mimicry and you’ll start to intuit pitch-accent. Dogen on youtube also has good lessons on this, and his videos are helpful for learning to notice pitch-accent to begin with.

After that you’ll pick up on common phrases, which i think is beyond the scope of this guide, but my advice for phrases is to find a phrase you’d like to use and then listen to a native speaker pronounce it and mimic the fuck out of them, inflection, accent and all, in various situations/contexts.

I think that that’s all you need to casually navigate Japan for the least amount of effort but if you’d like to go further I’d specifically learn the ~50 (base) sounds and associate them with katakana and hiragana characters. Katakana characters are, in this context, primarily used to represent foreign words as Japanese sounds (Coffee = コーヒー = ko-hi-). This is useful because a surprising amount of words in Japanese are loan words, particularly for food and drink. So if you learn Katakana you’ll be able to see that coffee is on the menu and order it. Hiragana is less useful to you as a tourist, but tbh if you’re going to be learning characters you should also practice hiragana, it’d be weird if you just learned katakana. Hiragana and Katakana are like two different fonts for the same characters.

Anything after that is out of scope for this doc, but I recommend wanikani for kanji flashcards. I used a textbook for grammar (Genki) and it was totally fine with the catch that textbook ≠ real world. Japanese text books as a category are considered terrible but frankly I’m not sure what else to use for a standardized progression through grammatical constructs.


Honestly it’s hard to have a bad meal in Japan. Even the meals within tourist hellscapes are decent, but as long as you’re not eating there, perhaps 1 meal every few months will be truly dissatisfying. It’s all just good. Tokyo along boasts more Michelin stars than any other city, nearly twice as many as Paris, and the minimum bar of quality is just astounding. Certain cuisines more than others, of course, but damn even the New York style pizza at Pizza Slice slaps.

Vegetarianism / Veganism

Ok, it’s really tough to be vegetarian or vegan in Japan, but it is possible, it just takes quite a lot of effort and you should probably cook most of your food.

If you’re lax about animal products being used in the production of food (aka bone broth ok, but chashu ramen toppings not), it gets easier, but regardless you’ll have an interesting time.

My personal hot take is that if your morals and palette allow you to relax your eating requirements, I would recommend doing so, just to make your life better.

I dedicate the rest of this section to Hundred Rabbits, who wrote the bible on plant based diets in japan. I also recommend literally everything else on their website, enjoy. 👇️



Hokkaido and Honshu have some of the best snow in the world and are delightful places to be in the winter. More discussion on this in the Hokkaido section.


Japan is one of the best places in the world to road bike and bike tour. Infrastructure is numerous, roads are excellent, drivers are friendly and overwhelmingly courteous. You need not camp if you don’t want to, but campsites are generally available. The Shimanami Kaido is an island-hopping route near Hiroshima, and is one of my happy places. See the section on the Shimanami Kaido for more information. You can also bike around Shikoku, if you’d like a 1,000km route that circumnavigates the island.

Hiking, Walking

The safety of Japan means that you can calmly walk anywhere, anytime. City walks are particularly delightful, and there exist historical walking/hiking routes between destinations, which you can follow to this day. Follow Craig Mod for all information on walking around Japan.

Coffee Culture

There is SO MUCH COFFEE in Japan. You can spend the rest of your life tasting local roasters’ beans and traveling to all the cafes. Choosing a cafe as a destination and walking/biking there is a favorite pasttime of mine, as a medium by which to explore a place.

Fruit Picking

If you’re outside of a city, chances are there’s a way for you to pick-and-eat some in-season fruit, namely strawberries, grapes, apples, pears, peaches, cherries, etc. I got to eat my fill of some absolutely incredible strawberries at a local farm and can’t recommend it enough. Look for places like this!


Meibutsu — 名物 — Everyone’s Got a Famous Thing

There exists a widely followed tradition in which each area of Japan (either an entire prefecture or as small as a specific neighborhood) has a specialty. These can be crafts—like “oh, so-and-so-town is well-known for making tiles”) or food—like “so-and-so-machi has literally the best uni in japan”—or anything, really. Importantly it’s kind of a made up list, but the fun is in of course you have to try the thing that this place is so well-known for! You simply must!

As an experiential traveler, it’s nice to have such an explicit, if made up, thing to try in each area, so please enjoy trying the “world’s best” bonito tataki or the “world’s best” red bean paste or whatever it happens to be where you are.


Japan is safe af, enjoy. Left my passport on the train, got it back 2 hours later. Friend lost her wallet and only the cash was missing before being turned into the police. People reserve tables at Disneyland by putting their whole-ass purse on it and jumping into a line. I feel comfortable leaning my expensive bike against a wall while I go into the convenience store.

If you’ve not spent time in a famously safe country (Scandinavia, Japan, etc), please enjoy the sense of relief you may feel after a few weeks when the background process of constant fear of strangers that you’ve lived with for your entire life starts to disappear. It is truly a thing to behold.

The Social Contract (Trash, Noise, etc)

In any collective, there exists a degree to which individuals in the collective sense the collective’s health and the collective experience. This individualized respect for the collective is very much present in Japan, facilitating a lot of what you’ll experience, socially. You will be impressed at how little trash is on the ground… despite the complete lack of public trashcans. Trains are quiet, both mechanically and culturally. Jaywalking is heavily dialed down (esp. compared to NYC, for example).

In my experience as an American I first experienced these feelings of the collective will as “shame” or “pressure”/“constraint” on my individual freedom, but after some time and appreciation for the lived experience engendered by this collective sensitivity, I’ve grown to love and appreciate how amazing it is to feel calm and respected by strangers. Granted my experience is specifically that as a foreigner, which means I don’t experience the famous negative externalities of this type of collective pressure, but damn the part where the biggest city in the world can also be one of the quietest is just amazing.

Onsen / Sento & Tattoos

The whole internet is going to tell you all about onsens and tattoos blah blah blah but it’s <current year> and unless you present as Japanese and also have large tattoos (in particular the full back or arm pieces that give yakuza vibes), or you’re bathing at a historically relevant onsen, you will be entirely and totally fine.

Again, my experience is that of a distinctly white and non-Japanese person, which means while people may be curious about your tattoos, they aren’t going to kick you out or say anything.

Additionally, this cultural inclination is a holdover primarily from the older generation and, naturally, will change with time — younger generations are naturally more progressive, worldly-aware, and in general mostly just curious about your tattoos, given that their culture labels it as particularly edgy behavior.


Tokyo is a near-perfect city. You quite simply have to see it, to believe that it is possible for humans to coordinate at such a scale, to realize one can live in elegance and excellence among millions of one’s peers, and to do so gracefully.

I hope you love the city as much as I do, and export its urban fabric and quality of life to your own places and spaces.


Tokyo is organized around the Yamanote line, the green circular one that serves as the backbone. By daily ridership, the Yamanote line alone moves twice as many people as the entire NYC subway network.

That’s lit, and it’s just one of the so many train options in the city. The trains are so good and accessible and close to where you want to go that I don’t actually encourage renting a bicycle by default for Tokyo — the trains are just that good.

Where to Stay

I recommend Ebisu for first time visits to Tokyo. Its transit options are excellent (Yamanote + Hibiya) and is walking distance to Shibuya and calmer areas like Hiroo, Daikanyama, and Nakameguro. The Hibiya will get you to the east side of Tokyo quickly, and the Yamanote will get you literally everywhere else. The fabric of Ebisu is also quite great, with a blend of walkable residential sections and dense station-centric businesses.

TODO: hotels?

Listening Spaces

Jazz Olympus in Jimbocho has a JBL Olympus-based system and a friendly owner


Enoshima is Tokyo’s most prominent—but def not only—surf town: the Rockaways of Tokyo’s NYC. Lots of coffee, some seafood, surf, and some vibes. Go there and see.


Some coffee, some temples, some food, and some nature. Go there and see.


I highly recommend a bicycle for navigating kyoto, its the perfect vehicle for its streets. The temples are worth the tourist hassle to go see, enjoy! Don’t forget to get your soft serve ice cream after each visit!

I highly recommend getting convenience store take out and chilling on the riverwalk near kiyamachidori with all the youngsters one night — it’s a scene to behold.

Kyoto Station

Honestly Kyoto station is gorgeous, check out the skyway for views of the city.


A dense and walkable section of the city near the river with lots of food, bars, etc.

Hilltop Tea House Mo-an

a delightful little walk and a delightful little cafe

Kyoto Railway Museum

A train museum that, if you like the idea of a train museum, you will love. Train spotters hang out on the roof terrace which has views of some great number of lines in the region.


is a quaint t-shirt store that you browse like a record shop

Kichi-Kichi Omurice

HEYYYYY — The greatest omurice personality in the world runs kichi kichi.

K-On Stone Bridge

If you’ve seen k-on, you might recognize this stone bridge from one of the OPs

K-On School

And if you liked the stone bridge, you’ll love the town of Toyosato, the inspiration for the environments in K-On. The old elementary school is a K-On museum, and it’s absolutely striking to visit and see how identical it is to the show.

Nagashi somen

Nagashi somen is a summer-time eating experience where you catch noodles coasting by in a bamboo trough, and you can experience this in a beautiful setting at Hirobun.


Osaka is great, though I haven’t spent a ton of time there yet. It is, however, home to the best katsu sando I’ve ever eaten.

The Best Katsu Sando — Grill Bon Dojima

I was in Osaka for a week, and I ate here for lunch nearly every day, and dinner sometimes too. It’s just that good.


An extremely dank curry spot.


Onomichi is a port-side town near Hiroshima that serves as one end of the Shimanami Kaido, the island bicycling network I love so much. It was extremely lively decades ago, when the port was well-used, but was on the decline once trade moved elsewhere. Now it’s experiencing a beautiful revival thanks to its fantastically dense old town, access to the Shimanami Kaido, and easy-going vibes.


野中サイクル / Nonaka Cycle

An old man has lived by the roadside here for ages, photographing all of the cyclists that have come by (this road comes out of the valley, as part of a marked circuit of Shikoku). If you find yourself nearby, hope that he is home and give his store a visit.


Nakatosa, served by the Tosa-Kure station, is an absolutely delightful seaside town in the central southern coast of Shikoku. It hosts a seafood market and some delightful cafes, all with the ease of a sea-side town far from the major cities. Nakatosa’s 名物 is bonito tataki, which I enjoyed at Hamachan.

We biked through and stayed at the fancy Ryokan on the hill overlooking the town, which has beautiful views from the onsen — highly recommended. We got a recommendation for a restaurant in town, Omoya where we were waited on by the mayor’s daughter (!). After some fun chit-chat, she offered to let us call her dad, so we chatted with the mayor. He recommended we play some park golf (it’s 9 half-sized holes of golf with just an iron and a putter) before we leave, and we did so gladly.

Kokuya Cafe

In Nakatosa is Kokuya Cafe, an absolutely impeccable cafe with lovely owners and a beautiful garden. I highly recommend a visit.


Powder & Snow Sports

Ok so first thing’s first: don’t bother going to Niseko, it’s literally not worth it unless you’re the kind of person who enjoys hanging out in a hypperreal resort town with rich families. If you’re searching for powder, go to Rusutsu, Asahidake, Tokachidake, Furano, and nearby smaller ski areas like Kamui and Kiroro.

If you want to ski Rusutsu, I would also avoid the resort area like the plague and instead stay nearby with a car OR stay outside of Niseko and take the 45 minute bus to the Rusutsu ski lifts.

Most resorts in Japan are considered “small” by American standards, but they’re more numerous and generally cheaper across the board. I stayed at Furano for 5 weeks and got a massive powder day at least once a week. If you rent a car, Furano is an excellent base for visiting the surrounding area.

Also life in Japan is just better, so the bang for your buck is off the charts. Unfortunately middle-aged Australians have also figured this out, so all of your on-mountain housing is, quick frankly, inundated with Australians. It can feel like one of those towns in California that’s entirely German architecture, but this time it’s Japanese architecture but everyone living there is Australian.

So my personal recommendation is to rent a car and avoid Kitanomine, again, like the plague. Find yourself a place to stay in the main city or nearby in the countryside and drive the 5-15 minutes to the lift and you’ll have a much better time. All of the good food isn’t going to be the easiest to access: if you’re in Rusutsu just walk across the street and your experience 10x’s because you’re off the resort. In Furano take the bus 5 minutes or walk 30 minutes into town and the quality of food and experience will, again, 10x.

Maybe I’ll write more about this later but Hokkaido might be the best place in the world to be in the winter (as a tourist), combining the quality of food, quality of snow, and cost of living.

The Daisetsuzan Valley & Furano

I thoroughly enjoyed my time in the Daisetsuzan valley (which i would describe as everything reachable by the JR Furano Line from Asahikawa to Furano). It’s absolutely gorgeous (esp. at sunrise and sunset) and is an all-season destination (epic snow in the winter and fly fishing/hiking/camping vibes in the summer).

The food is, broadly, excellent, but lies my new favorite curry restaurant in the world, Yuiga Doxon. It’s insanely good and presented with love and character out the wazoo. It’s a perfect restaurant experience. I recommend the Ox Tongue Doria w/ Bacon Topping, a dish that I ordered like 5 separate times. No reservations, so go by 5:15 to beat the tourist crowd. Personally their normal curry is good but not great, so I exclusively recommend the doria (baked) curries.

They also provide a homemade sausage (very Biltong-esq) otsumami that is insanely good.

Curry Shops

Furano has a ton of curry shops, and outside of Yuiga Doxon here are my favorites:

Kichi — Sri-Lankan

Furanoya — Soup curry with local veggies and fall-off-the-bone chicken

SURYA — casual Nepalese curry & naan

Panier — hyper local and hyper friendly


I recommend 喫茶我夢舎楽, a modern kissa, staffed by a frindly but gruff old man who makes a decent cup of coffee and a crisp sandwich. He also loves Eric Clapton.

The best pour over in Furano, however, is perhaps surprisingly served by Mahou-no-spoon a curry shop around the corner.

Lamb shabu-shabu at Sennari

Dai Ichi Shokudo is number 1 in character and serves extremely yummy affordable food


And finally I recommend this onsen


The resort amenities are, frankly, disastrously underwhelming for the cost of living, and you have to spend your time around tourist families. I do not recommend.

The snow however, is supposed to be world-class, and while I didn’t get a chance to visit during peak season, I’ll be back next season to check it out.

Eat literally anywhere but on the land-locked cruise ship that is the Rusutsu Convention Center and you’ll have a good time. Make sure you make reservations, though, demand far outstrips supply.

Tanpopo Shokudo was just all-around excellent and delightful — this restaurant is deserving of its high ratings.

Mokumokuya is all you can eat Ghengis Khan

do not go to Sakuba


Sapporo is a city with a lot of character, and gives of heavy “access to nature” vibes. A friend told me he regularly surfs in the morning, snowboards midday, and skateboards at night during the winter and into the spring (they have spring skiing, though obviously the snow isn’t powder or anything).

Alchemist Coffee is an incredible coffee stand in a bougie neighborhood

Jamaica is a quintessential jazz kissa w/ a JBL Paragon system

Precious Hall is a dance hall sporting the most insane sound system in all of japan (bring ear protection). yes it’s unmarked, it’s in the basement, show up early for high quality sound solo, fashionably late for vibes

Neld Coffee Club is a vinyl cafe with a distinctly hip crowd

Sapporo Factory is a mall that specializes in outdoor gear


Japan is an excellent place to be alone, I highly recommend a period of solo travel for any and everyone reading this. There’s a certain ennui granted by one’s set and setting and Japan’s setting is particularly *chefs kiss*.


The Inland Sea

Craig Mod