7) Drink Strange Things From Vending Machines
Next on your trip, make sure to frequent the numerous beverage vending machines that pepper the Japanese cityscapes like stars in the sky.
The great thing about these vending machines? They serve hot drinks! Which means when you're traipsing through bitterly cold winterscapes, you're never more than a few blocks away from a machine that, for a mere 120 yen or so, will serve you a warm bottle or can of tea, coffee, or even hot, sugary lemon-water.
I literally made it a point to drink everything I could from these things. I had about a 25/75 split between delicious treats and gross crap. Maybe your tastes will differ!
8) Visit the Snow-Covered Garden Paradise That is Kenroku-en in Kanazawa
With a warm beverage in hand, your next stop is the gobsmacking beauty that is the Kenroku-en gardens.
This place is a national treasure all year round, but in the winter, it's a snow-filled paradise that seems like it jumped out of a Studio Ghibli movie.
Words can't do this place justice, so here's a photo:
9) Drink Tea With Owls in Osaka
But enough of the beauty and majesty of nature - here's a place that'll let you drink Ginger Ale and pet some owls!
There's actually quite a few of these places around Osaka - this one here we found on a side street in the bustling shopping district of Dotonbori, but there's also Owl Family and a few others. Not to mention the popular Cat Cafes. Essentially, just pick an animal, and there's probably a cafe that is filled with 'em.
10) Witness Huge, Angry Japanese Crows
Speaking of birds, I'd be remiss if I didn't mention the enormous, frightening Japanese crows.
Like something out of a sordid, 19th century horror novel, Japanese crows are fucking huge and sound a lot angrier than their North American corvid brothers. And crows are smart, too - don't be surprised if you happen upon three crows stacked on top of each other inside a trench coat, purporting to be a human and sitting at a restaurant.
11) Play the Table-Flipping Arcade Game
Now here's something that's totally for the birds - an arcade game where, for 100 Yen, you play as a frustrated Japanese dad, who flips a table and causes all manner of havoc and destruction! In the words of my girlfriend: "it's like they based an arcade game on my alcoholic father!"
The game is called Cho Chabudai Gaeshe (Super Table Flip!), and tasks you as an angry Japanese man in a variety of situations. My chosen scenario? A man at a funeral, suffering through the hysteric cries of a shrieking widow, a drunken priest, and several snotty children. With one big flip of the plastic table, your character shouts "BAKAYAROU" and sends the casket flying, corpse in tow, as it crashes into people and objects; the point being, the more destruction you cause, the higher your points.
Make sure to find it, if you're the kind of weirdo like me who is into fucked up video games. This one we found at the Namco Wonder Tower in Kyoto.
12) See Nicolas Cage and Tommy Lee Jones Hawking Japanese Products
Now, what's the point of being an American in Japan without scouring the landscape for celebrity cameos? Sure enough, you can find several throughout the major cities - like Nicolas Cage here, hawking watches with his trademark crazed glower and ridiculous toupee.
There's also Tommy Lee Jones on a vending machine, reminding all of us to drink Coffee Boss.
13) Witness Japan's Weird Fascination With the Movie Ted
While we're on the subject of strange American-Japanese cultural cross-pollination, one of the things I noticed during my trip was just how much they seem to love the movie Ted over there. There's Ted merchandise in every store, Ted toys in every crane game and capsule machine, and even the guy outside the SEGA-owned arcade was welcoming passers-by while waving around a Ted figurine.
Guess the movie was a hit there. Huh.
14) Navigating Japanese Streets Is Hard
One thing to keep in mind as you plan a trip to Japan - they don't organize their streets the same way us Americans are used to. You might think you can get by strictly on Google Maps (I did), and boy howdy, are you in for a rude awakening. For one thing, Google Maps does work, but all the street names are listed in Japanese, not English or even Romanji. Also, unless the place you're looking for has its name officially in English, don't think you'll be able to pull it up just by plugging it in to Google; you'll need to find the original Japanese text of the place first.
Not to mention the fact that overseas data plans for cell phones are expensive. So, there are a few options that'll make things easier. One, there are quite a few apps for either Android or iOS that'll make navigating Tokyo and other major cities easier; some cost a few hundred Yen, though. Two, you can do what we did, and simply go along with a tour guide. Failing that, simply bring along a friend who's already familiar with the area. And if you're relying on your phone to do the lion's share of the navigation, look into renting a portable 4G Wi-Fi unit - it'll probably cost a whole hell of a lot less than an overseas data plan.
15) Fly Out of Kansai, not Narita or Hanabe
Perhaps most importantly, though! If you're thinking of visiting Japan in the wintertime, FOR THE LOVE OF GOD make sure you fly in and out of the Kansai airport in Osaka, and NOT the Narita or Hanabe airports in Tokyo. It's probably a bit more expensive, and there probably aren't as many flights, but it'll be worth it.
Because! Osaka rarely, if ever, sees any snow. Tokyo, meanwhile, has to deal with snow constantly. Speaking from experience here, it's probably worth your time and money in order to avoid any possible scenario wherein you're stuck in Hanabe from a major snowstorm for literally 48 hours, sleeping on the airport floor with other stranded international refugees, unable to book an adjacent hotel because they're booked solid, your every attempt at slumber ruined by the cackling monstrosities being bellowed by a nearby Hello Kitty machine, luring innocents towards it with a madness-inducing song that loops in an endless fury, over and over again, until one questions the validity of their own concept of sanity.
But other than that! I had a fantastic time in Japan in the winter, and you can too!
Previously by Brian Hanson: