1. Watch the sunrise from on top of Mount Fuji [Shizuoka Prefecture, Japan]
Climbing Mt. Fuji is no easy task, but it’s highly revered by many Japanese people as one of the most important pilgrimages you can make in your life. To successfully make it to the top of Mt. Fuji in time to witness the sunrise, you must start your 8-hour ascent around 6 pm and hike through the night.
2. Try patbingsu [South Korea]
Definitely my favourite summertime dessert, patbingsu (or also known as bingsu) is a Korean shaved ice dish that incorporates toppings such as condensed milk, fresh fruit, ice cream, and sweet red beans. In Seoul, you don’t need to walk far to find a bingsu café.
3. Visit the town that inspired Hayao Miyazaki’s Spirited Away [Jiufen, Taiwan]
Located an hour outside of Taipei, Jiufen is a small mountainside town that has become a tourist hotspot due to its magical atmosphere. Navigate the lantern-lined paths that take you through hundreds of stores and food stalls, and stick around until nightfall to watch the town become illuminated by lantern light.
4. Witness high-energy Pungmul [Insadong, South Korea]
Pungmul is an incredible feat of multitasking. Performers not only dance in unison, but also constantly move their heads to whip around the ribbon attached to their hats AND play instruments at the same time! I happened upon a street performance while walking though the traditional Korean-style neighbourhood of Insadong in Seoul.
5. Trade crackers for pleasantries with deer [Nara, Japan]
If you find yourself in Kyoto, devote a day to discovering Nara, only 50 minutes away by train. While you’re there, visit Todaiji Temple – one of Japan’s most famous and historically significant temples. Don’t be surprised when you see deer everywhere; flocks of domesticated deer wander through the temple and park grounds. You can buy “deer cookies” from vendors around the area and watch as deer quickly surround you.
The true magic is exchanging bows with the Nara deer. If you have a cookie in hand, try bowing your head and the deer will bow back! Be warned, until the last crumb has fallen from your hands, they will endlessly pester you by nibbling on your clothing and rubbing their snotty noses against all your possessions. I don’t recommend touching the deer, as they are really not interested in cuddling and can become aggressive.
6. Sample the weird and wonderful street food of the Shilin Night Market [Taipei, Taiwan]
If you’re not a fan of large crowds of people, avoid visiting this popular night market around peak tourist seasons. I can’t speak for how busy it is on a normal night, but it was PACKED when I visited the week following the Chinese New Year. Putting that aside, it was a completely unique experience. Explore several streets of cheap clothing stores and food vendors selling stinky tofu, exotic fruits, and bubble tea.
7. Channel your inner wizard at Harry Potter World! [USJ, Osaka, Japan]
Do you like rides and Harry Potter? Well now you can have both – AT ONCE! Universal Studio Japan’s most popular attraction, Harry Potter World allows fans to walk through Hogsmeade village, drink butter beer, and enter the infamous Hogwarts. Spend way too much money on overpriced novelty wares and iconic candy! The lines are long, no doubt, but it’s worth the wait.
8. Spend the day at the beach [Okinawa, Japan]
I bet you didn’t know Japan has its own version of Hawaii! Okinawa is part of a chain of tropical islands that’s unique for forming its own distinctive culture separate from mainland Japan. Okinawans have their own dialect of Japanese, folk music and dance, cuisine, architecture, and so on. It’s a popular destination for mainland Japanese tourists looking to retreat from the bustle of city life. One thing I must mention is the American military presence in Okinawa. In the capital city of Naha, you really can’t miss it, with military bases and American soldiers practically everywhere. For this reason, English is widely spoken and visible on most signs.
9. Taipei from the side of Elephant Mountain [Taipei, Taiwan]
A short 20-minute hike up the side of Elephant Mountain is guaranteed to give you a spectacular view of Taipei. The climb consists of worn concrete stairs built into the side of the mountain. This path is definitely a tourist hotspot, but the crowds thin out once you pass a certain elevation. It’s also a great way to spot some of Taiwan’s tropical flora and interesting insects.
10. Korean BBQ will change your life [South Korea]
You don’t know it yet, but Korean BBQ is your favourite food experience. You’ll be seated around a hot grill plate and served several side dishes of pickled and fresh vegetables and a basket of fresh lettuce leaves. When you’ve decided on which cuts of meat you’d like (it’s ‘samgyeopsal’ or pork belly, trust me), the waiter will throw your meat on the grill with some garlic cloves and kimchi. After what feels like an eternity of drooling over the succulent meat as it cooked, finally it can be cut into small pieces. Take a piece; wrap it inside lettuce with garlic and anything else you want to throw in; eat in one, swift bite; and proceed to cry tears of joy.
11. Summer firework festivals [Tokyo, Japan]
As Tokyo summer officially comes into full swing, so do the festivities. People dust off their yukatas (a lighter version of the kimono) and pack their picnic baskets. While there are many different types of festivals occurring throughout the sunny season, firework festivals are among the most beloved. Friends and couples gather on rooftops, riverbanks, and park fields to enjoy the fireworks, usually with an alcoholic beverage and good food.
12. Relax alongside the snow monkeys of Jigokudani Yaenkoen [Nagano, Japan]
Onsens, or hot-spring bathhouses, are one of Japan’s most treasured cultural experiences. Nestled in the hills of Nagano prefecture, there is a small town famous for their 400-year-old Japanese style hotels, charming bathhouses, and lastly…their monkeys. Tourists can visit a special outdoor onsen and witness Japanese macaque monkeys soaking in hot spring water.
13. Eat your weight in savory beef scallion pancakes [Taipei, Taiwan]
I don’t think this one needs to much explaining. It’s tender beef and scallions wrapped in a hot, flaky pastry…it’s amazing.
14. Experience live indie music, street dancing, and urban art in Hongdae [Seoul, South Korea]
Hongdae is the center of Korea’s youth culture and is well-known for it’s cheap shopping, live performances from aspiring singers and dance troupes, and bustling clubbing scene. Come after noon, as most shops don’t open until 1pm and stay open until midnight. There are a wide variety of restaurants to choose from: fried chicken, Korean BBQ, noodles, and more. You’ll need a full day (and night) to fully experience Hongdae.
15. RAMEN!!! [Japan]
If you are or have ever been a student, then you know the cheap delight that is instant ramen. Well I’m talking about something far different. Ramen is the ultimate comfort food of Japan – the perfect combination of broth, noodles, and toppings that change to suit any taste. Different regions of Japan are famous for their ramen combinations. Ramen broths are typically concocted from one or more of these bases: salt, soy sauce, miso, and pork bone. Depending on which base is used, the consistency of the ramen can range from light and refreshing to rich and creamy. One thing I love about ramen is that it’s never the same from one place to the next, with each restaurant adding its own special twist.
Ambassador: Devin Martin
Host University: Toyo University, Tokyo, Japan