My Mega Japan Bucket List Wins and Fails

Japan bucket list


Japan was a country that had been on my bucket list for eons.  I imagined robots mingling with colourfully dressed people.  Images of ruggedly beautiful nature floated through my mind.  Late nights of partying at the best clubs with the best people filled me with energy and optimism…

So when I finally got the chance to visit Japan, I went nuts setting up our itinerary.  Even as I was making our list of must-do activities, I knew we would never be able to take in all Japan had to offer.  Definitely, some of the stuff on our bucket list was going to be challenging to accomplish.  Still, I expected to come out crossing most things off the list.  It didn’t quite happen that way.

There is so much to take in while visiting Japan, we decided to slow down our pace instead of rushing through a checklist of experiences.  In the end, we enjoyed our time more this way.  Yet, I have to admit, I do have some FOMO that occasionally keeps me up at night.  Japan and I definitely have some unfinished business.


My Mega Japan Bucket List Wins and Fails


Soak in a Hot Spring with Monkeys – FAIL



Japan bucket list,snow monkey
Photo credit: Daisuke tashiro


This I expected to be the most difficult of my dreams to fulfill.  Yet, there is a ryokan near the Jigokudani Monkey Park – where the snow monkeys visit hot springs – which has an outdoor onsen that is occasionally visited by the monkeys.  This sounded pretty perfect until I read the reviews.  The ryokan itself was shabby and had holes in the walls.  The outdoor onsen, while offering intimate encounters with monkeys, was often found with bits of monkey poo floating around in it – a bit too intimate for my tastes.  Also, as the snow disappears from the area – around springtime, when we were there – so do the monkeys.  It wasn’t worth a day out of our itinerary to even try to watch monkeys in a hot spring.


Hike – WIN?


Japan bucket list, Yamadera


Hiking is a popular pastime in Japan and one of my favourite activities.  While my sprained ankle was not going to allow me to do any of the hikes we had planned, or even finish the ones we started, we did get to at least do some hiking.  We made it part way up Fushimi Inari, all the way up Yamadera, and completed a few kilometres of the famous Choishi Michi trail.  Sure, we got a little lost and ended up on the wrong trail once – a trail that would have taken us over 20 kilometres in the wrong direction – but I’m glad we got to set our feet on some pretty trails.


Make Friends with a Robot – FAIL


Japan bucket list, Tokyo, robot


In the land of technology, this should have been a sure-fire win.  Originally, we were going to stay at Weird Hotel near Nagasaki where a dinosaur robot wearing a cap does the service of checking in guests.  However, we had no other reason to be in that area, so that sadly got scratched.

There is a small robot called Pepper that one can find in various stores and banks, etc.  We encountered three of these Peppers.  They were all broken.  Besides that, Pepper only speaks Japanese, but I still think we could have developed a rudimentary friendship.

None of this bothered me though because I had tickets to Robot Restaurant where I would be subjected to a non-sensical plot involving many flashing lights and, yes, a few robots.  Turns out, the tickets I purchased were for a month before we even arrived in Japan.


Take Part in Hanami (cherry blossom viewing) – WIN


Japan bucket list, Nara, cherry blossom, hanami


Cherry blossoms are known for their fleeting season.  It can be difficult to predict when they will bloom or how long they will last.  But we hit Tokyo at the perfect time.  True, the rain kept us from a romantic swan boat ride on a moat littered with pink blossoms, but the tree-lined streets were still beautiful.

By the time we arrived in Kyoto, the weather had cleared and the blossoms in that area were reaching their peak bloom.  We saw castles framed by pink blossoms, a light show dedicated to the cherry blossom season, and even watched the deer of Nara frolic beneath blossoms that blew gently on the breeze.


Go to an Animal Café – FAIL


Japan bucket list, Osaka, cat cafe


This was more of a choice than a fail.  Japan is rife with animal cafés.  We never had to look far for a cat café.  Owl cafés were fairly common as well.  On top of that were also hedgehog cafés, rabbit cafés, monkey cafés, and snake cafés.  Now, I don’t so much mind the idea of a cat or rabbit café since those animals are domesticated pets.  Ethically, however, I couldn’t support a business that monetises on exotic animals.  So while we could have paid  for ten minutes of cat cuddles, the fact is we have a cat at home who wants nothing but to cuddle us – and for free!


Have an Arcade Battle/Dance-Off – FAIL?

I was under the impression that Tokyo would be brimming with boisterous arcades full of people looking like professional DDR (Dance Dance Revolution) players.  In fact, we only went into one arcade and the games there were definitely not for beginners.  We saw a guy playing some card game where he had to move half a dozen cards around on a screen to control the actions of the game.  There are other arcades in Tokyo, and they’re not hard to miss, but miss them we did.  However, in the little town of Nara, we found a toy-grab arcade that had a two player drumming game.  All I can say is we were awesome and Laura definitely won.


Get a Beauty Tip from a Harajuku Woman -FAIL


Japan bucket list, Tokyo, Harajuku


We counted ourselves lucky to have even seen any Harajuku women since apparently it is becoming a more and more rare sight.  We even sat right next to one as she and her entourage were prepping her look at the Shibuya Starbuck’s.  My fail on this task is completely my own fault – I was simply too shy (although I told myself I was being courteous to their personal space, despite the fact that they didn’t seem to mind getting attention).


Go to a Maid Café – FAIL

The only reason this was on the list was because every site that talks about Japan says you must go to a maid café and be doted on by the most submissive and feminine acting waitresses.  Yet, when you walk down the street in Akihabara and see the maids standing outside in the rain in their skimpy costumes, it begins to feel more indecent and less like a fun novelty.  We were happy to pass on this experience.


Visit Cat Island, Rabbit Island, and/or Fox Village – FAIL

My research into some of the cat islands (there are 6 I believe), seemed to show ethical treatment of the animals – which are feral and under population control.  The ethics surrounding fox village, however, were ambiguous at best.  We skipped the foxes for that reason and passed on the cats and rabbits due to time constraints.


Japan Rail Pass link


Play Out a Scene from Lost in Translation – FAIL

Bill Murray was nowhere to be found…


Visit an Active Volcano – FAIL

Japan is yet another country that has offered me to chance to breathe in sulphur dioxide and possibly die in a fiery eruption (see my post Best Laid Plans: Things I Never Manage to Accomplish When I Travel).  We missed this due to a combination of weather and time constraints.


Crawl Through the Hole of Elightenment – WIN


Japan bucket list, Nara, hole of enlightenment


There is a pillar behind the Great Buddha in Nara that has a 50cm hole in it – supposedly the size of one of the Daibutsu’s nostrils.  You crawl through it – if you can – and are thereby guaranteed enlightenment.  I made it through the hole, but I don’t think anyone will be lining up for sage advice from me anytime soon.


Buy Something Weird from a Vending Machine – FAIL


Japan bucket list, Tokyo, vending machine


The only vending machines we found were selling drinks or toys.  No dirty underwear, hamburgers, or even a clean t-shirt.  I guess you can’t get everything you need from an automatic machine at a train station.


Go to a Lesbian Nightclub – WIN


Japan bucket list, Tokyo, ni-chome, LGBTQ, Bar Goldfinger


Bar Goldfinger is the most famous lesbian bar in Tokyo.  With a slogan like ‘Short Fingernails Club’ it would be difficult not to fall in love with this place.  Once a month, they hold an all-night party at a nearby venue and the small bar is open to females only.  While we didn’t have the energy to party until 5am, we drank what we could and took in some decent karaoke performances while making a few new friends at the bar.


Get Tipsy in Golden Gai – FAIL

Everything fell apart for me after the Robot Restaurant fiasco.  Our plans to spend the evening bar hopping on these narrow streets fell through when I became desperate to be anywhere where there weren’t crowds of people. On the upside, we did get to do some karaoke that I’m sure would have won us a spot on American Idol.


Partake in a Tea Ceremony – WIN?

I’m calling this one a win.  We didn’t partake in a traditional tea ceremony, but there was something of a tea ceremony before the geisha performance we attended in Kyoto.  It was rushed, but we got to sit down at a little table and be served matcha tea while three geishas stoically watched the crowd.


Use all the Buttons on a Japanese Toilet – WIN


Japan bucket list, toilet


There is nothing more enticing to a naked bum than a heated toilet seat.  I haven’t sat on a public toilet seat since I was 16, but that warm, ceramic ring was just too much to resist.  Besides having a warm place for your toosh, these toilets come with buttons that clean the toilet for you, play water sounds, offer all kinds of spraying options (I never did figure out how to sit properly so the power wash didn’t spray water everywhere), and even hot air to dry yourself off.  Going to the bathroom will never be the same.


Attend a Game Show – FAIL

It’s supposed to be quite difficult to get tickets to a game show.  In my perpetual laziness, I didn’t even try.  We did see something on tv one night that resembled a game show…at first.  It was difficult to make out exactly what the premise was, but guests of the show were apparently winning baskets of kittens and puppies.  Things went in a different direction shortly after and the show turned out to be something about a dog whisperer?  Laura was fascinated.  She watched it for a whole hour.


Meet the Station Cat -FAIL


Japan bucket list, Tama the station cat
Photo credit: Douglas Sprott


“Cat stationmaster Tama mourned in Japan and elevated as goddess,” reads one recent headline.  Cats are freaking awesome, especially ones that wear hats and run train stations.  Alas, we did not have the time to head to Kishi Station to meet this next-to-godliness feline.  And now we never will.  RIP Tama.


Eat the Best Sushi in the World – FAIL


Japan bucket list, Osaka, sushi, octopus


Travelling in Japan on a gluten-free diet is an anxiety provoking experience.  We avoided EVERYTHING.  Sure, you can find sashimi that is probably safe to eat.  But we live in Vancouver where the sushi is not only at least decent, but also affordable.  We found one gluten-free restaurant in Tokyo offering a chirashi bowl (sashimi on a bowl of rice) for $30 USD!!!  I pay $12 for that here in Vancouver.  This fail saved me enough money to buy an awesome dress with swans on it.


Drink a Sakura Frappuccino – FAIL

Once a year, Starbuck’s releases a limited time only sakura frappuccino.  You would think this would happen around April – when the cherry blossoms are out.  Nope.  This springtime drink comes out in the blistery month of February.  If it’s on par with their unicorn frappuccino, we didn’t miss anything – except a pretty, pink drink.


Find Absurd Candy – WIN


Japan bucket list, Tokyo, cotton candy


Eating a giant rainbow cotton candy in the rain is a daunting and sticky task, but it had to be done.  There are other candy shops that offer rainbow candy floss, but, judging by the line-ups, Totti Candy is the most famous.  Sure, the mark-up on candy floss is a billion percent, but…it’s so big and pretty…  In all seriousness, as far as cotton candy goes, this was a good one.  Each colour has a different flavour and each flavour tastes like something other than just food colouring.  I highly recommend you find a friend to share this much pure sugar with.


Buy Lesbian Manga – WIN


Japan bucket list, Tokyo, manga, lesbian


We bravely, almost confidently, walked down the stairs into the adult only section of a random manga store in Akihibara.  Maybe the muggy weather caused the guy behind the counter to overheat, or maybe the sight of two women walking into a very pornographic area of the store was a dream come true for him.  Perhaps he was watching something graphic on his computer rather than checking stock.  Either way, this young man was definitely fanning himself while making some interesting faces.  We left quickly.

However, in the all-ages section, I found this gem of a document cover.  One could argue that it’s nothing more than hetero girl-on-girl fantasy, but…there’s also a cat.  Definitely lesbian manga.


See the Mummified Mermaid – FAIL


Japan bucket list, Koyasan, mummified mermaid
Photo credit: Mary-chan


It’s a natural progression to go from loving unicorns to loving mermaids.  So when you find out there’s a museum in Koyasan that has a genuine fake mummified mermaid on display, of course you have to go.  But then you get lost hiking, the day slips away from you, and you decide it’s not worth your hard-earned money to pay to see what is actually a monkey head attached to a fish.


Drink a Kyoto Coffee – FAIL

With a name like Kyoto coffee, you would think Kyoto would be littered with coffee shops offering this elaborate brew that takes 6 to 24 hours to make.  Supposedly, the coffee that comes out of these flasks and tubes is more sophisticated in flavour with subtle nuances of chocolate.  There must be a shop out there somewhere, but we didn’t cross paths with it.


Total WINs: 8       Total FAILs: 17


Perhaps this bucket list was ambitious to begin with.  Even though the FAILs largely outnumbered the WINs, we still feel like we won at this trip overall.  At the end of the day, anything you do in Japan counts as a win!


For more inspiration planning your trip, check out my Two Week Itinerary for Japan!



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There is so much to do in Japan, you can't possibly do it all. But you can try!






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28 Replies to “My Mega Japan Bucket List Wins and Fails”

  1. I really want to hit Japan some time, but I haven’t really started doing any research.. I didn’t know half of all these things that you (mostly didn’t) do 😀 But a very fun list to read still. Too bad with the non-gluten-free sushi though.!

    1. I hope it inspires your own bucket list!

  2. Haha well at least you tried! I laugh out loud in the office with the vending machine and the robot hahaha Safe travels. – Mariella

  3. I’m on queue for your sage advice. Haha. Everything on the list seems fun. If there was enough time and good weather condition though………

    1. Next time, I will conquer this list! My best life advice for you is to wear a tutu as often as you can:)

  4. I am totally pouting here! The first one alone is a dream I have always had – truthfully not to swim with the monkeys but to observe them and yet…I had never considered poop. EW. Thank you for this post. Japan is on our list of things to see – we have a kid who loves anime and we will have an easier time planning thanks to you!

  5. This is frigging hilarious Jennifer, I was chuckling the whole way throughout! So many fails on the list, what a shame! I’m sorry about your fail with the robots and the station cat, but you did get to use all 3 buttons on the Japanese toilet and drink a sakura frappucino! A brilliant post, a pleasure to read 😀

  6. Abigail Sinsona says: Reply

    This post was so much fun to read, you had me giggling all throughout. It actually opened my eyes to a long list of things to see or do in Japan. It’s a shame that the robots and vending machines were a fail, I was most curious about those when in Japan. At least your cherry blossom viewing was a win!

    1. I think you will find more interesting vending machines in the shadier parts of town…

  7. I feel so sorry for the robot fail, that even wasn’t on my Japanese to-do list, so now I have to make a new one!

  8. There are simply WAYYY too many buttons on those toilets. Glad you were able to enjoy yourself even if there were a lot of Fails. Its all about taking it in stride and enjoying your trip and I think you did that perfectly!

  9. Japan is such an odd (and that’s not a criticism) country! Someone I care about very much is a bit obsessed with it and I’m kind of tempted to say, “Take me with you!” That candy looks amazing. The mummified mermaid, not so much!

  10. Such a fun read! There are so many things you ca do in Japan that just doesn’t exist anywhere else!

  11. I loved this post! Even though you had more fails than wins, it was really entertaining and informative to read. I’m heading to Japan in a month, and I also have some unfinished business since my last trip was only 4 days – heading back for 4 weeks this time! Can’t wait, what was your most memorable experience of your trip?

    1. I think my favourite experience was visiting the cemetery at Koya-San in the evening. It was so quiet, very few tourists left, and the old cedar trees were gorgeous.

  12. More fails than wins, but this article is definitely a win for me as it is inspiring, informative and so funny to read! Shared it on Twitter! Japan is on our bucket list for ages and every year we talk about visiting, but then another great destination pops and there we go.. Japan is again on the ‘next year list ‘

  13. This is a wonderful article! I love the bucket-list you made for your trip they are perfect experiences to try to have in Japan. I’ve been dying to go to Japan and I will be saving this article to remember some of the do’s and don’ts for tourists. Thanks!

    1. We did a bunch of other fun things too. If you want any tips, feel free to send me an email:)

      1. Fersure! When we plan that trip I’ll shoot you a message 🙂

  14. I love the things on your list! It has some awesome things I would never have thought of adding. I think I would have skipped the monkey poop too haha.

  15. hahahaha! that’s quite a number of fails buuttt it sounds like it was such a fun trip regardless which is an EPIC win!

    Taiwo |

  16. I had heard of cat cafes before but hadn’t heard of cafes with other animals… even snakes?? Aside from the ethical implications of that, it would just freak me out to no end to be surrounded by snakes! No thank you! I still haven’t made it to Japan yet but am curious to see how many of these I’ll have the opportunity to experience when I finally make it there!

    1. They also had birds, owls, snakes, hedgehogs, rabbits…

  17. What a fun experience! Too bad the hot springs didn’t work out, it would’ve been awesome to see some monkeys.

  18. Quite the fun article about expectations and reality, lol. Just one thing: Eating fish for 2 USD and complaining about owl cafés is…sort of a contradiction 😉
    Good fish is expensive, just like good meat or good vegan alternatives that aren’t all chemicals and childlabor abuse 🙂

    1. You are absolutely right that quality, and ethical, food comes at a price (unfortunately). I hope we get to see the day where life is valued such that ethical consumption of foods and goods is available to everybody, regardless of economic class. I have transitioned back into a vegetarian diet, but I am still conscious that everything I put in or on my body comes at a price. If we are not paying it, somebody else is. My partner and I are fortunate enough at the moment to be able to support local farmers and be more conscious in our purchases. But I also am aware that not everyone has that privilege, and we don’t always make the best choices.
      I am very glad you made this point so that others can make their best informed decisions too.

  19. haha. great list. hedgehog café! had no idea it existed, would love to go

  20. Haha, too funny! I like how you tell this story. They just seemed too weird to possibly be true! However, I lived in Japan (Okayama-Cho) for 6 months and I know better! One can find some pretty weird Sh*t. Fun post.

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