As the world continues to grow in demand for tourism, there has never been a better time to visit Japan. The country well known for strict entry requirements is now easing into a tourist-friendly approach, and it only looks to improve over time.
My family recently took advantage of this and visited a couple of months ago back in May. Being an anime enthusiast myself, I made our itinerary to not only include the usual Tokyo hot spots, but also scenic landmarks featured in famous anime like “Slam Dunk”, and “Your Name”. Here are 7 destinations from our trip that you can add to your own Japan excursion.
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Getting Around in Japan: Train Cards and Rental Cars
Before we get to the good stuff, I thought it would be useful to share some insights on how to get around. The most convenient way to travel would definitely be by train, or local transportation using their commuter pass.
For this, you will want to go to your nearest train station and look for the ticket vending machines (there is usually an English option so don’t worry). Assuming you are in Tokyo, you will be issued either a Suica or Pasmo card. They both have the same functions but are run by different companies.
Either one will work if you stay within the general area and surrounding prefectures, but you might have to purchase a different card the further you go. For the destinations to be listed, we won’t be more than 2 prefectures away from Tokyo so you should be fine.
The commuter passes usually cost 400 yen (you still need to add additional funds to add yen to your balance), but they are incredibly useful and make an awesome souvenir. Once you’ve loaded up, the cards can also be used on vending machines and participating franchises to make purchases.
In addition to public transportation, I also recommend renting a car for the less accessible destinations or even just for convenience. You can use Hopper’s discount codes to get $25 in Carrot Cash for car rental if (the offer is available). Having a vehicle was especially useful when I took my family out; I was in complete control of the schedule, and we didn’t have to rush anyone to catch a train.
For anyone wanting to rent a car, I was able to do so easily by reserving online (most travel websites like kayak.com should work). I would also rent an “ETC” card; it lets the toll gates charge you wirelessly instead of stopping to pay physically.
As for the general driving experience in Japan, it’s not difficult at all. While you might want to do a light review of the traffic regulations, the most important rule I took away was stopping completely before crossing train tracks and minding the cyclists. I would also make sure to have the proper license before making a reservation. Japan does, however, drive on the left.
1) Kamakurakōkōmae Station (Slam Dunk)/Enoshima
Located along the shorelines of Kanagawa, this nostalgic train crossing is a must-see for any visitor. If you want a decent photograph to recreate the iconic Slam Dunk opening, go around 7 a.m. before the tourists arrive.
The train station is relatively easy to get to, but I always take my car here so I can enjoy a scenic drive by the coast afterward. On a clear day, you might even catch an awesome view of Mt. Fuji. And while you’re out there, the next attraction is only a train stop away.
Connected via a bridge and surrounded by beaches, Enoshima is arguably the best day trip destination. Their main attraction is a forested hill featuring shrines, parks, observation decks, and more.
The hill has 3 main levels you can climb using stairs, trails, or even an escalator—for a fee. It’s incredibly tourist-friendly; abundant with cafes, restaurants, bathrooms, and other facilities. I like to treat myself to their food stalls near the base after a 2-hour hike.
2) “Your Name” Stairs
Suga Shrine is a 10-minute walk from Shinomachi station. Though Google Maps said 10 minutes, it definitely felt longer. The route had quite a few zig-zags and uphill climbs, but it was well worth it once we got there.
Even though my parents didn’t understand the context, they were still mesmerized by the sheer tranquility of the area. Needless to say, a photoshoot was in order for the lovely couple; and after a quick Google search, Mom even made sure to highlight it on her Facebook.
3) Akihabara/Radio Kaikan
Any anime fan worth their salt will not forget to swing by here. In the early days, Akihabara was known as the “Electric Town.” You could find pretty much anything you needed for your electrical projects: transformers, fuses, wires, tools, etc.
These days you can still find stalls that cater to creative engineers, but they are heavily outnumbered by anime stores and maid cafes. Among the many establishments though, there’s one that stands out from the rest.
Radio Kaikan is a 10-story building dedicated to anime merchandise. In my opinion, you can find just about everything here so I usually don’t even bother checking out the surrounding markets. Pro tip: Unless you’re sure that it’ll get snatched up, compare the prices of the product on other floors before making a purchase. I did the opposite and overpaid $10 when the next level had a better price.
When you start to feel hungry from all your shopping, the Akihabara UDX commercial building has a large selection of restaurants. I usually go to the tonkatsu (pork chop) restaurant on the 3rd floor. It’ll run you around $25 for a combo meal, but the taste and quality more than justify the price. Did I mention there’s no tipping in Japan?
For dessert, head over to the gelato shop at the station exit next to Radio Kaikan. They have some unique flavors like black sesame and tea, plus their ice cream is super fluffy. I myself like to pair their sea salt caramel with some classic chocolate on a cone. Best way to finish a whole day of shopping.
4) Gundam Factory, Yokohama
If you’ve ever wanted to see a giant mecha in real life, this is your best bet. This attraction boasts an 18-meter-tall Gundam in a functional docking station that you can board (with a ticket purchase). And if that wasn’t enough, it even moves!
I grew up watching the Power Rangers and Gundam Wing so it was quite the experience to finally see a giant robot in action. It won’t be moving around the clock, however, so check Gundam out for their showtimes.
The Gundam factory is located at Yokohama Bay, so there’s a lot to see in the surrounding locale. Chinatown is just a few blocks away, and the Cup Noodle Factory is within walking distance as well. It wouldn’t hurt to block off a whole day to explore this area.
5) Pokemon Centers
I think it’s fair to assume that everyone has participated in the Pokemon franchise at some point in time. Whether from apps, video games, shows, or trading cards, this IP has withstood the test of time and appears to only gain in social relevance.
The Pokemon Centers in Japan are an easy item to include in any itinerary. They are usually located near train stations and not that difficult to enter. There might be a line to get in, but it never took me more than 30 minutes to enter.
There are 14 venues in total; but in my opinion, if you’ve seen one Pokemon center you’ve seen them all. They might have exclusive merchandise at some locations, but I wouldn’t go out of my way unless I was a hardcore fan.
If you do decide to include more than one in your trip, each center has unique patron Pokemon statues so be sure to snap some pictures! My favorite is the Ho-oh sculpture at the Kyoto branch.
6) Mt. Haruna (Initial D)
The car scene in Japan is every young man’s dream. Something I’ve noticed over the past few years of living here is that the Japanese take good care of their belongings, including their vehicles. Driving on public roads, it isn’t uncommon to see 40-year-old cars running in tip-top shape.
And speaking of old cars; if you grew up watching Initial D, then you probably know of a certain Toyota hatchback fondly nicknamed the “Tofu 86”. This car is one of the most iconic figures in racing media, made famous by its impeccable drifting capabilities. While you may not be able to take one home from your trip, you can certainly satisfy your need for speed at the Mt. Haruna touge.
For this location, I think that renting a car is the best way to go. First, make your way over to D’s Racing Cafe Garage. Here, you can not only enjoy Initial D-themed snacks and memorabilia, but you might even be able to snap a pic with your own Trueno 86! And if that wasn’t enough, it’s also a popular meeting point for car parties before they make their way up the mountain.
Once you’ve had your fill of race-themed goodies, the final stop will be Lake Haruna. If your starting point is from the cafe, your route should include the uphill portion of the fictional Takumi’s tofu route. The hairpins on this course are just as intense as in the show, but the roads are decently wide, and during the day you’ll be sharing it with the common populace.
There are a few scenic background drops going up, so make sure to take your time and get your shots in. The famous water tower from the show will be there too, so definitely don’t miss that.
After you’ve had your fill of the touge, the soothing Lake Haruna awaits you at the top. It’s a decent place to rest up and enjoy the outdoors. There are shops and restaurants if you’re hungry, and the lake has rentable boats you can use to explore.
7) Mt. Fuji
Personally, there isn’t a particular spot that comes to mind when I think of an anime landmark that features Fuji-san, AKA Mt. Fuji. Perhaps I haven’t watched enough shows to recognize one, but I also think that getting the mountain itself in the background far outweighs where you’re taking the picture from. With that said, I have visited the area a few times so I definitely have some cool places to recommend.
Full disclosure, I think driving is more convenient when traveling around this area but there should be public transport available. Additionally, I’ve also noticed that the days are clearest around wintertime, so plan accordingly.
The first site is Mishima Skywalk—this location features a suspension bridge with an unobstructed view of Mt. Fuji. It also has a ton of outdoor activities if you’re feeling adventurous, like zip lining, bike riding, obstacle courses, and even ATVs to take on the trail.
I wasn’t too energetic when I visited so I went to their owl enclosure instead. It’s probably the coolest animal cafe I’ve ever been to, especially because you can pet the carnivorous birds. I still have all my fingers intact, so I give this one my solid approval.
The second place is Gotemba premium outlets. It isn’t as exciting as the last suggestion, but it’s a great place to take it easy and exercise your tax exemption privileges. There’s even a dedicated venue to get the perfect photo with Mt. Fuji in the backdrop.
The selections at their food court aren’t the best; I usually eat at the rest stops on the way. They do have cafes and stalls though, so dessert here wouldn’t be a bad idea. There’s also a Pokemon shop with a Fuji-san/Pikachu statue worthy of a picture.
For my last pick, it would be a Lawson convenience store in Fujikawaguchiko. I don’t think it was featured in anything, but I’ve seen it from time to time on social media and in passing.
In fact, even when I wasn’t actively looking for the konbini (convenience store), I immediately recognized it from an Instagram reel. This Lawson just has the perfect location where Mt. Fuji is directly behind it and there aren’t any neighboring structures to pollute your photo.
I’ve only listed 3 but there are just way too many sites in Fuji-san’s prefecture to go over in general. We haven’t even brought up the surrounding lakes, parks, gardens, or castles. If you don’t have too many days to spare, I honestly think that picking one spot to get the perfect photo is good enough.
And thus concludes my 7 destinations for an anime-friendly Japan vacation. There might be some notable mentions missing, but I chose to only include locations I’ve personally visited. For future articles, we can expand to further prefectures like Osaka and Kyoto. Until then, hope these suggestions come in useful when planning your itinerary, and even more helpful when you arrive. Ja ne (じゃあね)