Japan: Things to explore in between Rugby World Cup games

A tea ceremony at Sankeien Garden, Yokohama.
A tea ceremony at Sankeien Garden, Yokohama. Photo credit: Newshub./Alexia Santamaria

Japan really is one of the hottest places to travel right now.

Aside from its unique combination of impossibly ancient traditions and architecture; modern technology and whacky pop culture, it's the stage for the world's biggest rugby competition, and soon the Olympics.

On a very recent trip to Japan, I checked out some great options for All Blacks fans when they're not cheering the boys on.

International Yokohama Stadium

This is where New Zealand played South Africa and where the semi-finals, along with the final, will be played.

There's so much to do in Yokohama. If time permits, the towering 11.4m bronze statue of Amida Buddha is only a 45 minute train ride from Yokohama and well well worth seeing.

Sankeien Garden is a beautiful oasis of serenity in a country of 126 million people. It's also a great insight into times gone by, as culturally significant historical buildings from all over Japan have been transported there, some dating back to the 1400s.

Sankeien Garden in Yokohama Stadium.
Sankeien Garden. Photo credit: Newshub./Alexia Santamaria

Stroll by streams, over bridges, pass little waterfalls, bamboo groves and ponds and even enjoy a tea ceremony (well, a shortened version so you don't have to sit on your knees for hours).

If food is your jam, you're sorted - head directly to Chinatown for endless bustling traditional shop fronts serving xiao long bao, handmade noodles, juicy dumplings, huge fluffy steamed buns and other culinary delights. But pace yourself, there is so much good food you may run out of stomach space like we did.

Ramen at the Ramen museum in Shin-Yokohama, Japan.
Ramen at the Ramen museum in Shin-Yokohama. Photo credit: Newshub./Alexia Santamaria

If you love Ramen, the Ramen museum in Shin-Yokohama is an absolute must. This 'only-in-Japan' attraction is like a movie set of a 1950s shitamachi (downtown district) that's lit to feel like night time.

Wind your way through darkened alleys and retro street scenes and end up in the middle where you have the choice of nine different restaurants showcasing different regional styles of ramen. Possibly the best ramen I've ever tasted.

A busy street in Harajuku, Tokyo, in September, 2019.
Harajuku, like most parts of Tokyo, is often very crowded. Photo credit: Newshub./Alexia Santamaria

Tokyo Stadium

Where to even begin with a city like Tokyo? After watching the game against Namibia, there are endless possibilities in this famously sprawling metropolis - here are some of the best options:

  • Beautiful Sensoji Temple in Asakusa with its ancient buildings and hundreds of stalls selling snacks and Japanese knick-knacks

  • Ginza at night for that quintessential neon scene and excellent food all along Sukiya-dori

  • Shinjuku for shopping and Shibuya for nightlife

  • Tokyo Government Metropolitan building for sprawling views of this seemingly endless city

  • Harajuku on a Sunday for quirky madness, crazy fashion, animal cafes and unusual things to eat (think rainbow candy floss the size of your head and caramel corn topped bubble tea black latte)

  • Sumo at Ryogōku Kokugikan

  • Electronics at Akihabara and art like you've never seen it before at teamLab.

Japanese sashimi.
A classic sashimi meal. Photo credit: Newshub./Alexia Santamaria

And don't even start me on all the delicious eating options that seem to appear every few metres in this city - the basement at Daimaru in Tokyo Station is a foodie' paradise. There is so much to do in this million-miles-a-minute city, the only problem is how to fit it all in!

City of Toyota Stadium

Toyota is, of course, most famous for cars. And after you've watched the All Blacks play Italy, you can tour the Toyota HQ or check out their automotive museum (you need to book ahead for tours).

Nagoya is not far away and as Japan's third largest city and the birthplace of arguably Japan's greatest samurai warriors, it's a wonderful place to shop, eat and enjoy fascinating cultural experiences.

The castle is stunning and Nagoya is also home to the biggest planetarium in the world. We loved poking through the shops in Osu Shopping District and eating all the local specialities like eel, chicken wings and pork katsu with miso sauce.

Nagoya Castle in September.
Nagoya Castle. Photo credit: Newshub./Alexia Santamaria

We also ventured further - a couple of hours by car from Nagoya, to Takayama, and I would definitely recommend doing that if time permits. The old town is wonderful with sake breweries, traditional and quirky shops in the original buildings and plenty of places selling regional specialities like green tea, sweets and delicious Hida Beef.

In short, there is so much to do if you're in Japan for the rugby, no matter what your tastes. From temples dating back centuries, to parts of Tokyo that feel like you've stepped directly into the future, this country is one that everyone should travel to.