Lanterns lined up at Sumiyoshi Taisha in Osaka

How does one go about naming some of the most surreal places in Japan? It’s not an easy task, since what’s surreal for one person may just be ho-hum for a citizen of this country! That said, we’ve done our best to come up with five spots for your consideration. They’re surreal for different reasons: some in the natural sense, and some in the cultural sense. Truth be told, there’s just so much that’s surreal in Japan to most visitors, it’s hard to know where to begin. So let’s just start with Tokyo and see where we go from there, shall we?

Harajuku and the Crowds of Tokyo

Crowds on Takeshita-dori in Harajuku
Mind if I squeeze past?

Harajuku is the home to young youth culture (think pre-teen to early teen). Tokyo is home to thronging crowds. On their own, both of these are rightly impactful. Put them together and you’ve got Takeshita-dori (street), which clearly qualifies as one of the most surreal places in Japan on our list.

Harajuku Station is on the JR Yamanote (“loop”) Line, conveniently located between Shinjuku and Shibuya. Takeshita-dori is just steps from the train station. You’re not going to be in control, so it’s best to succumb to the auto-advancing river of people and take in the fashion sights along the way. Cutting edge may be a perfect way to put it, or it be a euphemistic way to put it. You be the judge. But the fashion, people watching, and people crushing are sure to drive you to a new state of mind. Self-actualization it may not be, but self- something-or-other will come to you. Just take it one half-step at a time.

Once you’ve gotten your fill of Harajuku’s cutting edge youthful flair, head over to Omotesando. The back streets on the south side of the big boulevard are where you’ll find high-end fashions for the style conscious moneyed adults. Surreal pricing often ensues.

Some of the Most Surreal Places in Japan Surely Must Involve Trains

Trains galore at the Tokyo train museum in Omiya.
How well do you know your equipment?

Just about 45 minutes north of Shinjuku or Tokyo Station (by train, of course) is The Railway Museum, a surreal testament to the power of rail in Japan. This museum is an absolute must-see for anyone even remotely interested in trains, and probably for anyone with kids period.

The museum is gigantic. There are actual locomotives and passenger vehicles dating back to the 19th century and all the way through to today’s ultra modern shinkansen (“bullet trains”). Technology exhibits, model train set dioramas of epic scale, and various simulators round out the offerings nicely. Predictably, there is a restaurant serving train themed food, as well as a gift shop ready to satisfy even the nerdiest of train fans. OK, maybe not the nerdiest 2.5%.

You may not think of this as being among some of the most surreal places in Japan, and that’s fine. But for those who’ve got an appreciation of trains, a pilgrimage here will leave you dizzy with wonderment. And that’s something we don’t get enough of once we’re “grown up”.

A Supermarket So Crazy, It’s Gotta Be in Osaka

Crazy supermarket in Osaka, a city that is one of the most surreal place in Japan.
Pachinko parlor or grocery store?

We think Osaka’s a fantastic city, and it’s a shame that visitors to Japan often spend all their time in this region in Kyoto. Not that Kyoto’s not worthy! We’ve got plenty of Kyoto tours proving otherwise. Yet with Osaka just around 45 minutes by local train from Kyoto, it would be a shame to miss out on this alternate reality which Osaka people seem to have built for themselves.

And yet. Of all the things we could be showing you in Osaka, we proffer a supermarket. “Super Tamade” is an Osaka institution. Part of the reason is that it is born and bred in Osaka. Part of the reason is because virtually no one outside of Osaka would be interested in such a gaudy, boisterous, plainly insane supermarket. The colors: an acid-trip. The noise level: exciting at best, but perhaps stress inducing for the uninitiated.

Not only is Super Tamade a party, but it’s got deals. Yes, bargain pricing and a free circus-like atmosphere to boot! But do watch out for the notoriously pushy (literally) “Osaka obasan”. She’ll be middle aged, often wearing a leopard print item or a fake Channel top, and have some, er, dazzling makeup on. And she can be quite aggressive. It’s all part of the experience! In fact, it’s part of our very popular night tour experience. Join us a night of Osaka sights and foods you’ll never forget!

Hiroshima’s Peace Memorial

Nuclear destruction in Hiroshima
A somber reminder of Hiroshima’s nuclear tragedy.

On August 6th, 1945, Hiroshima and the world’s understanding of the power of nuclear weapons both changed forever. It’s one thing to read about the number of lives lost and physical destruction, but then you come to Hiroshima and see the Peace Memorial. “Haunting” doesn’t even begin to encompass the feelings that will wash over you, but it’s a good start. This is one of the most surreal places in Japan, though not in the positive sense by any means.

Built in 1915, the Peace Memorial served as the prefecture’s industrial goods promotional hall until the time of the bombing. It was quite an avant-garde for the time, and was (still is) located in the middle of the city. A decision was made to leave just this building as it was, in place as a reminder of the horrors that passed – and horrors that could beset the world again.

The Caves of Okinawa are one of the Most Surreal Places in Japan

Okinawa World's caves all lit up. This is one of the most surreal places in Japan for sure.
Why use white lights when you can do it up in full color?

When most think of Okinawa, beaches immediately come to mind. But spare a thought for the caves. The caves pictured above are part of a vast network at Okinawa World, a somewhat kitschy but still highly recommended attraction. Bereft of crowds, this technicolor stroll begets an even more enhanced surrealness. The flowing waters, spaces large and small, and dancing shadows comingle to leave an indelible mark. And while you’re there, check out the folk village and have some classic Okinawa food.

Hopscotching the Surreal

Have you found something to your liking amongst these sights? Japan is a much more varied country than many first time visitors initially realize. This is not only in terms of geography, but also of the people, culture, and yes even the more surreal spots. So next time you get to planning a trip around Japan, make sure you add some less famous spots into the mix! Your soul will thank you.

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