Japan's Most Surprising Tourist Attractions

Sanrio Puroland, Tokyo
••• Wibowo Rusli/Getty Images

Strange is the name of the game in Japan—you're practically guaranteed to have a bizarre experience, simply by setting foot in the country. But if the chance of a random robot encounter or the wild fashions of Harajuku aren't enough to whet your weird whistle, check out these surprising Japan tourist attractions.

  • 01 of 07

    Naruto Whirlpools

    Naruto Whirlpool
    ••• One of the Naruto Whirlpools. Robert Schrader

    Shikoku is the smallest and least-visited of Japan's main islands, which makes it a great place for a surprising, strange attraction to hide. Of course, the Naruto Whirlpools are decidedly out in the open, although you'll have to get pretty close to in order to see them.

    Close, as is in, on a boat just above them. This can seem frightening, as the spinning of the water moves your boat around the edges of the Whirlpools, but you're not in danger. After all, these whirlpools are caused by water moving back and forth between Japan's Seto Inland Sea and the Pacific Ocean, not some undersea plug pulled by a bathing giant.

    The Naruto Whirlpools are easily accessible on a day trip from Tokushima, if you're already in Shikoku, or from Osaka, the closest mainland Honshu city to them.

     

  • 02 of 07

    Tottori Sand Dunes

    Japan Tottori Sand Dunes
    ••• Japan's home to many weird things, so finding a desert here shouldn't come as a complete surprise. Robert Schrader

    The question of whether or not the Tottori Sand Dunes are actually a desert is a contentious one. After all, the only reason this 32-square mile expanse of sand exists in an otherwise ordinary Japanese landscape is because of winds that have redeposited sediment from the Sendai River over the past several thousand years. Nobody disputes the strangeness of this huge expanse of sand, which sits along the northwestern flank of Honshu Island on the Sea of Japan.

    Whether you ride a camel across the dunes, hike up them to get an incredible panorama of the ocean below or simply pretend you're a character in Hiroshi Teshigahara's Woman in the Dunes, which Tottori Sand Dunes inspired, this place is certainly not one you probably expected to find in Japan.

  • 03 of 07

    Shin-Yokohama Raumen Museum

    Ramen Museum, Tokyo, Japan
    ••• Chel Beeson/Getty Images

    If you've been living under a rock and still can't differentiate between ramen and "Cup Noodles" (which have their own museum down the coast in Osaka), you should absolutely make a stop at the Shin-yokohama Raumen Museum.

    It's arguable that this place shouldn't be called a museum at all. After all, a visit to the Raumen Museum less about reading information or looking at historical artifacts, and more about using your taste buds to discover the various flavors of these beloved noodles, from classics like Tonkotsu pork bone broth, to Ryu Shanghai Honten, which features a unique seafood broth that spotlights aptly-named "spicy miso."

  • 04 of 07

    Robot Statue of Liberty

    Gundam Statue
    ••• O say can you see, but the Giant Robot?. Ajari Flickr

    It's difficult to single out one Tokyo attraction that ranks among Japan's most surprising tourist attractions, let alone a single district within the sprawling city. But the massive statue of the robot Gundam, located on Odaiba Island just across the Rainbow Bridge from the city center, makes a pretty good case for itself.

    Although the cultural significance of Gundam might be lost upon non-Japanophiles, its size certainly isn't. The current statue is stands about 55 feet tall, and the one being erected to replace it is even bigger. The strangeness of this statue goes up yet another notch when you notice that not far from it, a replica of the Statue of Liberty stands, making you call a whole lot into question at the same time. 

    Continue to 5 of 7 below.
  • 05 of 07

    Miyagi Zao Fox Village

    Zao Fox Village
    ••• Cuddle up with a fox in Miyagi. Pixabay user Koshinuke

    As is the case when it comes to weird Tokyo, it's difficult to say just which of Japan's wildlife-related attractions is the weirdest. After all, this is the country that has islands filled with cats and rabbits, and whose most famous winter attraction is a mountain hot spring filled with red-faced monkeys.

    Miyagi's Zao Fox Village is certainly the cutest of these places, and is definitely the most surprising. After all, foxes (in the West, anyway) are often associated with attacks and viciousness, and certainly not the sort of finger-licking and treat-begging with which the residents here will greet you.

    Plus, Zao Fox Village sits not far off the Tokyo-Sendai Shinkansen line, which means you can theoretically see it on a day trip from Japan's capital (if you manage to escape Tokyo's own weirdness, of course). 

  • 06 of 07

    Host Clubs

    Host Club
    ••• An advertisement for a host club in Kabukicho, Tokyo. Public domain

    If you walk through many major Japanese cities, you've surely seen an advertisement for a host club. The clubs are heavily publicized, but tucked away more carefully than you might expect given the attention they draw to themselves.

    As is the case with better-known Japanese hostess clubs, which are more nuanced in their execution and their aims than strip clubs in the West, host clubs are less about sex and more about companionship, focused more on attention to the needs of female patrons than to the physicality of the male hosts.

    If you decide to go to host clubs, which are most common in Tokyo and Osaka but do exist in some other places, it's recommended to go with Japanese people. While foreigners are not officially banned from host clubs, even on their own, club owners do seek to maintain a very specific ambiance within the space, which requires adherence to social norms you might not even know exist.

  • 07 of 07

    Hello Kitty Theme Park

    Sanrio Puroland
    ••• Tokyo's Sanrio Puroland is paradise for Hello Kitty fans. Ohtake via Flickr

    Hello Kitty has become ubiquitous throughout Asia, but Japan is the source of the beloved character, not to mention the best place in the world to buy Hello Kitty souvenirs. Not surprisingly, you can also find a Hello Kitty theme park in Japan. Do you think you can handle the cuteness?

    Opened in 1990, Sanrio Puroland is located just outside of Tokyo in Tama New Town, and features a variety of indoor rides, shows and attractions. While Hello Kitty herself is the star of the show, you can meet and greet with other Sanrio characters, including My Melody and Chococat.

    Sanrio Puroland was originally considered a failure, but recent increases in the popularity of Hello Kitty have made it a top draw—plan on encountering heavy crowds when you visit.