There's nothing more intense than the FOMO you encounter as a tourist. With that in mind, here are some 'must-do' activities that you have my permission to skip.
Some will shock and surprise you, some might not have been on your radar anyway. If you disagree, then please go ahead, report back, tell me why I've got it wrong.
This bamboo grove is possibly best known on this side of the world as the place that looks like where Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon was shot (it's not the actual location, that was in China). When we went we were fresh from an overnight bus to Kyoto, and we were there by 7am and it was pretty much just us. We walked the paths, took the obligatory photos and it was lovely. But only because it was so empty.
Later on, and I'm talking by 9am, the paths are incredibly clogged with people.The surrounding area is incredibly beautiful and well worth the trip out. I'd recommend getting organised early and visiting Saihoji, The Moss Temple.
The deer are adorable and the temples are plentiful but unless you are super motivated by either of these things, a day in Nara means you are missing a lot of Kyoto time. And you can pack a lot into one day in Kyoto. If time is short, I know what I'd choose. Hint: it would be the option filled with Nishiki Market snacks, Weekenders coffee, egg sandos at eFish, shopping at Sou Sou, cocktails and Len and many, many gyoza at Chao Chao.
The Robot Restaurant
You've probably already been told that you CANNOT miss Shinjuku's Robot Restaurant. You can! I've never been and I can still freely enter the country and have people listen to my opinions on fun activities! I had a hunch that this wasn’t for me and it’s not something I’ve ever felt bad about skipping.
Anthony Bourdain went there, and he seemed to dig it, and this segment gave me as much of the Robot Restaurant that I want. Maybe it's for you, but tip from those who have been, don't plan on dining there.
The Yasoi Kusama Museum
Ugh, I really hate putting this on the list. I was so excited when this museum launched, and even more so when I snagged tickets to the opening exhibition (use the main website and pay around AU$11, avoid the expensive affiliate options).
I'm an admitted Kusama fan (also yet to meet someone who isn't) and if you are too, and you can get tickets, by all means, do it. But if you can't get tickets or don't fancy it for any reason, don't fret. There are better places to enjoy her work. My picks are Naoshima, for all of the pumpkin joy, or Kyoto's wonderful Forever Museum of Contemporary Art (FMOCA). This gallery is set inside the Gion Kobu Kaburenjo Theater, and there's an adjoining garden you can walk through. They have a large permanent Kusama collection, and giftshop oddities I haven't seen anywhere else. It's a worthy substitute.
Cherry Blossom Season
Full disclosure: I’ve never been to Japan to see hanami and I would love to. But I think for a first time visit, it would also be super overwhelming. There's a lot of international and local tourism going on, as people enjoy the warm weather and beautiful blossoms. This puts extra pressure on accommodation and other bookings. My option? Autumn. The weather is sunny, the foliage is amazing, and the chestnuts are roasting.