How do I even begin to describe Japan, the Land of the Rising Sun, and home country of weird shenanigans that bring forth a “what the–” too easily? For explorers who’re looking for more than shopping opportunities overseas, experiencing the unconventional is what makes the plane tickets worthwhile.
To those who want to see the wild, the wacky and the weird: enjoy these 10 unusual places in Japan, that yours truly has a taste for as much as you do.
While Japan’s hot springs are well-known for their health benefits, it would be inadvisable to take a dip in most of the jigoku in Beppu, which are literally steamy attractions for tourists to visit. The two districts within Beppu which are home to these hot pools are Kannawa and Shibaseki, each consisting of five and two springs each.
Be sure to check out the live crocodiles in Oniyama Jigoku (monster mountain hell) and snap a picture of Chinoike Jigoku (blood pond hell) while you’re there. Oh, and to complete your experience, you can try out various food cooked using the steam from the “hells,” such as pudding and onsen tamago (egg cooked using hot spring water).
Prices: ¥400 (~S$5) per hell or ¥2000 (~S$25) for all seven
Beppu Jigoku: 559-1 Tetsuyuki Beppu, Oita Prefecture 874-0045, Japan | Opening Hours: 8am – 5pm (Daily) | Tel: +81 – 977 – 66 – 1577 | Website
At this museum, come face-to-face with dinosaur fossils from the Jurassic and Cretaceous periods and learn about the geological layers of the Earth, which help scientists estimate when these colossal reptiles lived. Having lunch at the dino-themed cafe also provides a chance to indulge in a cute array of dishes to match the very creatures you’ve come to visit.
You also won’t want to miss a two-hour tour to the nearby Dinosaur Quarry, where fossils of mollusc shells and plants have been discovered alongside dinosaur footprints. As it’s a twenty-minute bus ride away, remember to register beforehand to secure a seat, and have an engaging tour with your guide.
Prices: ¥720 (~S$9) entry fee, additional ¥1200 (~S$15) for tour
Fukui Prefectural Dinosaur Museum: 51-11 Terao, Muroko, Katsuyama, Fukui 911-8601, Japan | Opening Hours: 9am – 5pm, last entry at 4.30pm (Daily, may be closed on selected days) | Tel: +81-779-88-0001 | Website
Also called the Kodaira Sewerage Centre, this museum in Tokyo is located mostly underground, with only two of its five stories situated above land; an arrangement quite fitting of its theme. Here you can see what happens to waste material after it goes down the toilet bowl and visit an actual sewerage tunnel 25 metres below ground.
The place is complete with a mini library and a chance to learn about bacteria that help detoxify the waters by observing them through microscopes. Each floor is dedicated to a different aspect of dealing with sewage, from flush to finish. I guess you could say that in terms of organisation, they’ve got their shit together.
Price: free admission
Museum Of The Sewerage: 1-25-31 Josuihoncho, Kodaira-shi, Tokyo, Japan | Opening Hours: 10am – 4pm (Closed On Mondays) | Tel: +81-42-326-7411 | Website
Hashima Island is nicknamed Gunkanjima, or Battleship Island, because its silhouette resembles a large ship. It used to be bustling in activity and was even equipped with a school, hospital and entertainment centres when its coal mines provided much-needed fuel before oil took over as a main energy source.
After its closure in 1974, it became a deserted place and was later declared a UNESCO World Heritage Site in 2015. Today, you can enjoy boat tours to the island and disembark there to take pictures of the deteriorating buildings in an awesome, creepy ambience.
Prices: tour dependent, around ¥3400 – ¥4500 (~S$43 – ~S$57) per pax
Battleship Island: Hashima Island, Takashimamachi, Nagasaki, Nagasaki Prefecture 851-1315, Japan | Operating Hours: tour-dependent | Tel: refer to specific tour company | Website
This particular section of the museum houses a morbidly fascinating, if not chilling, display of instruments used to arrest and interrogate suspects dating from the Sengoku Period, a time marked by countless military conflicts.
Execution and torture devices from other countries, such as the Virgin of Nuremberg and guillotine are kept there too. While it may be disturbing to see these in person, it’s also a rare chance to learn more about the darker aspects of history that we don’t get to see very often.
Price: free admission (permanent exhibitions), special exhibitions may be chargeable
Meiji University Museum: 101-8301, 1-1 Kanda-Surugadai, Chiyoda-ku, Tokyo, Japan | Opening Hours: 10am – 5pm (Closed Sundays, PH & University Holidays) | Tel: +81-3-3296-4448 | Website
Koyasan (Mount Koya) is a sacred mountain with many temples, graveyards, beautiful scenery and other attractions. Here, you can take part in a temple-stay while sampling vegetarian food, visit historical sites like this scripture depository, and even try out traditional activities and workshops.
As another UNESCO World Heritage Site, it is pretty accessible to tourists with handicapped facilities and even organised tours for those who would like a guide. The iconic stone gardens are one of the must-sees, especially since the largest one in Japan is found right there at Kongobuji Temple.
Price: free admission, temple-stay & some activities chargeable
Koyasan Tourist Association Central Office: 600 Kōyasan, Kōya-chō, Ito-gun, Wakayama-ken 648-0211, Japan | Operating Hours: 9am – 5pm (Jan & Feb), 8.30am – 5pm (Mar to Dec) | Tel: +81-736-56-2616 | Website
Big heads up feline fans, there’re two islands populated with cats for you to visit, each with their own story and special features. Well, actually, there’re more than two but these are the ones you’ve got to CATch.
Aoshima has a very small human population and over 100 cats living together. Many people have sailed off the island to find better opportunities, leaving behind their houses now taken over by the kitties.
You’ll get to explore abandoned buildings as you go around making new furry friends. Take note that there’re no food or accommodation facilities so plan ahead.
Tashirojima is home to a cat shrine and tough felines that survived the tsunami back in 2011. The island also has adorable buildings shaped like the place’s most beloved pets, and quite a few accommodation options if you’d like to wake up in kitty land.
Price (Aoshima): ¥1360 (~S$17), round trip
Price (Tashirojima): ¥2460 (~S$31), round trip
In this small, two-story museum, you can gawk at various parasites that target humans and animals, as well as the piece de resistance there: one of the longest tapeworms you’ll ever see in all of its 8.8-metre glory.
That tapeworm is one of the tamer specimens; you can feast your eyes on a parasite preserved mid-burst out of a turtle’s head, an infected dolphin stomach, parasites specifically in crabs and many more. Not exactly a good idea to go after lunch, and definitely a bizarre place for the scrapbooks.
Price: free admission
Meguro Parasitological Museum: 4-1-1 Shimomeguro, Meguro-ku, Tokyo 153-0064, Japan | Opening Hours: 10am – 5pm (Weds to Sun) | Tel: +81-(0)3-3716-1264 | Website
Well, the title says it all for this one, doesn’t it? The Atami Sex Museum houses figurines, artwork and interactive games all under the theme it is titled after.
Gaze at a life-sized whale penis sculpture before delving into (not literally, please) a game featuring dancers whose dresses flutter up when you hit the target or clamber onto a giant penis funfair-style ride at a small fee of ¥100 (~S$1.30).
Oh, and remember the whack-a-mole children’s carnival game? They have their own version there except that you’ll be hammering… You know.
There’s a lot of cheeky fun to be had there and is definitely a place to visit with friends or even family, if you can get over the awkwardness.
Price: ¥1700 (~S$22) per pax, additional cost for carnival games
Atami Adult Museum: 8-15 Wadahamaminamichō, Atami-shi, Shizuoka-ken 413-0023, Japan | Opening Hours: 9.30am – 5.30pm (Daily) | Tel: +81-557-83-5572 | Website
You shouldn’t stop at Atami Hihoukan, not when you’re on the ball (or balls, ha-ha) with all these interesting visits. Next on the list is the sex museum attached to Taga Shrine where permission to take photos costs ¥20,000 (~S$253) on top of the ¥800 (~S$10) admission fee, so unless you’ve got cash to burn, it’s better to put away that camera and savour everything in real life for a change.
Such proximity of sex to a religious place is not surprising in Japanese culture, especially since people come to this shrine to pray for fertility. Many stone statues decorate the grounds and quite a few of them are shaped after the phallus, giving a new meaning to “rock-hard” boners here.
Price: ¥800 (~S$10) for museum, shrine is free to enter
Taga Shrine’s Sex Museum: 1340 Fujie, Uwajima-shi, Ehime-ken 798-0010, Japan | Opening Hours: 8am – 5pm (Daily) | Tel: +81 895-22-3444
Drawing your focus away from male appendages, we now have a temple that’s famous for its emphasis on boobs. While the temple grounds are rather small, it makes up for it in engaging factors because, face it, its unlikely that you’ll be bored in your time there.
Throughout the place, you’ll see many ema, wooden plaques meant for writing prayers on, decorated with breasts and hung up as offerings. There’s a good reason for this as women traditionally come here to pray for female-specific issues, such as having a healthy pregnancy, for instance.
But you’re not here for that, are you? Have fun looking around and for your envious friends who couldn’t go with you, you can even purchase an ema as a souvenir from your unusual travels.
Price: free admission
Jison-in Temple: 648-0151 Wakayama Prefecture, Ito-gun, Kutsuyama-cho Kodoin 832, Japan | Opening Hours: 8am – 5pm (Daily) | Tel: +81 0736-54-2214 | Website