A Weekend In Japan (Without Actually Leaving Singapore)
With Japan closing its borders due to the pandemic, Japanophiles the world over are barred from visiting the country for the foreseeable future. This, of course, has been a piece of unwelcome news for anyone looking to visit Japan to stock up on food, culture and life.
As such, we have devised a weekend itinerary of places in Singapore that enable you to embark on a journey evoking Japan, one which we hope may alleviate some of the unrelenting longings you’re currently enduring.
Before diving into the itinerary, may we recommend some shows and books to really get you into the Japanese mood?
A story about a man of mysterious origins running a small izakaya in the backstreets of Tokyo. The Master displays a dedication and passion to his craft as he forges deep and meaningful bonds with his patrons.
One Punch Man
This highly acclaimed anime tells the story of Saitama, a hero-for-fun who never fails to defeat his adversaries with a single punch. Although possessing god-like strength, he still struggles to make ends meet.
I Am a Cat, by Natsumi Soseki
Pretty much a mainstay of any Japanese literary collection, it’s an observation of the richness of Japanese culture through the eyes of a wandering kitten.
Hello Sandwich ‘Tokyo Guide’, Ebony Bizys
Not so much a novel as it is a guidebook; it offers a peek into the world of contemporary Japanese foodie scene as well as a bit of art and culture. It’s a guidebook filled with Tokyo’s best hidden culinary gems.
Image Credits: Netflix
Our journey starts by heading to Jewel Changi Airport. No, not to hop on a plane to Japan but rather to immerse ourselves in one of the most celebrated staples of Japanese manga and anime culture: the Pokémon Center Singapore.
As Lapras and Pikachu greet you, prepare to be awed by the plethora of merchandise and items imported straight from Japan. The range of offerings also includes Nintendo Switch games, Pokémon Trading Card Game as well as exclusive items to Pokémon Center Singapore. So if you truly gotta catch ‘em all, simply visit this popular destination and make friends (or rivals) with fellow trainers.
Afterwards, still within the Jewel, experience eternal spring by paying a visit to the Shiseido Forest Valley (資生堂フォレストバレー, Shiseidō Foresutobarē), where 120 species of trees and shrubs surround the spectacular indoor waterfall serving as the centerpiece of the glass-dome valley.
The nearby mini bamboo forest is also worth visiting. With its uncanny resemblance to Kyoto’s famous Arashiyama bamboo grove, the mini bamboo forest radiates the same tranquil vibe for visitors looking for that mystifying Instagram shot.
The Jewel also offers a not-to-be-missed dining experience. With over 20 eateries serving Japanese dishes ranging from sushi to tonkatsu, you’d be hard-pressed to find a more exhaustive collection of Japanese culinary gems clustered within a single spot.
Photo Credits: sg.portal-pokemon.com
Let’s start the day off on a zen note. At Garden by the Bay’s Serene Garden, you’ll find that peace and tranquility reign supreme. This Japan-inspired minimalist stretch of verdant green is stylized with blue Niyodo rocks, a mini waterfall, and an enchanting bamboo grove. Stroll around and you’ll find that all these elements will put you in a calm, mindful state of mind to begin your journey.
Now that your mind is in a zen-like state, it’s time to extend the same courtesy to your physical body. Taking a relaxing dip at a Japanese onsen has been proven to be beneficial as its nourishing and rejuvenating properties work wonders for the body. The nearby Yunomori Onsen & Spa provides signature treatments incorporating various aspects of traditional Japanese healing regimen in a rejuvenating, soothing environment. Pro tip: the best time to visit spas and saunas is from the early morning to just before noon before others start to flock to this little slice of spa heaven.
Next up is the Buddha Tooth Relic Temple and Museum at Chinatown. Practicing Buddhists believe that an actual tooth of Buddha is housed here, which crowns the temple as a highly significant religious site. But even if you’re not Buddhist, the Buddha Tooth Relic Temple is truly a sight to behold with its impressive Sacred Light and Hundred Dragons halls, and a tranquil rooftop garden. In fact, the temple’s architecture and layout conjure up images of the oldest Buddhist temple in Tokyo, the Senso Ji.
Singaporeans familiar with Japanese contemporary culture know that it would be impossible to undermine the importance and prevalence of konbiniensu sutoru (convenience store) in Japan. ‘Konbinis’ as they are known offer exceptional products and services, and they play a vital role in the daily lives of the Japanese. The Every Convenience Store at Havelock Road arguably emulates the feel of Japanese konbinis by offering a wide range of imported Japanese snacks, drinks, and even full-blown meals. With its rotating Japanese menu and dining space, you may opt to have your midday sustenance here or pick up a few snacks as we continue with our itinerary.
Photo Credits: William Cho
Cat cafes are arguably one of the cutest Japanese exports, and the Neko no Niwa cat cafe at 54A Boat Quay provide Singaporeans with a place to enjoy meals and beverages while playing with the fluffy creatures. The establishment takes pride in the fact that all their well-mannered and well-groomed felines are rescued, and if you’re lucky, you might get to observe them prancing around dressed in kimonos. No, sadly you can’t take any of the cats with you.
Lumine’s presence in Clark Quay is somewhat reminiscent of Tokyo’s sprawling Shinjuku station, where Lumine’s original major stores are located. Offering a line of fashion apparel aimed for sophisticated women, this Japanese retailer has curated its collection to better suit the climate of a tropical country. You’ll find a collection of light dresses and strappy footwear here to accommodate the weather as well as a cafe serving parfaits and other delights.
An outing to Takashimaya means the opportunity to not just indulge in some serious retail pampering and culinary delights, but also get a glimpse at some degree of Japanese aesthetics. You’ll also get to follow the latest Harajuku-style fad with its collection of fashion and accessories outlets.
While at Takashimaya, a visit to Kinokuniya book store is a must. A haven for Japanophiles, you’ll find a wide array of literary works spanning various genres up on display, from novels and magazines to self-improvement and psychology books. You’ll also find loads of Japanese-themed stationeries as well as a variety of books and DVDs. But if we’re being honest here, we all visit Kinokuniya for its staggering collection of thousands of colorful mangas.
Photo Credits: asiatatler.com
As with all things Japanese, mochi is steeped in tradition and is an important part of the culture. This rice-based dessert is not only sweet and tasty but also packs a variety of beneficial nutrients, such as calcium, potassium and the energizing vitamin B. So let’s head over to Kane Mochi at Bugis+, where the shop combines mochi with ice cream spanning 17 flavors. Best of all, these mochis are made with absolutely no preservatives!
Finding good-quality, traditional Japanese mochi to appease your sweet tooth is fortunately a pretty straightforward affair here in Singapore. Should you decide to stray and chase after these soft, puffy sweets, you can find other notable mochi-peddling shops like Nippon-ya at ION Orchard and Dezato Dezato at Jurong East.
Ending your night at a high-end Japanese eatery, Koma Japanese restaurant boasts arguably the grandest entrance in all of Singapore. Numerous striking Torii gates replica offer guests a genuine Japanese welcome as you make your way through the walkway. The ambiance is further propelled upwards as you enter the main dining hall decorated with two 2.5-meter-high Japanese bells. Although the prices are definitely on the steep side, they are justified as the quality of the food and drink being served is simply stellar.
Photo Credits: kanemochi.com.sg
For the final day of the itinerary, we’ll pay a visit to Orchard Central. From exquisite aroma-therapy candle shop to high-profile eateries, a plethora of Japanese-related experiences await your visit.
Kicking things off, the renowned Japanese retailer Don Don Donki makes its patrons think that they are actually in Japan. Every colorful sign and poster simply demand your attention, and as you browse through the isle filled with Japanese snacks, liquors, products and groceries, don’t be surprised to hear someone exclaiming “that looks yummy” time and again.
Fancy some new threads? Uniqlo flagship store should be right up your alley. The Japanese brand caters to practically everyone of all ages with both casual and formal selections readily available. With the outlet on Orchard Central being Uniqlo’s Southeast Asia’s premier global flagship store, you’ll find items here that you simply can’t get anywhere else!
With the pandemic showing no signs of subsiding, a culinary trip through Japan is off the table for the time being. Fortunately, Kiseki Japanese Buffet Restaurant is more than an acceptable substitute for your cravings as its mega buffet boasts 200 items spanning 29 categories. With a variety of delicacies ranging from sushi, sashimi to teppanyaki, robatayaki and everything in between, you can practically eat your way through Japan without leaving Singapore.
Photo Credits: www.dondondonki.com
Longing to return to Akihabara, the world-renowned Tokyo street synonymous with Japanese gaming? You’re in luck, Orchard Central’s Ton Amusement is your best bet in reliving the thrill of the iconic UFO Catcher/Crane Game experience outside of Japan. Prizes vary from adorable plushies of various sizes to badass Japanese action figures and other collectibles. Just like in Japan, if you’re skillful enough to win the bigger prizes, the staff will make your victory known to everyone present in the arcade.
While procuring loads of Japanese snacks is great and all, how about finding something that you can keep to remember this Japan-themed weekend by? We recommend Tokyu Hands, the self-proclaimed mecca for all things Japanese, as the final stop on our itinerary. With its wide range of products ranging from stationeries, cookware, beauty products to fancy line of bags, Tokyu Hands makes sure that you won’t leave without getting at least one (or two, three, or four) thing from their collection.