Leaving America: Emalyn Visits Japan

It has always been a dream of mine to travel the world and experience as many new cultures as I can. Prior to the pandemic, I was going to study abroad in Japan for five months but sadly, the program was canceled the week before we planned to head to Japan.

This year, I made the spontaneous decision to go to Japan for a week! I am happy to announce that I did in fact go and I loved my time in Japan. In this blog I would love to share with you my time in Japan and share some of my recommendations if you ever plan on going to Japan!

Is it OK to go to Japan without speaking Japanese?

One of the questions that gets asked a lot when traveling: is Japan a good place to visit if you only speak English?

As someone who works with languages every day and has officially  visited Japan , I wanted to touch upon this language barrier that many people seem to worry about. Surprisingly, language was no issue for me while I was in Japan!

Navigating Travel Signs and Public Announcements in Japanese

You don’t need to be worried about not being able to find your way around the country in Japan. The signs around Japan are in multiple languages, generally including Japanese, Korean, and English. Many times, I saw signs in Chinese too!

Let’s use the train, for example, all signs will be in English along with the other languages mentioned above. All the announcements that are made on the train will also be said in multiple languages including English, so you don’t miss your stop.

Conversations with Japanese Natives

The other question I hear a lot: Do Japanese people speak English?

When it comes to talking to people in Japan, you might be surprised to hear that many people in Japan actually know at least a little bit of English.

Of course, it’s always a great idea (and I strongly recommend this) to learn some basic Japanese before going to Japan. I’ve been studying Japanese for many years now but I am not completely fluent in the language so there are many words I do not know.

For example, I did not know the word for “plastic bag” in Japanese so whenever I would go to the コンビニ (Konbini) or convenience store I would get asked “Do you need a bag?” in Japanese but I would look confused. This then prompted the store clerk to ask me in broken English “Do you need a bagu?”

Situations like this happened many times but even when there were moments when we could not understand each other we would find solutions to understand one another!

Language barriers will happen when you travel, but this is an appropriate place to use translation apps like Google Translate. I did this many times.

So now with your Japanese language barriers solved, let’s go to Japan!


Once I arrived in Japan, I met up with my friend in Osaka!

Osaka has always been at the top of my list of places to visit so I thought it would be a great idea to stay in Osaka for the majority of the time and travel to Tokyo and Kyoto for a day. I really recommend visiting Osaka while you are in Japan! It’s a beautiful place full of culture and so many iconic food choices.

Osaka is home to Dotonbori, where you can see the iconic Glico sign. This district is full of stores and so many restaurants and food stalls. This district is where I spent most of my time shopping and trying out new foods.

If you’re looking for a food that is popular in Osaka, I recommend trying Takoyaki while you’re visiting Dotonbori. Takoyaki is a food that consists of a batter that is put into a pan then filled with one piece of octopus then covered in batter again.

The food then comes out looking like this, covered in sauce and Japanese mayo and Bonito flakes. (Here’s an example from Find Dining Lovers.)

Fun fact, “tako” (pronounced like “taco”) in Japanese is actually “octopus”. Please be careful when eating this food, the inside is going to be very hot!

Another food that I ate while I was in Osaka specifically is called okonomiyaki. This food is a savory cabbage pancake that can either be prepared in front of you or simply served to you on a hot plate.

Okonomiyaki is one of my favorite Japanese foods and I can’t wait to go back to eat more! One fun thing about Dotonbori is that the streets and stalls are full of giant-looking food structures and signs. You can find a giant crab on top of a stall or a giant melon pan on top of a stall selling that food. It is such a fun place to explore!

Dotonbori food stall

Left: Okonomiyaki; Right: Dotonbori food stall


Although I was staying in Osaka for most of my trip, my friend and I did plan a day trip to Kyoto.

Let me tell you – Kyoto was my favorite place I’ve ever visited!

Kyoto if you don’t know, is well known for its matcha. Of course, I was excited to try lots of matcha powder – and they don’t just put it in drinks!

But also, this district is home to a Starbucks that looks like a traditional tea house. My friend and I wanted to visit this place first and then explore, so we first took a train from Osaka to Kyoto to visit a district called Ninenzaka, which is about a thirty-minute walk from the station.

Tea house Starbucks in Ninenzaka

Tea house Starbucks in Ninenzaka –
a must see when visiting Kyoto!


Throughout this area, you can find many cafes and shops with unique and local items. Make sure to also visit the many character shops while you are in Kyoto.

In Ninenzaka, I visited the Studio Ghibli store and the Sumikko Gurashi cafe and store. At these stores, I bought so many cute character items like stickers, keychains, and socks.

When it comes to food, we stopped at a cafe called Kumonocha cafe for a quick sweet. This cafe is known for its cloud-shaped mousse sweet, matcha, and other sweet drinks.

Afterwards, we found a shop selling tanghulu, which is a snack food that consists of skewered fruit covered in sugar and dried. I’ve always wanted to try the strawberry tanghulu, so we found a shop selling them. Please try this whenever you have the chance.

Kumonocha macha drink and cloud-like mousseStrawberry Tanghulu

Left: Kumonocha macha drink and cloud-like mousse.
Right: Strawberry Tanghulu – the best thing I ever had!


After our time in Ninenzaka, I wanted to see Arashiyama so we hopped on a train and made our way over. Once getting off the train in Arashiyama, you can walk for a couple of minutes and you will find a park where you can see a beautiful river and where you can get some snacks like Mitarashi Dango.

If you don’t know how amazing this dessert is, mitarashi dango is a rice flour dumpling that is that usually comes skewered but is grilled first and then brushed with a sweet soy sauce glaze. One of my biggest regrets, while I was in Kyoto, is not having bought at least one more of these sweets!

After viewing the park area, we made our way over to find a rikisha. My friend insisted all day that we needed to find a rikisha and we did! A rikisha is a man pulled carriage, this ride/activity takes you around all of Arashiyama to view all of the best spots in the area.

Specifically in this area, we were taken to see the famous bamboo forest. But instead of walking the public path, we were taken through a path that only these carriages are allowed in. The person pulling the carriage acts as a tour guide telling you all of the facts they know about the area.

So many fun photos and videos were taken during this ride! After this ride, we made our way over to see some of the shops in the area. Here you can find multiple character shops and cafes such as the Miffy bakery and the Rilakkuma shop and café.

Of course, I had to buy so many things from these shops. If I could go back to Japan, I would spend so many more days in Kyoto.

Bamboo forestRiver in Arashiyama, KyotoRilakkuma Store and Café

 Left: Bamboo Forest; Center: River in Arashiyama, Kyoto; Right: Rilakkuma Store and Café


­­On my last day in Japan, my friend and I hopped on a local train to a station with a bullet train to make our way over to Tokyo. This was my first time ever riding a train that fast! It took us about a little under three hours to make it to Tokyo.

Once in Tokyo, we made it over to our first spot on our list, Harajuku. We had seen that there was a Sanrio (the company who made Hello Kitty) café in this area and wanted this experience.

We made our first stop at the Pompompurin café!! This was one of the cutest places I had ever been to. Immediately after entering the café, you are greeted by the very friendly staff and guided over to a table. We were each given a little card that is an invitation to Pompompurin’s party.

I ordered a rice dish known as omurice shaped as Pompompurin sleeping and an iced coffee with a cute little chocolate character on top. The food was actually very tasty! If you’re a Sanrio or Pompompurin fan, you should put this on your list of places to visit.

While we were waiting outside of the café, we saw a Shiba Inu café right across the street so of course we needed to go right after eating. We made our way over put our names on the list and continued exploring while we waited for our turn to play with the dogs. (If fashion is your thing, then I really recommend shopping in Harajuku. Here I bought a lot of accessories like earrings and hair clips.)

Once it was our turn at the Shiba Inu café we were greeted by so many dogs immediately when walking into the café!

In these types of cafes, a drink (juice or coffee) is included in the price you pay. I picked a mango juice and found a nice spot by some dogs. As we were sitting, one of the dogs came over to my friend and sat on her lap for a while but then walked over to me and sat on my lap!

Pompompurin CaféPompompurin omuriceShiba Inu café

Left: Pompompurin Café; Center: Pompompurin omurice; Right: Shiba Inu café


After our thirty minutes was finished with the dogs, we decided to go see the Nintendo Store and Pokémon Center.

Shibuya, Japan is a very busy place with tons of stores and people. If you are a fan of video games and anime, you’ll love this place!

The Nintendo Store was very busy but such a cool place to visit. There were so many life sized statues of some of my favorite video game characters like Isabelle from Animal Crossing.

After doing some shopping, we went to check out the Pokémon Center, and let me tell you how cool this place was! Like the Nintendo Store, there were a lot of life sized               statues of characters from Pokémon and a lot of cute goodies from the game.

If you’re a big video game or Pokémon fan, you should definitely visit the Pokémon Center.

Nintendo Store ShibuyaPokémon Center ShibuyaSpicy miso ramen

Left: Nintendo Store Shibuya; Center: Pokémon Center Shibuya; Right: Spicy miso ramen

After shopping for some stickers and other stationary from other stores like Tokyo Hands (if you love stationery and stickers like me, Japan is the place to find the best stuff) we made our way over for some dinner. For my last dinner in Japan, we picked a small ramen shop to try. I ordered a spicy miso ramen and it was delicious and surprisingly spicy!

Back to the United States

And like that, my trip to Japan had come to an end. The next day, I grabbed some breakfast from a konbini (convenience store) and took a train to the airport. 

Visiting Japan was the best thing I have ever done! If I could recommend one thing in Japan, it’s visiting Kyoto and riding a rikisha. Out of everything that I did while in Japan, the rikisha ride was just absolutely stunning and the most fun I’ve ever had! I cannot recommend this enough.

Please try everything you can while in Japan, if it’s food or an activity, try it! I hope you can visit this beautiful place one day!

Emalyn visiting Japan

Emalyn visiting Japan.