There’s so much to love about Japan — its fascinating and rich millennia-old heritage, their artfully-prepared delectable cuisine, and myriad exciting subcultures from manga to street fashion. Unfortunately, unlike other countries that have more or less started welcoming visitors back, Japan still remains largely closed.
While, yes, tourists are allowed to visit the land of the rising sun, it’s not without plenty of preparations with a tour group and so on. So, for those of you who are missing Japan sorely but aren’t willing to jump through hoops to get there, then this list is for you. Here are 10 locations in Malaysia that will help you scratch that itch for Japan.
1. Experience sakura season in the tropics
Every spring, cherry blossom trees bloom in Japan, luring visitors from all over the world in search of its delicate pink petals, which are seen as a sign of renewal and a reminder of the fragility of life. But did you know that there are sakura in Malaysia as well? Well, sort of.
The lovely Tecoma tree (tabebuia rosea trees), also known as ‘tissue paper trees’ by the locals due to the texture and thin petals of the flowers, are the source of pink, white, and purple blooms. And just like in Japan, they come into full bloom all at once, giving Malaysia its very own ‘sakura season’.
They are found growing along some streets in Penang, Bintulu, Kuala Lumpur, Kedah, and other cities during the driest months of the year, between February and April. So, keep an eye out when you’re out and about during these months!
2. Japan Friendship Garden, Selangor
This 2.42ha Japanese-inspired garden features five picturesque areas where folks who can’t travel abroad may now get a snapshot for a taste of Japan in Selangor. The garden was constructed as a sign of gratitude to Japan, which has been one of Selangor’s most steadfast and long-term investors.
Roughly the size of three football fields, there’s plenty to do here. There is a rental shop for traditional Japanese attire inside, and entry is currently free. As soon as you enter the garden, you’ll be surrounded by lush foliage and natural elements, including the Zen Space, Maze Pond, Torii Gate, Reflexology Space, Stone Basin, and Terrace Space. A section of the garden is also designed to resemble Arashiyama’s famous bamboo forest.
Address: Persiaran Bandar Raya, Seksyen 14, 40000 Shah Alam, Selangor
Operating hours: 10am to 6:30pm (Tuesday to Sunday). Closed on Monday
Contact number: +6011-37995848
3. Kogetsu, The Saujana Hotel, Selangor
From its roof to its lanterns to its tatami room, this restaurant has been designed to mimic a traditional Japanese tea house. Kogetsu Japanese Restaurant, a stilt-built building, provides a peaceful view of a lake and its surrounding gardens. The name Kogetsu, which translates as ‘reflection of the moon on the lake’, was inspired by the traditional Japanese Ryokan architecture.
Up for a kaiseki lunch while gazing at a lake? Kogetsu Restaurant, is also led by resident Chef Taketoshi Minami, who serves Japanese cuisine that keeps true to its heritage, utilising only the freshest seasonal ingredients and cooked with a respect for tradition. Diners will enjoy a unique Japanese dining experience with a separate teppanyaki area, sushi counter, and three tatami rooms for private dining.
Address: Persiaran Golf, Saujana, 40150 Shah Alam, Selangor
Operating hours: 12pm to 2:30pm, 6:30pm to 10pm (Monday to Saturday). Closed on Sunday
4. Fujiwara Tofa Shop, Ipoh
This themed cafe in Subang Jaya’s industrial park transports diners and die-hard fans into the world of Initial D‘s lead character, Takumi Fujiwara. Initial D fans will be pleasantly delighted when they visit here as the cafe’s exterior closely resembles the tofu store from the manga and anime series, right down to the entrance.
In this cafe, which serves tau foo fah and soy milk, customers can eat while admiring the toy car collections on exhibit. In addition to soy-based foods and beverages, they also provide mouth-watering regional dishes including chicken rice, laksa, Nyonya kuih, and more! This restaurant does not serve alcohol, lard, or pork.
Address: Palo 101 Lot 189-E, Jalan Sultan Iskandar, 30000 Ipoh, Perak
Operating hours: 12pm to 10pm (Sunday to Friday), 12pm to 11pm (Saturday)
5. Japanese Village, Bukit Tinggi
The Japanese Village in Bukit Tinggi, designed and developed by a team of Japanese architects and craftsmen, is a tranquil environment filled with meandering walkways, waterfalls, gorgeous Zen-inspiring landscapes, and even a Japanese Tea House and Japanese-concept spa.
Enhance your experience by renting a kimono on-site so you may stroll through the beautifully-landscaped village grounds and capture loads of beautiful pictures.
Address: km 48, Persimpangan Bertingkat Lebuhraya Karak, Colmar Tropicale, Bukit Tinggi, 28750 Bentong, Pahang, 28750
Operating hours: 9:30am to 5pm (daily)
6. Jalan Jalan Japan, multiple locations
You undoubtedly know of Book-Off if you’ve ever visited Japan. For those who are unfamiliar, it is essentially the largest chain of thrift stores in Japan, and they have recently opened not one, not two, but eight branches in Malaysia! They import used and secondhand goods from Japan and market them under the name Jalan Jalan Japan (JJJ) here in what’s essentially a bundle store.
Since they are all in good shape, you might discover some hidden treasures, such as antique collections or custom-made sneakers, if you are lucky. Prices start out at just RM1. Other treasures you may find include soft toys, baby gear, sports equipment, cutlery, figures, and even items that you often won’t be able to get in Malaysia like surfboards, kimonos, and koto!
You can frequently find items that are still wrapped in their original packaging and in brand-new condition. This is the spot to go if you want to experience what it’s like to vintage or thrift shop in Japan. In addition, you can stock your wardrobe with affordable Japanese fashion.
Address: Level 1A (Block A) Sky Park @ One City, 47650, Jalan USJ 25/1A, One City Sky Park, 47100 Subang Jaya, Selangor Darul Ehsan
Operating hours: 10am to 10pm (Daily)
7. Don Don Donki, Kuala Lumpur
Ask just about anyone who’s been to Japan and they’ll tell you that the Donki store is a must — especially to load up on souvenirs and local treats. There are more than 160 outlets of this enormous chain store all throughout Japan, all of which are loaded to the brim with shelves upon shelves of Japanese snacks, fresh food items, groceries, cosmetic products, and other goods.
Last year, the first Don Don Donki store in Malaysia opened its doors in Lot 10, Bukit Bintang, drawing long lines of eager Malaysians excited to hear the Don Don Donki theme song. Now, you can get a slice of Japan — vibe included — and find practically anything you need or want at the three-story store that is divided into a number of different sections.
Our favourite things to shop for here include the strawberries flown in fresh from Japan, fresh sashimi, premium wagyu beef slices, a wide range of ramen, countless options of Japanese snacks, skincare products, electronics, and even cooking appliances.
Address: Lot 10 Shopping Centre, G8 G11, F8 F18, S8 S16, 50 Jalan Sultan Ismail, 50250 Kuala Lumpur.
Operating hours: 10am to 12am (Daily)
8. Urban Retreat Onsen Spa, 163 Retail Park, Kuala Lumpur
This is a brand-new spa concept from Urban Retreat Spa which combines the original traditional Japanese onsen culture with traditional body therapy. The onsen spa tub that was imported from Japan here lets you enjoy the same relaxing sensation as one in Japan’s real onsens!
You can choose from a variety of water temperatures and specific salts in this indoor facility’s wooden onsen tub as you relax. Additionally, you can choose from up to seven different body scrubs. This spa has a private room with a single person tub, so don’t worry if you’re uncomfortable exposing your birthday suit in front of others. The round tub is for women, while the rectangle tub is for men.
If you need help picking a ritual from their menu, here are three of our faves. We’ve also given the Japanese onsen spa a go, and you can read our full review of that too.
Address: Lot 2F – 02, 163 Retail Park, 07, 8, Jalan Kiara, Mont Kiara, 50480 Kuala Lumpur, Federal Territory of Kuala Lumpur
Operating hours: 11am to 9pm (daily)
9. Ramen Bar Shishido, Petaling Jaya
Years after having filled happy bellies with bowls of thick noodles bursting with flavour, the owners of the now-closed Menya Shi-Shi Do have opened a new restaurant in Petaling Jaya’s The Gasket Alley. Ramen Bar Shishi Do has a very different atmosphere than their modest original restaurant in Jaya One.
Of course, you’ll find plenty of izakayas around the Klang valley serving ramen. But here at Ramen Bar Shishi Do, you’ll feel as though you’re entering an actual izakaya in Japan because of its moody interiors. Along with ramen, they serve other dishes like tsukemen, rice bowls, hot pots, yakitori, and even ramen burgers.
Note: This restaurant is non-halal.
Address: The Gasket Alley, 15-5 @, Jalan 13/6, Seksyen 13, 46200 Petaling Jaya, Selangor
Operating hours: 11 AM – 11 PM (Tuesday – Sunday), Closed on Monday
10. Staycation at Bunk & Bilik, Kuala Lumpur
Bunk & Bilik is a cosy boutique hotel with elegant, simple rooms that emanate a Japanese-inspired zen appeal. To promote a restful night’s sleep and total relaxation, the private and dorm-style rooms at this establishment are meticulously designed with subdued colours, minimalist furniture, and the fewest frills possible.
Bring your favourite book, download a ton of movies, or just head over with your loved ones this weekend to unplug and refresh. A variety of lodging options are available, including family suites, which are ideal for larger parties, and bunk beds in the form of a dormitory. Additionally, the hotels include open, airy, and comfortable common areas, unlimited beverages, and a heaps of great extras like free Wi-Fi and self-service laundry.
Address: No, 9, Jalan Radin Bagus, Bandar Baru Sri Petaling, 57000 Kuala Lumpur, Wilayah Persekutuan Kuala Lumpur