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10 unexpected ways to experience Japan in Hong Kong

By Annette Chan 2 March 2021

Header image courtesy of @sungmassagehk (via Instagram)

While we’re all missing travel right now, there’s probably one destination that Hongkongers are missing more than others—Japan. We’re not sure if it’s the food, culture, or natural wonders that the country has to offer—or if it’s just a combination of all the above, with a good dose of je ne sais quoi—but Hong Kong travellers love going to Japan. Whether it’s hanami (花見, spring flower viewing) trips in March to autumns in Kyoto, and winter ski holidays to Niseko and Nagano, Hongkongers love it all. But did you know that there are plenty of places in Hong Kong to experience all the above? From cute photo ops to wholly immersive dining experiences, and more, read on for all of our favourite places to experience Japan in Hong Kong.

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Things to do

Get crafty

Japanese craftsmanship is world-famous, and for a reason—who can deny the beauty of indigo garments dyed using the ancient shibori method, or broken pottery repaired with gold à la kintsugi (golden joinery)? While you could purchase ready-made Japanese products here in Hong Kong (more info on that later!), you can also take a class on traditional Japanese crafts.

Learn how to bunch, twist, and dye cloth with the best of them at Lantau Blue, Hong Kong’s most picturesque shibori studio; mould a lump of clay into a fine sake cup at Hama Pottery Studio and Waka Artisans’ workshops; beautify a broken piece of pottery at a class led by local kintsugi enthusiast Kenneth Lee (appointment-only). Keen on Japanese gardening? Check out Bonart’s classes on making kokedama (苔玉; moss balls) and bonsai tree terrariums.

Check out our full list of creative workshops and classes for adults here.

Photo credit: Katsuo Udon (via Facebook)

Use your noodle

Katsuo Udon is one of our favourite places to get an affordable lunch in Kwun Tong, but did you know that it also offers udon-making classes? Using maps, handouts, and props, the Cantonese-speaking instructors will educate you on udon’s history and regional variants. You’ll then learn how to make sanuki udon using traditional hand- and foot-kneading methods—don’t worry, the dough is wrapped in plastic!—before going on your merry way with one kilogram of your own handmade noodles. Katsuo Udon’s three-hour class (starting from $500 per person) covers the cost of materials and even includes a complimentary bowl of tempura udon you can enjoy after all your hard work.

Katsuo Udon, Shop O, 11/F, Block 3, Camelpaint Building, 60 Hoi Yuen Road, Kwun Tong | (+852) 5226 2241

Photo credit: @sungmassagehk (via Instagram)

Get pampered

Despite the trendiness of K-Beauty nowadays, we still have a soft spot in our hearts for Japanese beauty—after all, it gave the world nail art, smudge-proof tubing mascaras, and steam eye masks. For long-lasting manicures or eyelash extensions, check out Canary, a spacious and sophisticated salon in Central. You can opt for the classic French tips, go for a perennially chic solid colour, or ask their nail artists to give you a cool negative space manicure—the world is your Hiroshima oyster.

If you’re looking for a different kind of beauty treatment—say, a facial or IPL hair removal—then look no further than the soothing surrounds of Ginza Calla in Causeway Bay. This exemplary beauty salon is known for its long-lasting laser hair removals, targeted skincare treatments, and gentle, professional approach (as opposed to more hard-sell beauty centres).

Finally, if sore muscles are what ail you, don’t sleep on the Japanese-inspired massage parlour, Sung (which means “pine”), which feels like a breath of fresh air with its sun-dappled and wood-furnished space. The price list is a pleasant surprise, with long and typically expensive treatments like hot stone massages and head, shoulder, and foot massage combos coming in at under $400.

Canary, 9/F, Man Cheung Building, 15–17 Wyndham Street, Central | (+852) 2537 0338

Ginza Calla, Unit B–C, 16/F, Soundwill Plaza II Midtown, 1 Tang Lung Street, Causeway Bay | (+852) 6609 2220

Sung Massage, Shop 3, G/F, 15 Soares Avenue, Ho Man Tin | (+852) 6683 1879

Ginza Calla is a recommended Localiiz partner.

Photo credit: @victor.twk (via Instagram)

Take in some nature

While nothing can quite replicate the magic of Arashiyama, with its enchanting mix of temples, shrines, and that all-important bamboo forest, did you know that Hong Kong has plenty of bamboo groves of its own? Concentrated mostly around the New Territories, many of Hong Kong’s bamboo forests are easily accessible on hikes, making them popular for scenic photoshoots and relaxing nature walks. In the spirit of relaxing in nature, you can also expand your shinrin-yoku (森林浴; forest bathing) scope to include regular forests, like the bucolic sights of Tai Po Kau Nature Reserve and Tsing Yi Park.

If you prefer your activities to be a little more interactive, you can also consider getting some fresh sea air and indulging in the very Japanese past time of fishing—whether that’s for regular fish at a designated fish farm, or for squid on a chartered boat, you can do it all here in Hong Kong!

Check out our full guide to forest bathing here, our guide to seeing bamboo groves here, and our guides to fishing spots and summer squid-fishing tours here and here.

Keep scrolling for the rest of the list 👇

By Julian Leung 11 November 2020
By Rosslyn Sinclair 10 October 2020
Photo: Slope 8 (via Facebook)

Hit the slopes

Missing the slopes of Niseko? While Hong Kong may not have any snow, you can still sharpen your winter sports skills in the city. Slope Infinity in Tin Hau has two revolving carpet ski decks for both skiing and snowboarding—a larger, gentler one where beginners can learn the basics, and a less-forgiving trainer deck for repeat customers to hone their technique. There are mirrors for you to check (and perfect) your form, but if you’re after something a little more immersive, try Ski Tech in Wong Chuk Hang. Their state-of-the-art skiing and snowboarding simulators are used by the US Olympic teams for training, and come equipped with a virtual reality projector and a host of customisable settings that allow you to choose the exact conditions of the snow, slope, and more. Afterwards, you can even hit up Lounge Hakuba for the Japanese après-ski experience!

Slope Infinity, 1/F, 148 Electric Road, North Point | (+852) 2107 4567

Ski Tech, Room 922–923, One Island South, 2 Heung Yip Road, Wong Chuk Hang | (+852) 2177 0008

Lounge Hakuba, Unit 302, Tower 535, 535 Jaffe Road, Causeway Bay | (+852) 2111 1707

Snap some pictures

What is a holiday without photo ops? While most of Hong Kong’s prettiest temples are of the Chinese variety (Taoist, to be specific), there have been a few little serene Japanese-style photo spots cropping up around our parks. One of the most popular ones can be found at Tin Hau Temple Road Garden No. 3, on (you guessed it) Tin Hau Road, which fits a lovely shoji (障子; paper screen) façade, stone bridge, and foliage into its minuscule footprint. Another can be found at Hoi Sham Park in To Kwa Wan, which also has a little pink pavilion overlooking the surrounding waters and a few (rather scraggly) cherry trees.

If you want to go for the full hanami experience with bountiful blooms in pink and purple hues, check out the Tai Po Waterfront Park or Kwan Kung Pavilion on Cheung Chau. Both are home to a lovely collection of cherry trees, whose feathery pink flowers draw countless visitors every year. One of the best places to indulge in hanami, however, may surprise you—Harbour North shopping mall in North Point has made a name for itself over the last few years by hosting regular seasonal Japanese flower installations at its expansive waterfront space. From perfectly groomed pink sakura tunnels to waterfall-esque wisteria displays, they’ve got the floral explosion thing down pat.

Check out our full guide to viewing seasonal foliage here.

Photo credit: Kanamono Hardware Store (via Facebook)

Do a bit of shopping

If you read about the crafts classes and thought, “That’s nice, but I can’t be bothered with all that,” then the obvious solution is: go shopping at a Japanese store instead! Hongkongers love to shop almost as much as they love Japan, so it makes sense that wares from Nippon are pretty well represented across the city. However, some shops have gone above and beyond by specialising in only Japanese goods.

Check out a high-end kotatsu (炬燵; heated low table with a heavy blanket over the base) at HOW Department, vintage Japanese toolboxes at Kanamono Hardware Store, and high-end beauty and wellness products at Apita Well-Being Space. Of course, you can’t forget Sogo, an actual Japanese department store whose basement Freshmart is legendary for its delicious prepared snacks and wide range of Japanese groceries.

Check out our full guide to Japanese speciality shops here.

Keep scrolling for the rest of the list 👇

Where to eat & drink

Photo credit: hkbellyhungry (via Openrice)

Cafés and teahouses

If you’re missing the crimson leaves and crisp weather of Japanese autumns, check out Prince Edward’s newest hip coffee shop, Fonji, a warm and welcoming space decorated with minimalistic cat and maple leaf motifs. Alternatively, if you prefer Tokyo kissatens (喫茶店; “tea-drinking shop”) to Kyoto foliage, pop into the nearby Coffee Analog instead, a dark and stylish café where you can find great coffee, whisky, and vinyl records.

Into the wabi-sabi look and bite-sized wagashi (和菓子; small tea cakes)? HanMade is a tranquil teahouse, florist, and café serving a much-needed dose of Japanese serenity to the suburban island enclave of Discovery Bay. Drop by for a bouquet of flowers or an intricate sesame cake and warming pot of tea during golden hour.

Fonji, 5 Maple Street, Prince Edward

Coffee Analog, 169 Sai Yeung Choi Street North, Prince Edward | (+852) 6711 5971

HanMade Teahouse, Shop G10, G/F, Discovery Bay North Plaza, 82 Siena Avenue, Discovery Bay | (+852) 2322 8558

Immersive eats

From animal cafés to robot restaurants and even a bar modelled after Italian horror films, Tokyo has no shortage of themed establishments—so it was only a matter of time before Hong Kong got its own Japanese-style themed izakaya, too! For a tasty meal and education in Japanese otaku (おたく; nerd) culture, head to Ganguya in Tin Hau, whose anime and manga figurines and posters (narrowly) outnumber the dishes on offer.

If you’re after a more traditional dining experience, Sankason Suisan is an underrated gem in the fishing town of Lei Yue Mun. Even before you step inside, the rustic wooden doors and large decorative crab look as if they were directly transported from a coastal Japanese town, and everything from the ukiyo-e murals to the traditional hamayaki (浜焼; fisherman-style seaside barbecue) menu just further that impression.

A similarly immersive experience awaits you at Uoharu, the Hong Kong outpost of a popular Tokyo izakaya. The menu includes some fusion dishes like wagyu foie gras sukiyaki ($288), but the décor and service feel wholly Japanese—especially when the staff turn the lights down for their dramatic robatayaki performance, after which each table can enjoy a complimentary piece of freshly grilled fish.

But if it’s full Japanese authenticity you’re after, you can’t miss Kyozasa, a hidden gem in Tsim Sha Tsui with all-Japanese staff. The wide-ranging menu offers everything from sushi to chirashi bowls, tempura, and udon, and katsu cutlets, and the friendly staff are more than happy to make any recommendations if you need help navigating it.

Sankason Suisan, East Wing, Sam Ka Tsuen Pier, Lei Yue Mun | (+852) 2660 8798

Ganguya, G/F, 16 Ngan Mok Street, Tin Hau | (+852) 2348 7800

Uoharu, 7/F, M88, Wellington Place, 2–8 Wellington Street, Central | (+852) 2217 8880

Kyozasa, 1/F, Po Fung Building, 32–34 Haiphong Road, Tsim Sha Tsui | (+852) 2376 1888

A Nihon night out

While people often tend to focus on Japanese food (guilty!), it’s worth remembering that the country has made some significant contributions to alcohol too. Not content with just bestowing sake upon the world, Japan has also become a top-notch producer of whisky. Explore the libations of the rising sun at sake-focused bars and eateries like Sake Central, Sake Bar Ginn, and Sake Beya Masu, or get the full Ginza cocktail bar experience (besuited bartenders and all) at smart watering holes like Mizunara: The Library and Bar Buonasera. For a deep dive into Japanese whiskies, Bar Butler and Nocturne are must-visits.

Sake Central, S109–S113, Block A, 35 Aberdeen Street, Central | (+852) 2565 6552

Sake Bar Ginn, Flat C, 4/F, Ho Lee Commercial Building, 38–44 D’Aguilar Street, Central | (+852) 2536 4355

Sake Beya Masu, Shun Ho Building, 1 Sun Street, Wan Chai | (+852) 2525 2355

Mizunara: The Library, 4/F, 361–363 Lockhart Road, Wan Chai | (+852) 3571 9797

Bar Buonasera, 7/F, Mody house, 30 Mody Road, Tsim Sha Tsui | (+852) 2111 444

Bar Butler, 5/F, Mody House, 30 Mody Road, Tsim Sha Tsui | (+852) 2724 3828

Nocturne, 35 Peel Street, Central | (+852) 2884 9566

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Annette Chan

Senior editor

Annette is an editor and copywriter with a lifetime of experience in hunting out the most interesting, odd, and delightful things about her beloved home city. Having written extensively about everything from food and culture to fashion, music, and hospitality, she considers her speciality to be Hong Kong itself. In her free time, you can find Annette trying out new dumpling recipes or playing Big Two at her favourite local bars with a cocktail in hand.