I really can’t stress enough about how much fun I had in Japan just from experiencing the local culture. Shopping and nature trails are great, but what truly defines a trip for me are the unique experiences you can only get in that one place, which is why I’ve compiled a list of cultural experiences you should definitely go for during your trip.
The tea ceremony, or Chado, is one of the most famous cultural activities in Japan. With its roots in zen Buddhism, the ceremony has been refined and perfected over hundreds of years. The ceremony is carried out with grace and care, each step full of meaning.
I strongly recommend going for a tea ceremony to experience Japanese hospitality at its best for yourself! There are many tea houses and even some shrines that offer the experience, and I recommend going to a place that allows you to stir the matcha yourself, as I enjoyed that aspect of it the most.
Wagashi are traditional Japanese sweets that are often enjoyed together with green tea. There are many different types of wagashi, though they are generally separated into 2 types- Namagashi (wet) and Higashi (dry).
They are usually designed using natural motifs to reflect the season at the time. In many culture hotspots in Japan, such as Kyoto, there are wagashi making classes which let you assemble the sweets yourself! I’ve been to one myself and highly recommend it. You can read more about my experience here.
Hot springs ♨️
Natural hot springs, or onsens, are a definite must try in Japan. Once considered a sacred place of healing, because of the natural health benefits from the salts and minerals, they are now popular among tourists looking for a relaxing break as well, and are popular all year round. .
Many Ryokans (Traditional Japanese inns) have onsens within them, and I really recommend you go for the full experience, but you can choose to go for just the onsen as well. Please note that most onsens are public baths, and will require you to be fully naked (men and women separated in most cases). Many places also unfortunately do not allow tattoos.
Festivals, or Matsuri, are a true celebration of the Japanese culture. They are held in every part of Japan, and celebrate a deity, changing seasons, historical events and long held traditions. This is the perfect opportunity to see floats, palanquins, traditional clothes and try street food.
It’s a real experience to see a Japanese festival and I highly recommend that you do a bit of research to find out if there will be festivals around the area you plan to visit. With the food and festivities, it’s a lot of fun, and really gives an all rounded, all Japanese experience!
Wear a Kimono/Yukata
What better place to try the beautiful kimonos and yukatas that you have long dreamt of wearing than in Japan itself? But first, you have to decide between the two. Kimonos and Yukatas may look the same to an untrained eye, but they’re actually quite different. Kimonos are basically the more fancy and formal of the two, often being made of silk.
The difference that you should concern yourself with more though, is the pricing. Kimonos are vastly more expensive and difficult to find. Yukatas being sold at flea markets, on the other hand, can go as low as 500 yen. There are many touristy areas that allow you to rent Kimonos and Yukatas, with some including a photo shoot in a package. Asakusa in Tokyo and the area surrounding Kiyomizu dera in Kyoto are particularly famous for having such rental services.
As always, remember to be respectful with everything you try and do! As long as you are, people will be happy to share their culture with you.
[Adapted from my now missing odigo page]