It’s safe to say that Japan has one of the most impressive cultures in the world (and I’m not just saying that because of the nation’s compelling history). No, I’m saying that because even in the 21st century, Japanese culture offers a unique and fascinating attraction that is unmatched by any other country.
From devouring a bowl of steaming hot ramen to marvelling at the cherry blossoms in full bloom, there’s no wonder travellers love to throw themselves into the “full Japanese experience”.
Now, it’s your turn.
1. Attend a sushi making class
Nothing screams “Japan” more than sushi, right? A favourite of many (and detested by some), this controversial little dish is quintessential ‘Japan’. Master the art of sushi making so you can return home and DIY for all your friends – just grab your apron, ready the oshibako (wooden sushi press) and get rolling.
2. Watch a sumo wrestling match
How could you not be intrigued to see two 100kg+ Japanese men, wrestling each other in front of hundreds of fans? The most traditional Japanese sport dates back to the Edo period between 1603 and 1868, and can only be found in Japan. After you’ve experienced the spectacle, wash it all down with a traditional Japanese feast of chankonabe stew (as the sumos do).
3. Ride the shinkansen (or ’bullet train’)
Jump on the original ‘bullet train’ and zoom through the Japanese countryside at 320 kilometres per hour, passing the picturesque Mt Fuji as you head south to Kyoto. The Japanese sure do technology well – and there’s no better example than this man-made wonder. Plus, with a saving of 15,000 tons of CO2 per year, you’d be doing the environment a favour.
4. Attend the Cherry Blossom Festival
From the end of March to early May, one of the most beautiful displays of Mother Nature can be exhibited in Japan. Despite millions flocking here each year, battling the crowds to experience the annual Cherry Blossom Festival is totally worth it. Casting a warm fuzzy feeling over the entire countryside, the festival signals the blossoming of the “Sakura” and the coming of spring.
5. Tour a sake brewery
Every country has its own signature alcoholic beverage, sake (pronounced sah-kee) being that of Japan. Visit a brewery to experience how this unique, traditional liquor is brewed directly from a Toji – the head brewer. Then, of course, sample the good stuff and determine whether you prefer it hot or cold. Bottoms up!
6. Visit a bathhouse
A traditional Japanese spa experience isn’t complete unless you go the whole nine yards. Think: accommodation, clothing, treatments and food. Book your accommodation in a ryokan (Japanese house with tatami-matted rooms and sliding wooden doors) and deck yourself out in an authentic yukata (bathrobe/loungewear). Indulge in the relaxing atmosphere and embrace the Japanese way of life, including feasting on kaiseki (a traditional multi-course Japanese dinner), all in between soaking your weary bones. Check in and bliss out!
7. Stay in a capsule hotel
Japan can be expensive. Fact. If you’re keen to combat the expense (and enhance your experience in the process) check out the range of capsule hotels native to Tokyo, which are often far cheaper and cosier than the big name properties. Funnily enough, these novelty stays are super popular amongst those that are too drunk to return home and face their spouses! Niche market, but we won’t judge…
8. Join in on karaoke
Forget what you think you know about karaoke. Japan offers a whole new level of the popular pastime. Firstly, majority of the patrons found in karaoke bars are Japanese businessmen (not your rowdy Hen’s party, as per your local pub). Secondly, the lyrics aren’t broadcast on a screen – which means these guys are performing from memory. Impressed? Hell yeah. Keen to join? Sign us up.
9. Experience a Japanese tea ceremony
Or “Way of Tea” as it’s otherwise known, is a cultural activity involving preparation and presentation of matcha green tea. You can thank Zen Buddhism for the development and being the primary influence of such tea ceremonies. This experience cannot get anymore authentic: wearing a fresh pair of tabi (footwear), waiting in a toji (outdoor waiting area) whilst the Maiko (apprentice geisha) prepares the tea, and then sitting on a tatami (sitting mat) while enjoying the calligraphy and performance unfold before you.
10. Wake early for the Japanese fish market
Okay, so the smell of fish may not be the ideal wake up call. But trust us, waking up at 3am to visit the local Japanese fish market is totally worth it. Stay with me on this one. A spectacle like no other, expect fish throwing, bargaining between fishmongers and head chefs, auctions, giant octopi worth a Snapchat (or 10) and even taste testing. Because what better way to sample the local produce than right at the source?
11. Attend a baseball game
Imagine a crowd full of fans, passionately chanting the same phrase in perfect unison, dressed head-to-toe in their team’s colours…welcome to Japanese baseball. A sporting culture like none other, Japanese baseball fans are convinced their cheers will bring their team a win. In fact, baseball is so popular in Japan many fans are surprised to hear that Americans also consider it their ‘national sport. So what are you waiting for? Don your (adopted) team’s colours and embrace the atmosphere yourself.
Experience the incredible Japan for yourself here.