Japan is a destination that inspires authentic and mindful living. With thousand-year-old traditions and an inspiring culture, it is a country that is on many a travellers’ bucket lists.
Here’s a look at some of the best ways to experience the ‘authentic’ Japan.
Kabuki, a traditional form of Japanese theatre that dates back to the Edo period (1603 – 1867), is an entertaining way to get your fill of authentic Japan.
These outlandish all-male shows are a mass of elaborate costumes and make up, exaggerated acting to help convey the story to the audience, and fully outfitted stages complete with props. There are literally hundreds of show options, each with its own unique story line. If you’re a beginner try Kanjincho, the most popular Kabuki.
Your best bets for a night of Kabuki theatre fun are the popular Kabuki-za in Tokyo, Shockiku-za in Osaka, and Minami-za in Kyoto.
Hanami – cherry blossom viewing
Cherry blossom viewing – or Hanami- is one seriously beautiful traditional Japanese pastime. Traditionally, cherry blossom viewing is done from a picnic blanket spread amongst the blooms where you can literally sit for hours and admire the beautiful natural display.
Yoshino is arguably the best of the best when it comes to gorgeous floral displays, but if it’s a flurry of flowers you’re after then Ueno-kōen in Tokyo is your best bet, where over 1,000 cherry blossom trees bloom each year.
Take a look at Lonely Planet‘s guide to cherry blossom viewing to find out there where, when, and how of Hanami.
Japanese cuisine, or washoku, is a big deal. It is one of only two national culinary cuisines to be included in the UNESCO Intangible Cultural Heritage list – the other being French.
What many people don’t realise until they visit Japan is that it’s not all about the sushi, though the sushi certainly is a delectable part of Japanese cuisine. Delicate hand-made soba noodles, steamy ramen bowls, crunchy tempura battered delicacies, delectable tonkatsu (breaded pork), and even blowfish are all enticing culinary options in Japan. Find your perfect Japanese cuisine match in BBC Good Food’s ‘Top 10 foods tor try in Japan‘.
Japan’s unofficial national sport dates back to ancient times when sumo was performed as a form of entertainment for Shinto deities. Customary rituals are still followed today; like ancient times, wrestlers (rikishi) sprinkle salt around the ring (dohyo) to purify it and ward off injury, wear loincloths and ceremonial aprons over them when they parade into the arena, and fasten their hair in topknots, which is thought to prevent injury if they fall.
Seeing this impressive fast-paced sport is a must-do when visiting Japan. If you’re visiting during tournament season (January, May, September) you’re in luck, there’s plenty of action to be seen and tickets plentiful (though book early). Get your sumo watching tips here.
Stay at a ryokan
Staying at a ryokan, a traditional Japanese inn or guesthouse, can be a luxurious and enriching experience. Guests are provided with slippers upon entry and a yukata (cotton kimono) for relaxing in their room. They often have a relaxing onsen, a large hot bath for guests to soak in, and beautifully manicured gardens.
There are a number of ryokan options around the country, ranging from large flashy resort styles to humble abodes in small towns. For a cosier, more traditional experience aim for the smaller, secluded option.
Stroll (or bike) the streets of Kyoto
Kyoto is arguably the most picturesque and ambient cities in Japan. The city is full of temples, literally thousands of the them, charming laneways full of great eateries serving up steamy bowls of traditional fare, and iconic scenes such as elegant geishas strolling the streets.
The city is perfect for strolling or biking around, something that is actually quite common in Japan. There’s an impressive 17 World Heritage sites to explore, buddhist temples seemingly around every corner, tranquil gardens, teahouses, and picturesque mountains surrounding the city that are perfect for a hike or two. Take a stroll down the Philosopher’s Path from Silver Pavilion to Kiyomizu-dera Temple for a real treat of the senses.
Ancient sites and tradition are rife throughout Kyoto, and you’ll need at least a week to explore its rich and diverse city-soul.
Japanese tea ceremony
The art of drinking tea has been a part of Japanese culture for centuries, and Kyoto is the epicentre of accomplished tea drinking.
A traditional Japanese tea ceremony is infused in meticulous rituals and mindfulness, two things Japan is well known for. Attending one of these aesthetic, orderly, yet calming ceremonies can be a wholly cleansing experience, and Camellia in Kyoto has perfected the art form to a T.
Relax at an onsen
Onsen are the perfect antidote to hectic modern day lifestyles. Often set in apt tranquil surrounds such as the Kii Mountains and Japanese Alps, a steamy onsen bath is THE perfect place to unwind.
Onsen range from small and quaint to grand and extravagant. And with some dating back thousands of years, there is an air about these steamy bathhouses that emanates historical signifigance.
Here’s a look at some of the best onsen in Japan, where your everyday stresses will melt away with the hot steam as you settle in for a good old fashioned soak.
Arguably, no trip to Japan is complete without sampling some sake. This addictive traditional rice wine is a popular drink for those visiting Japan, but the beverage has a long and intimate history with Japanese. It is an essential item in almost all Japanese homes and is often served at ceremonies, festivals, and weddings to name a few.
You can find sake in restaurants, eateries, and bars all over Japan and you’ll be astounded at the variety on offer and various ways the beverage is served. If the behind-the-scenes and sake origins are of interest then be sure to visit one of the sake breweries were you can tour, learn, and sample to your heart’s content.
Get festive at a Matsuri (festival)
Matsuri, traditional Japanese festivals, come in all shapes and sizes and range from dance festivals to snow festivals, samurai festivals to grand float festivals; each with their own unique history and tradition, often dating back hundreds of years.
Attend a matsuri for an interesting peek into Japanese culture, and to get a good dose of true Japanese celebration and festivities.
Here are ten of the most popular Japanese Matsuri to get festive at.
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