As we all know, the best type of traveling is not just seeing the incredible destinations, but also having memorable experiences along the way. While traveling through the incredibly modern and historical cities of Japan is exciting and mesmerizing, it is also important to dig deeper and experience the fascinating culture around you.
Japan has such a rich and compelling culture that the number of unforgettable experiences you can have there is off the charts. To help you decide which experiences are best for you, here is a list of our favorite Japan experiences that not only teach travelers cultural knowledge but give them unforgettable memories in the process.
- Having tea with a geisha in Kyoto is a one-of-a-kind experience that is not only exclusive but gives insight into this ancient tradition.
- If you love tea and want to learn more about how it is grown and processed in Japan, then the small town of Uji is the perfect place to learn.
- Shibori is a traditional Japanese method of dyeing fabrics that was used to color everything in Japan, from kimonos to scarves.
- Kimonos are often considered a luxury good in Japan, due to the expense of creating the beautiful silk fabrics. If you want to see what it is like to wear a kimono, the best place is in the Kiyomizu area of Kyoto.
- Japanese cuisine is some of the best in the world. You can experience it yourself by taking a cooking class in either Kyoto or Tokyo.
- If you have always been intrigued by ancient Japanese samurai, then we suggest taking a sword dancing lesson or a class in the art of Iaido.
- If you want to explore the artistic side of Japanese culture, you can learn how to make traditional crafts such as kiriko, cut class, or Japanese calligraphy.
1. Kyoto afternoon tea with a geisha
Kyoto is extremely well-known for the tradition of geisha. You will be able to visit the geisha district which is lit by lanterns in the evening and is a pleasure to explore. Visitors can experience a private ochaya ceremony in a geisha tea house, where you will be served green tea and Japanese sweets in the company of a geisha. Many times, you will also watch the geisha perform a traditional song or dance.
Geisha are often considered to be famous for their beauty, but actually, they are also quite famous for their skills. They dedicate their whole lives to dressing in kimonos, applying make-up, dancing, and singing.
These experiences not only make for incredible photo opportunities but also help visitors gain a glimpse into ancient Japanese culture. Geisha are some of Japan's most iconic cultural relics and are also very well respected in the culture. Hiring one to serve you is known as an exclusive opportunity.
2. Uji tea experience
As tea is the most commonly drunk beverage in Japan and has also been an important part of the culture for centuries, we think learning about tea while you're in the country, is a must. Our favorite place to experience the process of making tea is the small town of Uji.
Uji is a small traditional town near Kyoto and is world-famous for its green Tea. Uji has been known for its high-quality tea since the 1100s and is a great place to visit to get an authentic view of tea production in Japan. You can learn about the process of making tea, from the growing of the plant and the kneading and drying process, to the final taste test and quality check.
You can also participate in a traditional tea ceremony if you like, or you can stroll through the picturesque Japanese village while sampling tea from local shops.
3. Shibori scarf class
Shibori is a traditional Japanese dyeing technique that has been practiced in the country for more than 1000 years. Shibori has long been used to decorate Japanese life by dyeing silks, cotton, and hemp with indigo or other, brighter colors. This dyeing technique is not only beautiful but it also requires highly skilled craftsmen to accomplish.
Although shibori dyeing has long been a part of Japanese life, the lack of skilled craftsmen in the younger generation has been causing concerns that this practice may be dying out. By taking a class in making shibori scarves, visitors can experience how traditional clothing had been created in Japan, while also supporting the talented craftsmen who dedicate their lives to this art form.
4. Kimono experience
The Japanese kimono is one of the world's most recognizable forms of traditional clothing, most likely due to their beauty and elegance. Although kimonos are considered a luxury item in Japan today, the origin of kimonos is quite humble; they were worn every day by all social classes from the years 800 to 2000. The word "kimono" simply means "clothing" in Japanese.
Part of the reason that kimonos are considered luxury items today is due to the expense of the silk used to make them and also the complicated procedure of putting one on. Today, kimonos are still worn by Japanese people during special occasions such as weddings and tea ceremonies.
Travelers in Japan can learn more about this traditional clothing style by wearing a kimono themselves. In the Kyoto Kiyomizu area, there are some kimono rental shops where customers can rent a kimono and learn how to wear it. Many visitors take this opportunity to stroll through the ancient area of the Kiyomizudera temple and take striking photos.
5. Cooking class in Machiya Townhouse
There are plenty of cooking courses offered in Japan. Although sushi making classes are the most popular, there are plenty of other options that will give visitors a deeper look into Japans food culture. Whether it is learning how to put together a bento-style boxed meal or a two-course Izakaya style dining experience, Japan's cuisine is world-renown for its high quality and depth of flavor.
If you want to get the most out of your experience, a private course in the home of a local is the way to go. In Kyoto, there is an option to take a cooking class with a local teacher in their Machiya home. Machiya is a type of traditional wooden home that is found in Kyoto and is the perfect place to get a peek inside the life of today's Japanese families.
Once you have made the food and learned all about the history and culture behind it, you get the best reward by eating your creation at the end.
6. Samurai sword dance
One of the first things that comes to mind when thinking about Japanese history, is the legendary samurai. Samurai have been present in pop culture through many movies, books, and artworks. One thing that draws people to the tradition of the samurai is the intriguing secrecy and incredible legends that surround them. The samurai were Japan's military nobility who lived their lives according to a strict code of ethics. They were also trained and very skilled fighters.
You can learn more about the samurai warriors by joining a Samurai Sword Dance Class. These classes allow students to wear a samurai costume and learn the basics of the kembu which is an intricate and beautiful sword dance that was used by ancient samurai for meditative benefits.
This is a great way to connect with the ancient history of Japan in a way that is incredibly fun and rewarding.
7. Tea ceremony in a Japanese garden
A tea ceremony is a choreographed ritual of preparing and serving tea with some traditional Japanese snacks, seeking to achieve the perfect balance of flavors and inner harmony. Beyond the careful preparation and serving of delicious tea, tea ceremonies are also meant to be a place of escape where guests can enjoy the peaceful atmosphere which is extremely different from our fast-paced modern lives.
Traditionally, tea ceremonies take place in special rooms which are located in a Japanese garden. These gardens are meant to add to the peaceful atmosphere and bring tranquility to guests.
Our favorite place to experience a traditional Japanese tea ceremony is in Tokyo at the Happo-en Garden. Not only is the garden beautiful during every time of the year but the tea master is also very knowledgeable and provides an excellent tea ceremony lesson and experience to visitors.
8. Tokyo Edo-crafts experience
The Edo period of Japan was characterized by an explosion of arts and culture. The influences from the Edo period can still be seen in Japan today in skilled craftsmen who have passed down the knowledge of these celebrated traditions from generation to generation.
Visitors to the bustling city of Toyko can easily learn more about the crafts from this period by visiting the Edo Shitamachi Traditional Craft Museum and by exploring Asakusa town, where the Edo culture still exists today.
For visitors who want to get more hands-on with their experiences, there is also the option of participating in a craft class. Our favorite craft classes include the making of Edo kiriko (cut glass), or Edo-style bamboo blinds. Both crafts take skill and style to create and make excellent and authentic souvenirs for travelers.
9. Iaido and Japanese calligraphy
For visitors interested in the ancient culture of Japan, we suggest taking lessons in Iaido and Japanese calligraphy. Iaido is a type of Japanese swordsmanship that uses smooth and controlled movements with a bamboo sword. Although Iaido is a form of martial art, it is often considered to be more similar to an art or to philosophy than the more aggressive martial arts such as judo and jujitsu.
After learning about this ancient Japanese fighting style, you can pick up a paintbrush and learn the intricacies of Japanese calligraphy. Just like sword dancing, calligraphy in Japan involves very precise and elegant movements. In calligraphy class, you will learn how to write the strokes of each kanji (Japanese character) in the correct order.
Both of these practices are just as elegant as they are difficult, but they are rewarding to master and they are a good way to experience some of the roots of Japanese cultural values, including patience, harmony, and perfection.
10. Tsukiji Market visit and sushi making lesson
If you want to learn about making sushi, then Tokyo is the best place. Tokyo is one of Japan's most famous sushi centers, with a high concentration of masters and Michelin star rated restaurants. Our suggestion is to take a sushi lesson that focuses on the sourcing of the ingredients as well as the process of creating the sushi.
Most of the fish and seafood in Tokyo is sourced from Tsukiji Market which is one of the largest and most famous wholesale seafood markets in the world. You can walk through the crowded warehouses, where over 2,888 tons of marine products are sold every day, and learn how to choose high-quality fish.
After a visit to Tsukiji Market, travelers can take their fresh produce to the local teacher's home, where the sushi will be prepared. To make the best sushi, you need the best local products, from perfectly cooked rice to authentic wasabi and high-quality soy. The best part about cooking lessons is that once you've made your sushi, you can enjoy your creations by eating them for lunch!
Experience Japan with Asia Highlights
Want to experience the best that Japan has to offer? At Asia Highlights, our professionals are experienced and knowledgeable in planning the perfect trip. We believe in tailor-making our packages to suit the travelers' needs and to make their experience the most memorable and meaningful possible.