Experience staying in a traditional Ryokan Onsen
Unlike other countries where the only options for accommodation are hotels and local home-stays, Japan gives you a chance to stay in a ‘Ryokan Onsen.’ These local guesthouses have been preserved across centuries and were once used by feudal lords and samurais as a stop between their journeys to relax, enjoy a tea ceremony, and still feel safe from their enemies through the simple defenses by which these houses were designed, such as narrow stairs and low doorways. Today these serve as an ultimate luxury experience for guests who want to relax in a hot spring while enjoying the warmth and hospitality of the Japanese culture. Designed using minimalistic artwork, a stay in these traditional guesthouses makes you feel as if the time is slowing down!
Get spoilt for choice in Themed Cafes
Quirkiness and Japan go hand-in-hand for the many bizarre experiences that you can find here. From pet themed cafes to Ninja’s serving you or eating with characters of ‘Alice in Wonderland’, Japanese café culture has everything that you have dreamed of and more. One of the most popular themed cafes here is the Robot Restaurant that has performances by robots who interact and entertain, while you enjoy a meal or have a drink. Unlike other places in the world where themed cafes are restricted to just the theme or the design, Japanese cafes take it to the next level by creating a complete experience for the visitor.
Make unforgettable memories dressed in a Kimono
One of the most popular images of Japanese women are when they are dressed in a kimono. This elegant traditional attire that literally translates as clothing in English, is passed from one generation to another. A new garment can cost a fortune with a single piece of clothing costing tens of thousands of yen. Although locals do not wear this on a daily basis, it is still a part of all their festivities and important events such as weddings and graduation ceremonies. You can see artists and geishas wearing them regularly in popular areas such as Gion and Asakusa. Luckily for tourists, a kimono can be rented on a daily or overnight basis to create unforgettable memories while exploring the country.
Sleep in a Shrine
Shukobo, which literally means ‘Sleeping with the monks’ is the perfect opportunity to experience the Buddhism way of life. Similar to most traditional accommodations, this can be booked by all foreign visitors irrespective of their religion, gender or nationality. During your stay in a local shrine, learn about ‘shojin ryori’ – vegetarian cooking or participate in morning prayers which typically start early around 6 AM and last for about 30-60 minutes. Though they do not have amenities such as TV or other forms of entertainment, they offer a lot of comfort to visitors by offering basics such as tatami floors, futon and blanket to ensure the guests have a relaxed stay. These temple lodgings are available for bookings across the country.
Watch a Sumo Match
Japan’s national sport is a form of martial arts like no other. Originally shown as a source of entertainment to the Shinto deities, this sport is still very popular in the country. Two wrestlers compete on an elevated clay platform known as ‘dohyo’ which has a layer of sand on top. After purifying the ring by sprinkling salt on it first, the two wrestlers play against each other to try and throw the other one outside the ring first. The matches are quick and can finish in a matter of seconds. Official sumo tournaments are held every other month in places like Tokyo, Osaka, Nagoya and Fukuoka. However, you can still watch the wrestlers practice every day and observe a live practicing session.
Practice sword fighting at a Samurai School
If you have ever watched a great samurai movie and picturized yourself fighting bravely with a katana sword, then this is a must do activity. Visit any popular tourist attraction in Japan and they will describe stories of the bravery and discipline of these warriors. Even though these samurais do not exist anymore, they were once the highest ranking social caste in Japan. Using the sword as their main weapon, they displayed loyalty to their master. Many places across the country have 1-hour sessions for tourists who want to learn the basic skills at a Samurai school. These are taught by katana performers who have years of experience in this art.
Be a part of a traditional Tea Ceremony
Locally known as sado or chado, the tradition of a local tea ceremony in Japan is steeped in its history. Literally meaning ‘A Way of the Tea’, this choreographed ritual dates to the 12th century and is influenced by Zen Buddhism. Focusing one’s movements on the four principles of purity, respect, harmony and tranquility, this ceremony celebrates the Japanese ideals. On arrival, guests are presented with sweets and the tea set is arranged. Once the host is seated, the utensils are individually cleaned, and the serving bowl is warmed before pouring the hot liquid in it. Kyoto and Kanazawa are popular spots to experience this ceremony as they are among the oldest places that host this ritual.
Make your own Soba Noodles
A delicacy which is a favourite among the locals, Soba Noodles are also a perfect healthy alternative to the regular forms of noodles. With its fragrant aroma and remarkable taste, they are sure to leave you craving for more. Made from all-natural elements such as buckwheat without using any preservatives or artificial ingredients, this is a relatively simple dish to make. Most locals eat Soba noodles as a lucky charm during important events and festivals and consider noodle making process as an art and a form of meditation for the immense concentration that this requires. With classes available for both beginners and advance levels, this is a concept to be experienced by all.
Travel is all about the experience – life-changing, unforgettable, enlightening, entertaining, or just plain enjoyable. Partake in one or all of these activities in Japan during your trip and you are guaranteed to return home with a suitcase full of memories.
Author: Neha Bhise (Guest Travel Blogger)