There’s a huge range of unique and amazing things to do in Japan. We’ve drawn up a list of the top 5 things you should try on your visit to this fascinating country.
1. Experience the Tea Ceremony with a Geisha
The Japanese Tea Ceremony or Chado is an ancient tradition that involves the meticulous preparation and serving of green, matcha tea. The Tea Ceremony dates back to the 9th century and has its origins in Zen Buddhism.
While there are many variations of the tea ceremony, practically all aspects of this highly ritualised event are prescribed. This includes the various movements, the utensils used and the décor of the building where it takes place. The Tea Ceremony also often features a traditional Japanese kaiseki meal, which is made up of small plates of exquisite and artistically arranged food.
Many geisha are skilled at the Tea Ceremony and visitors to Japan can experience them perform this unique ritual at traditional tea houses in Kyoto.
2. Make Soba Noodles
Soba are delicious and healthy noodles made from buckwheat flour. They were first made in 17th Century Tokyo and have become a Japanese staple ever since. Soba noodles are usually served in a hot broth as a noodle soup with toppings such as scallions, tempura prawns, pork, duck, bamboo shoots, mushrooms and seaweed. During the hot summer months, they are also eaten chilled, with a fresh and zesty dipping sauce.
Many speciality soba restaurants and cookery schools run fun classes in the art of making these delectable noodles.
For more information on Japanese food culture, check out our Guide to Eating and Drinking in Japan.
3. Take in a Sumo Tournament
Unquestionably the quintessential sport of Japan, Sumo has been practised in one form or another for thousands of years. The objective of modern sumo is to force your opponent out of a circular ring or make him touch the floor with any part of his body other than his feet. To do this, the wrestlers use a wide range of techniques including grips, locks and throws that share the same ancient origins as Jiu-Jitsu and Judo. Despite their considerable bulk (which makes it harder to push them out of the ring), wrestlers are incredibly deft and skilled at performing these moves.
Six grand sumo tournaments (honbasho) are held every year for the top division of wrestlers. Three take place in Tokyo (January, May, and September), and one each in Osaka (March), Nagoya (July), and Fukuoka (November). Each tournament lasts 15 days, with matches taking place from morning to evening. These lively events make for a great spectator experience that mixes ancient ceremony and a heady atmosphere. Visitors can even sample the famous chankonabe, the hearty stew that wrestlers eat as their daily meal.
4. Tour a Sake Brewery
Sake is Japanese rice wine. While it’s called wine, the process involved in creating it is actually more similar to brewing beer. Sake is made from rice, water and koji, a fungus that activates the fermentation process to create alcohol.
Sake can be enjoyed either hot, at room temperature or chilled, depending on the time of year, the quality of the sake (good sake should never be heated!) and the preference of person drinking it.
There are hundreds of sake breweries throughout Japan and many of them provide tours of their facilities. Visitors can get an insight into how this famous Japanese drink is made and at the end of the tour enjoy a tasting!
5. Relax and Rejuvenate at an Onsen
As a volcanically active country, geothermal springs with bathing facilities or onsen can be found right throughout the Japanese archipelago. The mineral-rich water of these springs is renowned for its rejuvenating and therapeutic effects.
Onsen come in many different forms: some are publicly owned, while some are private establishments. Some are single sex only, while others are mixed sex. Some are very traditional with strict etiquette, while others have a family-friendly, water park atmosphere. For many visitors to Japan, the best way to experience an onsen is at a ryokan or traditional inn, which have them as part of their considerable suite of hospitality facilities.
As with many traditional activities in Japan, there are usually some simple rules to be followed when visiting an onsen and visitors should check with local staff for more information.
Are You Ready to Discover Japan?
All the above activities can be experienced on our Japan Discovered tour. Taking you through glittering, futuristic cities, serene ancient sites and lush, mountainous countryside, this fully-escorted package is specifically designed to give first-time visitors an invaluable insight into the unique and fascinating culture of Japan.