6 Must-Try Cultural Activities for the Ultimate Japanese Experience!

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  • Whether it’s about exotic foods or groundbreaking discoveries, Japan has continued to make news around the world, especially now that Tokyo is set to host the most awaited 2020 Olympics. If it’s your first time coming to Japan and you want to experience its culture, here are seven must-try activities, and all available in Tokyo!

    1. Relax in an onsen (Japanese hot spring)

    If you have come to Japan to relax, then soaking at one of its natural hot springs is a must! There are many onsen towns around Japan, with natural volcanic origin and healing properties. Very often, it would be an onsen ryokan combination, a hotel built on top of hot springs.
    In Tokyo, you can go to Ooedo-Onsen Monogatari, an onsen theme park in Odaiba, which is widely accessible to guests staying in the city and immerses you in tradition. For a more rural experience, but still close to Tokyo, you can visit the mountains of Hakone (easily accessible from Tokyo) for a top-grade hot spring dip. If you are willing to travel a bit further out, check out Nagano, Tochigi, Kinugawa, or Kusatsu Onsen.

    5 Big No-Nos to Remember for that Debut Onsen Experience in Japan!
    Feeling Shy? Here Are 3 Ways to Enjoy a Traditional Onsen in PrivateOoedo-Onsen Monogatari Website
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    Hakone Portal Website
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    2. See a sumo match

    You might not be a big fan of the sport, but the experience of watching professional sumo wrestlers is something you shouldn’t miss if you are looking for a uniquely Japanese experience. Huge tournaments take place in Tokyo in January, May, and September, so if you’re in the city around these months, be sure to grab a ticket! Be prepared to reserve well in advance, as sumo is popular and tickets sell out quickly. In case you are not able to get one, you can try and visit a training sumo stable around Ryogoku station in Tokyo, to at least see some practice fights.

    Access to Tokyo Sumo Hall

    3. Be a samurai for a day and go to a castle

    Yes! Wearing a noble samurai armor complete with a sheathed katana is no longer a dream. In Japan there are many samurai experiences geared towards tourists, from simple dress up, to training in sword fighting and archery. If you are looking for a slice of samurai history while in Tokyo, you can find it in Odawara City, Kanagawa (easily accessible from Tokyo). For just 300 yen, you can rent a samurai outfit and roam the castle grounds! For a longer trip, but still doable from Tokyo, check out Matsumoto castle. If in Kansai, Osaka castle is easily accessible, and Himeji castle near Kobe is said to be one of the most beautiful in all of Japan. From Karatsu in Fukuoka, to the many castles in Tohoku area in the north, there are many chances to see a Japanese castle.

    Odawara Castle Costume Experience Website *Automatic translation available
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    4. Wear a kimono or yukata

    Tokyo is a highly modern and fashionable city, but that doesn’t mean they have ditched traditional clothes. Of course, not everyone roams the streets wearing a kimono or yukata, especially that work and school require a strict dress code. However, many Japanese people wear traditional clothes in summer for summer festivals, firework festivals, visiting tourist spots, important ceremonies like weddings and graduations, and also as a cool fashion item. You can always participate, as kimono rental and kimono retail are big industries, especially inviting visitors to try Japanese traditional clothes. In Tokyo, head straight to Asakusa where you can also visit temples and shrines while wearing a kimono that suits the area’s ambiance! Same goes for Kyoto, and any tourist location across Japan.

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    5. Watch a Kabuki performance

    If you’re a huge fan of music, arts, and dance, this traditional Japanese form of entertainment should be on top of your list. With several theaters in Tokyo offering Kabuki performances, you will have enough options to consider depending on your location. There are full shows that can run from noon to evening and shorter ones that solely focus on the introduction of Kabuki, or just seeing one or two acts. The short ones are especially good for beginners and tourists, and you are often given a booklet outlining the story and an audio interpreter. Popular locations include Kabukiza Theatre in Ginza and the National Theatre of Japan (Kokuritsu Gekijo) in Chiyoda.

    Kabukiza Theatre Website
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    National Theatre of Japan Website
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    6. Join a Japanese tea ceremony

    Tea can be found anywhere in Japan, but nothing beats the experience of drinking a cup after witnessing the intricate art involved in preparing it. For a simple and quite experience you can have matcha and traditional sweets in gardens and teahouses, while for a more complicated tea ceremony it’s better to book in advance. In Tokyo, places like Waraku-an give you the chance to sit down with kimono-clad Japanese staff as they prepare your tea, complete with delicate Japanese wagashi sweets and carefully selected ceramic cups for the tea that are an art in itself.

    Waraku-an Website
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    Tokyo is home to a lot more experiences that can only be done in Japan, but you can start with the six things we’ve listed above.

    *Featured Image from AC photo
    : AC photo/

    Official Tokyo Travel Guide Website
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    Would you like to stay in Tokyo? Check out all the hotels in the area here!

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