8 Must Try Experiences and Activities in Japan

Japan by Locals

7/8/20244 min read

a large pool of water next to a tall building
a large pool of water next to a tall building

Japan boasts a rich tapestry of traditions waiting to be explored. Beyond the bustling neon cities and serene landscapes lies a world where ancient practices meet modern innovation. To truly delve into the heart of Japan, consider these unique cultural activities. From relaxing, zen experiences to hands-on workshops, we've got you covered!

1. Onsen Hot Springs

Overcome your shyness and soak into these natural hot springs - you will not regret it! Onsens come in various types, each with its own unique mineral composition and purported health benefits. Sulfur springs (iō-onsen) are known for their skin-softening properties, while iron springs (tetsu-onsen) may help with fatigue and blood circulation. Soaking in a steaming sodium chloride spring (shio-yu) can leave you feeling relaxed and invigorated. They are often combined with a sauna, so it you are into that, you can enjoy it for extra skin glow. Onsens are spread all over Japan, but the best way to experience them is by going to an onsen town. Hakone (the most popular), Beppu Onsen in Oita, Arima Onsen in Kobe, Kusatsu Onsen or Ikaho Onsen in Gunma, Ginzan Onsen in Yamagata are among the most famous onsen destinations. Pro tip: do research onsen etiquette before visiting one.

2. SPA or Head SPA

Indulge in the ultimate pampering experience. Japanese spas offer a variety of rejuvenating treatments, but a head spa is a uniquely Japanese experience. A head spa is a multi-step process that includes a thorough cleansing, massage using various techniques to promote relaxation and blood flow, and a stimulating scalp treatment. You'll leave feeling refreshed and with a healthier scalp. It might be a bit of a challenge to find an English-speaking SPA experience, but with a google search, you can see the latest available salons. Stick with major cities such as Tokyo for best chances of finding salons that can cater to English speaking guests.

3. Tea Ceremony

Experience the meditative practice of the Japanese tea ceremony (chanoyu). This ancient ritual dates back centuries and was originally practiced by Zen monks to achieve mindfulness. Samurai and other members of the warrior class also adopted the tea ceremony to cultivate focus and inner peace. The ceremony's meticulous steps involve preparing and savoring matcha green tea in a serene atmosphere, while sitting on the tatami mats. Pro tips: choose to wear a beautiful colorful kimono for this experience. It will make it feel more traditional and you will look like you are part of the scene – and you will look amazing in your photos. Make sure to book in advance and spots can fill up quickly, especially in Kyoto.

Geisha holding near empty bowl of soup
Geisha holding near empty bowl of soup

4. Cooking Class / Sweets Making

Learn the secrets behind classic Japanese dishes like sushi, tempura, or delicate wagashi sweets. For a unique sweet experience, consider a nerikiri making class. Nerikiri are beautiful Japanese sweets made from bean paste, sculpted into intricate and colorful shapes that resemble flowers. Many of these classes are held at the host’s home, giving the extra benefit of spending time with a local in their own home. There are many options to choose from, but here is an example of a Nerikiri class in Tokyo.

man holding black and gray katana
man holding black and gray katana

5.Ninja / Samurai Experience

Although samurai and ninjas don’t exist anymore in real world, you can still experience this culture through interactive workshops. Immersing yourself in the world of espionage can be achieved at one of the ninja cafes. Here, you can watch a captivating ninja show, learn to throw shuriken (ninja stars), and even try on traditional ninja attire (shinobi shozoku). Samurai sword cutting (tameshigiri) is a popular experience that allows you to test your skill and feel the weight of a real katana. You can find these experiences in various locations, including Kyoto Samurai & Ninja Museum.

6. Taiko Drum Workshop

Unleash your inner rhythm with a taiko drumming workshop. Taiko drums are massive traditional Japanese instruments known for their deep, resonating sound. A taiko workshop is more than just learning drumming techniques; it's a full-body workout and a deeply communal experience. The powerful energy of the drums and the synchronized movements create a sense of exhilaration and accomplishment that leaves participants feeling energized and empowered.

7. Kyoto-Style Kawara Roof Tiles Making

Get hands-on and create your own piece of Japanese history. Learn the time-honored craft of making traditional Kyoto-style kawara roof tiles. Don't be intimidated by the process! Skilled teachers will guide you step-by-step, ensuring anyone can create their own unique tile. I myself tried this activity, and it was a lot more fun and rewarding than I expected. Shaping the clay and leaving your mark on a traditional craft was a truly memorable experience.

8. Karaoke

Belt out your favorite tunes at a lively karaoke bar, but with a Japanese twist! Unlike Western-style karaoke bars, Japanese karaoke is a private affair. You and your friends will have your own room equipped with a vast song selection, including English songs, so you don't have to worry about language barriers. Grab some drinks, sing your heart out, and experience this fun and social side of Japanese nightlife.

By incorporating these cultural activities into your itinerary, you'll gain a deeper appreciation for the beauty and traditions that make Japan a truly unique travel destination.

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