When you travel somewhere, it’s not only about where you go, but also what you experience while you’re there. If you visit Japan, be sure to make the most of your trip by doing activities and having memorable experiences that you wouldn’t be able to have anywhere else in the world! From enjoying an over-the-top spectacle at the Robot Restaurant, to taking part in a traditional tea ceremony, here are the best activities for you to experience in Japan.
1. Have an Authentic Ninja Experience
Have you ever wanted to be a ninja for a day? Authentic ninja experiences are quite popular with tourists, and they can be booked in cities all across Japan. You can experience training methods in ninja tactics, espionage, survival, climbing, and the art of throwing shuriken (ninja stars). There are many places in Japan that allow you to rent a costume and enjoy a full day of training, while learning about these iconic figures of stealth and sabotage.
Check out a list of 5 popular ninja experiences across Japan here.
2. Take a Cooking Class
One of the reasons people come to Japan is to try Japanese cuisine. For a more interactive Japanese food experience, you should definitely consider joining a cooking class, as Japanese cooking classes have been a popular activity among foodies visiting Japan. Most cooking classes are led by Japanese teachers speaking in English.
Many major cities across Japan not only have sushi-making classes, but also offer a wide variety of dishes such as ramen, gyoza dumplings, udon noodles, traditional Japanese wagashi sweets, and more. You can pick your favorite Japanese food cooking class, learn how to make the meal, and bring the recipe back home to cook for your family and friends.
Cooking classes are not only about cooking, but they are also a great opportunity for foreign visitors to communicate with local Japanese people, as well as learn about Japanese culture and make friends through the class.
3. Do a Cycling Tour
If you’re visiting a city in Japan and want to check out a number of sightseeing spots in one area, one of the best ways to do so is on a cycling tour. Japan’s geography is naturally very well-suited for biking, as the open roads typically connect sightseeing spots in a way that is easily accessible by a bicycle. Not only is cycling great exercise, but it is also one of the best ways to experience Japan – especially when you get out of the city and into the scenic countryside.
Cycling tours in Japan come in all varieties – from short distance to long distance, beginner to advanced, and even in groups of self-guided. Learn more about the best cycling tours in Japan here.
4. Bathe in an Onsen
Japanese onsen (温泉: hot springs) or sentō (銭湯: public baths), are enjoyed by people of all ages in Japan. Onsen use hot water taken from a natural hot spring, while sentō use tap water heated by boilers. Japan has thousands of onsen and sentō bathhouses throughout all of its islands, and they come in many types and shapes, as well as both outdoor and indoor baths.
If you want to experience an important part of Japanese culture, as well as relax your body and clear your mind, you should definitely consider betting in an onsen or sentō. However, keep in mind but there is a set of unspoken instructions you should know before you go.
Traditionally, people with tattoos were banned from entering onsen in Japan. However, in recent years, more and more onsen facilities are declaring themselves to be more “tattoo-friendly”. For a list of the top 10 tattoo-friendly onsen in Japan, check out our blog here.
5. Eat at the Robot Restaurant
Chances are you have already heard about or seen this flashy, over-the-top spectacle online. The massively famous Robot Restaurant in Tokyo is a crazy and entertaining spot to see a robot show while dining. The wild show/restaurant combination was opened in 2012 and cost close to $100 million to build.
The Robot Restaurant is located in Shinjuku, in Tokyo’s famous red-light district “Kabukicho”, which is also often called “the district that never sleeps”.
The show runs for 90 minutes, and is separated into three 30-minute acts with food, drinks, and souvenirs provided between each act. There are 3 shows a day – but it is so popular that you need to buy tickets a few days in advance.
6. Ride a Scenic Sightseeing Train
Some of the most famous views of Japan can be seen from “sightseeing” trains. These special trains run along lines that are known for having gorgeous landscape views. Some sightseeing trains are simple and affordable, while others are more high-end and require reservations. The most luxurious sight-seeing trains can be quite expensive, but provide a more elegant experience.
When you visit Japan, definitely check out the Japan National Tourism Organzation (JNTO)’s list of popular scenic train rides or this JR Rail Pass list to see if there is one near you.
7. Go to a Maid Cafe
One of the most unique things to do in Japan is visiting one of the many Maid Cafes. It is said that the concept of a “Maid Cafe” first originated in Akihabara, the notorious anime/manga hub of Tokyo, and was popular with the fans of anime and manga. Today, Maid Cafes are one of today’s top tourist attractions in Tokyo, and they are found in cities all across Japan.
In these cafés, waitresses dressed in maid costumes treat customers as masters and mistresses as if they were servants in a home. The entire look of maid cafes – from the tables, the walls, the maid outfits, as well as the food and drinks served on the menu, are all styled to be incredibly cute. The maids typically sing songs, perform dances, and play mini games with the customers.
8. Attend a Tea Ceremony
For those looking for a more serene, traditional Japanese experience, a tea ceremony is a must-do. A Japanese tea ceremony involves the ceremonial preparation and presentation of powdered green tea, or matcha (抹茶). In Japanese, it is called chanoyu (茶の湯) or chadō (茶道). The ceremony is rooted deep within Japanese history and culture, and was heavily influenced by Zen Buddhism.
There are two kinds of tea gatherings: an informal tea gathering called chakai (茶会) and a formal tea event called chaji (茶事). A chakai is a relatively simple course that includes traditional Japanese sweets, thin tea, and occasionally a light meal. A chaji is a very exclusive private tea ceremony which serves a multi-course traditional kaiseki meal, as well as both thin and thick tea, over the course of several hours.
Whether it is a casual gathering or a full presentation, attending a traditional tea ceremony is a wonderful way to experience rich Japanese culture and taste delicious Japanese tea!
9. Have a Calligraphy Lesson
Have you ever wanted to draw elaborate Japanese kanji? Shodo (書道) is traditional Japanese calligraphy writing using a traditional brush called a fude and ink called sumi. Shodo has a long history that dates back 4 thousand years, and Japanese people wrote with fude and sumi all the way up until the late 19th century. These days, however, Japanese people use pen and paper, and are only taught to write calligraphy during their school days. Therefore, the practice of Shodo has become a traditional art that is revered by both Japanese people and foreign tourists alike.
There are two styles of calligraphy in Japan: the toyo style, which originated in China and mainly uses Chinese characters, and the wayo style, in which the Japanese hiragana characters are also used. If you take a calligraphy class, you can expect it to be about 30 minutes to an hour of quiet, careful instruction on the proper technique as well as the history of the art. Most Shodo classes provide all of the materials needed, which is especially convenient for foreign tourists in Japan.
10. Do a Night of Karaoke
Karaoke (カラオケ) actually originated in Japan and is now popular around the world! Unlike in Western countries, karaoke in Japan is usually open from around 11:00am during the day until as late as 3 in the morning. Karaoke centers typically have multiple private rooms (called karaoke boxes) that have a karaoke player and microphones. The rates are typically quite affordable, and this is especially true if you go with a group and split the price! You can do a quick session for an hour, or stay up all night! Most karaoke bars have food and drinks if you find yourself in need of a snack break or drink between songs.
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