Japan’s appeal undeniably lies in its stunning landscapes, epic history and distinctive culture. As well as traveling to Japan to view the nation’s many incredible attractions, why not add a few out-of-the-ordinary experiences to your itinerary?
Our Trip Coordinators have access to heaps of fantastic insider experiences, which can all help add an extra layer of authenticity and fun to your Japan tour. From atmospheric music demonstrations and lessons in creating gorgeous gold leaf designs to trips to wonderful wasabi farms, here are our top picks for delving deeper into the culture of Japan.
Enjoy a Taiko drum experience
The Taiko drums are synonymous with Japanese music and there are few better places to immerse yourself in their striking sounds than Kyoto! Plan a trip to a Taiko Dojo (practice hall) to not only listen to them being played by experts but also to learn how the drums are made.
You’ll also get a chance to play the taiko drums yourself under the helpful guidance of an expert. Discover the rhythmic patterns of the music and have a go at recreating them yourself! You’ll eventually be able to perform a full piece, accompanied by the chanting and shouting that’s typical of Taiko music.
After your musical experience, why not venture to the Nishiki Night Market where you’ll spot dozens of stalls serving up all sorts of aromatic and mouth-watering dishes specific to Kyoto and the surrounding region?
Learn the ancient art of Ikebana from a master
While you might never have heard of Ikebana before, you’ll definitely know what it is! It’s the practice of Japanese flower arranging and Kyoto is, again, the best place to experience it thanks to the fact it’s the birthplace of Ikebana.
Japanese flower arranging differs from flower arranging you might have seen in Europe due to its meditative techniques and four major principles: balance, harmony, movement and freshness. This enchanting experience led by a local guide will see you learning the sacred craft from an expert. Watch your teacher demonstrate before having a go yourself at creating a magnificent floral centerpiece.
Your Ikebana experience will conclude with a traditional Japanese tea ceremony where you’ll have a chance to quiz your host all about the art form. For those who want to continue their zen experience in Kyoto, a trip to the Shunkoin Temple should be on the cards, too. It’s a breath-taking Buddhist temple dating back to the 16th century which sits within the city’s largest temple complex.
Traveling to Japan’s picturesque wasabi farms
Packed with flavor and known for its often eye-watering spicy kick, wasabi is a typical accompaniment to sushi and sashimi. If you’re intrigued to see exactly where this hot root comes from, traveling to Japan’s Nagano Prefecture in the heart of the country is essential.
Matsumoto is the perfect place to base yourself in the region. The historic city is not only a wonderful destination in its own right thanks to its dramatic mountain setting and magnificent castle, but it also lies within minutes of one of Japan’s major wasabi production areas. The fertile land benefits from the freshwater of the nearby Japanese Alps, making it a prime place for growing wasabi and a variety of other crops.
Take a tour of one of the farms, where you’ll be able to see exactly how wasabi is grown and sample some delicious wasabi-flavored treats. The mountainous region is also ideal for more active visitors who want to fit in some hikes or even go skiing! If you’re interested in skiing Japan’s famous powder snow, you’ll find the best time to visit Japan is between December and February.
Get in touch with your spiritual side at the Shitaya Jinja shrine
Many people want to experience Japan’s spiritual side. As well as finding harmony in its landscapes or at lesser-known gems, visiting a shrine such as Shitaya Jinja is a brilliant way to enjoy a little peace.
You’ll discover this tranquil destination sandwiched between Ueno and Asakusa, two of Tokyo’s most popular tourist districts. Enjoy a break from the buzzing city and step foot inside the temple complex during a private, locally guided experience.
The shrine is dedicated to the goddess of fertility and fortune, Inari, and you’ll be able to witness an ancient ritual – complete with bell ringing and clapping – take place inside. Before you venture in though, wash your hands in the reservoir in the gardens and take a moment to admire the shrine’s traditional architecture.
After the ritual, you’ll have the chance to meditate, pray or lay down offerings. There will also be an opportunity to ask the shrine’s priest any questions about the Shinto religion and receive a blessing before you continue traveling to Japan’s other districts.
Stroll around gorgeous gardens and create gold leaf art in Kanazawa
Kanazawa sits on Honshu Island’s northwest coast and it’s the location of one of Japan’s most beautiful and celebrated gardens.
Kenrokuen boasts a splendid array of winding pathways, tinkling fountains (including the oldest in Japan!), mini waterfalls, ancient teahouses and charming bridges which crisscross over peaceful stretches of waters. There’s also enchanting woodland full of cherry trees and pine trees, as well as a large stone lantern at the garden’s very heart.
A guided tour of Kanazawa will not only give you the chance to soak up the unrivaled perfection of these glorious gardens but also uncover the historic Nagamaki District which was once home to the city’s samurai warriors. Afterwards, you’ll be able to get to grips with one of the city’s most famous crafts – the art of gold leaf.
Kanazawa is famed for its artifacts adorned with glittering gold leaf. Create your very own masterpiece – whether that’s a lacquered plate or some chopsticks – covered in thin, sparkling gold leaf to take home as a stunning souvenir from your Japan tour.
Treat your taste buds with a ramen tour in Fukuoka
For those traveling to Japan who are keen to explore beyond the major cities, a trip to Fukuoka should be on the agenda. The old harbor city in southern Japan will see you exploring an eclectic mix of ancient temples, towering skyscrapers, handsome castles and tranquil gardens.
Fukuoka also has a very distinctive cultural scene, from its Mentai rock music (which first became popular in the 1980s) to its many museums and festivals. You’ll also discover that the city is dotted with high-end ateliers selling beautiful silk kimonos which look more like pieces of art than items of clothing!
A major highlight of any trip to Fukuoka has to be its food. The city has no shortage of amazing noodle houses and yatai (Japanese street stalls) where you can slurp your way through numerous bowls of delicious ramen. Why not discover some of the best during a guided food tour led by a local expert? Dine at some of the best spots in Fukuoka, including the yatai which are set up every night along the Naka riverfront.