Japan is a wildly fascinating country with so many different levels for travellers to explore; from high-end Harajuku fashion to religious sites, urban metropolises, and quirky cultural events, there is a surprise waiting around every corner.
Of course, there’s the traditional guidebook advice for top attractions to visit and places of interest, but if you really want to delve into the original, unusual, and sometimes peculiar side of Japan, try some of these activities instead.
Traditional Tea Parties
Tea houses are an important part of Japanese culture, particularly in Tokyo, where you can find them dotted all over the buzzing capital city. The whole tea party ritual evolved in the 12th century when a local Buddhist travelled to China and came back full of new information about specialised tea preparation. Back then, tea in Japan was considered to be only for the upper-class population, so it served to make it available for a wider portion of people. It’s not the tea that is the focal point of these ceremonies, though, but the splendour of the process and the unified, welcoming feeling it provides its guests with. If you decide to try out a traditional Japanese tea party, your host will guide you through the practice, describing the method, the meaning behind the ceremony, and the significance of everything around you (including the way you hold your cup).
For a more religious experience, you can visit one of the Shinto shrines in Tokyo, which provide an insight into the country’s religious past and present. The most popular of these shrines is the Meiji Jingo Shrine, which commemorates Emperor Meiji Jingu and his services to humanity. Before you dive right in and settle down to a prayer yourself, watch a couple of locals do it first as there is a specific ritual that is carried out. Outside the shrine, you can explore the Inner Garden for some peace and tranquillity set back from the constant bustle of the capital city.
Japanese is by no means the easiest language to learn, but it’s worth learning a little just to get a deeper feel for the country. Even knowing a small amount can open up new ideas and possibilities, particularly in the lesser-trodden areas. Taking Japanese classes in Tokyo is a great way to immerse yourself in this vibrant city and getting to grips with the language leads you one step closer to fully understanding the quirks of Japan. Who knows who you might meet if you can interact with the locals? They might show you a little snippet of their life that is intriguing and fascinating, and welcome you with open arms into their cultural timeline.
Experience Sumo Wrestling
Like the traditional tea parties, sumo wrestling is a huge part of Japanese culture, with Ryogoku in Tokyo being the place to go if you want to learn more about this historic sport. In this area, you can visit the sumo stadium, complete with sumo stables and sumo restaurants that serve traditional, sumo-inspired dishes that are rich in protein. However, if it’s the actual wrestlers you’re interested in, head over in the morning where you can watch them practice, or book a spot at one of the live matches after dark.
One thing Japan is well-known for is its contribution to fashion, particularly quirky, non-mainstream fashion like the Harajuku style. Outfits tend to draw inspiration from manga and anime; popular cartoons that were born in Japan, and they are often outrageous and wildly imaginative.
For followers of this style, it’s all about mismatching; wearing as many colours, intertwining styles, and layers as possible. To experience this in the flesh, head to Harajuku station, where you will find the surrounding streets filled with people wearing vibrant garb and cute boutiques where you can pick up your own statement piece. (Image via kevin dooley)