30 things to experience when you come to Japan

If you come to Japan, don't just sight-see, but experience Japanese culture first-hand like playing an instrument or making your own souvenir through traditional techniques. Here are 30 recommended things to experience in Japan.

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Things to Do

There are many places where you can experience making Japanese food or crafts, learning the arts like traditional dance or playing instruments, and more. 

[Note] The stores and experiences mentioned within this article are restricted to the big cities such as Tokyo, Osaka and Kyoto. For stores that are located in other regions, there are plans to mention them in other such articles.

1.Wearing kimono

PIXTA

The most famous piece of traditional Japanese clothing is the kimono. It differs from Western clothing in that it uses himo belts and obi to keep it in place. Unfortunately, most Japanese people nowadays don't know how to dress in kimono without help. However, there are many kimono specialty shops that offer kimono wearing to their customers, and there are also places where you can simply rent a kimono and have them put it on you. Wouldn't you like to try wearing one of these beautiful kimono?

[Example of tour and store]

True Japan Tours

Address: 2-5-7 Koishikawa, Bunkyo-ku, Tokyo-to 112-0002 Sasaki Building 4, 405

Phone number: 03-3830-0451    

English site

Wak Japan

Address: 761 Tenshucho, Takakura-dori, Nijo-agaru, Nakagyo-ku, Kyoto, Japan 604-0812

Phone number: 075-212-9993  

English site

2. Tea ceremony

 PIXTA

Currently, matcha flavor is popular all around the world, but originally that matcha flavor is actually the flavor of tea. "Sadou" is the traditional Japanese tea ceremony. To put it simply, it's hot water that is mixed with the green tea powder inside a tea bowl, then drunk. However, in sadou, it isn't just the act of drinking the tea, but the ceremony consists of the time making the tea and enjoying the relaxing, calm atmosphere. In the experiences linked below, you're guided through each step  by a teacher, so you can easily perform the tea ceremony without worrying. 

[Example of tour and store]

Asakusa Jidai-ya

Address: 2 Chome-3-5 Kaminarimon, Taito-ku, Tokyo

Phone number: 03-3843-0890

English site

The Koomon 

Address: 3 Chome-8-16 Nihonbashi, Chuo-ku, Tokyo, Japan  

Phone number: 03-5202-5737  

English site

Wak Japan

Address: 761 Tenshucho, Takakura-dori, Nijo-agaru, Nakagyo-ku, Kyoto, Japan 604-0812  

Phone number: 075-212-9993  

English site

3. Making food samples

In front of Japanese restaurants, there are often show windows where food samples are placed to show off their menus. They are made to look exactly like the food served, so it seems like tourists who aren't expecting it are surprised by the high-quality. While you can buy pre-made food samples as souvenirs, you can also make your own for a unique, original memory.

[Example of tour and store]

Ganso Shokuhin Sample-ya

Address: 3 Chome-7-6 Nishiasakusa, Taito-ku, Tokyo

Phone number:  0120-17-1839    

English site

Morino Sample

Address: 6 Chome-1-19 Kamikita, Hirano-ku, Osaka  

Phone number: 06-6792-7543  

4. Calligraphy

克年 三沢/Flickr

Shodo is Japanese calligraphy where you write hiragana or kanji using ink and brushes. In Japanese elementary schools, all students take calligraphy classes. It's also a way to enjoy writing as art, since you practice writing beautifully following a previously-made example. 

[Example of tour and store]

Asakusa Jidai-ya

Address: 2 Chome-3-5 Kaminarimon, Taito-ku, Tokyo

Phone number:  03-3843-0890

English site

Wayou Udoyoshi 

Address: Stock Mansion Yushima, 3 Chome-31-1 Yushima, Bunkyo-ku, Tokyo

Phone number: 03-5817-8968 or 0800-600-4174 

English site 

Wak Japan

Address: 761 Tenshucho, Takakura-dori, Nijo-agaru, Nakagyo-ku, Kyoto, Japan 604-0812  

Phone number: 075-212-9993  

English site

5. Making sushi

otamajakusi/Flickr

 

Sushi restaurants have popped up around the world, so it's become a cuisine that people all around the world have grown to love. People who come to Japan simply to eat sushi have increased in recent years. If you come to Japan, what do you think about learning how to make your own sushi? There are places to experience making your own sushi in both Hokkaido and Tokyo.  

[Example of tour and store]

Goukai Izakaya Funamoriya Bettei - Aburi Chaya

Address: Liberty Tower Building B1, 2 Chome Minami 3 Jounishi, Chuo-ku, Sapporo-shi, Hokkaido 

Phone number: 011-252-2114    

English site

Sushi-Making Classroom 

Address: Yu Building 3F, 4 Chome-4-10 Senju, Adachi-ku, Tokyo

Phone number: 080-1027-8893    

English site

6. Bonsai


Norio NAKAYAMA/Flickr

Bonsai is a traditional Japanese art where a plant or tree is grown inside a pot and shaped to create a living artwork. Right now bonsai has grown in popularity and people around the world are learning the art. At Shunkaen in Tokyo, you can take a class with Mr. Kobayashi, one of the greatest influences in the worldwide spread of bonsai. 

[Example of tour and store]

Shunkaen Bonsai Bijutsukan

Address: 1 Chome-29-16 Niihori, Edogawa-ku, Tokyo  

Phone number: 03-3670-8622    

English site

7. Flower arranging

PIXTA

Kadou (also known as ikebana) is the traditional art of flower arranging. While there is flower arranging all round the world, the Japanese art has different schools and representative styles. It's not just about the beauty of the flowers, but also the balance of the different flowers and the vessel, as well as the representation of the seasons, is very important. You can make your own arrangements at the following classrooms.

[Example of tour and store]

Meguro International Friendship Association

Address: 2 Chome-19-15 Kamimeguro, Meguro-ku, Tokyo 

Phone number: 03-3715-4671  

English site     

Wak Japan

Address: 761 Tenshucho, Takakura-dori, Nijo-agaru, Nakagyo-ku, Kyoto, Japan 604-0812  

Phone number: 075-212-9993    

English site

8. Dress like a maiko

You can see maiko (apprentice geisha) walk the streets in Kyoto if you're lucky. Many foreign tourists take photos of them when they see them. However, you can experience being dressed up like a beautiful maiko or geisha yourself. 

[Example of tour and store]

Kokomo

Address: 2F, 1 Chome-29-8 Asakusa, Taito-ku, Tokyo

Phone number: 03-3847-0763  

English site

Maica  

Address: 4-319 Miyagawa-suji, Higashiyama-ku, Kyoto   

Phone number: 075-551-1661  

English site

9. Buddhist meditation

Zazen is one of the Buddhist training practices. In daily life, no matter what you do, there is always an emphasis upon oneself. It's said that that's where jealousy and worry come from. If you want to get rid of those feelings even just a little bit, zazen is something you can do to help clear your heart. You can learn the proper way of zazen at these temples.

[Example of tour and store]

Risenji 

Address: 4 Chome-7-2 Kohinata, Bunkyo-ku, Tokyo 

Phone number: 03-3943-0605  

English site

Bishamon-do - Shourinji 

Address: 795 Honmachi 15-chome, Higashiyama-ku, Kyoto  

VELTRA(Japanese only)

10. Sutra writing(Buddhist)

PIXTA

It's said that copying sutras was a way to propagate Buddhism throughout the country in the time before printing press. Now, however, sutra copying has become a Buddhist training method that even laypeople can participate in. It's said that concentrating on writing the characters will help calm your heart down. You can experience this while learning about Buddhist teachings.

[Example of tour and store]

Hasedera (Kamakura)

Address: 3 Chome-11-2 Hase, Kamakura-shi, Kanagawa 

Phone number: 0467-22-6300

Bishamon-do - Shourinji  

Address: 795 Honmachi 15-chome, Higashiyama-ku, Kyoto  

VELTRA(Japanese only) 

11. Sword-fighting

Samurai have become known throughout the world thanks to anime and movies, and in Japan, you can practice their style of sword-fighting called "tate". Release the samurai warrior you have inside of you!

[Example of tour and store]

Nihon Tatedo Kyoukai

Address: Imai Building 3F, 1 Chome-1-27 Kitahorie, Nishi-ku, Osaka

Phone number: 06-6536-8048  

English site 

12. Sword drawing

Battoujutsu is a traditional Japanese martial art. When you draw the sword, your body movements and the way you're moving the sword is already decided. Usually you need a lot of practice and training, but here people who would like to try can experience the art first-hand. Learn the depth behind this difficult martial art yourself.

[Example of tour and store]

HISUI TOKYO  

Address: Koizumi Building 5F, 4 Chome-3-13 Ginza, Chuo-ku, Tokyo

Phone number: 0120-666-107  

English site

13. Ninja experience

You can transform into a ninja, just like those pictured in the famous manga/anime Naruto. You can experience using shuriken and other ninja tools and techniques. You can also hear stories and tales about historical ninjas from the experts.

[Example of tour and store]

Musashi Ichizoku Jidai Academy Dojo

Address: 6-3-5 Tabata, Kita-ku, Tokyo

Phone number: 090-3691-8165    

English site

14. Smithing

The art of smithing, where one uses a hammer to shape extremely hot metal into useful items, has been practiced in Japan since time immemorial. Recently, it seems like people coming to buy Nanbu Tekki ironware has increased. Japanese iron products are well-known to be good quality, and there are many great smiths. You can observe these smiths at work as well as experience making your own frying pan.

[Example of tour and store]

Metal NEKO    

500-5 Kamiakasaka, Sayama-shi, Saitama-ken        

Reservation site (Japanese only): 

VELTRA

15. Making takoyaki

ume-y/Flickr

5th Luna/Flickr

Takoyaki is one of Osaka's most famous products and is known worldwide thanks to manga and anime. Using a specific grill plate called a takoyaki plate, you make little round balls of dough with a piece of octopus inside. It's something that people from Osaka often eat and make at home. You can also learn how to make them at this restaurant - Takomasa, in Dotonbori.

[Example of tour and store]

Takomasa

1 Chome-4-15 Dotonbori, Chuo-ku, Osaka

Phone number: 06-6212-3363

 

16. Instant ramen (Cup Noodle)

Alyson Hurt/Flickr

Here you can learn the history and production process of Japan's most famous cup noodle brand, Nissei Cup Noodle. Also, you can make your own original Cup Noodle by adding ingredients of your choosing.

[Example of tour and store]

The Momofuku Ando Instant Ramen Museum

8-25 Masumicho, Ikeda-shi, Osaka

Phone number: 072- 752-3484

Japanese Site

CupNoodles Museum

2 Chome-3-4 Shinkou, Naka-ku, Yokohama-shi, Kanagawa

Phone number: 045-345-0918

English Site

17. Home cooking

Japanese mothers have been making comfort food for their families since time immemorial. There is such a strong connection to "mom's cooking" that most people prefer home cooking to even the most expensive, high-class restaurants. You can learn how to make some of this precious home cooking yourself. If you take one of these classes, you can learn how to make Japanese bento, makizushi, tempura, and other standard home cooking recipes.

[Example of tour and store]

Japanese Cooking Class Tokyo with Mari 

2 Chome-13-5 Shintomi, Chuo-ku, Tokyo 

English site

Wak Japan

Address: 761 Tenshucho, Takakura-dori, Nijo-agaru, Nakagyo-ku, Kyoto, Japan 604-0812  

Phone number: 075-212-9993  

English site

18. Kyoto-style Japanese confectionery (wagashi)

Hiro - Kokoro☆Photo/Flickr

Japanese traditional confectionery, wagashi, and especially Kyoto confectionery, kyougashi, is famous for its beauty and its deliciousness. Kyougashi is made to look like seasonal flowers and plants. Here are some places where you can learn how to make kyougashi.

[Example of tour and store]

Kanshundo

292-2 Kamihoritsumecho, Higashiyama-ku, Kyoto

Phone number: 075-561-4019  

English site 

Yoshihiro Seika

22 Nishinokyo Higashigekkocho, Nakagyo-ku, Kyoto

Phone number: 075-811-5602

English Site

19. Soba noodles

grn_planet/Flickr

Soba is a Japanese food that's been gaining popularity overseas, and in Japan you can learn how to make it yourself. Soba is made out of a thin buckwheat dough that's cut finely, and you must learn the techniques necessary to make it from craftsmen.

[Example of tour and store]

Edo Tokyo Soba Association

3 Chome-24-8 Higashitateishi, Katsushika-ku, Tokyo

Phone number: 03-3696-5351  Application email: soba@edotokyosoba.com

Jin 

Okano Building 305, 4 Miyamotocho, Kita-ku, Sakai-shi, Osaka  

Reservation site:  

Homemade soba - Jin 

20. Playing the koto

PIXTA

The koto is one of Japan's traditional instruments. To play the koto, you hold down the strings with one hand to decide the musical interval, and then pluck them with the other to create sound. If you have a competent teacher, even first-timers can learn how to play a simple song on it. It's a simple sound, but it has strength.  

True Japan Tours

Address: 2-5-7 Koishikawa, Bunkyo-ku, Tokyo-to 112-0002 Sasaki Building 4, 405

Phone number: 03-3830-0451    

English site

21. Playing the shamisen

The shamisen is another guitar-like traditional Japanese instrument, but it only has 3 strings. You create the musical scale using those three strings and then pluck the strings using the spatula to make the sound. In the past it was used to play slow songs in combination with a puppet performance. However, lately it's been used in genres like J-pop and classical music, so now it is also often used in songs that have a very quick tempo. 

[Example of tour and store]

True Japan Tours

Address: 2-5-7 Koishikawa, Bunkyo-ku, Tokyo-to 112-0002 Sasaki Building 4, 405

Phone number: 03-3830-0451    

English site

22. Playing the taiko

The wadaiko is an instrument that no Japanese festival can be without. Lately, many tourists have been interested in learning how to play it, so the number of places where you can experience it have also increased. In Japan, it's also become trendy as a way to exercise or as a way to relieve stress. 

[Example of tour and store]

Asakusa Jidai-ya

2 Chome-3-5 Kaminarimon, Taito-ku, Tokyo

Phone Number: 03-3843-0890

English site

Wak Japan

Address: 761 Tenshucho, Takakura-dori, Nijo-agaru, Nakagyo-ku, Kyoto, Japan 604-0812  

Phone number: 075-212-9993    

English site

Taiko Dojo Seigakukan 

3 Chome-10-17 Shiokusa, Naniwa-ku, Osaka 

Phone number: 06-6561-5500  

English site

23. Silk-dyeing

Yuuzenzome is a traditional art from Kyoto where after white silk is painted on, it's washed in a river so that the colors stay vivid. You can experience this silk-dyeing technique here. This shop offers various accessories that you can make, so it'll be perfect as an original, cute souvenir.

[Example of tour and store]

Marumasu Nishimura-ya

457 Tsuboya-cho, Ogawa-dori, Oike-sagaru, Nakagyo-ku, Kyoto

Phone number:075-211-3273    

English site

24. Edo cotton printing

Edo-sarasa is a traditional art of cotton-printing that has continued since the Edo period. It uses a pattern and there are places where colors are added and where it's left blank. This is a piece of cloth meant to be a table centerpiece in the process of being dyed. Even if the same pattern is used on different pieces, the person making it may use different colors and it gains a different style. It's definitely a fun experience to do with a friend.

Some-no-Sato Futaba-en

2 Chome-3-6 Kamiochiai, Shinjuku-ku, Tokyo

Phone number: 03-3368-8133    

English site

25. Edo-style faceted glass making

Edo kiriko began when western Europeans came to Japan in the Edo period, bringing glass with them and Japanese craftsmen began etching the patterns into the glass. Now they make various designs to the point that there are even Disney designs. Japanese people enjoy drinking liquor from an Edo kiriko glass. 

[Example of tour and store]

Sumida Edo Kirikokan

2 Chome-10-9 Taihei, Sumida-ku, Tokyo

Phone number: 03-3623-4148(Japanese only)

Irodori Glass Kougei

Sunny Bldg 2F, 4 Chome-19-13 Kameido, Koto-ku, Tokyo 

Phone number: 03-5609-3618          

English site

26. Edo-style windchime making

In the summer, fuurin (windchimes) are suspended from windows all throughout Japan. When the wind blows, a little stick inside the glass hits it leading to a sound like a little bell. This sound is considered to feel refreshing. Here you can make your own windchime using your choice of patterns and colors.

[Example of tour and store]

Shinohara Maruyoshi Fuurin

〒110-0016  4 Chome-25-10 Taito, Taito-ku, Tokyo

Phone number: 03-3832-0227    

Reservation site (Japanese only)

27.Origami

Origami is a form of play that's been done in Japan for centuries. It used to be passed down from parent to child, but as it's evolved over the years now it's considered an artform that's spread overseas. In Japan, the crane is the most famous origami shape, and it's used in senbazuru, or a chain of a thousand cranes that are made as a prayer or a wish. Here you can learn how to make various shapes from just a single sheet of paper, starting with the crane.

[Example of tour and store]

True Japan Tours

Address: 2-5-7 Koishikawa, Bunkyo-ku, Tokyo-to 112-0002 Sasaki Building 4, 405

Phone number: 03-3830-0451    

English site

Wak Japan

Address: 761 Tenshucho, Takakura-dori, Nijo-agaru, Nakagyo-ku, Kyoto, Japan 604-0812  

Phone number: 075-212-9993    

English site

28. Edo-style kimekomi dolls 

Edo kimekomi ningyo (Edo wooden dolls) are another traditional art. It's said that they were originally made with wood and cloth left over from shrine festivals. There are grooves in the wooden doll where the beautiful cloth is embedded and glued into place. They also offer cute accessories with the doll motif.

[Example of tour and store]

Mataro Ningyo Kaikan 

5 Chome-15-13 Ueno, Taito-ku, Tokyo

Phone number: 03-3833-9663   

Application e-mail: gakuin@mataro.co.jp

29. Edo-style handmade paper lanterns 

This is another traditional art from the Edo period. These lanterns are made by pasting Japanese washi paper onto bamboo tubes. Their best-known feature is that they can extend and shrink by being pulled up or down. These lanterns were used by messengers who would draw a store name or a shrine name on the front, insert a light into it, and walk around with it as advertising. You can make your own, one-of-a-kind lantern here. Many people write the names of their children on them. 

[Example of tour and store]

Oshimaya Onda

2 Chome-6-6 Komagata, Taito-ku, Tokyo

Phone number: 03-3841-2691   

English site

30. Playing Go

Go is a game that was brought to Japan from China, but developed differently when it spread through the aristocratic class during the Heian era. It's a board game played by two people using black and white stones. It is a strategic game where the point is to surround and capture as many of the opponent's stones as possible. Here you can learn to play the game after having the rules clearly explained to you.

[Example of tour and store]

Meguro-ku International Friendship Association

2 Chome-19-15 Kamimeguro, Meguro-ku, Tokyo

Phone number: 03-3715-4671        

English site

 

If you have the time in between sight-seeing, it would be a good addition to your trip to try to experience at least one of these unique options. Deepen your knowledge of Japan first-hand! With some of these, you can bring back a wonderful, one-of-a-kind souvenir that will hold precious memories.

 

 

The information in this article is accurate at the time of publication.

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