The Japan with its dichotomy tradition – modernity fascinates Westerners but often on a trip you can not learn the true essence of Japan.
It would take years of travel and study to fully understand the culture of the Japanese people.
In this article we would like to help you in choosing the things not to be missed on a trip to Japan, in order to live your experience in the Rising Sun as fully as possible.
Here are the seven things you absolutely must do in Japan, not necessarily in this order:
Attend a Matsuri
The numerous Matsuri, or Japanese festivals (usually Shinto) can be found in all cities of Japan and are very frequent as they mark the various changes in the climate, or pay homage to a historical, cultural event or can indicate a rite of passage ( such as the age of majority) or they may represent a popular or Shinto belief.
These are always colorful and cheerful parties that invade the city and involve many people. Often during the days of matsuri you will find in the city stalls of typical foods and sweets that invade the festive streets with their delicious scent.
Being in Japan during a matsuri can really enrich your trip and make it unforgettable, as you immerse yourself in Japanese culture at 360 °.
It goes without saying that many tourists rush to book hotels for these occasions, so my advice is to book months in advance if you are planning a trip to Japan at a matsuri.
Sleeping in a Ryokan
Ryokans are traditional Japanese hotels, where the rooms with the tatami floor have a small table in the center where you can eat while sitting on a pillow and where the futon is placed in the wardrobe, the Japanese bed that is placed on the tatami at night (by the maid ).
There are different categories of Ryokan, in the luxury ones they also serve half board, but the most affordable ones are often hotels with both Western and traditional rooms and serve breakfast at the most. This doesn’t mean you won’t have an authentic experience just the same, it just means you’ll have fewer luxuries and the choice depends on your budget.
There are also Onsen Ryokans, ryokans with their own private onsen (spa), available to customers. Generally it is a structure in the middle of nature, not very close to the stations and we recommend it to those who want to spend a night in total relaxation, but it is not advisable to stay overnight every day of their stay in Japan. Often in the ryokans the bathrooms are shared, so if this is a problem for you, check the conditions carefully before booking.
See Mount Fuji
The Mount Fuji is a mountain any, is Japan’s highest peak (3776 m) that the Japanese consider sacred.
The climb is divided into 10 stations or stops and up to the fifth station it is possible to arrive by bus, then those who want can continue on foot to the summit.
Those who plan to admire the view and take beautiful photographs, can go as far as the fifth Kawaguchiko station, at an altitude of 2305 meters, and then go back by bus.
Those who want to climb Fuji-san usually do it for a pilgrimage or to see the sunrise from the top, which they say is a beautiful sight. The ascent itself is within the reach of almost everyone (with healthy physical conditions) but in any case from the fifth station it will take about 6 hours to the summit and is not recommended for those suffering from vertigo; the descent instead takes about 3 hours.
Usually you start the climb in the afternoon and then rest in a refuge of the eighth station and continue the climb at the first light of dawn.
The seasons for climbing are July and August, while in the other periods it is not recommended due to possible snowfalls and the fact that the refuges are closed.
Keep in mind that for the climb you will have to cover up very well as even in the height of summer the temperatures in the early morning can reach zero.
A Japanese saying goes:
15 Tips for First-Time Travellers to Japan
Go to a Maid Cafe
Entering one of these particular cafes is definitely a Japanese experience to try.
These places are mainly found in Akihabara and the waitresses, wearing a Victorian-style dress, are there to serve the customer in all respects, thus impersonating the role of the devoted “maid” who will not fail to surprise you with a few touches of “magic”, also thanks to the atmosphere of the internal environment, which seems almost fairy.
You pay by the hour and you can order food and drink. Girls don’t worry, there is also a male version! Go to the Butler Café where the waiters are there to make you feel like a princess.
Attend a Sumo Meeting
The Sumo is Japan’s national sport, and I’m sure you attend in person at a meeting of this particular infighting, dating from the sixth century, it will be an adventure to tell.
The so – called hon-basho, that is the Sumo Tournaments, are held only in odd months, six times a year and last 15 days. In Tokyo you can attend a meeting in January, May and September, while in Osaka in March, in Nagoya in July and in Fukuoka in November.
Sumo matches in Tokyo are held at Ryogoku Kokugikan and to get there, from Yoyogi Station take the JR Sobu Line and get off at Ryogoku Station.
In Osaka, the meetings take place at the Osaka Prefectural Gymnasium, near the Nanba station, while in Nagoya at the Aichi Prefectural Gymnasium near the Shiyakusho station.
In Fukuoka, tournaments are held at the Fukuoka Kokusai Center, approximately 13 minutes from Gofukumachi Station.
Go to an Onsen
Onsen means “hot spring” and Japan has over 3,000 of them across the country. The Japanese tradition of bathing has ancient origins and has an almost sacred meaning.
After a day of work, the ideal for the Japanese is to immerse themselves in a hot tub to relax, preferably a thermal spring, which has even more beneficial effects on body and mind.
The tubs are divided into men and women, so couples have to separate for the bathroom. The mixed baths can be found in remote areas of Japan or at the private Onsen of some Ryokan.
The rules are simple: once inside, you will have to wash yourself very well with soap and rinse just as thoroughly before immersing yourself in the tub.
You will have a small towel to cover your private parts on the way to the tubs. You don’t have to soak the towel, but leave it outside. Anything that enters the tubs is considered dirty, which is why wearing a bathing suit is also forbidden.
Usually access to the onsen is forbidden for those with tattoos, to prevent members of the Yakuza (distinguishable by their tattoos) from attending the onsen. Therefore, if you have a small one you can cover it with a plaster, otherwise ask at the entrance if you can enter anyway.
Attend a Geisha / Maiko Show
The geisha (or geiko, in the Kyoto dialect) is one of the many images that make us think of Japan, as it represents the embodiment of Japanese beauty and art, with precious kimonos, elegant and precise gestures, musicality traditional ceremonies and dances.
The geisha is in fact an artist with different skills (singing, music, conversation, etc.) and her job is to entertain customers during the evenings in the tea rooms, called ochaya.
Although this figure was controversial in the past, today information about geisha is clearer and it is known that they have nothing to do with prostitution, a commonplace in the West during the American occupation of Japan, perhaps due to barriers.