Think Japan and up pops images of geisha, sushi and neon-lit mega cities. Maybe sake too and a tea ceremony. Whatever images Japan inspires you, it’s safe to say that they will be uniquely Japanese. It’s one of the great joys of travelling there, that cultural uniqueness and the fact that the unique culture is so incredibly rich. It’s also wonderfully easy to immerse yourself in – that’s why it’s not really about seeing Japan, but more about experiencing Japan!
Why is Japan’s culture so unique?
Japan was one of the few countries in the world that was never colonised by Europe. In fact, between the 17th and 19
th centuries, Japan completely isolated itself from the rest of the world. These long years without outside influence, many fascinating traditions developed and over time became so deeply ingrained in the culture that they still remain very much a part of modern life.
So, how do you experience Japan?
Japanese culture is so easy to find and immerse yourself in – it’s still so much a part of everyday life. People still worship at ancient temples, geisha entertain, people dress in kimonos for special occasions and everyone eats traditional food. But they also travel by bullet train, many live in huge modern cities, go to robot restaurants and maid cafes, dress up as their favourite manga characters and sing karaoke. What’s more you can do all that too! Here are our favourite places to experience Japanese culture:
Japans capital city might look like the ultimate modern mega city, and it pretty much is, but amongst the sky-scrapers and neon billboards there is plenty of traditional culture too. Wander through Senso-ji, the city’s oldest temple or the woodland Meiji Shrine to see beautiful old ritual performed by local worshippers. Tokyo is also celebration of Japan’s youth subcultures and a heaven for tech and game geeks – explore Harajuku, Shibuya and Akihabara to discover more!
The Imperial capital for over 1,000 years, Kyoto is the best place to discover traditional Japan. You can explore temples and shrines such a Kinkaku-ji, Fushimi Inari-taisha. In fact, any of the city’s 17 UNESCO-listed monuments, to get a taste of the past. Take part in a tea ceremony, learn the art of origami and eat kaiseki; you can even dress up as a geisha.
Hiroshima and Miyajima
A world famous name for a tragic reason, we recommend Hiroshima because it perfectly represents the nature of the Japanese people. Almost completely rebuilt after 1945, it is a friendly, cheerful and forward-looking city that is a pleasure to explore. Take time to reflect in the Peace Memorial Park and definitely try okonomiyaki! The holy island of Miyajima, just a short ferry ride away, home to the famous Itsukushima Shrine, is well worth a visit too!
Called the birthplace of Japanese culture, Nara was imperial capital before Kyoto, and is a pleasant and relaxed little city. Here you can explore the 8th century Todai-ji and meet herds of friendly Sika deer – in the Shinto religion they are believed to be messengers of the gods. There’s also a traditional Japanese garden, Isuien, to wander, a space so full of meaning and philosophy it’s hard to believe!
Japan’s most iconic sight, the perfectly symmetrical cone of Mt Fuji is not only visually impressive but an essential element of Japanese culture. It has long been worshipped by Buddhists, as a gateway to another world, by Shintoists as the very spirit of nature, and by the written word and paint brush of many a writer and artist. It is also an essential element of any trip to Japan to look upon Mt Fuji and revel in its spectacular natural surroundings.
When’s the best time to visit Japan?
Japan is a destination that can be visited year-round, but we recommend spring or autumn. With spring comes the beauty of the cherry blossoms and a wonderfully festive atmosphere as the pink blooms are celebrated! Autumn brings splashes of vibrant fall colour to parks, temple gardens, forests and beyond, a sight that is equally as magical.
Japan is a hot destination right now but come 2019 and 2020, with two major sporting events taking place on its soil, it’s going to get even more popular! That’s why we strongly urge you to get in there quickly and explore Japan before the masses descend.