A Beginner's Guide to Japan


A Beginner's Guide to Japan

There’s something for everyone in Japan, a country that seamlessly offers both the culture of its ancient and noble past, and its new culture – a blend of the exciting, themed and futuristic. For those travellers interested in exploring the amazing cultural history of Japan, here is what you absolutely need to experience.

Tea Ceremonies, also known as ‘sado’ (way of the tea) have long been an important and beautiful ritual for serving tea to guests in Japan. The ceremony is carefully choreographed so that the server’s attention is purely about the movements, almost like a dance - and follows the four principals of purity, respect, harmony and tranquillity.

The best city to experience a tea ceremony is in Kyoto, the city that first held a ‘sado’.

While in Kyoto, try wearing a kimono! Kimono translates simply as ‘clothing’ and until the mid 19th century, that’s all anyone in Japan wore. Although western clothing is now the standard in Japan, kimonos are still a major aspect of Japanese culture, and are still a common sight you’ll encounter. As well as Kyoto, Tokyo and Kanazawa are other cities where you have the opportunity to try on a Kimono.

If you’re thinking that trying on a kimono is more for the female traveller, it is for everyone – however something that is popular with the male traveller is Samurai School!  

Although samurai no longer exist, these legendary warriors are still a major part of Japan’s culture and history. There are many samurai museums, castles and even amusement parks all over Japan, but in both Kyoto and Tokyo you can learn ‘bushido’ (the way of the warrior) which includes ceremony, sword skills and dressing like a samurai!

Speaking of warriors, a must-see attraction while you’re in Japan is a sumo wrestling match – which is both an exciting sport to watch and an amazing cultural experience. The goal of Sumo Wrestling is quite simple: each wrestler is trying to be the first to force the other either off his feet or out of the ring – so matches can be quite short. Sumo wrestling tournaments (basho) are held every second month. Three of the tournaments are held in Tokyo, with the others held in Nagoya, Osaka and Fukuoka. If your travel dates don’t align with a tournament, you can still attend exciting live training sessions in each of those cities.

For the less modest traveller, no journey to Japan would be complete without bathing in an onsen. ‘Onsen’ is a Japanese hot spring, and traditionally used for community bathing in the countryside. These days many onsen are indoors, either in a hotel or public bath. Being naked in front of a group of strangers may feel a little strange, however my advice is to relax, enjoy the water and enjoy one of Japan’s most popular cultural experiences.

A traditional form of Japanese theatre is called ‘Kabuki’, which is an extremely elaborate (both in costume and performance) experience. The best place to catch a Kabuki performance is at the Kabuki-Za theatre in Tokyo.

Regardless of what takes you on your journey to Japan, your holiday will only be improved by one (or all) of Japan’s amazing cultural experiences.