The Land of the Rising Sun is a mix between old and new traditions. The chrysanthemum and the sword was the title given to a book describing the culture of Japan. Now the country is one of the most powerful in the world and the host of an upcoming Olympic Games. Travelling to Japan is an experience that is not easily forgotten. However, a common complaint that many Japan-bound travellers have is that of culture shock. Japanese society and the way it functions is often a puzzle to many tourists. From eating to correctly greeting someone, there are expectations and rules for all. Even the language changes depending on the relationship between the speakers. Here we have compiled a list of four top tips for travelling to Japan. They are designed to help you get the best out of the culture and also to know a little more about the country itself.
Get involved with local culture when travelling to Japan
Japan has a very noticeable culture. Travelling to Japan allows you to get involved with local customs. A great place to start is with sumo. The tickets are often very expensive but the musuem is a great place to start. After that, travelling to Japan will also show you the beauty and finesse of the Japanese garden. There are many throughout major cities but Ninomaru in Kyoto and Hamarikyu in Tokyo are the best. The design of these gardens largely demonstrates religious concepts, based on Shintoism and Buddhism. The gardens main focus is understanding and enlightenment. Both concepts are highly prized in Japanese culture and travelling to Japan will allow you to access them.
You may want to go one step further and visit an onsen. The Japanese islands are largely volcanic and have thermal hot springs dotted around all over the country. These can be simple outdoor baths or full health complexes. Taking the time to bathe and relax at an onsen will allow you a view into how the Japanese relax and let their hair down. They can be found all over Japan but the most historical is Hakone, which has existed for hundreds of years. Yet remember, tattoos are strictly prohibited!
2. Food and drink when travelling to Japan
One insight into Japanese culture and an activity that should not be missed is that of the tea ceremony. This is choreographed, according to a 1,000 year old programme and is very finely tuned. The server will pour the tea for guests, but it is not a simple pouring. Each action is determined and corresponds to another. The tea is usually accompanied by a traditional mochi sweet. Thanks are given to the tea at the end of the service and the time to drink is used for quiet contemplation. Tea ceremonies can be found all over the country. However, one of the best is at the Hamarikyu Gardens in Tokyo..
Japanese cuisine is well-known for being among the best in the world. Sushi, sashimi, udon noodles and tempura are among the most famous. The way to truly experience Japanese culture when travelling to Japan is by visiting the busiest haunts in each city. Remember, not to point with your chopsticks as it is considered to be rude. It is also considered polite to slurp loudly. This shows your love of the food. For something truly typical, order a takeaway bento box for lunch. This are found in most convenience stores and have a little of everything. They are cheap and are great for eating on the move.
Pop culture when travelling to Japan
Japan is a geek´s dream. So when travelling to Japan, take the time to appreciate some of the wacky trends. The most common of these center around anime and manga. Tokyo´s Akihabara district is the place to go to stock up on merchandise. Here you can immerse yourself in the home of Japan´s geek culture. Video games are also extremely popular and you can even play retro consoles in many stores. Games are sold everywhere and it could be a good idea to pick up some souvenirs when travelling to Japan. You will also see a vast quantity of kawaii, which means cute. This could be animations, mascots or toys. They range from cuddly cats like Hello Kitty to Pokemon characters. The cuter the better, and many young Japanese dedicate their lives to this aesthetic. The neighbourhoods most associated with this are Akihabara, the super-cool district of Harajuku, Shibuya and Shinjuku in Tokyo. The trick here is to be open-minded and embrace everything when travelling to Japan. Don´t forget that what may seem strange to you is entirely normal in Japan. So jump in! Who knows what you might learn?