Urban Exploration: How to Enjoy Japanese Culture in the City

Taking an active, off-the-beaten-track tour through rural Japan makes for a truly unforgettable and unique trip, with plenty of opportunities to explore and experience Japan’s authentic culture and traditions first-hand.

With that said, we also know that travelling around the countryside isn’t the right fit for everyone. Whether it be due to scheduling restraints, activity level or even just personal preference, Heartland Japan has worked with plenty of customers who wished to remain in urban areas, or simply didn’t have the opportunity to explore Japan as freely as they would like.

Fortunately, there are plenty of ways to incorporate truly authentic cultural activities into your itinerary, even if you don’t plan to venture beyond Tokyo on your next trip to Japan. Keep reading to find out more!

Enroll in a cooking class

One of the simplest (and most enjoyable) ways to learn more about a country is by sampling its food, and Tokyo is truly a food-lover’s paradise; over 200 Michelin Star restaurants exist within the city, and the delicious scent of street food offerings that can be found down numerous mysterious back-alleys will haunt you for years to come.

Don’t just enjoy to sample Tokyo’s food – learn how to make it. (Image: Photo-Ac)

Of course, there’s always the risk that you’ll discover your new favourite dish during your time in Japan and then struggle to find any restaurant that serves it when you return home. In order to avoid such torture, we highly recommend taking part in one of the many cooking classes held in Tokyo. Not only is it great fun, but you’ll also leave with the ability to recreate some of your favourite dishes at home – great for impressing all of your friends and family!

Cooking schools in Tokyo are well prepared when it comes to accommodating dietary requirements (vegan, vegetarian, allergies, etc.), language barriers and cooking ability levels. Whether you’re a fully trained chef or struggle to boil an egg, it won’t be difficult to find the right class to suit your needs.

Additionally, most classes offer more than a step-by-step recipe. When it comes to Japanese cuisine, every detail – from ingredients to dishes and even the way vegetables are prepared – has importance and significance, and your teacher will be able to teach you about each aspect of the dish with reference to health, history and culture. This is more than just a cookery class – it’s a comprehensive lesson in Japanese tradition!

Experience Zen Meditation

The Zen school of Mahayana Buddhism came to Japan from China over 800 years ago, and is now practiced in various temples across the country. At a number of these temples, it’s possible to experience ‘zazen’ meditation under the guidance of a real Buddhist priest – unfortunately, very few offer guidance in languages other than Japanese.

Release the stress from your mind with a Zen meditation experience. (Image: Photo-Ac)

If you think you’d benefit from a session of guided relaxation and some instruction on how to clear your mind amongst the setting of a beautiful Japanese Buddhist temple, you may be pleased to learn that there are several affordable English-language meditation classes available around and near Tokyo. These experiences usually begin with a period of seated zazen meditation (usually geared towards beginners so that anyone can take part) followed by a chance to interact and socialise with the temple’s priest over a cup of hot tea and some delicious Japanese sweets.

While most visitor-friendly zazen sessions are held in groups and scheduled for certain dates that may or may not coincide with your visit, it is sometimes possible to arrange a special private session at certain temples. For this, the assistance of a travel consultant may be required – Heartland Japan is always happy to help customers arrange special activities that can be included in their Tokyo itinerary, so feel free to get in touch!

Hands-on cultural learning  

Whether you’re fascinated by the grace of Japanese tea ceremony or aspire to possess the impressive agility of a sword-wielding Samurai, there are plenty of hands-on workshops and experiences held in Tokyo that provide visitors with the chance to fully immerse themselves in Japanese tradition.

Tea Ceremony is one of the experiences we recommend the most. (Image: Photo-Ac)

From classes on how to correctly wear Kimono (harder than you’d think!) and the delicate art of ikebana flower arrangement to swordsmanship and taiko drumming, a hands-on experience will allow you to leave Japan with more than just souvenirs – you may discover a new interest or talent that you can continue to practice or study when you return back home.

If there’s an experience that you would love to enroll in during your time in Tokyo but can’t find a way to fit it into your schedule, you may be able to benefit from a private solo lesson with a trained craftsman, teacher or expert. These professionals don’t always speak foreign languages, and so the assistance of a guide or interpreter could be beneficial. If you’d like help arranging private culture sessions within Tokyo, or simply don’t know what activities are available, Heartland Japan would be happy to help!

Live like a local

While tourist ‘home-stay’ and ‘host family’ experiences are harder to find and arrange in Tokyo than in rural areas, there are plenty of other safe and reliable accommodation options that will allow you to interact with locals during your stay.

Why not to try a shared accommodation or a home-stay instead of the usual hotel?  (Image: Photo-Ac)

Hostel-type accommodation can be incredibly affordable, and also offers the opportunity to interact with multiple other travellers from both Japan and abroad. Hostel owners and workers are also usually very eager to talk to their guests, and usually speak one (or several) languages other than Japanese. Even better, hostel workers and even other Japanese travellers often have local and cultural knowledge that they can share with you – ask the owner of your accommodation where their favourite restaurant, bar or pub is, and you’re sure to get some great suggestions (and perhaps even company from other guests!).

Wherever you decide to stay, it’s important to research the accommodation first and decide whether or not it has the facilities that you require, as well as checking any reviews that you can find online. If you work with a travel consultant to plan your trip, they can help to find the right accommodation for you – something that comes in handy if you’d rather not spend time researching all of Tokyo’ many options.

While many ‘off-the-beaten-track’ experience-based tour providers in Japan work to promote tours in rural locations and countryside communities, it’s still possible to experience and enjoy some of the authentic traditions and culture of Japan while remaining in city locations.

Whether you plan to visit in urban areas or want to explore what rural Japan has to offer, Heartland Japan can help to create a special, custom tour that suits all of your interests and provides plenty of opportunities to experience the best of Japan. Simply get in touch and let us make the perfect trip, just for you!

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