Hi I’m Kiyoshi a Cross-Cultural Specialist Travel Consultant and your Japanese connection.
For more than 30 years I have escorted Australians in groups and individually to Japan, either for business and leisure or a bit of both! I have gained a deep insight into Japan as an authentic cultural destination.
Frequently my Australian friends ask me: “Where should we go to experience the best of Japanese culture?” More and more people are wanting to immerse themselves in authentic Japan.
Here are my suggestions to help you enjoy a surprising and enriching cultural tour of this enigmatic destination. Many of these are traditional, yet accessible, Japanese experiences. I also offer you more mundane but practical travel advice on how to maximize your next journey to Japan. I hope you enjoy reading how you can gain the most when next you travel to the country of my birth.
Viewing Sacred Mount Fuji
Seen as the epicentre of the world for the Japanese, Mount Fuji is well worth a visit. However, nothing can be more frustrating than to plan a trip to see Mt Fuji only to be thwarted by clouds and low visibility!
Hence the most important question must be – what is the best time to go to Mount Fuji for visibility and weather? Plan your visit to Mount Fuji somewhere between October and February, with December and January being best in terms of visibility. And if you cannot visit Japan during these winter months, then early mornings are usually better to catch an unobstructed view of this sacred mountain.
Another key question is whether to climb Mount Fuji or view it from afar. The Japanese proverb ‘He who climbs Mt. Fuji once is a wise man, he who climbs it twice is a fool’ remains as valid as ever.
Suggested Tours and Activities:
- Satoyama Cycling Ecotours with view of Mt. Fuji from afar
- Fuji Sunrise Climbing 2-day tour with a bilingual guide
- Stay at hotel/ryokan or glamping site nearby Mt. Fuji and witness an unforgettable spiritual view of Mt. Fuji at sunrise
Understanding the Mystery of the Geisha
In Japan the beautiful and mysterious Geisha represents one of the most iconic traditions in the country. A long-standing stigma has been placed on Japanese geisha girls. When someone thinks of a geisha, they think of a glorified prostitute or call girl, and this is far from the truth. Therefore to clear the air before we dive in a little deeper, the misconception that geishas are the equivalent to prostitutes should be immediately thrown out. They are in fact cultural entertainers and companions in a country where close connection is near taboo.
What is the best way to learn about Geisha? Although an evening with geisha and maiko entertainment is not going to be cheap, it is the only way to truly witness a geisha performance and appreciate the immense training that goes into their music, dancing and hospitality. See everything from their complex makeup and hairstyle to the elegant way in which they move. By experiencing Geisha you gain a true insight into traditional Japan.
These are the best guaranteed geisha experiences:
- Dinner and interaction with Maiko in Gion, Kyoto
- Kaiseki Dinner with Geisha at 100-year historical restaurant near Tokyo
- Tea ceremony with experienced Maiko in Kyoto
- Japanese Michelin Elegant Dining and Geisha Performance in Tokyo
Discovering the Beauty of Cherry Blossoms in Spring
Cherry blossoms are very popular for both tourists and locals alike. They continue to attract people from all over the world. The question of how best to enjoy the Cherry Blossom Season, whether in Tokyo or anywhere else in Japan is a common one. Hanami (flower viewing) is a universal Japanese pastime, and determining the best location and times is much debated. Often during the spring season many of the spectacular spots are so overcrowded that you can barely see and do anything. However, don’t worry I’ve got you covered – with real insider knowledge!
Make sure to take geography into account, too: in southern and western Japan, where the climate is warmer, the sakura bloom earlier than in Honshu. Conversely, in northern and mountainous regions the trees bloom later. Pointing your compass to these locations can be a good strategy to experience the cherry blossoms whilst avoiding the Honshu crowds.
For your best cherry blossom viewing:
- Cherry blossoms cycling tour
- Join a cherry blossom walking tour with local food and drink provided
- Visit secret cherry blossom locations by private charter vehicle
- Cherry blossom ‘Sakura’ viewing tour by bus in Tokyo or Kyoto
Participating in Fun Japanese Cooking Classes
If you love Japanese food and wish to learn how to prepare it for yourself then naturally Japan is a great destination to explore this much-loved cuisine. In fact, in recent years Japan has established itself as a real go-to destination for foodies. UNESCO recently listed Japanese “Washoku” (Japanese traditional cuisine) amongst the world’s healthiest food, served by over a million small but reasonably priced restaurants across Japan, each offering unique and authentic local produce.
Japanese Cooking Classes often involve home visits to see first-hand the preparation of healthy, tasty Japanese food. Participants learn the secrets of Japanese foods, including the fifth and less recognisable taste of Umami. By joining one of the classes you will become immersed in Japanese food culture and experience a variety of unique Japanese cooking styles.You will always remember the cooking class as being a highlight of your trip.
Popular Japanese Cooking Classes:
- Tsukiji fish market walking and cooking experience
- Authentic Japanese home cooking experience
- Private Sushi Making Class and Lunch in Ginza
- Learn How to Cook Ramen Noodles in Tokyo
- Soba Noodle Making in Matsumoto, Nagano
Becoming a Fan of Sumo
Sumo wrestling is the national sport of Japan and a must see for visitors. Once patronized by the Japanese emperors Sumo’s origins go back at least 1,500 years to ancient Shinto rites. Sumo is the world’s oldest organised sport!
The best way to see sumo is to attend a sumo tournament. Tickets are sold for each day of the 15-day tournaments that take place 6 times per year in Tokyo, Osaka, Nagoya and Fukuoka.
However, if you miss the sumo tournament there is an even better way to experience sumo! You can visit a sumo stable and watch the morning training session known as asageiko. This can be organized through a guided tour or other means to interact with Sumo wrestlers in fun way!
Authentic Sumo Experience:
- Watch Sumo practice at a sumo stable in Tokyo
- Wrestle with a sumo wrestler on real sumo ring in Ryogoku
- Take a walking tour with sumo wrestlers in Asakusa and Ryogoku
- Experience a Chanko dinner with an active sumo wrestler at ‘Asakusa Chanko-ba’
Appreciating the Simplicity of Japanese Art
Traditional Japanese art forms have been a source of fascination and inspiration for centuries, not only in Japan but internationally. It is said that the ancient art of Ukiyo-e greatly influenced the rise of the western Impressionist art movement, and without Ukiyo-e woodprints Impressionism would never have existed! The beauty of Japan art has much to do with its sheer simplicity, an uncomplicated grace that can be appreciated by almost anyone.
Whether it’s a sadō (ritual tea ceremony), shodō (calligraphy), ikebana (flower arranging) and nihon teien (traditional gardens) or architecture, painting and sculpture, simplicity built upon a Zen life philosophy is paramount.
The ‘art Islands’ of Naoshima, Teshima and Inujima in the Seto Inland Sea of Japan have long been on art lovers’ bucket lists, but these permanent art installations of global fame are supported by an art event every three years which extends over 12 islands. For the 2019 Triennale from April to November, travellers will enjoy engaging with both Japanese and international art collected specifically for the event. Experience the laidback lifestyles of the islanders of the Seto Island Sea, the ‘Aegean Sea of Asia’, and discover how the traditional culture of Japan still survives in their small villages, now supported by this important international art event.
Popular Art Tours:
- Tea ceremony experience in Tokyo and Kyoto
- Japanese Calligraphy Experience in Tokyo and Kyoto
- Private ‘Ikebana’ Traditional Flower Arrangement Experience
- Make your own WOODBLOCK PRINT ‘Ukiyo-e style’
Must-do in 2019:
- Guided tour to the remote island of Naoshima with its stunning modern art and striking architecture
- Setouchi Triennale 2019 Premium Art Festival
Live in a traditional Japanese townhouse
If you really want to experience Kyoto or Kanazawa, you should consider a night or two in a machiya (traditional Kyoto townhouse). Machiya combine all the advantages of a vacation rental with the authenticity of a Ryokan. Each house has been carefully renovated to maintain the traditional design, while updated to meet the modern needs of guests.
Rent out an entire townhouse and experience life as a local. There is always an abundance of attractions and sightseeing alternatives, including beloved neighbourhood restaurants, hidden specialty shops, and more. Take this opportunity to immerse yourself in these cities and cultures!
Sample the best of many different styles of Japanese cuisine
One of the most popular leisure activities during any trip to Japan is dining. Japan offers many different styles of cuisine and many restaurant choices. Whether its street food, a casual restaurant meal or formal dining Japan is now becoming an international gourmet destination.
One fascinating way to experience Japanese is by indulging in a progressive dinner or Izakaya (Japanese pub hopping). In this way you can experiment and savour many different food varieties. Instead of sticking to one eatery where you may not like the food, ambience or service, you sample several alternatives during one fun evening. For example, start with a couple of Yakitori (chicken skewers) chased down by a beer as your appetizer, move on to a seafood restaurant for fresh sashimi with a sip of sake. Next is yet another Izakaya for more substantial food and of course more drink. You will then learn about local foods, people and culture fairly quickly. Most importantly it offers international travellers an opportunity to experience Japanese culture casually as well as to observe Japanese people close up at leisure.
Popular Food and Beverage Tours:
- Backstreet exploring of Ginza and enjoy local food and drink
- Japanese Whisky Tasting
- Professionally guided sake journey through various kinds of sake
- Historical Sake Brewery Tour and Tasting
- Local bar hopping in backstreets of Tokyo whilst exploring local food and drink
Discover the ancient code of the Samurai
Have you seen the movie “The Last Samurai’? The film’s plot was inspired by the 1877 Satsuma Rebellion led by Saigo Takamori.
A leader of Japan’s 19th Century drive to modernize, and at the same time, a defender of its ancient samurai values, Saigo Takamori’s dramatic last stand embodied his nation’s identity crisis.
Until his death Saigo Takamori practiced his core belief in Bushido. Bushido was an unwritten moral code of conduct for the samurai. The Bushido Code consisted of seven virtues: rectitude, courage, benevolence, respect, honesty, honour and loyalty. For more than 700 years the samurai lived and taught honour, duty and service, and these virtues still remain in Japanese society today. Samurai helped lay the foundations of traditional culture, and this is evident by the politeness and respectfulness that Japanese are so renowned for. There is no doubt that the samurai’s positive influence on Japanese society is still felt throughout Japan today.
- Professional Samurai Action Lesson Watch and Experience
- Samurai/Ninja Special Experience, learning ancient sword technique
- Samurai armor wearing and photo shoot
- Become a Movie Star of your own Samurai Movie!
- Dress up as a Samurai and join the Samurai Kembu Workshop
There’s no better excuse to visit Japan than when the World’s best rugby teams turn up in September 2019.
The 2019 Rugby World Cup Japan (20 September – 2 November 2019) will showcase the entire nation with 12 venues stretching from the Island of Hokkaido in the north to Kyusyu in the south. By attending a match or more you will see parts of this wonderful country that will become seared in your consciousness forever. There is also the added advantage that late September and October is arguably the most comfortable and idyllic season to visit Japan.
Nearly all Rugby World Cup matches are played over weekends. Therefore on weekdays you get to enjoy all those cultural and activity-based tours as I’ver just outlined – what a wonderful way to experience your love of rugby and to start a love affair with Japan!
Here is the last bit of my advice on your dream holiday in Japan
As my country continues to set new records for international visitation, some peak seasons and popular tourist spots have increasingly overtaxed Japan’s tourism infrastructure. It is therefore important that you speak to a local Japanese travel specialist and plan early. By doing so you will avoid missing out on your choice of accommodation, transport, tour guides or gaining access to major sites, and will maximise your Japanese travel experience.
Also you should consider hiring a professional/licensed tour guide. The best guides take you off the beaten track, know the best sightseeing locations and photo spots and give unique insight into local culture. A great tour guide will give their country’s history a personal context. Anyone can read the history of a country or its culture, but a more personal perspective offers a truly human context. No book can do what a great guide does.
So why wait, visit Japan in 2019! Japan’s key international attraction remains its cultural authenticity. Japan represents a cultural enigma of traditional culture and a bustling modern society and it’s just waiting to be discovered. Japan is calling you!
If you want to discuss your trip to Japan contact me on 0417 997 718. I will be happy to guide you no matter what your interest!
Or visit Japan Cultural Tours, online travel booking website I will soon be launching.
Cross-Cultural Specialist Travel Consultant & Your Japanese Connection