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Culture

5 Cultural Activities to Try in Japan

Learn more about Japanese culture by trying out any of these traditional workshops.

By 5 min read 1

If you’re studying Japanese, living in Japan or just visiting, learning more about Japanese culture and tradition is essential to get the full experience. From sumo wrestling to traditional sword fighting and dressing up like a geisha, get up close and personal with Japanese traditions that trace back to ancient times.

Here are five cultural activities you can do in Japan, covering Tokyo to Hiroshima.

Be a Sumo Wrestler for a Day in Tokyo

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Step into the ring.

Sumo is a Japanese style of wrestling with a long history. With this sumo experience, you’ll be able to have a behind-the-scenes experience with sumo wrestlers, watching their training and also training with them, before enjoying a chanko-nabe, also known as a sumo hotpot eaten by wrestlers every day. The two-hour-long session will start with sumo history, the rules of the match and their training routine before getting to witness a real match.

You’ll also be able to wrestle with retired sumo wrestlers and have souvenir photos of the experience. If you want to have a real sumo experience, but also have your own personal explanations while watching the match, it’s the perfect opportunity to do so with this experience, not to mention being able to eat something delicious on the side.

For those who just want to watch a sumo practice, they also offer tours for this. Book on the website, and the experience is also suitable for people of all ages, including children. The experience is held in a Tokyo-based dojo (learning place).

Recommended for: Those who want to have a sumo wrestling experience
Price: ¥11,000 (half-price for children under 11 years old) 
Time: Two hours
3-1-11 Tatekawa, Sumida-ku, Tokyo, Japan - Map

Learn the Way of the Samurai in Kyoto

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Draw that sword.

Ever wondered what it took to be a samurai, and what bushido, the way of the warrior entails? This Samurai Experience in Kyoto will suit you up in a hakama (training gear), yield an actual katana (sword), and have a zen meditation experience. You’ll also be able to learn the philosophies behind the warrior mindset, all while training in a historic building that used to be a samurai house. It’s a glimpse into that world, and the experience is guaranteed to be a unique one.

Available to families as well as small groups, all visitors from six years old and above are welcome for this experience, making it ideal for all types of travelers. Even better? This is in Kyoto, the ancient capital of Japan. What’s more perfect than a samurai experience in Kyoto?

Recommended for: Samurai movie lovers or those who want a unique experience
Price: ¥15,000
Time: One and a half hours
111 Inabacho, Nakagyo Ward, Kyoto - Map

The Ultimate Geisha Experience in Kazanawa

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Learn what it takes to be a geisha.

Ever wanted to meet a geisha and learn the art of the geishas? Kanazawa, also known as the little Kyoto of Western Japan with its geisha district and traditional architecture runs a Geisha Experience tour. Held in teahouses (chaya) across Kanazawa in the three teahouse districts of Higashi, Nishi and Kazuemachi, this exclusive experience tour opens up the teahouses to non-regular customers, usually a hard no. You’ll be able to watch geishas dance, play traditional instruments, join them in geisha games and perform together with the geishas.

A rare experience for sure, this is a tour run by Kanazawa city and their tourism association for educational purposes in order to pass down teahouse culture to the next generations. Book through their website, or take a chance and drop by the tourism desk at Kanazawa when you are there. The experience will be held in Japanese, but interpreters will be onsite.

Recommended for: Those who want a geisha experience in an actual teahouse
Price: ¥5,000
Time: One hour
Teahouses across Kanazawa

Try Japanese Archery in Hiroshima

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A practice that dates back to ancient Japan.

A short walk from the Hiroshima Peace Museum is Sharaku, a Kyudo dojo, or Japanese archery training hall, for those who want to try a form of Japanese culture and martial art. Kyudo, literally known as the “Way of the Bow”, dates back to the prehistoric period in Japan, before the first official records of what we know as Kyudo today from the Heian Period, led by the samurai class. Kyudo is practiced with different purposes in mind depending on the school that one learns the art form from, with some emphasizing aesthetics, others efficiency and even as a form of meditation in action.

At Sharaku, you’ll be able to shoot to your heart’s content, with options to rent a hakama, the Kyudo uniform and experience the thrill of learning traditional archery. Make reservations beforehand on their site to ensure you can play together if you’re coming in a group as 4 can play at the same time. Drop by in a group if you want to have a friendly mini-competition amongst your friends or family.

Recommended for: Martial arts lovers
Price: From ¥4,000
Time: One hour
3F Nishimura Bld, 5-12-1 Otemachi, Nakaku, Hiroshima - Map

Get Your Ears Cleaned in Tokyo

Mimikaki is an earwax removal instrument used to clean out earwax by scraping along the edges of the ear. Apart from being a practical act of hygiene in Japan, ear cleaning has also been depicted in popular media as a romantic act due to the intimate gesture of having someone clean out your ear wax for you in close proximity. At Yamamoto Mimikaki in Tokyo, you’ll be able to experience earwax removal designed close to a full spa relaxation experience. Your ear cleaning professional, or komachi (also known as a “belle”), will first bring you a cup of tea while chatting with you about how you feel that day, and what you would prefer.

You will then lie on their lap, where they will first loosen up your ears with a simple massage, before cleaning out your ears for you in what they guarantee would be a healing yet ecstatic combination.

The website is in Japanese, but anyone is welcome. Drop them a note via email for more details or make a reservation through a phone call.

Recommended for: Those who love facials and massages but want to try something new
Price: From ¥3,500
Time: 30 to 120 minutes depending on the menu
Shinjuku, Akihabara and Tokyo

Around Japan

Sumo wrestling

6-37-1 Shinkawa, Mitaka, Tokyo - Map

Samurai training

3-3-12, Sendagaya, Shibuya Ward, Tokyo, Japan - Map
3-2-4 Ebisunishi, Naniwa Ward, Osaka Prefecture - Map

Japanese archery

Geisha experience

1-29-8 Asakusa, Taito Ward, Tokyo - Map
499-8 Shimokawaracho, Higashiyama Ward, Kyoto - Map

Ear cleaning

1-2-3, Kabukicho, Shinjuku Ward, Tokyo - Map
2-12-22 Nishishinsaibashi Chuo Ward, Osaka - Map
Let us know in the comments if you went for one of these experiences. What would you recommend, and what was a “once was enough” activity?

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  • Rosco says:

    There are many places you can do kyudo: very different from western archery.
    If you can find a host, try zazen.
    Definitely find a good rotemburo.
    Wander a major Japanese garden – Tenryu-ji, Arashiyama, for example.
    See a bunraku puppet show (in season) – pricey but brilliant.
    Wander Koyasan/Okunoin – incomparable experience.
    Tour Himeji-jo, now it’s had its restoration.
    Ride a boat along Oboke/Koboke gorge.

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