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5 Popular Hobbies to Try in Japan

Looking to switch up your routine? These unique hobbies in Japan are friendly for beginners to advanced

By 6 min read

After moving to Japan, the excitement and chaos eventually settle, and you might find yourself stuck in a daily routine. If you’re looking for a way to spice up your week, why not pick up a new hobby? There are tons of unique Japanese pastimes, plus Western hobbies and sports just as loved in Japan.

Pursuing a hobby in Japan is a fantastic way to get that extra cultural immersion while working on your personal growth. As a plus, you can make new friends, connect within the community and access a creative outlet for stress relief and self-expression.

Here are five popular and accessible hobbies in Japan:

1. Playing the Koto

The traditional koto takes a lot of time a dedication.

For the musically inclined, the koto is a gorgeous instrument to try. The koto is a traditional stringed instrument played in Japan for millennia. Its quiet, delicate sound is commonly utilized in Japanese classical music. Practicing the koto is similar to practicing the guitar, where learners benefit most through one-on-one instruction. You’ll also need to know a bit of Japanese, as chords are typically found on the side and written in kanji.

A unique aspect of playing the koto is using tsume picks, which are worn around the right hand’s index, middle fingers and thumb. They’re a cross between guitar picks and fingernails and can be tricky to get used to. Try searching for tutors online with these terms:

  • ことレッスン (koto ressun/ koto lesson),
  • しょうしんしゃけのこときょうしつ (shoshinsha muke no koto kyoushitsu/ koto classroom for beginners)
  • ことせんせい (koto no sensei/ koto teacher)

You can also visit your local community center, music schools or universities. When in doubt, ask around! I was offered twice to practice for free with some co-workers who happened to own a koto as well, so don’t underestimate the power of word-of-mouth. In my experience, Japanese locals are happy for the opportunity to share their culture.

Koto playing is a beautiful way to learn more about Japanese culture while expressing yourself through music.

2. Ceramics

A pottery workshop in Japan

For those who want to get their hands a little dirty while creating something beautiful, ceramic making is an awesome activity to check out. Ceramics, such as kintsugi, are a significant aspect of Japanese culture and is a well-liked pastime. You can practice creating ceramics at private studios, community facilities, and dedicated ceramic schools. Pottery studios usually offer ceramic-making courses where you can get hands-on experience. The process includes preparing the clay, shaping it by hand or on a wheel, choosing a glaze and then firing it in a kiln.

There are many opportunities to experience unique ceramics styles original to Japan based on the region. For example, Bizen ceramics of Okayama Prefecture are renowned for their earthy appearance and lack of glaze. In contrast, the Arita ceramics of Saga Prefecture are famous for their elaborate blue and white patterns. You can also work with a special ceramic glaze unique to Japan, such as “shino,” a white glaze, and “oribe,” a green glaze first developed in the 16th century in Mino.

Making stunning ceramics is a means of self-expression and can bring a sense of accomplishment. There’s no “right or wrong” way to make a piece, as every creation reflects one’s vision. Plus, making something with your hands and putting your ideas into action is inspiring. You’ll get the chance to learn from experienced teachers and produce lovely and functional pieces if you pursue ceramics.

3. Bouldering

Outdoor bouldering wall in Hoshi no Buranko, Hoshida, Katano in Osaka.

For more active people, why not strengthen your muscles through bouldering? Bouldering has recently become increasingly popular in Japan, making it an easily accessible hobby. It’s a rigorous rock climbing sport that requires physical stamina and mental concentration. Bouldering has the elements of a strength and core workout while feeling like playing in a jungle gym. It makes the perfect formula for tricking yourself into getting into shape.

As a plus, bouldering needs very little gear and equipment. Most bouldering gyms in Japan already have climbing shoes and chalk available to rent, so people of all ages and ability levels can enjoy it. Bouldering gyms in Japan often offer a diverse layout and additional amenities that differ from most western gyms. Many include training rooms, exercise equipment, spas and onsen (hot springs)! It is also common for a yoga studio to be in the gym. This represents a larger cultural focus on health and wellness based on the mind-body relationship.

Another interesting aspect is that the communication used in Japan during bouldering is respectful and humble, with climbers refraining from using excessively hostile or aggressive language. You’ll most likely hear a lighthearted cheer of “Ganba! Ganba!” (Keep it up!) from spectators as you try to clear a route, which is always a great boost of encouragement.

4. Japanese archery (kyudo)

Japanese archery is spiritual, disciplined and relaxing.

Archery is perfect for those looking for something a little more low-impact. Since ancient times, archery has been a popular sport in Japan. It is a style of martial arts that calls for self-control and accuracy, making it a challenging and gratifying pastime for people who like mental and physical fitness.

Japan has a specialized archery style called kyudo, which translates to “way of the bow,” and uses the “yumi” (traditional Japanese longbow.) Kyudo prioritizes both physical skill and mental concentration, frequently called “meditation in motion.” It’s a great practice for those looking to enhance their self-discipline and learn more about Japanese culture. More laid-back archery ranges also use regular bows for those who want a more relaxed option.

People of various fitness levels and capabilities can enjoy archery. After a long day at work, firing an arrow is a terrific way to relax and decompress. To get started, visit your local range, community center or archery club and learn what classes and experiences are offered. In my case, I visited a local outdoor range in my town and paid a fee to rent some gear and shoot to my heart’s content. With enough practice, you’ll be shooting bulls-eyes in no time!

5. Japanese sword fighting (kendo)

Kendo student practicing with shinai.

Looking to blow off some steam with a partner? The traditional Japanese martial art of kendo involves two people simulating sword combat while wearing protective gear and wielding bamboo swords. Kendo is regarded as one of the national sports of Japan and has been practiced for generations to cultivate self-control, integrity and physical strength.

In Japan, there is various kendo dojo (training facilities) where people can learn and practice martial art. Equipment for kendo, such as a shinai (bamboo sword), bogu (armor), and gloves, can be rented from the dojo or purchased on your own.

Students will practice drills and spar with one another in a typical kendo lesson. Students will study various kendo techniques, strategies and the sport’s background and core values. It is a total-body workout that promotes stamina, speed and mobility. Kendo is an excellent method to stay active and healthy because of its fast-paced and lively nature.

What’s a hobby you’ve always wanted to try in Japan? Let us know in the comments!

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