On the surface, Japan is unequivocally modern. Yet, beyond the towering skyscrapers of its innovative cities, Japan’s rich history is at the heart of the country. At every turn, its ancient rituals and traditional culture are bound to enthral. Travel expert, Victoria, chooses her top 5 experiences which showcase the best of Japan.
Private Tea Ceremony in Kyoto
Experiencing a private tea ceremony in a local temple is a wonderfully unique and humbling experience, and was certainly a personal highlight of my recent trip to Japan. During our time in Kyoto, a local Buddhist monk welcomed us with a traditional tea ceremony at the exclusive Korin-in Temple, where we learned the art of precisely preparing and presenting Japan’s famous green tea.
Visit the Snow Monkeys and cycle around Yudanaka
Located in Yudanaka, the snow monkey park is a great activity for those wanting to see the famous Japanese Macaques, and a perfect excursion for families. In the winter months, the macaques lounge around and bathe in the hot spring onsens. We visited during the summer months, which I would say is still worth doing. Although the monkeys do not bathe in the onsens outside of the winter months, the beautiful trail through the forest leading to the monkey park, and the large numbers of monkeys around make visiting Yudanaka worthwhile, no matter the time of year. Following a few hours on the trails and in the monkey park, rent some bicycles and cycle through Yudanaka, where you can enjoy the unique experience of cycling past the rice fields, whilst also discovering the town’s hidden backstreets. If you are feeling particularly adventurous, why not continue to cycle on to Obuse, one of Yudanaka’s hidden gems, famous for its arts and crafts.
Nakasendo Walking Trail
The Nakasendo Walking Trail is a fantastic opportunity to experience the real Japan and get off the beaten track. We usually recommend doing 2 nights/3 days on the trail, trekking between Magome and Tsumago on the first day, Tsumago to Kiso-Fukushima on the second day, and from Kiso-Fukushima to Narai on the final day. The trails of the Nakasendo are beautiful, with a mix of forest trails and local villages. The accommodation is ryokan-based throughout the trail, so you can enjoy bathing in the hot-spring onsens after a day of walking– the perfect R+R to unwind and soothe your muscles! Should you decide that you would like to take a break from some walking, there are train stations dotted throughout the trail, so you can always also split your time between trains and walking. Daily luggage transfer is also an optional service, which I would certainly recommend, to make your walks as leisurely as possible!
Visit a Pearl Farm
Visiting a pearl farm in Ise-Shima National Park is a fantastic experience, where you can meet a local host family who farm pearls from oysters. In terms of pearl production, Japan is known as its historic centre. In Ago Bay, you can experience first-hand how oysters harvest pearls through marine pearl farming. Once you have learned about the process, and watched the local farmers caring for the oysters, you can have a go yourself at plucking a pearl from an oyster of your choice to keep!
Meeting Ago Bay’s local women divers is a unique experience, and one not to be missed during your stay at Amanemu. The traditions of the women divers dates back centuries, although numbers have decreased since the divers were first recorded. A large proportion of them are found in the Ishe-Shima National Park area, so this experience combines well with the pearl farming excursion. With the help of your translator, you can ask the ladies questions about their livelihoods. Some of the divers are aged up to 85, so it really is interesting discussing what they do. Your time with the divers is spent over a large seafood lunch that they will personally prepare and cook for you, using the freshest produce caught earlier in the morning.