These days, travel is all about the experience - life-changing, memorable, educational, humorous, or just plain enjoyable. Open a window into Japan during your trip, by getting hands-on in a cultural class, workshop, or experience, guaranteed to send you home with a suitcase full of memories.
Japanese Cookery Class
What could possibly be better than going to Japan and experiencing all your favourite Japanese dishes in their spiritual homeland? Learning to make them yourself so that you can recreate them once you go home, that’s what! Many cooking schools all over Japan, from commercial nationwide studios to one-man (or woman) gigs using the kitchen in their own homes, offer expert tuition on how to cook everything from the perfect hand-rolled sushi to delightful pastel-coloured “wagashi” (traditional Japanese sweets).
Nationwide chain ABC Cooking Studio offer cooking classes taught in English at several of their Tokyo studios, for everything from decorative sushi rolls to snow rabbit sweets and fancy multi-course meals.
Buddha Bellies is a popular cooking school whose classes regularly sell out far in advance. A lesson at Tokyo Cooking Class in Asakusa combines well with a look around the area, one of Tokyo’s most traditional neighbourhoods. Tsukiji Cooking, just a stone’s throw from Tokyo’s famous fish market, makes a point of giving participants recipe cards to take home, in case they are feeling forgetful.At the other end of the spectrum are solo Japanese teachers who host Japanese home cooking classes in their own homes, such as those by Yurico, Mayuko, Mari and Yuka Mazda.
Tsukiji Fish Market - Tuna Auction
Wannabe observers of the famous wholesale market’s famed tuna auction will need to be early risers - you’ll need to submit an application in person to the market’s Fish Information Center from 5am on the day. Admission is on a first-come, first-served basis and applications are closed as soon as the maximum number of participants, which is 60 people, is reached.If you don’t make it out of bed in time for the tuna auction, don’t despair. There is still plenty to be seen on a wander around the stalls at the Jogai-shijo (Outer Market), followed by a late morning brunch of fresh sushi or sashimi at one of its restaurants.
Launched in 2012, in just a few short years Tokyo’s Robot Restaurant has achieved world-wide fame (some might even say, notoriety). Giant robots, scantily-clad performers, mirrors and flashing lights - this is an evening cabaret show that is truly the only one of its kind in the world. If you are keen to see for yourself what all the fuss is about, tickets can be purchased through the restaurant’s own website: Robot Restaurant.
Unlike its western incarnation, the most popular style of karaoke in Japan takes place in a private room with seats and its own sound system, referred to as a karaoke box. Some of the major players on the karaoke scene includes Big Echo, Shidax, Karaoke-kan, Karaoke-no Tetsujin, and Utahiroba, but little dives can be found down almost every side or backstreet in Japan - just listen out for the dulcet tones of Japanese punters belting out their favourite tunes after the sun goes down.
Purikura (Sticker Photo Booths)
“Purikura” (short for “print club”) is a popular activity for young women and couples. Enter a souped up version of a passport photo booth which takes digital photos of you in front of various backgrounds, then decorate the photos with stamps, sparkles and emoji before they are printed as a sheet of tiny stickers for you to plaster all over your pencil case or school bag (or briefcase if you are a bit older).
Purikura booths can be found in a dedicated floor or corner inside almost any “gesen” (game center) in areas where teenagers and young people are likely to hang out, such as Harajuku, Shibuya and Ikebukuro, and cost around 400 Yen per time.
Kabuki, Noh and Bunraku
Japan is a treasure-trove of traditional performing arts.
You can purchase tickets or obtain details of the theatre schedule at theatre box offices. Reservations must be made in advance for popular performances. Tickets can be purchased at the "Play guide" ticket sales desks located in large department stores or shopping malls in the main cities.
We recommend that you also check at your hotel, as they may have a ticket sales desk or be able to reserve tickets for you. For more advice on the purchase of tickets or more detailed information, please access the English website of individual theatres or consult with a TIC (Tourist Information Centre).
Maid and Butler CafesFans of anime and manga as well as otaku or otome culture will surely not want to miss the chance to visit one of these cafes, where staff dressed in maid or butler costume wait hand and foot on their exalted customers. Maid cafes can mostly be found in otaku paradise Akihabara, while butler cafes tend to be congregated in Ikebukuro’s Otome Road area.
Wearing a Kimono
While the vast majority of people in Japan now wear western clothing except for on special occasion, seeing people in kimono walking on the streets was a normal sight until as recently as the 1920s-1930s. Experience wearing Japan’s traditional dress for yourself at one of these kimono studios in Tokyo or Kyoto, which offer bookings and services in English.
In Tokyo, try Asakusa Kimono or Nihonbashi Omotenashi. In Kyoto, rent a kimono for a day at Yume Yakata or Yume Kyoto - for an extra, you can often add a photography session, either in the studio or escorted round Kyoto’s shrines and temples by a professional photographer to immortalize your day in kimono.
Calligraphy - the art of writing Japanese and Chinese characters with a brush and ink - was once a common way of writing in Japan. Nowadays, few people still write with brushes and ink on a daily basis, but calligraphy’s artistic qualities are still highly appreciated and it a popular hobby for Japanese people of all ages, from school children to retirees.Visitors can try their hand at calligraphy at many places in Japan, from visitor centres, to museums, temples and even professional calligraphy schools. Many Buddhist temple lodgings (known as shukubo - see below) offer calligraphy sessions copying out Buddhist sutras as part of their stay plans.
Animal CafesThe original craze started with cat cafes, but has slowly expanded to incorporate everything from rabbits, hedgehogs, owls, goats, penguins, and even less conventionally “cuddly” critters such as snakes and crocodiles. While the vast majority of such animal cafes are located in Tokyo, they can also be found in other cities such as Osaka, Kobe, and Sendai. Note that most such cafes either have a cover charge or require customers to place at least one drink order.