If you are traveling to Japan for the first time, you may not yet have a clear idea of what to do during your stay, so we have listed our top 5 things to do in Japan so you can get an idea.
Depending on which sites you visit and for how long you may not be able to do all these things on your first trip, it will also depend on your personal tastes and preferences, but most likely you will be able to do at least one or two things from this list. We are sure that the experience will be unforgettable.
Enjoy an authentic Japanese festival (matsuri)
If you want to live the authentic Japanese experience the best thing is to go to a Japanese festival or matsuri. Japan is one of the countries with the most festivals in the world and the Japanese matsuri, with their tradition and colour, are particularly spectacular.
There are many different festivals and they usually consist of precessions, dances, and floats. As if that weren’t enough, they’re also good places to eat, as you’ll find plenty of shelves of all kinds of Japanese food nearby.
Private tour to a market
Visiting a Japanese market with a local expert is one of the best ways to immerse yourself in Japanese gastronomic culture.
Whether you want to visit Tokyo’s famous Tsukiji Market, Kyoto’s Nishiki Market, a depachika or even a neighborhood store, a private tour of a market is the best way to access Japanese cuisine. In addition, learning about the ingredients used and how they are used will help you know what to eat at the end of the visit.
Naoshima Art and Architecture
The island of art, Naoshima, is one of Japan’s most unique destinations. This small island in the Sea of Japan is home to a handful of impressive museums and galleries such as the Chichu Art Museum designed by architect Tadao Ando. You’ll also marvel at galleries
Stay in a ryokan with onsen
There may not be a more direct way to fully immerse yourself in Japanese culture than by staying in a ryokan (Japanese hostel) in a Japanese village. When you stay in an authentic ryokan, you get more than just a place to sleep.
You will experience authentic Japanese hospitality as soon as you arrive at the ryokan. Once inside, take off your shoes and follow the person in kimono who will take you to your room, where he will serve you traditional tea and show you how to wear the ryokan’s yukata. Most of the time you will spend in yukata during your stay at the ryokan.
Enjoying the natural environment is an essential part of a ryokan stay and most of our favorite ryokan have wonderful onsen (hot spring baths).
There are very few things better than diving into an outdoor onsen while admiring how snow falls on the water and melts around you. Another highlight of a luxury ryokan stay is the kaiseki dinner, which usually contains a variety of local specialties
Eating and drinking in an izakaya
An izakaya is a Japanese bar where people usually go to drink and eat, mainly drink, with friends or co-workers in a quiet environment.
Going to an izakaya is something every tourist should do in Japan and is also one of the best ways to immerse yourself in Japanese culture. Most izakaya establishments are quite small and narrow, with lively conversations and music.
Besides being the ideal place to eat a wide variety of Japanese dishes such as sashimi, fried foods such as yakitori, tofu or vegetables among many, dining and drinking in an izakaya is also a good way to interact with local people
Nara Omizutori Festival
The Omizutori Festival (お水取り) is the name commonly used to refer to Shunie, a series of events held every year from March 1-14 at Todaiji Temple in Nara. This collection of Buddhist rituals of repentance has been held annually for the past 1250 years, making it one of Japan’s oldest Buddhist celebrations. The Omizutori is held in the Nigatsudo Hall, a separate room of Todaiji Temple not far from the main hall on the hill slope. Nigatsudo literally means “second month hall,” referring to the second month of the lunar calendar, the date on which Omizutori has traditionally been celebrated. The second month of the lunar calendar approaches the month of March of the solar calendar.
Ahead of all the different events that are held during the Omizutori, the Otaimatsu is the most famous and spectacular of all. Every night from 1 to 14 March, just after sunset, giant torches that can reach six to eight metres in length are lit and placed on the balconies of the Nigatsudo hall above the crowd. It is said that the embers that fall from the balconies will bring a good year to the spectators who witness the Otaimatsu.
The size of the torches and the duration of the Otaimatsu varies from day to day. The maryoría of days, ten medium-sized torches are placed on the balconies one after the other as people gaze upon them from the courtyard behind the temple. The event lasts approximately twenty minutes.
On days 12 and 14 the procedure is somewhat different as shown in the table above. On day 14, the last day of the Omizutori, the event lasts only ten minutes but all the torches are lit at once creating a spectacular image.
During the 12th of March more torches are lit and these are longer than usual, and the ceremony lasts longer than usual. It is also the day when there are more people so the Marzoría of spectators can not be placed in front of the Nigatsudo hall, even so everyone can get to see the show as there are queues in which you can observe the torches between five and ten minutes.
During all the days of the event, the courtyard below the Nigatsudo hall is full of people before sunset and it is recommended to arrive early enough to have a good view of the balcony. When there are usually more people it is on weekends and good weather. The 12th is the most crowded day but that day is not necessary to take a good place or arrive early as visitors are rotating through the courtyard so that everyone can see the show.
On the night of March 12-13 between 1:30 am and 2:30am the priests repeatedly descend from the Nigatsudo hall by torchlight to the well at the base of the temple hall to fetch water. It is said that the well water is only filled once a year and has healing powers. This is the true Omizutori (“drawing water”) event. Yet the two-week event has been popularly called under this name.
After the water event, the Dattan ceremony takes place inside the Nigatsudo hall. During this ceremony horns and bells are rung and the priests swing burning torches inside the wooden building. The event usually ends around 3:30 am on March 13.