One of the best ways to know a country by heart is to explore their culture and experience it firsthand. Japan is home to a rich and well-preserved culture, and is a country that is in fact proud to showcase this to the entire world. Despite being widely known for being leaps and bounds ahead of its time when it comes to electronics and transportation systems, one of the main reason Japan receives a huge amount of tourists per year is because of how they are able to preserve their culture in the face of these technological advancements.
Even in very urbanized Tokyo, there are several traditional experiences not to be missed. Here are 9 Japanese traditions you must experience when in Tokyo!
1. Tsukiji Fish Market
Tsujiki Fish Market is the largest wholesale market for fish, fruits, and vegetables not just in central Tokyo, but also in the entire world. Each day, they handle over 2, 000 tons of marine products.
What’s interesting about this place is that before the sun rises, you can catch the live auction of their tunas. This is perfect for those who might have arrived a little early in city or to the early birds who like to hustle before the sun comes up. Registrations for the tuna auctions start at 4:30 am at the fish information center inside the Kachidoki Gate off Harumi Street. Only a maximum number of 120 visitors can watch the auction, so be sure to be there as early as you can (Some people even line up as early as 3:00 am)!
Of course your Tsukiji adventure won’t be complete without trying out their sushi. Since this is a fish market, it’s guaranteed that you would only have the freshest sushi breakfast to ever grace your tastebuds. You will be met by a lot of sushi stalls, so you have to really make your way in to find the best sushi places. Some of the widely recognized stores are Sushi Dai, Daiwa-Zushi, and Sushizanmai. Prices in these places would range from 300 up to 800 yen (2.70 - 7.20 USD) - so yes, even with all the great food the Tsukiji Fish Market has to offer, you can be sure you won’t burn a hole in your wallet.
Tsukiji Fish Market
Address: Tsukiji is located at 5-2-1 Tsukiji, Chuo, Tokyo 104-0045, Japan
Website: Tsukiji Fish Market
2. Shinjuku Crossing/Hachiko Shrine
The Shibuya Crossing is one of the busiest crossings in the world. In fact, when the lights turn red, all the other stop lights turn red at the same time to give way to the people crossing the street. This is a perfect chance to take a snap, but be sure you’re not causing any commotion on the street! You don’t want to get in people’s way.
Other than the busy and picturesque Shibuya crossing, there’s also the famous Hachiko Statue. Hachiko is Japan’s most famous dog because of his loyalty to his owner, Professor Hidesaburo Ueno. But what’s new, right? Every dog is loyal to its owner, that’s why they’re “man’s best friend”. So why did Hachiko become famous?
Articles and news say that every afternoon, Hachiko would come to Shibuya Station to meet his master, Professor Ueno. Unfortunately, Professor Ueno suffered from cerebral haemorrhage while away and died in 1932. Being a loyal dog, Hachiko came to Shibuya Station every afternoon for 9 years to wait for his master up until the day Hachiko himself died.
Hachiko’s first bronze statue was actually installed inside the Shibuya Station in April 1934, but was later destroyed until they built the replacement in August 1948 which was created by the son of the original artist, Takeshi Ando.
You may find the Hachiko Statue at Shibuya Station. Another two were built in Hachiko’s hometown, one outside the Odate Station and the second one in front of the Akita Dog Museum.
Shibuya Crossing/Hachiko Shrine
Address: Shibuya, Tokyo, Japan
3. Wadaiko Drumming in Shibuya
Wadaiko, which translates to Japanese Drum in English, is definitely a place for those who’d always dream of learning how to play drums. Yup, you heard it right: Taiko-Lab offers Wadaiko lessons that are a combination of music, exercise, and performing arts. Not only do you get to learn how to play the instrument, you also shed off some calories and express yourself creatively.
You won’t also have to worry about understanding the instructions given by the Wadaiko master as he speaks fluent English. They also customize the lesson according to your pace. Base price per class of 60 minutes is 5,000 yen (45.15 USD).
If you don’t feel like playing the instrument itself, you may opt to be a spectator and watch the students play it instead for free. All you need to do is sign up for it.
Wadaiko Drumming in Shibuya
Address: 3-1-30 Jingumae Concept Aoyama B1
4. Tea Ceremony at The Koomon
This one is for tea enthusiasts. The Koomon is a place where you can learn the art of making and drinking tea as they offer a variety of one-day Japanese cultural experiences courses. Located in the major business district, Nihombashi,Chuo-ku, Tokyo, The Koomon’s objective is to present its customers a salon where they can relax and enjoy a free spirit, based from a traditional Japanese philosophy.
The name Koomon refers to “a house without a fence and a gate where you can feel the breeze go through.” This belief is inspired by the Zen philosophy.
The shop opens at 10:00 am and closes at 6:00 pm. They around 6, 500 yen (~58 USD) or more depending on the program chosen or the number of people present. It’s also important to know that they are close on Sundays, Holidays, New Year and Year-end holidays and Summer (mid-August).
Tea Ceremony at The Koomon
Address: 103-0027 Buyo Building, 2F 3-8-16 Nihombashi
Website: The Koomon
5. Geisha Entertainment
Another part of Japanese culture that intrigues people is the life of a Geisha. Geishas are highly skilled entertainers who perform in a variety of art forms like dancing, singing, shamisen (playing a three-stringed Japanese guitar), flute, and acting. You can usually catch them at high-end dinners, private events or parties. Apart from being known as entertainers, Geisha are also recognized as masters of hospitality. For one to be considered a Geisha, she has to undergo an intense training program of at least five years before she could be allowed to host guests.
One of the popular places to experience Geisha entertainment is at Gion Corner, a theater where you may find a budget-friendly entertainment that includes seven Japanese traditional performing arts (tea ceremony, flower arrangement, Koto (Japanese Harp) playing, Gagaku (court dance), Kyogen (comic play), Maiko dance and Bunraku (puppet play).
At the end of the show, a Maiko (a Geisha apprentice) will perform a traditional Japanese dance. What’s great about this is that you will only have to shell out 3,150 yen (28.44 USD) for this unique cultural experience lasting around two hours. This experience is especially recommended for people who are looking for an authentic Japanese experience and for those looking for top-tier entertainment. Other places to catch them are the Ochaya-asobi, a traditional banquet house, or you can try to make a reservation at their website.
Address: Tokyo, Japan
Website: Geisha Entertainment
Another thing that Japan is popular for? Sumo wrestlers.
Sumo wrestling is the traditional Japanese national sport that has been depicted in the Record of Ancient Matters (Japan’s oldest historical record) and Nihon-shoki (the oldest chronicles of Japan). Magical Trip provide tours that allow visitors to watch sumo wrestlers’ morning training in Sumo Town, Ryogoku. You will get to experience and learn about a sumo wrestler’s daily life, how big they really are, and even take photos and have a conversation with them! Afterwards, a local guide will take you to the “World of Sumo” where you’ll learn more about the questions you’ve been dying to know such as what do sumo wrestlers eat, what are the rules of a sumo match and more.
Tokyo sumo morning practice tour in Ryogoku
Duration: 2 hours
Price: 75 USD
7. Katana Restaurant in Akihabara
Akihabara is most famous for its wide array of electronic shops and buildings filled with anime collectibles and manga, but aside from this, there are a lot of restaurants you may actually want to check out. One of these is the Katana Restaurant.
As you might have guessed, Katana Restaurant showcases different works of Katana (sword) which have all been certified by The Society for Preservation of Japanese Art Swords. So for anyone who’s a big fan of the Japanese art of sword-fighting (and the long-held Japanese tradition of making good food), this restaurant is surely a treat for you.
To protect the swords, they are kept in a strong glass wherein the temperature and humidity are regulated. This gives a cooler atmosphere in the restaurant. Worry not though because Katana Restaurant provides blankets to keep you warm.
One of their specialties is the famous Okonomiyaki which is grilled just the way you like it. Average cost for Katana Restaurant would be pegged at around 3,500 Yen (31.33 USD).
Katana Restaurant in Akihabara
Address: Marunouchi building 6F, 2-4-1, Marunouchi, Chiyoda-ku, Tokyo
8. Japanese food-making class with Mari
Mari Nameshida, who is also famously known as Mari, will teach you different Japanese cuisines!
Unlike other cooking lessons, Mari teaches cooking in her own home, giving her students a more cozy environment to practice their Japanese food-making skills. Apart from that, Mari also speaks fluent English and Chinese, so don’t worry about language barriers in the class.
Mari’s classes cost around 7,500 Yen (67.13 USD) per course. There are also many courses choose from, so if you want to focus on one specific type of Japanese food, Mari has got you covered.
These courses include: Japanese Homemade Dish, Japanese Vegetarian Dishes, Japanese Sweets, Intensive Course, Therapeutic Japanese Foods, Regular Cooking course for residents, and Japanese Bread.
Seats to her classes are given on a reservation basis, which you may check out at their website listed below.
Japanese food-making class with Mari
Address: 2-13-5, Shintomi, Chuo-ku, Tokyo Japan
A plethora of food havens line Tokyo. But for an authentic Japanese culinary experience, nothing beats indulging into healthy and fresh sushi and other local delicacies. Bring family or friends as you traverse into central Tokyo’s Akasaka district to experience four main mouth-watering Japanese dishes and one scrumptious dessert. This exciting night food tour first takes you into a restaurant featuring a rustic, Edo-style interior. Here you’ll get to try a variety of sushi in classic bento boxes. Next, indulge into some of the best comfort fried food or kushiage: a diverse selection of deep-fried meats, vegetables, and fish. Finally, satisfy your sweet tooth with a mix of dessert offerings.
Sushi tasting culinary tour
Duration: 3 hours
Price: 110 USD
Immerse yourself in authentic Japanese culture in Tokyo
Japan has won the world over for being one of the rare countries that can strike the perfect balance between preserving their centuries-old culture and being at the forefront of technological innovation.
And while it’s very tempting to just walk around and take snapshots of everything and anything you see, it’s a whole lot more fulfilling to be immersed in the new culture you are experiencing. For this, you can bet that the capital of Japan has so much to offer.
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