Japan is dotted with temples and shrines, awash with tales of the shoguns, samurai and ninja that shaped its past; to this day, geisha can be spotted gliding gracefully from boarding houses to appointments. But the nation is also modern, fast paced and neon lit, a place where fads disappear as suddenly as they arrive, each one quirkier than the last.
Visit temples and shrines
Kyoto was the imperial capital for more than a millennium, and continues to be the cultural heart of the country. Unscathed during the war, it remains a treasure trove of temples, shrines and gardens, from the Kinkaku-ji temple gleaming brightly with gold, to the revered Kiyomizu Temple teetering on a hillside atop towering stilts and the Shinto shrine of Fushimi-Inari whose 5,000-plus vermillion torii gates lead up a sacred mountain trail. Cultural holidays in Japan yield many temples and shrines, and some of our favourite places are the sacred island of Miyajima and the Itsukushima shrine with its floating torii gate. Or, for a more spiritual experience, you can stay in a monastery on Mount Koya.
Meet geisha and learn about samurai
While many young Japanese ladies like to dress up in kimono when they visit historic sites, true geisha are instantly recognisable. Elegant and mysterious, geisha used to be seen all over the country but today you need to head to Kyoto. We can arrange a walking tour of Gion for you to learn about the discipline required in becoming a maiko (apprentice geisha). Enjoy an evening with a maiko, where she will play music, dance, tell stories and play games.
Samurai may not exist in modern Japan, but their influence lives on in traditional houses, castles and gardens. Some of the most intact samurai residences can be found in the Nagamachi district of Kanazawa and the pretty town of Matsue, where samurai houses are dotted between canals and lakes.
Witness sumo and try Japanese sports
Quintessentially Japanese and with over 1,500 years of history, sumo is an unforgettable travel experience. Most of the year, we can arrange for you to visit a sumo stable in Tokyo to watch the wrestlers do their morning training, and there are sumo tournaments approximately every two months for which we can secure you tickets. There are also a number of other Japanese sports you can watch or take part in, from trying karate in a dojo to taking up a samurai sword.
Delve into traditional arts and culture
Take part in some of the traditions that make Japan unique. Don’t just learn about the etiquette that surrounds the tea ceremony, but take part in preparing the foamy matcha tea yourself. To do this in true Japanese style, we can provide an instructor to teach you the art of dressing in kimono. If you have an interest in art, then we can provide someone to teach the other and history of calligraphy, origami, Ikebana flower arranging and so much more.