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The king of souvenirs in Japan is probably chopsticks. You can buy them everywhere, they’re cheap, don’t take up space in a suitcase, and are actually practical when you miss Japan and want to stuff yourself with sushi after returning home.

But there’s one problem: you’ll quickly realize they don’t remind you of the great times you had in Japan as you thought they would. 

That’s because a cheap (or even expensive) trinket bought in two minutes at a souvenir shop rarely holds the sentiment you’re looking for.

No, you need to attach some kind of emotional value to your souvenir.

It could be as simple as a train ticket you kept in your wallet for the entire trip. That ticket was annoying to always carry, but now when you look at it, you’re reminded of the good times. It’s covered in stamps and a bit battered from all your adventures, but that’s what gives it value.

Obviously, you don’t want to keep chopsticks in your wallet for the whole duration of your trip.

So what about making them yourself?

Chopstick on a table in Mogami Kogei workshop in Kuramae, Tokyo
Hand-made chopsticks at Mogami Kogei workshop

That’s what I did at Mogami Kogei, a traditional woodworking workshop in the heart of Tokyo. The experience is offered by Wabunka, and let me start by saying I absolutely loved it. I’ve been living in Japan since 2019 and working in the Japan travel industry for just as long. I’ve seen countless similar activities, but this one was by far the most authentic experience I’ve had the chance to take part in.

(Disclaimer: I’ve also worked with Wabunka as a freelance, so I know the company well).

Wabunka curates cultural and traditional experiences. All experiences are private, meaning it’s only going to be your group. They work with renowned Japanese venues, artists, teachers, and artisans. Since most of them don’t speak English, Wabunka assigns a licensed national guide for interpretation.

So when I got the chance to participate in one of their experiences, I jumped at it.

The Chopstick-Making Experience

You can book this experience online on Wabunka.

I actually made a short video about it, you can watch it here:

@yavajapan

I think i just found the ultimate souvenir to bring back from Japan😳 Mogami-san was such a kind soul, honestly the experience is as much talking and learning from him as it is about making chopsticks 😌 Mogami-san’s English is not bad but limited so we had an (amazing) guide with us translating and helping us discuss with the master ✌️ Honestly it was the best workshop I’ve done so far in Japan, really impressed👌 If you want to do it when you’re in Tokyo you need to book ahead inline, the website name is Wabunka #japantravel #tokyotravel #handwork #woodworking #chopsticks #japanthingstodo

♬ original sound – yavajapan

My group arrived at the location and met our guide, Saori-san. Kind and extremely knowledgeable, I knew I was in for a great time when she greeted us warmly and introduced the workshop and its owner, Mogami-san.

A humble man of small stature and a round face, he showed us around the small entrance of his workshop, which doubles as a storefront and exposition space for some of his creations.

Mogami-san uses a traditional Japanese woodworking technique called Edo Sashimono. As you can imagine with traditional techniques, they’re not doing so well, and Mogami-san is one of the last craftsmen to use it.

Basically, this technique doesn’t use nails to attach pieces of wood together. Instead, it uses a clever system of interlocking wood pieces to create objects. This intricate joinery method results in strong and beautifully crafted items.

Lamp made with edo sashimono technique at Mogami Kogei workshop in Kuramae, Tokyo
This lamp was made using Edo Sashimono technique

Chopsticks are just a single piece of wood, so they don’t use this technique, but Mogami-san was kind enough to show us some of his more complicated creations and current projects (a makeup and accessory box for a Kabuki actor).

Mogami-san and Saori-san led us upstairs to tour his workshop. It was just as I imagined: it smelled like wood, there were lots of tools I had never even seen, and it was a mess that would make Marie Kondo faint. A true craftsman’s workshop.

Before starting the chopstick-making experience, he offered us traditional outfits, which I happily accepted as I looked ten times cooler than usual in them.

Mogami Kogei workshop in Kuramae, Tokyo
We all got to wear a traditional workwear outfit

We then sat at the table where Mogami-san had prepared the materials for the experience.

The lesson began with Mogami-san’s clear instructions and the help of our amazing guide, Saori-san, who translated everything.

Honestly, I thought it would be a piece of cake. Oh boy, was I wrong.

I should have seen it coming though—I struggle with IKEA furniture way more than I should.

Chopstick making manual Mogami Kogei workshop in Kuramae, Tokyo
Visual explanations of the chopstick-making process

First, we had to choose our wood. We had the choice between cypress, oak, and several other types of wood. I went with oak.

Then Mogami-san showed us how to chip at the corners repeatedly to shape the chopsticks. We started at the top, then the bottom, and repeated the process to make them smaller and rounder.

Next came the sanding to make them completely smooth and to round the top and bottom of the chopsticks. Mogami-san kindly instructed that ‘they should look like Tokyo Dome’ referring to its iconic rounded dome.

And finally, the finishing touch: lackering. This transformed my chopsticks from a piece of raw wood to a masterpiece.

Mogami-san, owner of Mogami Kogei workshop in Kuramae, Tokyo
Mogami-san applying lacquer to his chopsticks

Clumsy as I am, I messed up at every step. Fortunately, Mogami-san was always able to fix all my mistakes. Even though my own skills were responsible for probably around 1% of the work while Mogami-san actually did the other 99%, I ended up with beautiful chopsticks I can be proud of.

Chopstick-making experience in Mogami Kogei workshop in Kuramae, Tokyo
Proudly did 1% of the job 🙂

And all the while, we got the chance to talk with Mogami-san and hear his stories – about how his grandfather worked in the same workshop, about his son who’s an apprentice in a different workshop in West Japan but who’s going to take over the Mogami Kogei workshop someday, about the state of his industry, and all the questions that came to our mind when we were not too focused on chipping at our chopsticks.

After the experience, we bid farewell and walked back to the closest station with Saori-san. She explained that Mogami-san was at first worried about providing the experience to non-Japanese speakers. He’s shy by nature and was concerned it would be hard to carry the experience with people from a different culture.

But he decided to give it a go, and Saori-san told us he now thoroughly enjoys it. 

Who is This Experience For?

Needless to say, I really enjoyed this experience.

Please not that if you’re already good with your hands though, you might find making chopsticks a bit easy. And if you already know how to make your own chopstick, and have the tools to make them back home, you probably won’t learn anything new here.

But I think anybody will enjoy spending time with Mogami-san, no matter what. He’s a master craftsman with 47 years of experience at the time of writing. I’ll let you imagine how much you can learn from him. And even though he’s shy and might not seem like a big talker, don’t hesitate to ask him a lot of questions. He’ll be more than happy to answer.

One last note: chopstick making experiences are very kid and teenager friendly, so it will be perfect for families looking to do something special while in Tokyo. And if your kids are into manual work, they’ll absolutely love it.

How to Book this Chopstick-Making Experience at Mogami Kogei Workshop?

This experience is offered by Wabunka. They work directly with artisans like Mogami-san, design the experiences, and provide a guide. You can book online on their website.

More Information

You can read my article about the best chopstick-making experience in Japan here.

As for things to do in Japan, you have two sides: the crazy streets of Tokyo, its skyscrapers, neon lights, and nightlife. Or the calmness of the countryside, Kyoto’s temples, the centuries-old craftsmanships, arts, and traditions.

I love both sides, and I recommend going for both. That said, after 7 years working in the Japanese travel industry and helping thousands of international visitors find activities for their trip, I noticed that traditional and cultural activities often leave a deeper mark, almost spiritual.

But beyond the classics like calligraphy, tea ceremony, wearing a kimono, and exploring Kyoto’s temples, most visitors don’t really know what to do. This is why I’ve listed below 68 different cultural things to do in Japan. I only included cultural activities that date back centuries and are part of Japan’s history. And I also researched and curated the best experiences related to each specific cultural thing to do. You will find the link (in the blue button) below each section.

Handicraft – 11 Traditional Manual Arts Unique to Japan

Kintsugi (Golden Joinery)

Kintsugi, or golden joinery, is the art of repairing broken pottery with lacquer dusted or mixed with powdered gold, silver, or platinum. This practice highlights the cracks and repairs as part of the object’s history, rather than something to disguise. By participating in a kintsugi workshop, expect to learn not only a unique art form but also a philosophy of embracing flaws and imperfections. It’s a perfect metaphor for life: sometimes, things have to break and be mended to become more beautiful.

Read also: Discovering the Best Kintsugi Workshops in Tokyo and Kyoto

Chopstick Making

Chopstick-making experience in Mogami Kogei workshop in Kuramae, Tokyo
Chopstick making experience at Mogami Kogei (link below)

Chopsticks are so integral to Japanese dining culture, that they even have their own etiquette. Chopstick making is a hands-on experience that teaches the art of crafting one of these fundamental tools. Participants learn about the different types of woods used, carving, sanding, and polishing techniques used in Japan. Expect to gain a newfound appreciation for this seemingly simple utensil, and maybe a bit of surprise at how challenging it can be to make two identical sticks (I sure did when I made my own chopsticks at Mogami Kogei workshop).

Read also: How to Make Your Own Chopsticks in Japan: The Best Workshops in Tokyo and Kyoto

Origami (Paper Folding)

Origami is the traditional Japanese art of paper folding, transforming a flat sheet of paper into a finished sculpture through folding and sculpting techniques. From simple cranes to intricate dragons, origami is both an art form and a symbolic practice with deep roots in Japanese culture. Participating in an origami workshop, you can expect to learn the delicate folds, the significance behind various models, and leave with your own handmade creations, possibly discovering a new level of patience you never knew you had.

Ukiyo-e (Woodblock Printing)

ukiyoe woodblock printing, Japan traditional and cultural thing to do
Image courtesy of Wabunka

Ukiyo-e, or “pictures of the floating world,” is a genre of Japanese art that flourished from the 17th through the 19th centuries, featuring woodblock prints and paintings of everything from Edo period daily life and landscapes to tales of history and the kabuki theater. These prints were the Instagram of their day, capturing fleeting moments of pleasure and beauty. Participating in an ukiyo-e workshop, you can expect to learn about the meticulous techniques involved in carving, inking, and pressing to create your own print. It’s a chance to create your own ‘vintage post’ without needing a filter.

Sumi-e (Japanese Ink Wash Painting)

Sumi-e, the Japanese ink wash painting, emphasizes the beauty of simplicity and the use of negative space to create compositions with minimal strokes. It’s a practice that requires concentration, control, and a Zen-like mindset to capture the spirit of nature in black ink. Sumi-e teaches that sometimes, less is indeed more—except when it comes to the amount of ink on your brush. Perfect for aspiring artists and those looking to add a touch of Zen to their home decor, or for anyone who’s ever thought their accidental ink splatters looked kind of artistic.

Kataezome (Stencil Dyeing)

Kataezome is a traditional Japanese method of stencil dyeing fabrics, often used for kimonos and textiles. It involves cutting designs into paper stencils and applying dye through them. This technique is a beautiful blend of precision and creativity, allowing for intricate patterns and designs. It’s like screen printing, but with a level of detail that makes every fabric a story in color.

Kamakura-bori Wood Carving

Kamakura-bori wood carving offers a slice into the world of traditional Japanese woodworking, where every chisel mark tells a story. Characterized by its deep, carved reliefs and lacquer finish, it’s a technique that turns wood into detailed, three-dimensional works of art. This craft is a test of precision, patience, and the ability to not get too frustrated when you accidentally carve in the wrong direction. It’s an experience suited for those who appreciate the beauty in details and have a steady hand, or at least a good sense of humor about their mistakes.

Japanese Pottery Workshop

pottery workshop, Japan traditional and cultural thing to do
Image courtesy of Wabunka

Japanese pottery is one of Japan’s oldest art forms, dating back to around 14,000 BC. Over centuries, it has evolved, reflecting various cultural influences and branching out in several different styles like Arita Ware, Kitani Ware, Kiyozumi Ware, and many others.

Participating in a Japanese pottery workshop allows for a hands-on experience in this ancient art, teaching techniques that have been passed down through generations—a lot of generations. It’s a muddy, messy, and utterly satisfying way to explore Japanese culture, with the added bonus of having something you can claim to have made yourself, imperfections and all.

Japanese Fan Making

Japanese fan making is the craft of creating beautiful, functional fans, which can range from simple paper designs to intricate silk and bamboo creations. In a fan-making workshop, expect to learn about the art and history behind these cooling devices, and leave with a personalized fan that’s as much a statement piece as it is a way to beat the heat.

Daruma Doll Painting

These funny-looking red dolls symbolize persistence and goal-setting in Japanese culture. Based on a Zen Buddhist legend, Daruma dolls encourage setting and achieving ambitious goals. Painting one eye when you set a goal and the other when it’s achieved turns this into a creative and meaningful activity. It’s a whimsical yet profound way to connect with a tradition that celebrates perseverance.

Daruma doll painting involves customizing your own Daruma, a traditional Japanese wishing doll. These dolls are symbols of perseverance and luck, with the custom of coloring in one eye when you make a wish and the other when it comes true. Participating in this activity, expect a creative outlet mixed with a touch of personal reflection—just try not to blink before you’ve finished painting both eyes.

Furoshiki (Cloth Wrapping)

Furoshiki refers to the traditional Japanese technique of cloth wrapping, used to transport clothes, gifts, or other goods. This environmentally friendly practice not only reduces waste but also turns the art of gift-giving into a visually stunning experience. Engaging in a furoshiki workshop, you can expect to learn various folding techniques to beautifully wrap almost anything. It’s a great way to ensure your lunch is dressed more stylishly than you are.

Craftsmanship – 13 Traditional Japanese Industries to Discover

Knife Making

knife making, Japan traditional and cultural thing to do
Image courtesy of Wabunka

Japanese knives are prized worldwide for their precision, durability, and craftsmanship. Knife-making workshops reveal the meticulous process behind these culinary tools, from forging the blade to sharpening it to a fine edge. It’s an experience that cuts right to the heart of Japanese culinary culture, showing that behind every great chef is an even greater blade, and behind every great blade is a great artisan.

Read also: How to Make Your Own Knife in Japan: Workshops Guide

Samurai Sword (Katana) Making

samurai sword making, Japan traditional and cultural thing to do
Image courtesy of Wabunka

Samurai sword (katana) making is a pilgrimage into the heart of Japanese martial culture. Katana were deadly weapons back in the days. Well, they still are, but today they’re especially considered a work of art. Watching a master smith forge a katana is like seeing a magician at work, except the magic is real, and it can cut through anything. You’ll leave with a deep respect for the craftsmanship involved and a slight worry about how excited you got watching metal being hammered.

Read also: How to Make a Samurai Sword: Process and Best Experiences in Japan

Japanese Lantern Making

Japanese lanterns, traditionally made of paper and bamboo, have a history dating back to the Nara period (710-794 AD). They were initially used in Buddhist temples and later became popular for their aesthetic and functional use in festivals and homes.

Japanese lantern making is a craft that combines function with beauty, creating lanterns that light up and decorate spaces. Participants learn about the materials and techniques used to make traditional paper lanterns. It’s an illuminating experience that sheds light on your artistic talents and might just brighten up your living space.

Japanese Roof Tile (Kawara)

Kawara Japanese roof tile, Japan traditional and cultural thing to do
Image courtesy of Wabunka

Kawara, the traditional Japanese roof tile, is notable for its durability and aesthetic appeal. Understanding the craft of Kawara making sheds light on a key element of Japanese architecture that protects and beautifies. It’s a lesson in how something as mundane as a roof tile can be elevated to an art form, proving that true protection is both strong and beautiful. You’d think this artisanship is too specific to experience. But yes, you can actually tour a kiln in Kyoto and meet its head artisan. And not any kiln, it’s the last one in Kyoto to make roof tiles by hand.

Japanese Silk Weaving

Japanese silk weaving is an intricate craft, producing textiles that are prized for their beauty and quality. Learning about this traditional art, expect to gain appreciation for the skill and patience required to produce each piece of fabric. It’s an experience that weaves together history, culture, and artistry, offering a thread of connection (pun intended) to Japan’s textile heritage.

Geta Making (Traditional Footwear)

Geta making is the craft of creating traditional Japanese wooden sandals, known for their elevated wooden bases and fabric thongs. In a geta-making workshop, you can expect to learn about the different styles and the intricate process of carving and assembling these iconic shoes. Just think, by the end, you’ll not only have a unique souvenir but also something to wear that’ll make you taller, with the added thrill of trying not to trip over your own feet.

Edo Glass

Edo glass crafting, or Edo Kiriko, is a traditional Japanese glassmaking technique that dates back to the Edo period. It’s also your chance to get hands-on with creating intricately cut glass that’s so pretty you’ll be afraid to use it. This traditional technique involves cutting patterns into colored glass, creating pieces that are as functional as they are artistic. Just when you thought your home was full, you’ll find yourself making room for that extra set of glasses nobody is allowed to touch.

Japanese Silverware

Diving into the world of Japanese silverware, you’ll discover that forks and spoons can be more than just eating utensils; they can be miniature sculptures that make every meal a cultural experience. Learning about the craftsmanship behind each piece, you might find yourself developing a new appreciation for your cutlery, possibly to the point of giving each piece a name and backstory.

Kimono Making

Kimono making is an intricate process that involves selecting the right fabric, cutting it to precise measurements, and sewing it together with an attention to detail that borders on the obsessive. Wearing a kimono is not just about adorning oneself in traditional Japanese attire; it’s about wrapping oneself in history, culture, and art. It’s a fashion statement that says, “I have the patience of a saint and the style of an emperor”—provided you remember how to put it on correctly.

Indigo Dyeing (Aizome)

Indigo dyeing, or Aizome, is a traditional Japanese technique of dyeing fabrics using indigo, known for its distinctive deep blue color. An indigo dyeing hands-on workshop teaches the process from leaf to fabric, highlighting the natural beauty and versatility of indigo. Expect to leave not just with a unique piece of clothing or fabric but possibly with blue hands, a telltale sign of a true artisan.

Denim Industry

Japan, especially regions like Okayama, is celebrated for producing some of the world’s finest denim, revered for its quality, craftsmanship, and attention to detail. Learning about how this industry got where it is today is fascinating, and there are actually a few jean-making activities where participants can design their own pair of jeans by customizing buttons, rivets, or the leather label. If you’re a fashion enthusiast and you like quality pieces with history meaning like me, you know that this is a must-do. Congrats, you just found your new favorite pair of jeans.

This activity above is in Okayama, the birthplace of denim, but you can also do it in Betty Smith’s Tokyo branch if that’s more convenient.

Washi Paper Making

washi paper making, Japan traditional and cultural thing to do
Image courtesy of Wabunka

Washi paper, known for its strength and durability, is made from the fibers of the gampi tree, mitsumata shrub, or mulberry. It’s a versatile Japanese paper that’s good for everything from writing to crafting to occasionally wrapping around yourself when you run out of parchment for your samurai cosplay. The process of making washi is a tradition that has been passed down through generations, involving soaking, pounding, and drying. A hands-on workshop teaches you the ancient techniques of papermaking, blending art with a splash of practicality. It’s perfect for crafters, artists, and anyone who gets excited when watching DIY videos on YouTube.

Wagasa Making (Japanese Umbrella)

Wagasa, the traditional Japanese umbrella, is known for its beauty and craftsmanship. Made from bamboo and washi paper (coated with oil to make it waterproof), wagasa are not just practical items but works of art. Learning the art of wagasa making is to appreciate the elegance of Japanese design and the skill of its artisans. And you don’t even need to wait for the rain to show it off, as wagasa are also used as protection from the sun.

Traditional Japanese Culture – 12 Best Things To Do

Japanese Calligraphy (Shodo)

Japanese Calligraphy class in Kyoto in historic samurai mansion
Calligraphy class in Kyoto. Image courtesy of Wabunka

Shodo, or Japanese calligraphy, is more than just writing; it’s an expressive art form where each stroke is charged with meaning and emotion. In a Shodo workshop, participants learn the balance, pressure, and rhythm required to create beautiful characters. It’s a practice of mindfulness and precision, where the biggest challenge might be accepting that your first attempts will likely look more like abstract art than elegant script.

Read also: All About Japanese Calligraphy and the Best Classes in Japan

Japanese Tea Ceremony (Sado)

kyoto tea ceremony, Japan traditional and cultural thing to do
Image courtesy of Wabunka

The Japanese tea ceremony, or Sado, is a choreographed ritual of preparing and serving Japanese green tea, matcha, alongside traditional sweets to balance its bitter taste. Participating in a tea ceremony is an exercise in mindfulness, respect, and aesthetics, offering a glimpse into a centuries-old tradition that celebrates the simple act of sharing a bowl of tea. Just try not to slurp your tea too loudly, or you might disturb the tranquility.

Ikebana (Flower Arranging)

ikebana art, Japan cultural thing to do idea
Image courtesy of Wabunka

Dating back to the 7th century, Ikebana is the Japanese art of flower arranging, focusing on harmony, balance, and simplicity. It’s a contemplative activity where participants learn to see beauty in the form, line, and color of plants and flowers. Engaging in Ikebana, expect to cultivate not just flowers, but patience, as you discover that sometimes the perfect arrangement is one that looks effortlessly thrown together, even though it took you an hour.

Japanese Incense Ceremony (Kodo)

Kodo, the “Way of Fragrance,” is the Japanese art of appreciating incense and is one of the three classical Japanese arts of refinement (along with ikebana for flower arrangement, and chado for tea ceremony). It involves using incense within a structured ceremony to sharpen senses, relax the mind, and find spiritual calm. The practice is a sensory journey, reminding participants to take a moment and smell the… well, incense. It’s a perfect activity for those who love deep relaxation but find meditation too quiet.

Kimono Wearing

Kimono wearing offers a chance to don traditional Japanese attire, learning about its history, symbolism, and the intricate process of putting on a kimono properly. Participants will experience the elegance and complexity of this garment, which is both a work of art and a cultural symbol. It’s an opportunity to take the phrase “dressed to impress” to a whole new level, as long as you remember not to take giant strides.

Geisha Culture

geisha performance, Japan traditional and cultural thing to do
Image courtesy of Wabunka

Geisha emerged in the 18th century in Japan. They were highly skilled entertainers known for their ability to engage in witty conversation, perform traditional Japanese arts like dance and music (specifically, instruments such as the shamisen), participate in tea ceremonies, and host gatherings in tea houses and traditional Japanese restaurants. What made them iconic in modern culture though, is their appearance in modern literature and films, with their stunning makeup and exquisite kimonos.

Today there are only a few thousand geisha and maiko (apprentice geisha) in activity, mainly in “hanamachi” (花街, flower town), districts where geisha live and work in Japan – the biggest and most famous one being Gion in Kyoto. A geisha experience can take several forms, including:

  • Private dinners and entertainment with real geisha
  • Cultural exhibitions and museums
  • Walking tours around hanamachi
  • Makeover experiences

Attending a geisha experience is like stepping back in time and might leave you mesmerized, or feeling slightly underdressed and under-talented. It’s a world where every detail matters, from the fold of a kimono to the tilt of a head, leaving you with a profound appreciation for the arts and possibly a slight envy of being born in Japan 200 years ago.

Oiran Experience (Traditional Courtesan Culture)

The Oiran experience offers a glimpse into the world of Japan’s Edo-period courtesans, known for their beauty, artistry, and mastery of cultural arts. Participating in this experience, expect to learn about the elaborate dress, traditional practices, and the historical context of these women who were once celebrities of their time. It’s a journey into a glamorous, yet complex, aspect of Japanese history, offering lessons in beauty, art, and the social dynamics of a bygone era.

Samurai Experience

The Samurai, a revered warrior class in feudal Japan, were known for their strict adherence to the Bushido code, which emphasized virtues such as honor, discipline, and loyalty. Originating in the 12th century, Samurai were not only skilled in martial arts but also in various cultural practices like tea ceremony and calligraphy.

Today, a Samurai experience immerses participants in the world of Japan’s ancient warriors, teaching about their history, code of ethics (Bushido), and martial arts. Expect to handle samurai swords (safely), learn about the armor, and maybe even practice some moves. It’s a chance to live out those samurai fantasies, minus the actual battles and with much more emphasis on posing for pictures.

Ninja Experience

Ninjas, or shinobi, were covert agents in feudal Japan, known for their skills in espionage, guerrilla warfare, and assassination. Emerging in the 15th century, they played crucial roles in military campaigns. Today, there is no more use for Ninja. But a Ninja experience offers a playful and educational dive into the mysterious world of Japan’s famed spies and assassins. Participants learn about the skills, tools, and techniques ninjas used for espionage and combat. Expect to throw shuriken (ninja stars) and maybe even learn how to move silently—though the only thing you’ll likely be sneaking up on is fun.

Ainu Cultural Experience (Indigenous People of Japan)

The Ainu cultural experience offers a unique insight into the customs, crafts, and way of life of Japan’s indigenous people. Engaging with Ainu culture, expect to learn about their rich heritage through traditional dance, music, and craft-making. It’s a rare opportunity to understand a deeply rooted yet often overlooked part of Japan’s history. Plus, you might get to meet some of the coolest bears in Japan—in Ainu folklore, that is.

Japanese Festival Participation (e.g., Gion Matsuri)

Participating in a Japanese festival, such as the Gion Matsuri, is an immersive experience filled with traditional music, dance, and spectacular floats. It’s an opportunity to witness Japan’s living history and communal spirit. Expect vibrant costumes, street food, and a palpable energy that brings together locals and travelers alike. And remember, it’s all fun and games until you try navigating through a sea of people while trying to eat a takoyaki without burning your tongue.

Yokai (Japanese Folklore) Exploration

Yokai exploration delves into the fascinating world of Japanese folklore, populated by a myriad of supernatural creatures. From mischievous tanuki to mysterious kappa, understanding yokai offers insight into Japan’s cultural psyche. It’s an experience that might not only enrich your knowledge but also keep you checking under your bed at night—just in case.

Meditation and Relaxation – 6 Ways To Experience Zen in Japan

Zen Meditation Session

zen meditation session in Kyoto temple, Japan traditional and cultural thing to do
Image courtesy of Wabunka

Introduced to Japan from China in the 12th century, zen meditation, or Zazen, focuses on finding inner peace and enlightenment through deep contemplation and mindfulness. Nowadays, you can participate in special meditation led by Zen monks, especially in temples in Kyoto.

A Zen meditation session offers a moment of calm and introspection in the often-hectic pace of modern life. Participants learn about the principles of Zen Buddhism and practice seated meditation (zazen), focusing on posture, breathing, and mindfulness. It’s a chance to quiet the mind and maybe even achieve a moment of enlightenment—or at least a break from your phone.

Shukubo (Temple Stay)

A Shukubo, or temple stay, is your all-access pass to living like a monk without the lifetime commitment. Originally accommodations for pilgrims, shukubo now welcome visitors from all over the world. But this experience offers more than just a place to sleep; it’s a deep dive into Buddhist practices, meditation, and vegetarian cuisine that’s so good, you might forget you’re missing meat. Expect early mornings, tranquil surroundings, and the kind of peace and quiet that makes you realize just how loud your thoughts are. It’s perfect for those seeking spiritual rejuvenation, or anyone who’s ever wondered if they could actually wake up for a 4 AM meditation bell without hitting snooze.

Temple Tour

A temple tour in Japan is like a real-life “choose your own adventure” book, except the choices are between serenity, enlightenment, and more serenity. Exploring these sacred sites offers not just a peaceful retreat but also a crash course in architectural beauty and spiritual history. Walking through these sacred spaces is a reminder that sometimes the most important journeys are the ones that take us inward. Just remember, the true path to enlightenment might also include figuring out how to wear your shoes again after you’ve taken them off at every stop.

Onsen (Hot Spring) Visit

Onsen, natural hot springs found throughout Japan, have been an integral part of Japanese culture for thousands of years. They’re a cultural institution, revered for their relaxing and restorative properties. There are a lot of onsen towns located in scenic areas, some of which you might have heard of: Hakone, Beppu, Kusatsu, or Noboribetsu. Wherever you choose to go, an onsen visit is a must for understanding the Japanese way of communal relaxation and respect for nature. And it’s amazing how bathing naked with strangers in natural hot springs can wash away all your troubles.

Bonsai Tree Class

bonsai tree, Japan traditional and cultural thing to do
Image courtesy of Wabunka

Bonsai, the art of cultivating miniature trees, originated from similar practices in ancient China, before being embraced in Japan over a thousand years ago. It’s deeply intertwined with Japanese Zen Buddhism, symbolizing harmony and balance.

A Bonsai tree cultivation class teaches the delicate art of growing and shaping these miniature trees. It’s a practice of patience, precision, and care, where participants learn about trimming, wiring, and watering. Expect to develop a tiny green thumb and possibly a new sense of zen, unless you’re stressing over every leaf.

Japanese Gardening

Japanese Gardening is an art form that combines elements of nature with philosophical concepts, creating serene and meticulously arranged landscapes. Engaging in this activity, expect to learn about the principles of harmony, respect for nature, and the importance of every stone and plant placement. It’s a chance to practice patience and maybe even achieve zen—if you can manage not to get too distracted by the occasional stubborn plant.

Arts and Performance – 10 Traditional Japanese Disciplines

Taiko Drumming

Taiko drumming is a powerful and dynamic form of traditional Japanese music involving large drums and choreographed movement. It’s an energetic performance that combines rhythm, physical strength, and teamwork. Experiencing taiko drumming, whether watching or participating, you can expect to feel the reverberations deep in your soul, energizing your body and mind. It’s not just music; it’s a physical workout that might just leave you more fit than a typical gym session.

Shamisen Playing

shamisen class, Japan traditional and cultural thing to do
Image courtesy of Wabunka

Diving into shamisen playing, you’re entering the world of the traditional three-stringed instrument that’s like the guitar’s cooler, older sibling who studied abroad. Learning to play the shamisen involves mastering the art of striking strings with a bachi (plectrum) to produce sounds ranging from deeply emotional to surprisingly funky. Prepare for a musical journey that might leave your fingers sore but your soul invigorated—just don’t expect to become a rockstar after mastering the shamisen, unless your audience is very, very traditional.

Koto Playing

Koto playing offers a foray into the elegant world of this long, zither-like instrument, capable of producing sounds that can soothe even the most frazzled of nerves. It’s like playing a piano, but horizontally, and with a touch of Zen. In a koto workshop, you’ll learn to pluck strings with precision and grace, discovering that the real challenge is making it sound as serene as it looks—yes, it’s supposed to sound like music, not a catfight.

Shakuhachi (Bamboo Flute) Playing

Shakuhachi playing involves mastering the traditional Japanese bamboo flute, known for its deep, resonant sound and connection to Zen meditation. Learning to play the shakuhachi, you can expect to delve into a practice that is as much about creating music as it is about finding inner peace. Just remember, achieving the perfect note is rewarding, but don’t be surprised if your first sounds scare away more than just your stress.

Noh Theater

noh theater, Japan traditional and cultural thing to do
Image courtesy of Wabunka

Noh Theater is one of the oldest forms of theater in Japan, combining drama, music, and dance into a subtle and profound performance. Watching or participating in Noh Theater, expect to experience a form of art that values minimalism and depth, where every gesture and expression carries weight. It’s a test of attention span and an opportunity to see if you can truly appreciate the art or if you’re just nodding along.

Kabuki Theater Show

Kabuki theater, dating back to the early 17th century, is a traditional Japanese form of drama known for its elaborate makeup, costumes, and stylized performance. Developed by Izumo no Okuni, an entertainer and shrine maiden, this art form became popular among the masses for its dynamic storytelling and unique blend of dance, music, and drama.

Watching a Kabuki theater show today is an explosion of color, drama, and traditional music, showcasing Japan’s rich theatrical tradition. Expect elaborate costumes, intricate makeup, and exaggerated expressions that tell stories of historical events, moral conflicts, and love. It’s a visual feast that might leave you with a sudden urge to express all your emotions in the most dramatic way possible.

Rakugo (Japanese Sit-Down Comedy) Show

Attending a Rakugo show, a form of Japanese sit-down comedy dating back to the 17th century, offers laughs and insight into Japanese humor. The performer (called Rakugoka) sits on stage, using only minimal props and a fan to tell a humorous story. It’s an experience that showcases the art of storytelling and the universal language of laughter. Just be prepared for the possibility that you might not get every joke, but the performance is enjoyable all the same.

Manzai (Traditional Stand-up Comedy)

Manzai is a style of traditional Japanese stand-up comedy featuring a duo, typically playing the roles of the straight man and the funny man. Experiencing manzai, expect fast-paced banter, wordplay, and cultural quips that provide insight into Japanese humor. It’s a great way to lighten the mood, and who knows, you might pick up a joke or two to impress (or confuse) your friends.

Nihon Buyo (Classical Japanese Dance)

Nihon Buyo is a form of classical Japanese dance that combines elements of Kabuki theatre, traditional music, and detailed costuming. Participating in Nihon Buyo, expect to learn about the delicate gestures and expressive movements that tell stories and convey emotions. It’s an opportunity to step into a world of grace and poise, and if you’re not careful, you might just find yourself trying to incorporate dramatic kabuki moves into your everyday life.

Haiku Writing

Haiku writing is the art of capturing a moment or emotion in a concise three-line poem, focusing on nature and the seasons. Engaging in haiku writing, expect to explore the beauty of brevity and the challenge of expressing big ideas in just a few words. It’s a poetic skill that might also improve your social media captions—because who wouldn’t want to sum up their day in 17 syllables?

Sports – 6 Traditional Japanese Sports You Can Experience

Sumo Wrestling

sumo morning training, Japan traditional and cultural thing to do
Image courtesy of Wabunka

Sumo, Japan’s national sport, has its origins in ancient Shinto rituals. It dates back over 1,500 years and was originally performed to entertain the Shinto deities. Sumo combines elements of sport, culture, and religious ritual, making it unique. Watching Sumo wrestling allows spectators to witness a sport deeply intertwined with Japanese history and tradition.

You have two ways of experiencing Sumo wrestling in Japan:

  • The first way is the simplest and is the one where you’ll feel the closest with this discipline. You can visit a Sumo stable in Tokyo to attend a Sumo morning practice. You’ll be able to watch Sumo train from up close, and maybe interact with them after the training is over.
  • The second way is to attend a Sumo tournament. Happening a few times a year in different cities across Japan, you’ll be able to see the top Sumo compete.

Kendo (Japanese Swordsmanship)

Kendo, meaning “The Way of The Sword,” is a traditional Japanese martial art that uses bamboo swords (shinai) and protective armor (bogu). It’s a disciplined practice focusing on technique, respect, and self-improvement. Stepping into the dojo for kendo, expect to learn not only how to wield a sword but also the importance of etiquette, posture, and mental focus. Fair warning: you might get a bit more acquainted with bamboo than you’d prefer.

Read also: What Is Kendo and Best Kendo Experiences: The Ultimate Guide

Traditional Japanese Archery (Kyudo)

Kyudo, which kanji (弓道) means “the way of the bow” in Japanese, has its origins in the samurai class and has been practiced for centuries in Japan. Also called traditional Japanese archery in the West, it’s more than just hitting a target; it’s a disciplined practice focusing on posture, technique, and spirituality. Engaging in kyudo, expect to learn the art of the bow, which is as much about the process and form as it is about accuracy. It’s a test of focus and patience, offering a moment of zen with every arrow released.

Yabusame (Horseback Archery)

Samurai on a horse in the snow shooting an arrow to show yabusame, horseback archery

Yabusame is the exhilarating practice of traditional Japanese horseback archery, where archers shoot at targets while galloping on horseback. It dates back to the early Kamakura period (1185-1333) and was originally practiced by samurai to improve their archery skills. It’s a spectacular display of skill, concentration, and tradition. Participating in or watching yabusame, expect an adrenaline rush and a unique insight into samurai martial arts. Just watching can be heart-pounding, never mind actually trying to hit a target while remembering to stay on the horse.

Read also: Yabusame: The Old Art of Japanese Mounted Archery And How to Experience It

Judo (Martial Art)

Judo, meaning “gentle way,” is a martial art that focuses on grappling and throws, emphasizing technique over brute strength. Participating in judo, expect to learn falls, holds, and the art of turning an opponent’s force against them. It’s also a great way to discover muscles you never knew existed, as you’ll likely be sore in places you didn’t know could be sore.

Karate (Martial Art)

Karate, literally meaning “empty hand” in Japanese, is a martial art focusing on striking, kicking, and defensive blocking with arms and legs. Training in karate, you can expect to learn discipline, strength, and control, developing both body and mind. It’s also an opportunity to wear a cool belt that shows your progress, and who knows, you might just break a board or two—hopefully not by accident.

Gastronomy – 9 Traditional Japanese Food and Drinks

Sake Tasting and Brewery Tour

sake brewery tour, Japan traditional and cultural thing to do
Image courtesy of Wabunka

Sake tasting and brewery tours offer an immersive experience into the world of Japanese rice wine. You’ll learn about the intricate process of sake brewing, from rice selection to fermentation, and taste different varieties to appreciate their subtle differences. Expect to leave with a buzz, not just from the sake, but from the rich history and craftsmanship behind Japan’s iconic beverage. And remember, you’re not here for the drinking; you’re here for the “culture”. Are you?

Sake Pairing

sake pairing, Japan traditional and cultural thing to do
Image courtesy of Wabunka

Sake pairing is the art of matching Japan’s legendary rice wine with dishes in a way that even food critics would approve. It’s a culinary journey through flavors where the main challenge is remembering the names of the sakes after the third pairing. Dive into the world of junmai, ginjo, and daiginjo, and discover that sake goes with more than just sushi—it also pairs well with bragging about your newfound pairing skills.

Kaiseki Cuisine (Traditional Multi-course Meal)

Kaiseki cuisine is a traditional Japanese multi-course meal known for its meticulous preparation, seasonal ingredients, and exquisite presentation. Experiencing kaiseki is like attending a symphony of flavors and textures, where each dish tells a story of nature and craftsmanship. It’s a culinary journey that might leave you pondering whether to eat the dishes or frame them as art.

Sushi Making

Although originally from China, sushi is now completely associated with Japanese cuisine. It’s been part of the Japanese food scene for centuries and with a huge popularity in the West, I’d say it’s here to stay for some time. Participating in a sushi-making class will teach you how to prepare perfect sushi and maybe you’ll finally discover how a slice of raw fish on sticky rice can be so damn good.

Wagashi (Japanese Sweets) Making

Japanese sweets wagashi making class, Japan traditional and cultural thing to do
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Wagashi making introduces the art of creating traditional Japanese sweets, often served during tea ceremonies. These delicacies, dating back to the Edo period (1603-1868), are crafted from natural ingredients to resemble seasonal motifs. Participants learn the meticulous techniques to shape and color these edible works of art. It’s a sweet experience that combines culinary skill with creativity, and you get to eat your mistakes—a delicious way to learn.

Soba Noodle Making

Soba noodle making is the art of crafting these delicate buckwheat noodles, a staple of Japanese cuisine. In a soba-making class, expect to get your hands dirty mixing, rolling, and cutting the dough to perfection. It’s a culinary skill that’s as satisfying to learn as it is to eat—just try not to eat all your creations before you can share them.

Mochi Making (Rice Cake)

Mochi making involves pounding sticky rice into a smooth paste and forming it into balls or other shapes, often filled with sweet bean paste. Participating in a mochi-making workshop, expect a workout for your arms and a treat for your taste buds. Plus, there’s the fun of seeing who can make the roundest, smoothest mochi before giving in to the temptation to just eat it.

Shojin Ryori

shojin ryori dinner, Japan traditional and cultural thing to do
Image courtesy of Wabunka

Shojin Ryori is the art of Buddhist vegetarian cooking, emphasizing simplicity and mindfulness in the preparation and consumption of food. This Buddhist cuisine focuses on balance and natural flavors, proving that spiritual practice can be achieved through tofu and seasonal vegetables. Eating Shojin Ryori is like a meditation, where each bite is a step closer to enlightenment, or at the very least, a healthier diet.

Tsukemono (Japanese Pickling)

Tsukemono refers to the wide variety of Japanese pickled vegetables, an essential part of the Japanese diet. In a tsukemono-making class, expect to learn the techniques to pickle your own vegetables, discovering the balance of flavors that can complement any meal. It’s a skill that promises your fridge will never be without a pop of color and taste—just be prepared for the moment when you realize you’ve started evaluating vegetables based on their pickling potential.

Calligraphy, also known as Shodo (書道), is the art of dancing your brush—not on canvas, but on rice paper. The end result is a beautiful form of writing that is valued by people across the globe. Calligraphy is a famous skill especially in Japan; children learn it in school and adults often adopt it as a hobby.

Because of its deep connection with the Japanese culture and tradition, Shodo is considered more than just writing in the country. It is a form of expression; a means for the Japanese to leave behind parts of their souls.

Keep reading to learn all about Japanese calligraphy, and how to do calligraphy in Kyoto and Tokyo during your next trip!

What is Japanese Calligraphy?

At its core, Shodo is the art of writing (by hand) to create letters/symbols with a brush and ink. In its traditional form, Japanese calligraphy involves writing Japanese characters (Kanji, Hiragana, and Katakana).

Central to Japanese calligraphy is the concept of “ichi-go ichi-e” (一期一会), meaning “one moment, one meeting”. This Zen philosophy emphasizes the importance of cherishing each moment. In Shodo, every brushstroke is unique and irreplaceable—personifying the very essence of ichi-go ichi-e.

Styles of Writing

  1. Kaisho (楷書): Also known as “block script”, this is the most basic styles in calligraphy. It features clear and balanced strokes, and is often used for formal documents and signage.
  2. Gyosho (行書): Another name for gyosho is “semi-cursive script”. It is more fluid and expressive than kaisho, and features flowing strokes. You can think of it as adding dynamism to kaisho.
  3. Sosho (草書): This is also called “cursive script”, and is the most artistic style of Japanese calligraphy. Its abbreviated strokes look like graceful lines; the aim here is capturing the essence of characters.

Other styles include reisho and kana. The former is a decorative style of calligraphy while the latter refers to Japanese syllabary characters.

japanese calligraphy kaisho,gyosho, and sosho styles
Photo credit: Seido Shop

Tools Used in Calligraphy in Japan

If you want to know how to do calligraphy, you will generally need:

  • Fude (Brush): This is the primary tool for calligraphy. Larger brushes are used for bold strokes, while smaller brushes are used for finer details.
  • Sumi (Ink): Sumi ink is made from charcoal mixed with glue and water. This results in a dense black pigment. Instant ink bottles are also available.
  • Bunchin (Stick): This metal stick helps weigh down the paper as you write.
  • Suzuri (Inkstone): Inkstone is used to grind the solid inkstick with water to create liquid ink. 
  • Hanshi (Paper): This is the traditional Japanese calligraphy paper. It is lightweight, absorbent, and slightly translucent.
  • Shitajiki (Mat): This soft mat provides a comfortable surface for writing.

History of Calligraphy in Japan

You’d be surprised to know that Japanese calligraphy has its roots in ancient China. Back in the day, calligraphy, known as Shufa in the region, flourished. It was introduced to Japan in the 6th century CE, along with Buddhism and other aspects of Chinese culture. Over the centuries, Japanese calligraphy developed its own distinct style. It blended the influences of Chinese culture with Japanese traditions to form a valued way of expression today.

Calligraphy has now found many uses in Japan. It is practiced as a form of meditation and helps foster concentration. Calligraphy is also a means of communication: it is used to convey messages of peace. In traditional Japanese arts, such as tea ceremony and flower arrangement, Shodo helps add elegance to the setup.

Best Japanese Calligraphy Classes in Japan 

Now that you know all about Japanese calligraphy, it’s time to consider a calligraphy experience for your next trip! There are plenty of offers on the market, but I selected the best calligraphy class and the cheapest, for both Kyoto and Tokyo, for a total of four calligraphy workshops in Japan. All of them are suitable for learning Japanese calligraphy for beginners.

If you have the budget or are really interested in Japanese calligraphy, I recommend going for the best courses. Your experience will be on a whole different level. The cheapest options are a great choice if you’re on a budget but still want to experience a Japanese calligraphy class.

Getsuren Waraku, Wabunka [Best in Kyoto]

Japanese Calligraphy class in Kyoto in historic samurai mansion
Japanese calligraphy master Getsuren during this experience. Photo credit: Wabunka

The best of calligraphy class in Kyoto can be experienced with Wabunka. They offer a private room for calligraphy and painting, with instructions from the master calligrapher Getsuren. You will dress in a training gi beforehand. During the process, you get to grind ink from inkstone, learn ink painting techniques, and try ink painting alongside calligraphy. Plus, you can take the end product with you.

Location: Waraku, a historical samurai mansion a few blocks south of Kyoto’s Nijo Castle

Price: ¥19,000/person ($126), minimum 2 persons, private event with interpreter/guide

Private Japanese Calligraphy Class in Kyoto [Cheapest in Kyoto]

A budget-friendly traveler’s pick can be this private Japanese calligraphy class in Kyoto. Here, you will learn correct brush movements to make kanji characters. With these characters, you can write your name—and take it back home as a keepsake. Calligraphy tools are included, as well as an original booklet.

Location: SAKURA Experience Japanese Culture Nijo Home, Kyoto

Price: ¥8,800/person ($59)

Kasetsu, Wabunka [Best in Tokyo]

Interior of a traditional Japanese house in Tokyo where Japanese calligraphy classes are hold
You will do this calligraphy experience in this beautiful setting. Photo credit: Wabunka

This calligraphy workshop in Tokyo offers private sessions under the master calligrapher Kasetsu. You get to select one of three key characters (wood, person, and hand) for your group to work with. For the tools, you will be given top-quality ink, inkstones, and brushes, including weasel fur and guinea fowl feathers. You’ll also get to review your work over tea—and receive feedback on your creation.

Location: Yanaka neighborhood, Tokyo, inside Idaten, a traditional ceramics shop

Price: ¥32,000/person ($212), minimum 2 persons, private event with interpreter/guide

Private Calligraphy Culture Experience in Tokyo [Cheapest in Tokyo]

If you’re hoping to save a dime, this calligraphy class guarantees one of the lowest prices on the market. You will write your own name in Japanese—or your favorite words in kanji. When done, you’ll take home a piece of colored paper or a Japanese fan called uchiwa.

Location: Bedgasm Bar&Cafe, Taito, Tokyo

Price: ¥3,000/person ($20)

Final Words

Shodo offers a window into the Japanese spirit. It teaches us the importance of mindful practice and connecting with tradition. Another takeaway is finding the beauty in simplicity. Japanese calligraphy is a reminder that art is not just about the final product, but about the journey of creating it.

Japan being an island, the country has close ties to the oceans and seas. And this connection is lived on through its fascinating aquariums (or 水族館, Suizokukan). If you’re planning a trip to Japan, be sure to visit some of Japan’s aquatic facilities to get up and close with its marine animals.

Below, I list the 9 best aquariums in Japan that you simply can’t miss!

Okinawa Churaumi Aquarium | View on Klook

Heralded as the best and biggest aquarium in Japan and even in the world, Churami easily tops our list of must-visit Japan aquariums. It opened in 1979, and has been visited by 3 million people every year! While the aquarium boasts 75 tanks across 4 floors, its main attraction is its massive Kuroshio Tank housing numerous whale sharks. The aquarium also features hands-on exhibits of starfish and seashells, the world’s largest living coral exhibit, feedings, and animal shows.

Hakkeijima Sea Paradise | View on Klook

A leisure land surrounded by nature, this aquatic amusement park-on-an-island celebrates all manner of sea life. From walruses and polar bears to whale sharks and dolphins, you’ll have plenty to admire. The sea paradise also has restaurants, exhibitions, events, and activities—perfect for a family day out.

Osaka Aquarium Kaiyukan | View on Klook

Osaka Aquarium Kaiyukan building

This aquarium is considered the second most spectacular in Japan after Okinawa’s Churaumi Aquarium, and is also one of the biggest aquariums in Japan – the official website even claims that “Osaka’s KAIYUKAN is the world’s largest aquarium”.

It houses over 470 species on eight different floors. All of these spiral a central tank, in which a whale shark swims. Here, you can explore diverse ecosystems, from the Ring of Fire to the icy Arctic, and marvel at penguins and jellyfish.

If you’re visiting Osaka with your family (and you should! Osaka is one of the best cities for traveling with kids), don’t miss the Tempozan Giant Ferris Wheel located just next to the aquarium to enjoy one of the best views of the city. Tickets for the Ferris wheel can be purchased on-site (900 yen).

Sumida Aquarium | View on Klook

Sumida Aquarium may not be the biggest in Tokyo, but it’s one of the best spots to watch fur seals and penguins live in their comfort.

The aquarium provides a humungous indoor tank for these animals, with over 350 tons of water in an open exhibit space. It is also home to 450 sea creatures of 50 different species—including stingrays and grey nurse sharks. Another one of its famous features is the aquarium’s interactive displays; looking through the Aqua Scope viewports stimulates a stunning underwater view.

Located on the 4th and 5th floor of Tokyo Skytree, it is easily accessible and can be combined with a visit to the tower’s 350m high observatory. Two penguins in one stone. Combo tickets can also be booked in advance on Klook.

Aquamarine Fukushima | View on TripAdvisor

If you’re seeking a memorable family weekend trip, Aquamarine Fukushima is where to head. After its reconstruction in 2011, it has welcomed visitors to its diverse display of marine life. The aquarium is home to over 800 species of marine creatures. It also provides fun experiences for the whole family, including fishing, feeding, and backyard tours.

You can purchase your tickets online but only on Asoview and JTB, but these two websites are in Japanese. You can also simply purchase your tickets on-site in person and avoid the headache of booking on a Japanese website. Admission costs 1,850 yen per adult and 900 yen for kids.

Enoshima Aquarium | View on Klook

Enoshima has been raising jellyfish for over 50 years, and it shows! The Enoshima Aquarium’s Jellyfish Fantasy Hall is like stepping into a living painting. Giant tanks are filled with glowing jellyfish—their mesmerizing movements swirling around you like underwater ballet. It’s relaxing and breathtaking at the same time. Additionally, the aquarium sits by the Sagami Bay, and places great focus on the local sea life nearby.

Tokyo Sea Life Park | View on TripAdvisor

This sea life park is hands-down the best aquarium in Tokyo—a landmark venue for all aquatic lovers. And it’s not just an aquarium; there are also other zoo animals visitors can befriend. The Oceanarium is home to a variety of fish, while the Tropical Forest features rainforest species (such as monkeys, gorillas, and frogs). Another exhibit is the Touch Pool, where you can touch some of the aquarium’s animals, such as starfish and sea urchins.

Tickets can be purchased on-site, and the admission cost is pretty low at 700 yen for adults, while kids under 12 can enter for free.

Port of Nagoya Public Aquarium | View on Klook

This destination is considered one the biggest aquariums in Japan (and it is the largest public aquarium), comprising two separate buildings. The North Building focuses on marine mammals like dolphins, orcas, and beluga whales, while the South Building houses the massive outdoor tank showcasing diverse marine life, a stunning coral reef exhibit, and a glimpse into the deep sea.

Kamogawa Sea World | View on Klook

Located in Chiba near Tokyo, this sprawling marine adventure park blends interactive experiences with educational exhibits. Here, visitors get to learn the importance of wildlife and environmental conservation through interaction with marine creatures. There are a variety of themed zones, including the Eco Aquarium, Tropical Island, and Rocky World. You will also get to see, feel, listen, and touch the marine animals.

As the aquarium is located between 2h30 to 3 hours by train from Tokyo, visiting it can be part of a 2-day trip in Chiba. I’d recommend spending the night in the park’s hotel Kamogawa Sea World Hotel as it boasts tatami rooms, sea views, and play spaces for kids. It makes for a relaxing getaway from Tokyo.

Final Words

Once you’ve chosen your preferred aquarium(s), be sure to purchase tickets ahead of time, and take your time to enjoy the exhibits (don’t rush!). With so many things to do and see in Japan, you might be tempted to pack your schedule as much as possible, but I find the best way to enjoy yourself is to relax, take your time, and go at your own pace. And even more so with aquariums!

Osaka is famous as a bustling metropolis with delicious food and plenty of opportunities for shopping. But what few realize, is that it’s also an excellent destination for travelers with kids.

Surrounded by mountainous landscapes and the sea, Osaka boasts a wealth of outdoor activities. Plus, it is home to aquariums, zoos, and the iconic Universal Studios Japan. 

If you’re ready to explore the unique charm of Osaka, keep reading for a quick but comprehensive Osaka with children travel guide. I’ll also list the best hotels to stay and restaurants to grab a bite at.

Top 7 Kid-Friendly Things to Do in Osaka

Universal Studios Japan 

An enormous theme park showcasing characters and movies loved worldwide, Universal Studio Japan is one of Osaka’s best family-friendly attractions. From the heart-pounding excitement of The Amazing Adventures of Spider-Man to the magical world of Super Nintendo World, this destination offers a little something for everyone.

Check tickets for USJ on Klook

Osaka Aquarium Kaiyukan

Osaka Aquarium Kaiyukan building

This is Osaka’s premier destination—and the largest aquarium in the world! Explore diverse exhibits showcasing over 30,000 creatures, from majestic whales sharks to playful penguins. With the aquarium’s interactive displays and touch pools, you can really make learning fun for your kids.

Check tickets for Kaiyukan on Klook

Kids Plaza Osaka

You can let your child’s imagination run wild at this interactive play zone and science museum. It’s packed with hands-on exhibits, creative workshops, and role-playing activities. Kids Plaza Osaka offers endless opportunities for your little ones.

Check tickets for Kids Plaza Osaka on Klook

Tempozan Ferris Wheel

Tempozan Ferris Wheel is an iconic sight in Osaka. It is conveniently located very close to the Kaiyukan Aquarium mentioned above, as well as the Legoland that we’ll see later in this list. You’ll see this 112-meters-tall Ferris wheel towering over the surrounding buildings—making it impossible to miss. If they’re not afraid of heights, your kids will love it.

Tickets are to be purchased on-site, but you can check what people are saying on TripAdvisor.

Tombori River Cruise

Dotonbori river in Osaka, view from dotonbori bridge during the day

If you go to Osaka, you cannot miss its iconic Dotonbori River. It goes right through… Dotonbori district, famous for its business area, huge shopping streets, and delicious food street shops. Kids love boat tours, and this one offers unique views of the vibrant district as well as iconic landmarks like the Glico Running Man sign. All that in around 20 minutes—perfect to take a break from all the walking and shopping frenzy. Note that the commentary of the guide is mainly in Japanese, with a little bit of English for the international tourists on board.

Tickets are to be purchased on-site, but you can check what people are saying on TripAdvisor

Nifrel

This attraction is a must-visit when traveling to Osaka with kids because of its versatility. It is part zoo, part aquarium, and part science museum! As such, you can journey through exhibits that blend digital art, science, and technology (a captivating and immersive experience is guaranteed). During your trip, expect to explore vibrant ecosystems and marvel at bioluminescent creatures. And, perhaps, even touch some friendly animals.

Check tickets for Nifrel on Klook

Legoland Discovery Center

What kid doesn’t like Lego? And I could ask the same question for adults. Legoland Discovery Center is an indoor playground where you can let your child’s inner builder go wild. Explore themed zones like Lego Friends Olivia’s House and Miniland (these showcase iconic Osaka landmarks built entirely from Lego bricks). There are fun rides like the Kingdom Quest and Merlin’s Apprentice, and you can participate in interactive workshops. You can also build unique creations to bring home.

Check tickets for Legoland Osaka on Klook

Where to Stay in Osaka With Kids: 4 Fantastic Hotels

When traveling to Osaka with children, there are plenty of fantastic hotels to book your stay in. I particularly recommend the following:

Hotel Universal Port Vita

This hostel is located within Universal Studios Japan—so you can conveniently head to the park as you wish. You’ll love its themed rooms, and the hotel also boasts family-friendly amenities. These include a pool and a playroom.

Check price and availability on booking.com

Namba Oriental Hotel 

This centrally located hotel offers close proximity to Dotonbori and other attractions. You can choose from comfortable and spacious family accommodations—and enjoy a delicious breakfast buffet. There’s also a kids’ playroom!

Check price and availability on booking.com

Granvia Osaka (JR West Group)

Granvia is a luxurious hotel near Osaka Station, providing easy access to nearby attractions. It offers family rooms with city views. There’s also an indoor pool for the family to swim and a spa for relaxation.

Check price and availability on booking.com

Hotel New Otani Osaka

This is a high-end hotel overlooking Osaka Castle Park. It offers spacious family rooms for your stay and a swimming pool. You can also walk through its stunning Japanese gardens.

Check price and availability on booking.com

Where to Eat: 4 Osaka Kid-Friendly Restaurants

No trip is complete without devouring delicious and diverse cuisines! When it comes to Osaka, here are a few bites to grab to make your trip all the more memorable:

  • Takoyaki Dotonbori Kukuru: Osaka is the hometown of takoyaki, these small octopus-stuffed balls. It’s a must-try for both parents and kids, and Kukuru is one of the most famous takoyaki shops in town. It’s located in Namba (city center) and you can’t miss the store sign with the giant octopus stretching its tentacles around it.
  • Zauo Fishing Restaurant: If your kids love seafood, don’t miss this one! Here, you can catch your own seafood and have it cooked to your liking. This makes for a fun and interactive experience for the whole family. Zauo is also located in Namba.
  • Eggs’n Things Umeda Chayamachi: This trendy cafe specializes in American breakfast classics. From colorful pancake toppings to cheesy omelets, they have plenty of options your kids will love.
  • Swissotel Nankai Osaka: This is a hotel, but it is also the host of six restaurants, bars, and cafes, and some of them offer a great view over the Osaka skyline. You can expect authentic Japanese cuisine and farm-to-table teppanyaki. There are also European specialties for kids to enjoy.

Ready to Take Your Kids to Osaka?

Visiting Japan with kids can be a bit of a headache. Will they be interested in Kyoto’s temples or even Tokyo’s bustling streets and nightlife? Culture and adult things are often boring for kids. On the other hand, Osaka is an underrated city but is a great choice when visiting with your children. With lots of kid-friendly activities, they’re in for some adventures they will remember.

If you’re visiting Japan and are a baseball fan, attending a game can be a cool addition to your trip. Baseball is the most popular sport in Japan, and Japanese people love it. The atmosphere in a Japanese stadium is something very unique, that I’d recommend trying at least once if you’re an avid supporter. Here’s your comprehensive guide on how to buy tickets to a baseball game in Japan.

Whichever cities you’ll be visiting, there are options to fit a game into your schedule. From purchasing tickets at the ballpark to navigating online sales, we’ll cover the essentials to help you plan your visit to a Japanese baseball game without the unnecessary drama.

Buying Tickets at the Ballpark

For many travelers, the simplest way to get baseball tickets is directly at the ballpark on the day of the game.

Most games are not sold out, with the exception of the season’s beginning and end for top-ranking teams.

This method is straightforward and adds an element of spontaneity to your trip. For example, for games starting at 6 PM, ticket windows typically open at 4 PM, allowing you to plan your day accordingly.

Buying Baseball Tickets Online

Buying tickets online is another convenient option. Visitors can successfully purchase tickets for teams directly from their official websites.

After buying, you’ll receive an email confirmation with a ticket code. This code can then be used to print your tickets at any 7-Eleven store in Japan, simplifying the process for foreign tourists who may face challenges with ticket purchases at the counter, or who simply want to plan ahead.

Here are the main Japanese baseball teams and their official websites where you can buy tickets:

TeamHome CityOfficial Website
Yomiuri GiantsBunkyo, TokyoYomiuri Giants Official Ticket Website (English)
Tokyo Yakult SwallowsShinjuku, TokyoYakult Swallows Official Ticket Website (English)
Hanshin TigersNishinomiya, Hyōgo (also plays in Osaka)Hanshin Tigers Official Ticket Website (Japanese)
Hiroshima Toyo CarpHiroshimaHiroshima Toyo Carp Official Ticket Website (English)
Yokohama DeNA BayStarsYokohamaYokohama DeNA Baystars Official Ticket Website (English)
Chunichi DragonsNagoyaChunichi Dragons Official Ticket Website (Japanese)
Chiba Lotte MarinesChibaChiba Lotte Marines Official Ticket Website (Japanese)
Orix BuffaloesOsaka (also plays in Hyogo)Orix Buffaloes Official Ticket Website (Japanese)
Fukuoka SoftBank HawksFukuokaFukuoka SoftBank Hawks Official Ticket Website (English)
Hokkaido Nippon-Ham FightersKitahiroshima, HokkaidoHokkaido Nippon-Ham Fighters Official Ticket Website (Japanese)
Tohoku Rakuten Golden EaglesSendaiTohoku Rakuten Golden Eagles Official Ticket Website (English)
Saitama Seibu LionsTokorozawa, SaitamaSaitama Seibu Lions Official Ticket Website (Japanese)

The Experience at Various Japanese Stadiums

Each stadium offers a unique vibe and experience. I cannot talk about them all from experience, but here are the main ones in Tokyo and how easy or hard it is to secure tickets:

Tokyo Dome

Tokyo Dome is a huge stadium of 55,000 seats. The stadium is covered, making it a great choice under any weather condition. It is part of a larger complex called Tokyo Dome City, which has attractions, hotels, onsen, and a lot of other activities to enjoy.

LaQua spa and Tokyo Dome City entertainment complex in Bunkyo-ku, Tokyo, Japan at night
Tokyo Dome City Complex. Photo by 663highland / CC BY-SA 3.0 / Own work.

Contrary to some beliefs, Tokyo Dome tickets are relatively easy to secure online, and games rarely sell out. This makes it an accessible option for those looking to catch a game of the Yomiuri Giants, one of Japan’s most popular teams.

Yokohama Stadium

Yokohama Baseball Stadium
Photo: 横浜1978, derivative work by Torsodog / CC BY-SA 4.0 / Image cropped from the original.

Known for its vibrant atmosphere, Yokohama can be a bit more challenging due to regular sell-outs. Planning ahead is key when aiming to experience a game here.

Meiji Jingu Stadium

Aerial view of Meiji Jingu Stadium in Tokyo, Japan, showcasing the stadium's structure and surrounding greenery
Photo by Arne Müseler / arne-mueseler.com / CC BY-SA 3.0 DE / Own work.

The Swallows games, play in Meiji Jingu Stadium and are praised for their atmosphere. Tickets can also be bought online.

Tips for a Hassle-Free Experience

  • Consider Using a Service: For those looking to avoid any ticket-buying hassle, services like Japanballtickets offer a convenient albeit pricier alternative. They handle the purchase and can deliver tickets directly to your hotel, ensuring you don’t miss out on games that are likely to sell out.
  • The Vibe: Baseball games in Japan are known for their enthusiastic crowds, unique cheering styles, and an overall atmosphere that differs significantly from U.S. games. It’s an immersive experience that goes beyond the sport itself.
  • Plan Ahead for Popular Matches: If you’re aiming to see a match between high-demand teams like the Hanshin Tigers and the Yomiuri Giants, planning ahead is crucial. These games are highly sought after and embody the fierce rivalry and spirited fandom of Japanese baseball.

Final Words

Whether you decide to buy tickets online or at the ballpark, attending a baseball game in Japan is an unforgettable experience that offers a unique glimpse into the country’s culture and communal spirit. Each stadium has its charm, and with a little planning, you can easily find yourself immersed in the thrilling world of Japanese baseball. Don’t miss the chance to join the locals in cheering, singing, and experiencing the game in a way that only Japan can offer!

Japan has a word for ruins: haikyo. And some of the creepiest haikyo of the country are its abandoned amusement parks. Places where people used to gather to have fun are now sitting idle, slowly becoming overrun by nature. 

Each of these abandoned theme parks is weirdly unique. From the secret tunnels used by the staff to the control rooms for the merry-go-round, they let you see everything behind the veil. In this blog post, I share Japan’s top abandoned theme parks and how you can visit them. (Actually—is it even allowed to visit them? Keep reading to find out!)

If you think Nara Dreamland is going to be on our list of abandoned theme parks in Japan—it’s not. Unfortunately, this clone of Disneyland (even the maps are similar!) was demolished in 2016.

Western Village

Western Village abandoned theme park, Tochigi, Japan
Western Village, Tochigi, by Jordy Meow, CC BY 3.0 DEED

Step back into the Wild West at this former park, located 2.5 hours from Tokyo. The park was built in 1975 as a place where people could enjoy cowboy-like activities. It features a Western saloon, jail, ghost house, shooting gallery, post office, actual fake Rio Grande, and vast Mexican barrens. 

However, the cowboy-themed park closed down in 2007 for supposed maintenance works—and never reopened after that. It is believed that its remote location could be the reason for shutting down. The perimeter fence of Western village has gaps, and the park often attracts urbex enthusiasts.

Niigata Russian Village

Niigata Russian Village abandoned theme park, Japan
Niigata Russian Village, Niigata, by ccfarmer, CC BY 3.0 DEED

The most elaborate theme park, Niigata Russian Village, was opened in 1993 with the hope of fostering cultural exchange between Japan and Russia. Located near Niigata City, this was once a bizarre and ambitious theme park. However, it got shut down 6 months after it was renovated in 2002. 

Today, it makes for one heck of a place to explore. A large cathedral, a golf course, and a taxidermised woolly mammoth are a few of its intriguing features. But the hotel was recently set on fire, and no one knows how or why. Explorers back in the day also claim it was abandoned in a rush. Talk about spooky…

Kejonuma Leisure Land

Kejonuma Leisure Land abandoned theme park, Japan
Kejonuma Leisure Land, Tohoku, by ToshiJapon, CC BY-SA 4.0 DEED

Located in the grassy fields of Tohoku is Kejonuma Leisure Land. Once a hub of amusement for families, the park’s rusty remains are now overtaken by nature. It was opened in 1979, and later shut down in 2000. However, the owner technically didn’t abandon it—he’s reportedly looking for a buyer. 

Even today, everything is still intact with little vandalism. A Ferris wheel, go-kart track, golf course, train track, and teacup rides, can be seen rusting. There’s also an interesting myth (or is it reality?) about the park: it is built next to a pond where a woman committed suicide. I cannot think of a better location for an abandoned amusement park in Japan.

Arima Wanda Garden

Nestled in the Hyogo Prefecture is the Arima Wanda Garden: an amusement park for dogs. Sounds a little off, eh? I was also left with more questions than answers, too… Did the dogs go to the park for entertainment? Were you meant to bring them to the park? The entire situation is just a little disturbing, and ultimately led to the park closing down in 2008.

Features of the park included tracks for dog races, splash pools, dog-sized houses, and dog-shaped train rides. There was also a cinema (for dogs, really?!) and a restaurant serving both human and canine treats. Dog-less folks could even rent a dog and take it for a walk.

The canine amusement park now stands quiet and still…

Legality and Safety Risks of Visiting Abandoned Theme Parks in Japan

In Japan, trespassing on private property—even if abandoned—is illegal. Such violations can result in penalties, such as fines, community service, or even imprisonment. So is it legal to visit these abandoned theme parks in Japan? You understood already, but unfortunately, it is not.

Some abandoned amusement parks may also have security measures in place to prevent trespassing. For example, surveillance cameras, fences, and on-site security personnel.

It is also important to consider safety risks before visiting. These include uneven floors, broken structures, and potential wildlife encounters. And maybe… the animatronic figures that inhabit the space? Not that they’re sentient or anything—but hey, we can’t be too sure.

The Samurai sword—or katana—was once a symbol of prowess in feudal Japan. With their strong yet flexible curved steel blades, the swords were used by the Japanese Samurai. Even today, samurai sword-making uses the same labor-intensive way as centuries ago (not talking about the replicas made at a fraction of the cost!)

Keep reading as I share all about Samurai swords, their history, how they’re made—and the top sword-making experiences in Japan!

You might also like: 67 Unique Cultural and Traditional Things To Do in Japan

The History of Samurai Swords

Japanese swords, the iconic symbols of samurai culture, trace their origins back to the early Heian period, around 700 CE.

Initially, these blades were straight and influenced by Chinese and Korean designs. The transition to the classic curved katana occurred during the late Heian period, reflecting advancements in metallurgy and changing warfare tactics.

By the Kamakura period (1185-1333), the katana had evolved with a distinct curve, a sharper edge, and a longer blade, better suited for the samurai’s need for a quick and efficient draw in battle.

Japanese samurai with sword in hands in a street in old Japan

This evolution mirrored the rise of the samurai class, as these swords became the samurai’s version of a smartphone – always at their side. And well, also a symbol of their social status and warrior ethos.

Throughout the feudal era, especially during peaceful times, sword-making developed into a refined art form, with famous swordsmiths achieving legendary status. The katana remained a vital part of the samurai’s identity until the end of the Edo period in 1868, embodying both martial prowess and aesthetic beauty.

After the Edo period ended in 1868, the samurai class and their swords faced a bit of an identity crisis. The Meiji Restoration, with its rush towards modernization, meant that carrying swords became about as fashionable as wearing armor to a business meeting. By 1876, the Haitōrei Edict had samurai hanging up their katanas for good, relegating these weapons to ceremonial roles or, sadly, the attic.

How to Make a Samurai Sword

Samurai sword-making involves craftsmanship and attention to detail. And while the process may be labor-intensive, the end result is an artistic masterpiece!

1. Smelting

Swordsmiths and their assistants begin by using a clay furnace (tatara) to layer iron sand and pine charcoal for three days. During the process, temperature is controlled to allow high-carbon and low-carbon steel to separate. This step results in 2 tons of steel (kera)—divided into soft hocho-tetsu and hard tamahagane. The former is a flexible core, while the latter is used to make the sword’s razor-sharp edges.

The materials for the process are now ready to be transformed into a Samurai sword.

2. Forging and Folding

The swordsmith folds and hammers the steel up to 16 times (creating up to 30,000 layers!). Doing so spreads the carbon throughout the steel and draws out any impurities. It also lets you combine different kinds of steel—achieving a soft but flexible and sharp but brittle material. You may be surprised to know that after you forge katana, only one-tenth of the original mass is left.

Different folding methods, such as kobuse, honsanmai, and soshu kitae, are used to achieve varying blade characteristics. As an added bonus, folded steel looks super cool—and the patterns on the steel are unique to each sword. 

The sword prepared at this point is pretty much straight. This is because katana aren’t bent into their shape; they get their curve from heat treatment.

Samurai sword-making process

3. Heat Treatment

Next, you cool the sword by plunging it in water or oil. However, it’s not as simple as dipping it into the liquid. You have to cool different parts of the sword at different rates, called “differential heat treatment”. For the purpose, the swordsmith paints a clay mixture on the sword (covering the main blade but leaving the edge). He then quenches the sword in water at about 800ºC. This is a critical point, as one in three swords can be ruined at this point. Proper heat treatment results in the iconic katana curve—and the distinctive line along the sword, called the ‘hamon’.

4. Polishing

The final step, polishing, is done by a specialist using seven different stones—and taking over up to a month for a single blade. The cost for museum pieces can be significant, up to $1,000 per inch of blade. Fittings, such as the scabbard and handle, are also typically made by a different craftsman. However, these are not considered as important in Japanese culture; in the museum, you’ll usually just see the blade displayed.

The State of Katana-Making Nowadays

Today, the art of Japanese sword-making is far from extinct. It’s like the vinyl record of weaponry: classic, revered, and in the midst of a cultural comeback. These swords are no longer tools of war but rather works of art, meticulously crafted by master swordsmiths, known as ‘tosho’, who spend decades honing their skills. In today’s Japan, there are around 300 of them, but only a few can live from swordsmithing only.

The path to becoming a master swordsmith is long and arduous, often exceeding a decade of rigorous training. This ensures that every aspect of the sword-making process is executed with skills and precision.

Today, katanas are made for martial artists and enthusiasts who value the craftsmanship and historical significance behind each blade, with prices ranging in the tens of thousands of US dollars.

Best Sword-Making Experiences in Japan Today

When traveling to Japan, it’s possible to meet, observe, and learn from master swordsmiths. Prices can be high, but with such a deep history and only a few hundred active swordsmiths, we can understand why. So is it worth it? If you’re interested in this craft, I’d say yes, absolutely.

Below, I listed the best place to experience sword-making in Tokyo, and the best one in Kyoto:

Forge NameLocationPriceUnique FeaturesBooking Link
Katanakaji FusahiroHonjo-Waseda, Saitama (near Tokyo)¥72,000 / person– Watch a demonstration by Fusahiro, one of Japan’s last katana makers
– Hands-on experience with making a Samurai sword
– Wind up with a photo session with a katana made by Fusahiro
– 3-hour duration
– 50 minutes from center Tokyo
View on Wabunka
Masahiro TantojoKameoka City, Kyoto¥54,000 / person– Learn from a certified Japanese swordsmith
– Make your own knife (not a sword-making experience)
– Private group (only your group) for an intimate experience
– An English/Japanese interpreter will accompany you
– 4-hour duration
– 60 minutes from center Kyoto
View on Wabunka

The best part of this kind of experiences is to be able to converse and learn from some of the only Japanese master swordsmiths still in activity, carrying on their shoulders the weight of hundreds of years of skill honing and history. This is a unique chance to meet those masters for those interested in sword-making.

If the price is too high for you but you’re looking for a similar experience, you can check my guide on the best workshops to make your own knife in Japan. This type of experience is usually more affordable, and although you won’t learn about swords, you will still forge your own knife under the instructions of a master swordsmith.

If you admire Japanese history and culture—or would like to learn more about it—Kendo is an experience you should try! Whether you have prior experience with martial arts or are looking to try it out, this will be a memorable experience. Read on as we share all about Kendo, including what it is and where you can experience it in Tokyo and Kyoto on your next trip to Japan.

What is Kendo?

Kendo, or the “way of the sword”, is the martial art of swordsmanship—and has been famous in Japanese culture for centuries. It teaches different techniques and styles using bamboo swords and protective armor. However, Kendo is not just about a physical technique; it places focus on mental and spiritual aspects, too.

Kendo has ties to the Samurai who served the lords of Japan for centuries, making it a discipline with a great sense of tradition. While it doesn’t have strong religious ties, it still teaches concepts such as respect and discipline.

Kendo usually takes place in a ‘dojo’ (a training hall where martial arts are practiced). The practitioners, called ‘Kendoka’, follow a strict code of etiquette—including bowing, wearing traditional Kendogi and hakama (uniform), and showing respect to instructors as well as fellow practitioners.

This practice uses a dan and kyu system to rank practitioners. Dan ranks indicate a Kendoka’s skill—and represent black belt levels. Kyu ranks, on the other hand, are lower-level ranks. These are usually achieved before a black belt.

What Equipment is Used for Kendo?

Kendoka use specific equipment for this practice, including:

  • Shinai A bamboo sword constructed from four bamboo slats. It is used for striking.
  • Bogu — Protective armor worn by Kendoka. It includes headgear for the face and neck (men), gauntlets for the hands (kote), and a chest protector for the torso (do). A groin protector (tare) is also often used.
  • Keikogi — A traditional jacket made from cotton
  • Hakama — A pleated garment resembling a skirt
  • Tenugui — A cloth for wiping sweat during the practice
  • Men Himo and Do Himo — Straps to secure the protective gear
  • Kendo Bag — A bag designed to carry Kendo equipment.

History of Kendo

Kendo has its roots in the Samurai traditions of Japan—where swordsmanship was highly valued. The Samurai were the warrior class in feudal Japan who initiated this practice even before the 17th century. Over the years, it evolved from a martial art into a modern sport as well as discipline. It especially gained popularity in the 20th century, when Kendo organizations were established even outside of Japan. Today, it is practiced throughout the world—but to have a true taste of the experience, Japan is where to head!

two kendo practitioners fighting in a gymnasium

Did You Know?

Before we talk about where to get the best Kendo experience, here are a few fun facts about the practice:

  • The Kendo uniform isn’t just practical; it reflects the Samurai class who initiated this practice.
  • In Kendo competitions, you are awarded points in a unique way: based on striking the opponent’s body on specific target areas. This helps perfect precision and control.
  • The modern sword for Kendo, called shinai, is made from bamboo and is designed to minimize the risk of injuries.
  • Kendo has no age limits; even children can practice it. In fact, it is famous in schools across Japan as a physical practice.

Best Kendo Experiences in Japan

Ready to try Kendo for yourself? It makes for a great activity to add to your next Japan itinerary, especially to have a true feel of the Japanese culture. Below, we round up the best Kendo experiences in Tokyo and Kyoto.

LocationPriceUnique FeaturesBooking Link
Uguisudani Station, Tokyo¥18,000 per adultFriendly guide teaches about Kendo, its history, and popularity
Basic skills and etiquette taught, including wearing the armor and using the sword
– Duration: 2 hours
Book on Klook
Taito, Tokyo¥18,000 per adult– An English-speaking, experienced instructor
– All equipment and armor included
– Skills tested at tournament-style combat game
– Complimentary drinks and a souvenir
– Kendo towel provided
– Duration: 2 hours
Book on TripAdvisor
Sakyo Ward, Kyoto¥19,000 per adult– A lecture on Kendo by the instructor
– Kendo equipment included
– Skills tested during a Kendo match with the team
– Certificate of Experience awarded 
Book on Viator

Final Thoughts

Immersing in Kendo in Japan is one of the best things you can do on your trip to the country. Not only does it give you good physical exercise, but it also teaches you more about the history and culture of Japan. After you’ve enjoyed your Kendo experience in Tokyo or Kyoto—you’ll have the urge to learn more and perfect the skill once you’re back home. And, who knows… you may find your next favorite hobby!

Ok, we have a crazy attraction here. The Samurai Restaurant in Shinjuku (not to be confused with the Samurai Rock Restaurant located in Akihabara) serves up flashy martial arts theatrics along with your meal—giving you a once-in-a-lifetime experience. For similar reasons, it is becoming one of Tokyo’s hottest attractions.

But what if we told you it’s not a new attraction? In fact, it has been around for many years, just with a different name. Read on to learn what we mean—plus where to find cheap Samurai Restaurant tickets! (Spoiler: It’s not their official website).

What is the Samurai Restaurant?

Don’t be fooled by the name: the Samurai Restaurant in Shinjuku is not actually a restaurant. It’s a 2-hour experience where you enjoy the thrill of a flashy martial arts and acrobatics show. And if you’re hungry, you can have a simple meal to go along with it.

Where is the Samurai Restaurant Located?

The Samurai Restaurant is situated in the red-light district of Kabukicho, in Shinjuku. The show itself is suitable for people over 13 years of age (except there are a few cheeky curse words). But because it is part of an adult entertainment establishment called GiraGiraGirls—it is ranked as an 18+ affair. 

Entrance of Samurai Restaurant show in Kabukicho, Shinjuku, Tokyo
The entrance of the Samurai Restaurant is hard to miss and still shows “GiraGiraGirls” (summer 2023)

What to Expect at the Samurai Restaurant Tokyo

At the Samurai Restaurant, you can expect a lively—hear “crazy”—experience giving you adrenaline rushes throughout! Quirky costumes, choreographed fight scenes, skilled dancers, and entertaining dialogue just begin to explain the 2-hour-long experience. It’s quite similar to what was earlier famous as the Robot Restaurant, except with lesser… robots.

The sensory experience, with LED lights, energetic dances, live singing, and swordplay, is sometimes called over-the-top. But I’d call it so the good way; the energy during the show will have you feeling the youngest you’ve been!

Performers on the scene of Samurai Restaurant show in Kabukicho, Shinjuku, Tokyo
Costume selection is on another level:)

The show is split into three ‘stories’, with two breaks of 15 minutes in between. While you can have a bathroom break during this time (I actually recommend you to have a bathroom break, as the throne room is as flashy as the rest of the establishment and with reflecting golden walls so that you can, well… look at yourself while doing your business), be sure to rush back and enjoy the lively interval demonstrations, too.

During the show, you will be seated on stools and booths in front of the stage. You’ll be encouraged to stay on your spot during the performance—if you’re immersed in the experience, you wouldn’t wanna move anyway.

What are the Show Timings?

The timings are 1 p.m. to 5:30 p.m. throughout the week, except Thursday and Sunday when it is closed. You get to sit back and enjoy some entertainment until the real theatrics start at 2:30 p.m. The show ends a little before 5, but you can stick around to enjoy a drink or check out souvenirs.

Food and Drinks at the Samurai Restaurant

You’re not coming here for a Michelin-starred meal, but of course, you’ll still get something to munch on during the show. Your ticket originally includes either a bento meal or a set of two drinks. The bento has options to choose from: steak, sushi, appetizer, ramen, or udon noodles.

And to my surprise, the food was actually decent. Portions might be a bit small, but it’s the middle of the afternoon anyway so I doubt you’ll be really hungry.

Ramen food at Samurai Restaurant show in Kabukicho, Shinjuku, Tokyo
Surprisingly, these ramen were pretty good

The drinks include a range of alcohol (yes, you can also call this place the Samurai Bar) as well as soft drinks. Honestly, if you like drinking I’d recommend going for it. This show is pretty crazy, the flashes and loud music make it a great place to get tipsy. Plus you’ll be out in Kabukicho in Shinjuku by around 5 p.m. Sounds to me like the perfect occasion to head to a nearby bar and keep the night going until early morning.

You can also choose to pay separately for snacks from their English-language menu. Tortilla chips and ramen are crowd favorites. And if you’re vegetarian—they have popcorn and mochi on their menu.

However, note that you’d need to book your ticket at least one day earlier to choose a bento. If you book late, you can choose from one of: ramen, udon, or a pair of drinks.

How to Find Cheap Tickets for the Samurai Restaurant

Looking for a Samurai Restaurant Tokyo reservation? You may consider booking tickets on their official website and paying at the door—but hold up! You can find cheaper tickets when using a booking platform. So, skip the official website’s 10,000 JPY price tag and head to Rakuten Travel Experiences for robot restaurant Tokyo discount tickets priced at 8,900 JPY. That’s 11% OFF, and that’s definitely welcome.

Prices are sometimes discounted on their official website, too. However, the website is a little confusing to use—well, especially for English-speaking people. So, Rakuten Travel Experiences not only saves money, but also makes the booking process simpler.

For now, Samurai Restaurant works exclusively with Rakuten Travel Experiences to distribute tickets, so online tickets are not available anywhere else!

But… What Happened to the Robot Restaurant in Shinjuku?

Ok, here comes the story time. You might have heard about Tokyo’s “Robot Restaurant”. It also went by the unofficial names Robot Cafe, Robot Bar, Robot Show, you name it. This was one of the most popular attractions in Tokyo and even Japan. But the clientele was almost exclusively international tourists.

So it won’t surprise you that soon after COVID-19 started and Japan closed its border to foreign visitors, the establishment closed down indefinitely.

Well, indefinitely until the managing company (the same people managing GiraGiraGirls) decided to re-launch the show in June 2023, keeping the name Robot Restaurant, but using a scene on a different floor of the same building where Robot Restaurant was. New show, new performers, a few new machines, but the same vibe.

And here is the funny part. After some successful pre-shows with the press and business partners, on the day of the opening to the public… one of the central mechanical pieces of the scene broke down.

And Robot Restaurant had to once again close its doors for repair. But they actually used this time to change the show again and re-brand it as “Samurai Restaurant”, which they reopened in October 2023.

Things To Do Around After The Samurai Restaurant

After a crazy ride at the Samurai Restaurant, you’ll probably be left hanging for some party time. The good news is, you’re in the perfect area for this. It is filled with bars, izakaya, attractions, and other naughty establishments (we’re in Kabukicho after all, the red-light district of Tokyo).

Beyond the naughty connotations of Kabukicho, there are plenty of great nearby places to visit to after the Samurai Restaurant. You can check out the newly built Kabukicho Tower, enjoy a drink at the famous Golden Gai district, or try your luck at a Pachinko parlor to stay in the flashy and noisy theme. And if you’re a shopaholic, Don Quijote is where to head. So, once you’re done with your show at the Samurai Restaurant Tokyo… you know where to head next! (And next, and next.)

Final Thoughts

I went two times to Samurai Restaurant: the first time before COVID-19 when it was still a Robot Restaurant, and a second time after its reopening in 2023. And I have to say, I had a blast each time. This might not be the most family-friendly place – although kids and teenagers would probably enjoy all the craziness – and anyway it’s at the moment strictly for over 18s due to the GiraGiraGirls bar, but it’s a must-visit for those who want to taste a bit of this WTF Tokyo vibe you’ve heard so much about.