Translated by Hilary Keyes
5 Places To Find True Japanese Culture & Great Memories!
Written by MATCHA
If you would like to go beyond the tourist attractions and get a real feel for Japanese culture, we'd like to introduce to you 5 spots all across Japan where you can learn things such as zazen meditation or how to make Japanese sweets, and even some diffe
Going around sightseeing, taking pictures, trying out different foods, buying souvenirs... These are the most popular ways to enjoy a vacation. But, if you could add gaining a deeper understanding and appreciation of that country's culture, your visit to that place would be even more enjoyable, wouldn't it?
With that in mind, let's take a look at five different representative places across Japan where you can really experience Japanese culture.
1. Saitama: Making Kusaka Senbei - Become a Senbei Craftsman!
Image Source: "Make Rice Crackers at Yamako Senbei’s “Sōka Senbei Garden” in Saitama!"
A Japan-specific treat, "senbei" are baked or grilled flattened rice crackers. Found in Saitama prefecture's Sōka city, "Sōka Senbei Garden" is a senbei theme park.
At this facility you can stroll through relaxing Japanese-style gardens while buying various flavors of senbei at different shops and cafes. The main draw of the Sōka Senbei Garden though, is that it isn't a factory tour - rather, it is a workshop where you can make your own senbei. While making your own senbei you can borrow a happi coat (a light jacket) for free. Reservations are not required and the cost to make your own senbei is a very reasonable 324 yen, making this an opportunity that anyone can try. Doesn't senbei grilled by yourself sound delicious?
2. Kyoto: Kanshundō's Sweets - A Delight for the Eyes And Tongue!
Image Source: "Make Sweets That Delight The Eyes And Tongue At Kyoto's Kanshundō"
Kyoto is the oldest traditionally minded city in Japan, making efforts to protect the unique elements of Japanese culture. Within a city full of famous things, the delicious and delicately beautiful Japanese traditional sweets (和菓子, wa-gashi) are also quite well-known. At "Kanshundō", one of Kyoto's oldest standing Japanese-style sweet stores, not only seasonal Japanese confectionery but also the "Japanese Sweets Workshop" (participation fee: 2160 yen) are available.
With a textbook on Japanese sweets available in English, Korean, Chinese and of course in Japanese, there is no need to worry about any of the preparation steps.
Kanshundō has confectionery studios in Higashiyama/Kiyomizudera and Arashiyama/Sagano, and is organizing four workshops every day. It is fairly easy to arrange taking a lesson in sweet-making among sightseeing plans.
3. Kanazawa: Hand & Foot Spas - Experience Hot Springs
Image Source: "Footbath and Handbath at Wakura Onsen"
One great way to enjoy Japan is at an onsen (温泉), or hot spring. A downside to this though, is that, for many travellers from abroad, undressing and bathing in front of strangers is very uncomfortable or prohibited by religion. For those individuals, a great way to still get the hot spring experience is by trying a hand or foot bath. Just as their names imply, these hot springs are either for hands or feet - so there is no need to get undressed at all.
With numerous hand and foot baths, Wakura Onsen in Ishikawa prefecture is a place that anyone can enjoy for free. In the hot spring district, in the area known as "Yuttari Park" there is a spot called "Tsumakoibune no Yu", which is highly recommended. Imagine yourself sitting under a wooden porch with your feet soaking in hot water, while you gaze out at the ocean right in front of you - doesn't that sound relaxing? If you would like something simpler, why not check out Bentenzaki Gensen Park? Here, if you bring your own eggs, in about 15 minutes you can make your own onsen tamago (slow-boiled eggs). While exploring and sightseeing, this is a great area to stop by.
Read also: "Footbath and Handbath at Wakura Onsen"
4. Kyoto: A Time for Silent Reflection - Zazen at Ryōsokuin
【RAINY JUNE】"Experience Zen Meditation at Ryōsokuin Temple in Kyoto"
Well-known for its maiko and geisha, Kyoto's Gion district is home to Kenninji Ryōsokuin Temple (建仁寺両足院), where for 1000 yen you can participate in a Zazen meditation session. "Zazen" in this case refers to the Buddhist ascetic practice of achieving proper seated posture and improving mental concentration.
A Zazen meditation session takes an hour and begins with instructions on how to sit and breathe properly after which, while seated overlooking a beautiful Japanese garden, for 25 minutes you practice Zazen. After this, for about 10 minutes, while drinking green tea, you can listen to the monks' tales. After this hour spent in peaceful reflection, you will feel like the weight of the world has been lifted off your shoulders.
5. Osaka: "Eat Osaka" Let's Make Japanese Food - Home-cooking as a Family
Eat Osaka: Let's Learn To Cook Japanese Food!
After you have eaten some of Japan's gourmet dishes, why not try your hand at making some of the most popular Japanese home-cooked meals?
At first glance, the cooking school Eat Osaka looks just like an ordinary Japanese home. For 2 and a half hours, adults (6500 yen) and children from 6 to 12 years old accompanied by an adult (5500 yen) can learn how to cook Japanese dishes. As the teacher can speak English fluently, there is no need to worry about any communication issues. All the dishes are made with ingredients that can easily be found overseas, so you can take what you have learned home with you and try making these dishes after your trip to Japan.
While just watching someone cook can be entertaining enough, actually participating in the process and making precious memories enhances the fun. And since you have come all the way to Japan, it would be a shame not to try it out for yourself!