Japan is a fabulous country: so different from home, so enriching in both cultural and relational terms, it is for me a real crush !
I did a first trip in the fall of 2014 (or I have traveled the “must-see” of the country) and this year for my 2nd stay, I decided to get off a bit of the beaten tracks. I visited dozens of temples and shrines, eaten pounds of sushi, swallowed thousands of kilometers by train or car, in short these 6 weeks in the land of the rising sun have allowed me to multiply experiences.
For you today, I made a small list of 10 inescapable experiences not to be missed during your future trip to Japan.
1)Visit sumptuous temples and sanctuaries
These are the most commonly seen photos of Japan: beautiful sacred sites with a very neat and typically Japanese architecture. I am thinking, for example, of the Golden Pavilion and the Silver Pavilion, two places that cannot be ignored in Kyoto, which have become mythical around the world and whose photos are now well known.
Among the places I saw, one of the most striking was the Meiji Jingu in Tokyo: this temple is a true haven of peace in the heart of the capital, we do not imagine that we are in the heart of a city of 13 million inhabitants. There is also the temple Myoryuji in Kanazawa, better known as the “ninja temple” with its traps and secret passages, a fascinating visit. You will have understood the temples and sanctuaries are very different from each other and do not hesitate to multiply the visits.
2)See typical castles
The Japanese castles are quite different from those that can be seen in France and Europe. The architecture is very japanese and their white color is quite surprising. In 2014, I visited the Nijo castle in Kyoto with its famous nightingale parquet (parquet that imitates the song of a nightingale when walking on it to avoid attacks surprises and intrusions of any kind). Numerous castles are present throughout the country, there will necessarily be one on your way.
3)Admire cherry blossoms or red maples
Spring is the peak season in Japan. It must be said that the flowering of the cherry trees is a magnificent phenomenon: the parks but also some avenues are bordered of cherry trees which have their most beautiful white flowers. It is a very popular event also for the locals who go to the parks for lunch in this exceptional panorama.
The other highlight is autumn. I made my 2 stays during this period of the year and I have to say that I was not disappointed. The colors are gorgeous; many maples have their red leaves with a fascinating color depth.
4)Enjoy delicious food
Japanese cuisine is one of the best cuisines in the world and I discovered many specialties during my journey. First sushi: in France, we know some few variants (salmon and tuna mainly) but in Japan, the map of the sushi is much more varied; almost all fish can be tasted in this way. Then there are the ramens, a kind of soup with pasta and other ingredients that make up a cheap and delicious meal. There is also for the amateurs’ meat of exceptional quality like the Kobe beef. In short, I will not be able to recapitulate all the wonderful culinary discoveries that I could make but one thing is sure, it would be difficult not to find your happiness!
5)Visiting old houses
In the small towns of the Japanese countryside, you can visit traditional houses and see how people lived at the time. In Kanazawa, I was able to discover an old samurai house, with its murals and its very zen Japanese garden. It’s very different from what you see elsewhere in the world, a visit not to miss. In Takayama, it is the old house of a merchant where I was able to walk, very immersive especially since we were the only visitors!
6)Tea time in a charming place
The tea ceremony had a place of choice in the life of the Japanese, which is why in the course of many visits you can enjoy a good tea accompanied by a sweetness in exceptional places. During my visit to an old geisha house in Kanazawa, I tasted my first matcha tea, Japanese green tea that has a very pronounced taste and a rather thick texture. I could reproduce this moment of relaxation in several other places really charming along my journey.
7)Sleeping at an inhabitant’s place in Shirakawa or with the monks at Mount Koya
Shirakawa is a small cute village in the Japanese countryside. What makes its charm, are its typical houses with very steep thatched roof and if you want to sleep in the heart of the village, there is only one solution: to sleep in one of the inhabitant houses. I have already done that in 2014, a basic comfort (sleeping on a futon is rather uncomfortable) but a new experience. Same thing at Mount Koya where I could sleep in a temple where the monks live, a short night with a wake-up call around 6am for prayer (for those who wish) but unique moments.
8)See wild animals
Japan is certainly not known for its large amount of wild animals but you can still make some surprising encounters! There is, for example, a town called Nara, which is known for the deer who live there freely. Although it is a very touristy town (and worth a visit!), the animals are perfectly acclimated and walk among the passers-by. One can even buy cakes specially designed for them and feed them!
Another spectacle that must be very nice (and which I did not attend, surely for the next trip!), It is that of the monkeys of the snows that bathe in the hot springs. But be careful they are wild so it’s better to watch them from a distance!
9)Attend a Matsuri
Festivals play an important role throughout the year all over Japan, especially during spring and summer. There are often large tanks that are pulled into the street for a colorful procession! I visited a museum in Takayama which houses the tanks during the year as well as another one in Karatsu and I must say that attending an event of this kind must be great to see.
10)Sleep in a ryokan
Sleeping in a traditional inn is an experience that’s not to be missed ! The experience is global; there is a whole ritual that allows you to spend an unforgettable moment. We start with a warm Japanese welcome and a check in in your room with tea to welcome you. Then comes the time to choose your yukata (light kimono) that you will wear to walk around the place. Then comes later on the time to discover the onsen, a kind of bath that allows to relax and at around 6pm, then it is time to taste the kaiseki dinner, meal composed of plenty small dishes (and yes the Japanese eat early). A bit confusing for the first time but we quickly understand the operation with the kindness of the Japanese and that everywhere we went. I had the pleasure to test a wonderful ryokan in Miyajima which I mentionned in one of my old articles if you want to know more!
Here are the experiences not to be missed in Japan, there are of course plenty of other things to do and to discover but these 10 moments are for me things not to be missed!