Monthly Archives: January 2014

Things to do in Japan: Enjoy hands-on traditional activities!

Have you ever enjoyed a hands-on Japanese activity in your country or in Japan? Beside cooking sushi, joining a tea ceremony or wearing a kimono, there are many things to do in Japan for foreigners curious about the Japanese culture and life. Teachers may guide hands-on sessions at diverse locations: a craft village, cultural centre, museum, school, temple, workshop… but support in English often requires arrangements. Think about it; hands-on activities can make your holidays in Japan much more memorable, interesting and fun!

Things to do in Japan: prepare sushi!

To better understand life in Japan, you may harvest rice or pick up tea leaves, pickle Japanese horseradish “wasabi”, prepare sushi, make tofu or soba/udon noodles, make Japanese confectioneries “wagashi” or even create (modern) food replicas normally shown at the entrance of restaurants! Beyond Japanese food, you may learn to make a tatami, ceramic object, daruma or kokeshi doll, paper lantern or simple Washi Japanese paper… and families with small children may try origami or traditional games.

Things to do in Japan: pick up tea leaves!

To better understand the Japanese culture, you can notably join a tea ceremony, try flower arrangement, take care of a bonsai, print ukiyo-e with woodblocks, write Japanese or Chinese characters (calligraphy) with a standard or giant brush, copy or chant a sutra at a Buddhist temple, practice Zen meditation, play Japanese drums… If your timing is good, you may even carry an omikoshi, pull a float, or dance with locals at a festival!

Things to do in Japan: copy a sutra!

The fans of Japanese martial arts can also practice more or less ancient arts in Japan: hand-to-hand martial arts such as judo and karate, Japanese archery “kyudo”, the art of using a Japanese halberd “naginata-jutsu”, Japanese swordsmanship “kendo”…

Things to do in Japan: practice Japanese swordsmanship KENDO!

Try 1-2 Japanese traditional activities during your stay; it really reveals much about Japan and its culture. Tea ceremonies are popular in Kyoto and karate trainings in Okinawa but Tokyo provides most activities. Also note that many events occur all over Japan on Culture Day (national holiday: 03 November)! So, which traditional activity have you enjoyed? Which traditional activity would you try?

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Impressions: Wonderful dances at Furusato-matsuri Tokyo 2014

No doubt, the annual Furusato-matsuri Tokyo held at Tokyo Dome is wonderful to see dances in Japan whether you are a Japanese resident or foreign tourist. No need to speak Japanese, children welcome, cheap tickets (1.000-1.500 yens). If you enjoy Japanese festivals, attend the event this week (end on Sunday) or free time for it in January 2015!

Yesterday, our travel agent Sébastien was charmed by the traditional dances, gorgeous costumes, characteristic songs, numerous drums… The large main stage allowed big groups of Japanese dancers and drummers to perform!

Furusato-matsuri Tokyo 2014 inside Tokyo Dome

Japanese dancers at Furusato-matsuri Tokyo 2014

Japanese drummers at Furusato-matsuri Tokyo 2014

Crowds gathered to admire the holy Iwami-kagura; this most exciting dance from Shimane prefecture involves a warrior fighting giant snakes/dragons. Do not miss a chance to see that dance from the front row because most movements are at ground level! After the performances, the visitors could touch the costumes, get photographed with the dancers and musicians, play Japanese drums, dance with professionals…

Snakes/dragons of Iwami-kagura at Furusato-matsuri Tokyo 2014

Fight with snakes/dragons of Iwami-kagura at Furusato-matsuri Tokyo 2014

Besides, Sébastien tasted (for free) many delicious regional foods, green tea, plum liqueur… and discovered high-quality regional products such as sandals of snake skin (interesting to touch), tea pots of many shapes, decorated chopsticks, fabrics used to make toys… Surrounded by fantastic mascots and Japanese girls in uniform promoting different areas of Japan, he could not resist buying a (tee-shirt) souvenir :)

Sandals of snake skin at Furusato-matsuri Tokyo 2014

To finish, a giant float from Chichibu prefecture in front of which many people got a souvenir photo:

Float from Chichibu prefecture at Furusato-matsuri Tokyo 2014

For practical information, you can read our previous article “Japanese festivals: Furusato-matsuri Tokyo (10-19 January 2014)”.

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USEFUL JAPANESE
  • Furusato-matsuri Tokyo = ふるさと祭り東京, Japanese festival = 祭り (matsuri).
  • Tokyo Dome = 東京ドーム (Tokyo domu).
  • Iwami-kagura = 石見神楽, Shimane prefecture = 島根県 (Shimane-ken).
  • Chichibu prefecture = 秩父県 (Chichibu-ken).

Japanese festivals: Furusato-matsuri Tokyo (10-19 January 2014)

Event: 6th Furusato-matsuri Tokyo
Date: 10-19 January 2014
Location: Tokyo Dome, Tokyo, Japan.
Ticket price: 1.500 yens (week-end or public holiday), 1.200 yens (weekday), 1.000 yens (evening).

Closest hotel: Tokyo Dome Hotel.
Closest stations: Kasuga (Toei Mita line or Toei Oedo line), Korakuen (Marunouchi line or Namboku line), Suidobashi (JR Chuo Main line or Toei Mita line).

The annual event Furusato-matsuri Tokyo is the occasion to see beautiful Japanese traditional costumes and dances, hear traditional songs and music (Japanese drums, flutes…), smell and savour great Japanese food, touch diverse products and buy uncommon souvenirs. You can see an impressive float and performances of diverse regional Japanese festivals!

Normally used for baseball games and concerts, Tokyo Dome provides much space for shops and booths. Plan at least 3 hours on site and favour weekdays to avoid big crowds. Everything is in Japanese but that is not a problem for foreign tourists :)

If you are a tourism professional on business trip, you can get travel news, try regional food from all over Japan, meet shopkeepers and exchange business cards. Our travel agency being near Tokyo Dome, one of our travel agents will definitely attend this cool event!

You too, have fun at Furusato-matsuri Tokyo 2014!

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USEFUL JAPANESE
  • Furusato-matsuri Tokyo = ふるさと祭り東京, Japanese festival = 祭り (matsuri).
  • Tokyo Dome = 東京ドーム (Tokyo domu).
  • Tokyo = 東京, Kasuga station = 春日駅 (Kasuga-eki), Korakuen station = 後楽園駅 (Korakuen-eki), Suidobashi station = 水道橋駅 (Suidobashi-eki).

Meet great Japanese artisans: sculptor of miniature gods and Buddhas…

Have you ever met and discussed with a Japanese artisan? Reputed for high-quality gorgeous products (traditional or modern), artisans in Japan typically live in quiet districts or in the countryside and rarely speak English so foreign tourists have few opportunities to know them…

We had the chance to meet Kanesaka-sensei, a sculptor of marvellous miniature gods and Buddhas, at an event promoting the Fukushima prefecture held at Tokyo International Forum on 23 December 2013. This kind joyful artist was moving and impressive, and we will gladly meet him again in his city (Aizu)! Our photos show you Kanesaka-sensei with our team member Sébastien, Shinto and Buddhist miniature statues, a nut containing the 7 Gods of Fortune, and another containing the gods Ebisu and Daikoku.

Japanese artisan Kanesaka-sensei with Sébastien.

Shinto and Buddhist miniature statues.

To fully appreciate the statues, you should turn the nuts in your hands while admiring with a magnifier… Art lovers and fans of Japan would certainly enjoy the experience and wish to bring back a (personalized?) handmade gift or souvenir!

Miniature statue: nut containing the 7 Gods of Fortune.

Miniature statue: nut containing Ebisu and Daikoku.

Because Japanese artisans are dedicated and skilled, we recommend you to meet one at his/her workshop or shop during your stay in Japan if you wish to discover Japanese crafts and meet Japanese people. Plan ahead to get an appointment, hire a knowledgeable interpreter and maybe find an illustrated book in English to bring back home afterwards. If you end up far from Tokyo or Kyoto, take the opportunity to savour regional food, discover a little-known area, and send local postcards to your friends and family :) What kind of great artisan would you like to meet on holidays in Japan? Why?

Special thanks to Kanesaka-sensei for his explanations and for allowing us to use his photo.

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USEFUL JAPANESE
  • Artisan = 職人 (shokunin), Miniature sculpture = 微細彫刻 (Bisai-chokoku).
  • Daikoku = 大黒 = 大黒天 (Daikoku-ten), Ebisu = 恵比寿.
  • 7 Gods of Fortune = 七福神 (Shichi-fukujin).

Japanese Shinto shrines at night: Kanda-myojin in Tokyo

Have you ever visited a Shinto shrine at night in Japan? Except for special celebrations (e.g. New Year), Japanese Shinto shrines and Buddhist temples typically end their service around 17:00 and provide little or no light afterwards so tourists cannot see much at night even if the gates remain open…

Shinto shrine near Ochanomizu station in Tokyo, Kanda-myojin is an exception: you can admire its beautiful lanterns and illuminated statues every night until 23:00! Our photos (19 December 2013) show you its main hall, outdoor lanterns and a statue of the god Daikoku.

Kanda-myojin at night: main hall.

Kanda-myojin at night: outdoor lanterns.

Kanda-myojin at night: statue of the god Daikoku.

Because the night falls early and is safe in Japan, we recommend you to visit a lit-up shrine before dinner if you appreciate the Japanese culture, traditional architecture or Asian religions. Some Japanese people will tell you to beware of monsters at shrines during the night but, if you are not afraid, you can bring back a pleasant unique memory, special holiday photos and another feeling about Japanese spirituality :)

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USEFUL JAPANESE
  • Shinto shrine = 神社 (jinja), Buddhist temple = お寺 (otera).
  • Kanda shrine = 神田明神 (Kanda-myojin), Daikoku = 大黒 = 大黒天 (Daikoku-ten).
  • Tokyo = 東京, Ochanomizu station = 御茶ノ水駅 (Ochanomizu-eki).