Japan is a country full of rich history and cultural traditions that go back thousands of years.
For its elder generation, Japan’s ancient traditions and values are still incredibly important.
But for the younger generation, these traditions have been replaced by more focus on school and work.
When visiting Japan, travelers can see the stark contrast between the ancient traditions still observed in the countryside, and the modern bustle of the city with its bright lights, bullet trains, and more.
So how do you experience both modern Japan and traditional in one trip?
Well, read on to find out what destinations we recommend to ensure you get a taste of both!
Etiquette When Visiting Japan
But first things first.
Being steeped in sacred traditions, Japan has a firm set of guidelines in regards to etiquette that their citizens abide by.
To avoid the risk of offending your gracious hosts, here are a few important customs you will want to observe while you’re in Japan. (Related: Culture Shock Article)
Remove your shoes.
Always take off your shoes when entering any home.
In Japan, shoes are always taken off and replaced with slippers so dirt and debris are not brought inside.
This isn’t just done in homes either. Don’t be surprised if you’re asked to remove your shoes before entering a place of business! Like many other practices in Japan, this is done to avoid the spread of germs and bacteria.
When eating in Japan, do not leave your chopsticks standing upright in your dish. This is considered very rude as it resembles incense sticks which are used for the dead, as well as food offerings left during a funeral.
It is also considered ill-mannered to use the chopsticks you’ve eaten off of to serve communal food onto your plate, to eat with mismatched chopsticks, or to lick or rub your chopsticks together.
Pro-tip: It’s also considered rude to dig around on your plate or in any dishes being passed around.
While Americans are used to tipping after every meal, this is a very uncommon practice in Japan! In fact, you may even confuse your waiter when trying to tip them!
Not every establishment in Japan accepts credit cards. Furthermore, their ATM machines may not recognize a foreign credit card. So make sure to have your American dollars exchanged before your trip.
Don’t walk around people!
When entering or exiting the subway stations, always stand on the left side of the escalators. When using the stairs, stay on the right side. And do not try to pass people.
Where to travel: The Traditional
Japan’s history and rich cultural dates back thousands of years. You can see this firsthand in their temples, castles, and in their many traditional ceremonies that have been passed down from generation to generation.
To see these historic sites and experience Japans sacred traditions, we recommend you visit:
- Imperial Palace, Tokyo
Surrounded by breathtaking gardens, the Imperial Palace in Tokyo is a must see.
Still in use by the Imperial Family today, parts of this 17th century palace is closed to the public. However, the Imperial grounds and its famous double bridge are worth the trip alone.
- Arashiyama Bamboo Grove
This stunning bamboo grove located in the Arashiyama district of Kyoto is a marvel in itself.
Take a stroll through the peaceful bamboo grove that stands so tall, it stretches to the sky! Then make your way to the center of the park towards Tenryu-ji temple, a traditional Shinto temple with breathtaking gardens.
Read more about Arashiyama Grove and other breathtaking destinations here.
Visit an Onsen, or observe a tea ceremony.
There are many other ways to experience the traditions of Japan—from historical landmarks, to her many castles.
Another popular destination is known as the Onsen. These hot springs and traditional inns provide a serene, relaxing getaway. Taste the local flavors, see performances and traditional music pieces, and soak in these natural hot springs found all over Japan.
Tea ceremonies are also popular in Japan. Participants are guided through the traditional preparation of Matcha, which is powdered green tea. The intent of this ceremony is not to drink the tea, but to appreciate its preparation and the beauty of this ritual.
Where to Travel: The Modern
Leaving the Japanese countryside and traveling into the crowded cities can almost give you a shock. Colorful and flashing lights, bullet trains, and advanced technology make it seem like you’re almost in another world.
There are countless things to see and do in Japan’s cities, but here are a few recommendations:
In Japan, you will find those who have devoted their lives to perfecting their craft into works of art, and that includes preparing ramen, sushi, or something else.
Step into a small local restaurant or bar and you’ll find what is probably the best sushi you’ll ever eat.
Or, eat at a larger sushi restaurant where you choose the plate of sushi you want right off a conveyer belt that comes right to your table!
- Karaoke Bar
Surprisingly, Karaoke bars are extremely popular in Japan. Groups of businessmen will even go to these during company trips!
Tokyo and Harajuku
No trip to Japan is complete without a trip to Tokyo. This bustling city is truly a modern marvel. Take a ride on a bullet train and see vending machines that carry everything from pizza, to clothes, to milk.
And you have visit Harajuku neighborhood, the fashion capital of Japan!
Here you will find shopping, as well as the latest fashion trends worn in the streets. Their innovative fashion will dazzle your senses!
No matter where you travel to in Japan, you will experience a truly stunning country full of sacred, ancient traditions and energetic, modern wonders.