cultural treasures of japan hero

Top 10 Modern & Traditional Cultural Experiences in Japan

megan monte
by Megan Monte

June 28, 2024

7 minute read

Ancient tradition and stunning modernity collide in this island country. The multifaceted culture of Japan presents an intriguing juxtaposition, one in which contemporary advancements and futuristic feats shine while a rich historical heritage is honored and celebrated.

Ultramodern skyscrapers dominate the skyline as centuries-old castles preserve the past. Giant robots and lively themed cafes dazzle as traditional tea houses host ritualistic ceremonies. Aerodynamic bullet trains move at breakneck speeds while sumo wrestlers continue to compete in Japan’s oldest sport. In Japan, the past seamlessly blends with the future.

There are countless ways to discover it. These experiences are just a few that showcase some of the cultural traditions and modern culture of Japan:

Traditional Cultural Activities in Japan

cultural treasures of japan geisha

1. Geisha

Geisha refers to women who are professional entertainers and artists. The term itself means “art person.” Held in high esteem, geisha are thoroughly trained in various skills, like singing, dancing, playing instruments, making conversation, and more. Apprentices are referred to as “Maiko,” while fully trained professionals are known as “Geiko.” Geisha typically entertain during meals, tea ceremonies, and other events, and have done so for hundreds of years. At a geisha dinner, guests can enjoy a meal while a geisha, elegantly dressed in a kimono, performs and entertains with traditional Japanese arts. It’s an experience that travelers on our Cultural Treasures of Japan tour can be a part of themselves.

cultural treasures of japan tea ceremony

2. Japanese Tea Ceremony

In Japan, serving tea is a ritualistic art form. Tea is served and received, but the purpose extends far beyond that. These ceremonies are a deep-rooted tradition that can offer a peaceful reprieve from the outside world. Informed by centuries of practice, tea ceremonies are carried out with a calm precision that dictates even the finest details, such as hand movements. Values like purity, humility, harmony, and respect are intertwined with the ceremony, which is an experience offered on our Japan tours. While modern-day tea ceremonies vary in authenticity and experience, they’re traditionally held in a tea room and involve a detailed process. Guests typically sit in a kneeling “seiza” position while the host prepares and serves the tea. Other elements like bowing, serving sweets, expressing gratitude, and appreciating the bowl are customary parts of the ceremony.

cultural treasures of japan himeji castle

3. Japanese Castles

Japanese castles both preserve the island country’s heritage and present stunning examples of functional architecture. Newer castles have been built, but original structures date back hundreds of years. While some have been lost, 12 original castles still remain today, having survived through centuries of turmoil, change, and growth. Moats, towers, walls, and gates are a few common features, and many castles have a “stacked” or tiered appearance—a concept that extends into internal blueprints, too. Built as fortresses, they were commonly designed to have multiple circles of defense. The Himeji Castle, a UNESCO World Heritage site, is only one of the brilliant complexes that still stands, offering a must-see peek at Japan’s past.

cultural treasures of japan sumo match

4. Sumo Match

Sumo is a centuries-old sport deeply intertwined with Japan’s cultural traditions. In this version of wrestling, a competitor wins by forcing their opponent out of the ring or causing their opponent to touch the ground with something other than his feet. There are no weight classes in sumo, which encourages competitors to be bigger and stronger than their opponents. As for uniforms, participants only wear a mawashi, a type of loin cloth. Spectators can expect matches to be on the shorter side, usually lasting just seconds or a few minutes. They might also catch a glimpse of the religion-backed rituals that are integral to the sport, like throwing salt in the ring.

cultural treasures of japan kabuki

5. Kabuki Performance

Drama is center stage during a kabuki performance—quite literally. According to UNESCO, kabuki is a type of Japanese theater that goes back generations. Tales can range from tragedies to histories to moral dilemmas, and key components include dance, music, elaborate costuming, and exaggerated acting, along with special stage devices. And, while some characters may be female, all modern kabuki actors are male. Performances are in Japanese, but the stylized acting and English translations, which are sometimes offered, can aid visitors with understanding.

Modern Cultural Activities in Japan

cultural treasures of japan themed cafes

1. Visit Themed Cafes

Japan is known for its imaginative themed cafes, which are a far cry from your typical coffee shop setting. These cafes are fully designed around niche concepts, which inspire the décor, menu offerings, entertainment, uniforms, atmosphere, and more. The themes are incredibly diverse and unique. Anime and manga characters, monsters, prisons, animals, robots, and Alice in Wonderland are only a few types of cafes you might stumble upon. And, while these cafes can certainly vary, one thing is for certain: you should expect an experience, not a simple meal.

cultural treasures of japan robots

2. See Giant Robots

Robots are yet another wonder of the modern culture of Japan, which is known for its technological advancements. From robot hotels and cafes to showrooms, exhibits, and giant displays, there are many ways to interact with these futuristic machines. One of the most popular attractions is Japan’s colossal robot displays, which bring fictional machines to life—enormous size and all. As described by CNN Travel, Odaiba, Tokyo, is home to the giant Unicorn Gundam statue, inspired by the popular anime series. Spectators can watch as the massive machine, which rises more than 60 feet in the air, uses its transformative abilities to shift between Unicorn and Destroy mode.

cultural treasures of japan parks

3. Explore Theme Parks

For anyone seeking a mix of excitement and wonder, theme parks are one of the best places to visit in Japan. Disneyland and Universal Studios fans can find their favorite parks here but with a few exclusive, unique attractions. Thrill seekers can feel an adrenaline rush on record-breaking rollercoasters at Fuji-Q Highland, and adventurers can enjoy a zoo, aquarium, safari, and exhilarating rides at Wakayama Adventure World. And that’s only a taste of Japan’s diverse theme park offerings.

cultural treasures of japan train

4. Ride a Bullet Train

While it may be a regular activity for those who live there, riding a bullet train in Japan is an impressive experience for many visitors—and one you can have on our Japan: Past and Present tour. These ultra-sleek high-speed trains, called shinkasen, run at speeds up to almost 200 miles per hour. Different tickets are offered for different classes of seating, but all options are generally comfortable. These trains are a great way to travel quicky—very quickly—from Tokyo to some of Japan’s other cities. That being said, make sure you’re on time! These trains are known for their punctuality.

cultural treasures of japan food

5. Eat Incredible Food

Japan’s food culture is a rich tapestry of traditional dishes and innovative creations. Street food vendors offer a great way to sample a variety of foods, from grilled meats and noodles to cookie dough milkshakes and rainbow cheese toasts. Indulge in gourmet fusion meals at Michelin-starred eateries. Pluck sushi from a conveyor belt at kaiten-zushi restaurants. Have your food served by robots at other spots. It’s a foodie’s wonderland.

Easily Plan and Book Your Dream Trip to Japan

If you want to get a glimpse into the complex culture of Japan, it might be time to book a trip to the archipelago. With so much to see and do, it can be hard to know where to start. At Collette, we help you make the most out of your time abroad while taking the stress out of planning. Our guided Japan tours are crafted around cultural experiences, must-see moments, and lesser known gems. Visit our website to explore our Japan tour packages, and contact us to book the trip of a lifetime.

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