Often times when people visit Japan, they’re at a loss for what to do.
Guidebooks can only offer so many shrines, temples, and castles before they all start to blur together.
So, to mix things up, here is a crash course on some more interactive entertainment options in Japan.
Simply walking the streets in Japan, obesity is difficult to come by that is until you set foot in an arena that hosts sumo wrestling matches. It is a beloved, ritual, and religious sport that has locals and tourists alike coming together to cheer on the well-respected wrestlers. Tournaments lasting 15 days are held in January, May, and September in Tokyo, March in Osaka, July in Nagoya, and November in Fukuoka.
Surprisingly, break dancing is becoming increasingly popular, in Tokyo specifically. If you’re walking through a high traffic area like Shibuya at the right time of day, you will see street performers much like those in NYC. Some dancers are more interactive than others and will invite you to try break dancing for yourself or use you as a prop. It’s good fun for anyone and makes for a great Youtube video to show your friends back home.
Oh boy. Why karaoke is so popular in a culture that comes across so poised and reserved is still a mystery. Perhaps it’s a great stress relief from a demanding work schedule and healthier than reaching for the whiskey and cigarettes. But, this is not your ordinary singing of a song or two in front of a crowd. We’re talking about gathering a few friends in a room and singing for 5-6 hours straight until the sun comes up. Alcohol may or may not be involved to help loosen up and boost confidence in singing abilities.
Respect and curiosity surround people who play the taiko drums. Taiko drumming is an ancient Japanese form of percussion that follows a procession similar to fireworks. As the finale nears, the drumming becomes more rapid. Performances can be found in many scenarios including festivals, ceremonies, or a simple afternoon street routine. Tourists can even elect to attend a professional taiko drum performance or take day lessons.
Take a walk through the park, any park, and you’ll find small groups of people (usually elderly folks) practicing tai chi. If you stick around long enough, you may find yourself unconsciously practicing the moves along with them, until you realize you’re part of a flash mob of sorts. Tai chi offers a peaceful space to meditate and find your zen.
Hot Springs (Onsen)
The running joke in Japan is that when you ask someone what there is to see and do in a city, the answer will always be ONSEN. Nothing says intimate setting better than getting naked and bathing with strangers. Of course, some onsens have mixed and separate gender areas, but either way, the key is to be modest and not stare at others as it is considered rude. With 2,300 onsens throughout the country, you can imagine how popular of a retreat they are for the locals.
Japan’s mountainous terrain is truly something to be admired. From Mt. Takao to Mt. Fuji and everything in between, there are a myriad of hiking and mountain climbing trails to take advantage of. On the weekend, locals will often flee out to the nearest peak for some fresh air and exercise. Best to go during the early afternoon on a weekday to avoid the crowds.
If you can afford a Geisha performance, by all means, do it because you won’t get any closer to Japanese culture than this. The night usually entails a performance from a geisha and her apprentice (known as maiko), dinner, tea, sake, and conversation. When talking to geisha after their performance, foreigners are encouraged to break the ice with a game like rock, paper, scissors. Use this unique opportunity to learn about Japanese culture and life as a geisha.
Much like trash talk doesn’t go over well at a Red Sox vs. Yankees game, you shouldn’t speak ill of baseball in Japan. It is their most beloved sport. Kids grow up playing baseball, and it becomes a popular pastime for twenty and thirty-somethings. Of all the sports, baseball is what Japan chose to latch onto, and no other form of entertainment can match the energy found on the field and in the stadium among thousands of cheering fans.
Everything in Japan is an art form, from the way they stack groceries in bags to origami (art of folding paper). Hostels in Japan often have origami paper available so recruit a few new friends and start a party. To really put your skills to the test, you can volunteer to make paper cranes for tsunami relief. Origiami is a good focusing exercise to improve precision and attention to detail. Warning: may induce papercuts.
Text by: Kimi Sugiyama