When visit a country, is quite common to try to to catch its essence and immerse yourself in local traditions. Observe people and ask questions at every opportunity. One of the best ways to fully immerse yourself in the local culture is absolutely try a cultural experience.
Japan is a country rich in history and traditions and the choice of cultural experiences held in English dedicated to tourists increases every year, especially in Tokyo, where the choice of cultural experiences is really very wide and varied.
Tokyo is a camaleothic city, from the world of fashion and design, to video games and comics, the wide range of modern art and architecture, up to the classical and spiritual traditions.
The cultural side is certainly the one that fascinates me more and for this reason I’ve try and collect some cultural experiences in Tokyo that I recommend to try during your trip to Japan.
Cultural Experience in Tokyo
Classic experiences such as tea ceremony or kimono dressing, are a great classic that you can find in many Japanese cities even less famous, as in the pretty Kitsuki Town, where I walked among Samurai houses wearing a Kimono, so for this reason I’ll not include those ones into special experiences to do in Tokyo, although they are absolutely interesting and recommended. Actually, I recommend to do tea ceremony in Kyoto, there is a more realistic atmosphere in my opinion 😀
Traditional Dance wearing Yukata
Asakusa is a must-see spot in Tokyo and I suggest you plan your visit on Sunday (of course try to visit it in the morning, to find it less crowded) so you can also attend at the free workshop of Japanese traditional dances.
Available yukata are limited (20/30 people) so you have to make a web reservation in advance, but often same day bookings are also accepted for vacancies.
Yukata and socks are provided and a performance by Nihon Buyo is performed first, a dance characterized by gentle and graceful movements that mimic the words of the song, after which you’ll learn the movements of a piece of that dance.
The event is organized by TYO-Tokyo Tradition and is held within the Asakusa tourist office, every Sunday (some exceptions during which other workshops are held) at 11.00 – 13.00 and 15.00. The duration of the workshop is about an hour and is absolutely free.
Samurai Kembu Experience
Another interesting cultural experience to do in Tokyo is to turn yourself into a Samurai!
Ok, not a real a samurai on the battlefield, but a theater samurai. Kembu is a theatral art that mixes katana techniques with delicate movements on music. The family of Ryuou has been handed down this art for 4 generations and today the Samurai Kembu Experience is one of the most interesting and particular experiences you can make during your trip to Tokyo.
You will see a Kembu performance, after which it will be your shift to wear the hakama, the traditional dress, and wield the katana! Will be explained the basic movements and you will notice that is no so easy handle with elegance this sword.
You’ll learn basic movements ans their meaning, and you will feel real Samurai warriors preparing for the duel. The teacher will answer your questions patiently and will carefully correct your posture, and at the end if you want, a video of your performance will be recorded.
At the end of the experience you will be taken a photoframe and issued a certificate of participation, a wonderful memory of your version Samurai!
You can choose the short experience for an hour or the full version for just under two hours and the price varies from 4000yen (if you choose not to wear the costume) to 10,500yen for the option that includes a performance by Kembo complete of the Master, which also includes song and fan dance.
Food Tour with Arigato Japan
Discovering a city through food, accompanied by a local guide, is the best way to discover the culture and traditions of a country. I took part in two tours organized by Arigato Japan and I recommend them for two reasons: the first is the quality and the perfect mix of places visited during the tour, with different types and with great variety of local and particular food and drinks, the second is the skills and passion of the guide who will involve you and will guide you to discover not only the food, but also the essence of the city and will tell you anecdotes and curiosities about Tokyo and Japan.
I’ve took part at the food tour in Shimbashi, an area that was not really familiar for me, full of izakaya and places frequented mainly by salary-men, where discover the daily Tokyo life of company’s employees who stop to eat and drink after work, before take the train back home. Guided by Asami, we eat in robataya, standing bars and izakaya, eating dishes typical of various areas of Japan paired with beer, sake and highball, mixing with the Japanese employera coming out fromthe offices and breathing the typical atmosphere of Tokyo busy life.
The cocktail tour in Shimbashi and Ginza has brought us into a world of aperitifs and incredible cocktails, in flavors and presentation. Cocktails based on Japanese products, such as cherry blossoms or bamboo, but also unique mixed cocktails based on high quality tea and absurd cocktails with cotton candy and marshmellow! A unique experience, between the modern architecture of the area and the chic showcases of famous brand.
The tours of Arigato Japan usually take about 3 hours and the price varies depending on the tour chosen, usually around € 100/150 and include the guide service and various drinks and dishes. There are several tours in difefrent areas of the city, at different times, and must be booked on the web site of ArigatoJapan.
Saké tasting and painting
Another experience I’ve made thanks to Arigato Japan is a saké tasting while painting Mount Fuji, absolutely a special experience in Tokyo to learn more about characteristics and diversity of japanese sake, pairing them with delicious tastings of local products and at the same time painting with your own handmade souvenir from Japan.
If you don’t feel confident with paint don’t worry! Last time I pant was around 15 years ago, during the art class in Junior High, and also at that time I was not really good. But I had a lot of fun painting my Fujisan, maybe was the sake cancel any problem?
The tasting and painting experience takes place inside the Art Bar in Daikanyama, a place that often organizes drink&paint nights, with different paint subjects while drinking wine. A special experience that I tried for the first time here in Tokyo, but that seems to be quite common in the US!
The experience of Saké tasting and painting with Arigato Japan takes place on Wednesdays, 2/3 times a month, while the simple “wine and painting” experience takes place almost every evening.
Customized Maneki Neko
The Maneki Neko, the famous kitten with raised paw, is one of the classic symbols of Japan and here in Tokyo there is even a dedicated temple, which seems to be the place of origin of this lucky charm. There are so many souvenir shops where you can buy a maneki neko, but having a personalized and unique souvenir of the trip to Japan is definitely something fabulous!
In Yanaka, the “old city” north of Ueno Park, also known as the city of cats, you can make this unique cultural experience in Tokyo to custumize your Maneki Neko.
In the Café Nekoemon (Neko = cat) in fact, in addition to a choice of cakes with feline shapes, it’s also possible customize and color your own maneki neko: you can choose the size and which paw you prefer (left brings money and luck, right ones brings customers) and decorate it as you wish with colored felt-tip pens, bringing you an original personalized souvenir at home!
The set of maneki neko + sweet and drink starts from 1620yen and you can order more than one per person (in case you would like to make personalized gifts)!
In addition to the classical cultural experiences in Tokyo there are also many other funny and unconventional experiences, like turning into Mario and driving a kart through the streets of the city or a visit to one of the many strange and particular restaurants and cafes, but I’ll talk about them in a furure post.
If there are any particular experiences that you would like to try, let me know, I’ll go to try them for you and review them!