Are you looking for an inspirational list of hands-on travel experiences in Japan? Then you’ve come to the right place!
Over the past years, there has been a big trend in tourism where travellers no longer want to participate in just the standard sightseeing tours and attend so-called ‘cultural shows’, but really feel the need to get involved in experiences that are characteristic to the destination that they are visiting. This is called Creative Travel.
In this article, you can find some of the best creative travel experiences in Japan. Keep coming back, because this list will keep growing!
HANDS-ON TRAVEL IN JAPAN
Creative Travel Definition
According to the Creative Tourism Network, creative travel is considered “a new generation of tourism”, that offers visitors the opportunity to “develop their creative potential through active participation in courses and learning experiences, which are characteristic of the holiday destination where they are taken”.
From volunteer travel programs and language immersion programs to cultural immersion travel experiences and real community immersion, Creative Tourism is a way of travel that really is for everyone.
Whether you travel alone, as a couple or with a family or group of friends, there are many activities around the world where that offer educational courses and workshops, creative experiences where you get to learn different art forms or even adventure activities where you interact with the local nature and people in a fun, yet authentic way.
Complete Hands-on Travel in Japan List
HANDS-ON TRAVEL IN KYOTO
Attend a Tea Ceremony
Participating in a tea ceremony in Japan offers a fascinating insight into Japanese culture.
TIP BY: Wendy Werneth, thenomadicvegan.com (< read all about vegan food in Japan!)
“An organization called Ju-An offers ceremonies for small groups inside the Jotokuji Temple in Kyoto. The experience begins with a tour of the temple grounds and an explanation of its history. Your hostess will then show you how to perform the water purification ritual that Japanese people always perform when they visit a temple or shrine.
After that, it’s time to enter the ceremony room and take a seat on the tatami mat floor. Your hostess will explain the history of the ceremony and its cultural importance, and then she will perform all of the intricate steps involved. It’s fascinating to see how every tiny movement is choreographed and carefully thought out.
Once the tea has been brewed, a cup of it is passed around and everyone drinks from it. Traditional Japanese sweets called wagashi are served with the tea. Since the sweets are associated with Buddhist practices, they are completely vegan, containing no dairy, egg, gelatin or other animal products. After you’ve watched how the ceremony is done, you’ll have the chance to go through the motions yourself and prepare a cup of tea for your fellow participants.”
BOOK A SIMILAR ACTIVITY:
- Kyoto: Tea Ceremony Ju-An at Jotokuji Temple (See best prices on Get Your Guide >>)
- Kyoto: 2-Hour Night Tea Ceremony with Traditional Dinner (See best prices on Get Your Guide >>)
- Kyoto: 45-Minute Tea Ceremony Experience (See best prices on Get Your Guide >>)
- Kyoto: Tea Ceremony with Kimono Wearing (See best prices on Get Your Guide >>)
- Kyoto: Traditional Tea Ceremony & Make Your Own Matcha Tea (See best prices on Get Your Guide >>)
Go on Ninja Training
There are not that many places in the world where you can you dress up like a Ninja and throw shuriken, use the Ninja sword and learn some super cool ninja moves.
TIP BY: Priya Vin, outsidesuburbia.com (< read all about this ninja experience)
“One fun activity my kids were excited about trying when we were in Japan was the Ninja Training lessons in Kyoto. My kids were 14 and 18 at the time of the lesson but it is perfectly safe for younger children as well, they have rubber shuriken and short fukiya (blow darts) for kids.
A Ninja Dojo in Kyoto offers this unique experience in a traditional Ninja training class. It is a tatami dojo where adults and kids can learn Ninja meditation, Ninja breathing, Ninja walking and experience a Ninja trick
house (which my kids thought was the best part). After everyone changed into the black Ninja gear, the demonstration and training started.
The first lesson was to learn the numbers in Japanese. It was followed by Ninja meditation and breathing lessons. After some more training, they were each given a real sword and were shown how to use the sword slowly like a Ninja.”
BOOK A SIMILAR ACTIVITY:
- Kyoto: Ninja Training and VR Experience (See best prices on Get Your Guide >>
Take a Cooking Class at the Ramen Factory
One of the best souvenirs when travelling is to learn how to cook authentic cuisine from locals. Did you know there’s only one restaurant in Kyoto where you can learn how to create your very own ramen dish from scratch?
TIP BY: Alyse, theinvisibletourist.com (< read all about her Kyoto cooking class!)
“I’m the first to admit I’m not great in the kitchen so taking a cooking class at the Ramen Factory had me a little nervous at first. But my love for learning more about local cultures saw me overcome my apprehension and I actually had a blast!
The friendly staff at Ramen Factory make it ridiculously easy for amateurs like me, having all ingredients pre-measured and a step-by-step instruction book in English on each table. The best part is customising your broth flavour. Naturally I chose a special white miso paste created with ingredients exclusive to the Kyoto region. It went so well with the roasted chicken!
Aside from eating, the most enjoyable part was kneading the ramen noodle dough. Actually, punching it no less than 100 times would be a more accurate description! It’s safe to say this experience gave me a whole new appreciation for ramen and I highly recommend taking the class during your visit to Kyoto!”
BOOK A SIMILAR ACTIVITY:
- Kyoto: Learn to Make Ramen from Scratch with Souvenir (See best prices on Get Your Guide >>)
Take a Sake Tasting Tour
There are fewer things more quintessentially Japanese than sake. The national drink of Japan, it’s a beverage unlike any other in the world. One of the best food and drink tours in Kyoto is one that involves learning about sake in a way that demystifies the drink and Japanese culture.
TIP BY: Amber Hoffman, fooddrinkdestinations.com (< read all about her tasty travels!)
“For travelers, ordering sake at a bar or restaurant in Japan is difficult and can be very frustrating. Sake labels are written entirely in Japanese characters. At the edge of Kyoto is the historic Fushimi Sake District. It is home to some of the best sake in Japan. You can book a tour and tasting that helps to educate travelers to Japan on sake and more importantly how to order it.
During this experience, travelers are taken to a local sake brewery where they will learn firsthand the process for brewing sake. From understanding the importance of good, quality water in sake brewing to the actual sake brewing process, guests will receive a crash course in how water and rice become sake.
Then comes the best part, the tasting. Most sake tastings will provide guests with between 5 and 10 different sakes. With the assistance of a sake expert, they are guided through each, understanding the different flavors and aromas. A detailed explanation of what’s written on a sake bottle and how to read it is also provided. This invaluable information will help make selecting sake a bit easier. This is a really unique experience to help travelers understand more about sake and the importance of sake to Japan’s culture and history.”
BOOK A SIMILAR ACTIVITY:
- Kyoto: Nishiki food market walk, sake-tasting, and cooking (See best prices on Get Your Guide >>)
- Kyoto: Historical Sake, Green Tea & Wagashi Shopping Tour (See best prices on Get Your Guide >>)
Wear a Kimono
Wearing a kimono is perhaps one of the best ways to experience Japan’s rich and unique culture.
TIP BY: Jasmine Chen, mysuitcasejourneys.com (< read all about her travels!)
“A kimono is a traditional Japanese garment for both men and women and its history traces back to the Heian period in 794 – 1192. It consists of several layers and there are also many different types ranging from light summer yukatas to formal furisodes, each meant for a different purpose and occasion.
Nowadays Japanese people rarely wear kimonos apart from when attending special events. However, it is still very common to find kimono rental shops – especially in Kyoto and Tokyo. These stores are typically meant for tourists and a popular thing to do in Japan is to rent a kimono for a day to take pictures in beautiful shrines like Kyoto’s Fushimi Inari-taisha or in Buddhist temples like Senso-ji in Asakusa, Tokyo.
When in comes to deciding which shop to rent from, Kyoto Kimono Rental Wargo is a fantastic choice. Not only do they have 20 locations all around the country, they have extremely affordable plans where you can rent a kimono plus other accessories like bags, sandals, and umbrellas and even get your hair done professionally. Highly recommended!”
BOOK A SIMILAR ACTIVITY:
- Kyoto: Rent a Kimono for 1 Day (See best prices on Get Your Guide >>)
- Kyoto: 1-Day Premium Kimono Rental (See best prices on Get Your Guide >>)
HANDS-ON TRAVEL IN TOKYO
Carry a shrine at the Sanja Matsuri Festival
Sanja Matsuri is one of the three biggest temple festivals in Japan’s capital. It takes place annually on the third May weekend around the Sensoji Temple in the Asakusa neighbourhood.
TIP BY: Annemarie, travelonthebrain.net (< read all about the best places to visit in Tokyo)
“One of the coolest experiences in Tokyo that I ever experienced – and there were quite a few – was the three-day Sanja Matsuri. Arrive early and if you meet with friends, come together as it’s hard to find one another among the crazy crowds. It is estimated that 1.5 to 2 million people gather for the festival every year!
In celebration of the three founders of Sensoji temple, mikoshi from around the area are carried to the temple and shrine. These are mini shrines and seriously heavy, weighing about a ton. They are carried by about 40 people at any time so people won’t collapse and it’s an honour to do so.
Locals will dress up in white and blue (typically rather scantily clad, don’t be surprised) and then set up picnic tables in garages before joining the crowds. I was invited by a lovely Japanese family who lent me a jacket so I could participate in the shrine carrying. It was a lot of fun. Don’t forget to make your way to Sensoji shrine for the food and fun stalls and live program. You might see a traditional temple maiden (maiko) dance, for instance.”
Take a Nihon Buyo Dance Class
If you’d like an authentic taste of traditional Japanese culture, step out of your comfort zone and into a NihonBuyo dance class in Tokyo.
TIP BY: Alison Roberts-Tse, dancedispatches.com (< read all about dance and travel!)
“Geisha perform this ancient dance form whilst they entertain guests, but other local women practice the art form, too. Trying a dance form that you don’t know much about may sound intimidating, but the movement is slow, so you will be able to follow along.
Most classes include a kimono rental, so your session will begin by slipping into a silk kimono, tied at the waist with an obi. Then you will learn the choreography, which may or may not include props – like fans or parasols. The instructor will repeat smaller phrases before adding new movements so that you can eventually learn the whole dance.
As the class comes to an end, you may want to set up a camera to record your once-in-a-lifetime performance. If you prefer, take some photos with your teacher and classmates for a unique souvenir. Even if you don’t emerge as a dance star, you’ll still take home nice memories.”
BOOK THIS ACTIVITY:
- Learn to dance with a family matriarch (See best prices on Airbnb >>)
HANDS-ON TRAVEL IN SHIGARAKI
Take a Pottery Lesson
Soto-en, a family-run pottery now managed by the 7th and 8th generation potters, has a magnificent noborigama – a long, multi-chambered kiln built up a hill. They specialise in models of Tanuki-san as well as crockery and large pots.
TIP BY: Kavita Favelle, kaveyeats.com (< read all about her travels around the world!)
“I was thrilled to discover that the wheel-throwing pottery lesson I booked was one-to-one with the tutor. He sat down opposite me and patiently taught me how to throw a traditional handle-less tea mug, helping me make a trial one before throwing one to keep.
Offered the choice of my mug being fired in the next run of their electric kiln, or waiting till the annual run of the ancient noborigam, I chose the latter, paying in advance for postage to send the fired mug to England. Several months later, the mug arrived, with beautiful colorations of clay characteristic of a wood-fired kiln. Since then, I’ve taken up pottery as a hobby, and continued to grow my skills. In the meantime, Miho museum remains on the to-do list, for our next trip to Japan!”
BOOK THIS ACTIVITY:
- Soto-en Shigaraki (See their website (in Japanese) >>)
HANDS-ON TRAVEL IN OKINAWA
Weave your own Minsa Cloth
Minsa is a type of traditional Okinawan textile that developed about 400 years ago. According to tradition, women would give a woven, indigo-dyed Obi (wide cloth belt) to a man as a sign of their engagement. The dye pattern in the belt would have 5 and 4 squares in alteration, representing (by way of word play) an invitation that he visits her anytime, often and forever (itsu-no yo-mademo-suenagaku, ‘itsu’=5 and ‘yo’=4).
TIP BY: Me! (Read all about my visit to Ishigaki Island >)
“If you like to get hands-on, then this creative travel experience is definitely something for you: you can make your own woven piece of Minsa textile at Minsah Kogei Kan. After the effort, they will take the piece of woven fabric off the loom for you and you will get it nicely wrapped up and together with a certificate back. Great memory!”
BOOK THIS ACTIVITY:
- Minsah Craft Museum (See their website >>
HANDS-ON TRAVEL IN NAGOYA
Take a Nagoya Food Tour
Nagoya is a foodie paradise in Japan. It offers many dishes that can only be found in the area. But sometimes it can be hard for foreigners to find out about local dishes and to find the best restaurant. In some cases it isn’t clear what you should order, or when the dish arrives how to eat it correctly. That’s where the Nagoya Meshi Food Tour comes in.
TIP BY: Lena Yamaguchi, nagoyafoodie.com (< read all about the food tours she runs)
“This culinary tour is a deep dive into the local cuisine and culture. In a small group you will visit 3 local restaurants and explore the underground levels of a department store. All located in the heart of the city. Trying a wide variety of local dishes and snacks. Your guide will take care of everything so you can enjoy and learn.
Learn about the special local ingredients such as Hatcho Miso (a special kind of fermented soybean paste), the story behind a sweet called the Devil’s rice cake and more. Tours run daily from 2:30 p.m. for 3.5 hours.”
BOOK THIS ACTIVITY:
- Nagoya Meshi Food Tour (See their website >>
Do You Travel to Discover Hands-On Experiences?
Let us know in the comments below what your favourite activity in this list is – and if you have any great additions to share with us. We are always adding to this page, so keep your suggestions coming! Look below for more information about creative travel and where else in the world you can have great hands-on experiences:
Creative Tourism Network
If you are looking for more creative tourism examples, then make sure to head over to the website of the Creative Tourism Network, as they are a fantastic source of information and inspiration for your upcoming travels.
The Creative Tourism Network is the international organization for the Creative Tourism development worldwide. They offer consulting and training to tourism professionals and also host the Creative Tourism Awards to reward projects, companies and destinations that foster the new generation of tourism with the active participation of tourists in creative activities.
Map of Japan Creative Travel and Tours
Creative Traveller’s Handbook
My travel blogger friend Elena wrote a wonderful book about creative travel that I can highly recommend reading. In this inspiring handbook, she answers not only the question who creative travel is for, but she gives practical tips on how to be creative on your own travels and how to plan your next creative trip down to all the details.
Read my full review of the Creative Traveller’s Handbook >>
Creative Travel Around the World
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