Top 10 Hands on Experiences in Japan: From the Experts at Dragon Trip
Japan is a diverse country where high tech modern technology combines with ancient traditional culture. Whether you want to screech round the streets of Tokyo in your very own Mario Kart or sleep over at an ancient Japanese temple, there's something to suit your tastes. We caught up with Dragon Trip's tour experts to find out their top 10 recommendations.
1) Take a sushi school masterclass
Taking sushi classes (which are freely offered in English in Japan’s capital) means you’ll never need to grumble at your dwindling bank balance again when feasting on plate after plate of nigiri in the UK’s expensive Japanese restaurants. A masterclass in DIY, make-it-at-home sushi means you’ll be whipping up perfect Japanese style omelette, putting together delicious temaki combinations and learning how to roll up a perfectly crafted maki roll after just a couple of hours in the kitchen.
2) Learn the art of calligraphy
Not blessed in the art of beautiful handwriting? Fear not. Calligraphy movements come from expressing the emotion of the characters on to the page - so even the messiest of scrawlers can achieve complete calligraphy masterpieces in a short ‘shodo’ class.
3) Master meditation
Nothing is quite as trendy as being ‘zen’ right now. A class lead by a Japanese Buddhist monk will soon have you mastering this ultimate wellbeing technique. You’ll be talked through the various stages of ‘letting go’ and be given a chance to practice quieting your mind. Daisen-In temple, or the sacred area of Mount Koya are two fantastic locations for meditation class experiences.
4) Enjoy a breakfast like no other at Tsukiji
Yes that’s right - fish for breakfast. The early hours just after dawn are the prime time to see the live tuna auctions at this well-known fish market. Thinly sliced, perfectly fresh sashimi served at the market’s surrounding restaurants will leave you wondering why you’d ever eat fish anywhere else, ever again.
5) Indulge in your childhood fantasies - experience real-life Mario Kart!
For those who have known and loved the game, there is no better way to tour the streets of Tokyo than from the seat of your very own fully-functioning, life-sized Mario Kart. Dressing up on these tours is optional (but recommended).
6) Sing your heart out at karaoke
This one may seem obvious - but many people come and go from Japan without stepping inside one of its legendary booths. Even if you think you’re not the type to enjoy warbling along to your favourite songs in the presence of friends, the small, darkly-lit rooms, the accompanying instruments, and the hotline phone which connects you straight to the karaoke bar will help smooth things along and ease any stage fright. Plus, the Japanese karaoke machines seem to manage to turn the most tinny of voices into the smooth, soothing tones of Adele.
7) Game centre combat - fight!
There is no game centre - or games arcade - anywhere in the world quite like those in Japan. Games you have loved since childhood, games you have never heard of, and games which seem utterly bonkers (like the ‘table flipping’ machine) stand side by side in rows in these magnificent halls of retro fun. Before you know it you’ll be digging deep into your pockets for your last remaining yen coins. Do not let this cultural attraction be missed; two minutes in to decorating your first ‘puri-kura’ photo at one of the booths and you’ll soon see why.
8) Take a rapid ride down the Hozugawa River
A boat journey on the Hozugawa River in Kyoto provides both the tranquility of witnessing Arashiyama’s scenic destinations, such as the bamboo forest, from the calm of the water, whilst at the same time allows you to rush through rocky ravines and down the river’s fast-moving rapids. It’s not a typical experience for every Kyoto travellers - so something to tick off once you’ve seen enough of the city’s temples.
9) Sample sake on a brewery tour
Not only are sake brewery staff in Japan almost always a lovely bunch of people, but tours of the breweries allow visitors to gain a deeper insight into Japanese culture; the way some traditions are held on to tightly, whilst others are changed when innovative new methods present themselves. Not to mention you get to try a variety of different sake - lots of it - and some which will taste far unlike any sake you’ve tried before.
10) Sleepover at a Japanese temple
‘Shukubo lodging’ is the description given to overnight stays in Japan’s glorious temples. These reasonably priced rooms allow you to wake early to witness the monks in prayer, and dine on traditional Buddhist fare (known as ‘shojin ryouri’) - an experience in itself. These rooms are not glitzy nor glamorous, but are often perched in areas steeped in nature and surrounded by a sense of calm, spiritual world.
The Dragon Trip packs all of these experiences and more into 13 or 19 day tours of Japan. You’ll get to delve deep below the surface of Japanese culture whilst enjoying the company of a fun tour group and a knowledgeable, reliable tour guide, all on a shoestring budget. Take a look through the tour itineraries here: https://thedragontrip.com/japan-tours/.