Japan cultural holidays travel guide


The Japanese welcome is part of the country’s makeup, not only to foreigners but from neighbour to neighbour. Which means that travelling here is simply a joy. Because nothing is done just for tourism but is inspiringly innate.
The ancient architecture is revered and, thus, preserved, with waterside temples looking like they have been Photoshopped, they are so perfect. There are four main islands and so it is bigger than you think. And so with highlands and islands, sacred trails and ancient tales, this country’s cultural heritage is as layered as one of its beautifully wrapped gifts. And yes, it keeps on giving and giving.
Find out more in our Japan cultural holidays travel guide.
If you'd like to chat about cultural Japan or need help finding a holiday to suit you we're very happy to help.
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Best time to go on a Japan cultural holiday


There are no extreme climates to deal with in Japan, although there are definite seasonal influences on cultural happenings. The famous cherry blossom festivals vary geographically, starting in January in Okinawa, but at their best in late March to April in the Honshu region. In Hokkaido, you want to get there in May for the full array.
Japan’s ‘rainy’ season is from mid-May until the end of June, but visiting temples enshrouded in moody mists makes them look as if they are floating ethereally in air. And although the countrywide Buddhist O-bon festivals are planned around the lunar calendar, they are very seasonal, falling in August. Japanese travel en masse for O-bon, when trains take on a lunatic status as well.

Things to do on a Japan cultural holiday


Things to do on a
Japan cultural holiday…

Because it is volcanic, bathing in hot springs has always been part of the culture in Japan. The hot spring baths are called onsens, You will find big public communal ones, or small ones in traditional inns. There are lots of rituals and etiquette to be respected around bathing, but the most important ones to remember are – yes, they are naked, and yes, they are segregated. And also, wash before you get in. They are for chilling in, not scrubbing in.
It’s almost impossible to get bad food in Japan. You will find some weird things on the menu, but from bento to miso, sushi to sashimi, prepare for an epicurean expedition. If you say itadakimasu before you start, similar to bon appetite, you will be a big hit. Try and fit a sushi class and a tea ceremony into your holiday for a cultural coup.
Stay in a traditional inn called a ryokan. Usually in rural areas, they have sparse rooms covered in tatami mats, and a low table for drinking tea or eating meals. Traditional food is a feature of staying in a ryokan, as is bathing, with many of them having their own spring baths. Minshuku are budget inns, with all the tradition but not all the food.

Things not to do on a
Japan cultural holiday...

Japan is one of a few countries, including Norway and Iceland, which still hunts whales for eating, despite an international moratorium. So watch out for anything marked unesu or onomi on the menu as this is whalemeat.
There are many but, if possible, don’t ignore the rules of etiquette, although Japanese people are too polite to comment if you break a rule. It is still good to learn some of the classics. Such as when to bow, when to bring gifts (always!) and what to do in a public bath. Hugging, for example, isn’t a big thing in Japan. But a good holiday company will know all the faux pas. The best thing you can do is never be rude. Welcoming and helping people is core to Japanese culture.
Don’t do dolphinariums. Although many places in the world are waking up to the fact that dolphins or whales in captivity are just wrong on so many levels, they are still prolific in Japan. Watch the award-winning film, The Cove, before you go, for a wakeup call on this subject.
Geishas should not be misunderstood. First, they are not laid on for tourists, and second, they are not prostitutes. A very old and rapidly disappearing tradition, you’ll spot ‘maikos’ or ‘apprentices’ in the hanamichi (geisha quarters) of Kyoto and Tokyo.
Photo credits: [Top box - fuji: Reginald Pentinio]
Written by Catherine Mack
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