10 Best Places to Experience Traditional Japan

Wearing traditional Kimon in old-fashioned area Culture
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Bryce was born in California, and raised near Seattle, Washington! He’s been living in Japan for about 5 years now, the first 3 spent studying at Temple University Japan. His main passion in life is writing and producing music, more specifically EDM if anyone is curious! He is very fond of snowboarding, cooking, traveling, playing video games; all of which he’d ideally enjoy with the company of his great friends. 

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From its food to its architecture to its intertwinement with nature to its refined displays of simplicity, Japan has been able to preserve a vastly unique cultural heritage for centuries. Traditional Japanese culture can be experienced in various parts of the country, whether it’s through the arts, spirituality, festivals, and in some cases even technology. This preservation is prevalent throughout the country and so many experiences are immersive; it’s clear that the nation values its history and aims to share it with the world. So without further ado, let’s explore the top 10 places to dive into the fascinating world of Japanese tradition!

kimono rental

1. Gion (Kyoto)

Gion Kyoto

Gion is a district located in the heart of Kyoto, and it’s known for its traditional architecture, Geisha, and tea houses. The streets of Gion are lined with wooden houses, which are illuminated by lanterns in the evening. Make sure to check out Hanami-Koji street, one of the most popular places in Gion. You can experience traditional Japanese entertainment at the Geisha houses, where Geisha perform dances, play traditional instruments, and engage in conversation with their guests. Additionally, you can enjoy a traditional Japanese tea ceremony at one of those many tea houses in the district. Kyoto alone is one of the best places in Japan to experience traditional elements; there are many other locations other than Gion that offer some truly immersive experiences that will give you an extraordinary sense of authenticity.

▼Discover everything that the area has to offer with our Gion and Nishiki Food Tour!

Kyoto Food and Drink Tour @Nishiki Market
Kyoto Food Tour takes you to the Nishiki Market and will introduce you to Kyoto’s street food culture. We will also visit the places deeply rooted in the local'...

2. Kamakura (Kanagawa)

kamakura buddha

Kamakura is a small coastal town located just an hour away from Tokyo by train. It was once the political capital of Japan during the Kamakura period (1185-1333) and has many historical sites such as the Great Buddha statue at Kotokuin Temple and Tsurugaoka Hachimangu Shrine. The town has a relaxed atmosphere; it’s an ideal place to escape the hustle and bustle of Tokyo. Make sure to try Shirasu, tiny white fish that are a local specialty. It’s also a great place for beach lovers; there are plenty of popular beaches nearby as well as Enoshima, a great place to try Shirasu.

▼Explore all the best local and hidden spots of Kamakura on our private tour!

Kamakura Private Walking Tour (Customizable)
Take a train heading south from Tokyo for about 1 hour and you will get to Kamakura, the old Shogunate capital of Japan. Kamakura has many historically signific...

3. Higashichaya District (Ishikawa)

Kanazawa is a city located in the Ishikawa prefecture, and it’s known for its traditional arts and crafts, such as gold leaf production and Kutani ware pottery. The Higashichaya district is a well-preserved area of the city where you can experience traditional Japanese architecture and tea houses. It’s a bit similar to the Hanami-Koji street we mentioned before. In fact, the area is sometimes referred to as “little Kyoto” You can also visit the Kanazawa Castle Park, which has a beautiful garden and the restored castle of the powerful Maeda family.

4. Koyasan (Wakayama)

Koya-san is a mountainous area located in Wakayama prefecture, and it’s home to one of the most sacred sites in Japan, the Okunoin Cemetery. The cemetery is the final resting place of Kukai, the founder of Shingon Buddhism, and it’s surrounded by ancient cedar trees. The area is filled with great hiking opportunities, so for those who love to hike or even just be outside, it’s a great place to check out. The area is also known for its vegetarian cuisine, which is based on the Buddhist concept of Shojin Ryori. If you’re a vegetarian, you’ll certainly find comfort in this location!

5. Nikko (Tochigi)

nikko toshogu temple

Nikko is a town located in Tochigi prefecture, and it’s famous for its UNESCO World Heritage Sites such as Toshogu Shrine, which is the mausoleum of the first Shogun of the Tokugawa era, Ieyasu. The shrine is famous for its intricate carvings and gold leaf decorations. Nikko is also known for its beautiful nature, such as the Kegon Falls, which is one of Japan’s most famous waterfalls. Tochigi has many great things to check out, such as flower parks and a pottery town!

▼Explore and learn all about Nikko on our customizable private tour of the area!

【Start from Nikko】Nikko 1–Day Private Walking Tour (Customizable)

6. Kawagoe (Saitama)

kawagoe street

Kawagoe is a city located in Saitama prefecture, and it’s known for its well-preserved Edo period (1603-1868) architecture. It’s a very easy day trip from Tokyo! Saitama itself has many great things to do, especially revolving around nature. The city has many traditional shops and cafes where you can enjoy traditional Japanese sweets, such as sweet potato cakes and candy. Make sure to visit the Kita-in Temple, which has a beautiful garden and a museum of Samurai armor.

▼Travel back in time with our guided tour of Kawagoe!

<Private Tour>Timeslip into photogenic retro-looking town neighboring Tokyo, Kawagoe

7. Takayama (Gifu)

Hida Takayama

Head on over to Gifu prefecture, just a bit north of Tokyo, and visit Takayama; it’s known for its traditional crafts, such as lacquerware and woodworking. The city has many well-preserved buildings from the Edo period, such as the Takayama Jinya, which was a government office during the Edo period. You can also visit the Takayama Festival, which is held twice a year in the spring and fall and features traditional Japanese floats and music.

8. Shirakawago (Gifu)

traditional-shirakawago

Shirakawago, often referred to as a “fairytale village”, is another incredible location in Gifu which is known for its unique traditional houses, which are called “Gassho-Zukuri”. These houses have a steep thatched roof, which resembles two hands in prayer, and they were built to withstand heavy snowfall in the winter. You can experience traditional Japanese life by staying at a gassho-zukuri house, which has been converted into a guesthouse.

9. Kiso Valley (Nagano)

kiso valley

Head a bit farther north and visit Kiso Valley, a mountainous area located in Nagano prefecture. It’s known for its historic Nakasendo Trail, which was one of the five major routes during the Edo period. The trail runs through the valley and connects Kyoto and Tokyo. If you’re interested in backpacking, this is a great opportunity! The trail takes 5 days to walk. You can experience traditional Japanese life by staying at one of the many traditional inns along the trail, where you can enjoy local cuisine and hot springs.

10. Himeji Castle (Hyogo)

Himeji Castle is another UNESCO World Heritage site located in Himeji, Hyogo prefecture, and it’s one of the most well-preserved castles in Japan. The castle was built in the 17th century and is known for its white exterior and complex defense systems. You can explore the castle and learn about its history by taking a guided tour.

Japan Wonder Travel Tours 

Japan Wonder Travel is a travel agency that offers guided tours throughout Japan. 
From private walking tours to delicious Food and Drink tours, we can help you organize the best tours just for you! If you want to explore Japan and learn more about the history and backstories of each area you are visiting, our knowledgeable and friendly English speaking guides will happily take you to the best spots! 
In addition, we can provide you with any assistance you may need for your upcoming trip to Japan, so please feel free to contact us if you have any questions or need some help! 

Tokyo Fish Market Tour @Tsukiji – Enjoy Local Food and Drink
Explore the most lively and popular fish market in Tokyo and try some of the local’s favorite street foods and sake with one of our friendly and knowledgeable English speaking guides! 

tsukiji tour

Tokyo 1–Day Highlights Private Walking Tour (8 Hours)
There’s no better way to explore an area than taking a tour with a knowledgeable local guide. You will have the chance to learn about the history and interesting background stories of Tokyo, as well as discover some hidden gems which can be hard to do without a guide.

Asakusa Tokyo private tour

Mt. Fuji Day Trip Bus Tour from Tokyo
Experience the breathtaking views of Mt. Fuji by visiting the highlights of the area on our guided sightseeing bus tour! Departing from Shinjuku in central Tokyo, you can travel comfortably to all of the best spots in the area by bus.

mount fuji chureito pagoda

Kyoto Private Full Day Walking Tour
On this full-day private tour of Kyoto, you will be able to see the highlights of Kyoto in just one day and at the same time develop a deeper understanding of both the culture of the area and Japan as a whole.

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