Get a richer understanding of Japanese culture while in Tokyo, one of the world’s most intoxicating cities.
This November, AFAR Experiences is headed to Tokyo in collaboration with World of Hyatt for three days of immersive activities, such as dining with innovative chefs, discussing art with its curators, and learning from local experts ingrained in the fabric of Tokyo. Here are four ways you can get beneath the surface and appreciate Tokyo’s nuances and traditions, whenever you visit.
Hot Springs in the City
Japan is an island nation with abundant natural hot springs, and bathing is a quintessential cultural experience. Sink into the pure hot-spring waters of Tokyo’s Jakotsu-yu baths (the charming outdoor one is lit by lanterns) or unwind in its sauna. For silky soft skin, relax in a nanobubble bath and afterwards, dip your toes in the Ashi-no-yu foot soak. Massages, foot reflexology, and fish therapy (where tiny fish literally pick your feet clean) are all available at the spa. For complete quiet, kick up your feet in the Yasumi-Dokoro recliner room, a space devoted to napping. After your treatments, linger in the tatami-mat lounge and snack on udon and yakitori.
Symmetry, clean lines, and modern elegance abound at Tokyo’s Higashiya Ginza. This confectionery and teahouse brings a modern twist to the Japanese tea ceremony while still honoring the original values of simplicity, lack of ornamentation, and ritual. Sit beneath glass pendant lights in the space’s warm interior and choose from over 30 varieties of green tea and wagashi, Japanese confections like steamed buns filled with bean jam. It’s a welcome reprieve after shopping in the surrounding Ginza district.
Of the six grand sumo tournaments held annually in Japan, three are hosted in Tokyo (January, May, September). If you visit out of tournament season—or prefer a more intimate venue for sumo spectating—you can attend a morning practice session at a sumo stable. Wrestlers eat, sleep, and train together at their beya, or stable. Many of Tokyo’s 47 stables are in the Ryogoku and Kiyosumi districts and select ones, including Arashio-beya, Musashigawa-beya, and Oshiogawa-beya, are open to visitors. Sumo, equal part ritual and sport, has a 1,500-year history and etiquette is important. No eating, talking, or flash photography is allowed during practice. Afterwards, the atmosphere is more laid-back and you can often pose for photos with the wrestlers. Even being a spectator can work up an appetite; you might do as the wrestlers do and dine on Chanko Nabe, a stew usually served at restaurants near sumo stables.
Bon, in Tokyo’s Taito district, stands out for its elevated presentation of Buddhist monk cuisine known as shojin ryori. Sample multicourse kaiseki-style vegetarian dishes in private tatami-mat dining rooms separated by shoji screens. Based on the Buddhist ideal of bringing forth the bounty of nature at its most delicious, courses consist of seasonal ingredients like sansai mountain vegetables, chilled sesame tofu, mixed tempura, and sakura flavored plates in spring.