Fascination Do something different
The distinct intricacies of Japanese culture, risen from centuries in isolation on a small yet diverse island, offer a sort of prism for self-examination: traditions characterized by exactitude and an assignment of meaning to minutiae give those who come into contact with them space to breathe and expand, filling the moment. Whether spiritual or physical, regional or universal, a Japanese cultural experience offers an opportunity for self-examination and transformation.
Eat, sleep, and meditate like a Buddhist monk
Many Buddhist temples throughout Japan open their doors to travelers, allowing travelers to pause their journey and slip into humble monastery life. You can join the various rites performed at the temple, from prayer to meditation, while collecting your thoughts within the unassuming temple walls and dining on the simple yet refined vegetarian shojin ryori fare.
Follow the footsteps of the pilgrims of old
The four prefectures comprising the southern island of Shikoku are host to 88 Buddhist temples that line the path of an ancient pilgrimage route. Retrace the steps of this long road in contemplation and become one of the centuries' worth of seekers before you, taking the time to slowly shed your earthly concerns and worries with each temple you visit.
Take a journey of the soul in an ancient landscape
The Yamabushi are monks that sequester themselves in the mountains, clothed in white and living in harmony with nature. Follow them into the mountains and isolate yourself from the modern world, gradually feeling yourself melt into the scenery and truly become a part of the world immediately around you as you receive instruction in their strict practices.
Strengthen your body and mind with karate
Karate is synonymous with Japanese martial arts, but with its ubiquity comes a distance from its origins in Okinawa as a practice blending Japanese and Chinese arts, meant to build both physical and spiritual strength. Retrace these roots to the southernmost islands of Japan to get hands-on training in karate at the source.
Venture into the sprawling land of the Ainu
The northernmost island of Hokkaido's indigenous Ainu people boast a culture distinct from that of the rest of Japan, from their clothing and homes to their nature-focused spirituality. These traditions are accessible not only through museums but also through hands-on experiences at actual Ainu settlements that will show you an often underrepresented segment of Japanese culture.
Observe bird species you can't see anywhere else
The sheer diversity of Japan's natural environment is proportional to the diversity of the creatures that occupy it. Birds, both migratory and endemic, are no exception. From the haunting, otherworldly dancing cranes in Hokkaido to the subtropical birds found in Okinawa, birders are sure to delight at the array of species to be found.