JAPAN is famous for forward thinking, with the folks that call this progressive Asian country home driving the dash towards the future.
Robots rather than receptionists check guests into hotels, wall-to-wall neon welcomes travellers venturing out at night to explore bustling urban neighbourhoods, vending machines sell cold beer or hot coffee, and electronics emporiums stock gadgets that dazzle even the most hard-core geek.
But look beyond the bright lights and Japan is bursting with bygone charm and those travellers willing to take even the smallest step from the tourist trail can become effortlessly immersed in the elegant tradition and gentle culture of this magical destination.
While spotting a local lady wearing a beautiful kimono on the streets of Kyoto, glimpsing a geisha gliding through the old corners of Kanazawa, or seeing a sumo doing battle in a Tokyo stadium will satisfy those seeking to merely Instagram a memorable moment inquisitive travellers can take part in the slower side of Japanese life.
Take a timeout during a temple stay
Checking into the nearest Hilton is the easy option but bedding down in a Buddhist temple – called a shukubo – promises a more meaningful experience with those in the know adding it should be on every inquisitive traveller’s to-do list when paying Japan a visit.
While the typical lodgers are locals completing a spiritual pilgrimage international travellers are welcome with overnight guests sharing a vegetarian shojin-ryori meal with the monks, joining in daily activities like meditation, and observing morning prayers.
An ideal location to indulge in a temple stay is Koyasan in Wakayama Prefecture – the Kii Peninsula address features on one of Lonely Planet’s best in travel lists this year – with the mountain sanctuary home to more than 100 temples and half offering modest accommodations.
For more information on exploring Wakayama Prefecture see the region’s page on the JNTO website.
Drop the duds to soak in an onsen
Visiting an onsen is almost mandatory for anyone wanting to spend time getting to know Japan. These natural hot springs, which must be experienced sans a swimsuit, are as much a part of Nippon culture as baseball and bullet trains.
There are literally thousands of onsen around Japan – from shallow baths perfect for soaking tired feet in called ashiyu, to the vast pool big enough to accommodate 100 in Sukayu near Aomori City – with the experience enhanced for travellers spending the night in a neighbouring traditional ryokan inn.
The locals indulge in this daily ritual for different reasons, for some the thermal water heals ailments from acne to arthritis while others go to socialise in the communal baths, and while the experience is heaving with historical convention locals forgive foreigners who innocently break the rules.
Oita Prefecture on the southern island of Kyushu is celebrated as the home of the onsen, because it boasts the highest number of thermal springs in Japan, and experts recommend seaside Beppu and mountainous Yufuin as two agreeable addresses to savour some social hot-water therapy.
For more information on visiting these natural hot springs see the onsen page on the JNTO website.
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Written by Sarah Nicolson, KARRYON contributor
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