One of my favorite aspects of traveling through Japan were the amazing customs and rituals that the Japanese have. Besides the great sights I loved enjoying the Japanese culture. These were my favorites:
Almost every hotel or Ryokan where we stayed had an onsen (hot spring), we even had an onsen when staying with the monks in Koyasan. Usually men and women visit the onsens separately, as the hotel usually has two onsens. In most hotels they switched up the gender for the onsens each day, so you could experience a different view the next day, which is super thoughtful. In Kawaguchiko Hielke and I rented a private onsen, so we could enjoy the ritual together. Before you enter the onsen naked, you can take a shower. Usually the showers were sit down showers with a mirror, which is something I normally never do and I felt it was intimate as well as liberating. The Japanese really like it if you join them in the onsens ritual, they will explain the ritual to you and sometimes they start talking to you in the onsen. I loved going to the onsen after a hot day of walking through the city and found it the perfect way to calm down.
Staying in a Ryokan is a must in Japan. You usually receive an old school room with rice paper walls (shoji), where you will have a table set up which will be removed at night. In exchange you receive a futon bed. The Ryokans are a good way to experience the traditions of Japan. They often have an onsen and you receive slippers with your room.
Having dinner in Japan is like a ritual itself. The food is always presented in a beautiful way and usually they have different sorts of china for different meals. The highlight of our dinners was the traditional Kaseiki dinner at Tokonamiso hotel. For two hours we received a variety of food, with accompanying sake. There are also a lot of customs for having a Japanese meal, for example you are not supposed to point at your food with your chop sticks, as this is deemed impolite. At Tokonamiso we also received a little barbecue during breakfast to grill fish, which was also a super fun experience. In contrary, while having ramen, these customs seem to go overboard, as everybody eats ramen hanging just above their plates and slurping all the noodles.
One thing that will make your travels in Japan really relaxing is that the Japanese are really polite. While waiting for something, everybody just lines up without complaining. This is very different from the Netherlands, where people can hardly wait to let people leave the train, before getting in and are always pushing in. In Japan you also greet with a bow and the deepness of the bow shows the level of respect. Once we were traveling by Shinkansen and the train was one minute late, the train conductor came to all train compartments to personally apologize.
In Japan “Kawaii” (cute) is a way of life. Many restaurants specifically sell cute food, in some restaurants it actually needs to taste good, but sometimes it is more about the looks 😉 We visited the PomPomPurin Café in Shibuya and had a smile on our face because of the cute food. Japan also has the cutest way for indicating roadblocks, refer to picture below.