Relaxing Activities in Japan
Many people in Japan spend long hours at work or in school, so if they are finally off they want to relax. Especially during the long weekends and holidays like Golden Week, many Japanese people take multi-day trips. Luckily, there are a plethora of ways to relax a tired mind and body in Japan. Foreign tourists can easily add some local relaxing activities to their trip itineraries. Let’s see some popular ways to relax in Japan!
A Ryokan Stay
Although it tends to be quite pricey, a little bit of splurging on a ryokan stay is so worth it. Most people don’t stay at a ryokan for prolonged periods of time, as it is a bit more comprehensive than staying at a regular hotel. Japanese people go to a ryokan to truly relax and not have to think of anything. Many guests don’t leave the ryokan much or at all during their stay, especially if they are only staying for one night. One- or two-night stays are the norm for most locals, but of course, if you can afford it you can opt for a longer stay as well.
It already starts at your arrival, where you change into your slippers at the entrance. It kind of feels like you are coming home! After checking in you will be brought to your room, which usually has tatami flooring. The futon beds will be made for you by the staff after dinner. After getting acquainted with your often minimalist room, we recommend you explore the bathing options of the ryokan. There are often multiple places to bathe, especially in the higher-end ryokan. If you really splurge you might even have an ensuite outdoor tub with a great view!
Having dinner in your room is highly recommended, in fact, it will be one of the highlights of your stay. High-end ryokan serve amazing kaiseki dinners using only the best fresh local ingredients. These meals have many courses, so it’s better not to eat too much beforehand. The food is almost always healthy and tends to be served so beautifully that it looks like a piece of art. If you are vegetarian, it is best to let the ryokan know ahead of time so they can prepare a meat-free meal for you.
Relaxing Activities when Visiting a Hot Spring Resort
While you can have a nice onsen experience in Tokyo, if you truly want to do a refreshing getaway you should head to one of Japan’s many hot spring resorts. Because of Japan’s location in the Ring of Fire, natural hot springs are abundant and contain minerals that can improve many health issues. Especially areas that are near an (active) volcano like Hakone, Kinosaki, Kusatsu, and Beppu have a town heart that is solely dedicated to their hot springs.
The townscapes of hot spring resort towns are very picturesque, as many towns preserve the traditional style with wooden buildings. It truly makes you feel like you are transported back to pre-modern times! Some resort towns have public outdoor baths that you can use for a small fee. It is fun to walk around in yukata and wooden slippers to go from bath to bath. Having a light meal like soba noodles for lunch is great if you don’t want to feel too full to take a bath again soon after.
To mix it up a bit, you can do some other activities in between like taking a sand bath in Beppu or watching a water stirring performance in Kusatsu. Hakone has many tourist attractions to visit like the pirate ship or the active volcano of Okuwadani. In Kinosaki you can visit Marine World, an aquarium where you can get quite close to local sea life.
There’s just something about being surrounded by natural shades of green that makes us feel relaxed. Breathing in the clean and fresh air while slowly taking in the details of the forest around you is a dedicated activity in Japan. It is called shinrin-yoku, or forest bathing in English. A few years ago this concept was trending, and now it became even more important than ever to understand the stress-relieving qualities of nature. Being indoors too much simply isn’t healthy, but a few hours of forest therapy every week can remedy much of that.
While in Japan’s countryside it is easy to find great spots for a forest bath, if you are in Tokyo, it might be more challenging. But no worries, there are still places to go, even within the city! Right in the center, you will find a little jewel of green, the Institute for Nature Study. It is not large, but if you go on a quiet day you can easily lose yourself in the small but lush forest on the grounds. If you don’t mind a bit of travel, Mt Takao will do the trick. Here, you can choose one of the lesser-waked hiking trails for a good getaway.
Relaxing Activities on a Remote Island Getaway
Japan has more than 6000 islands, of which 421 are inhabited. Some of these inhabited islands are quite remote and offer a great opportunity for a true getaway from the normal world. If you are looking for long days in nature and on the beach, this might be just what you’re looking for. Mind you, there are often not many opportunities for entertainment on these islands and no nightlife to speak of. So you are really there to be one with nature and not be distracted by other things.
Not many international tourists know that the municipality of Tokyo actually has a few subtropical remote islands. They are called the Izu islands, and there are 9 of them in total. Especially the smaller ones like Aogashima and Kozushima are real hidden gems without throngs of even local tourists. The best way to get there is by boat.
If you want to go a bit further away from Tokyo, you can also visit the remote islands between Kyushu and Okinawa. Tanegashima and Amami haven’t been discovered yet by mass tourism and are perfect subtropical jewels with lush nature and pristine beaches. In Okinawa, Japan’s best-known island paradise, you should try Iriomote island for a true escape into nature.
Quiet Temples and Shrines
While the most famous temples and shrines like the Sensoji and Meiji Shrine in Tokyo tend to be very crowded, there are so many off-the-beaten-path ones that are blissfully peaceful. It is definitely a different experience to visit a sanctuary when there’s no one else around. You can take in the beautiful architecture, serene atmosphere, and details you would likely not see in a busy tourist attraction at your own tempo.
In large cities like Tokyo and Kyoto, there are many shrines and temples that are not touristy if you know where to look. In Tokyo, a neighborhood like Yanesen has many smaller temples that are very beautiful but barely get visitors. Just get off the main street into one of the smaller side alleys, and you will easily find them. In Kyoto, you can go to an area like Murasakino to find quiet temples and shrines.
If you want to go all the way, you can go to one of the old Buddhist powerhouses in Japan’s more remote areas. Good places to go would be the Yamadera, Dewa Sanzan, or Hiraizumi. You can also choose to do one of Japan’s pilgrimage routes in Koyasan, Kumano Kodo, or Shikoku. If you truly want to dive in, you can even choose to participate in a Zen meditation session, write sutras, or do a temple stay.
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