Culture Trip brings you The Wishlist – a ready collection of travel ideas inspired by what you love. Discover things to do, where to stay, and the best spots to eat and drink.
From matcha ceremonies that combine mindfulness with antioxidant-rich green tea, to public onsens where friends gather to relax and unwind – Japanese culture naturally prioritises rituals and traditions that enhance wellbeing. Perhaps that’s why Japan has the second-longest life expectancy of any country.
In Tokyo, bubbling onsens are commonplace, and you don’t have to look far to find a pristine, peaceful garden that sets the scene for a meditative moment. You can add depth to your daily matcha habit by learning from a tea master, then make a mean ramen (without the meat).
Culture Trip’s wellness Wishlist proves hectic Tokyo still embodies the healthiest elements of a Japanese lifestyle.
Just a short drive from Tokyo city centre is Odaiba Ōedo Onsen Monogatari, a large Japanese spa where you can kick back in an array of hot-spring baths. Once you’re thoroughly relaxed, throw on your yukata kimono and explore the ensemble of food stalls selling everything from steaming ramen to chunky okonomiyaki (a type of pancake). But take note: visible tattoos and bathing suits are both prohibited.
Tucked away in Tokyo’s quiet Nerima neighbourhood, you’ll find a more relaxed (and grown-up) onsen. Toshimaen Niwa no Yu has the serenity of a traditional Japanese garden thanks to architect Kenzo Kosugi. Hot tubs and gender-specific soaking pools are built into a lush landscape of thoughtfully placed boulders and thriving flora. There’s also a Finnish-style dry sauna and a mixed-gender pool where everybody can relax together (remember: bathing suits are required in mixed-gender areas).
Take a break from the city at Chichibu-Tama-Kai National Park
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If you’re looking to escape the pace of the city, head for the tranquil expanse of Chichibu-Tama-Kai National Park in Okutama, less than two hours from Central Tokyo. Covering over 1,250 square kilometres, the national park is home to hiking trails, ancient Shinto shrines and peaks with views that are worth the exertion. Tackle Mount Mitake to experience the unspoiled natural landscape.
Asakusa’s Sensō-ji Temple is one of Japan’s most popular attractions, and for good reason. Besides being aesthetically arresting – think multi-level pagodas, manicured gardens and red chochin lanterns – Sensō-ji is also the oldest temple in Tokyo. Dip into its history with this guided tour led by local experts who know every legend, myth and fact surrounding the site. Afterwards, explore the nearby craft shops and food stalls.
Encouraging mindfulness, gratitude and hospitality, the ancient tea ceremony is a Japanese ritual dating back over 1,000 years. In this immersive tea ceremony experience, Gion-ji Temple’s head priest leads you step by step through the ritual. Begin by boiling water in an iron kettle and whisking matcha, then sip your tea from beautiful ceramics and finish off with wagashi sweets. You’ll leave feeling refreshed, calm and ready to tackle Tokyo.
For a truly traditional culinary experience, head to Komakata Dozeu, a 200-year-old establishment that hasn’t evolved its recipes much since the Edo period. Sit cross-legged on the tatami-mat flooring and, if you’re brave enough, order the restaurant’s signature high-protein dish: dojō nabe. Waitress clad in kimonos will deliver a personal-size charcoal grill to your table, complete with a pot of grey eel-like loaches. As the pot boils, add additional green onion (this makes it more visually appealing as well as more delicious) and enjoy piping hot.
For a traditional Japanese dining experience, right down to the smallest detail, check out KITAOHJI. Waitresses attired in kimonos serve a seven-course kaiseki meal, a fine-dining experience that emphasises beautifully plated food and omotenashi, or ‘wholehearted hospitality’. Using seasonal ingredients from different regions of the country, KITAOHJI serves dishes that showcase the best of classic Japanese cuisine, from sashimi to wagyu. Don’t forget to brush up on your Japanese dining etiquette before you go. For example, it’s polite to put your chopsticks in the hashioki holder when you’re not using them to eat.
Japanese cuisine is not exactly renowned for being vegan-friendly, but this cooking class proves some dishes work just as well without animal products. A knowledgeable teacher will walk you through how to make crisp, golden, veg-stuffed gyoza parcels as an appetiser, followed by a steaming, satiating bowl of meat-free ramen. Pleasingly simple to cook, these Japanese classics will impress your friends back home during your next dinner party.
With its slightly out-of-the-way location, Hotel Chinzanso Tokyo provides a moment of respite from the city. The stellar spa and the indoor pool are great places to unwind, but the standout feature of this hotel is its spectacular grounds. Stretching almost seven hectares, this area is full of colourful blooms, dainty streams and wildlife. Navigate your way to Hotel Chinzanso Tokyo’s 100-year-old teahouse for a matcha ceremony presided over by a tea master, ring the bell and make a wish at the Shiratama Inari Shrine, and keep an eye out for the Seven Gods of Fortune – stone statues that each embody an element of success and wellbeing.
For a stylish take on a more traditional Japanese accommodation, try Andon Ryokan, a ryokan inn that blends modern amenities with classic design. Just a 20-minute walk from historic Asakusa and not far from Ueno station, you’re well situated to explore the sights and sounds of the city, before relaxing in the hotel’s on-site Jacuzzi. If you’re keen to immerse yourself in traditional Japanese culture, Andon Ryokan also offers a number of cultural activities, including flower arranging, origami workshops, tea ceremonies and calligraphy classes.
Kamogawa Asakusa is a ryokan outfitted with all the customary trappings: tatami flooring, futon beds, personal tea sets and lightweight yukata robes. Enjoy a Japanese breakfast of egg, rice, soup and grilled fish in the morning and a soak in the on-site onsen to wind down before bed. The hotel’s location is another big plus: it’s only a two-minute walk from Kaminarimon Gateway and Sensō-ji Temple (luckily, the crowds clear out before nightfall, making it a peaceful place to rest and recuperate).