7 essential Japanese experiences to tick off this season

The places, festivals, trends and foods worth knowing before heading to Japan

WHAT: Cat furniture

WHERE: Fukuoka

Japan’s love of cats is well documented. There are various cat islands (on Aoshima, off Hiroshima, cats outnumber humans six to one) while its most famous Scottish Fold, Maru, has been watched hundreds of millions of times on YouTube. Now it’s gone further: a local train in the town of Ogaki, on Honshu Island, recently took 30 cats – and several passengers to pet them – onboard to encourage awareness of adoption; while in the city of Okawa, in Fukuoka prefecture, art collective Okawa Kagu makes Muji-style feline furniture.


WHAT: 150th birthday of the Meiji Restoration

WHERE: Kyushu

This year is the 150th anniversary of the Meiji Restoration, a landmark event that sparked the beginning of Japan’s modernisation and the end of its isolation from the outside world. There are celebrations planned around the country, but particularly in Kyushu: the city of Kagoshima has a calendar of celebrations and events to mark the anniversary (and for the physically active, the Kagoshima Marathon in March).


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WHAT: Snoopy Museum

WHERE: Tokyo

Roppongi’s Snoopy Museum – the only one in the world – is only open until September. The museum, where exhibitions have been on rotation every six months, hosts Charles Schulz’s original drawings as well as a themed cafe and an excellent gift shop (that you can only access if you visit the museum).


WHAT: Buddhist bars

WHERE: Kyoto, Tokyo

Mix your martini with a dash of doctrine at Japan’s creed of Buddhist monk bars. You’ll find them in cities including Kyoto (Bozu Bar) and in Tokyo (Vowz Bar, run by monk Yoshinobu Fujioka for the past 17 years). Across the country, zen cooking (shojin ryori) and drinking is taking off: there are Buddhist monks making coffee at Josen-ji Temple in Aomori, while even Amazon has got in on the act with a monk dispatch service for performing ceremonies.

WHAT: TeamLAB immersive art

WHERE: Fukuoka, Tokushima

Kyushu’s Saga prefecture became Japan’s most talked about art hub at the end of 2017 thanks to the ‘walking forest’ exhibition in Mifuneyama Rakuen garden, home to 5,000 cherry blossoms and 50,000 azaleas. The colourful show was put on by Tokyo art collective teamLab. This season, teamLab lights up Fukuoka Castle (until 28 January) and the river, forest and urban core of Tokushima (9-28 February).

Japan guide hotlist

WHAT: Fruit sandwiches

WHERE: Across Japan

The snack everybody’s talking about once again is furutsu sando: sandwiches filled with fresh fruit and thick cream, on slices of sweet Japanese bread. You’ll find them in ad-hoc food stalls or cafes. The fruit is generally seasonal: in winter, it’s all about strawberries.

WHAT: Island hiking

WHERE: Seto Inland Sea

Japan’s Seto Inland Sea is no longer one of the country’s best-kept secrets. This summer, Walk Japan launches a brand-new tour exploring the islands bordering the inland sea, focusing on the history of the area, modern art as well as architecture – and how these industries are driving the region’s revival. Explore before anybody else does.


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