Updated: May 25
With Japan opening up its borders for the first time in three years, I, like many of you, am excited at the opportunity for you to experience the rich culture of Japan.
To help make the most of your upcoming travel or inspire you to plan a future trip, I wanted to share my top 5 tips for a memorable and intentional trip to Japan through the lens of well-being. As a country known for its longevity, why not experience its authentic culture and see how it can improve your well-being along the way?
1. Eat with an itadakimasu attitude.
A traditional Japanese meal has many small dishes to enjoy with a bowl of rice.
It goes without saying that Japan is full of fresh, high-quality, delicious and nutritious foods that will satisfy all food preferences.
A few of my recommendations include a fresh seafood experience at Tsukiji, one of the biggest fish markets, a beautifully packaged triangle rice-ball “onigiri” from a convenience store, or a stop at a Japanese shop stand “yatai” for some yakitori. The choices are endless, and it is hard to go wrong regarding food selections in Japan.
To make this culinary experience even more memorable, I recommend adding a cultural experience with an “itadaki-masu” attitude. In Japan, we start meals by saying “itadaki-masu” (いただきます), which roughly translates to “I humbly receive and am grateful for this food”. This saying is a gratitude practice that thanks the individuals who made the meal, the food itself, and everyone involved in helping bring this meal together. Adding this brief moment of gratitude before a meal can help enhance your local Japanese cuisine experience through intention and make each bite just a little bit more special.
2. Spend a night at a traditional Japanese ryokan.
A ryokan is a traditional Japanese resort where you can take in the beauty of a hot spring (onsen) surrounded by nature. Enjoy the experience of a traditional Japanese dinner (kaiseki) and traditional Japanese clothes (yukata) that will rejuvenate your body and soul. What is beautiful about these ryokans is that they are rich in history. You can see the traditional Japanese architecture of tatami-matted rooms, futon-style beds, and sliding doors (fusuma and shoji) that create a unique, calm space that is often secluded from the busy life of the city.
3. Listen to the gratitude and community connection in Japanese phrases.
Language is key to understanding one’s culture. A few common Japanese phrases that may be worth paying attention to can help give you insight into the world of Japan.
A phrase used when you want to show appreciation and acknowledge someone’s hard work. While this phrase is similar to “long day?” in English, it doesn’t have any negative ties to it and doesn’t see hard work as a negative. It simply acknowledges the individual and shows gratitude for their work. You will most likely hear this phrase when you see family members greet each other after a long day at work, coworkers greeting each other after wrapping up a project, or employees changing shifts at a store.
Japanese people often use the phrase omotenashi to express the intention of welcoming guests to Japan. When we look at the roots of this phrase, it is a combination of two terms, “omote” and “nashi”.
“Omote” means public face, an image you wish to present to others while “Nashi” means nothing. Combining these means every action is from the bottom of the heart – honest, no hiding, no pretending.
This phrase comes from the word “arigatashi”, meaning having something rare and precious. This common phrase reminds us to stay grounded and not take things for granted, as a kind gesture or thought is worth celebrating with gratitude.
Listen for these phrases while you are travelling to Japan, and you can start using them during your trip and see how you feel.
4. Try a local experience.
While the stunning historical sites of Kyoto, Osaka, and Tokyo are a must-see, a local daily experience can help you go beyond the “seeing” of Japanese culture and “feeling” it. If we look at what Japanese wellness entails, we recognize that daily lifestyle habits contribute to longevity. I recommend trying out the perhaps lesser-known but just as enjoyable local experiences to help bring you closer to what I might look like if you were living in Japan.
Wake up with a Japanese morning exercise routine - Radio Tasio.
Radio Taiso has been practised for over 100 years and is an exercise routine shown every morning on the national TV network. It is a quick morning routine created to wake up your muscles and joints and is practised at homes, schools, and even companies. Try tuning in to a Radio Taiso exercise by switching your TV on in the morning.
Belt out your favourite tunes with karaoke.
While karaoke bars seem to be available throughout the world these days, trying a karaoke singing experience in its roots of Japan is something special. While karaoke is often seen as a nighttime activity abroad, in Japan, it is appreciated by all age groups. This includes the elderly having weekly karaoke sessions with their friends during the day, families going together on the weekend, to morning karaoke sessions alone. Being able to express yourself through singing can have tremendous benefits to your overall well-being, and I wouldn’t let the time of day determine when you go to a karaoke session in Japan.
Try a home-cooking party.
You can try the locally popular home-cooking parties by making some of the classic Japanese dishes, including “Okonomi-yaki Japanese pancakes”, “Gyoza dumplings”, and “Nabe hotpot” at home. Run to a local supermarket to buy the ingredients and make these dishes at home with a group of friends. Locals enjoy doing this with their friends as they experience making a meal together from scratch. The deliciousness will only be amplified when you finally put together a fantastic meal.
5. Bath in nature with forest bathing.
With mountains occupying over 80% of Japan’s landmass, it is fair to say that Japan offers ample opportunities to spend time in nature. Japan is known to appreciate nature by practising forest bathing, or “shinrin-yoku (森林浴). This is a concept where you are “bathing in nature” through your senses and is considered a mindfulness practice that has both physiological and psychological health benefits. Explore a local nature experience by paying attention to your five senses - what can you smell, see, hear, touch and taste? Using our body to help guide us to presence is a powerful practice that will rejuvenate your body & soul.
Bonus: Take time to reconnect with yourself through Japan’s three traditional arts.
Japan has three traditional arts with over 2,000 years of history - these include Japanese flower arrangement “Kado (花道)”, Japanese tea ceremony “Sado (茶道)” and Japanese calligraphy “Shodo(書道)”.Many popular personal development concepts such as “Ichigo-ichie”, “Mushin”, and “Wabi-sabi” are all terms that are part of the practice of these three arts. Through their principles, these three arts help us understand how to live a more intentional and mindful life.
As someone who has been a student of Japanese calligraphy for 20 years, I can share how this practice has been the most significant mirror of my inner world. The saying that our “writing does not live” can help us see what is going on in our inner world that perhaps we are unaware of. Experience the beauty of presence with a traditional Japanese art class.
What tip resonated with you the most? Were there other tips that you wished we covered? Comment below.
About Mogami's Founder
Saori Okada is the Founder of Mogami 最上, a Japanese wellness brand headquartered in London (U.K.)on a mission to empower individuals' wellbeing by helping them discover, learn, and integrate the art of Japanese wellness into their daily lifestyles. Mogami provides educational content, wellness experiences, private coaching, and corporate wellbeing services to coach everyday principles to improve their holistic wellbeing.
Saori received her B.S. in Commerce from the McIntire School of Commerce at the University of Virginia and her coaching training as a Certified Transformational Nutrition Coach from the Institute of Transformational Nutrition. Saori also holds her Project Management Professional (PMP) certification from PMI and is a 20-year student of Japanese calligraphy, given the calligraphy name Seisen (星洗). She is also the author of a narrative memoir titled "Until the Death of Me", where she bravely shares her eating disorder recovery journey. After a successful 7-year corporate career in media analytics in New York City and Toronto, Saori moved to London to start Mogami in August 2021.