Japan is an incredible destination that offers Canadian travellers a unique blend of familiar Western comforts and a distinctive culture that cannot be found anywhere else in the world. Renowned for its safety and hospitality, Japan welcomes visitors from around the globe to explore its quirky festivals, unusual accommodation options, art attractions, and distinctively Japanese customs and traditions.
One of the best ways to experience Japan’s unique culture is by attending its festivals, or matsuri, which are celebrated throughout the year. Japan’s cultural calendar is packed with festivals and events that range from cherry blossom festivals celebrated throughout the country to those specific to a particular region or town. Some of the most fascinating events, however, are those that are uniquely Japanese and cannot be found anywhere else.
For example, the Hokkai Heso Matsuri is held annually at the end of July in Furano City, Hokkaido, and celebrates the city’s identity as Hokkaido’s heso or belly button. Participants paint faces on their naked bellies before dancing and parading through the streets, and spectators can enjoy belly button-inspired street food.
The akutai matsuri is another unique event held in several places in Japan, where 13 Shinto priests dress as tengu, legendary mountain goblins, and trek between shrines as locals shout insults at them. These festivals are held around the end of December and are believed to bring good luck to participants as they enter the new year. Other festivals, like the naki sumo, celebrate the belief that a crying baby can ward off evil spirits, and sumo wrestlers cradle babies, and the first to cry is proclaimed the winner.
Japan’s art galleries and cultural attractions showcase a unique side to the country’s history, traditions, and society. Manga and anime, two illustrated art forms pioneered in Japan, have become well-known around the world, with franchises such as Pokemon, Astro Boy, and My Neighbor Totoro. Studio Ghibli, the name behind many popular anime movies, has recently opened the Ghibli Park, a must-visit for fans in Aichi, on the outskirts of Nagoya. Rather than featuring rides, visitors can stroll among the trees and discover buildings and architecture seen in the studio’s movies, as well as visit the Grand Warehouse packed with exhibits and a screening room.
Another Japanese cultural attraction that stands out is the Nima Sand Museum, inspired by the “singing sands” of Kotogahama Beach. This beach makes a squeaking sound similar to a harp as you walk on it. The museum consists of six glass pyramids designed by renowned Japanese architect Shin Takamatsu and includes a “yearglass” that is turned upside down each December 31 to countdown the next year.
In 2023, three Japanese cities are mounting art triennales that combine culture and geographic place. The contemporary art exhibited as part of the triennale in Yokohama, a port city, examines the relationship between Japan and the rest of the world, as well as between society and individuals. Saitama, a short train ride from Tokyo, is strongly focused on Saitama culture and explores the theme “We.” Suzu City in Ishikawa, often described as where the “forgotten Japan” can still be found, is hosting the Oku-Noto Triennale, which aims to bridge the gap between traditional and contemporary art forms through installations, performances, and anything from cooking to fashion to handicrafts.
Overall, Japan is a destination that offers Canadian travellers a unique blend of familiar Western comforts and distinctive cultural experiences that cannot be found anywhere else.