Japan is a nation full of artistry, ancient craft, and beauty. During your time in this country, you will be exposed to unique ways of preparing foods, different varieties of tea, and beautiful traditional clothes. And there is no better way to learn about these arts than from local artisans themselves. (What is an artisan? Simply put, an artisan is a specialist. It’s someone with a unique skill set, which could be anything from cooking to painting, or from conservation to pottery.) So, if you’re eager to learn as much about Japan as you possibly can, here are a few unforgettable artisan experiences that you can have in the Land of the Rising Sun.
COOKING CLASSES: IZAKAYA, BENTO, TEMPURA, SOBA…
Try your hand at traditional Japanese cuisine with a cooking class! Many of the popular dishes and cooking methods that visitors often enjoy recreating are Izakaya, Bento, Tempura and Soba.
Izakaya is the word for a Japanese pub. Here, customers munch on Japanese-style tapas and small bites, so during an Izakaya cooking class, you’ll be tasked with preparing many small dishes — from tangy sauces to seaweed bites — that your guests or group will share and pass around. This is a fun way to learn how to cook many different Japanese dishes at once.
Bento is a single-portion serving that’s very popular. You may have heard of Bento boxes, which are similar to lunch pans or meal preparation containers. Traditionally, it holds rice, noodles, fish, and vegetables, to create an entire, portable meal.
Tempura is food that has been battered or deep fried. For a traditional experience, you may prepare seafood or vegetables, or you could try your hand at sweet potatoes, other meats, or even desserts!
Soba is the Japanese term for buckwheat, usually referring to super thin noodles made from this ingredient.
Whichever cooking experience you choose, you’ll be able to return home and show off your new skills!
SAKE BREWERY TOUR
Need a drink after all of your hard work in the kitchen? You can’t visit Japan and not take just a sip of some sake. This is a traditional rice alcohol and a staple of the nation. To immerse yourself in sake is to fully understand how it is produced, so put on your walking shoes and visit a brewery!
Here, you’ll see the entire process, from removing the bran to fermenting the rice. You’ll be able to try many variations of the drink and hopefully take some home! Those who produce sake are very passionate about it, so you won’t find a more invested artisan or teacher anywhere than you will in a Japanese brewery.
TEA FACTORY AND PLANTATION
Have you ever dreamed of sipping tea in Japan? Or of meandering through tea plantations in the early morning? In a Japanese tea factory, you can experience all of these incredible moments alongside an artisan who knows the ins and outs of tea production. There are countless variations of tea, tea leaves, tea steeping methods, and tea drinks that you can learn about and sample. During your visit, you’ll come to understand the many benefits that drinking tea can have, learn how to correctly prepare and steep the drink, and discover how to traditionally serve it to guests. You can spend a day trip at a factory like this, or even make a reservation at a plantations that doubles as a homestay. However you choose to educate yourself on Japanese tea, this will be an experience you will never forget.
Washi — or the paper that makes up traditional Japanese fans and lanterns — literally means “Japanese paper.” To create it, artisans use local fibers and process them by hand. Using a wooden block, they print the designs onto paper, then create various fans, lanterns, and other handmade products. Washi paper was initially made in China but was brought to Japan 600 years later by Buddhist monks who utilized it for writing sutras.
When you participate in this ancient practice, you are learning a skill that is only held by a handful of people — one you can take home and put to use as you decorate your own home.
Last but not least, we come to origami, an art form that billions of people have encountered all around the world. It is the art of folding small pieces of paper into intricate designs and shapes. Originally, paper was a scarce resource, so only the Japanese elite knew how to create origami, but now, this art form is a beloved symbol of Japanese culture. It’s used recreationally as a form of relaxation, a way to bring about good fortune, and a method for fostering creativity in children.
If you visit Japan, adding a visit with an artisan can only enhance your experience. You will return home with a new skill, a souvenir, and personal knowledge of their history and society.
Our own Japan Expeditions include several artisan experiences to make your journey that much more immersive, hands-on, and enlightening. Book a trip to Japan, and get to know a local artisan or two!
Thanks for reading!
Xoxo, Grace Poulos
Follow her adventures on Instagram!