Spirituality and nature come together in Japanese culture as the two major religions Shinto and Buddhism have intertwined over centuries. Like nature, there’s a sense of impermanence or constant change slipping through daily life which needs to be constantly celebrated.
This celebration of spirituality is woven through art forms like taiko drumming and the art of batto, or Japanese swordsmanship, which are both about a meeting of spirit and nature.
Visitors to Tokyo can immerse themselves wholeheartedly in Japanese spirituality - whether it be through meditation, or spending time in a rich mineral hot-spring in the hushed surrounds of a secluded garden.
It’s all about reflection and finding your purpose in every discipline and we’ve suggested a few experiences worth sampling.
THINGS TO SEE AND DO: Don’t let the modern style of the Kouunji temple fool you: though the current building is only about 30 years old, this Zazen school has an interesting history. Zazen is a meditative discipline that is typical of the Zen Buddhist tradition, and beginners are welcome to come to Kouunji to learn about the practise, with free introductory sessions held every Saturday evening. This is the perfect way to delve into an important part of Japanese culture and spirituality.
BEST CHOICE: In addition to the Saturday classes, Kouunji also hosts a morning Zazen session on the first Sunday of each month, with breakfast served at the temple afterwards.
LOCATION: Saya no Yudokoro
THINGS TO SEE AND DO: Mineral-rich spring water is drawn from more than 540 yards underground to fill the hot baths at this beautiful onsen in north-western Tokyo. This is the place to experience Japan’s obsession with hot-spring bathing without having to leave the city, enjoying the centuries-old tradition of outdoor bathing, as well as sampling unique modern offerings such as “tachi yu”, a bath while standing up, “neyu”, a bath used while lying down, as well as saunas, aromatherapies and massages.
BEST CHOICE: After bathing at Saya no Yudokoro, relax in the onsite Japanese garden before dining at the adjacent restaurant, Shitensha, which specialises in freshly made soba noodles.
LOCATION: TAIKO - LAB Aoyama
THINGS TO SEE AND DO: There’s something beautifully primal about the act of drumming, about beating out a tattoo on one of the world’s oldest instruments. That’s something visitors to Tokyo can embrace, too, at TAIKO - LAB, which holds classes in the art of Japanese-style drumming. This is a tradition that goes back more than 2000 years in Japan and is still embraced by musicians today. It’s also a huge amount of fun to get involved at TAIKO - LAB, to grab a pair of “bachi”, or taiko drumsticks, and to go to town – with professional instruction, of course.
BEST CHOICE: Visitors will have the chance to hear their instructor play the o-daiko, the biggest drum at TAIKO - LAB, which produces a seriously impressive sound.
LOCATION: HiSUi TOKYO
THINGS TO SEE AND DO: Every movement has a purpose: that’s something you very quickly learn at HiSUi during a class in batto, the ancient and revered Japanese art of swordsmanship. Your stance has a purpose. The movement of your hand to the sword has a purpose. Your drawing of the blade has a purpose. And the movement of that blade through the air, the angle it takes as you slice through a roll of tatami, has perhaps the greatest purpose of all. This is an amazing insight into a Japanese tradition that’s as spiritual as it is physical.
BEST CHOICE: For the full traditional experience, visitors can choose to wear “hakama”, the training wear for Japanese martial arts, during their batto session.
Discover more about where old meets new at experiencetokyo.nationalgeographic.com
This content was written by and is brought to you by our sponsor. It does not necessarily reflect the views of National Geographic or its editorial staff.