Introduction to Japanese Culture: Religion & Traditions

by Xue van Rijn
August 10, 2020

During your first visit in the district of Asakusa (Tokyo) you will find yourself overwhelmed by the traditional Japanese culture. Among the amount of shrines, authentic shops and architecture it will not be a surprise to stumble upon an annual matsuri (traditional festivals) as well. What does this district have to offer for the curious tourists, the world travelers and the Japan lovers?

Reading time: 5-6 minutes

Besides the impressive skyscrapers and advanced technological gadgets of Tokyo, there is still an opportunity to experience authentic Japanese culture within this metropolitan city. Asakusa, literally meaning ‘low city’, offers a contrasting experience in which the architecture is parallel to a more traditional style of old Japanese buildings not consisting of at least ten floors. This creates a traditional atmosphere that takes the visitors of Asakusa back in time to a more authentic version of Japan.

Top 5 Sightseeing Spots in Asakusa:

Religion – Shintoism and Buddhism

Japan is well known for it’s spiritual shrines and temples that can be found throughout the country. These sacred buildings are connected to the Shinto religion or Shintoism, a religion that is almost exclusively practiced in Japan. It has a lot of similarities with a nature based religion but it is quite hard to classify as an indigenous religion. In short, the Japanese people worship different types of supernatural entities called kami. This coincides with Japanese philosophy and culture and is therefore a unique aspect to experience during your visit to Japan. Besides Shintoism most Japanese people also practice Buddhism so Buddhist temples can also be found in Asakusa.

  

Matsuri – Traditional Festivals

The most well-known shrine of Asakusa is called Asakusa shrine, which is the center of attention during the annual Sanja Matsuri in May. This traditional Japanese festival is dedicated to the three founders of the Sensoji Buddhist temple making it a religious based festival. It is one of the most popular Shinto festivals in all of Japan attracting around 1,5 to 2 million visitors a year. The activities of this festival revolve around three mikoshi (portable shrines) in which the kami of the three founders are being carried. Furthermore the festival features traditional music consisting of flutes, bells and taiko drums. This contrasts vastly from the annual festivals like Pinkpop or Lowlands in the Netherlands.

Dutch festivals are mostly revolved around popular music artists and large stages whereas matsuri are typically traditional or religion based. These matsuri are organized throughout the year in all of Japan with each matsuri having their own customs and traditions. Besides the traditional music and dance that can be experienced during the matsuri you can also enjoy parades with beautiful traditional Japanese floats. This culturally rich tradition of Japanese matsuri has been carried on for centuries. Thus making it a notable experience in one of the most innovative and progressive countries of the world. So make sure you visit a matsuri while you can during your trip to Japan, because when will you ever get a chance to experience an age-old tradition in the Netherlands?

Street Food – Traditional Snacks and Kappabashi-dori

Sanja Matsuri also offers a market with lots of stands that sell souvenirs related to the festival. But best of all is the Japanese street food that draws in all the hungry visitors who spent their day sightseeing. There are various Japanese sweets including melonpan, a sweet crispy type of bread shaped like a melon, and taiyaki, a sweet/savory filled cake shaped like a fish. But there are also more than enough savory snacks such as takoyaki, wheat-flower based balls filled with octopus, and yakitori, marinated and grilled meat on a stick. And if you’re also interested in making these Japanese snacks you can easily access Kappabashi-dori, also known as Kitchen Town. This street is located between the districts of Asakusa and Ueno where they sell all sorts of kitchen supplies that are used in the Japanese kitchen. In short Asakusa can offer a pleasant traditional experience for food lovers, curious tourists and even experimental chefs.

    

Traditional Gardens

Futhermore you can find a lot of traditional Japanese styled gardens near the various temples in Asakusa. These gardens are carefully tended by their respectful owners making it a tourist attraction. At first glance these gardens seem like a natural creation, however these gardens are completely designed to the very last detail by the Japanese. Every object, whether stones, rocks, flowers or bushes, are placed with utmost precision and consciousness. The Japanese styled gardens are notable through various aspects such as asymmetry, the use of sound, miniaturizing, and a balanced transition between the surroundings and the garden. This makes it a perfect opportunity for the visitors of Asakusa to find some peace and quiet among the busy streets.

Unique Mix of Modern and Traditional

As I have noted before Japan has a strong innovative mindset where most people strive for constant improvement. This can easily be noticed at the very moment you enter Japan. You might sometimes even catch yourself being a character in a science fiction film. It is therefore quite remarkable that the Japanese are able to preserve ancient traditions as well. These traditions vary from kaiskeki, traditional Japanese food that is still served throughout the country, to table manners and tableware. It therefore co-exists with food chains such as McDonalds, Kentucky Fried Chicken and Wendy’s in this day and age. This unique mix of modern and traditional can be found in Japanese architecture, matsuri and social interactions. This phenomenon is rarely found in Western countries like the Netherlands where ancient traditions are replaced by new ones. So if you want to experience old and new, modern and traditional, and innovation and preservation Asakusa is the place to be.

Experience Asakusa at Keiken Japan Expo

If you have never had the opportunity to go to Japan there is one way to experience something similar here in the Netherlands at Keiken Japan Expo

Keiken Japan Expo wants to introduce the Netherlands to the wonders of the rich and diverse culture of Japan. Explore Japanese food, festivals, pop-culture and much more in just one day. During this expo you will also be able to experience an Asakusa-like district in which traditional Japanese culture will be featured. If this has made you excited, make sure to come and visit this amazing event.