Where to experience regional Japanese cultures in Tokyo

You can partake in a vast variety of regional Japanese cultures without leaving Tokyo

Written by
Miroku Hina
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As the capital city of Japan, Tokyo is super convenient, and we don't just mean the public transport – although that's one of the factors that made us the best city in Asia in 2019. While Japan is a diverse country with many regional specialities, you can easily experience all the intricacies of Japanese culture without leaving Tokyo.

You can easily feast on the many regional bento lunch boxes available at train stations. But for something more fulfilling, you'll be glad to know that we have izakaya staging Okinawan musical performances, restaurants inspired by the colourful Nebuta festival in the northern prefecture of Aomori, and more. So if you're looking to experience other parts of Japan without leaving the capital, head to these themed restaurants, workshops and festivals in town.

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Country pursuits

Okinawa Paradise
  • Restaurants
  • Shinjuku

Unfortunately the Japanese have not mastered teleporation yet, but this is the next best thing: an authentic piece of OKinawa in a nondescript Kabukicho building. Okinawa Paradise is a lovely rough-and-tumble izakaya where Tokyo-based Okinawans mingle with locals over island delicacies such as goya champuru stir-fry and soki soba, all washed down with a glass of Orion beer or a cup of awamori. Stay for the Okinawa-born proprietor’s nightly performance of traditional songs and shamisen-playing, which usually brings the atmosphere to boiling point. This is the kind of place that’ll warm you up through and through, even on the coldest of evenings.

Aomori Nebuta World Shinbashi
  • Restaurants
  • Shinbashi

The Nebuta festival in the northern prefecture of Aomori, which centres around a float parade of mythical and legendary warriors, draws more than three million spectators every year. Although not quite as impressive as the real thing, Nebuta World in Shinbashi offers a taste of the grand, colourful float parade’s atmosphere right here in Tokyo.

Run in collaboration with the Aomori prefectural authorities, it’s an izakaya where you can sip sake from the cold north and nibble on fresh seafood or desserts made with Aomori's famous apples while admiring the 'mini-nebuta' paper sculptures creates by masters of the craft. 

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Namahage Ginza
  • Restaurants
  • Harajuku

Akita prefecture is famous for its tradition of namahage – scary-looking deities portrayed by men dressed in demon masks and straw outfits who go from house to house scaring children and driving away evil spirits every February. If being yelled at by a raging ogre while enjoying a serving of Akita cuisine sounds like your idea of a fun night out, booking a table at this unique izakaya in Ginza will do the trick.

Namahage shows take place here every evening at 7.15pm and 10pm, when diners tend to already be well fed on traditional kiritanpo hot pot. This warming delicacy, which is based on a chicken and potherb broth, can be savoured while sitting around a proper fireplace – or if you’re feeling fancy, in a private room shaped like an igloo (yes, really – Akita gets cold in the winter).

Saori Tokyo
  • Things to do
  • Classes and workshops
  • Yoyogi

A free-style hand weaving with roots in Osaka, saori is a beginner-friendly method in which mistakes can be turned into unique design elements. Saori Tokyo in Sendagaya offers classes in this flexible approach to weaving, letting you create your very own scarf or tablecloth in only two hours. Prices are reasonable too, with participation set at ¥1,500 plus the material cost.

While the staff speak only a little English, they will teach you the techniques one by one while showing you exactly how to navigate the weaving process. Cloth woven with the saori method using natural materials such as cotton or wool is soft to the touch, making for a souvenir that you’ll actually use, instead of just stowing away somewhere.

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Dream Academy

Dream Academy

Always wanted to learn how to play the shamisen (a traditional three-string Japanese musical instrument)? Get started at Dream Academy, which operates schools throughout Tokyo and offers classes for tsugaru-jamisen, a string instrument and regional variety of shamisen from the Tsugaru region of Aomori prefecture. Said to have been the instrument of choice for blind musicians travelling around the area back in the day, the tsugaru-jamisen is generally played without a score, relying only on improvisation.

Powerful at times and gentle at others, tsugaru-jamisen tunes are sometimes referred to as ancient Japan’s version of jazz or blues. You can receive guidance on your own or as part of a group, either in English or in another language of your choice (contact the school for more details). In addition to the shamisen, Dream Academy offers lessons in instruments such as taiko drums, koto and shinobue flute. If you’re looking to fit a class into a day of sightseeing, making a booking at their outpost near Asakusa is probably the most convenient option.

Outlets in Aakusa, Ryogoku and Tokyo Skytree. For bookings email dreamacademy634@gmail.com.

Experience more of Tokyo

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