What can I do for an educational/learning vacation in Japan?
November 30, 2008 1:29 PM   Subscribe

I'm looking for an interesting "learning" experience on a trip to Japan.

I'm going to visit Japan in late March/early April. My brother is there teaching English and I'm planning on staying for about two weeks. He will probably be in Osaka, and I'm thinking about the following possibilities: a short language immersion, cooking school (I am a major foodie), or some kind of spiritual/meditation retreat.

I want to do something so that I'll have a nice interesting vacation, see my brother, but still be busy. I don't know any Japanese, but probably will try to learn the bare minimum starting in January so I can at least get around by myself.

Any specifics or alternative suggestions are welcomed. While cost will be a factor, I'm interested in any suggestions people have. I haven't decided what my budget will be for the vacation as of yet.
posted by hazyspring to Travel & Transportation around Japan (6 answers total) 2 users marked this as a favorite
Willing Workers on Organic Farms for Japan seems like it'd be an option.
posted by jeffmshaw at 2:16 PM on November 30, 2008

Hosshinji, a small Zen monastery in Obama, Fukui, about three hours by train from Osaka, has offered sesshin, or weeklong guided Zen meditation for lay followers, in the past. I spent a week there in 2002, and really enjoyed it. There are other "experiences" organized by the tourism associations in Kyoto or at Eiheiji in Fukui City, but it's not as "authentic." Anyway, Hosshinji's website is down but they still hold sesshin, and I can help arrange this if you like.

If you don't have a week (and if you'd rather have a few more details for planning purposes), why not check out Koya-san, in Wakayama Prefecture? It's only about an hour from Osaka, at the top of a mountain, and you can stay in a Shingon temple and participate in some some daily ceremonies. The Koya-san tourist association (linked above) can arrange that for you. I did that about 15 years ago, and it was an incredible experience.

The Chiiori Trust offers a home/farmstay in the Iya Valley in Tokushima Prefecture, easily accessible from Osaka.
posted by KokuRyu at 3:54 PM on November 30, 2008

2nding Koyasan. I spent the night in a monastery there this summer and it was incredibly relaxing and peaceful. There's also a famous forest graveyard there that is stunning and filled with stories. If you're interested, memail me and I'll forward you the name of the Japanese woman who was our guide, she was fantastic and would vastly increase your enjoyment of the trip. She also arranged for our stay in the monastery, which I'm sure she would do for you as well.
posted by Bobby Bittman at 5:09 PM on November 30, 2008

It's not what you asked (answer to that at end), and I've said this in another thread, but if you're heading out to Koyasan anyway, you'll board a train in the area.

Any visitor to Japan needs to see the grime, crime, and poverty that is hidden or flatly denied to exist when it comes to foreigners. It is worth your time to see the "other side." Tobita Shinchi, Shinseikai, Nishinari-ku Police Station...all within walking distance of the beautiful temple complex Tennoji and expansive homeless camp nearby in Tennoji Park.

If you do try to go to Tobita Shinchi on or around New Years Day, keep in mind you will be verbally berated if not physically roughed up. New Years Day, "Japan's family holiday" is the biggest business day for Osaka's dirtiest red light district. Yeah, the irony. It's where indebted hostesses go to bang businessmen for gangsters for about $150/30 minutes, no washroom included, likely no condoms either. Quite a sight, and quite different from the red light districts seen elsewhere in Japan. They where cheap looking souvenir kimonos!

Japan is not all Zen monasteries, Hello Kitty and quirky youth culture. You'd never know that if you stay on the beaten path, or off it, as directed by Japanese.

As a long-term resident of Japan, I made sure every visitor who came to see me in Osaka saw the other side of things, that's just as real if not more so than the image we have of it here. It'll take under an hour and will give you much food for though on your meditation trip to the beautiful mountains of Wakayama or wherever you end up.

I recommend Okayama Prefecture. It has a program that allows foreigners to stay very cheaply at beautiful, hard-to-reach rural and ocean locations. I'm sure their English website has mention of it, there are seven or eight facilities in all, highly recommended. Okayama is accessible by bullet train, express train and/or bus, although the accommodations will take longer to get to because of their isolated locations.

If you are someone you know knows Japanese, use the budget magazine Jaran to get amazing last minute deals.

Kampo no yado run by the state will be full of old people but in beautiful locations. If you know a Japanese person you can probably get a discount.

Koyasan is nice, but it will be very, very, very expensive to stay there. Koyasan sucks the money out of your pocket the moment you get off the train. A day trip is a better idea.

I'd pick an isolated part of Okayama, Hyogo, Nara prefecture or best, Kinosaki onsen in Kyoto prefecture, a resort that has seen better days, and stay at a mid-range inn there. Charming, cheap and bigger bang for your buck.

But whatever you do, please see Osaka's underside. It's a sight you will never forget.
posted by vincele at 10:00 PM on November 30, 2008 [1 favorite]

If you like modern art, my suggestion is to go to Naoshima to the Benesse Art Site, Chichu Museum and Isamu Noguchi's Garden Museum in Mure. NOTE that for the Isamu Noguchi museum, you'll want to make a reservation in advance. I consider the whole Naoshima/Mure experience to be a top 5 experience in Japan.
posted by gen at 10:53 PM on November 30, 2008

You might want to look into One Life Japan heritage interpretation and sustainable lifestyle adventures.
posted by planetkyoto at 4:30 AM on December 1, 2008

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