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I went to Japan during my finals and didn’t regret a single thing

By Justine Dy Tioco Published Feb 03, 2023 5:00 am

I hated going out of my comfort zone. Whenever my parents would travel abroad for work and ask me if I wanted to tag along, I would refuse even if I wanted to go; after all, the trip’s schedule often interfered with my academic calendar.

When my dad burst into my room one day and excitedly reported that he was invited to Japan by the Japan National Tourism Organization (JNTO), I raised an eyebrow and thought, “Okay… and?”

But then I started thinking about my penchant for Japanese culture—from my obsession with anime in my early teens to my current interest in Japan’s fashion scene and music. Also, considering the tempting idea of traveling again, I asked my father after a long awkward pause, “Can I come?”

Justine with her dad Lucien.

I was positive I would be too busy for a trip that fell on the same week as my finals, yet here I am, with my very first travel article.

Welcome to the world of Washi

Our first stay was in Nipponia, a hotel in the merchant town of Mino where guests are encouraged to appreciate the art of washi through their very own Washi Paper Factory.

The interiors of the guest rooms are bedecked with the town’s rich history and culture. Washi, the Japanese traditional paper made from fiber and processed by hand, is one of Japan’s most fundamental products. You might have heard it from one of its more modern and popular products, washi tape.

Guests at Nipponia can explore its very own Washi Paper Factory.
Divine, diverse, Dotoku

Occupying the vast plains of Tonami is Rakudo-An is an art hotel that was once a traditional farmhouse before it was renovated.

Rakudo-An’s very own vision is to introduce its guests to the harmony of its space, art, cuisine, surrounding scenery, and activities through the spirit of dōtoku, a term coined by Japanese art critic Soetsu Yagi who was inspired by locals living in harmony with nature.

Rakudo-An introduces guests to the harmony of its space and surrounding scenery.
Harmony through meditation

I usually prefer bustling places over serene ones, so I never thought the unique ambiance of the Kokutai-ji Temple would be so unforgettable.

The monks at the temple teach you the art of Zazen, a sitting meditation that harmonizes nature and one’s mind through regulated breathing and posture.

The unique ambiance of the Kokutai-ji Temple is unforgettable.
Takaoka’s timeless tins

Part of Takaoka’s pride is its long history of copperware production. If you’d like to take a look at and appreciate how much rigor they put into their craft, you can check out Nousaku Factory, where they provide tours around the area.

There’s even a laboratory where you can make your own tin goods. Together with the other media members of the tour group, we participated in a workshop where we made our own tin sake cup from scratch.

Create your own tin goods at the Nousaku Factory.
Getting down with the Geishas

The Kanazawa Geisha brings hosting and entertainment to a different level; you may be their guest but they’ll make you feel at home in no time.

Using some conversational Japanese, I had fun speaking to them just as much as when I’m talking to my friends. True to their role as entertainers, the Kanazawa Geiko are quite skilled when it comes to their performances as well.

The Kanazawa Geisha brings hosting and entertainment to a different level.
Art you can wear

At the Kaga Yuzen Maida Kimono Factory, I was stunned to see how much eye for detail and manual work were needed to make an authentic Japanese Kimono.

Kaga Yūzen’s third-generation kimono artisan Hitoshi Maida makes surreal designs, and each process is done by hand by the factory’s very own artists. Because these kimonos are made professionally from scratch and can take several months to complete, they can cost around ¥200,000 or about P85,000!

Artisan Hitoshi Maida makes surreal designs.
Beauty in bamboo art

Residing in the countryside area of Kanazawa is bamboo artist Chifuyu Enomoto, whose work is very meticulous and includes very intricate patterns. Not only are his pieces aesthetically captivating, but they’re useful as well. Bamboo, as we all know, is a very strong and sustainable material.

The work of bamboo artist Chifuyu Enomoto is meticulous and intricate.
Shirushi-Zome: To dye for

At the Mizuno Dyeing Factory, we participated in a workshop where we got to dye a tenugui (towel), through the art of Japanese traditional dye or shirushi-zome.

Tenugui can be used to wrap bento boxes or to wear on your back during hot days since the material is highly absorbent despite how thin it seems. The dyeing process is rather simple, and once dry, it leaves a beautiful snowflake-like pattern.

At the Mizuno Dyeing Factory, we learned shirushi-zome, the art of Japanese traditional dye.
Let’s dive into Aquatic heaven

The Art Aquarium is definitely a must-see if you’re looking for new places to visit in Tokyo after not traveling during the pandemic. In its installations, you see goldfish beautifully arranged by artists in tribute to their culture.

Each part of the museum has its very own theme, where the goldfish are displayed in unique and astonishing ways.

The Art Aquarium is perfect if you’re looking for a new tourist spot in Tokyo.

After five days of exploring the beauty of Japan with my father and the other members of our fam tour team, I felt sentimental about having to say goodbye. This experience brought out a different side of me that was eager to learn and enjoy the beauty and company around me.

Despite being the youngest member, I unexpectedly got along with my tour group. Getting along with the guides and the Wondertrunk & Co. staff was an even bigger surprise as I didn’t expect my two years of learning Japanese for fun online could allow me to build connections with locals.

Back home, my final paper submission in one of my classes, which comprised a huge chunk of my grade, was a few hours late. But I know you can never exchange high marks for rare experiences. Let’s be real: I’ll never be 20 and touring Central Japan again.