Here are our best picks for an authentic yet fully virtual experience of Japan—ranging from Haruki Murakami–inspired playlists to recreating anime food and even “attending” live events in Japan.
The classics: Calming videos of cherry blossoms and Japanese Kabuki theater
What says Japan more than cherry blossoms? During the first hanami—the Japanese term for cherry blossom viewing parties—of the pandemic, the Weather Channel, a Japanese company that, well, predicts the weather, released a whole series of cherry blossom VR videos. Our favorites for the most authentic feel are this one of nighttime cherry blossom viewing, a more serene version from the riverside in Arashiyama, and this stunning individual weeping cherry tree.
If you aren’t high-tech enough yet (we aren’t) to own VR, how about this beautiful Kabuki play instead? Japanese theater is known for both its elaborate costumes and make-up as well acrobatics. Yoshitsune and the Thousand Cherry Trees is one of the most famous Kabuki plays and the Kabuki-za theatre in Ginza made it available online for free on its YouTube channel while the venue remains closed during the lockdown (sadly been taken down now that it’s open again). In March, the performance was recorded without an audience. The play comes in three parts, marked as A, B, and C on the YouTube videos. You can read a synopsis of the play in English here.
Anime and games in Akihabara—join a livestreamed tour
Interested in retro games and anime culture? You don’t need to wait to visit Tokyo’s famous Akihabara area—you can join a local tour guide as he takes you into old-school game stores and hidden shops stacked with anime figures and other merch. The tour is an hour long, and costs ¥2,100.
Through the same tour provider, you can also explore Harajuku’s legendary kawaii culture or get to know Japanese sake, and more experiences will be added in the coming months. See all of the virtual tour options.
Inspiration for your future trip: Endlessly beautiful Instagram accounts on Japan
Be an armchair traveler with these stunning Instagram accounts capturing the unique beauty of Japan. @frameoftravel goes for a raw and authentic take on modern Japan with a perfect balance between people and nature. @mintimu takes you on dreamy journey through the seasons, so expect a pink-washed feed come cherry blossom time in spring. @jungraphy_ perfectly captures the urban beauty of Tokyo at night. @tokyo.ig makes the mundane look intriguing, capturing everyday moments in Japan.
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The high-brow option: Read a book about Japan and listen to vintage Murakami
Get off your Netflix and pick up a good, old-fashioned book, preferably hard copy, because that feel of pages under your fingertips might be one of the most exciting you have during quarantine, come Day 35 or so. Here is our all-time favorite list of books on and about Tokyo, both fiction and non-fiction. Or browse the reading recommendations from our book swap members.
And while you are at it, why don’t you put on this 238-hour Spotify playlist of all songs that Haruki Murakami has ever written about as a backdrop to your literary adventures?
Japanify your Netflix: Ghibli movies and some more hidden gems
Unless you have lived under a rock, you already know that you can now stream most of the Ghibli movies on Netflix. Ironically though, the calalog is available almost everywhere worldwide, but not in Japan. So we are still missing out over here.
But your Japan adventures brought to you by Netflix don’t need to stop there. Here are a few more series about Japan and recommended by our team members, ranging from Yakuza crime drama to reality TV.
Snack through your Netflix marathon
Craving Japan until you can make your way over? You can get a (literal) taste of the country through a subscription Japanese snack box, called Bokksu. Every month, you can have a new box of treats, both savory and sweet, shipped to you from Japan, for between USD $25 and $40 a pop for 10–25 different snacks. Shipping is free worldwide (but might be restricted for some regions at the moment).
In the kitchen: Cook anime-inspired dishes and bento boxes too beautiful to eat
Have you ever wondered what that food you see in Japanese anime tastes like in real life? Now you can find out, with the recipes on Itadakimasu Anime blog that recreates food as seen in Japanese animation.
Or how about carefully arranging beautiful bento boxes that would be the envy of every Japanese middle schooler? Then check out this list of Instagram accounts to follow for some bento inspiration.
airKitchen offers online classes with chefs from around the world, including many English-speaking Japanese cooking instructors. We recommend trying their gyoza class.
And Jun’s Kitchen is a YouTube channel with some tutorials for some Japanese staples like udon, tempura or sushi balls. Mainly popular for his two cats that assist in the kitchen though.
Virtual festivals: Attend a live event in Japan with Zaiko
If you truly had enough of solo activities at home, Zaiko, a Japanese ticket seller, might have the solution for you. In the wake of the COVID-19 crisis, which hit Japan a bit earlier than the West, they started selling online tickets to live streaming events, ranging from festivals to sport events. Give it a try on their English site.
Rainbow Disco Club, a hugely popular but small and independent techno festival that takes place every April in Japan, was one of the first festivals that decided to go virtual instead. Zaiko supported the virtual ambitions and with ticket prices starting at ¥1,000—it was a huge success. Smaller events like this English-Japanese Tokyo improv comedy are also hopping on the virtual bandwagon and can be streamed and joined from anywhere in the world—this one even for free.
Get crafty: Learn a Japanese art or craft online
Why not use the wait until your next real-life trip to Japan and learn a new, and very Japanese, skill in the meantime? This website offers online ikebana, Japanese flower arrangement, lessons, officially certified by the Ohara School of Ikebana.
On Udemy, you can take this free beginner course in shodo, Japanese calligraphy. And this really cute-looking Japanese watercolor class on Domestika is under USD $10.
More options for online learning in Japan, from manga drawing to cocktail making, all by Tokyo locals, can be found in this article on keeping busy during lockdown.
While we do our best to ensure it’s correct, information is subject to change. Post updated on May 21, 2020.