In Tokyo I visited a buddhist temple through Experience+, a peer to peer tour network. The female priest running the temple served as our host.  This tour was a very memorable experience and a highlight of my Tokyo visit. 

The experience included walking meditation, taiko drumming, and Japanese calligraphy. But for me, spending time chatting with a buddhist priest was most interesting. We talked about religion and atheism and the different beliefs and practices in our countries. A woman from Myanmar was also on the tour, providing another perspective.

The priest was very surprised to learn that many vegans are not motivated by religion. And we were surprised to learn that her branch of Buddhism allows meat eating. Hearing about the specific challenges and experiences of a female priest was particularly fascinating.

Experience+ started as a peer to peer tour business providing services to Japanese folks. The same idea as a tourist-focused business, but for locals. They’ve seen a lot of interest in these unique activities from Japanese people. This past year Experience+ expanded services to offer some of their tours to foreign tourists. They’ve added an English-language website, and in many cases they provide a translator to join the small group.

Translation services aren’t cheap. On our tour of only 3 people the translator met us at 8:45am at a metro station to escort us to the temple and was with us until around 4pm when we got back to the city. He translated back and forth for the entire 4 hour tour (the extra time was due to the long train transit to get out to the temple). But by offering translators Experience+ is making it possible for tourists to enjoy experiences that would not otherwise be possible. In most countries the English speaking population is among the more educated, middle class and above. And this means tourists are limited in who they can visit for local experiences and conversation. Adding the translator greatly expands this pool of potential tour hosts.

In the case of our temple tour, the priest actually did speak some English. But it was rusty, and our discussions of things like religion got into more depth than she could have done in English.

Experience+ currently has 27 offerings in Tokyo, most of which look super fun to me. They include a day with a Soba master, Bushido and Aikido lessons, Taiko drumming, chopstick making, and a number of food focused events, among others. There’s also a handful in Kyoto. Experience+ has over 200 Japanese tours so if you speak the language your options are significantly expanded. This peer to peer experiences company is giving tourists to Japan, and Japanese locals, some great options.