The land of the rising sun is on many travelers' bucket lists. But given the travel restrictions in place, the island nation has sadly moved out of reach for the time being. We've researched Japan in Switzerland so you can feel a bit of Nihon without ever traveling there.
On the surface, the two countries could not be any more different: one is a real island, the other an imaginary one within Europe. One is populated and stretched out, the other sparse and compact. But peel the layers of the onion and you will discover that Japan and Switzerland have much in common. Be it their shared importance of quality or the extreme sense of orderliness, to name just a couple.
I hope to inspire you to learn more about Japan without ever leaving Switzerland. For this guide, I have researched my heart out to find all the ways you can experience Japan in Switzerland. And I would be happy to expand this guide with your own suggestions - I am sure there are even more experiences and spaces worthy of a mention.
Japan in Switzerland - from Aarau to Zürich:
- Aarau: Wakara Karaage fried chicken food truck
- Aigle: Le Jardin Zen
- Aubonne: Japanese Forest at the Arboretum du Vallon
- Ascona: Casa del Tè Japanese Tea House
- Basel: Learn origami at the Papiermuseum Basel
- Bern: Discover Japan in the capital
- Emmenbrücke: Freakatorium
- Geneva: Japanese Zen Garden
- Interlaken: Japanese Garden in Interlaken
- Jungfraujoch: Japanese mailbox on the Top of Europe!
- Lausanne: Experience Japanese food and culture
- Lucerne: Find inner peace at the Zen temple on Mount Rigi
- Nendaz: Jardin Japonais
- Vals: Hotel rooms designed by Japanese architects
- And finally, more Japan in Switzerland: catch a ride on one of the Japan partner trains!
Aarau: Wakara Karaage fried chicken food truck
Karaage is quintessential Japanese everyday food, and a small food truck in Aarau serves it weekdays during lunch. The menu includes don and bento boxes of Japanese fried chicken. Find the Wakara Karaage food truck am Graben in Aarau, then visit the Japanese food store at Rain 47 in Aarau.
Aigle: Le Jardin Zen
Le Jardin Zen in Aigle offers an easy way to step into miniature Japan. Locate the red container to access this hidden gem which includes a traditional tea pavilion, a bamboo forest, a koi pond, and a shrine. The whole nine yards of what you would expect from a zen garden in Japan!
Walk along the Path of Sounds to ring the various bells and percussion instruments. But bring a pair of earphones to stream a “zen” playlist on Spotify during the remainder of your stay; this garden is in close proximity to the freeway. (9 francs admission)
Aubonne: Japanese Forest at the Arboretum du Vallon
The forêt japonaise within the Arboretum du Vallon is a hidden gem for nature lovers. From Japanese cedar to Japanese hornbeam, a large part of the forest features plant species native to central Japan. In addition, there is an area reserved for forest vegetation from Hokkaidō, the northernmost region of Japan.
With the goal of plant conservation, the arboretum's Japanese forest has managed to cultivate magnolia kobus. This species has since disappeared from the wild in Japan. Keep an eye out for the Japan Festival that takes place here in August. And make sure to visit the Japanese Forest during autumn when it unfolds its splendid colors.
Ascona: Casa del Tè Japanese Tea House
Thanks to a unique micro-climate, Monte Verità above Ascona is ideal for the planting of tea. During a hike one year, we were surprised to come across a proper tea plantation with a Japanese tea house. As it turns out, tea has been harvested and served there since 2005.
Cross the tea plantation and step inside the tea house with its boutique and chashitsu room with tatami flooring. The authentic construction contributes to the illusion that you are in Japan. And if you can time your visit to the first or third Saturday of the month, you will be able to witness a traditional tea ceremony inside the tea room.
Location: Str. Collina 84, 6612 Ascona
Tea ceremony registrations: +41 91 791 43 00 or firstname.lastname@example.org
Basel: Learn origami at the Papiermuseum Basel
Every third Sunday of the month from 1 to 5 PM, the Papiermuseum Basel allows you to get creative and learn about the art of origami. Double-check on the website whether the workshop is going to take place.
After attending Fantasy Basel (or if you cannot attend), get your anime and manga fix at the Comix Shop Basel.
Bern: Discover Japan in the capital
There are several ways of experiencing Japan in the Swiss capital. For one, the Bern Historical Museum has an amazing permanent collection of Edo-period artifacts. This museum is the go-to place in Bern for anyone wanting to learn about the fascinating culture of Japan. Right behind the museum’s entrance, you will find samurai swords, a suit of armor, lacquer works, and even a historic pavilion for tea ceremonies.
Starting on July 9, Bern’s original Länggass-Tee Tea House will be dedicating Saturday mornings to Japan. The traditional Japanese breakfast includes rice and miso soup, fermented vegetables, tofu, and Japanese sweets. The Japanese tea pairing makes this a unique experience even for aficionados. (39 francs per person)
Restaurant Namamen at Bern’s West Side mall is our go-to place for delicious ramen. The menu offers various soups as a base: miso, soy sauce, shio, or a variety with Japanese chili powder (togarashi). There are additional branches of this restaurant in Basel and Zürich.
At the Casino Bern, foodies can book Chef Hiraoka for an exclusive Japanese dining experience. In front of your eyes, the Japanese chef will showcase his skills in preparing a traditional Japanese kaiseki meal. The seven-course Japanese Chef’s Table includes soups, bowls, sashimi, and ice cream.
And finally, the Japanese Embassy in Bern runs the Japan Information and Cultural Center (JICC). This center is open to the public and provides all kinds of interesting information about Japan. There is a library of Japan-related books in German, English, and Japanese, covering art, history, and contemporary issues. Look out for special exhibits, workshops, and Japanese conversation meet-ups.
Location: Engestrasse 43, 3012 Bern
Phone: +41 31 305 15 70
Open: Mo - Fr 9 AM - 12:15 PM and 1:45 - 5 PM, except for holidays
If there is ever a shop in Switzerland for otaku geeks, it is Freakatorium in Emmenbrücke. This brick-and-mortar store also runs an online shop. Find merchandise from popular anime titles, but also from more nostalgic series: manga comic books, figurines, clothing, cosplay costumes, as well as various accessories.
Freakatorium is also a good place to stock up on Japanese sweets as well as iconic beverages such as ramune (ラムネ). The shop in Emmenbrücke is open Wednesdays, Fridays, and Saturdays. Visit the website or Facebook page for more information.
If you want to get to the source of Japanese sweets in Switzerland, head to nearby Adligenswil: Umami Snack is an on- and offline vendor of original Japanese sweets. Select individual goodies such as Pocky sticks or Doraemon candy. Or be surprised by subscribing to their monthly Japanese sweets box…
Geneva: Japanese Zen Garden
A torii gate welcomes visitors to a portion of the Geneva Botanical Garden. Behind the house, there is a zen rock garden representing the ocean and islands. Depending on the season of your visit, you will see typical Japanese flora: cherry blossoms in the spring and maple foliage in the autumn.
Interlaken: Japanese Garden in Interlaken
The first Japanese garden in Switzerland symbolizes the friendship between Interlaken and its sister city, Ōtsu. The two lakeside tows have shared international relations dating back to October 1, 1978.
The Japanese Garden of Friendship in Interlaken was later designed by landscape gardeners from Ōtsu in 1995. Although small, the vegetation, pavilion, and koi pond create a peaceful space worth visiting. Springtime is especially beautiful when the garden is in full bloom.
Jungfraujoch: Japanese mailbox on the Top of Europe!
Lausanne: Experience Japanese food and culture
Thanks to its university population, Japanese food is readily available in Lausanne. For sushi, try MIZUMIY in the Flon neighborhood. The MYŌ Sushi Bar is a classy place with Japan-inspired architecture. Their sushi and sashimi are superb, but so are the udon noodles.
We envy Lausanners for Uchitomi. For one, the restaurant serves popular dishes such as sushi, gyoza, and bento boxes. But there is also an authentic Japanese grocery store carrying everything from Japanese curry to sodas, and from green tea to porcelain. (Additional branches are in Geneva.)
For tea time, head to Marutcha thé japonais. This lovely tea house also hosts origami and tea workshops. And for sweets, we have heard about Patisserie Osio. Run by a couple with a passion for sweets, you can get everything from dorayaki to matcha cake.
Lausanne is the ideal place to shop for Japanese goods. At Sur un air de Japon, find fashion accessories and novelty gifts. We love the AOI Pop Up Store for its eclectic selection of clothing in a Japanese-inspired showroom.
And finally, Boutique Sérénité is a haven for Japan enthusiasts. They carry beautiful futons and tatami mats, kimono and yukata, as well as many household goods.
Archilovers will appreciate at least two Lausanne buildings with a Japan connection. The Rolex Learning Center on the EPFL campus was designed by SANAA Architects of Tokyo.
The Artlab Pavilion right next door was designed by architect Kengo Kuma. The concept name for the 235-meter long building that covers three venues is “under one roof”.
Lucerne: Find inner peace at the Zen temple on Mount Rigi
Constructed in 1999, the Buddist Zen temple at Felsentor is a collaboration between a Zen priest and a Benedictine monk. This is likely the most authentic temple in all of Switzerland.
Every Sunday at 5 PM, there is a meditation session open to the public - no prior experience is required. Simply wear comfortable clothing and show up at the zendo 10 minutes early. After the meditation, have a cup of tea and make it back to the Romiti-Felsentor station where the Rigibahn departs for Vitznau.
Nendaz: Jardin Japonais
Unlike other such gardens, the Jardin Japonais is entirely embedded in the natural environment. It features moss-covered rocks, gnarly trees, and a small stream. In short: all the elements that are traditionally found in Japanese gardens, but no benches or signposts.
Vals: Hotel rooms designed by Japanese architects
At the 7132 House of Architects in Vals, design lovers can check into modern Japan-inspired rooms. The rooms by Tokyo architect, Kengo Kuma, highlight Japanese carpentry techniques and local Swiss building materials. The oakwood panels create cocoon-like spaces, each with a walk-in shower resting on a slab of granite, as well as a king-size futon bed.
The rooms by Tadao Ando, a self-taught Japanese architect, are inspired by Japanese tea houses. His spaces are calm and simple, directing the attention onto the mountainscape that unfolds outside the window.
And finally, more Japan in Switzerland: catch a ride on one of the Japan partner trains!
Rhaetian Railways has been a sister of the Japanese Hakone Tozan Railway since 1979. Look out for their train engine and coaches with this label: 箱根登山電車.
And since 1991, Matterhorn Gotthard Railways has had a partnership with Fujikyu Railway. To show their connection, one of the MGB engines is labeled as “Mount Fuji”: マウント 富士号:
We have a dedicated post about Japan in Zürich coming up shortly...