Things To Do In Japan

17th May 2024

29 Best Things to Do in Japan: Bucket List Edition (2023)

Table of contents

Looking for the best things to do in Japan? If so, we’ve got you covered in this blog post.

From our past experience of leading group trips here, we’ve discovered the most captivating and unique experiences this incredible country has to offer.

Get ready to dive into a world of vibrant neighborhoods, historic temples, majestic Mount Fuji, traditional tea ceremonies, and so much more.

Join us on this thrilling adventure through Japan’s cultural wonders and natural beauty. Let’s embark on a journey that will leave you enchanted and inspired!

5 Facts about Japan

  • Japan is an archipelago consisting of over 6,800 islands.
  • The iconic Mount Fuji is Japan’s highest peak and an active stratovolcano.
  • Cherry blossoms, known as sakura, are a cherished symbol of Japan’s beauty and transience.
  • Japanese cuisine includes a diverse array of dishes like sushi, ramen, and tempura.
  • Japan has a rich cultural heritage, from traditional arts like tea ceremonies to modern pop culture like anime.

Best Things to Do in Japan

1. Explore Tokyo’s Vibrant Neighborhoods

Discover the pulsating heart of Japan in Tokyo, a metropolis brimming with captivating neighborhoods. Shibuya offers a kaleidoscope of lights and the iconic Shibuya Crossing.

Shinjuku, a bustling entertainment hub, boasts the breathtaking Tokyo Metropolitan Government Building observatories. In Asakusa, immerse yourself in ancient charm with Senso-ji Temple and Nakamise-dori.

Don’t miss the tranquil Ueno Park and its museums, perfect for cherry blossom viewing.

  • Location:  Tokyo
  • Best Time to Visit: Spring (for cherry blossoms) and autumn
  • Famous For: Neon-lit streets, traditional temples, bustling markets.

2. Witness the Magnificent Cherry Blossoms

Nature’s delicate beauty comes alive during the enchanting cherry blossom season in Japan. Stroll along the picturesque Philosopher’s Path in Kyoto, lined with pink cherry trees.

Experience the magic of Hirosaki Park in Aomori, renowned for its sprawling cherry orchards.

For an unforgettable night view, visit Maruyama Park in Kyoto or Chidorigafuchi in Tokyo, where illuminated cherry trees create a dreamlike ambiance.

  • Location:  Various across Japan
  • Best Time to Visit: Late March to early April (varying by region)
  • Famous For: Stunning cherry blossoms, hanami (flower viewing) traditions.

3. Attend a Sumo Wrestling Tournament

Delve into Japan’s ancient sport and cultural heritage by witnessing a thrilling sumo wrestling tournament.

Experience the electrifying atmosphere at Tokyo’s Ryogoku Kokugikan, where top-ranked sumo wrestlers clash in epic battles.

For a more intimate experience, catch regional tournaments in cities like Osaka, Nagoya, or Fukuoka.

  • Location:  Various cities in Japan
  • Best Time to Visit: Tournaments held in January, May, and September in Tokyo.
  • Famous For: Traditional sumo wrestling, ancient rituals, fierce competitions.

4. Visit the Historic Kyoto Temples and Shrines

Step into a world of ancient grace and spiritual devotion in Kyoto, home to countless awe-inspiring temples and shrines. Marvel at the resplendent Kinkaku-ji (Golden Pavilion) glimmering over a tranquil pond.

Explore the vermillion gates of Fushimi Inari Taisha, an iconic Shinto shrine. Discover the peaceful Kiyomizu-dera with its wooden terrace offering stunning views of Kyoto.

  • Location:  Kyoto
  • Best Time to Visit: Spring and autumn
  • Famous For: UNESCO-listed cultural heritage, traditional architecture.

5. Experience the Serenity of Mount Fuji

Embark on a pilgrimage to Japan’s iconic and sacred Mount Fuji, a UNESCO World Heritage site. Ascend to the 5th Station for mesmerizing panoramic vistas of the surrounding landscapes.

For a unique perspective, consider a Fuji Five Lakes excursion, offering reflection shots of the majestic mountain on calm waters.

  • Location:  Yamanashi and Shizuoka Prefectures
  • Best Time to Visit: July to September (climbing season)
  • Famous For: Japan’s highest peak, a symbol of natural beauty.

6. Immerse Yourself in Traditional Tea Ceremony

Embrace the art of tranquility with a traditional Japanese tea ceremony, known as chanoyu or sado. Engage in this ritual of harmony and hospitality while savoring matcha tea served in exquisite tea bowls.

Experience an authentic tea ceremony at Kyoto’s En Tea Ceremony or Tokyo’s Jidaiya.

  • Location:  Various tea houses and cultural centers across Japan
  • Best Time to Visit: Year-round
  • Famous For: Elegance, Zen aesthetics, cultural significance.

7. Discover the Beauty of Japanese Gardens

Unwind in the serene beauty of Japanese gardens, meticulously designed to harmonize with nature. Wander through Kenrokuen Garden in Kanazawa, celebrated for its seasonal beauty.

Revel in the enchanting landscapes of Ritsurin Park in Takamatsu, where walking trails lead to hidden treasures.

  • Location:  Various cities in Japan
  • Best Time to Visit: Spring (for cherry blossoms) and autumn
  • Famous For: Landscape design, traditional aesthetics, peaceful ambiance.

8. Wander through the Geisha District of Gion

Step into the world of geisha and maiko (apprentice geisha) in Kyoto’s historic Gion district. Admire the elegance of geisha gliding gracefully along cobbled streets.

Experience a traditional performance at Gion Corner or enjoy an enchanting evening at an authentic teahouse.

  • Location:  Kyoto
  • Best Time to Visit: Evening hours for geisha sightings
  • Famous For: Geisha culture, teahouses, traditional arts.

9. Experience a Stay in a Ryokan (Traditional Inn)

Immerse yourself in old-world charm with a stay at a traditional Ryokan. Revel in the comfort of tatami-mat rooms, futon beds, and exquisite kaiseki dinners.

Relax in onsen hot springs, like those in Hakone, for an authentic Japanese hospitality experience.

  • Location:  Various across Japan
  • Best Time to Visit: Year-round
  • Famous For: Traditional accommodations, onsen experience, impeccable service.

10. Explore the Ancient City of Nara

Travel back in time to Japan’s first permanent capital, Nara, and its treasures. Gaze at the Great Buddha in Todai-ji Temple, the world’s largest bronze Buddha statue. Admire the elegant Nara Park with friendly deer roaming freely.

  • Location:  Nara
  • Best Time to Visit: Spring and autumn
  • Famous For: Ancient capital, historical landmarks, friendly deer.

11. Enjoy the Natural Beauty of Hokkaido

Embrace the breathtaking wilderness of Hokkaido, Japan’s northernmost island. Visit vibrant Sapporo and its lively Susukino district, perfect for food enthusiasts.

In Furano, witness the stunning lavender fields that bloom in summer.

Don’t miss the mesmerizing Shiretoko National Park, a UNESCO World Heritage site, for pristine landscapes and wildlife.

  • Location:  Hokkaido
  • Best Time to Visit: Summer for lavender fields, winter for snow festivals
  • Famous For: Vast landscapes, wildlife, winter festivals.

12. Dive into Japanese Onsen (Hot Springs)

Relax and rejuvenate in the therapeutic embrace of Japanese onsen. Beppu offers an unmatched variety of hot spring baths, each catering to specific health benefits.

In Kinosaki Onsen, savor the tranquil atmosphere while strolling in yukata (cotton kimono) and geta (wooden clogs).

  • Location:  Various onsen resorts across Japan
  • Best Time to Visit: Year-round
  • Famous For: Hot spring baths, health benefits, cultural experience.

13. Discover the History of Hiroshima Castle

Delve into Hiroshima’s storied past with a visit to Hiroshima Castle, a reconstructed gem. Explore the castle’s history through exhibits, and marvel at the panoramic views from the top floor.

  • Location:  Hiroshima
  • Best Time to Visit: Spring and autumn
  • Famous For: Historical significance, city views.

14. Experience the Thriving Nightlife of Osaka

Unleash your inner night owl in Osaka, a city that truly comes alive after dark. Navigate the neon-lit streets of Dotonbori, renowned for its vibrant entertainment and delicious street food.

Revel in the energetic atmosphere of Shinsaibashi, a bustling shopping district. Experience the glitz and glam of Osaka’s stylish clubs and bars.

  • Location:  Osaka
  • Best Time to Visit: Evening and late-night hours
  • Famous For: Nightlife, entertainment, street food.

15. Wander the Streets of Takayama’s Old Town

Take a nostalgic journey through time in Takayama’s charming old town. Admire the preserved wooden merchant houses and shops, dating back to the Edo period.

Discover local crafts at Takayama Jinya, a historical government office, and savor Hida beef at traditional eateries.

  • Location:  Takayama
  • Best Time to Visit: Spring and autumn
  • Famous For: Traditional architecture, cultural heritage, local cuisine.

16. Hike the Picturesque Kumano Kodo Trail

Embark on a spiritual pilgrimage along the Kumano Kodo, a network of ancient trails leading to sacred shrines. Trek through lush forests, serene rivers, and charming villages.

Marvel at the grandeur of Nachi Taisha, one of the Kumano Sanzan shrines.

  • Location:  Wakayama, Mie, and Nara Prefectures
  • Best Time to Visit: Spring and autumn
  • Famous For: Spiritual pilgrimage, natural beauty, historical trails.

17. Marvel at the Hiroshima Itsukushima Shrine

Set foot on the enchanting Miyajima Island and witness the magnificent Itsukushima Shrine. Experience the awe-inspiring sight of the vermilion torii gate seemingly floating on the sea during high tide.

Explore the picturesque island, home to wild deer and scenic hiking trails.

  • Location:  Miyajima Island, near Hiroshima
  • Best Time to Visit: Low and high tide for different perspectives
  • Famous For: Floating torii gate, island beauty, sacred shrine.

18. Participate in a Traditional Japanese Festival

Immerse yourself in the vibrant energy of traditional Japanese festivals held throughout the year. Experience the grandeur of Gion Matsuri in Kyoto, featuring massive floats and parades.

Witness the mesmerizing lantern displays during Aomori Nebuta Matsuri. Embrace the festive spirit of Nagasaki Kunchi and its rich cultural heritage.

  • Location:  Various cities and regions in Japan
  • Best Time to Visit: Festival-specific dates
  • Famous For: Colorful parades, cultural performances, festive ambiance.

19. Explore the Modern Architecture of Nagoya

Juxtapose Japan’s ancient past with Nagoya’s contemporary architectural wonders. Admire the resplendent Nagoya Castle, an architectural marvel built for defense.

Don’t miss the futuristic Nagoya City Science Museum and the striking Nagoya TV Tower, offering panoramic city views.

  • Location:  Nagoya
  • Best Time to Visit: Year-round
  • Famous For: Modern landmarks, historical castle, city views.

20. Engage with Japanese Pop Culture in Akihabara

Embark on an adventure into the vibrant realm of Japanese pop culture in Akihabara, Tokyo’s electric town. Delve into anime, manga, and gaming paradise with shops like Mandarake and Animate.

Savor themed treats at maid cafes, and immerse yourself in the captivating world of virtual reality.

  • Location:  Akihabara, Tokyo
  • Best Time to Visit: Daytime and evening hours
  • Famous For: Anime merchandise, gaming arcades, pop culture.

21. Discover the Historic Castles of Japan

Embark on a journey through Japan’s rich feudal past by visiting its historic castles. Marvel at the grandeur of Himeji Castle, a UNESCO World Heritage site renowned for its stunning white facade.

Explore the well-preserved Matsumoto Castle, nicknamed the “Crow Castle” due to its black exterior.

  • Location:  Various across Japan
  • Best Time to Visit: Year-round
  • Famous For: Feudal history, architectural beauty, cultural heritage.

22. Witness the Snow Monkeys of Jigokudani Monkey Park

Get up close and personal with adorable snow monkeys in their natural habitat at Jigokudani Monkey Park. Observe these endearing creatures as they bathe in steaming hot springs amidst a winter wonderland.

  • Location:  Nagano
  • Best Time to Visit: Winter months for snow and hot springs
  • Famous For: Snow monkeys, unique behavior, natural hot springs.

23. Cruise the Scenic Inland Sea of Seto

Embark on a scenic cruise through the serene Seto Inland Sea, dotted with enchanting islands. Explore artistic installations on Naoshima Island, an art lover’s paradise, and experience the tranquility of Miyajima.

  • Location:  Seto Inland Sea, between Honshu, Shikoku, and Kyushu
  • Best Time to Visit: Spring and autumn
  • Famous For: Art islands, island hopping, picturesque views.

24. Attend the Sapporo Snow Festival

Immerse yourself in the winter wonderland of the Sapporo Snow Festival, a grand spectacle of ice and snow sculptures. Stroll through Odori Park, transformed into an open-air gallery, and enjoy the lively atmosphere at Susukino.

  • Location:  Sapporo, Hokkaido
  • Best Time to Visit: February
  • Famous For: Ice sculptures, winter festivities, cultural displays.

25. Explore the Art Island of Naoshima

Embark on an artistic pilgrimage to Naoshima, a captivating island blending nature and contemporary art. Visit the architecturally stunning Benesse House and its art-filled galleries. Marvel at the enigmatic Yellow Pumpkin sculpture by Yayoi Kusama.

  • Location:  Naoshima Island
  • Best Time to Visit: Year-round
  • Famous For: Contemporary art, scenic beauty, artistic retreat.

26. Experience the Colorful Gion Matsuri Festival

Immerse yourself in the grandeur of Kyoto’s Gion Matsuri, one of Japan’s most celebrated festivals. Marvel at the towering Yamaboko floats during the Yamahoko Junko parade. Engage in the festive ambiance of traditional music, dance, and street food.

  • Location:  Kyoto
  • Best Time to Visit: July, with the main parade on the 17th
  • Famous For: Colorful floats, festive processions, cultural heritage.

27. Enjoy the Serenity of Koyasan’s Buddhist Temples

Embark on a spiritual retreat to Mount Koya (Koyasan), a sacred site renowned for its serene Buddhist temples. Stay overnight in a traditional temple lodging (shukubo) and partake in morning prayers (goma fire ritual).

  • Location:  Koyasan, Wakayama Prefecture
  • Best Time to Visit: Year-round
  • Famous For: Buddhist monastic complex, spiritual ambiance, cultural heritage.

28. Delight in the Art of Ikebana (Japanese Flower Arrangement)

Experience the exquisite artistry of Ikebana, the traditional Japanese flower arrangement. Join a workshop or visit museums like the Ikenobo or Ohara School to witness the creative interplay of flowers, branches, and leaves in perfect harmony.

Discover the beauty and philosophy behind each arrangement, reflecting the essence of nature.

  • Location:  Various flower schools and museums across Japan
  • Best Time to Visit: Ikebana exhibitions and workshops held year-round
  • Famous For: Artistic floral compositions, Zen aesthetics, symbolic meanings.

29. Wander Amidst the Tranquility of the Okinawa Islands

Escape to the tropical paradise of Okinawa, an archipelago in Japan’s southernmost region. Discover pristine beaches with crystal-clear waters in Ishigaki and Miyako Islands.

Immerse yourself in the unique Ryukyuan culture, exemplified by traditional dance and music. Explore the ancient Shuri Castle in Naha, a UNESCO World Heritage site.

  • Location:  Okinawa Prefecture
  • Best Time to Visit: Spring and autumn for pleasant weather
  • Famous For: Tropical islands, crystal-clear waters, cultural heritage.

Best Time to Visit Japan

The best time to visit Japan depends on your preferences and the experiences you seek. Spring (March to May) is popular for the mesmerizing cherry blossoms, transforming parks and landscapes into a dreamlike spectacle. Autumn (September to November) offers stunning foliage, ideal for scenic hikes and enjoying vibrant colors.

Summer (June to August) brings lively festivals and warm weather, perfect for exploring beaches and participating in cultural events. Winter (December to February) showcases beautiful snowscapes in northern regions, along with thrilling winter festivals.

Consider the activities you wish to engage in and the climate you prefer, as each season in Japan has its own unique charm and allure.

How to Get to Japan

  • By Air: The most common and convenient way to reach Japan is by air. Major cities like Tokyo, Osaka, and Nagoya are served by international airports. Tokyo’s Narita International Airport and Haneda Airport, as well as Osaka’s Kansai International Airport, are popular entry points for international travelers.
  • By Sea: Cruise ships also offer a unique way to reach Japan, especially if you are coming from nearby Asian countries or taking a longer cruise journey. Several cruise lines include Japan as part of their itineraries.

Where to Stay in Japan

1. Aman Tokyo (Tokyo): Experience unparalleled luxury and breathtaking city views at Aman Tokyo. This urban oasis offers spacious and elegantly designed rooms, a serene spa, and impeccable service. Located in the heart of Tokyo, it provides easy access to iconic landmarks like the Tokyo Imperial Palace and the vibrant neighborhoods of Ginza and Shibuya.

2. Hoshinoya Kyoto (Kyoto): Immerse yourself in traditional Japanese hospitality at Hoshinoya Kyoto, a secluded ryokan nestled along the Oi River. Enjoy authentic Kaiseki meals, unwind in onsen hot spring baths, and savor the tranquility of the bamboo forest surroundings. The ryokan’s tatami-mat suites, private gardens, and cultural experiences offer a true glimpse into Japan’s ancient capital.

3. Guntu (Seto Inland Sea): Embark on a luxurious floating journey aboard Guntu, a sleek and modern yacht-like cruise ship. Sailing through the picturesque Seto Inland Sea, this floating ryokan offers lavish amenities, gourmet cuisine prepared with local ingredients, and opportunities to explore the charming islands. Indulge in the ultimate blend of comfort, relaxation, and breathtaking sea views.

Where to Eat in Japan

1. Sukiyabashi Jiro: Delight in an unforgettable culinary experience at Sukiyabashi Jiro, a three-Michelin-starred sushi restaurant. Helmed by master chef Jiro Ono, this intimate eatery serves exquisite Edomae-style sushi, using only the freshest and finest ingredients sourced daily from Tsukiji Market. Prepare to be mesmerized by the artistry and precision of each sushi creation.

2. Ippudo: Indulge in the delectable flavors of ramen at Ippudo, a renowned ramen chain with locations throughout Japan. Known for its rich, flavorful tonkotsu broth and perfectly cooked noodles, Ippudo offers a variety of toppings and spice levels to suit every palate. Join the locals in slurping up this beloved Japanese comfort food.

3. Kyubey: Savor the artistry of traditional Edo-style sushi at Kyubey, an esteemed sushi restaurant with a history spanning over 80 years. With a focus on showcasing the natural flavors of seasonal seafood, Kyubey’s skilled chefs create exquisite nigiri and delicate sashimi selections. Immerse yourself in the refined ambiance and precision of this culinary gem.

Travel Tips & Suggestions

  • Respect local customs and etiquette, such as bowing as a greeting and removing shoes indoors.
  • Carry cash, as some smaller establishments may not accept credit cards.
  • Utilize the efficient public transportation system, like the Shinkansen (bullet train) for long distances.
  • Purchase a Japan Rail Pass for cost-effective travel across the country.
  • Try local street food and regional specialties for a diverse culinary adventure.
  • Learn some basic Japanese phrases to facilitate communication with locals.
  • Observe silence in public places, like trains and buses, to maintain a peaceful atmosphere.

Conclusion – Best Things to Do in Japan

In conclusion, Japan offers a mesmerizing tapestry of experiences that cater to every traveler’s desires. From exploring vibrant neighborhoods in Tokyo to immersing in ancient traditions like tea ceremonies, the best things to do in Japan await.

Witness the breathtaking cherry blossoms, relish authentic cuisine, and encounter the warm hospitality of locals. Embrace the serenity of ancient temples and the allure of modern pop culture. Japan welcomes you with open arms to discover its wonders and create cherished memories that will last a lifetime.

FAQs – Best Things to Do in Japan

What are the best places to visit in Japan?

Japan is a treasure trove of incredible destinations. Don’t miss Tokyo’s vibrant neighborhoods, Kyoto’s historic temples, and the serene beauty of Mount Fuji. Explore the ancient city of Nara, embrace Hokkaido’s natural wonders, and indulge in the vibrant nightlife of Osaka. From bustling cities to tranquil landscapes, Japan has it all.

When is the best time to witness cherry blossoms in Japan?

The cherry blossom season, known as sakura, is an enchanting time to visit Japan. It typically occurs from late March to early April, varying by region. Top spots for cherry blossoms include Tokyo’s Ueno Park, Kyoto’s Philosopher’s Path, and Hirosaki Park in Aomori. Join locals in the hanami tradition and revel in the magical pink hues.

What’s a must-try experience in Japan’s cuisine?

Indulge your taste buds with authentic Japanese cuisine. Savor the exquisite flavors of sushi at renowned places like Sukiyabashi Jiro. Dive into a steaming bowl of ramen at Ippudo or try regional specialties like Hida beef in Takayama. Japanese street food like takoyaki and okonomiyaki is a must-try for a delicious adventure.

How can I experience traditional Japanese culture?

To immerse in Japan’s rich culture, attend a traditional tea ceremony, such as the one at Jidaiya in Tokyo. Wander through the Geisha district of Gion in Kyoto for a glimpse of ancient customs. Stay in a ryokan like Hoshinoya Kyoto for an authentic experience of tatami-mat rooms and kaiseki dinners.

Is the Japan Rail Pass worth it for traveling around the country?

Absolutely! The Japan Rail Pass offers convenient and cost-effective travel on the efficient Shinkansen (bullet train) and JR lines. It’s a great value for exploring various regions, from Tokyo to Hiroshima and beyond. Be sure to check eligibility and choose the duration that suits your itinerary.

What are the must-see festivals and events in Japan?

Japanese festivals are vibrant and full of cultural significance. Experience the grandeur of Gion Matsuri in Kyoto with massive floats and parades. Attend the Sapporo Snow Festival in February for awe-inspiring ice sculptures. Don’t miss Tokyo’s Sumo Wrestling Tournaments in January, May, and September for a taste of ancient tradition.

How can I respectfully interact with locals during my trip?

Learn a few basic Japanese phrases, like “Arigatou gozaimasu” (thank you) and “Sumimasen” (excuse me). Respect local customs, such as bowing as a greeting and removing shoes indoors. Observing silence on public transportation ensures a peaceful atmosphere. Embrace the warmth and hospitality of locals, and you’ll create unforgettable connections throughout your journey in Japan.
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