The allure of Japan lies not only in its rich history and unique traditions but also in its modern advancements and bustling cityscapes. For many, visiting this beautiful island nation is akin to stepping into a world where the ancient and the futuristic seamlessly blend together, creating a truly unforgettable experience.
But what are the exact things to do in Japan?
The country offers a diverse array of attractions that cater to various tastes and preferences, from tranquil gardens and awe-inspiring temples to towering skyscrapers. Only Tokyo is almost 100 km wide metropoly, so you will never run out of ides for things to do in Japan! The harmony between the old and new is clearly visible across multiple cities and towns, each with unique charm and character.
Whether you’re a culture aficionado, food enthusiast, or thrill-seeker, there’s no shortage of activities to partake in and sights to behold.
I will guide you through an array of spectacular experiences that guarantee to make your trip to Japan an extraordinary one. Read on as we unveil the top things to do in Japan that will leave an indelible mark on your heart.
- Japan offers a unique blend of ancient and modern experiences that cater to all travelers’ tastes and preferences.
- Historic castles and serene temples surrounded by gardens showcase the rich heritage of Japan’s culture and architecture.
- Japanese cuisine offers a diverse array of delectable dishes to try.
- Cherry blossom viewing, hiking Mount Fuji, and riding a bullet train are quintessential Japanese activities.
Explore Japan’s Historic Castles!
Japan is one of the richest countries when it comes to distinct culture and traditions. It’s an archipelago steeped in history and culture, boasts a myriad of architectural wonders that transport visitors back to the country’s fascinating past. Among these captivating structures are opulent castles and serene temples surrounded by Japanese gardens that unveil the diverse stories behind Japan’s rich heritage.
Himeji Castle, also known as the White Heron Castle, is an exquisite example of Japanese architecture. This UNESCO World Heritage site has withstood the test of time and remains largely unscathed from wars or natural disasters. As one traverses its sprawling grounds, they are transported back to the 17th century when Japan’s samurai class ruled with an iron fist.
Another must-visit castle is Matsumoto Castle, nestled amidst the Japanese Alps. Its distinctive black exterior, aptly named “Crow Castle,” offers a stark contrast to Himeji Castle’s pristine white facade, highlighting the diversity in Japanese castle designs.
Visit Japanese Temples.
Temples and Japanese Gardens are two must things to do in Japan! This is a Golden Pavilion (Kinkaku-ji) is a must thing to see in Japan but try to visit on a sunny day. I heard a lot of my friends had a rough weather while visiting, which completely spoiled the beauty of the place. The place and atmosphere are magic! Ancient temples in Japan serve as spiritual sanctuaries where one can find solace and inner peace amidst the hustle and bustle of modern life.
Kyoto, often regarded as Japan’s cultural capital, is home to an abundance of breathtaking temples that exude an air of tranquility.
The legendary Kinkaku-ji, or Golden Pavilion, stands majestically with its top two floors covered in gleaming gold leaf. One of the Buddhist temples, it is surrounded by lush gardens teeming with life, providing a harmonious blend of architectural grandeur and natural beauty.
In contrast, the less flashy Ginkaku-ji, or Silver Pavilion, showcases a more subtle elegance with its wooden exterior and meticulously landscaped gardens. Both temples allow visitors to immerse themselves in the serene atmosphere while admiring the distinct styles of Japanese temple architecture.
Remember that while in Kyoto, you can book a stay in a traditional Japanese Inn to truly immerse in the country’s unique culture.
Go to the Imperial Palace!
The Tokyo Imperial Palace is another breathtaking spot, located in the heart of Japan’s bustling capital. Surrounded by moats and verdant gardens, the palace grounds offer a serene oasis amidst the urban landscape.
Originally built on the site of the Edo Castle, the Imperial Palace has been home to Japan’s imperial family since 1868. While most of the palace buildings are closed to the public, visitors can still appreciate their beauty from afar and explore several areas within the palace grounds.
The East Gardens of the Imperial Palace are open to visitors throughout the year and showcase an exquisite mix of traditional Japanese landscaping and seasonal flora. Highlights include the Ninomaru Garden, designed in the style of a traditional Japanese strolling garden, and remnants of Edo Castle’s stone walls and foundations that offer a glimpse into Japan’s feudal past.
Pay Respect at Japanese War Memorials.
Japanese war memorials serve as poignant reminders of the country’s turbulent past and offer a place for contemplation and homage to those who perished in battle.
The Hiroshima Peace Memorial Park, established near the epicenter of the atomic bomb explosion in 1945, encompasses several monuments that pay tribute to the victims of this devastating event.
The park’s centerpiece, the iconic Genbaku Dome or A-Bomb Dome, stands as a haunting testament to the destructive power wielded during World War II. Within the park’s serene grounds, the Children’s Peace Monument and the Peace Flame further emphasize the importance of peace and disarmament for future generations.
Yasukuni Shrine, located in Tokyo, is another significant war memorial that honors over 2.4 million Japanese war dead since 1853. This shrine is a significant contrast to other Tokyo shrines, such as the Meiji Shrine, which is dedicated to the spirits of Emperor Meiji and his consort, Empress Shoken.
Yasukuni Shrine remains an important site for understanding Japan’s complex history and offers an opportunity for introspection on warfare’s impact on individuals and nations alike.
Soak in Rejuvenating Onsen.
Another quintessential experience that provides insight into Japanese culture and rejuvenation: soaking in an onsen, or natural hot spring.
Onsens are naturally occurring hot springs found throughout Japan, fueled by the island’s abundant volcanic activity. These geothermal wonders have been cherished for centuries for their therapeutic properties, with many believing that the mineral-rich waters possess healing qualities for various ailments.
A visit to an onsen is a deeply ingrained Japanese tradition that allows one to unwind both physically and mentally while connecting with nature.
One particularly prominent location is Kusatsu Onsen, situated in Gunma Prefecture. This charming town boasts over 100 hot spring sources and is renowned for its strong sulfuric waters, which are said to cure all manner of diseases.
Another popular destination is Hakone, located within easy reach of Tokyo. Its picturesque landscapes and plethora of onsen options make it a favored retreat for weary urbanites seeking respite from the city’s frenetic pace.
Try Japanese Food & Sushi!
No one should visit Japan without indulging in its delectable and diverse cuisine. Japanese cuisine is a true delight for the senses that will leave you craving more.
One must-try dish is SUSHI, a globally renowned culinary art form and perhaps Japan’s most iconic food. Sushi comes in various styles, including nigiri (hand-pressed sushi), sashimi (sliced raw fish), and maki (rolled sushi). There is no better place to eat sushi than Japan! In most exclusive sushi restaurants in Tokyo, 15 piece sushi course starts from $200, but you can eat really good sushi in a lovely restaurant for only $50.
Ramen, another beloved Japanese staple, consists of wheat noodles served in a flavorful broth, typically made from pork or chicken bones, and topped with ingredients such as sliced pork, green onions, and nori seaweed. There are numerous regional variations across Japan, each with distinct flavors and ingredients. Exploring different ramen establishments and tasting their unique offerings is an adventure in itself.
Food enthusiasts should also sample dishes like tempura (lightly battered and deep-fried vegetables or seafood), yakitori (grilled skewered chicken), and okonomiyaki (a savory pancake filled with assorted ingredients). Each dish offers a glimpse into the nation’s passion for using fresh, seasonal ingredients.
For those with a sweet tooth, Japan does not disappoint. Traditional Japanese sweets, known as wagashi, come in various forms, such as mochi (rice cake filled with sweet bean paste), dorayaki (sweet red bean paste sandwiched between two pancakes), and matcha-flavored desserts.
Drink Tea Prepared During Japanese Tea Ceremony.
The tea ceremony, known as chanoyu or sado, is a traditional ritual deeply rooted in Zen Buddhism that dates back to the 16th century. It involves the ceremonial preparation, presentation, and consumption of matcha, a finely ground green tea powder.
Participating in a tea ceremony offers an unparalleled opportunity to immerse oneself in traditional Japanese culture, as it encompasses various elements such as art, spirituality, and social interaction.
During the ceremony, a trained tea master or practitioner meticulously prepares the tea using precise movements and techniques to demonstrate the utmost respect for the guests and the elements involved in the process.
For Japanese people, it’s so much more than just drinking tea; it is an embodiment of harmony, respect, purity, and tranquility. Whether you are visiting Japan or seeking out a local tea house that offers this traditional experience, this experience is sure to leave you with a profound appreciation for the beauty and subtlety of Japanese customs.
Ride a Shinkansen (Bullet Train).
Riding a Shinkansen, or bullet train, is an essential experience for anyone visiting Japan. This high-speed rail network has revolutionized travel within the country since its debut in 1964 and continues to be a symbol of Japan’s technological prowess and efficiency.
With speeds reaching up to 320 kilometers per hour (200 miles per hour), the Shinkansen offers a fast, comfortable, and convenient mode of transportation that connects Japan’s major cities and regions.
Several Shinkansen lines traverse the country, with the most popular being the Tokaido Shinkansen, which connects Tokyo to Osaka via Nagoya and Kyoto. Other notable lines include:
- Tohoku Shinkansen, linking Tokyo to the city of Aomori;
- Joetsu Shinkansen, connecting Tokyo with Niigata on the Sea of Japan coast;
- Kyushu Shinkansen, running through the island of Kyushu from Fukuoka to Kagoshima.
Shop ’til You Drop in Trendy Districts.
Walk the city as much as you can! There’s no place like this anywhere else. Shopping during your trip can be a thrilling adventure in itself, with the country’s trendy districts offering an eclectic mix of traditional crafts, cutting-edge technology, and the latest fashion trends.
Tokyo, Japan’s capital city, is a shopper’s paradise with numerous trendy districts.
For instance, Harajuku is a vibrant neighborhood known for its quirky fashion scene and youth culture. You can wander along Takeshita Street, where you’ll find an array of colorful clothing stores and unique souvenir options.
If you’re after luxury, head to Ginza, Tokyo’s upscale district famed for its designer boutiques, high-end department stores, and elegant cafes. Another must-visit area is Akihabara, or “Electric Town,” renowned for its vast selection of electronics, video games, manga, and anime merchandise.
Those interested in Japanese craftsmanship and artisanal products should visit the Minami-Senba district in Osaka. It’s a place that houses many specialty stores featuring textiles, ceramics, and other handmade items.
Hanami Under the Cherry Blossoms.
Experiencing hanami, or cherry blossoms (sakura) viewing, is a quintessential Japanese activity that allows visitors to appreciate the transient beauty of nature.
Every spring, usually between late March and early April, cherry blossom season bursts into full bloom across Japan, casting a delicate pink hue over landscapes. That’s when people gather under the blooming cherry trees for picnics, leisurely strolls, and lively celebrations with friends and family.
One of the most famous locations for hanami in Tokyo is Ueno Park, which is home to over 1,000 cherry trees lining its central pathway. During the sakura season, countless food stalls and festive lanterns transform the area into a vibrant hub of activity.
Hike the Legendary Mount Fuji – Fugaku.
Hiking Mount Fuji, also known as Fugaku, Japan’s highest and most iconic peak, is a once-in-a-lifetime experience for many visitors.
A part of Japanese history, this majestic, snow-capped mountain has long been considered sacred and holds significant cultural importance in Japan. Towering at 3,776 meters (12,389 feet) above sea level, Mount Fuji’s distinct symmetrical cone is recognized worldwide as a symbol of the country’s natural beauty.
The official climbing season for Mount Fuji runs from early July to early September when the weather is relatively mild, and the mountain huts along the trail are operational.
While hiking Mount Fuji may not be suitable for everyone, there are alternative ways to appreciate its grandeur. The nearby Five Lakes region offers stunning views of the mountain from various points.
Walk Through a Bamboo Forest.
If you’re still looking for more things to do in Japan, consider walking through a bamboo forest where visitors can marvel at the soaring bamboo stalks that create a serene, otherworldly atmosphere. If you are visiting Kyoto, many paths will lead you through bamboo forests.
The most popular attraction of this type is the Arashiyama Bamboo Grove, located in Kyoto. This ethereal grove features a meandering pathway that allows visitors to stroll amidst the towering bamboo stalks while the sun filters through their dense canopy above.
As you wander through the Arashiyama Bamboo Grove, take your time to appreciate its unique beauty and the sense of tranquility it evokes.
Japan – one of the kind.
Undoubtedly, Japan offers an unparalleled array of experiences that cater to all types of travelers, blending the ancient and the futuristic in a harmonious fusion. The possibilities are endless, from exploring historic castles and serene temples to indulging in delectable cuisine and relaxing in rejuvenating onsens.
The nation’s awe-inspiring landscapes, bustling shopping districts, famous sights, and one-of-a-kind cultural experiences like hanami and tea ceremonies ensure that every visitor leaves with unforgettable memories.
Visiting Japan is not just a trip, but a journey into a captivating world of beauty, history, and tradition that will leave an indelible mark on your heart. There are plenty of things to do in Japan, so don’t hesitate to book a flight. Happy travels!