30 Best Things to Do in Japan

Looking for the best things to do in Japan? Here are some must-do activities that you shouldn’t miss!

Japan is a country that truly has something for everyone. From the bustling streets of Tokyo to the serene temples of Kyoto, every corner of Japan is filled with unique experiences waiting to be discovered.

I lived in Japan for a few years and have been visited several times since then. Each visit has been filled with unforgettable moments and discoveries.

That’s why I’ve put together this guide to the best things to do in Japan.

Whether it’s your first trip or you’re a seasoned visitor, this list will help you uncover the hidden gems and must-see attractions that make Japan such a captivating destination.

1. See the Iconic Mt. Fuji

Possibly one of the best places in Japan is the majestic Mt. Fuji.

Visiting Mt. Fuji was one of the highlights of my trip, and I couldn’t believe I was finally seeing it in person!

This UNESCO World Heritage site stands at 3,776 meters and is the highest mountain in Japan.

To get there, take a train from Tokyo to Fujikawaguchiko and explore the scenic area around Fuji Five Lakes.

The views of Mt. Fuji from here are legendary, especially on clear days. Whether you’re into hiking, fishing, or just soaking up natural beauty, this area has it all.

If you don’t have much time, hop on a train from Tokyo to Enoshima for some equally stunning views.

japan fuji mountain fall color

Tips:

  • Best Views: The best panoramic views are from Lake Kawaguchi. Catch a sunrise here—it’s truly a surreal experience.
  • Climbing Season: The official climbing season runs from July to early September. Visiting in the quieter months allows for a more tranquil experience amidst nature.
  • Photography Tip: Early mornings offer the calmest waters and the best reflective shots!

2. Step into the World of Sumo Wrestling

Have you ever seen sumo wrestling up close? It’s one of those “Wow, I’m really in Japan!” moments.

Sumo wrestling has been around for over 1,500 years and is deeply rooted in the rituals of the Shinto religion. Watching these powerful ‘rikishi‘ (wrestlers) face off is an unforgettable experience.

When I saw a sumo tournament in Tokyo, the energy was absolutely electric! I could literally feel the ground shake—these guys were massive, and their presence was commanding.

Sumo wrestling is one of the best things to do in Japan.
Sumo wrestling

Tips:

  • Match Locations: Head to Tokyo’s Ryogoku Kokugikan, the heart of sumo wrestling, where major tournaments light up the arena. Check the schedule and get your tickets early—these events can sell out fast!
  • Sumo Watch: Drop by a sumo stable to see their practice. It’s a real behind-the-scenes look at a wrestler’s daily life!
  • Sumo Cuisine: Don’t miss Chanko Nabe, the hearty stew eaten by wrestlers to bulk up. It’s deliciously filling!

3. Travel in Bullet Train (Shinkansen)

Ever wondered what traveling at the speed of light feels like? Hopping on a Shinkansen bullet train might be the closest thing.

These trains, icons of Japanese innovation, slice through the countryside at speeds up to 320 km/h.

From Tokyo to Osaka in just a couple of hours—talk about efficiency!

Shinkansen bullet train is the best way to getting around japan transportation.
Shinkansen is the fastest way to get around Japan.

Tips:

  • Japan Rail Pass: Get a Japan Rail Pass to save on travel. It lets you hop on and off the Shinkansen and other JR trains throughout the country at no extra cost.
  • Seat Selection: Opt for the Green Car if you like a bit more comfort, and remember to book a spot for your luggage in advance if you’re traveling with a lot of bags.
  • Bento Boxes: Don’t miss out on the Ekiben—these bento boxes feature regional specialties and make for an unforgettable culinary experience on a train!

4. Experience Japan Nightlife

Japan’s nightlife is as vibrant and diverse as its day. After the sun sets, the country transforms into a buzzing playground where tradition meets modernity.

Whether you’re sipping cocktails in a high-rise bar, exploring quirky manga cafes, or wandering through the neon-lit streets of Shinjuku, every night tells a different story.

Possibly one of the most exciting nightlife experiences is in the Golden Gai in Shinjuku. This tiny area is packed with miniature bars, each offering a unique vibe and theme.

Things to do in Japan at night.
Night alley

Tips:

  • Theme Nights: Clubs and bars often have themed nights, which can be a lot of fun and sometimes offer great deals on drinks.

5. Get Cozy with Snow Monkeys

If you’re looking for a magical winter experience in Japan, head to Jigokudani Yaen Kōen (Snow Monkey Park) in Nagano.

Here, you can see the famous snow monkeys as they soak in natural hot springs.

These monkeys are the only ones in the world known to bathe in hot springs, making this a truly one-of-a-kind wildlife encounter.

Snow monkey is one of the best things to do in Japan.
Snow monkey

Tips:

  • Best Time to Visit: The park is most magical from December to March when the snow is thick, and the contrast with the hot springs is stark.
  • Photography: These monkeys are used to humans, but always keep a respectful distance when taking photos.
  • Stay Overnight: After a day of monkey watching, relax in a traditional ryokan in the nearby Shibu Onsen.

6. Savor the Flavor with Izakaya Hopping

If you’re keen to experience Japan’s culinary scene, Izakaya hopping is your golden ticket! Izakayas are Japanese-style pubs where the atmosphere is as lively as the food is delicious.

Here, you can try different dishes like yakitori (grilled chicken skewers), takoyaki (octopus balls), and Japanese draft beer.

It’s a perfect way to experience the local culture and mingle with both locals and tourists.

Izakaya is one of the best things to do in Japan at night.
Izakaya

Tips:

  • Seek Local Favorites: Ask locals or your hotel staff for their favorite Izakayas to find hidden gems that aren’t in the guidebooks.
  • Share to Care: Order a variety of dishes to share with your group—it’s the best way to sample a little bit of everything and makes for a better dining experience.

7. Relax in a Japanese Onsen

Nothing says relaxation in Japan quite like an Onsen. These traditional Japanese hot springs are fed by geothermal waters and offer a soothing escape nestled in nature.

Each Onsen, whether in a rustic rural setting or a luxurious resort, provides a unique way to unwind and absorb the serene Japanese landscape.

I found the tranquility in these natural hot baths rejuvenating—like pressing a reset button on my body and mind.

I used to live in Beppu, one of the biggest onsen towns in Japan. And yes, I went to the onsen almost every day since my apartment had them! Soaking in the hot spring was pure bliss!

Ha is the main writer of Ryokan Retreat.

Tips:

  • Learn the Onsen Etiquette: It’s important to wash thoroughly before entering the bath and to keep towels out of the water.
  • Tattoo Policies: Check in advance for tattoo-friendly Onsens, as many have restrictions due to traditional beliefs.
  • Explore Regions: Consider a trip to Onsen towns like Hakone or Izu, where you can enjoy various baths with scenic views—mountain backdrops or lush forests.

8. Dine with a Geisha

Dining with a Geisha is a mesmerizing experience that transports you to a world of traditional Japanese art, dance, and music.

In cultural hubs like Kyoto or Tokyo, spending an evening with a Geisha or Maiko (apprentice Geisha) can be the highlight of your trip.

They perform, share stories, and engage in light conversation, often in a beautifully decorated Ochaya (teahouse).

geisha
Geisha

Tips:

  • Book in Advance: These exclusive evenings are in high demand, especially in tourist seasons, so book early to secure your spot.
  • Engage and Learn: Don’t hesitate to ask questions about Geisha culture and life; these interactions enrich the experience.
  • Show Respect: Remember, this is a cultural experience that calls for polite and respectful behavior throughout the evening.

9. Stay at a Ryokan

For a truly authentic Japanese experience, spending a night at a Ryokan (traditional Japanese inn) is a must.

Imagine stepping into a tatami-matted room, slipping into a yukata, and enjoying a multi-course Kaiseki meal served right in your room. Every detail ensures you live like a local, if only for a night.

Tips:

Book in Advance: Ryokans are incredibly popular, especially in tourist areas like Kyoto and Hakone. Book well ahead to secure your spot.
Dress the Part: Embrace the experience by wearing the provided Yukata—it’s perfect for lounging and makes dining in traditional style even more special.
Enjoy the Onsen: If your Ryokan has an onsen, make sure to try it out for a complete experience.

10. Explore Theme Cafes & Restaurants

Japan’s theme cafes and restaurants are a feast for the senses, offering experiences that range from the futuristic Robot Restaurants to the whimsical Maid and Ninja Cafes.

Each place is a new adventure, where the decor, menu, and staff costumes align to create a fully thematic experience.

These spots are perfect for a quirky meal and definitely offer some of the most Instagrammable moments you’ll find anywhere!

Best things to do at night in Japan.

Tips:

  • Book Ahead: Popular cafes, especially in busy areas, often require reservations. Plan and book ahead to secure your spot.
  • Start in Akihabara: Start your themed cafe journey in Akihabara, Tokyo—a hotspot for some of the most unique cafes.
  • Engage in the Experience: Many cafes have interactive elements or performances. Participate and enjoy the full experience—it’s all part of the fun!
  • Manga Cafes: Manga cafes (Manga Kissa) are not just for reading; they’re a subculture experience. Grab a manga, order a drink, and enjoy! You can even stay overnight in one of these cafes. I did it on a budget trip—it was quirky, affordable, and included free ice cream and matcha!

11. Rock a Kimono for a Day

Imagine strolling through the historic streets of Kyoto or attending a local festival dressed in a traditional Kimono or Yukata.

Wearing these elegant garments offers a unique way to connect with Japanese culture and history, and it’s a fantastic photo opportunity too!

Best things to do in Kyoto, Japan.

Tips:

  • Where to Rent: Look for reputable kimono rental shops, particularly in cultural hubs like Kyoto. The staff is skilled in fitting and styling.
  • Match the Season: Opt for kimonos with seasonal patterns and colors to reflect the current season—cherry blossoms for spring, maple leaves for autumn.
  • Complete the Look: Traditional footwear like geta or zori sandals is a must, and don’t forget to wear tabi socks for the full effect.

12. Ski Down Japan’s Slopes

Love winter sports? Japan’s mountains, particularly in Hokkaido and Nagano, are a snowy paradise.

Whether you’re a seasoned pro or a beginner, skiing in Niseko is a must-do during the winter months.

Skiing in Niseko is one of the best things to do in Japan in winter.
Skiing in Niseko is one of the best things to do in Japan in winter.

Tips:

  • Equipment Rental: Don’t worry about hauling your gear across the world; most resorts have everything you need for rent.
  • Onsen Relaxation: There’s nothing better than soaking in a hot spring after a day on the slopes. It’s great for your sore muscles!
  • Best Time to Go: Aim for December to February. That’s when the snow is just perfect for skiing.

13. Discover the Buzz of Shibuya Crossing

You can’t say you’ve been to Tokyo without experiencing the Shibuya Crossing.

It’s like the heartbeat of Tokyo—fast, loud, and absolutely mesmerizing.

Standing there with thousands moving around you is something you’ve got to feel to believe. It’s chaos in the most beautiful way.

Shibuya Crossing is one of the best Tokyo attractions, Japan.
Shibuya Crossing, Tokyo

Tips:

  • Best Viewpoint: Grab a coffee at the Starbucks overlooking the crossing. It’s the perfect spot to watch the crowd swirl below you.
  • Nighttime Magic: See it at night when the neon lights are all ablaze. It turns the crossing into a scene straight out of a sci-fi movie.

14. Munch Your Way Through a Japanese Food Tour

Oh, and if you’re a foodie, you can’t miss a food tour in Japan!

From sizzling okonomiyaki to mouth-watering takoyaki, and of course, the freshest sushi, every bite is a discovery.

I went on one of these tours, and every dish was a flavor explosion.

Sushi is one of the best Japanese food.
Sushi

Tips:

  • Local Guides: Choose tours led by locals. They know all the best spots that aren’t on the tourist maps.
  • Market Visits: Don’t miss out on a trip to places like Kuromon Ichiba Market. It’s where the locals shop, and you can try some of the freshest street food.

15. Enjoy Hanami under Cherry Blossoms

Imagine this: You’re chilling under a canopy of cherry blossoms, munching on sushi, sipping sake, and just soaking in the vibrant atmosphere.

It’s springtime in Japan, and enjoying Hanami—the cherry blossom festival—is an absolute must-do. I’ve done this a few times, and each time, it’s just memorable.

View of Fuji mountain cherry blossom in Japan.
Fuji mountain in cherry blossom season

Tips:

  • Forecast Checking: Make sure to check the cherry blossom forecast to time your visit just right. The blooms don’t last long!
  • Night Viewing: Don’t miss Yozakura, which is nighttime cherry blossom viewing. The blossoms under illuminated lights offer a whole new perspective.
  • Festival Food: Grab some seasonal snacks from Yatai (food stalls). The festival food is delicious and adds to the whole experience.

​​16. Go on a Castle-Hopping Adventure

If stepping back in time and exploring the world of samurais and ancient legends excites you, then castle-hopping in Japan should definitely be on your list.

From the famous Osaka Castle to the elegant Himeji Castle and the lesser-known Matsumae Castle in Hokkaido, each castle has its own story to tell.

Walking through these historic structures is like wandering through a live museum.

Himeji Castle is one of the best day trips from Osaka, Japan.
Himeji Castle

Tips:

  • Visit in Spring: If you can, visit during spring. The cherry blossoms make these historic sites even more picturesque.
  • Model Castles: Don’t overlook the model castles often found on the premises; they offer a detailed view of the castle’s history and architecture.

17. Join Japanese Tea Ceremony

Joining a Japanese tea ceremony is one of my favorite things to do in Japan. The ceremony involves carefully preparing and serving matcha (powdered green tea).

I took a tea ceremony course at my university, so I was excited to try the “real one” in Tokyo.

Japanese tea ceremony
Japanese Tea Ceremony

Tips:

  • Learn the Etiquette: Before you go, learn the basic etiquette of a tea ceremony, like when to bow and how to sip the tea properly.

18. Explore Sacred Temples and Shrines

Exploring Japan’s temples and shrines is an absolute must for culture seekers!

Walking through the vibrant orange gates of Fushimi Inari Taisha in Kyoto felt like stepping into another world. The endless path of torii gates winding up the mountain is just impressive.

And the glittering gold of the Kinkakuji Temple? Absolutely beautiful. I couldn’t stop marveling at its reflection shimmering in the pond.

The old Senso-ji Temple in Tokyo is a must-see, full of history. It’s one of my favorite temples in Japan, with its big lantern and busy shopping street leading up to it.

Sensoji Temple is one of the best things to do in Tokyo, Japan.
Sensoji Temple in Tokyo, Japan.

Tips:

  • Temple Etiquette: Learn some basic temple and shrine manners before you visit to show respect. Simple things like bowing and washing your hands at the entrance are important.
  • Early Morning Visits: Go early in the morning to avoid crowds and enjoy a quieter atmosphere.
  • Omamori Charms: Don’t miss buying an Omamori at the temples. These charms bring good luck and protection—a nice keepsake.

19. Spot Deer in Nara

Ever wanted to hang out with friendly deer that bow when you bow to them? Head to Nara!

Here, hundreds of deer walk around freely, and interacting with them is amazing.

Feeding them special crackers and watching their gentle manners was a highlight of my trip. I spent a whole morning with these deer, and it was really heartwarming.

Watching Deer is one of the best things to do in Nara, Japan.
Deer in Nara

Tips:

  • Buy Deer Crackers: Get some Shika-senbei (deer crackers) sold in the park to feed the deer. It’s fun, and the deer love it!
  • Explore Nearby Temples: Nara also has great temples like Todai-ji, which has a giant Buddha statue. Make sure to check them out!

20. Take a Japanese Cooking Class

Ever wanted to learn how to roll perfect sushi or make your own tempura?

These classes, often taught by English-speaking teachers, are fun and educational. Plus, you get to eat what you make—how cool is that?

I remember the first time I made my Bento box; it was so satisfying to create something so delicious and cute!

making sushi japanese cooking
Learning how to make sushi

Tips:

  • Market Tour Combo: Some cooking classes include a tour of a local market. It’s a great way to learn about the ingredients you’ll be using.
  • Ask Questions: Don’t be shy to ask your teacher questions. The more you learn about the techniques and traditions, the better your cooking experience will be.

21. Reflect at Historical Sites

If you’re ready to explore the deeper parts of Japan’s history, places like Hiroshima Peace Memorial Park and the Nagasaki Atomic Bomb Museum are must-sees.

These sites are powerful and moving, showing the events that shaped modern Japan.

Atomic bomb dome is one of the best things to do in Hiroshima Japan.
Atomic bomb dome in Hiroshima, Japan.

Tips:

  • Allocate Enough Time: Don’t rush through these sites. Take your time to understand their deep historical impact.
  • Visit Museums: Each site has a museum with artifacts and exhibits that enhance your understanding. Don’t skip them!

22. Strolls in Japanese Gardens

Need a moment to relax? Japanese gardens are perfect for that.

These gardens are beautifully designed. Every element is placed to create a calm, peaceful environment.

One of my favorite places for a peaceful escape is Shinjuku Gyoen in Tokyo. It’s perfect for a slow walk or just sitting quietly by a pond. The calm and beauty are unmatched, offering a perfect escape from the city’s busy life.

Shinjuku Gyoen is one of the best places to visit in Tokyo, Japan.
Shinjuku Gyoen is one of the best places in Tokyo, Japan.

Tips:

  • Visit Different Seasons: Each season changes the gardens. Spring brings cherry blossoms, while autumn turns the leaves red and gold.
  • Bring a Camera: You’ll want to remember the beautiful views. Every corner of these gardens offers a perfect photo.

23. Play Pachinko

Ready for some fast-paced, flashy fun? Pachinko parlors are a staple of Japanese entertainment, filled with the clinking of balls and the flashing of lights.

It’s a loud, lively experience that’s uniquely Japanese. I remember the first time I stepped into a pachinko parlor; the noise and energy were overwhelming but thrilling.

Playing pachinko machine is one of the most fun things to do in Japan.
Pachinko machine

Tips:

  • Start Small: If you’re new to Pachinko, start with smaller bets to understand the game without risking too much.

24. Get Snacks from Vending Machine

Hungry? Thirsty? Japan’s got you covered! With vending machines on almost every corner, you’re never far from a quick snack or a refreshing drink.

From exotic Kit Kat flavors to hot ramen cups, it’s like snack heaven! I was amazed by the variety—you can even find fresh fruit and umbrellas in these machines.

Vending machine is one of the best things to do in Japan.
Vending machine in Japan

Tips:

  • Carry Coins: Make sure you have enough coins, as not all machines accept notes or cards.
  • Try Something New: Go ahead and pick something unusual—you might just discover your new favorite snack.
  • Look for Specialties: Look for vending machines that offer local specialties. These are great for an authentic taste of the area!

25. Find Convenience Store Goodies

For those on a budget, don’t overlook the wonders of Japanese convenience stores, “Konbini.”

They’re a goldmine for affordable, tasty eats. From Onigiri and Karaage chicken to hearty curry rice, every visit is a new culinary adventure.

The food is so good, you’ll forget it’s from a convenience store!

Tips:

  • Look for Seasonal Items: Konbinis often offer seasonal foods and limited-time items.
  • Learn the Lingo: Learn some basic Japanese food terms to help you know exactly what you’re picking up.
  • Heat It Up: Most stores have microwaves available, so you can heat up your meal right there and enjoy it hot.

26. Attend a Festival

If you want to see Japan in full color and life, attending a festival is a must.

Whether it’s the vibrant Sapporo Snow Festival with its massive ice sculptures or the traditional Gion Matsuri in Kyoto, featuring ancient-style floats and costumes, festivals in Japan are a spectacle of culture and excitement.

Tips:

  • Plan Ahead: Festivals can draw large crowds, so book your accommodations and plan your Japan itinerary well.
  • Dress Appropriately: Depending on the season and the festival, make sure to dress for the weather, and feel free to wear traditional attire if it’s part of the festival culture.

27. Explore a Samurai Museum

Diving into Japan’s samurai past can give you a great appreciation for the country’s history and culture.

Museums like the Samurai Ninja Museum in Kyoto offer a fascinating glimpse into the life, armor, and weapons of these famed warriors.

Tips:

  • Interactive Exhibits: Some museums offer interactive exhibits and demonstrations, such as swordsmanship or armor fittings.
  • Souvenir Shops: These museums often have great souvenir shops where you can buy replicas of samurai swords, armor, and other unique items.

28. Take a Traditional Craft Workshop

Japan’s crafts are as detailed as they are beautiful.

Whether it’s pottery in Mashiko, indigo dyeing in Tokushima, or making washi paper in Gifu, each craft tells a story of the region’s history and culture.

I found making my own pottery piece to be a very rewarding experience.

Tips:

  • Dress for the Occasion: Some workshops can get messy, especially pottery or dyeing. Wear clothes that you don’t mind getting dirty.

29. Capture Memories at Japanese Photo Booths

Ready to capture some fun? Explore the colorful world of Japanese photo booths, “Purikura.”

They’re an explosion of fun, with vibrant backdrops, a myriad of props, and even costume options. After you strike a pose, you can personalize your photos with stickers, messages, and filters. It’s a blast every time!

Tips:

  • Where to Find Them: Look for Purikura booths in popular districts like Harajuku and Shibuya, especially in arcades and shopping centers.
  • Perfect with Friends: These booths are particularly fun when you go with friends, as they’re designed to accommodate groups.
  • Customization Galore: Take advantage of the editing features—add colorful text, cute decorations, and play with colors to make your photos pop.

30. Watch a Kabuki Performance

Kabuki is one of Japan’s most storied theatrical traditions, known for its elaborate makeup, intricate costumes, and dramatic plots.

Watching a Kabuki performance is like taking a step back in time to feudal Japan, with stories filled with action, romance, and moral conflict.

The performances are visually stunning, and even if you don’t understand Japanese, the spectacle is more than enough to keep you entertained.

Tips:

Get English Headsets: Many theaters offer headsets with English translations, which can help you follow the plot.
Check for Single Acts: If you’re not up for a full three-hour performance, look for tickets to a single act. This can be a great way to experience Kabuki without committing to a full show.
Arrive Early: Get to the theater early to soak in the atmosphere and enjoy a pre-show drink or snack in the theater’s café.

Final Thoughts

And that’s a wrap! I hope this list of the best things to do in Japan has sparked some excitement for your trip.

So, whether you end up temple-hopping, festival-going, or sushi-rolling, each moment will surely add to a rich, diverse adventure. Enjoy every moment, and let Japan’s unique charm sweep you off your feet!

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *