55 of the Best Things to Do When Traveling in Japan
With a vibrant mix of modern and traditional cultures coupled with abundant nature, remarkable cuisine, and world-renowned hospitality, travelers to Japan have no shortage of things to do! To help plan a Japanese itinerary that doesn’t miss any of the good stuff, we have compiled an extensive, carefully curated list of the 55 best things to do in Japan. Take note of the ones that pique your interest and start planning your ultimate Japan adventure today!
Mar 03 2022 (Jan 27 2023)
1. Get Views of Mt. Fuji
Being the tallest and most iconic mountain in Japan, there are plenty of vantage points surrounding Mt. Fuji to rediscover its splendor time and time again. Even if you’ve seen it before, fully appreciating the grandeur of this sacred mountain requires far more than just a single viewing. Arguably the most famous view of Mt. Fuji is from Arakurayama Sengen Park, which frames the mountain alongside a dazzling vermillion pagoda forming the quintessential Japan image (pictured above). Another hotspot is Ashinoko Lake in Hakone, which is also visited for its giant floating torii gate at Hakone Shrine and pirate ship boat tours.
Other locations worth checking out include Oishi Park and Yamanakako Hananomiyako Park in Yamanashi Prefecture, Miho no Matsubara, Obuchi Sasaba, and the Kumomi Shore in Shizuoka Prefecture, and Tateishi Park, Hiroyama Park, and Hakone in Kanagawa Prefecture. If you’re short on time, you don’t even have to leave Tokyo to bask in the magnificence of Mt. Fuji! While a little distant, if the weather is just right, you’ll be able to get stunning Mt. Fuji views from Tokyo Skytree, Tokyo Metropolitan Government Building, and the Carrot Tower in Setagaya. However, while each area is worth visiting on its own, views of Mt. Fuji are often shrouded by clouds, particularly during the rainy season in summer. Don’t be too disappointed if you miss out!
2. Ride a Shinkansen Bullet Train
Making domestic travel smooth, efficient, and relaxing, riding one of Japan’s cutting-edge “shinkansen” bullet trains is just as thrilling as the destinations themself! There are numerous bullet train lines connecting major cities transporting travelers from the very bottom of southern Kyushu all the way to the northern island of Hokkaido. Most race along at well over 200 km/h while remaining whisper quiet and unbelievably smooth. Before boarding, you can ramp up the fun by purchasing a delicious “ekiben” lunch box at the station!
3. Shop For Anime Goods at Akihabara
For many, a trip to Japan is all about anime and manga, and there’s nowhere better for this than the “otaku” holyland of Akihabara. Akihabara is a neighborhood of Tokyo characterized by flashy, lively streets filled with shops selling manga, figurines, collectables, cosplay, media, games, consoles, and more alongside a variety of electronics and computer parts. While the sheer scale can be overwhelming, simply soaking in the atmosphere and casually checking out a few stores is enough to satisfy most people. Of course, if you’re willing to dive in deep, an entire world of various Japanese subcultures awaits you!
If you'd rather have an expert show you around, the Akihabara Anime & Game Tour will take you to local, hidden-gem game shops you'd never find on your own.
4. Feast on Ramen at Ganso Ramen Yokocho
Out of the numerous ramen havens throughout Japan, the sheer number of high-quality outlets concentrated in Sapporo makes it an undisputed paradise for ramen-orientated gourmands. While variations are plentiful, Sapporo ramen is generally characterized by a rich, fatty broth flavored with miso with medium-thick curly noodles topped by corn and other vegetables with a dollop of butter.
While high-quality Sapporo ramen is served throughout the entire city, one of the biggest collections is tucked away in Ganso Ramen Yokocho. Literally meaning “original ramen alley,” this gourmet corner is nestled within the nightlife district of Susukino and hosts several of Sapporo’s and Hokkaido’s most esteemed ramen brands. This includes eminent names like Shirakaba Sansou, Teshikaga Ramen, Higuma, and more!
5. Treat Yourself to Kawaii Cuteness at a Maid Cafe
Lavish yourself in the service of adorable maids (or butlers) at one of Japan’s legendary maid cafes. Alongside serving food and drink, the maids will encourage you to play games, sing and chant, and have photos taken together, making it far more interactive than most lunches! The menus tend to be based around simple, hearty meals and desserts like omurice (rice omelet), curries, parfaits, and ice cream soda, which are often spiced up by the maids with cute drawings using sauce. One of the most popular maid cafes is the @Home Cafe, which has 6 branches in Akihabara alone.
6. Join a Hanami Cherry Blossom Party
From around late March to early April, many of the streets, parks, and riversides of Japan will turn a pastel pink by the blooming “sakura” cherry blossoms. Japanese locals make the most of this by throwing “hanami” (flower-viewing) parties to fully relish the seasonal splendor while eating and drinking with friends. Whether you’re traveling as a group or going solo, you can easily hold your own hanami party by visiting an area with cherry blossoms, getting some drinks/food from a nearby convenience store, and laying down a picnic rug. There’s also a hoard of cherry blossom-themed snacks and beverages on sale during this period worth sampling too! Just be sure to clean up all your trash after finishing and double check park opening hours and regulations.
7. See a Kabuki Show
Kabuki is a flamboyant style of traditional Japanese theater blending performance, dance, and song that originated during the early Edo period (1603-1867) and peaked in the mid-18th century. Kabuki actors wear glamorous costumes with heavy makeup and perform in specially designed theaters with trap doors and revolving platforms known as “kabuki-za.” Kabuki plays boast a wide variety of different themes and genres, including renditions of famous historical events, portrayals of everyday townspeople, classical Japanese dance, and even some modern iterations incorporating anime characters and more! While no longer in its heyday, it remains popular as a treasured cultural icon and quintessential Japanese experience. The Tokyo Kabukiza Theater in Ginza holds performances almost everyday with English support available, and there are also theaters in Osaka, Kyoto, Fukuoka, and more.
8. Visit a Famous Japanese Castle
With one in virtually every region, there is no shortage of castles to explore in Japan. In fact, planning your itinerary around castles, known as “castle hopping,” is a popular way to tour many of Japan’s best cities and towns. Unfortunately, disaster, modernization, and time have destroyed the majority of Japanese castles, resulting in most being ruins or reconstructions.
Of course, ruins and reconstructions are worth visiting in their own right, however, they are no match for the 12 original Japanese castles built during or before the Edo period (1603-1867). With every nook and cranny hiding a fascinating intricacy rewarding keen eyes, these incredibly well-preserved castles offer stark insight into the character and architecture of feudal Japan. Notable original castles include the “castle in the sky” Bitchu Matsuyama Castle, the maze-like Matsumoto Castle, and Himeji Castle, the largest in the country (pictured above).
9. Pray at a Japanese Shrine and Temple
Alongside castles, the most iconic traditional Japanese buildings are the endless array of shrines and temples. In Japan, shrines serve to enshrine deities known as “kami” of the Japanese-born Shinto religion. Temples, meanwhile, are Buddhist centers of worship enshrining sacred statues and hosting monks as they perform rituals and training. While somewhat similar, temples and shrines are easily distinguishable, with shrines featuring torii gates (pictured above) while temples are often (but not always) more ornate and adorned with Buddhist statues and bells.
Despite being different religions, Shinto shrines and Buddhist temples enjoy a harmonious relationship, with many temples hosting shrines and vice versa. There are over 75,000 temples and 80,000 shrines across Japan, each with its own unique charm, history, and surroundings. You can freely enter the grounds of most shrines and temples, with only a small donation sometimes required. Some of the most notable shrines include Ise Jingu in Mie, Itsukushima Shrine in Hiroshima, Meiji Jingu Shrine in Tokyo, and Fushimi Inari Taisha in Kyoto. Some of the most popular temples include Kiyomizu-dera and Kinkakuji in Kyoto, Senso-ji Temple in Tokyo, and Todai-ji Temple in Nara.
10. Wear a Kimono or Yukata
Kimono are traditional Japanese garments primarily worn in the modern era on special occasions or celebrations. Kimono literally means “clothing” in Japanese and refers to all kinds of traditional clothes suiting various events, times, genders, and ages. One type of kimono is the yukata, which is made from cotton or polyester and designed to be light and cool to be worn in summer. It’s perfectly acceptable for non-Japanese people to respectfully wear a kimono or yukata, and there are lots of stores offering rental and dressing services. With lots of fiddly folds and strings, you’ll definitely need a professional fitter to help you put it on! Once you’re all dressed up, complete the picture by wandering one of Japan’s numerous old towns to blend into the retro atmosphere!
11. Shop Till You Drop at a Shotengai
“Shotengai” (lit. “shop street”) are shopping arcades aimed at the local community adored for their nostalgic, rustic atmosphere. While far from the hippest joints with the latest trends, they instead offer an authentic peek into the character of a neighborhood with a great range of hearty food, thrifty shopping, and local specialities. You can find shotengai in virtually every city and town of Japan, with some of the most famous being the Nakamise Shopping Street, Ameya-Yokocho, and Yanaka Ginza in Tokyo, Shinsaibashi-Suji Shopping Street in Osaka, the Heiwa-dori in Atami, and the Kawabata Shopping Arcade in Fukuoka.
12. Sample Traditional Japanese Sweets
Before pocky was all the rage, Japan had a flourishing traditional confectionery culture of “wagashi” sweets that can still be enjoyed today. Wagashi brim with creative artistic flair often based around the characteristics of the four seasons. They are generally made from natural ingredients like rice, flour, and beans which are boiled, kneaded, and steamed to yield a gentle sweetness and satisfying bite. Rather than being guzzled down handfuls at a time, wagashi are best savored in small amounts alongside a bowl of matcha. Common wagashi include mochi, manju, daifuku, dango, and yokan. You can find wagashi shops all throughout Japan, particularly in traditional districts, hot spring towns, and Japanese gardens.
13. Eat Yourself Silly in Osaka
For those who prefer doing away with refinement to chow down on mouth-watering delicacies handfuls at a time, the Osaka gourmet scene is for you! The entire city is jam-packed with casual eateries serving up fresh local grub, with the cream of the crop found by the iconic canalside Dotonbori district. Here you can pick up Osaka specialties like “takoyaki” fried octopus balls and “okonomiyaki” pancakes along with super tasty renditions of Japanese classics like tonkatsu, ramen, sushi, and more.
This Daytime Dotonbori Walking Food Tour in Osaka takes you to both popular and hidden spots in the area, taking the stress out of navigating the hectic streets of Osaka yourself.
14. Ride a Scenic Train
With stunning scenery, elegant interiors, and accommodating service, a journey on a scenic or themed train takes the impeccable Japanese train system to a spectacular new level. Highlights include a woodfire stove meal on the Rail Kitchen Chikugo in Fukuoka, royal treatment on the sophisticated THE ROYAL EXPRESS in Kanagawa/Shizuoka, and stargazing at night on the HIGH RAIL 1375 in Nagano/Yamanashi. Search online to see if a scenic train lines up with your Japan itinerary!
15. Tour a Sake Brewery
The national beverage of Japan is sake - a fermented rice wine with thousands of years of history. Virtually every region of Japan has its own brewery utilizing local ingredients to craft a drink that suits the neighborhood palate. Many are also set up to welcome tourists with comprehensive brewery tours and tastings.
Some of the most tourist-friendly sake breweries in Japan include Hakkaisan Brewery and Imayotsukasa Brewery in Niigata, Ozawa Brewery in Tokyo, Gekkeikan Okura Sake Museum in Kyoto, and the Kiku-Masamune Sake Brewery Museum in Hyogo. There are also entire neighborhoods dotted with several sake breweries all within walking distance, such as the Higashinada Ward of Kobe, Fushimi Ward of Kyoto, and Kashima in Saga. Some tours and tastings are completely free, while others are not, so confirm if you need to pay in advance. While you’re at it, there are also shochu and whiskey distilleries throughout Japan equally worth a look, such as the Yoichi Whiskey Distillery in Hokkaido and Hombo Shuzo shochu distillery in Kagoshima.
16. Take Purikura Photos
Despite the age of smartphones, purikura remains a popular Japanese photo booth experience allowing friends to take selfies enhanced with dazzling and bizarre effects. Purikura often sit within gaming arcades and generally cost between 200-400 yen for a reel of 5-8 passport-sized photos. The range of options available will depend on each machine, however, you’ll generally be able to add digital effects, drawings, stickers, dates, and more while the computer automatically touches up your face, eyes, and body. For some, the final result will look hilarious, making for a great souvenir of Japan!
17. Watch a Sumo Match
Sumo wrestling, the national sport of Japan, needs no introduction! There are loads of opportunities to catch a sumo match in Japan, including the 6 annual nationwide “basho” tournaments along with various exhibitions and smaller matches in between. You can either book your ticket in advance or simply turn up on the day, however, events with popular wrestlers or highly anticipated matches may sell out, so best to secure your spot early.
There are a number of differently priced tickets each corresponding to a seat type, including highly coveted ringside seats, box seats, and various balcony seats. The Ryogoku district of Tokyo is considered the heartland of sumo and offers fans a number of ways to discover and admire the sport. This includes sumo stables open to the public, the Sumo Museum, the Ryogoku Kokugikan National Sumo Stadium, and the nearby Tomioka Hachimangu Shrine, which is believed to be the birthplace of sumo.
18. Pick Up Snacks at a Conbini
Around almost every corner of Japan lies a “conbini” hosting a treasure trove of snacks, refreshments, meals, magazines, daily essentials, and more. Classic snacks include Pocky, Pretz, Choco Pie, Yukimi Daifuku, Kit Kats, Takenoko no Sato, pudding, and rice crackers, all of which are super cheap and a great pick-me-up for tired travelers. There are also traditional Japanese confectioneries like mochi and dango alongside a staggering range of potato chips, instant ramen, dried meats, ice creams, chocolate, tea and coffee, alcoholic beverages, bread, desserts, and more! Once you feel you’ve conquered the conbini, try visiting a Japanese supermarket for an even bigger range often at better prices!
19. Participate in a Japanese Tea Ceremony
Known as “sado” or “chanoyu,” the ancient ritual of the Japanese tea ceremony is one of its most exquisite cultural arts. Tea culture in Japan has profound roots tracing back to the Buddhist monks of the Kamakura period (1185-1333), with specialized tea rooms, rituals, and tools being introduced later by tea master Sen no Rikyu in the 1500s.
In short, a tea ceremony is about preparing a bowl of matcha with a bamboo whisk and serving it to guests alongside a small traditional sweet while observing several rules and customs. If this sounds intimidating, you can first try ordering a casual matcha set at a historical residence in gardens like Shinjuku Gyoen National Garden in Tokyo, Ritsurin Garden in Takamatsu, and Korakuen in Okayama. These are generally similar to cafes and allow patrons to turn up in casual clothes and enjoy tea at their leisure. If you want to go all out, there are more intensive tea ceremony classes with kimono rental educating students on the correct way to sit, make tea, eat, and drink, putting you on the road to becoming a Japanese tea master!
20. Eat Conveyor Belt or High-End Sushi
While you’re in Japan, don’t miss the opportunity to gorge yourself on as much sushi as possible! With a mind-boggling diversity of ingredients, tastes, styles, and more, one or two sushi encounters is simply not enough!
There are two main styles of sushi establishment in Japan - counter/restaurant and conveyor belt. Counters/restaurants are generally small, cozy, and more expensive than conveyor belts, which tend to be affordable and casual. If you’re seeking a classy, intimate ambience, opt for a restaurant. If you want to simply chow down on as much inexpensive sushi as you can handle without fuss, then head for a conveyor belt. Be aware that exceptions do exist, such as pricey, top-tier conveyor belt sushi and dodgy sushi counters, so do your research before heading out. To increase your chances of finding the best, visit either style in a renowned seafood district or town like Hakodate, Niigata, Kanazawa, Toyama, or Shizuoka, or find a reputable joint within Tokyo.
21. Get Your Game on at a Japanese Arcade
Relive those nostalgic days spent in the arcade at a Japanese game center! These bombastic, high-energy hubs are packed with classic titles like Mario Kart, Dance Dance Revolution, and Taiko no Tatsujin alongside a lineup of crane games to win merchandise from beloved franchises. Japanese gaming arcades can be found all throughout the country and, while games are generally not available in English, most are easy enough to figure out. Many are concentrated around pop culture hubs like Akihabara, Ikebukuro, and Odaiba.
22. Indulge in Traditional “Kaiseki Ryori” Cuisine
If your budget allows it, treating yourself to the traditional Japanese haute cuisine “kaiseki ryori” is a must. While available at restaurants, the best way to enjoy kaiseki ryori is at a traditional “ryokan” inn together with hot springs and tatami room accommodation for the ultimate Japan experience. Kaiseki ryori consists of several small, individual dishes each presenting a different kind of food and cooking style often with seasonal local ingredients.
While you’re free to do as you like, the dishes are generally intended to be eaten in a certain order. This starts from the “sakizuke” appetizer leading into dishes like “mukozuke” sashimi, “yakimono” grilled food, “suimono” soup, “takiawase” simmered vegetables and meats, “sukiyaki” hot pots, rice, dessert, and more! While separated, each serving is carefully crafted to complement the others, weaving together a symphony of tastes sure to delight.
23. Feel the Magic of a Fireworks Show
Hundreds of breathtaking fireworks displays are held in Japan all throughout the year, with many of them concentrated around the “obon” summer holidays. The top three shows in Japan are the Omagari Fireworks Festival in Akita in August, the Nagaoka Festival Grand Fireworks Show in Niigata in August, and the Tsuchiura All Japan Fireworks Competition in Ibaraki in November. As for Tokyo, the most famous fireworks are the Sumidagawa Fireworks Festival in July, the Adachi Fireworks Festival in May, and the Edogawa Fireworks Festival in August.
Even outside the warmer months, there are plenty of winter fireworks worth braving the cold for, like the Atami Fireworks Fair on the Sea in Shizuoka, ISOGAI Theatrical Fireworks in Nagoya, and the Otaru Snow Fireworks in Hokkaido, all of which are in December. Just keep in mind that bigger events will draw in huge crowds, so you’ll likely have to wait a while for public transport.
24. Binge Comics at the Kyoto International Manga Museum
The Kyoto International Manga Museum has amassed a phenomenal collection of 300,000 manga and related materials ranging from Edo period (1603-1867) caricatures, Meiji era (1868-1912) magazines, modern hit manga, and even western comics! Best of all, over 50,000 manga can be freely picked up and read from The Wall of Manga - with some English prints available too! The fascinating exhibitions will walk you through the development of manga, showcasing its deep ties to Japanese history and culture. You can also try your hand at manga drawing or watch pro “mangaka” as they work their magic!
25. Channel Your Inner Warrior With a Samurai Experience
Embodying bravery, stoicism, and finesse, the samurai legend has become immortalized through countless films, novels, anime, and more. Even in modern Japan, samurai culture, fashion, and weaponry can be enjoyed through samurai experiences complete with photoshoots and more.
One of the best places to try this is at Edo Wonderland Nikko Edomura in Tochigi, a theme park recreating a traditional Edo period (1603-1867) townscape. Alongside samurai, you can choose to dress up as a ronin, shinsengumi, princess, oiran, or samurai daughter to blend in with the retro atmosphere. There is also a “samurai training center” offering an authentic samurai training program, including lessons on katana maintenance and samurai etiquette. Katana swordplay lessons are also popular across Japan, with some notable places being the Waraku Kyoto Samurai Experience and Samurai & Ninja Interactive Museum & Show in Kyoto.
There are also just as many ninja experiences to be had, such as at the Koka Ninja Village in Shiga and Toei Kyoto Studio Park. A quick search online will bring up dozens of English-supported samurai and ninja activities and tours, so you shouldn’t have any difficulties finding one you like!
The information in this article is accurate at the time of publication.