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 (May 09 2022)
26. View Breathtaking Ice Sculptures at the Sapporo Snow Festival
Running for a week in early February, the Sapporo Snow Festival brightens up the midwinter of Hokkaido with a jovial celebration showcasing hundreds of magnificent sculptures of ice and snow. The festival is held across three venues within the city of Sapporo: Odori Park, Susukino, and Tsudome. The primary location is Odori Park, which hosts many of the famous gigantic sculptures alongside around 100 smaller yet no less impressive counterparts. Susukino is similar to Odori Park while Tsudome features thrilling ice-slides and snow activities, making it popular with families. There are also ice skating rinks, food and drink stalls, illumination art, sideshows, and more!
27. Warm Yourself Up at an Onsen Hot Spring
Japan is dotted by almost 3,000 “onsen” hot spring towns treating fatigued travelers to nourishing, mineral-rich geothermal water bolstered by local delicacies, exceptional customer service, and enchanting townscapes. The largest concentration of onsen towns can be found on the northern island of Hokkaido, which boasts a staggering 240! This is followed by Nagano, Niigata, Fukushima, and Aomori Prefecture.
Along with overnight stays, many onsen offer day-trip plans where you can bathe for just a few hours - usually for around 1,000 yen or less. You’ll be expected to follow strict onsen etiquette, which involves bathing completely naked and washing yourself before hopping in the waters. Before visiting, read up on the rules to ensure you won’t accidentally offend. Some of the most renowned onsen towns in Japan include Kusatsu Onsen and Ikaho Onsen in Gunma, Arima Onsen and Kinosaki Onsen in Hyogo, Gero Onsen in Gifu, Ginzan Onsen in Yamagata, Dogo Onsen in Ehime, Kurokawa Onsen in Kumamoto, Beppu Onsen in Oita, and Noboribetsu Onsen in Hokkaido.
28. Experience Soba Making
Soba are thin Japanese noodles made from buckwheat eaten both cold and hot. It can be found virtually anywhere in Japan, from thrifty fast food joints to gourmet renditions at high-end restaurants. No matter the quality, soba is generally on the cheaper side, making for a satisfying meal on a budget.
There are also dozens of soba cooking classes offered in Japan providing everything you’ll need to whip up your own from scratch! You’ll be given the opportunity to work with authentic ingredients using genuine Japanese cooking techniques and utensils under the guidance of a trained soba master. Many have English support and are beginner friendly, so search online to find one that suits you! Of course, there are a wealth of other fascinating cooking classes worth adding to your itinerary too, including sushi, ramen, and traditional confectionery.
29. Drink and Dine at an Izakaya
Izakaya are Japanese-style taverns serving drinks and meals in a warm, cozy, and often retro atmosphere. Most are frequented by workers relishing a beer after a long day and are a great place to mingle with locals. Izakaya serve a range of alcoholic beverages like beer, wine, cocktails, and sake accompanied by a diverse menu of both Japanese and international dishes.
Common izakaya foods include “karaage” fried chicken, “yakitori” roasted chicken skewers, “gyoza” dumplings, ramen, pickled vegetables, sashimi, and more. As many have counter seats, it’s perfectly acceptable to visit and dine alone - making them ideal for solo travelers! While Japanese-only menus are common, many will display pictures and most will offer the standard dishes and drinks noted above, making dinner at an izakaya a hassle-free experience even for those who can’t speak Japanese.
If you're feeling nervous about dining alone, this Tokyo Bar Hopping Night Tour in Shinjuku takes you around hidden local izakaya in Shinjuku with other travelers for a fun night out!
30. Find Inner Peace With a Temple Stay on Mt. Koya
Nestled within the depths of Wakayama Prefecture’s mountains, Mt. Koya is the deeply revered center of Shingon Buddhism established by the legendary monk Kukai (Kobo Daishi) in 816. Now a World Heritage Site, Mt. Koya is home to over 100 stunning temples housing practicing monks adorned by elegant gardens. Many of these temples offer lodging to visitors, providing rare insight into the Buddhist lifestyle. The entire mountain is filled with incredible sights, such as the head temple of Kongobuji, the Tanize Suspension Bridge, Daimon Gate, Konpon Daito Pagoda, and Okunoin, home to the largest cemetery in Japan and the mausoleum of Kobo Daishi himself.
31. Take in the Charm of a Matsuri Festival
“Matsuri” are traditional festivals often run by local shrines mostly concentrated around summertime. Each city and town celebrates its own matsuri with a unique significance and distinctive character. Alongside religious processions, dances, and parades, matsuri are all about gathering the community for a day and night of dressing up in kimono, hanging out with friends, and chowing down on scrumptious street food.
Being welcoming and casual, joining the fun is as simple as turning up and wandering around! They’ll often be accompanied by rows of food stalls dishing out “yakisoba” noodles, chocolate bananas, “karaage” fried chicken, and “okonomiyaki” pancakes, so definitely come on an empty stomach!
Some of the biggest matsuri festivals in Japan include the Awa Odori (Mid-August, Tokushima), Sendai Tanabata Matsuri (August 6-8, Sendai), Aomori Nebuta Matsuri (Early August, Aomori), Tenjin Matsuri (Late June - July 25, Osaka), Gion Matsuri (July, Kyoto), and Kanda Matsuri (May, Tokyo).
32. See Jaw-Dropping Panoramas at the Tokyo Skytree
At 634 meters, Tokyo Skytree is the tallest free-standing broadcasting tower in the world. Inside is the Tembo Deck (350 m) and Tembo Galleria (450 m), each presenting jaw-dropping panoramas stretching across the entire Kanto region and beyond - including Mt. Fuji!
The Tembo Deck contains three levels with glass panels on the floor to look down at the nauseating drop beneath your feet, while the Tembo Galleria is a slanting spiral passageway with access to the Sorakara Point at floor 450 - the highest lookout in the tower. You'll also be able to sit down, grab a bite, and have commemorative photos taken at both the Deck and Galleria. After heading back down, pick up a meal or scratch that shopping itch at the tower’s bustling micro-city of restaurants, stores, and even an aquarium!
33. Find the Jigokudani Snow Monkeys
Every winter in the Jigokudani Yaen Park in northern Nagano, a horde of freezing monkeys find their way to natural hot spring baths to escape the brutal cold. These are the only monkeys in the entire world to do this, making it a remarkable, one-of-a-kind sight. If you wish to join, there are plenty of hot springs for humans in the area too!
34. Brave the Shibuya Scramble Crossing
Shibuya Scramble has become a symbol of Japan just as iconic as geisha, kimono, and sushi. Enveloped by dazzling neon and giant television screens, flocks of pedestrians rapidly amass on the curbside as they await the green light to let them loose. Being a “scramble” style crossing, the entire intersection is closed to motor vehicles once the light turns green, allowing pedestrians to cross the street in any direction they like and obliterate any semblance of order. During peak times, crowds of up to 3,000 people cross at once, making dodging the oncoming walls of people a thrill within itself!
There are also plenty of vantage points to witness the chaos unfold in comfort, such as from Shibuya 109, Shibuya Excel Hotel Tokyu, Starbucks, or from the walkways in Shibuya Station. Surprisingly, the most notable landmark within this sprawling maze is the solemn, unassuming Hachiko statue, which is dedicated to a dog who journeyed to Shibuya Station everyday to meet its owner, continuing even after they passed away. If you’re meeting someone around Shibuya, this melancholy statue is the perfect rendezvous point.
35. Swim and Snorkel in Okinawa
The tiny island paradises of Okinawa are lined by picturesque beaches home to a wealth of tropical sea life reeling in avid swimmers, snorkelers, and divers. The warm temperatures, pristine waters, and abundant space make Okinawa Japan’s premier destination for marine activities and outdoor vacations. Plus, with both carefully maintained, highly accessible resort-style beaches and untouched remote beaches, holiday-makers of all varieties will be able to find a beach in Okinawa that suits their style. Some of the most renowned include Manza Beach and Zanpa Beach on the Okinawa Main Island, Sunset Beach on Ishigaki Island, Furuzamami Beach on Zamami Island, and Kondoi Beach on Taketomi Island.
36. Hike Through a National Park
Japan’s collection of national parks offer off-road adventures through untouched wilderness side-by-side with native wildlife. There are over 30 national parks in Japan each covering a unique slice of terrain ranging from precipitous mountain ranges, tranquil lakes and rivers, vast wetlands, gorgeous beaches, and more.
Some of the most popular include the breathtaking caldera lakes of Akan Mashu National Park in Hokkaido, the dynamic Hida Mountains of Chubu Sangaku National Park, the profound historical sites of Nikko National Park reachable in a day-trip from Tokyo, and the diverse sealife of Kerama Island National Park in Okinawa. Plus, unlike in many countries, private property and facilities are allowed to be built within Japanese national parks, ensuring that you’re never too far away from comfort and safety.
37. Jam Out at a Karaoke Party
Karaoke is one of Japan’s national pastimes and a fun way to let off steam! Unlike western-style karaoke, Japanese karaoke joints offer small, cozy booths to sing in private with friends or coworkers, most often placed around train stations or entertainment districts.
Naturally, karaoke gets more expensive during peak times like Saturday night, so if you can, opt for a quieter weekday afternoon for a better deal. To join, simply visit and pay for a room - you’ll then be free to sing, dance, eat, and drink until your time is up and the staff call you. Food and beverages can be ordered through the in-room telephone service, however, they can be on the pricey side.
If you're traveling solo and would like someone to sing with, check out the Night-time Karaoke Tour in Tokyo by MagicalTrip.
38. Explore History Through the Ancient Towns of Japan
Despite its futuristic reputation, Japan is still home to hundreds of authentic traditional streetscapes transporting visitors back to the days of old. And you don’t need to venture into the countryside to find them - even Tokyo has several traditional towns like Shibamata, Kagurazaka, and Yanaka, allowing a peek of simpler times before the glitz of modern-day Japan. Also within a day-trip distance of Tokyo is Kawagoe in Saitama, which is one of the most famous Edo period towns in the Kanto region. Most cities will also have “shitamachi” downtowns with retro vibes and a downtrodden yet authentic, unpretentious character.
Other notable traditional Japanese towns include Ouchi-juku and Nanokamachi-dori in Fukushima, Higashichaya in Kanazawa, the Otaru Canal in Otaru, the Bikan Historical Quarter in Kurashiki, Perry Road in Shimoda, Furumachi in Niigata, Sawara in Chiba, Mino and Shirakawago in Gifu, Gion in Kyoto, and Ozu and Uchiko in Ehime. This is just the tip of the iceberg, so don’t hesitate to get off the beaten track and find yourself a new slice of untouched Japan!
39. Become Enchanted by the Studio Ghibli Museum
For many, the heartwarming films by Studio Ghibli are the reason behind their fascination with Japan. The Studio Ghibli Museum in Mitaka, Tokyo, allows fans to immerse themselves in the whimsical charm of beloved franchises like My Neighbor Totoro, Spirited Away, Princess Mononoke, and Howl's Moving Castle. Rather than theme park rides or flashy attractions, this museum is intended as a relaxing, entrancing experience recreating the ambience and scenery behind Ghibli works. Also inside is The Saturn Theater, which screens an original Ghibli short unable to be seen anywhere else!
All tickets are by advance reservation only, so make sure you order before visiting. There is also a new Ghibli Park opening November 1, 2022, in Aichi Prefecture.
40. Island Hopping on the Shimanami Kaido
The Shimanami Kaido is a series of seven bridges connecting Hiroshima’s Onomichi City and Ehime’s Imabari City through the Seto Inland Sea. This 60 km stretch of highway abounds with gorgeous island-filled coastal scenery tempting one to pull over and marvel time and time again. The road is also a paradise for cyclists, and the warm Setouchi weather and invigorating ocean breeze makes it a joy to ride even in winter. There are lots of cyclist-friendly shops, cafes, and restaurants allowing the way to rest, many of which are equipped with air pumps, bicycle stands, drinking water, and toilets, making it a pleasant trip the whole way.
41. Ski and Snowboard at Niseko
In recent years, Japan has blossomed into one of the world’s leading skiing and snowboarding destinations. There are dozens of well-facilitated winter resorts throughout the country equipped with slopes for both beginners and pros boasting world-class powder snow.
Many of Japan’s best ski resorts are concentrated in the northernmost island of Hokkaido, with the Niseko area being one of the most famous. Niseko has three ski resorts - Niseko Moiwa Ski Resort, Niseko Annupuri, and Niseko Village - each with ample access to the region’s coveted powder snow and slopes. With people from all over the globe visiting, Niseko has a friendly, international vibe with plenty of language support making it an easy place to get around.
42. Enter a New Reality at a teamLab Museum or Exhibition
teamLab is an interdisciplinary art collective based in Tokyo designing mind-bending exhibitions combining light, sound, and digital imagery. Their most popular showings are “Borderless” and “Planets” in central Tokyo. There are also several other exhibitions throughout Japan, both permanent and temporary, including the teamLab Forest Fukuoka and Resonating Life in the Acorn Forest in Saitama. Through the seamless blending of moving, interactive digital art layered over tangible objects, stepping into a TeamLab exhibition is like walking into a dream.
43. Pray for Peace at the Peace Memorial Park and Atomic Bomb Dome
Hiroshima’s Peace Memorial Park is a complex of historical relics, lush gardens, open squares, and informative museums detailing the tragic events of WWII. The most well-known symbol is the Atomic Bomb Dome, a raw, poignant testement to the destruction that occurred during the atomic bombing of Hiroshima. Standing in stark contrast to this painful history are the beautiful park grounds, which hold monuments like the Hiroshima Victims Memorial Cenotaph, the Peace Bells, and the Atomic Bomb Memorial Mound. There is also the Hiroshima Peace Memorial Museum, which recounts the horrors through confronting, explicit exhibitions and real-life accounts. While not for the faint of heart, it’s worth visiting to honor the victims and help ensure a better future by understanding the true nature of war.
44. Taste the Freshest Catches at the Hakodate Morning Market
If a helping of seafood dishes are on your Japan “to-eat” list, nowhere rivals the sheer volume and quality on offer at the Hakodate Morning Market. Conveniently located next to Hakodate Station, this sprawling complex of over 200 pop-up stalls and established eateries attracts hordes of sightseers and locals gorging themselves on the freshest catches of the day. The market opens from either 5:00 AM or 6:00 AM, depending on the time of year, and runs until the early afternoon, giving you plenty of time to visit without waking up at the crack of dawn.
The most coveted catches here are sea urchin, squid, salmon roe, several varieties of crab, and all kinds of fish. You can also try your hand at pool fishing for live squid, which will be immediately prepared and served to eat. However, the best way to fully relish the market is through a “kaisendon,” a bowl of rice covered by layers of seafood. Despite the quality, prices are extraordinarily reasonable, with many of the popular kaisendon priced between just 1,000 - 2,000 yen! Being such a large market, there are also stores selling fresh fruit and vegetables, rice, local delicacies, and even clothes!
45. Spend the Night in a Traditional Ryokan
A “ryokan” is a traditional Japanese inn laden with cozy, calming vibes and kind, heartfelt service. Most pride themselves on their hot spring bathhouses, some of which are private and attached to rooms, along with lovingly crafted “kaiseki ryori” cuisine. Many sit amongst resort towns, which are often deep in the mountains or by the coast, giving off an enchanting, whimsical atmosphere reminiscent of the movie Spirited Away. While far from cheap, many are surprisingly well priced considering the level of service, with two-meal plans sometimes going for as cheap as 10,000-15,000 per person. Ryokan can be found all throughout Japan, even in the middle of Tokyo, so you shouldn’t have trouble finding one.
46. Squish Yourself Into a Capsule Hotel
On the other end of the scale from ryokan are Japan’s capsule hotels. While some may find the idea of squeezing themselves into a tiny hole in the wall comical, they are not to be underestimated! Most are modern, clean, cozy, and extremely well-facilitated, with shared bathhouses, televisions, entertainment rooms, food service, books, and more! Plus, for the budget traveler, they are often a more secure and comfortable option than hostels or guesthouses. Capsule hotels are mostly found in big cities like Tokyo, Osaka, and Fukuoka where space comes at a premium. For more information, check out our round up of capsule hotels in Tokyo’s Asakusa and Ueno!
47. Find Pokemon Manhole Covers
Uncovering Japan’s 200+ “Poké Lids” makes for a fun side-quest to spice up your travels. While they are not yet installed in every region, places like Tokyo, Kyoto, Hokkaido, Fukushima, and Kyushu have plenty coinciding with popular icons and sightseeing hotspots. The designs and Pokemon themselves often reflect the surrounding neighborhoods, such as the fish Pokémon Magikarp in Ojiya, Niigata, where the colorful “nishikigoi” carp was first bred, or the sea serpent Pokémon Gyarados on the banks of Lake Biwa, Japan’s largest lake. This project intends to draw in tourists to lesser-known attractions in Japan, and there are plans to continue the project and even link it up with the game Pokémon GO. You can find a map of all current Poké Lids on the official Poké Lids website.
48. Seek Tranquility in the Arashiyama Bamboo Grove
The nature-rich, temple-filled Arashiyama is one of Kyoto’s preeminent sightseeing neighborhoods. Alongside the Togetsu-kyo Bridge, the symbol of Arashiyama is its 400-meter-long bamboo grove, a lush oasis of thick green bamboo covering the sky and blocking out the townscape. Rather than rushing around, Arashiyama and its bamboo grove are best taken in through a slow, leisurely stroll or on a tour with a local guide. If you want to explore other lesser-known spots around Arashiyama, check out our article on Nishikyo-ku too!
49. Wander the Geisha Districts of Kyoto
The ultimate embodiment of Kyoto are the elusive, mysterious geisha. Geisha, actually called “geiko” in Kyoto, are sophisticated entertainers still seen in places like Kyoto’s Gion district and more. Geiko culture began to blossom in Kyoto around 300 years ago through women serving tea and sweets at shrines, eventually evolving into its own artform with dances, songs, and performances complete with distinctive makeup, hairstyles, and gorgeous kimono. While you may see geiko and apprentice “maiko” walking the streets of Gion, keep your distance and only take photos from afar - and definitely do not ask for photos! If you wish to experience this culture up close, there are numerous Kyoto geiko and other geisha tours bookable online.
50. Hop Between Outdoor Art Exhibitions
Blending the beauty of nature with human creativity are the art fields and festivals of Japan. The pinnacle of this is the Setouchi Triennale, which is held every three years across several islands in the Seto Inland Sea. Even outside the festival, much of the art remains, such as the beloved yellow and red pumpkins from polka dot artist Yayoi Kusama on the island of Naoshima (pictured above). Alongside touring art, this is a great opportunity to explore the beautiful Setouchi region, which is known for calm weather, tranquil blue seas, and fascinating cuisine cultures.
The counterpart to the Setouchi Triennale is the Echigo-Tsumari Art Triennial, which is held throughout the rugged inland hamlets of Niigata Prefecture. Like Setouchi, there is lots of art to see outside the festival dates too, some of which is housed in the Echigo-Tsumari Satoyama Museum of Contemporary Art, MonET. You can even spend the night in an Echigo-Tsumari art piece at the luxury "House of Light" by James Turrell!
51. Visit Hell in Beppu
While there is no shortage of hot spring towns in Japan, none are quite like Beppu. Located in Oita Prefecture, Kyushu, Beppu boasts the most hot spring sources in the entire world and the highest output of spring water in Japan. However, Beppu is also known for its surreal, alien landscapes of smoldering geothermal pools, blood-like red water, and boiling mud pits, making it feel like a scene straight out of hell! And calling it “hell” isn’t a diss on the town - many of the official names use the word “jigoku,” which literally means “hell” in Japanese! But don’t be misled by this aggressive moniker, Beppu is one of the most beautiful places in Japan, and most of the sights are utterly breathtaking. This includes the cobalt blue waters of Umi Jigoku (Sea Hell) and the milky hues of Shiraike Jigoku (White Pond Hell). Although the crocodile pit at Oniyama Jigoku (Monster Mountain Hell) might not help the cause…
52. Check Out the Latest Kawaii Fashion at Takeshita Street
Takeshita Street, also called Takeshita-dori, is a 350 m pedestrian shopping street considered ground zero for Japanese “kawaii” culture. Located in Tokyo’s fashion hub of Harajuku, Takeshita Street is the hangout for hip youths as they shop for the latest trends in lolita, goth, kawaii, and other alternative fashions while nibbling on crêpes and other sickly-sweet desserts. Whether you partake in this culture or not, Takeshita Street is a fascinating, candid look into the heart of Japanese youth culture well worth visiting. Being right by Harajuku Station and near Yoyogi Park, a stroll through Takeshita Street will slot nicely into most Tokyo itineraries. If you don't know where to start, the half-day Harajuku Kawaii Walking Tour will take you through the best shops and food with a local guide.
53. Marvel at an Enchanting Winter Illumination
One of the quintessential signs of winter in Japan are the hundreds of “illumination” festivals. Adding cheer to streets and parks during the depths of winter, illuminations weave together an enchanting, magical atmosphere through artistic arrangements of gorgeous electric lights. There are many varieties of illumination in Japan, ranging from simple streetside displays to entire parks carpeted by thousands of twinkling bulbs.
Street and riverside illuminations are typically free while parks generally charge an admission fee of around 1,000 yen or less. Some of the most popular illuminations in Japan include the Tokyo Mega Illumination, Omotesando Illumination, Yebisu Garden Place, and Yomiuriland Jewellumination in Tokyo, the Nabana no Sato winter illumination near Nagoya, Shonan no Hoseki in Kanagawa, and the Hikari no Kyoen in Osaka. Schedules often change, so check online before making any plans.
54. Gaze in Awe at the Giant Gundam Robots
Gundam is a Japanese mega-franchise considered the defining “mecha” giant robot anime. Having seen dozens of revamps and reimaginings throughout the decades, it remains fresh and culturally relevant even today. Whether you’re a die-hard fan or just curious, the gigantic 1:1 Gundam robots in Tokyo, Yokohama, and Fukuoka are an incredible spectacle all can enjoy. The first Gundam statue was unveiled in Tokyo’s Odaiba in front of the DiverCity Tokyo Plaza mall, which was replaced with a new model in 2017. Behind the statue is the Gundam Café, which serves coffee and Gundam-themed food, while the 7th floor of DiverCity houses Gundam Base Tokyo, where fans of the franchise get their shopping done.
A roughly 30-minute train ride from Tokyo Station is the Gundam Factory Yokohama in Yokohama Port, which is currently slated to close at the end of March 2023. This equally impressive Gundam puts on a show at various times throughout the day (see the schedule), which can be viewed up close at Gundam-Dock Tower (3,300 yen) or from the Gundam Café Yokohama with a drink and light meal. Both Gundam statues are also illuminated after dark, reigniting their intensity through electrifying light. There is also a new Gundum statue planned for April 2022 at the Mitsui Shopping Park Lalaport in Fukuoka. Being 24.8-meters-tall, it will become the largest in Japan!
55. Gorge on Top-Tier Wagyu in Kobe
Next to sushi and ramen, Japan’s most desirable dish is the legendary “wagyu” beef. Kobe is a haven for this delicacy, serving only specially selected “Tajima-ushi” beef raised from Japanese Black cattle in Hyogo. All Kobe Beef must meet stringent criteria said to be the harshest in Japan, including stipulations on environment, pedigree, and meat quality. The slightest heat instantly melts and fuses the exquisite marbling to bring forth a delicate sweetness, tender texture, and lingering aftertaste. You can relish Kobe Beef as steak, sukiyaki, teppanyaki, or even raw as sashimi.
And the world of wagyu doesn’t stop here - there are dozens of regions throughout Japan celebrated for their own brands rivaling even the best Kobe Beef. This includes Omi Beef in Shiga, Matsusaka Beef in Mie, Sendai Beef in Miyagi, Hida Beef in Gifu, and Yonezawa Beef in Yamagata.
The Ultimate Japan Travel Itinerary
With a balance of food, sightseeing, activities, shopping, relaxation, and more, each selection from this list of 55 best things to do in Japan was carefully picked to help travelers create a diverse and authentic Japan itinerary. Whether you’re seeking daring adventure, cramming your suitcases full of shopping, exploring anime and manga culture, or eating your way through regional delicacies, you won’t need to look further than here to start planning your next holiday in Japan!
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The information in this article is accurate at the time of publication.