Click for Japan Travel Guide

50 Best things to do in Japan

Japan is full of cool and fun activities for tourists of all ages. Here's our comprehensive list of unique things to do in Japan you will love on your trip.

Seeing Mount Fuji-san at sunset is one of the best things to do in Japan

You will find the perfect mix of activities for every traveller in Japan. From incredible and unique Japanese experiences to the coolest must-see attractions, there are so many things to do in Japan, you can never get bored exploring the country.

Now that you decided to visit Japan, it's time to prepare your bucket list for all the things you must do on your trip. Eat the tastiest food you've ever tried, see wild deer bowing for biscuits, interact with locals to immerse yourself in Japanese culture and marvel at the most incredible tourist attractions in the world. To make sure you don't miss anything, we put together the most comprehensive list with all the things you will want to do on your trip to Japan.

With such a unique culture and so many interesting tourist attractions scattered all around Japan, it can quickly become overwhelming to decide what to do on your first trip. But we're here to help. Not only that we visited Japan countless times, but we also lived in Japan, so we can share all the insider tips and knowledge with you.

We are the first travel blog to write deeply researched guides about Japan since 2016. We know exactly what you need to do in Japan on your trip, to ensure you have the greatest holiday ever!

Table of ContentsOpen

Bathe in an Onsen

Bathing in an onsen is the perfect activity for tourists who want to enjoy some tranquillity on their trip to Japan. An onsen is a hot spring in Japan and they are usually located in natural, quiet sounding for relaxation purposes. Some luxury ryokans offer private onsen facilities with incredible views of the nearby mountains.

Being in an onsen is a bucket list experience because this activity is truly unique to Japan. If you happen to visit Japan in winter, expect to be surrounded by white, snowy landscape, while you soak and relax in hot water.

There are many onsen in Kyoto which are deeply traditional so you can enjoy not just the hot springs, but a whole cultural experience in Japan.

Bathing in an onsen is a ritual in Japan and it may seem complicated for the first time tourist. Make sure to familiarise yourself with how to experience an onsen prior to your visit. Make use of the showers at the onsen and wash your body fully before entering the onsen, completely naked.

Soaking in an onsen will feel like you are one with the nature around you. It's an incredible thing to do in Japan you won't want to miss.

Insider Tip: If you don't like the idea of being fully naked around others, some ryokans allow you to book private time for the onsen. This means you are the only one who can enter the hot springs and have complete privacy. Booking a private time for the onsen can incur some extra charges, but they are well worth it.

Onsen Experience Ryokan Nikko Japan

Visit the famed Fushimi Inari Mountain

One of the most popular things to do in Japan is to visit the famed Fushimi Inari Shrine. Located in Kyoto, on Mount Inari, it offers free entry to all its visitors throughout the year. The Fushimi Inari trail is a circular hiking experience on the mountain. It gets very busy with tourists but it's a unique activity you must-try during your trip to Japan. We recommend visiting Fushimi Inari either first thing in the morning or just before sunset.

Hike in the morning, so you can capture glimpses of the sunrises over the beautiful city of Kyoto. If you decide to hike at sunset, as we did, make sure to stop at the Yotsutsuji intersection along the trail for the most incredible sunset colours. This is the best photo opportunity from the Fushimi Inari Shrine.

The hike to the summit of 233m Mt. Inari-san is an arduous hike. For this activity, you should bring water and snacks with you so you can refuel during the pilgrimage. Throughout the hike, there are small stop points where you can relax or pay your respects to the smaller shrines.

Fushimi Inari has its torii gates donated by various wealthy families or businesses in the hope to get good luck from the God Inari. Inari Ōkami is the Japanese kami (God) of foxes, fertility, rice, tea and sake. Inari is also the principal kami of Shinto.

You can also purchase a small Torii gate as a donation or as a Japanese souvenir.

Insider Tip: Don't try to take pictures the moment you start the Fushimi Inari trail. Keep on hiking for about 15-20 minutes. Most people don't hike the trail, so you will have many photo opportunities with no others around you.

Our our first visit to Japan we hiked the Fushimi Inari Shrine Trail at sunset

Enjoy a trip to Miyajima Island

Seeing Miyajima Island with its floating Shinto Gate is a once in a lifetime experience. The moment you approach the island by ferry, you can see the beautiful gate with a backdrop of lush Japanese forests. Add Miyajima to your list of things to do in Japan and enjoy a whole day of interesting and unique experiences on the island.

Located just off the shores of Hiroshima, Miyajima is easily accessible via JR Ferry. If you have the Japan Rail Pass, this trip is included and it is free of charge. There are many ferries throughout the day, but unless you plan on sleeping on the island for the night, take note of the last ferry back to the mainland.

Most tourists visit Miyajima Island for the Shinto Gate. We are here to tell you that there's a lot of other cool things you can do also. Miyajima features various forested trails so if you are a nature lover, you can enjoy a quiet and relaxing hike.

Walk on the Kiyomori-dōri and sit down to eat local oysters, a speciality this island is well known for. For dessert have the Hiroshima Momiji Manju, an authentic Japanese soft cake which is maple leaf-shaped.

Don't forget to purchase special biscuits from the local vendors made for the wild deer. Once you get to the Itsukushima Floating Torii Gate, you will see many Japanese deer coming close to tourists. It's wise to have something already prepared for them.

Insider Tip: If you want to see the Itsukushima Torii Gate in its apparent floating state, you will need to plan your trip during the high tide. If you wish to walk close to the Torii gate, you will want to plan your trip during low tide. You can find the official tide timetable here.

Hiroshima Miyajima island

Chill with tamed deer in Nara

Visit Japan's oldest capital city, Nara, well known for its Nara park full of semi-wild deer. Go in front of the Tōdai-Ji Temple and see the myriad deer waiting to be fed by tourists. Simply purchase some biscuits from local vendors and you will have several deer coming your way. What's even cuter is that most deer learned to bow so they can get food.

Make sure to keep calm around the deer and treat them with respect. Don't get too close as they are still wild animals. Don't panic if the deer follow you for more food and ensure you keep leaflets and magazines away from reach as sometimes they can try to eat it.

These are incredibly cute and lovely animals. It's a well-known fact that Japan is the perfect example of a country where man and nature coexist in perfect harmony.

There are many things to do in Nara, including visiting Horyuji Temple which is the world's oldest surviving wooden structure. It's also one of the oldest temples in the whole of Japan.

Insider Tip: From Nara Park take the hiking trail towards Mount Wakakusa. Will can stop at the Kasuga-Taisha along the way to catch your breath. Continue all the way to the top of Mount Wakakusa for some of the most incredible vista points of Nara from above.

Bucket list experience: Cory chilling with the deer in Nara Park in Japan

Go on a sake tour

If you love Japanese cultural activities you will want to go on a sake tour. During our time in Nikko, Japan, we went to a local sake brewery to see how sake is made. The owner spoke good English and showed us around his establishment, explained about the quality of the products and how the rice is fermented. It was very interesting and mesmerising actually.

Furthermore, you can have a sake tasting at the end of your tour and purchase quality sake bottles as a souvenir. There are many sake tours available all around Japan so you are guaranteed to find at least one next to you.

Want to try something truly different in Japan? Head to a Ponshu-kan, which is a sort of sake themed experience, available in three main JR station - Niigata, Nagaoka, and Echigo Yuzawa. You can sample as many sake varieties as you want, but also purchase related products and foods like Japanese pickles.

Insider Tip: One of the most out of ordinary things to do in Japan is to bathe in sake at the Echigo-Yuzawa Ponshukan branch. The water there has many mineral properties and it is blended with sake to smoothen your skin. This is a popular tourist attraction so we recommend going as early as possible, during weekdays. Make sure you bathe first, before you sample the sake!

Must try in Japan: Cory visiting a local sake brewery and taking to the owner about how sake is produced

Fall in love with Mount Fuji

Attempting to see Mount Fuji is a must-do activity during your trip to Japan. Seeing Mount Fuji has always been a bucket list thing to do in Japan for us. But seeing Mount Fuji-san is not an easy quest! The famed volcano is usually covered in clouds so you must really prepare well in order to be able to see its snow-covered peak.

Here's what you need to do maximise your chances of seeing Mount Fuji! Check the weather forecast in advance and try to stay flexible with your plans. Taking a day trip from Tokyo to Mount Fuji is easy and can be done at short notice.

You can see Mount Fuji from many spots, but we recommend going to the Five Lakes. It's very easy to get to the Five Lakes from Tokyo and there are many touristic things to do in the area also. You will find several fantastic nature trail around the lake, but also restaurants serving traditional Japanese food you will love.

Insider Tip: On a clear day you can see the top of Mount Fuji all the way from Tokyo. Head to the top of Omotesando Plaza near Harajuku and admire the peak of Mount Fuji during sunset. It's a surreal experience in Japan.

If your Japan itinerary doesn't allow you to take a trip near Mount Fuji, you can still see the famed volcano from the Shinkansen window. When booking tickets on the Shinkansen from Tokyo to Kyoto, ask for seats with views of Mount Fuji. If you pass it on a clear day, you can see the Mount Fuji from the train.

Couple Travel Mount Fujisan Japan

Enjoy Japanese Matcha treats

During your trip to Japan, you will find an array of Matcha treats from ice cream, through biscuits to delicious lattes.

Matcha is a unique Japanese invention. Matcha is powdered green tea which is deemed very healthy. Matcha tea has a lot of antioxidants and locals in Japan drink it instead of coffee in the morning.

Summers are very hot and humid in Japan so we recommend cooling off with lots of matcha ice cream. You will always find matcha ice cream sold by street vendors all around major tourist attractions in places like Shijo-Dori in Kyoto, for example. Try different matcha confectionery items, which are one of a kind in Japan.

If you love Kit Kat, don't miss the special Japanese edition which is made with matcha tea.

Go to any cafe shop in Japan and you are guaranteed to find matcha lattes on the menu. You can also purchase small tins of Japanese matcha tea as souvenirs.

Insider tip: To taste the best matcha tea in Japan, go to Uji, the birthplace of green tea in the country. You can go to Uji as a day trip from Kyoto and it takes less than 30 minutes on the Shinkansen. It's also the place to visit actual green tea plantations and learn how matcha tea is ground in Japan.

Matcha Green Ice Cream

Stroll around Gion to see Geisha

Meeting a geisha is a magical and memorable experience during your trip to Japan. You can stroll around Gion in Kyoto to see a geisha. Gion was once the entertainment district in Kyoto and nowadays is one of the most popular tourist places to visit in Japan. This is the district to go to if you want to see the famed Geishas. For your best chances to see a geisha go to Hanami-koji-dori in Gion.

The best time to see geisha is during the early evening, especially on weekends or during holidays. If you don't want to miss your chance, it's best to book a special Japanese activity which involves geisha in Gion. For example, you can book a traditional tea ceremony with a geisha, a traditional dance or a private dining experience in a superb kaiseki restaurant.

Insider Tip: Make sure to book your activity in advance, as Geisha are highly sought after in Japan. Geishas go through a lot of training to become performers. A Geisha has many skills, including dance, arts and music. Seeing a real Geisha is definitely a must-do during your trip to Japan.

Click here to book your experience in Kyoto

You Could Travel Geisha

Dress like an oiran

One of the best things to do in Japan is to dress up like an oiran (for women) and samurai (for men). My husband and I had such an incredible time during the makeover experience. This unique activity can only be done in Japan and it can take up to four hours for elaborate makeup and hair arrangements. You will get a local photographer to snap your best photos so you can take them home with you.

During the makeover, your guide will tell you the history of the oiran and samurai. You will then have a dedicated lunch with the locals, where you can ask as many questions as you have about the traditions of a kimono and the oiran.

Oiran would go to special training but at the end, the Oiran was vested the Senior Fifth Rank by the government. The Senior Fifth Rank was equivalent to the feudal lord.

During the oiran makeover, you will get to wear a delicate and traditional Japanese kimono. These kimonos usually cost a lot of money so most locals have to rent them for special events.

Insider Tip: We recommend using this shop in Tokyo as it is run by adorable old ladies who want to share their knowledge and culture with foreigners and tourists. It's worth remembering that oiran are obsolete in Japan so dressing up like oiran is like a window into the cultural past of Japan.

Married Japanese Traditional Kimono

Go on a pub crawl in Tokyo

Mingle with locals at some of the most interesting izakayas in Tokyo. An izakaya is a type of Japanese pub that serves alcoholic drinks and snacks. These are typical after-work drinking places, much like the English and Irish pubs around the world.

For the full experience. we recommend a Tokyo pub crawl with a local who can take you around the most obscure places you wouldn't otherwise find. We loved our night out and had such an adventure. We made new Japanese friends and learned a little more about how the Japanese have a good time after work.

Drink sake, special Japanese beers and sample Japanese whisky, one of the best in the world. Try at different snack at every izakaya you go to. Have yakitori with your sake, try tempura with your beer and enjoy sashimi with your whisky.

Insider Tip: Drink a truly unique beverage you can only find in Japan: Hoppy. Hoppy is a beer-flavoured almost non-alcoholic drink produced since 1948. Locals told us that Hoppy is a vintage drink most associated with Tokyo.

You can, of course, go for a pub crawl on your own, but we think a local can take you off the beaten path, far from any tourist traps so you can have a truly authentic experience.

Click to book your Tokyo pub crawl

Tokyo Pub Crawl Cory Drinking

Sample Japanese whisky

We are going to share a secret with you: Japan has a world reputation for being incredible at making whisky and not many tourists know this! Most people go for sake tours, but you can now visit special izakayas that specialise in selling local whisky.

In recent years, there has been an increase in whisky demand in Japan and you can now find quite a few Japanese whiskies advertised and sold in specialised spirit shops.

We wanted to test this, so we asked one of our guides to take us to a local bar where they serve local whiskey. It didn't disappoint. We tried three different types: Suntory, Hibiki and Yoichi.

Insider Tip: For a unique experience in Japan, go to a local izakaya which allows you to play a game for your whisky. The bartender will show you a menu of all the prizes you can win and all you have to do is draw a stick from a wooden box. You can get free whisky, a litre of whisky soda, 2 for 1 price and more.

Drink up Tokyo Pub Crawl

See Japan's metropolis from above

To fully understand the vastness of Tokyo, you need to take to the skies and get to the top of the observatories decks of some of Tokyo's highest skyscrapers. We really love the Observatory Deck in the Roppongi Hills, but if you are on a budget, you can also try the Government Building which offers free entry.

You can also visit the Tokyo Skytree for amazing views, although this a more popular attraction than the rest, thus it will be more crowded. You can read more about the best places to see Tokyo from above.

Seeing Japan from above is a mesmerising activity. There are lights and buildings beyond the horizon and your eyes won't even know where to look next.

Insider Tip: Go to the Observatory Deck in the Roppongi Hills about an hour before closing time. There will be fewer crowds and you can get more spots to photograph Tokyo from above. It's best to see the city from above at night, as that's when it looks most mesmerising. Make sure to bring a tripod with you for night photography.

Tokyo From Above

Meander around local markets

Are you a foodie traveller? Then one of the best things to do in Japan is to hit all the local markets and sample fresh produce. When you visit Tokyo, make your way to Toyosu Market, which opened to replace the famed Tsukiji Market in 2018. You can get bowls of fresh sushi rice topped with fresh sashimi. Almost all restaurants in Japan stock up on seafood from this fish market, so going there first thing in the morning guarantees that you will taste the freshest produce. You can find local street vendors selling sushi, sashimi, octopus on stick and even freshly grilled crab legs. There is something for all tastes.

When you visit Kyoto, make your way to the famed Nishiki market in Kyoto. This market is known as Kyoto's kitchen. We recommend starting with quirky food from Kyoto, like a glazed mini octopus on a stick, fish eggs on an omelette and fresh sashimi. Then continue your culinary journey around the market's stall and try fluffy pancakes, soy doughnuts and sticky dango.

Insider Tip: Both Toyosu in Tokyo and Nishiki in Kyoto are popular tourist attractions so we recommend going there as early as you can. At Toyosu market you can also see the tuna auction, a unique activity you can only do in Japan. The tuna auction takes place from about 5:30 am to 6:30 am. To get a good viewing spot, try to arrive as early as possible.

Exploring the fresh fish market is one ofthe best things to do in Japan

Explore Japan at night

Japan at night is a completely different experience than anything you can imagine. For the first timer in Japan, it may seem scary to start exploring such large cities at night, but Japan is one of the safest countries in the world.

For photography lovers, Japan at night is the most incredible country to see. You can walk around for hours and find new interesting angles to admire and photograph. The cities which seem calm and zen during the day become an electric movement of noise and colours at night. Your eyes won't know what to look at next. In Tokyo, everything lures you in, from jumbo ads to moving posters. That's the beauty of Japan, as a tourist, you will never be bored with your surroundings.

Every city in Japan has its own charm after dark, so you can be sure that you will enjoy your experience whether you decide to stay in Tokyo, Kyoto or Osaka. You won't even want to blink, it will be so exciting to look at.

Insider Tip: For the ultimate photography experience in Japan, we recommend visiting Shibuya at night or visiting Shinjuku. Both neighbourhoods are located in Tokyo and are the most vibrant places we've ever seen. There are lots of tourist attractions, restaurants and shops for you to enjoy when you visit.

Buy your hot tea from a vending machine

Buy all your beverages from vending machines scattered all around Japan. You will never run thirsty, looking for shops, because in Japan you will find 5 million vending machines. Even on top of the Fushimi Inari Shrine you can stop at the vending machine and buy a refreshing tea. Vending machines are so widely spread in Japan, you can buy pretty much everywhere nowadays, including bananas, soups, ice creams, hot and cold beverages. They are easy, convenient and well priced.

There is no other place in the world where you can purchase so many convenient things at vending machines. No other country has as many vending machines either. You can even go to a vending machine restaurant and pre-order your ramen this way.

When getting something at a vending machine, make sure you remember not to eat or drink in the street in Japan. It is considered dirty to do so, hence why you will see that locals consume their purchases on the spot.

Insider Tip: You will notice there are no bins in Japan because everyone is expected to take their own rubbish at home. The only place where you can find bins is next to a vending machine. That's because you should purchase your drink, enjoy it then and there and discard of the bottle in the bins provided.

G drinking a bottled tea at a vending machine in Japan

View the perfect spot for cherry blossom

The government of Japan named Yoshino as the best cherry blossom spot in the country. When you visit Japan during the cherry blossom festival, make sure to add Yoshino on your list. Seeing the sakura from Yoshino is a bucket-list experience for all travellers.

Yoshino is a little town located in the Yoshino Mountains in the Nara Prefecture. We went there in April when the sakura trees were almost in full bloom. The mountains in the area look like they float, thanks to the thousands of cherry trees located in Yoshino.

Yoshino is a popular tourist destination but it's one of the most beautiful places in Japan. If you decide to spend one night in Yoshino, you will see that most tourists leave the area so you can have a late evening peaceful stroll.

During April. thanks to the weather from the mountains you can enjoy some surreal foggy evenings. The colours look unreal, so you can take some incredible photographs. Walk around the Yoshino main alley and eat traditional Japanese food. You can stop along the way for snacks, as most vendors will sell sweet and savoury street food also.

Insider Tip: As Yoshino is known for its sakura, we recommend trying salted sakura leaves and sakura dango. As souvenirs, you can buy sakura shaped candies to remind you of the wonderful time you had in Yoshino.

Beautiful Sakura Japan G in Yoshino

See the million-dollar view in Kobe

For a free luxury experience, go to see the million-dollar view in Kobe. Well, in our opinion, all views in Japan are worth a million dollar, but this particular spot in Kobe is a well known romantic dating location. It is also one of the top three-night view spots in Japan located on top of Mount Rokko. You can see the beautiful cities of Kobe and Osaka from there.

This name "Million Dollar View" was given when the number of lights in Kobe visible from the platform numbered just under 5 million, and the monthly cost to keep them lit was roughly equivalent to one million dollars at the time the rate was calculated. However, after marketing efforts, travellers starting taking note of the viewing location in Kobe, which is now a popular tourist attraction.

While you visit Kobe, don't forget to also try the famed Kobe beef, which is what the city is mainly known for.

Insider Tip: See the million-dollar view after dark. We recommend spending the day exploring Kobe, eating the famed Kobe beef, doing some shopping and purchasing souvenirs. Once it gets dark, head over to the three observation spots of the Rokko Garden Terrace and the Rokko Shidare Observatory. The temperature drops when you are at the top of Mount Rokko so make sure to get an extra jacket with you!

See the million dollar view in Kobe Japan

Visit the Arashiyama Bamboo Forest

Arashiyama Bamboo forest is definitely one of the top things to do in Japan. It attracts countless visitors a year and rightfully so, as the Arashiyama Bamboo Forest is one of the most surreal locations close to Kyoto.

Visit the Arashiyama Bamboo forests if you are looking for an out of this world experience in Japan. The tall stalks beautiful sway at the softest wind touch. Located just a few train stops away from Kyoto City Centre, the Arashiyama Bamboo Forest is a winding path lined with tall bamboo trees.

Come here to relax in Japan's nature and take a moment to admire this alien-like forest. Continue your journey along the main path which will lead to several tourist attractions like the Togetsukyo Bridge and the Tenryuji Temple. Eat local street foods like dango on a stick glazed with sticky syrup or grilled squid.

About one hour walk away from the main path, there is one of the best Kyoto temples called Otagi Nenbutsu-ji. This temple has many Rakan sculptures representing the disciples of Buddha. These 1200 Rakan statues are covered in green moss, making this temple one of the most atmospheric places to see.

Insider Tip: During winter, the path gets illuminated after 5 pm so you can experience a new and interesting bamboo forest at night. The stalks look bright as the illuminations are from the ground up. It's a bucket list experience if you visit Kyoto during the winter season.

Cory Arashiyama Bamboo

Grab a bento box

Buy a bento box in Japan, and eat it for lunch. Bento is a single-portion meal common in Japan, presented in a beautiful box, with all ingredients separated in small containers. A bento holds rice or noddles, fish or meat and pickled vegetables.

Bentos can be elaborately arranged in a style called "kyaraben" ("character bento"). Most train stations will have shops where you can buy a bento box for the journey. Travelling with kids? Make sure to buy them a bento box as kids really love the idea. It's fun and unique for them.

Some restaurants sell bento boxes as their main dish and they are usually beautifully arranged. This is very popular in Japan for lunch. Make sure to try one at least once during your visit. They are affordable and delicious.

In Japan is not unusual to see bento contests where bento arrangers compete with one another on the most aesthetically pleasing arrangements.

Insider Tip: Buy a bento box from the train station before getting on the Shinkansen. While you are not allowed to eat on local trains, you do have special trays for eating on the Shinkansen. For long journeys, eating a bento box on the Shinkansen is a fun thing to do in Japan. You will see many local commuters doing the same.

Eating a bento box for lunch in Japan

See a game of Sumo

You should purchase tickets to see a game of Sumo in advance, as tickets sell very fast. If you travel to Japan outside of the Sumo tournament, you can still see a Sumo practice in the morning, in Asakusa Tokyo. There are several Sumo stables around Asakusa willing to accept foreigners with a guide to just sit quietly and observe the morning practice.

Since Sumo is a traditional national sport, seeing Sumo players in action truly is a unique thing to do in Japan.

Japan's national sport is Sumo and it a form of competitive full-contact wrestling. Japan is the only country where sumo is practised professionally and it is a type of Japanese martial art. You will find that many ancient traditions have been preserved in sumo and even today, the sport includes a lot of ritual elements present in Shinto.

To see Sumo wrestlers during their practice in the morning, you can click here to book your tour.

Insider Tip: Talk a local guide to arrange this cool activity for you. Sumo stables don't accept foreigners without prior appointments and to get one you must speak Japanese. When arriving at the stable, be very careful to follow all instructions carefully. Be polite, sit down quietly and observe the practice.

You Could Travel Sumo Players

Stay in a Ryokan

Staying in a ryokan is a bucket list experience in Japan. A ryokan is a traditional Japanese inn where guests wear traditional yukatas, eat kaiseki dinner and soak in onsen. Ryokans are usually made of wood and have tatami floors, with futons for guests to sleep on. Ryokan existed since the 8th century AD during the Keiun period.

Staying in a ryokan is a must for any tourist in Japan. Most ryokans include breakfast and dinner in the price of the stay and some come with beautiful onsen facilities where you can enjoy a perfect wellness weekend. If your budget can stretch, some ryokans offer rooms with private onsens attached to the room itself. Relax for at least one night and enjoy your ultimate Japanese experience.

Ryokans tend to be expensive so we recommend booking yours in advance. Click to book your ryokan now.

Insider Tip: Stay in a ryokan that offers private onsen time. This way you can book your time when you arrive at the ryokan and enjoy the onsen just for you and your family. This is a more affordable option and a really great thing every tourist should do in Japan. If you cannot afford a night in a ryokan, there are many public free public onsen in the mountains of Japan. You can still experience a mini onsen activity on a budget.

Ryokan with foot bath in the mountains of nikko

Choose an omikuji

A unique activity in Japan is drawing an omikuji, called a fortune-telling paper strip. Visit a Buddhist temple in Japan, make a small offering (a few yen) and pick your fortune. At larger shrines, the fortunes are also translated to English or you can find the English translations separately.

The fortunes vary from great blessing through small blessing to curse and great curse and also contain references to specific aspects of one’s life in many combinations. (See Wikipedia for the complete list of Omikuji fortunes).

If you had a bad prediction, you should fold up the paper and attach it to a pine tree or wall - there is normally one right next to the shrine alongside other bad fortunes. Make sure to not take the bad fortune with you. This way, the bad fortune will be forced to wait by the tree or wall and won’t attach itself to the bearer. If the prediction is good, you can also tie ot the tree or wall so the blessing has a greater effect or you can just simply keep it and take it with you for luck.

Indulge in Street food in Japan

If you love food you will find plenty of great dishes to try all around Japan. Japan is one of the best Asian countries to visit if you are after good and affordable street food.

Each area has its own specialities and you will eat until you drop. At markets you will find hundreds of sellers offering all sorts of foods like squid on a stick, dango, fluffy cakes and bean filled pancakes. These delicious street foods range from octopus with a cooked egg in its head, to crazy pancakes which are crepes served in a cone and filled with cream and fruit.

Go to Harajuku in Tokyo and eat colourful street food like rainbow cotton candy and rainbow ice creams.

Need a drink? Head to the nearest vending machine and pick from a large selection of hot or cold drinks, beers, teas, coffees and juices.

Insider Tip: Head to Ueno in Tokyo and stroll around the many intricate alleyways in search of some of the best street food in the city. For special street food, visit a matsuri (festival in Japan). It's a chance to discover unique street food sold during special occasions only.

Candy Floss Japan

Order a Kaiseki Kyoto meal

For the perfect food experience in Japan, every tourist must sit down and enjoy a kaiseki.

Kaiseki is a traditional multi-course dinner which originated in Kyoto. The word Kaiseki refers to the collection of skills to allow of preparation of such meals. It's similar to the idea of a multi-course dinner in a Michelin Restaurant.

Kaiseki is the perfect balance of taste, texture, appearances and colours so make sure you don't miss this experience. It's meant to contain only the finest and freshest ingredients, hence the menu changes depending on the season.

Kaiseki has a Sakizuke or an appetizer, a second course which usually sets the seasonal theme and a sliced dish of seasonal sashimi. Then you will get vegetables served with meat, fish or tofu, a type of soup and a flamed grilled food. The chef will provide you with a small dish to cleanse the palate followed by a substantial dish with rice and seasonal pickled vegetables. You will finish off with miso served with rice and of course the seasonal dessert.

Insider Tip: Kaiseki dinners can be quite expensive in Japan. If you want to budget your travel, we recommend that you book a ryokan which offers a kaiseki dinner included in the accommodation price. By combining several activities in one, you will experience more activities and get to save money.

Dinner At Nikko Ryokan

Buy souvenirs around Asakusa

Asakusa is one of our favourite places for buying souvenirs in Japan. Spend a whole day going from shop to shop in search of various Japanese items to buy for our friends and families.

You can purchase very well priced unique Japanese utensils and presents ranging from chopsticks and chopsticks holders, to traditional norens.

When you are ready to take a break, sit down in one of the many restaurants in Asakusa and order traditional Japanese food like tonkatsu, ramen or tempura. Continue with your shopping experience and support local business.

Insider Tip: Asakusa is a great place to visit for souvenirs as well as traditional things to do in Japan. You can rent a kimono, go on a rickshaw tour or hire a tour guide to show you around the old entertainment quarters. Go to Asakusa for the souvenirs and come back with memories and experiences.

Shop for Japanese souvenirs in Asakusa

See the Snow Monkeys in Nagano

One of the coolest things to do in Japan is seeing snow monkeys relaxing in hot springs, in the mountains of Nagano. This is the prime example of how the Japanese look after their own nature and respect the animals on the island.

Visiting the Snow Monkey Park in Japan was an incredible experience for us as this has been on our bucket list for a very long time. If your time allows us, t's best to allocate a couple of days for this and stay in a ryokan in Yudanaka.

To get to the Snow Monkey Park, you have to take a train from Tokyo to Nagano, then change for another local train towards Yudanaka. From there, take a local bus which will drop you off in front of the trail to the park. The trail itself will take you through an ancient forest which looks magical and enchanted.

Insider Tip: Visit on a cold day, so the snow monkeys have a reason to bathe in the hot onsen. We visited on a very cold day in early winter. There were several monkeys bathing. If you manage to visit on a snowy day, you will capture the most breathtaking photographs in Japan.

Snow Monkey Park Onsen

Visit the kawaii land in Harajuku

Unleash your inner child and shop for kawaii merchandise in Harajuku.

Harajuku is known to be the mecca for kawaii items, but beyond clothes and accessories, you can now purchase colourful street food too. Go to Harajuku and immerse yourself in kawaii land, buy wonderful souvenirs for family and friends and sit down at a quirky colourful restaurant (like the Monster Cafe).

Seeing cute things in Japan is a fun experience, as the kawaii industry is unique to Japan. Harajuku is a youthful place, where people celebrate their emotions through an array of colours, sounds and crazy tastes.

Insider Tip: If you are travelling with kids or teenagers, add kawaii land to your must-do list in Japan. This fun and cool place will enable you to see an array of cute products and sit down in some of the most unconventional restaurants in the world. This is where the youth of Tokyo comes to express themselves so visiting this part of the city will allow you to see unconventional Japan.

shop for kawaii items in japan

Sleep in a capsule hotel

For something fun and cool in Japan, sleeping in a capsule hotel is a must-do while you visit the country. Tokyo has a huge space problem and to address this issue, creative businesses came up with the idea of a capsule hotel. Their main target audience is businessmen who need a quick and easy place to sleep but capsule hotels are now a fun way to experience Japan for tourists too.

They are cheaper than other traditional hotels and they are more comfortable than a hostel due to the fact that you still have your privacy and don't have to share a room with other people. The capsules are small but comfortable and are well equipped with an alarm clock and wifi.

Some capsule hotels offer public baths with hot springs and very clean bathrooms. It may not be for everyone, but it is definitely a unique experience during your trip to Japan.

Book your capsule hotel now.

Insider Tip: Travelling with your partner? You can rent a couple's capsule hotel as we did. While you still share the bathroom with others, your capsule is for two people (called a double pod). These capsule hotels are still cheaper than ordinary hotels and more comfortable as you get to sleep with your loved one.

Go hiking in nature

No trip to Japan is complete without at least one hike in nature. There are accessible hiking trails everywhere around the country, even close to Tokyo, Kyoto or Osaka.

If you want an experience like no other, take the Shinkansen from Tokyo to Nikko and spend a quality weekend on the most pristine hiking trail. Alternatively, you can do a traditional hiking trail in Japan between Magome to Tsumago. This trail is called Nakasendo and is very popular with tourists.

If you visit Kyoto, take a day trip to Mount Hiei and do a pilgrimage hike with stops along the way to visit wonderful Buddhist temples. Mount Hiei is very special to us, because that's where we got engaged!

Insider Tip: You don't need to travel far to be able to hike in Japan. Almost every city has a hiking trail just a few train stops away from the centre. When going on a Japanese trail, we recommend wearing weatherproof clothes as the weather can be unpredictable. With that being said, make sure to take advantage of the many traditional restaurants along the hiking trails, and sit down for hot matcha tea. Almost all hiking trail will have some vending machines at the beginning or end of the trail so you can buy refreshments.

Crossing Nikko National Park

Visit Nikko's secret waterfalls

Visiting Nikko has long been on our wishlist in Japan and we wanted to experience the area beyond the main attractions. See Nikko and spend at least 1-2 nights in the mountains. While many tourists visit Nikko for the Shinkyo Bridge, we recommend venturing beyond the city centre and going deep into nature.

Take a special bus that takes you right up the mountain, on some of the most amazing winding roads you will ever see. At the top, you will find a hotel called Astoria, where you can book a night with onsen and kaiseki dinner included. In the morning, you can start hiking back down towards Nikko, while stopping at famous waterfalls like the Kegon Falls.

One of the best times to visit Japan is during autumn, and that's when the Nikko trails and Kegon Falls look the most amazing.

Insider Tip: To make the most out of your experience, get a local guide so they can show you off the beaten path hiking trail and lesser-known waterfalls also. It's well worth the investment as you get to see secret waterfalls no foreign tourists know about.

Yudaki Falls Nikko Japan

Get lost in a shopping mall

When you visit Japan, shopping is just part of the trip experience. Japan is known to have the best customer service in the entire world. You will love the shopping malls which are practically mazes of shops upon shops, one after other more interesting, vibrant and exciting.

Nothing looks dull when it comes to shopping in Japan. You will want to buy a little of everything and take it home to you. Some of the best fashion in the world can be found and purchased in Japan. If you love good quality products, you are guaranteed to love shopping in Japan.

Insider Tip: We recommend visiting stationery shops like Loft to purchase all sort of cute and interesting items. As a pro tip, we recommend that you arrive to Japan with some space in your luggage. When we went back home, we had to purchase extra luggage at the airport. It shows that shopping in Japan is a unique and fun experience.

buy strange and unique things in Japan - shopping is one of the best things to do in Japan

Order Tonkatsu for lunch

There is no secret that one of the best things to do in Japan is to eat your way around the country. Every single area has its own cuisine, which means you can never get bored with the food you'll eat.

During our time in Japan, we especially loved ordering Tonkatsu for lunch. Go to the main Tokyo Train Station, head to the Tonkatsu Maisen Tokyo Daimaru and order the best tonkatsu for lunch you will ever have. Tonkatsu at the Maisen Tokyo Daimaru comes as a set: the tonkatsu itself and on the side, you will get miso, tea, rice and cabbage which are all refillable.

There are many Tokyo restaurants which sell tonkatsu, we just gave you one example of a place we especially liked. But don't worry, because food in Japan is so delicious, any tonkatsu you will purchase for lunch will be incredibly delicious!

Insider Tip: If you see a long queue at lunchtime at a tonkatsu restaurant you want to visit, it's a very good sign in Japan. And don't worry, you won't wait in the queue for too long because, in Japan, people eat their lunch quick. So it's worth being in the queue and waiting for the best tonkatsu reward. You can apply the same trip to any restaurant in Japan. A queue for a food place is a very good sign!

Eat delicious tonkatsu in Japan for lunch

Eat your way around Dōtonbori

Calling all foodies who want to spend a whole evening eating Japanese food! During your first trip to Japan, you will very like want to visit Tokyo, Kyoto and Osaka. When you are in Osaka, one of the best tourist places to visit is the foodie place called Dōtonbori.

Dōtonbori is definitely aimed at tourists, but you can find such an array of street food, it's a must-do in Japan There are all sort of shops and shopping malls scattered all around the area, bars, and restaurants. Some of the most interesting food we ate in Japan was right here, in Dōtonbori.

Dōtonbori is also known for the entertainment it offers, so just walk around and explore, admire the crazy lights and the massive mascots in front of all restaurants.

Insider Tip: Dōtonbori can get pretty crowded, so remember to start queueing for a place to eat just as you start getting hungry. For photographers and videographers, this is also an amazing place for electric colours.

Eat your way around Dōtonbori in Osaka Japan

Go skiing in Japan

Winter in Japan is one of the most incredible seasons to experience the country and it's often overlooked by tourists. If you love winter sports, visit Japan during the winter months, go to Hokkaido and ski in Japan.

Japan has a lot of snow in the mountains and many locals go skiing and snowboard in the winter. Not many tourists know that Japan is a fantastic destination for winter sports. If you've never skied before, don't worry, as there are skiing schools with trained professionals so you can learn a new skill.

With the best customer service in the world and some of the best ski slopes on the planet, Japan is a must for ski lovers.

Insider Tip: Most people tend to go to Niseko in Hokkaido or Hakuba, near Nagano. We recommend staying in a traditional ryokan so, after a full day of skiing, you can go chill in an onsen, change into a traditional yukata and eat a kaiseki dinner. This is a must-do in Japan for winter lovers.

Going skiing in Hakuba Japan - one of the best things to do in Japan during winter

See a traditional wedding

Witness a traditional Japanese wedding in the larger shrines around Japan most notably in Meiji Shrine in Tokyo. You will see the bride and groom in traditional clothing. You can take subtle photographs from afar, but make sure to not disturb the ceremony.

Seeing a traditional Japanese wedding is a fantastic cultural experience in Japan. The Shinto rituals in Japan are unique. The wedding ceremony is held in the main building of a shrine where the bride wears a pure white kimono and the groom wears a black crested haori jacket with loose, skirt-like hakama with vertical stripes. The couple takes three sips each from three cups of sake during the ritual. This is because they are asking the spirits and kami (gods) for their blessing.

Traditional Shinto wedding ceremonies are still performed in Japan although Christians weddings become more popular in post-war Japan. Sos seeing a traditional Japanese wedding is a unique and unusual experience in Japan.

Insider Tip: For the best chance to see a Japanese wedding, we recommend going to Meiji Shrine in Tokyo. Make sure to check the calendar to avoid any special holidays at matsuri (festivals) as usually no wedding will be held during special events.

Wedding Meiji Jingu

Visit Toyama for firefly squid

In love with nature? Then Japan is the place to visit because there are so many fun outdoor activities to do. In Toyama Bay, every year between March and June, tens of thousands of bioluminescent firefly squid appear from the deep ocean putting up a marvellous blue light show, one of the rare and beautiful spectacles of this planet.

Starting in March a spectacular light show welcomes tourists and fishermen in the bay of Toyama. If you are staying in Tokyo, take the shinkansen from Tokyo Station to Toyama Station (in the city centre) and make your way to the bay on the Toyama Light-Rail towards Iwasehama Station.

The trip to Toyama is around 3 and a half hours and costs 13000yen ($115) or free with your JR Pass. Check online for boat tours which can take you out to the bay so you can marvel at this spectacle right where it happens. It is important to go at night (early morning) so it’s dark enough for you to see the lights. The excursions normally leave at around 3 am in the morning. Be sure to reserve your seat early.

Insider Tip: If you visit Japan in March, you must absolutely add Toyama to your bucket list. Make sure you allocate at least one night for firefly squid experience. Furthermore, learn about this magical event in the Hotaru Ika Museum (Namerikawa city, right next door to Toyama) via interactive exhibits. The museum also has a firefly squid themed gift-shop so you can purchase an array of souvenirs.

Taste milky ramen

During your trip to Japan you will find many unusual things to eat. Make sure to add milky ramen to your list of must-try foods in Japan.

Milky ramen is traditional Japanese ramen with a dash of milk. The broth becomes creamier and incredibly delicious. You won't want to miss this one! To experience it, you can combine a trip to the Himeji Castle with a visit to this special ramen shop in Himeji called Koba&more. Koba&more has a very friendly and fun Japanese owner who is super happy to talk to tourists and explain a few things about his ramen bar.

Insider Tip: Koba&more is a really cool ramen bar opened by a local who loves foreigners. He is super talkative and inquisitive and loves taking photos with people. If you want to spark a conversation with a local who serves fantastic food, go to his ramen bar and order milky ramen. You will get to know a local and eat the best ramen of your life!

Address: Address: 59 Gofukumachi, Himeji, Hyogo 670-0923, Japan

Visit Koba and more and spark a conversation with the funny owner before ordering the best milky ramen ever

Explore Kabukicho, Asia's largest red district

Interested in unusual experiences in Japan? Head to Kabukicho, Asia's largest red district located in Shinjuku, Tokyo. You will find eateries and restaurants, interesting souvenirs shops but also adult-only entertainment. This particular activity is tailored for couples who travel without children and want to experience a different side of nightlife in Japan.

Kabukicho is a fun and exciting experience, but always be cautious and avoid going pub crawling in this area without a trustworthy guide.

You will find hostess bars, adult parlours and an array of adult toy shops here. The district is full of bright neon advertisements so it's a great place for night photography. You don't have to enter any establishment to enjoy a walk around Kabukicho. Seeing the locals and the colourful lights at night is a great experience on its own.

Insider Tip: If you want to enter any establishment, we recommend getting a local guide who speaks perfect Japanese. Many of the bars and restaurants are tailored for locals only and in order to avoid any trouble, it's best to have a Japanese speaker with you. As a rule, it's best to walk around the district and marvel, photograph and eat street food.

Chill on the beach in Japan

Did you know Japan has tropical islands in the East China Sea? Fly to the Okinawa Islands and the Ryukyu (Nansei) Islands of Japan and immerse yourself in some of the most amazing relaxing activities: sunbathing in paradise. Dive and see the beautiful coral reefs, hike in the lush subtropical jungles or simply lie on the beach and enjoy paradise.

Few tourists know that these pristine islands have their own climate and special fauna. Seeing Okinawa is a must-do when you visit Japan. Okinawa also has its own cuisine which is different than the rest of Japan. Try Okinawa soba and eat a Gōyā chanpurū with a tap of local Orion beer.

In general, Okinawa is known for its longevity, which is deeply connected with the local's social life, happiness, stress-free atmosphere and delicious food available on the islands. So when you visit Okinawa you will realise what paradise truly looks like.

Relax on the beach, eat local food, go to a social dance and learn how to scuba dive here.

Insider Tip: The best time to visit Okinawa is in spring or autumn. You will want to avoid the rainy season which lasts from May to June and you won't want to be in Okinawa during the typhoon season from July until August or September.

One of the best things to do in Japan is to visit Okinawa and scuba dive to see pristine coral reefs

Visit Akihabara, the Electric Town

If you are a geeky tourist, you must go to Akihabara, also known as Electric Town. This is an excellent place for geeky tourists who want to see and buy anime paraphernalia. Akihabara was once the place where people went to buy electronic items, but it eventually evolved into a geeky hub, filled with anime and manga references.

Akihabara is also known for its large shops, some which sell magazines, electronic and even cosmetics. You can also come to Akihabara to find anime figurines and posters with Sailor Moon. There are several electronic souvenirs for good prices here like instant Fuji cameras, phones and computer parts. For maid cafes, Akihabara is a must-visit in Japan.

Insider Tip: Visit Akihabara in the evening, as that's when the district really comes to life. As a great shop for all tourists and budgets, we recommend visiting Don Quijote, a super cool store which sells everything you can imagine from skincare, through cosplay clothes to budget household items.

Visit Akihabara in the evening and see all the anime and manga shops

Eat lots of Japanese sushi

Eating sushi in Japan is a must during your trip. Not only sushi is associated with Japan, but this the country where you will find the best (and freshest) sushi in the entire world. Go to a sushi bar and order as much sushi as you can eat. Watch the itamae (sushi chef) make the sushi right in front of your eyes. Alternatively, go to a conveyor belt sushi restaurant for an even more fun experience. You can pick any sushi plates from the conveyor plate and pay at the very end depending on how much you ate.

Insider Tip: If you never had proper Japanese sushi before, it is confusing to know how to eat it properly. But we learnt from the Japanese so here what you need to do: The fish should touch your tongue first, and in combination with the rice, the whole sushi should melt in your mouth. You can eat sushi with your hands, but you can only eat sashimi with chopsticks. You should never dip the rice in soy sauce, but the fish only to give it a better taste. If you wish to add wasabi, simply put a little bit between the fish and sushi rice.

You can take your sushi with tea or sake, whichever you prefer. If your budget can stretch, we recommend eating at a fancy sushi restaurant in Ginza, Tokyo.

Sushi Shinjuku

Participate in a matsuri (Japanese festival)

Travel to Japan during the festival months and participate in the local celebrations. This is the time when locals dress up in kimonos and yukatas, take to the streets, eat lots of food, sing, dance and celebrate. You will want to do this in Japan if you love traditional (and fun!) experiences.

Foodies, this is for you too, because festivals in Japan bring local vendors together which all sell delicious street food.

One of the most notable festivals in Japan is the Sanja matsuri in Tokyo. Nearly two million people visit Asakusa over the three days of the festival, so you will want to add this matsuri to your bucket list for Japan. Sanja Matsuri takes place mid-May.

Insider Tip: There are various festivals during the Springtime, especially around the Golden Week. If you decide to visit Japan during Golden Week, remember that it can get really busy as many people have the week off from work. Summer has an array of amazing festivals as well, some of which are of Buddhist origin as well. Make sure to book your tickets and accommodation well in advance!

Visit the Sanja matsuri in Tokyo Japan

Create your own delicate sweet

Learn how to make your own sweets in Japan. Wagashi are traditional Japanese confections, usually served with tea. They are made from mochi, anko and fruits. They look stunning and taste absolutely delicious. You can learn how to create them if you go to a wagashi class in Japan, a fantastic experience for tourists interested in culinary arts.

A box of wagashi is usually quite expensive and it makes a beautiful present for when you visit someone's home in Japan. To best savour wagashi, have them with Japanese green tea. Learn how to make wagashi, then surprise your family and friends with your new skills acquired in Japan.

When you go to the Japanese tea ceremony, you will be served wagashi. Major cities all offer wagashi making experiences.

Click to book your experience now.

Learn how to make wagashi to serve it with Japanese matcha tea

Take the Shinkansen

We are sure you heard of the mighty high-speed Japanese train called shinkansen. Travelling with the shinkansen is one of the coolest things to do in Japan. These high-speed trains take you from Tokyo to Kyoto in less than 3 hours. You can cross the whole of Japan by using Shinkansen trains. For example, from Hakodate, you can reach Kagoshima in less than 13 hours (2000 km). They are silent, extremely clean and very fast. Not just that, they are also reliable and on time.

We travelled extensively around Japan and bought a JR Pass to be able to travel hassle-free around the country. We first travelled from Tokyo to Nagano, then Tokyo to Kyoto, Kyoto to Osaka, Himeji Castle, Nara and beyond. These trips would have cost us thousands of pounds but we only paid for the JR Pass before our arrival in the country.

Insider Tip: Book your tickets in advance and make sure to reserve seats at no extra cost. You can reserve tickets at any major train station around the country. The Shinkansen trains are very clean, organised and they run on time. Respect the queues at the stations and only seat in your allocated seat. You are allowed to eat and drink on the Shinkansen journey. We recommend purchasing some snacks for your trip.

Travel on the shinkansen to see more of Japan

Take a night train

Japan is an expensive country but there are tricks every tourist can do to save money and still have the best time! Take a night train which allows you to sleep in it while travelling between your destinations. This will save you tons of money on accommodation.

The only night trains in operation are the Sunrise Seto/Izumo, the Seven Stars, the JR East luxury cruise train and JR West Twilight Express Mizukaze.

To take a night train you need to book in advance and usually in person or on the phone. There is no way to reserve night seats online. Usually, these seats can be reserved 30 days in advance.
The night trains have different types of seats depending on the train as well. Usually, you will find a carpeted area where you can just lie down and sleep. There are some shared and private compartments and some even offer luxury options for their guests.

You can take the overnight train from Tokyo to Takamatsu or Izumo for a special and unique experience in Japan.

Insider Tip: If you wish to use the showers on board, make sure you book it as soon as you get on the train as they usually get full pretty fast.

Take the night train to save money and travel better!

By Rsa - Own work, CC BY-SA 3.0

Photograph all four seasons in Japan

During your first trip to Japan, you will realise how to photogenic the country is. No matter the season you visit, you will be mesmerised by the pristine nature and gorgeous colours. Every season is unique in Japan. Photographers from all around the world come to Japan during all seasons to capture its beauty.

We visited Japan in all four different seasons. Here's what you need to know:

Winter is enchanting with its fluffy snow covering traditional villages. Snow it's also incredible for skiing enthusiasts who love a little bit of adventure. Spring is a time of celebration where every single Japapense looks forward to the sakura season, the Golden Week and the beginning of the festivals.

Summer is humid in Japan with short showers. It's the perfect time to visit Japan's beaches and escape towards the subtropical islands of Okinawa.

Fall is gorgeous everywhere with its ruby leaves and misty mornings.

No matter when you decide to photograph Japan, we can assure you that you will want to come back over and over, to discover what the rest of the seasons truly look like in this enchanting land of the rising sun.

Insider Tip: We recommend visiting Japan in late Autumn or right at the beginning of December. Prices tend to be cheaper then, and you will see fewer tourists around. This will enable you to take better photos. Of course, every season is unique and has something to offer. Photographing Japan is one of the best leisure activities in the country.

Shinjuku in Japan as part of a complete 2 weeks in Japan itinerary

See how samurai swords are made

For a traditional experience in Japan, learn how samurai swords are crafted. Japanese swords were forged as early as 900 CE in ancient Japan and were treated as a symbol of authority. They are still made today although the techniques improved throughout the decades. The most known type of Japanese swords are called katana, these are the long, around 60cm (24in) or longer swords. The technique used to make the swords is unique to Japan and is also used to make other types of blades.

Seeing how the swords are made was a bucket list experience for us. Book a tour with a local where you can witness the ancient process of making the katana swords. The shortest ones give you a general overview of how the blade is forged and last for a few hours while the longer ones can take up to 9 hours. The tour takes you to a journey through time and history while visiting important temples, gardens and of course the swordsmith.

You can book your authentic experience here.

Japanese Kimono Men Samurai

See Noh in Kyoto

For the cultural tourist, seeing Noh in Kyoto is a must-do activity in Japan. Noh is a major form of classical Japanese musical drama performed exclusively by men. It is a truly unique performance known for the slow grace and the truly elaborate masks. Noh originates from various dramatic performances at religious rituals around the 14th century. Noh flourished during the Edo Period, becoming the preferred entertainment of the samurai.

Following the Meiji restoration, Noh gradually lost its popularity although nowadays it is regaining its popularity and a growing number of locals and foreigners alike are showing interest in this incredible cultural performance. To see Noh you should purchase your ticket well in advance.

Insider Tip: You can book your tickets in advance, in English here.

Watch a cultural noh theatre during your visit to Japan

See Himeji during cherry blossom

Seeing the cherry blossom is a bucket list experience in Japan. Combine it with a visit to the famed Himeji castle and you have the recipe for a successful trip to Japan.

Himeji Castle looks gorgeous during the cherry blossom festival and it attracts countless tourists from all over the world. The queues are well organised by the castle so you will get to photograph it from various angles without other travellers in the picture.

Next to Himeji castle there are restaurants where you can eat very good Japanese food. You can walk around the castle grounds for even more authentic photographs.

Insider Tip: The best tip we can offer any tourist is to visit Himeji castle on a rainy day. While still fairly busy, fewer tourists will venture to the castle, and you can take some amazing photos during the cherry blossoms. The skies will also look more dramatic, so your pictures will be even more special.

On the way back to the train station, make sure to visit the intricate alleyways filled with restaurants, bars and souvenir shops.

Himeji Castle Japan

Learn calligraphy

Want a Japanese traditional and cultural experience? You must book a calligraphy lesson in Japan. They are available for tourists in all major cities and you will get to interact with Japanese locals passionate about the arts.

Calligraphy is a visual art related to writing. Traditionally, calligraphy has to be expressive and harmonious. For example, you can see it on various graphic design posters, wedding invited and font design and typography. Japanese calligraphy has been greatly influenced by Chinese calligraphy. You can observe beautiful moves and curves and the use of Japanese paper, washi and Japanese ink.

Insider Tip: Did you know Steve Jobs was passionate about calligraphy and took classes before creating the brand behind Apple? Make sure you immerse yourself in this ancient form of writing and come home with a new skill from Japan. You can learn about the ancient art of caligraphy and take home your own creation. You can book your experience here.

Learn calligraphy during your time in Japan

Eat in a Michelin star restaurant

If you love culinary arts, then Japan is the place for you. There are so many Michelin star restaurants in Japan, ranging from budget ramen places, like Tsuta, to super luxury experiences.

Japan is renowned for its culinary affairs and there is a good reason why you'll find more Michelin Star restaurants in Japan than in any other country. Nothing in this world can beat a dining experience in a Michelin Star restaurant in Japan.

Are you a budget traveller? We have you covered, at the Tsuta ramen bar. This ramen bar has one Michelin Star but kept its incredible $10 prices per dish. You need to queue first thing in the morning to get a ticket for a day and come back to claim your dish. It may be a long queue, but who wouldn't want to try the cheapest Michelin Star ramen?

Insider Tip: Familiarise yourself with Japanese restaurant manners before going to a high-class Michelin restaurant. Part of the exquisite experience is going with the theatre of the culinary arts, the process of receiving the food, admiring it and eating it.

Cory and G waiting for their food in a Japanese restaurant

Have a Karaoke night

You can go to a Karaoke bar pretty much in any city, and you will find many located close to the train station. Some well-known chains are Shidax, Big Echo, Cote D'Azur or Karaokekan. Make sure you have a passport with you as usual, you will need to register for your first-time visit.

Did you know, Karaoke means empty orchestra in Japanese? You might have been to a work Karaoke night and saw your colleagues singing out loud on Britney Spears. Well, in Japan Karaoke is taken very seriously. There are special soundproofed rooms you can rent with all the special equipment already there so you can have an amazing night with your friends and family.

Charges vary from establishment to establishment. You can purchase food and drinks at a separate cost but you can also go for an all you can drink plans for alcoholic beverages.

See a Japanese fairytale village

Visit the most picturesque village in Japan called Shirakawa-go village located in Gifu Prefecture. This beautiful fairytale village attracts over 1.8 million visitors a year. Shirakawa-go is covered in snow during winter so make sure you plan your trip accordingly depending on the type of photography that interests you the most.

See this beautiful village which features farmlands and thatched-roof houses, making this ancient village a UNESCO World Heritage Site. Today, 114 of these houses are still standing, some of which are hotels, restaurants or houses for locals, so you will have plenty to do in the area also!

Photograph the Shirakawa village in Japan

Visit the town of Hakone

Hakone is a well-known tourist town in Japan and you should add it to your bucket list adventure also. Everything in Japan looks like art, but Hakone was the first to introduce the idea of an open-air museum. This is a great tourist attraction for art and outdoors lovers. Go there to see arts from Picasso, Henry Moore, Taro Okamoto, Yasuo Mizui, Churyo Sato, and many others, featuring over a thousand sculptures and works of art.

Take the Shinkansen from Tokyo to Hakone and see the Open Air Museum located at this address: 1121 Ninotaira, Hakone, Ashigarashimo District, Kanagawa 250-0407, Japan.

When you finish marvelling at art, stroll around the beautiful town of Hakone, from which you can see Mount Fuji. You will find many ryokans here. Some of them have onsens which overlook the Mount Fuji. So you can soak in an onsen with a view.

When you are in Hakone, you must eat one of the local delicacies: black eggs. Hakone is well known for its black volcanic eggs. These eggs are boiled in the local hot springs so you can taste a Hakone delicacy. Locals have a saying that eating one of these eggs will add 7 years to your lifespan.

Special hakone black eggs you need to try in Japan

By David Monniaux - Own work, CC BY-SA 3.0

Take a boat ride in Japan

One of the most romantic things to do in Japan is to get on a boat and explore the cities via the canals. This is very common during the sakura season when you can have a romantic date. Hozugawa River Cruises are popular rides from Kameoka to Arashiyama. They tend to get quite busy during the Spring, hence we recommend them during the Autumn when the leaves change colours and the valleys look colourful and stunning.

If you feel adventurous, you can also get a cruise around Japan. It's not the cheapest way around the country, but boat rides in Japan are pretty fun. Ferries can have communal bathhouses, dining halls and even karaoke rooms for entertainment.

In Tokyo, you can enjoy private dinners on a boat on the Sumida River. Some of the shops are water buses and continue to gain popularity among locals and tourists alike.

Insider tip: Time your arrival during a slightly rainier day and you can enjoy a crowd less city full of Sakura. The pictures will look just as lovely and full of colour.

Take a romantic boat trip in Japan during the sakura season

See the Star Festival

If you love astronomy, you will want to attend the Tanabata. Tanabata, also known as the Star Festival, is a Japanese festival originating from the Chinese Qixi Festival. The festival celebrates the meeting of two deities: Orihime and Hikoboshi. The story has it that the Milky Way separated these lovers and they are only allowed to meet once every year, on the 7th day, of the 7th lunar month of the lunisolar calendar.

Here's what you need to do during the festival: write your wish on small pieces of paper and hang them on bamboo like a Wish Tree. The bamboo is then set afloat on the river or burnt after the festival. It's a similar practice to the Obon festival.

Tanabata takes place in August so make sure you plan your trip accordingly.

What do you think?

Did you like this article? Do you have any questions or suggestions? Leave a comment below.

Your Comment

16 Apr 2022

visiting japan 've always been on my wish list. Loved it literally You've covered everything. You have cleared all my doubts about japan. now i can plan and visit soon.

20 Mar 2019

I am planning a trip to Japan and have been reading your blog for hours. This is all so incredibly helpful! Have you been to the Fox Village? I love foxes and am dying to go until I read the reviews on Trip Advisor. Thinking about Snow Monkey Park instead.

10 Mar 2019

Loved this. You've covered literally everything. I'm going to Japan next month and this is super helpful

09 Mar 2019

Thanks for the great tips! I'm going to Japan for the first time in May and I can't wait to explore! This list will be helpful for the trip planning :)

upasana kakati
09 Mar 2019

Nice and comprehensive things to do in Japan. I will definitely use the blog for planning my Japan Trip. Cheers