Anyone who’s ever eaten sushi, read mangas or sipped sake may feel they know something about this slinky archipelago of some 6800 volcanic islands. And yet, from the moment of arrival in Japan, it’s almost as if you’ve touched down on another planet. From seeing Mount Fuji to relaxing in an onsen, Japan is packed with amazing activities. We believe that locals know best when it comes to their hometown,
To help you get started on your journey, we’ve listed our top 14 things you must do in Japan
Japan The Ultimate Travel Guide: 14 Things Absolutely Must Do in Japan
1. Soak in an open-air hot spring
If you’ve ever been on social media, chances are that you’ve seen an adorable photo of a family of snow monkeys just chilling out in a steaming hot spring
Monkey Meditation, Snow Monkey Niseko, Kutchan-chō, Japan
Whether you go to an onsen (a public bath) or a ryokan (traditional Japanese inn), no Japanese experience is complete without a long, relaxing soak in your birthday suit. Spots like Amagi Yugashima Onsen are known worldwide for their views of the ocean and mountains, but you can soak in hot springs in the heart of Tokyo too
2. Kyoto’s Temples and Shrines
Fun fact, there are over 1600 temples and shrines in Kyoto! Although that's intriguing, it makes it a little overwhelming to build an itinerary around. Thankfully, we’ve got the inside scoop on which ones are worth the trip!
Kiyomizu Temple, Kiyomizu 1-chome, Kyoto, Japan
We’re partial to Kiyomizudera Temple, Kinkauji, and Fushimi Inari Shrine, especially if it’s your first time to Japan. If you love Japanese-style gardens, head to Kodaiji Temple, Heian Shrine, or Ryoanji Temple. Also, take the time to see the Sanjusangendo’s striking display of 1001 statues of Kannon, the goddess of mercy.
3. The annual sumo tournaments
Sumo is one of the unique athletic pursuits in Japan, and a well-timed visit to Japan can coincide with one of the six annual fifteen-day sumo tournaments that take place.
Sumo with Ref, Tokyo, Japan
These tournaments take place in Tokyo (January, May, and September), Osaka (March), Nagoya (July), and Fukuoka (November), and tickets are sold on a per-day basis
4. Wander Naoshima Art Island
Sandy beaches, sunny weather, a laid-back atmosphere, and an abundance of modern art make Naoshima something of a must for those wanting a different Japanese experience.
Naoshima Island, Naoshima, Japan
The entire island is like a massive outdoor art exhibit, and art-minded tourists from across the world make the pilgrimage to the island for their chance to wander amongst the installations and be soothed by the peaceful island atmosphere.
Yellow Pumpkin, 3419 Tsumuura, Naoshima, 香川県 Japan
In addition to the various open-air exhibitions, you’ll also find four art museum on the island with works from the likes of Monet, Warhol, Turrell, and more. With the museums themselves being works of architectural art, it’s certainly a feast for the eyes.
Food and accommodation are available on the island, and there’s also a decent beach for those wanting a break from intellectual stimulation.
5. Izakaya Alley: Get Tipsy like Locals
Tokyo has a number of fancy restaurants and bars serving fine meals, but for a more unique booze experience, Izakaya alleys (Yokocho) are better options.
Izakaya is a Japanese style bar/gastropub serving drink and usually Japanese food or snacks. It’s popular among salarymen and locals to hop in right after work for a couple of beers. Izakaya alleys are old fashioned, smokey narrow streets clammed by small Izakaya. Some of Izakara are very tiny and have only a few seats.
Shinjuku IZAKAYA Alley in Tokyo
Sitting next to local and sipping a glass of Sake with authentic Japanese snacks could be a whole new experience for foreign tourists rather than dining at fabulous bars. There are some great Izakaya alleys and cool drinking districts in Tokyo such as Shinjuku, Shibuya, and Ueno.
Omoide Yokocho (or Memory Lane) known as "Piss Alley" in Shinjuku, Tokyo
One of the best ways to explore the drinking culture in Tokyo is by joining bar-hopping tours! A lot of local Izakaya might be hard to find or enter for first-time visitors, but the local bar-hopping tour can take you to hidden bars and Izakaya and show you the real drinking culture in Tokyo!
6. See professional female free-divers hunt for pearls
On Mikimoto Pearl Island, free diving for pearls is an ancient tradition in Japan, where professional divers (ama uminchu) explore the ocean without scuba or diving gear.
Ama with a floating basket
Trained from a young age, most amas are women who continue to dive well into their 70s and 80s. On a diving tour in Mikimoto, you can see firsthand the incredible athleticism and determination of the ama, who dive over 80 feet beneath the waves.
7. Eat ramen at the Ramen Museum
Ramen is right up there alongside sushi when it comes to iconic Japanese foods, but the popular convenience store snack is far more than just broth and noodles.
While you can sample the flavourful noodle dish virtually everywhere in Japan, why not indulge your taste buds while also learning about the huge variety of flavors and styles that exist?
The Shinyokohama Ramen Museum is a more nostalgic food court than a true museum, but your stomach is going to thank you for the experience.
If you’re looking for ramen recs, ask the people who know best. ViaHero’s trip planners are locals in Japan who can recommend their favorite spot to slurp.
8. Climb Mount Fuji
Snow-capped Mount Fuji is one of the most enduring images of Japan, and no visit to the Land of the Rising Sun would be complete without witnessing the majesty of Fujisan at sunrise or sunset.
Amazing view over the clouds on top of Mount Fuji in Japan
While it’s all well and good to snap a few pictures of the mountain from afar, for a truly Japanese experience, climbing to the top of the 3,776m high mountain is likely to be a memory you’ll cherish for the rest of your life.
How to Climb Mount Fuji
The mountain itself is not considered a difficult mountain to climb, although there are some steep portions and the risk of altitude sickness to contend with. During the official climbing season (July to September), you’ll have to contend with crowds looking for their own dawn summit.
The first sunrise in Japan at the peak of Mount Fuji.
Many climbers will hike about halfway on the first day, overnight in one of the huts on the mountain, and then time their ascent to coincide with the glorious sunrise.
9. Visit a Shinto shrine and make a wish
A well-known feature of Shinto shrines across Japan, thousands of small wooden blocks (ema) hang from fences and walls.
Visitors from all over the world are welcome to make an offering and write a prayer or wish on an ema, which are seen by the spirits, or kami. With so many incredible things to do in Japan, this is a unique opportunity to reflect on your Japanese adventures (and to wish to come back again soon).
10. Get lost in Akihabara
Akihabara, a.k.a. Akiba is one of the most popular areas to visit in Tokyo, and the area is best known for its electronic products and as home to Otaku culture. Waking down the street of Akihabara is simply entertaining even for Japanese people. Even if you are not into Japanese Otaku culture such as underground idols, gaming, anime, electronics, etc, Akihabara is still a great place to have a whole new Tokyo experience.
Akihabara streets at night
One of the most unique things to do in this neighborhood is visiting one of Maid Cafes. It is said that Maid Cafe was originated in Akihabara and become gradually popular among Otaku, then today’s top tourist attraction in Tokyo. Be served by a cute maid, enjoy colorful food and drinks, and have the weirdest “Moe” experience in Tokyo!
11. Catch ‘em all at Japan’s mega Pokemon Center
At Japan’s mega Pokemon Center in downtown Tokyo, it’s time to relive your childhood fantasies and reenter the world of Pokemon!
With super cute Pikachu plushies and rare Pokemon paraphernalia, it’s no small choice to select your Pokemon to carry around your Japanese travels (just in case someone challenges you to a Pokebattle).
12. Go crazy at Harajuku
If you are into Kawaii culture or Japanese fashion, you know where to head. Yes, the kingdom of Kawaii culture, Harajuku is home to hundreds of chic and stylish boutiques and trendy shopping malls. Harajuku’s Takeshita Street is the center of a teenage culture where you can hunt trendy and colorful fashion items and a unique variety of goods at surprisingly affordable prices. Moreover, there are numbers of cafes and street food stands (crepe, cotton candy, etc) to stop for a break by while shopping.
Downtown Harajuku, the fashion paradise of Tokyo, Japan
There are also numbers of high street clothing brand stores on the backstreets of Harajuku area such as Bape and Supreme. On the main streets of Harajuku, Omotesando Street, and Meiji Street, there are large shopping malls like Laforet, Tokyu Plaza, and Omotesando Hills which are also suitable for adults.
Explore the center of Tokyo’s pop culture, Harajuku in a half-day! Join the “Harajuku Fashion and Pop Culture Tour” and you can experience the best highlights of the neighborhood including the important historical monument, the street of Kawaii culture and the colorful Instagram-Worthy cafe
13. Tsukiji Fish Market: Taste the Freshest Seafood
You knew that sushi and sashimi were going to make an appearance on this list. Japan’s most beloved contribution to international cuisine is more than just rice and raw fish, and if you’ve seen Jiro Dreams of Sushi, you know that it can be a way of life to some
Fresh Sashimi at the Tsukiji Markets - Tokyo Japan
Tsukiji Fish Market was known as the world's biggest wholesale market and has been a top tourist attraction of Tokyo for many years.
Life inside Tsukiji Fish Market is a sight to behold. It’s like a little microcosm of the rest of Tokyo, tightly packed with vendors and masses of people traversing through narrow paths. Butchers are hard at work, slicing and dicing fresh fish caught the very morning of. This guy, in particular, seemed to know his way around a blade
Tsukiji Outer Market is where hundreds of restaurants and shops gather including Sushi restaurants, groceries, kitchen utensils stores, and Japanese knife shops with a lively and authentic market atmosphere. It’s located very near to Ginza area where several Michelin starred fine restaurants are located
14. Eat Wagyu Beef
If you are a gourmand, you may know where the best country to taste beef is. Japanese Beef “Wagyu” is one of the must-try traditional food in Japan along with Sushi and Tempura. Japan produces several types of branded Wagyu Beef such as Kobe Beef and Matsuzaka Beef, and they can be enjoyed in various style of dishes such as Teppanyaki, Steak, Shabu-Shabu, Yakiniku (BBQ), etc
The most popular restaurant to try Wagyu is Hakushu which is a family-owned restaurant located in Shibuya district, Tokyo. The best quality Wagyu beef can be enjoyed with an authentic Teppanyaki style. The restaurant is extremely popular, so make sure to reserve a table in advance!
There are many other things to do and see in Tokyo, and on top of it, seasonal events and activities are also things you can’t miss such as cherry blossoms and autumn leaves. If you love this guide, please leave a comment below