We can’t get through this list without mentioning Japanese sushi! Eating raw fish might not be everyone’s cup of tea, but if you’ve never tried it before, it’s time to expand your palette! Who knows, you might surprise yourself.
In the past, sushi was a street food that people would eat by hand. Fishmongers sold delicate slices at places like Tsukiji Market. Now it’s a culinary sensation that’s taking the world by storm!
Traditional Japanese sushi is an elegant balance of seafood, soy sauce, wasabi, and vinegared rice. While international shops often specialize in complicated rolls with tons of ingredients, chefs in Japan highlight the natural flavors.
You can enjoy sushi shops anywhere in Japan. If you’re apprehensive about trying this dish, you can sample a few plates at a kaiten (conveyor belt) sushi restaurant. Or, go all out and eat high-quality fare counter-style, where a personal chef will prepare an array of pieces.
Every spring, the iconic Japanese cherry blossoms attract travelers from all over the world during their full bloom. Most tourists dash from tree to tree posing for pictures, but for Japanese people, sakura season is a chance to spend time with friends, family, and co-workers. They celebrate hanami (flower viewing) by having a picnic or barbecue and relaxing under the shade of the petals. Take the time out of your busy itinerary to join in!
If all you know about Japanese ramen is the instant variety, it’s high time to try the real thing! In Japan, ramen is comfort food, and everyone has one or two particular shops that they prefer. Although it’s a comparably new dish (popularized in the 1950s), different parts of Japan take pride in their local varieties.
Depending on where you go, stick to the regional specialties for the best experience. In Hokkaido, go for the miso (soybean) flavor, unless you go to the Asahikawa Ramen Village where shoyu (soy sauce) is king. If you go to Kyushu, don’t leave without slurping down a bowl with tonkotsu (pork bone) soup. Okinawa also has a style that’s similar to shio (salt) ramen.
Understandably, not everyone can make a cross-country trip to Japan. If you want to try as many types of ramen as possible, take a day trip from Tokyo to Yokohama. Here, you’ll find the Shin-Yokohama Ramen Museum, where you can sample mini-portions from restaurants around the world.
There's a high demand for wagyu worldwide, but it's hard to find the real McCoy outside of Japan. The meat needs to satisfy several qualities to receive the "wagyu" label, including its marbling and the cow’s pedigree. High-quality beef that passes most, but not all, checks often gets sold overseas!
One of the most well-known types of wagyu for foreign travelers is Kobe beef. And no, the soft consistency and rich taste don’t come from massaging the cattle or giving them beer. It’s all a matter of genetics, which is why a meal can be pricey. You don’t necessarily have to go to Kobe City to try it, but it makes for a lovely day trip from Kyoto or Osaka!
When you go to a bar in Japan, don’t make the mistake of asking for a “Cup of sake.” That’s not to say we don’t recommend it. The word “osake” means “alcohol” in Japanese! If you want to seem like a cultured drinker and to avoid potentially confusing the bartender, use the word “nihonshu.”
Sake is a distilled beverage made from rice and contains about 15% alcohol. Depending on the type, you might receive a warmed or chilled bottle. If you want an immersive experience, take a brewery tour and enjoy a taste testing at the end. One of the best places to try this experience is the Fushimi Sake District in Kyoto, where you’ll find 40 different companies within walking distance of each other.
If you've ever read or seen Memoirs of a Geisha, put anything you learned about them aside. We won’t get into every inaccuracy Arthur Golden wrote, but for now, know that Kyoto’s geisha are not sex workers, and auctioning their bodies is not part of their training.
A geisha is a person who studies and practices Japanese arts. Most geisha these days are women, but there is a small number of men who also went through training. From a young age, geisha learn traditional dance, music, tea ceremony, and more, but their specialty is hosting dinner parties.
There are many ways you can experience geisha culture in Japan. In Kyoto, you can catch public performances of the Miyako Odori in April and the Gion Odori in November. Or, head to the Gion Corner Theatre, where you can watch a variety of performances, including one by maikos (apprentice geisha). In and outside of Kyoto, you can also use a third party to hire a geisha to provide entertainment over a meal.
Kyoto’s geishas and maikos live and work in districts called “hanamachi.” Many travelers love going to these areas to see if they can spot one and sneak a photo. However, both domestic and international tourists have chased, swarmed, and even pulled on their expensive kimonos to take a picture. That behavior led to a ban on photography in these areas, and those caught violating it must pay a fine.
Izakayas are Japanese pubs, but they’re unlike anything you’ve seen in the West. They operate more closely to a restaurant than a bar and have full menus, extensive drink lists, and servers. Depending on the type of establishment you go to, you might sit at a low-rise table with privacy doors and tatami floors.
In Japan, grabbing a couple of drinks always includes food, and some izakayas will require you to buy several dishes. However, your final bill won’t necessarily come to an exorbitant price. Izakayas don’t charge by the drink but by the hour. That’s right, for a flat fee you can drink as much as you like, and sometimes get an all-you-can-eat option, too!
Sumo is Japan’s oldest sport. Historians debate its exact origins but estimate it to be around 1500 to 2000-years-old. The style has evolved over the years, but the present form became popularized during the Edo period.
To become a professional sumo wrestler, young men go through strict training so they can build muscle mass and put on the pounds. Note that there are female sumo wrestlers, but there’s no officially recognized women’s league. Every other month, tournaments take place around Japan as the rikishi (wrestlers) compete for prize money and recognition.
Sumo tournament tickets guarantee your seat for an entire day, but most people skip the morning matches when the amateurs fight. The later the game, the higher the ranking and fame of the rikishi. The crowd makes watching all the more fun as spectators will scream and throw their seat pillows when the referees make unfavorable calls.
The schedule of tournaments and host cities are the same every year:
Tokyo: January, May, & September
Tokyo is an eclectic mix of historical, fashionable, and modern Japan, and you can experience all three in just a short walk! Start at Meiji Shrine (Meiji Jingu in Japanese) to see the final resting place of Emperor Meiji and Empress Shoken, and marvel at the towering wooden torii gate that leads you to the shrine’s buildings.
Just a short walk from here is the bustling Takeshita street in Harajuku, where young people dash about looking for “Kawaii Fashion” and accessories. Harajuku is only a few steps from Shibuya Station, one of the busiest areas of Tokyo, where you can see famous sights like the Hachiko Memorial Statue and Shibuya Crossing.
Yes, Ninjas are real, and a handful still exists today, however, romantic ideas about black-clad assassins trained in ninjutsu isn’t entirely historically accurate. Don’t feel fooled, a lot of Japanese people also have misconceptions about Ninjas, and touristy theme parks capitalize on their pop-culture images. You can get the real story in Iga and Koka, which are the ancestral homes of two of the most notorious clans.
At the Iga Ninja Museum, you can see around 400 exhibits of ancient texts, tools, and weapons, and watch choreographed martial arts performances. The curator, Jinichi Kawakami, is the head of the Banke Shinobinoden group and claims to be the youngest and last living Ninja. In Koka, you can see a 300-year-old Ninja mansion that looks like a typical house from the outside, but inside has ingenious traps, alarms, and escape routes.
Japan was in a near-constant state of fluctuating regime changes and war from the 9th to early 17th-centuries. Feudal leaders enlisted skilled footmen to serve as their standing militia. Over the years, these fighters became an aristocratic class known as samurai. Eventually, they amassed enough political weight to usurp the emperor and unify Japan’s feudal states under the Tokugawa Shogunate.
In 1872, the last samurai leaders submitted to Emperor Meiji, but still retained their social status and family legacies. You can see preserved districts where high-ranking families lived in cities like Matsue, Kakunodate, Hagi, and Kitsuki. Many descendants still live in these neighborhoods, but some chose to turn their ancestral homes into museums where you can learn more about the daily-lives of samurai.
Love anime and manga? Head to the Akihabara neighborhood for everything your otaku heart desires! Akihabara’s shops sell figurines, DVDs, and comic books from all of your favorite series. After shopping, have lunch at one of Akihabara’s famous maid cafes or play video games at one of the many-storied arcades.
The best day to visit Akihabara is Sunday when locals head to electronics shops to browse the latest technological goods. Yodabashi Camera, a particularly popular electronic store franchise, features a food court, batting cages, and a driving range on the top floors!
Few performing art-styles can measure up to the fantastical nature of Kabuki theater. Play plots are usually dramatic retellings from Japanese history and legends that utilize rhythmic dances, poetic songs, and imposing makeup. All Kabuki actors are men who were born or legally adopted into the business, and they play both male and female roles. However, you shouldn’t liken onnagata to drag queens, as this tradition came from a legal policy that banned women from performing Kabuki in the 1600s.
Many Kabuki theaters have tools that make their shows accessible to everyone. Because many of the plays are old, they use a form of Japanese that you could compare to Shakespearean English. You can rent devices that translate the dialogue into modern Japanese and international languages. Also, one Kabuki play can last up to four or five hours, but if you’re short on time, you can purchase single-act tickets.
If you’ve ever thought that you wanted to eat sushi at home but never had a chance to learn how to make it, now is your chance! While on vacation, you can take workshops to learn this skill and impress your friends at your next dinner party. During a sushi-making class, a professional chef will show you how to cut fish, slap on the wasabi, and press a piece of nigiri. Best of all, you’ll have a great lunch after all that hard work!
For many travelers in Japan, nothing is more exciting than the chance to see or experience wearing a kimono. While most Japanese people wear modern fashions, they still pull out kimonos for special occasions like weddings, graduations, festivals, and formal dinner parties. There are several opportunities available for travelers to see, wear, and learn about Japan’s national costume.
A typical kimono experience involves renting one to wear for a photo-op or strutting around town. You can also see the latest designs and order a custom-made kimono at the Nishijin Textile Center in Kyoto. But, if you want to see the most expensive kinds, look out for any opportunities to have a green tea ceremony with a maiko or dinner with a geisha. They famously wear only the most luxurious materials and accessories.
Whether you’re traveling within Japan, or want an unforgettable experience, don’t miss out on taking a bullet train! You can use your Japan Railways pass to board most Shinkansen lines.
They zoom up and down tracks at top speeds of 300 km/hr. (186 m/hr.), but the ride is so smooth that you’ll have no idea you’re moving so fast. You may feel tempted to doze off in your spacious, comfortable seat, but you’ll miss Japan’s countryside flying past your window if you do!
You might have stayed in upscale hotels before, but nothing beats the hospitality of a traditional Japanese inn. Ryokans aren’t just a place to spend the night. They’re centers for relaxation and rejuvenation. Most are set in the countryside so that you can leave the city-life behind while taking in breathtaking views or strolling through gardens.
When you get to your room, you can put on the provided yukata robes to wear around the hallways and use them as pajamas. The on-site restaurants often serve kaiseki dinners or buffets that feature the local area’s seasonal specialties. After filling up your belly and soaking in a piping hot bath, you won’t want to do anything else except curling up on your comfortable futon.
You’re probably pretty familiar with “sake” (remember to say “nihonshu” in Japan!), but have you ever gotten the chance to try shochu? Sake might be experiencing and international boom, but in Japan, it’s starting to fall out of fashion for young people.
One reason why shochu is taking over the market is that it’s easy to mix into cocktails, and you don’t have to go to the bar to get one. You can buy a can of “Chu-hai” at any convenience store, which is shochu with sparkling juice. Be careful not to confuse them for sodas! They look and taste almost the same.
Shochu originated in southern Japan, and every prefecture has its local recipe. It often gets referred to as “potato wine,” but brewers can make it from a variety of base ingredients. If you’re the type of person who loves alcohol tastings, here’s a quick breakdown of what type of shochu to drink by prefecture.
Oita Prefecture: Barley Shochu
Kumamoto Prefecture: Rice Shochu
Nagasaki Prefecture: Barley Shochu
Miyazaki Prefecture: Buckwheat Shochu
Kagoshima Prefecture: Sweet Potato Shochu
Okinawa Prefecture: Awamori or Habushu (aka Snake Wine)
The elegant Himeji Castle is also known as the “White Heron,” and its pure-white plaster walls live up to the name. Himeji-jo is one of the remaining twelve original castles in Japan, and its eighty-two buildings have survived since the 17th century thanks to meticulous preservation efforts. Himeji is an architectural masterpiece and embodies the pinnacle of Japanese engineering.
In 1992, the city opened Kokoen garden to the west of the castle’s grounds. Although it’s a comparatively recent addition, you’ll feel as though you’ve stepped into the Edo Period as you explore the grounds. In the complex, you'll find nine Japanese-style landscape gardens that use traditional aesthetics. Among them, you’ll see a tea garden, a water garden, an evergreen garden, a bamboo garden, and a flower garden.
You could spend an entire day in Kyoto's Arashiyama district. Start by seeing the Snow Monkey Park in Iwatayama Mountain to interact with wild Japanese macaques. Then, cross Togetsukyo Bridge, a beautiful structure that retains its original 9th-century design. From here, you can easily find Tenryuji Temple—dedicated to Emperor Go-Daigo—and the Arashiyama Sagano Bamboo Grove.
Modern Tokyo’s Asakusa district offers a glimpse into the Edo Period. Across the Sumida River from Tokyo SkyTree, you’ll find Asakusa Sensoji, the most beautiful temple in Tokyo. More than a religious site—it’s an adventure through history.
Rickshaw drivers stand in front of the temple grounds offering tours, and nearby shops have rental kimonos. Enter the temple grounds from the “Thunder Gate” to find a shopping street that lines the path to the temple. Here, you can buy traditional Japanese goods, snacks, and souvenirs.
Odaiba is the setting for many Japanese anime, manga, and dramas. You can see the birthplace of your favorite series at the Fuji TV building or check out the Gundam statue outside of DiverCity. Other fun things to see and do include a replica of the Statue of Liberty, Odaiba’s Ferris wheel in Palette Town, and the indoor amusement park Joyopolis.
Check if any events are happening at Tokyo Big Sight—like the AnimeJapan convention—during your vacation! At night, you can see Rainbow Bridge illuminated in all of its neon glory over Tokyo Bay.
Soaking in an onsen is the best way to recover after a long day of sightseeing. You might feel shy wearing your birthday suit in front of other people, but don’t hold yourself back. Although you can’t use your body towel outside of the locker room, you strategically cover yourself with a face towel. Once you slide into the water, the rest of the world will melt away.
If you can’t bring yourself to bathe with other people for any reason, there are other options available. Some ryokan hotels have small baths that you can reserve for privacy. Luxury accommodations also offer in-room open-air baths, and you can find some mixed-gender hot spring resorts where everyone wears a swimsuit.
The beginnings of the elegant Japanese tea ceremony came into practice during the Muromachi Period (1336-1573). Aristocrats would entertain guests with ritualistic parties that included preparing frothy cups of matcha and sweets. A formal tea ceremony includes a meal, but most people these days don’t take part in such lavish affairs because they require sitting on your knees in kimono for several hours.
Shortened versions of tea ceremonies still take some time. Your host won’t enter with prepared cups but instead will brew the matcha before your eyes. Every carefully measured movement comes from several years of study and practice. When the tea is ready, you’ll receive a confectionary to eat before you sip to balance the matcha’s bitter taste.
Some tea masters specialize only in this traditional art. However, it is possible to combine this experience with meeting a maiko (geisha-in-training). Maikos are usually between the ages of 15 and 20, and the tea ceremony is only one of many subjects they must study to graduate. Depending on your booking, a maiko hostess might also dance or teach you drinking games.
The architecture of the Itsukushima Shrine on Miyajima Island seamlessly integrates with the surrounding mountains and sea. You can get a gorgeous photo of the “floating” torii gate at high tide and walk up to the structure’s foundation at low tide. This 12th-century shrine is one of the top three most beautiful places in Japan.
If you love flowers, take a day trip from Tokyo to Tochigi Prefecture’s Ashikaga Flower Park. You can see displays of azaleas, tulips, irises, roses, pansies, and a stunning LED light festival in winter.
Ashikaga Flower Park’s main attraction is the wisteria flowers that bloom from mid-April to mid-May. During this time, you can walk through an 80-meter (262 foot) wisteria tunnel and see one of Tochigi Prefecture’s greatest treasures: a 100-year-old wisteria tree that’s so massive its branches have to be supported by beams.
You can’t leave Kyoto, or Japan for the matter, without seeing the thousands of vermilion torii gates at Fushimi Inari Shrine. Entering the grounds, you’ll see the main hall, the Noh Stage where priests periodically perform religious ceremonies, and to the left, the stunning tunnel of torii gates.
You can follow the gates on a short path that takes just a few minutes to walk, or you can see them all as you climb the mountain summit. If these gates look familiar to you, you might have seen them in the movie Memoirs of a Geisha!
You also can’t leave Japan without seeing Kiyomizu Temple and its surrounding neighborhood at least once. A natural spring flows through Kiyomizudera, which will bless you with longevity, luck in love, or wealth, depending on which stream you drink.
The historic Higashiyama district (eastern Kyoto) is full of UNESCO World Heritage sites such as Ginkakuji. It’s particularly charming when the cherry blossoms bloom in the spring, and the autumn leaves appear in the fall.
The Sapporo Snow Festival is THE must-see event on the Hokkaido Winter social calendar. The exact dates change annually, but it generally takes place in late January and early February. The main event is in Odori Park, where local and international artists build snow and ice sculptures as tall as buildings. Festivities also include ski jump competitions, music and dance performances, and a variety of food stalls.
The nearby Susukino site is much smaller, but still very much worth seeing. It features an ice sculpture contest in the entertainment district. If you’re bringing children, you can’t miss the family-friendly Tsudome site, which has indoor and outdoor facilities. Susukino and Odori celebrate artistry, but Tsudome is all about having fun on ice slides, building snowmen, and tossing snowballs.
If New York is the city that never sleeps, Tokyo is the city that never goes home! Tokyo’s nightlife mostly centers around Roppongi, Ginza, Shibuya, and Shinjuku Stations. First, hit a tachi-nomi (stand-up bar) or head to an izakaya (traditional Japanese pub). You can find a variety of these kinds of establishments in Golden Gai where ramshackle mid-20th century watering holes stretch along skinny alleyways.
In Tokyo, the night clubs rise several stories and play different genres of music on each floor! One word of warning—trains stop running from around midnight to 4:00 am. If you miss your train and don’t want to spring for a taxi, you’ll have to stay out all night or sleep it off at a capsule hotel.
Jigokudani Valley in Nagano Prefecture is near multiple hot spring sources. It’s also home to hundreds of snow monkeys, and they LOVE to take baths—especially in winter!
The onsen tubs at Jigokudani Monkey Park were built exclusively for Japanese macaques to enjoy, but no one told them to stay out of the human baths! As you relax in the natural waters and feel your stress melt away, a furry little friend might join you.
If you’re coming to Japan in May, head to Ibaraki Prefecture (just outside of Tokyo) to see the display of brilliant baby blue eyes flowers in Hitachi Seaside Park. Every year, Ibaraki Prefecture plants millions of these blossoms on one hill.
The periwinkle color is so vivid that it’s hard to tell where the flowers end and the sky begins. If you’re lucky, you’ll also see tulips and yaezakura (a species of cherry blossom tree) as the seasons for these blooms end just about when the baby blue eyes unfurl their petals.
The Kawachi Fuji Garden in Kitakyushu is only open in spring from late April to mid-May. It is one of the most admired places in Japan, and with over 20 types of wisteria growing in the 10,000 square meters, it’s hard not to see why!
As you walk through the two wisteria tunnels, one 80 meters (262 feet) and the other 110 meters (360 feet), the lovely magenta petals droop down, and the vines gently kiss the top of your head. In other parts of the garden, the blooms range in color from royal purple to pure white.
You’ll never want for dining options on the streets near Osaka’s Dotonbori Canal. Dotonbori’s restaurants are so famous, Japanese people vacation here just for the food! The area stretches for blocks with restaurant after restaurant offering everything from greasy fast food to delectable Kobe Beef. If you’re having a hard time deciding what Osaka dish to start with, try some of the local favorites like okonomiyaki (savory pancakes) and takoyaki (fried dough balls with octopus inside).
A kaiseki (haute cuisine) meal isn’t any must-eat Japanese fare—it’s a full-course event! To create a menu, chefs hit the early morning markets and purchase locally-sourced and seasonal ingredients. What they make can change daily depending on what’s available, and no two restaurants will feature the same dishes. There are, however, a few rules everyone follows.
To create an authentic kaiseki lunch or dinner, every serving should bring out the natural flavors of the ingredients. Chefs also carefully consider the presentation, and your handmade utensils and plates will be representative of the season. There aren’t any hard and fast rules about the order of, or how many items a kaiseki should include, but in general you’ll receive:
1. An Appetizer
2. Seasonal sushi or a side dish
3. Seasonal sashimi
4. Vegetables with meat, fish, or tofu
5. Something covered with a lid (usually soup)
6. Something flame-grilled
7. A palette cleanser like pickled vegetables
8. A second palette cleanser
9. A filling savory dish
10. A rice dish
Note that due to the labor-intensive nature of kaiseki meals, chefs only prepare them upon reservation. Also, if you have food allergies or are vegetarian, you must let them know beforehand so they can accommodate you. Be aware that they will not change the menu based on likes and dislikes, and will take it to heart if you send something back without trying it!
Kyoto’s Gion Matsuri is the most beloved festival in all of Japan. Events take place over the entire month of July, but the main attraction is on the 17th. On this day, you can watch a long procession of wooden floats called the Yamaboko Junko. What makes the parade so impressive is that the floats can measure up to 25 meters high and weigh 12 tons, yet teams of people pull them by hand.
If you can’t make in on the 17th, it’s still possible to take part in the festivities. Leading up to the parade, you can watch artisans build the yearly wooden floats without using any nails in their construction. There are also street festivals at night from the 14th-16th and a second smaller procession on the 24th.
The Tateyama Kurobe Alpine Route is one of the most attractive ways to see Japan’s countryside! From April to November, the route opens to private vehicles (including ours), and you can see the towering Tateyama mountain range.
From Tateyama Ropeway, you’ll get the chance to gaze upon the 186-meter (610 foot) tall Kurobe Dam. Yet, the real attraction is the snow that forms along the road in spring and early summer. The drifts stretch to heights as high as 20 meters (almost 100 feet)!
You may have tried singing karaoke songs before and may or may not have enjoyed it, but no matter what, you’ve got to try it in the country of its birth! Instead of singing for an audience of drunk strangers at the bar, you’ll get a private room with thousands of international song selections. Some karaoke rooms come with party lights and free costumes you can borrow to really turn it up!
From around mid-April to May, the fields near Mount Fuji’s Five Lakes come alive in pink—not with cherry blossoms, but moss phlox! Eight hundred thousand flowers (shibazakura) flood the grounds in fuchsia with Mount Fuji in the background.
You can dip your toes into the Panorama Footbath while taking in the view. If you’re feeling a little peckish, the pop-up café called “Fujiyama Sweets” sells pastries, teas, and coffees. If you want something more filling, visit the Fuji Gourmet Festival. The multiple food stalls will satisfy any craving, and they also serve cherry blossom-flavored treats.
Takayama is a sleepy mountain town with historical buildings and preserved districts. If you’re looking to add scenic destinations to your travels, Takayama and its surrounding villages like Shirakawa-go are some of the most beautiful places in the world. The local people’s pride and joy are the Sanno Spring (April 14th-15th) and Hachiman Autumn (October 9th-10th) Matsuris.
Both festivals feature morning processions of yatai floats that date back to the 17th century. Given their ages, they get brought back to their storehouses at the first sign of inclement weather. Each yatai has intricate lacquer work, and some feature marionettes, which you can get a closer look at during the afternoon exhibition. At night, the yatai come out again decorated with paper lanterns.
If you want to try Japan’s famous “slot machines,” look for the flashiest building on the block! Most pachinko halls use rainbows of dazzling lights to attract customers, and when you enter, you’ll get assaulted by pings, dings, and animated characters inviting you to try a machine.
Slide your money through the slot, and turn the dial to send silver balls flying through a pinball-like maze. If you win, you can make trades for cash and prizes, but if you lose, your balls will disappear!
Want to buy souvenirs, accessories, or something you forgot to pack for your trip? Get it all at a 100 Yen shop! One hundred Japanese yen equals about US $1.00, but don’t let the prices fool you. You can get quality goods like lacquered chopsticks, ceramic teacups, and folding fans at stores like Daiso.
Spending time in a department store might not sound particularly enticing. Unless you’re a shopaholic looking for Japan-exclusive brands, there’s not much of a difference from what you’ll see in your local mall. However, we still recommend going to the basement of one at least once.
A depachika is a deli-like section on the lower floors of most department stores. You’ll find an array of shops selling packed lunches, snacks, sweets, and souvenirs to take home. Some offer free samples of their goods, which is a great way to introduce yourself to food that you might not otherwise find.
Most Japanese festivals are joyous occasions, but the Aoi Matsuri highlights tradition and history. Every year on May 15th, around 500 men and women dress in Heian Period (794-1185) clothing and walk from the Imperial Palace to the two Kamo Shrines. The parade relives a pilgrimage made by the emperor, who prayed for the Shinto deities to end a slew of natural disasters.
Many of the participants are high-ranking members of Kyoto’s local government, such as the chief of police, to make the most authentic representation of the original procession. They carry offerings of hollyhock and Shinto relics in oxen-drawn carts, and a selected young woman performs several rituals at Kamigamo and Shimogamo Shrines. A horseback archery tournament closes out the festival at around 3:30 pm.
If you’re in Japan in summer, take a trip up to warm and mild Hokkaido. The northern island is known for its long winters and heavy snowfalls, but the countryside comes to life in the summer with lush fields, forests, and flowers. The most famous blossom displays are the lavender fields in Furano and Biei.
Several types of lavender reach their peak bloom around July, creating a rainbow of color that will make you feel like you’re walking in an impressionist painting. Popular viewing areas include Farm Tomita and Shikisai Hill. Don’t forget to try some of Furano’s select snacks like cantaloupe, fresh corn, and lavender ice cream.
According to local legend, when Hachisuka Iemasa established Tokushima Castle in the 1500s, the citizens celebrated with a city-wide party. From this came the annual Awa Odori Matsuri, which takes place from August 12th to the 15th. The joyous dancing and the music was so inspiring that other cities in Japan now hold similar festivals.
The main spectacle is at night between 6:00 pm and 11:30 pm. Teams of dancers called “ren” take over the streets with live music accompaniment. Ren dancers might be professionals who practice year-round or a group of amateurs that decided to sign up the day before. Since anyone can join in the fun, participants include people from Tokushima, other parts of Japan, or even other countries.
Japan is a food paradise, but Shinjuku literally takes the cake! Want to try jiggly cheesecake? Or Sweets that look like your favorite cartoon character? In Shinjuku, you can find any Japanese dish that your heart desires. From greasy bar food to Michelin-starred restaurants, Shinjuku has it all!
No matter how well you plan a vacation, traveling abroad can get stressful for a variety of reasons. Thankfully, some temples offer Zen meditation classes where a priest will guide you on a journey to mindfulness and relaxation. One of the best places to experience this is in Mount Koya, one of Japan’s most significant religious sites.
The Japanese don’t kid around when it comes to convenience! Surprisingly, convenience stores in Japan sell healthy (and tasty) boxed lunches, whole fruits, and fresh-brewed whole-bean coffee. They also offer those easy-to-lose items like phone chargers, toothbrushes, and makeup. Convenience stores are on nearly every corner, so you’ll always have a place to find everything you’ll need in Japan!
If you’re coming to Japan in the summer, head north of Tokyo to the Tohoku region to see three of Japan’s largest and most popular festivals. During the Akita Kanto Festival (August 3rd-6th), skilled performers do balancing acts with 12-foot poles that hold up to 46 lanterns. The Aomori Nebuta Festival (August 2nd-7th) attracts millions of spectators every year with its colorful parade. During the Sendai Tanabata Festival (August 6th-8th), paper streamers and decorations shaped like everything from colorful characters to trash cans sprawl out over the area.