So, you know when you’ll go to Japan, and maybe you have a few sightseeing spots in mind, but what is there to do in Japan? Check out this two-part blog for our list of 50 things to do in Japan!
Japan is a foodie’s paradise, but the food in Shinjuku literally takes the cake! Want to try jiggly cheesecake? Sweets that look like your favorite Japanese cartoon character? Hankering to savor Osaka’s famous street food, Takoyaki? Searching for a simple sushi restaurant? In Shinjuku, discover any Japanese dish your heart desires. From greasy, deep-fried bar food to Michelin-starred restaurants, Shinjuku has it all!
If New York is the city that never sleeps, Tokyo is the city that never goes home! Tokyo’s nightlife is mostly concentrated around Roppongi, Shibuya, and Shinjuku stations. First, hit the red-light districts and head to an Izakaya (traditional Japanese pub), or check out Golden Gai where mid-20th century style bars are squashed together in skinny alleyways. In Roppongi, the night clubs rise up 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, so if you miss your train, you’ll have to stay out all night or sleep it off at a capsule hotel.
Modern Tokyo’s Asakusa district offers a rare glimpse into 18th century Japan. Across the Sumida River from Tokyo SkyTree, you’ll find Asakusa Sensoji Temple, the most beautiful temple in Tokyo. The temple is more than a religious site—it’s an adventure through Japan’s Edo period. The rickshaw drivers standing in front of the temple grounds are ready to give you a tour, and nearby shops have kimonos to rent. 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.
Love anime and manga? Head to the Akihabara neighborhood for everything your nerdy 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 themed cafes like the Gundam Cafe or a maid cafe, 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!
Tokyo is an amazing mix of historical, fashionable, and modern Japan, and you can experience this eclectic mix 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 few blocks over from this historic religious site is the bustling Takeshita street in Harajuku, where young people dash between shops and shopping malls to buy “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.
Odaiba is the setting for many famous anime, manga, and Japanese 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 the replica Statue of Liberty, Odaiba’s Ferris wheel in Palette Town, and the indoor amusement park Joyopolis. Check if any conventions are happening at Tokyo Big Sight—the largest convention center in Japan—during your vacation! At night, you can see Rainbow Bridge illuminated in all of its neon glory over Tokyo Bay.
Let’s head south of Tokyo to the popular Kansai region. We’ve explained how you can spend your day in the Arashiyama district in Kyoto. Start by seeing the Snow Monkey Park in Iwatayama Mountain to interact with wild Japanese macaque. Then, cross Togetsukyo Bridge, a beautiful structure that retains its original 9th century design. After crossing the bridge, it’s a short walk to Tenryuji Temple—dedicated to Emperor Go-Daigo—and the Arashiyama Sagano Bamboo Grove.
You can’t leave Kyoto, or Japan for the matter, without seeing the thousands of vermilion torii gates at Fushimi Inari Shrine. From the main entrance, 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 the surrounding Higashiyama District at least once. Kiyomizu Temple was built around a natural spring that is said to bless you with longevity, luck in love, or wealth depending on from which stream you drink. The historic Higashiyama district (eastern Kyoto) is full of UNESCO World Heritage sites such as Ginkakuji, and it is a popular place to view cherry blossoms in the spring and autumn leaves in the fall.
You’ll never lack options for food in Osaka’s Dotonbori. 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 where to start, try some of Osaka’s famous street food okonomiyaki, savory pancakes, and Takoyaki, fried dough balls with octopus inside.
The small village of Jigokudani in Nagano Prefecture is full of hot springs where travelers can rest after a long day. It’s also home to hundreds of snow monkeys, and they LOVE to take baths—especially in winter! Some of the hot springs, like the ones at Jigokudani Monkey Park, were built exclusively for Japanese macaque monkeys to enjoy, but no one told the monkeys to stay out of the human baths! As you relax in the natural waters and feel your stress melt away, you might look up to see a furry little friend joining you!
The Tateyama Kurobe Alpine Route is one of the most attractive ways to see Japan’s countryside! From mid-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 between Midagahara and Murodo. The drifts stretch to heights as high as 20 meters (almost 100 feet)!
Right after cherry blossom season, head straight 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. The periwinkle color is so vivid, it’s hard to tell where the flowers end and the sky begins from a distance. 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’ season starts.
If you’re in Japan in summer, take a trip up to warm, mild Hokkaido. Hokkaido is known for its lengthy winters and heavy snowfall, but the countryside comes to life in the summer with lush fields, green forests, and flower displays. The most famous flower displays are the lavender fields in Furano. 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 in Furano include Farm Tomita, Lavender East, and Flower Land Kamifurano. Don’t forget to try some of Furano’s select snacks like cantaloupe, fresh corn, and lavender ice cream.
If you love flowers, take a day trip from Tokyo to Tochigi Prefecture’s Ashikaga Flower Park. All year round you can see displays of azaleas, tulips, irises, roses, pansies, and more depending on the season—including a stunning LED light display in the 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.
The Kawachi Fuji Garden in Kitakyushu, Fukuoka Prefecture is only open to the public during the wisteria bloom from late April to mid-May. The garden is continuously rated as one of the most beautiful 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 lavender 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.
From around mid-April to May, the fields near Mount Fuji’s Five Lakes come alive in pink—not with cherry blossoms, but moss! 80,000 moss phlox plants (shibazakura) flood the grounds in fuchsia. Here, you can dip your toes into the Panorama Footbath natural hot spring. If you’re feeling a little peckish, every year during the festival a pop-up café called “Fujiyama Sweets” sells pastries, teas, and coffees. You can sit on the café’s viewing deck and take in the view of the shibazakura with Mt. Fuji in the background. 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.
Every spring, the iconic Japanese cherry blossoms attract travelers from all over the world during each region’s full bloom. Most tourists dash from tree to tree posing for pictures, but for Japanese people, cherry blossom 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!
The architecture of the Itsukushima Shrine in Miyajima, which was established by Taira no Kiyomori, seamlessly integrates with the surrounding mountains and sea. You can get an amazing 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 considered to be one of the most beautiful places in Japan.
The elegant Himeji Castle is also known as the “White Heron,” and its pure-white plaster walls live up to the name. Himeji Castle (in Hyogo Prefecture) is one of 12 remaining original castles in Japan, and its 82 buildings have survived since the 17th century thanks to the careful care of feudal lords. The castle is an architectural masterpiece and embodies the pinnacle of Japanese castle engineering.
Whether you’re traveling within Japan, or just want an unforgettable experience, don’t miss out on taking a Shinkansen train! You can use your Japan Railways pass to board most Shinkansen lines. The Shinkansen “bullet trains” zoom through the countryside at top speeds of 300 km/hr. (186 m/hr.), but when riding one, you’ll have no idea you’re moving so fast. You may be tempted to doze off in your spacious, comfortable seat, but you’ll miss Japan’s countryside flying past your window if you do!
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 be 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, your tray will fill up with balls you can trade in for cash and prizes. If you lose, your balls will slowly disappear!
You may have tried singing karaoke songs before and may or may not have enjoyed it, but no matter what, you have to try Japanese-style karaoke! Instead of singing for an audience of drunk strangers at the bar, you get your own private room and thousands of international song selections. You can also order drinks and snacks that are delivered right to you! Some karaoke establishments even have rooms with party lights and free costumes you can borrow to really turn it up!
Want to buy souvenirs, Japanese home goods, accessories, or something you forgot to pack for your trip? Get it all at the 100 Yen shop! 100 Yen usually equals about $1.00 (USD), but don’t let the prices fool you! In Japan, 100 Yen can get you fairly high-quality goods (including lacquered chopsticks, ceramic tea cups, and folding fans) at shops like Daiso.
The Japanese don’t kid around when it comes to convenience. Surprisingly, convenience stores in Japan sell fairly healthy (and tasty) boxed lunches, whole fruits, and even freshly brewed whole-bean coffee. They also sell those easy-to-lose items like phone chargers (mobile and wall-types), toothbrushes, and clothes in case you need a fresh pair of socks. Convenience stores are on nearly every corner and within walking distances of most homes and hotels, so you’ll always have a place to find everything you’ll need in Japan!
Not enough things to do for you?