Our specialty is helping travelers who believe that travel is about unique, memorable experiences – not just sightseeing or checking items off a list.
But if you’re planning a trip to Japan, chances are you’ll be drawn to at least some of the 25 remarkable places and experiences featured below.
You won’t be able to fit them all into a single trip, but we hope these amazing places and experiences inspire you – and make it onto your personal bucket list!
1. Arashiyama’s Bamboo Forest in Kyoto
Too touristy? Think again.
Admittedly, the scenic Arashiyama district in the outskirts of Kyoto — home to Zen temples and the iconic bamboo forest — does get very crowded at times. But if you are motivated enough to wake up early, you may have this magical place all to yourself.
2. Splurge on a Luxurious Tokyo Hotel
With beautiful luxury hotels including Aman Tokyo, Andaz, Conrad Tokyo, Palace Hotel Tokyo and so many more (including, of course, the Park Hyatt Tokyo made famous in Sofia Coppola’s Lost in Translation), it’s worth splurging on at least one night at a luxurious Tokyo hotel.
3. The Art Island of Naoshima
For art lovers, Naoshima is a must-visit, with museums designed by Tadao Ando and works by world-class artists from around the world. Stay at the museum-hotel Benesse House, and also make sure to visit the tiny nearby art islands of Teshima and Inujima.
See more of Japan’s best art destinations
4. Tokyo’s Tsukiji Market
An essential stop if you love markets and are eager to learn about Japanese food, check out our guide to visiting Tokyo’s Tsukiji Market.
5. Eat Ramen
6. Ride the Bullet Train
A ride on the shinkansen (bullet train) is on nearly everyone’s must-do list, and fortunately it’s almost always the best way to travel around Japan (see our guide to train travel in Japan).
Before hopping on the train pick up a delicious seasonal bento and a bottle of sake (eating and drinking on the train is a national tradition), and enjoy the landscape as it zips by.
7. Onsen (Hot Springs) in Winter
Soaking in remote onsen (hot springs) while the snow falls around you is one of the most magical experiences you can have in Japan, and makes braving the cold all the more worthwhile.
Combined with a stay in a traditional ryokan (Japanese-style inn), and you have all the makings of an unforgettable trip.
8. Sushi & Sashimi
9. Japanese Nightlife
Whether you’re enjoying craft cocktails or Japanese whisky at a tiny bar, drinking with locals at a casual tachinomiya (stand bar), or singing all-night karaoke, Japan has some of the most varied and entertaining nightlife in the world.
10. Watch Sumo or Baseball
Attending an athletic event provides great insight into Japanese culture, and two of the most worthwhile are tradition-filled sumo; and baseball, with its uniquely Japanese spin.
11. Attend a Japanese Matsuri (Festival)
One of the best ways to see this amazing country at its liveliest is to attend a Japanese matsuri (festival). Some of the most remarkable matsuri include Hokkaido’s Yuki Matsuri (Snow Festival), Shikoku’s boisterous Awa Odori dance festival, and the beautiful Gion Matsuri of Kyoto.
12. Cherry Blossom Season
Despite the crowds, which seem to increase with each year, there is nevertheless something uniquely magical about Japan’s cherry blossom season. During hanami (cherry blossom viewing) season, the country is covered in pink blossoms, and parks and gardens are filled with revelers celebrating over sake and seasonal bentos.
13. Fushimi Inari Taisha Shrine
Like Arashiyama’s bamboo forest (see above), Kyoto’s Fushimi Inari Shrine tends to draw huge crowds. Despite this, it is still worth visiting – especially if you can make it early in the morning before most travelers have had their morning tea or coffee.
14. Drink and Dine at an Izakaya
For a quintessential night of Japanese food, drink and revelry, head to a neighborhood izakaya (Japanese-style gastropub). In addition to being the perfect place to sample a wide variety of Japanese dishes – from seafood to fried foods, tofu to vegetables – eating and drinking at an izakaya is also a great way to mingle with locals.
15. Stroll in a Japanese Garden
Kyoto is most famous for its wealth of gardens (not to mention shrines and temples), but worthwhile gardens abound in Japan, from renowned stroll gardens like Kenroku-en in Kanazawa, to the gorgeous gardens of the Adachi Museum of Art.
See our guide to Japan’s best gardens.
16. Skiing and Snowboarding
From the Japanese Alps of Nagano, to the legendary powder of resorts like Niseko in Hokkaido, Japan has some of the best skiing and snowboarding in the world. After a day on the slopes, rejuvenate with cozy izakaya food and healing onsen (just another reason to visit Japan in winter).
17. Go on a Hike
18. Stay at a Buddhist Temple
For a taste of Buddhist life, spend a night at a shukubo (temple lodging) on sacred Mount Koya or at Nagano’s Zenko-ji Temple. Enjoy delicious vegetarian shojin ryori meals and rise early to attend morning prayers.
19. Take in Stunning Modern Architecture
In places such as Tokyo’s Aoyama and Omotesando neighborhoods, cities like Osaka, and elsewhere throughout Japan, you’ll find innovative modern architecture from Japanese and non-Japanese architects, including works by Japanese luminaries and Pritzker Prize winners.
20. Go Sake (Nihonshu) Tasting
Unless you’ve had sake in Japan, chances are high you’ve never tried truly great sake. Treat your palate to a sake tasting at a sake shop, bar or restaurant specializing in high-quality premium sake.
21. Visit an Original (Preserved) Japanese Castle
Most of the castles you’ll see in Japan (such as Osaka Castle) are reconstructions, and look beautiful primarily from the outside. But a handful – including the famous Himeji Castle, along with others such as Matsumoto Castle – have been lovingly preserved and maintain the atmosphere of days long past.
22. See the Famous Snow Monkeys
While possible to visit throughout the year, the best time to visit the onsen-loving snow monkeys of Nagano is in deep winter, when the landscape is completely covered in snow.
23. Drink Matcha Green Tea
Whether as part of a tea ceremony, or in a charming teahouse along with seasonal wagashi (Japanese sweets), there is nothing more heartwarming than a freshly-prepared cup of matcha green tea.
24. Climb Mount Fuji
The old saying goes that there are two types of fools in the world: those who never climb Fuji-san, and those who climb it more than once. On the way up you’ll see children and grandparents, and while not the most scenic trek, it is all worthwhile when you reach the summit in time for sunrise.
25. Experience Paradise in the Islands of Okinawa
The islands of Okinawa are home to stunning beaches, world-class scuba diving, and fascinating culture and history. In particular, the remote islands of Okinawa – such as the pristine Yaeyama Islands – feel worlds apart from mainland Japan.
Japan has even more amazing places to explore
We hope you’ve found inspiration in our favorite places and experiences in Japan. For even more ideas make sure to check out our free Japan travel tips and resources!