Japan is the epicenter of friendly people, fascinating history, mesmerizing culture, fun attractions, mouthwatering cuisine, amusing entertainment, innovative technology, and—well, you surely get the picture.
With that, it’s no wonder why the East Asian nation of some 126 million people, 47 prefectures, and 6000+ islands is a hot bucket list destination for adventurers across the world.
And now, the travel gods have brought you here to receive helpful advice for planning your own upcoming trip to the land of the rising sun. Today, let’s review 19 of the best things you must do when visiting Japan.
Table of Contents
- Tokyo Skytree
- Explore Dotonbori
- Mount Fuji
- Three Views of Japan
- Tokyo Disneyland | Nintendo World | Universal Studios Japan
- Hiroshima Peace Museum
- Go-Kart Tour
- CupNoodles Noodle Museum
- Fushimi Inari-taisha Shrine in Kyoto
- Shibuya Crossing
- View Cherry Blossoms
- Arashiyama Bamboo Forest
- Watch a Baseball Game
- Visit Japan’s Three Gardens
- Robot Restaurant
- Ride a Shinkansen Bullet Train
- Kyoto Samurai and Ninja Museum
- Eat Sushi at Tsukiji Market
- Explore a National Park
- Where Will You Start?
Tokyo Skytree is an iconic landmark of Japan’s capital city. At 634 meters tall, the fully functional broadcast tower is the tallest structure in Japan and provides a remarkable 360-degree view of Tokyo’s densely packed cityscape from observation decks located 350 meters and 450 meters up.
Plus, located at the tower is a high-resolution digital telescope, revolving restaurant, aquarium, and shopping mall. After landing in Tokyo, I highly recommend you make it one of the first attractions you visit.
Find out more at the Tokyo Skytree website.
Dotonbori is a popular entertainment, food, shopping, and leisure hub in Osaka. The sprawling heart of the city is teeming with flashy neon signs, restaurants, shops, hotels, bars, and narrow alleyways leading to busy intersections, much like New York City’s Times Square.
You’ll want to take a photo in front of the face of Dotonbori, the running Glico Man. Grab fresh street food and fulfilling local dishes along Dotonbori Street. And, take a 20-minute scenic cruise along Dotonbori Canal. There’s just tons to do in the area!
A hike up Mount Fuji belongs is Japan’s premiere outdoor experience in nature. At a staggering height of 3,776 meters, it’s the tallest mountain in Japan and its snowcapped peak has been featured in endless tourism ads for the island country. There are numerous hiking trails along the mountain, and the best way to reach Mount Fuji is by bus, train, private tour, and group tour. By the way, if climbing Mount Fuji isn’t an option for you, feel free to take a ride to the top aboard the Mount Fuji Panoramic Ropeway.
Check out the official website for climbing Mount Fuji.
Three Views of Japan
Way back in 17th century, Confucian scholar Hayashi Gaho declared the three scenic views of Japan to be Miyajima in Hiroshima Prefecture (Pacific Ocean), Matsushima in Miyagi Prefecture (Seto Inland Sea), and Amanohashidate in Kyoto Prefecture (Sea of Japan).
These scenic spots are celebrated as offering the most breathtaking views of natural greenery and the sea in Japan. What’s more, these three locations belong to different histories and cultures on the island, creating a learning experience to add to your trip to see their awe-inspiring beauty.
Tokyo Disneyland | Nintendo World | Universal Studios Japan
Visit any one of Japan’s top amusement parks, which include Tokyo Disneyland (Tokyo), Super Nintendo World (Osaka), and Universal Studios Japan (Osaka). For a more localized experience, I vote paying a visit to Super Nintendo World, which opened in 2021, which features rides, interactive areas, entertainment, and classic characters based on video games from the popular Japanese gaming system.
Find out ticket prices at the Super Nintendo World website.
Tokyo Disneyland website.
Universal Studios Japan website.
Hiroshima Peace Museum
Hiroshima is the site of the atomic bomb that American forces dropped on Japan during WWII. The Hiroshima Peace Museum uses exhibitions, displays, and real props to educate visitors about the history of the bombing, its aftermath, the danger of nuclear weapons. Furthermore, the museum provides video testimonies from the A-Bomb survivors and showcases everything from clothing and toys to fragments of buildings hit by the explosion.
Check out hours on the Hiroshima Peace Memorial Museum website.
You can go-kart through the streets of Tokyo in an exciting recreational experience similar to Nintendo’s Mario Kart. Get dressed up in cosplay outfits, superhero costumes, or even your latest Halloween gear and ride a street kart along an hour-long Tokyo HS route that takes you around Harajuku, Ometesando, and through Shibuya crossing. You’ll need an international driving permit to apply, so make sure you’ve prepared the necessary documents.
See why it was voted as Trip Advisor’s 2018 Best Activities and Tours in Japan by international travelers at its website.
CupNoodles Noodle Museum
One of the world’s most beloved foods was invented in Japan, and you can learn all about its remarkable history with a trip to the CupNoodles Museum in Osaka. That’s right, check out exhibits and displays highlighting the origins of instant noodles, how it’s manufactured, variations over the decades, growth of its industry, and more.
Furthermore, you’ll even have the chance to design your own noodle package and create your own noodle recipe selecting from a variety of soup and topping options.
Explore the CUPNOODLES Museum website.
Fushimi Inari-taisha Shrine in Kyoto
Kyoto’s Fushimi Inari-taisha Shrine is the ultimate Instagram experience, err, spiritual experience out in a beautiful natural setting. It’s main highlight, 2 rows of captivating Japanese torri gates, dubbed Senbon Torri, are found at the back of the shrine, and pave the way for some of the best Insta-worthy photos you can get.
Additionally, the shrine sits perched at the bottom of a 233-meter tall Mount Inari, with trails that you can hike through its lush forest. It’s said that each gate was donated by an individual or company, so if you’ve got about 1 million yen to spend, you could have one too!
You’ve probably seen Shibuya Crossing in movies based in Tokyo without even realizing it. Welcome to the world’s busiest intersection. Yep, that’s the one.
You’ll find hundreds to thousands of people crossing the Shibuya intersection at a time, going in every direction. You’ll just need to see this version of organized chaos for yourself, in person, and if you’re too afraid to walk through it, make sure to view it from above at the Starbucks located on the 2nd floor of Tsutaya shopping plaza.
View Cherry Blossoms
If you’re heading to Japan in late March or early April—and, you’ll probably want to just for this reason—then make sure to observe the country’s famously gorgeous cherry blossom trees. Viewing the cherry blossoms is one of the most popular activities to do in Japan throughout the year, and there are plenty of places to join locals and international travelers that have traveled miles just to experience their beauty. See the cherry blossoms at:
- Mount Yoshino, Kansai
- Nakemehuro, Tokyo (Tokyo Canal)
- Kyoto Botanical Garden
- Arakurayama Sengen Park
- Hirosaki Castle Park
Arashiyama Bamboo Forest
There’s nothing like taking a relaxing, soul-restoring stroll through the overwhelmingly serene Arashiyama Bamboo Forest, also known as Bamboo Grove, located in Kyoto. Open 24/7 and free of charge, the single, winding, baboo-laced pathway leads slightly uphill and ends at Okochi-Sanso Villa, which is a traditionally styled Japanese house—opened to the public via admission fee—surrounded by magnificent gardens.
The bamboo trail is one of the clearest examples you’ll get of Japan’s specialty of using picturesque nature scenery to evoke peace, tranquility, and revitalization for the soul.
Watch a Baseball Game
Baseball is one of, if not the, most popular sports in Japan. In fact, it’s said that the Japanese take their baseball games far more seriously than their American counterparts. With that, Japan’s Nippon Professional Baseball league is something to admire and experience.
With 12 teams competing, you can book tickets to watch games across numerous regions in Japan. There are the Tokyo Yakult Swallows, ORIX Buffaloes of Osaka, Hiroshima Toya Carp, Hokkaido Nippon-Ham Fighters, and Yokohama DeNa Baystars, just to name a few.
Find out schedules at the Nippon Professional Baseball website.
Visit Japan’s Three Gardens
Japan may be widely known for its stunning gardens, but did you know there are 3 gardens in particular that have actually been dubbed the “Three Great Gardens of Japan”. They are:
- Kenroku-en in Kanazawa (Garden of 6 Principles)
- Kairaku-en in Mito (Garden of Enjoying Together)
- Koraku-en in Okayama (Garden of Suffer Now, Enjoy Later)
Each garden features gorgeous, manicured landscapes teeming with green spaces, a variety of plants/trees/flowers, ponds, statues, pathways, and tea houses. They are the perfect visit for soothing strolls and healing meditation in a beautiful natural environment.
Tokyo’s Robot Restaurant is a top-rated, exhilarating entertainment show in the city’s Shinjuku District. The popular attraction features pulsating music, laser lights, pyrotechnics, animatronics, robotic characters, energetic singers and dancers, and cosplay performers. If you’re looking for non-stop, over-the-top fun in a local Japanese show, this is definitely an event not to be missed!
Learn more at the Robot Restaurant website.
Ride a Shinkansen Bullet Train
Japanese Shinkansen bullet trains are not just a sight to see—a ride on the top-speed-of-320 km/h trains is one of the best experiences to have for a memorable adventure in the country. There are 9 bullet train lines in Japan, and each line is equipped with a fast train, a semi-fast train, and a local train.
The majority of lines pass through Tokyo, and since I’m 99.99% sure you’ll be spending some kind of time in the city, especially if it’s your first outing in Japan, then make sure to complete your trip in/to the region on a Shinkansen train.
Learn more about Shinkansen Bullet Train destinations at the Japan Rail pass website.
Kyoto Samurai and Ninja Museum
While visiting Japan, take some time to educate yourself on local history and culture with an exciting trip to the Kyoto Samurai and Ninja Museum, an interactive museum with dedicated displays of everything from traditional samurai outfits, swords, and houses, to clothing and replicas of weapons used by ninjas. Guests also have the chance to partake in unique samurai/ninja experiences by taking pictures wearing garb and training like a ninja/samurai warrior.
See what all you can do at the Samurai and Ninja Museum website.
Eat Sushi at Tsukiji Market
You just can’t leave Japan without eating authentic Japanese sushi. Seriously, it’s just one of those unwritten rules when visiting the country. One of the best places to eat sushi is at Tsukiji Market in Tokyo. The bustling seafood hub has a plethora of fine-dining sushi establishments and pay-per-plate conveyer belt-styled restaurants for visitors to enjoy. Here’s what you’ll want to try:
- Tsukiji Masa – Classic Cod Burger
- Tsukiki Kagura Honten – Kagura Sushi Set
- Sushizanmai Main Branch – Tuna Plate
- Mawaru Sushi Zanmai Tsukiji Branch – Conveyor Belt Style
Explore restaurants at the Tsukiji Market website.
Explore a National Park
We’ve already touched on Japan’s Three Great Gardens, but if you have the time, make sure to explore one of the country’s magnificent national parks, which offer everything from scenic hiking trails, sightseeing boats, and volcano tours, to intimate wildlife expeditions, beach activities, and scuba diving. Here are a few recommendations for national parks in Japan you should visit:
- Sanin Kaigan National Park
- Yoshino Kumano National Park
- Nikko National Park
- Chichibu Tama Kai National Park
- Fuji-Hakone-Izu National Park
Where Will You Start?
Now that you’ve got a good idea of the top things to do in Japan, where do you think you’ll start? Will you land in Tokyo or start your adventure in other popular cities like Kyoto and Osaka? Are you looking for more cultural experiences will a hike up Mount Fuji be enough to soothe your spirit? Wherever you start, and whatever you may do, just remember, Japan is definitely one place you won’t want to leave once you get going, so prepare those goodbye notes for your family and friends. Safe and happy travels!