45 Crazy Fun Things to do in Japan

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If you’re looking for unique things to do on your trip to Japan, you’ve come to the right place! From super quirky, only-in-Japan experiences to must-see sights and the best food to try, we’ve rounded up the top things to do in Japan on your first visit.

Things to do in Japan Jigokudani Snow Monkey Park

Japan is a country with a perfect mix of quirky chaos and tranquil bliss

With epic adventures in nature as well as crazy experiences you can’t have anywhere else in the world, there are so many things to do in Japan that it will likely take a few visits to check them all off your bucket list. In fact, we’ve visited Japan 3 times and are already looking forward to our next visit!

Whether this is your first time visiting or you are a frequent traveler to the “land of the rising sun,” we’ve got a collection of fun and exciting things to do in Japan for all types of travelers.

From crossing the busiest intersection in the world to wandering peaceful Japanese gardens, there’s a little something for everyone. We’ve curated a list of all the things you won’t want to miss on your trip to Japan, including insider tips and practical information. 

Read next: We’ve rounded up all the things Japan is most famous for in a guide that’s also packed with practical travel tips. Plus, we’re sharing a few things we personally think Japan should be famous for, but most foreign tourists are surprised to know.

Japan Travel Guide

For more tips and advice for planning your trip to Japan, jump to the following sections (or just keep scrolling to see it all!).

Top things to do in Japan

If you’re looking for the very best things to do in Japan, here are our top recommendations: 

  1. Hike the Kumano Kodo Trail
  2. Soak in an onsen
  3. Go Izakaya hopping
  4. Explore teamLab’s installations
  5. Go on a food tour
  6. Take a Japanese cooking class
  7. Visit shrines and temples
  8. See snow monkeys at Jigokudani Park
  9. Take a ride on a bullet train
  10. Glimpse Mount Fuji

Keep reading for more detailed information on each of these things and more ideas of fun things to do in Japan. 

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We’ve compiled our experience to create a classic Japan itinerary that hits the top destinations for first-time visitors. Our itinerary is spread out over 2 weeks and includes the highlights of Tokyo, Mount Fuji, Osaka, Kyoto and more!

We’ll send you our complete 2-week itinerary, filled with tips and advice. Just click below to get your classic Japan itinerary today!

1. Hike the Kumano Kodo trail

Things to Do in Japan Hike the Kumano Kodo Trail

Yes, much of Japan is crowded. But there is also a huge portion of the country where you can find peace, tranquility, and yes, solitude. If you love nature, hiking, and out-of-the-ordinary experiences, this is JUST the thing to put on your radar.

Many people have heard of the Camino de Santiago in Spain, but few know of the sister trail, which is located in Japan. The Kumano Kodo is an ancient pilgrimage trail that weaves through remote mountains and tiny villages, in which you can stay at traditional guesthouses.

Nachi Falls Things to Do in Japan Hike the Kumano Kodo

During our time on the trail, we saw a whopping total of 18 other people! How is that even possible in Japan?!

This region has started gaining more attention in recent years, and that’s great. It is such a unique way to see Japan, and a great way to support locals living outside of major cities. But we have a feeling this trail won’t be under the radar for long.

Another great thing about this trail is that you can adjust the hiking days to fit your travel plans (it’s possible to do just 2 days or as many as 6 days). If you know anything about us, you know that we’ve gotchu covered with an info-packed Kumano Kodo guide (plus TONS of photos!). 

Supporting off-the-beaten path experiences is a great way to keep tourism dollars local. ViaHero is a trip planning platform that will connect you to a local in Japan who will help you plan an authentic itinerary that supports their community.

2. Soak in an onsen

Things to do in Japan Soak in an Onsen Hot Spring

You should try one (or a few!) on your trip to Japan. Let’s start by defining what is an onsen, exactly…

Onsen: a Japanese hot spring with a bathing facility

Japan has a lot of volcanic activity, meaning there are onsens all around the country. Traditionally, onsens are separated by gender, and they are a staple in Japanese culture.

The most magical onsens are the outdoor ones with a view. But you’ll find all varieties. Similarly, sento are indoor bathing facilities that use ordinary heated water (not from geothermal activity).

If you visit Japan during the winter, taking a dip in an onsen, or natural not spring, is a must. 

While onsens are nice in other seasons as well, there’s nothing quite like immersing in steaming water while chilly winter air kisses your shoulders. Pure magic!

Both onsens and sento are meant for communal bathing. I know what you’re thinking: I have to get naked… with strangers?!

My thoughts were the same. But after experiencing a jjimjilbang (which is essentially the Korean equivalent to an onsen or sento), I realized that nobody cares what you look like. Yes, seriously. It still may feel strange at first, but it is something you’ll get used to.

Insider Tip: Be sure to read over the basic etiquette you should follow in an onsen because there are definitely some things you should know before you strip down… (You’ll find everything you need to know under #18 in the article linked above.)


3. Go Izakaya hopping

Things to do in Japan Izakaya Bar Hopping

One of our favorite ways to feel like you’re experiencing local life is to pop into an izakaya (tiny, casual bar with food) and order a drink and some small plates. 

Often times, izakayas only fit around 15 people, so it becomes as much about the atmosphere as it is about trying small dishes and drinks. We had some really cool izakaya experiences where we mingled with locals, tried dishes we wouldn’t have otherwise, and had an overall great evening.

You can find izakayas all around the country, but here are some famous areas to hop from one izakaya to another:

  • Tokyo: Yakitori Alley, Memory Lane a.k.a. “Piss Alley”
  • Osaka: streets just outside of Dotonbori 
  • Osaka: Shinsekai

Good to know: some izakayas charge a “cover fee”, which varies based on the place (we paid on average around 300 yen per person). They might bring a small (aka tiny!) little dish that is supposedly what you’re paying for (as well as your seat).

If you are hesitant about going to an izakaya on your own, Magical Trip offers tours where you can share the experience with a local and other travelers. Oh, and it is quite helpful to be with someone who speaks a bit of Japanese when ordering because many izakayas don’t have English menus.  

4. Explore teamLab’s digital art installations

Teamlab Planets Tokyo Japan

Lose yourself in an immersive art experience where you’re encouraged to kick off your shoes and connect with the installations, blurring the boundaries between art and reality. 

The Tokyo-based art collective known as teamLab is famous for creating art installations that are unmatched. 

In 2019, we visited teamLab Borderless (now reopened in a new location!). We loved it so much that when we planned to return to Tokyo in 2023, one of the first things we did was purchase tickets to teamLab PLANETS.

This uber-Instagrammable art experience features crystal “rain”, giant balls that change colors, koi fish that are projected onto water that you walk through, and live orchids that lower down from the ceiling… anyone else reminded of Willy Wonka?! 

The experience is hard to sum up in words. So stop thinking about it and just book your tickets already! Speaking of which, this is definitely something you want to purchase in advance as they sell out every day.

TeamLAB Borderless

The TeamLab Borderless Museum has reopened in it’s new location in Tokyo!

  • Location: teamLab Borderless Tokyo, Azabudai Hills Garden Plaza B B1, 1-2-4 Azabudai, Minato-ku, Tokyo
  • Hours: Monday – Friday, 9:00 a.m. to 5:00 p.m.; Saturday – Sunday and holidays, 10:00 a.m. to 7:00 p.m.
    • Borderless is CLOSED on the 1st and 3rd Tuesdays of the month. (You will see that you cannot purchase tickets for these dates.)
  • Entrance fee: 3,800 Yen for adults (~$25 USD) 

Psst! One of our biggest pieces of advice is to purchase your tickets ahead of time

teamLab Borderless Digital Art Museum Tokyo Japan


PLANETS will only be open until 2027, so add this to your Japan itinerary while you can. 

  • Location: teamLab PLANETS Tokyo, Toyosu 6-1-16, Koto-ku, Tokyo
  • Hours: Monday – Friday, 9:00 a.m. to 5:00 p.m.; Saturday – Sunday and holidays, 10:00 a.m. to 7:00 p.m.
  • Entrance fee: 3,200 Yen for adults (~$23 USD) 

5. Go on a food tour

Things to do in Japan Food Tour Japanese Restaurant

Calling all foodies! If you want to try as much Japanese food as possible and learn about the cuisine on a deeper level, a food tour is where it’s at!

We discovered food tours a couple of years ago, and are kind of obsessed now. Not only do you get to eat at the hidden gems around the city, but you’ll learn things most other tourists are oblivious to. Oh, and you’ll get more than one freakin’ incredible meal. Need we say more?!

We went on two food tours with Arigato, one in Osaka and one in Tokyo. While they were both good, we really, really loved the tour in the Shinsekai district of Osaka.

Food Tours in Japan to try:

6. Take a Japanese cooking class

Kyoto Cooking Class Sushi What to do in Japan

Take your knowledge of Japanese cuisine a bit deeper and learn what goes into some of your favorite dishes…

We think taking cooking classes on our travels is one of the best ways to learn about a country’s cuisine and culture. 

On our first trip to Japan, we took a sushi-making class, and on our second visit we learned how to make ramen from scratch. 

Kyoto Cooking Class Sushi Things to do in Japan

Japanese Cooking Classes:

7. Visit shrines and temples

Fushimi Inari Shrine Japan Orange Gates

Before we delve into this one, let’s have a quick chat about some basic differences between shrines and temples…

Shrines: Shinto religion

  • You know it’s a shrine when there is a large torii gate at the entrance; you know, those orange 3-sided structures that are an icon of Japan? 

Temples: Buddhist

  • Temples often have a statue of Buddha, incense burners, and some have a cemetery attached to them. Monks live and train in temples, and you may even see some walking around at the larger temples.

There are countless shrines and temples around Japan, from the ultra-famous to the small neighborhood shrines and temples for locals to visit regularly. Seeing a few of each during your trip to Japan is one of the best ways to get a feel for the country’s culture and religion.

Insider Tip: While you’re visiting shrine or temple in Japan, you may notice small wooden plaques with writing that are hanging on a fence or gate of some sort. These are called ema, and all visitors are invited to purchase one and write a prayer or wish on them. It is said that the spirits, or kami, will see your wishes. This is originally a Shinto custom, but over the years it has spread to some temples too.

Here are some of the more famous shrines and temples:

Fushimi Inari Shrine

Fushimi Inari Shrine Japan Orange Gates Things to do in Japan

If you’ve seen “Memoirs of a Geisha”, you’ll recognize these famous orange gates of the Fushimi Inari Shrine. Though I’d learned about these extensively in art history during university, they were far more spectacular in person than I could have imagined. 

Photo Tip: The beginning of the pathway is packed with people stopping for pictures. Keep walking past the crowds until the path starts going uphill. You will be able to get a picture without anyone obstructing your shot. You will also reach a lookout point and be rewarded with a view overlooking Kyoto.

In order to walk through all of the gates, you’ll need to set aside a better portion of a day. But if your time in Kyoto is limited, don’t fret! An hour or two should be sufficient to explore a large portion of this shrine and leave without feeling like you’re missing out. 

If this magical sight is on your Japan bucket list, be sure to check out our guide to Fushimi Inari Shrine for fun facts and insider tips that will help you plan the perfect visit.

Psst! Check out our list of the most beautiful places in Japan you’ll have to see to believe!

Kinkaku-ji Temple (aka “Golden Pavilion”)

Golden Pavilion Kyoto Kinkaku-ju Temple What to do in Japan

Also known as the “Golden Temple”, the Kinkaku-ji Temple is one of the most famous sights in Kyoto. And as we found out, it is popular for a good reason. 

Its exterior is completely covered in gold leaf and makes a stunning reflection in the lake beside it. It is definitely worth a visit, but be warned – the grounds are teeming with tour groups at practically all hours.

The morning is said to be the least busy, but dusk the most beautiful. Viewing the golden temple as the sun starts to set is spectacular.

Shitenoji Temple, Osaka

Shitenoji Temple Osaka What to do in Japan

While in Osaka, make a visit to Shitenoji, which is the most important Buddhist structure in the city, and one of the oldest temples in Japan. 

Meiji Shrine, Tokyo

Meiji Shrine Tokyo

Not far from downtown Tokyo, Meiji Shrine is an escape from the city’s bustling streets. Unlike many of Japan’s temples, the structures have not been brightly painted. Instead, the wooden gates were left in their natural state, making these forested grounds all the more serene.

If you visit Meiji Shrine on a Saturday, you may be lucky enough to witness a traditional Japanese wedding ceremony, like we did!

Senso-ji, Tokyo

Senso-ji Temple in Tokyo What to do in Japan

Located in the historical neighborhood of Asakusa, Senso-ji is Tokyo’s oldest and most famous temple. It’s popularity means it is crowded at all times, but it is still very worthy of a visit while you’re in Tokyo.

Psst! If you plan on spending some time in Japan’s capital city (you should!), be sure to read our guide on where to stay in Tokyo for the best neighborhoods and hotel recommendations!

8. See snow monkeys at Jigokudani Park

Jigokudani Snow Monkey Park Things to do in Japan

Nestled in a river valley, Jigokudani Monkey Park is known for Japanese macaques that congregate in the hot pools during the cooler months of the year. 

You’ll see moms cuddling their babies and male monkeys trying to intimate the others. They each have their own personalities, and observing them is truly a sight to behold.

We’ve seen these famous snow monkeys two times now, and think it is a fun spot to add to your Japan itinerary.

Jigokudani Snow Monkey Park Things to do in Japan
Jigokudani Snow Monkey Park Things to do in Japan

Getting there: Located in Nagano prefecture (yes, the host city of the 1998 Winter Olympics), you can get to Jigokudani Park as a (very long) day trip from Tokyo. Alternatively, there is lots to see and do in this region, so we’d recommend staying in the area if you have the time.

Driving yourself? Be sure to read our guide to renting a car in Japan. It’s packed with things you need to know before you get behind the wheel, as well as insider tips to help you feel confident on the road.

9. Take a ride on a bullet train

Japan Rail Bullet Train Things to do in Japan

There’s something wonderful about train journeys, don’t you think? 

Pop on headphones, sit back and look out the windows at the towns and life passing by. Any route through the mountains or along the coastline is especially beautiful.

Japanese bullet trains (also known as Shinkansen) are famously efficient and clean, so your journey is sure to be a comfortable one.

Insider Tip: Have a good book and some snacks on hand (it’s fine to eat on the Shinkansen trains, but not the local, short-distance ones). 

If you are traveling to more than two cities in Japan, you will most likely save money if you buy a JR Pass. Find out if a JR Pass is worthwhile for your trip.

Japan Rail Pass Banner

10. Glimpse Mount Fuji

Mount Fuji Japan

Seeing Mount Fuji in all her glory is at the top of many travelers’ Japan bucket lists, and for good reason – this iconic mountain is almost synonymous with Japan and is truly incredible to see in person.

However, it’s good to know that Mount Fuji is known for being shy. In fact, the mountain was completely hidden in the clouds during our first two visits to Japan. But on our third trip, she proudly showed her face and it was worth the wait. We finally got to see for ourselves what all the hype is about!

We have a Mount Fuji day trip guide that is packed with info on how, when, and where to catch a glimpse of the famous peak, as well as other fun things to do in the area and some mind-blowing facts we’re betting you didn’t know!

Best places to see Mount Fuji:

On a clear day, you can glimpse Mount Fuji in the distance throughout Tokyo. However, if you want a closer up view, here are some of the most iconic: 

  • Hakone: This small town situated on Lake Ashin is a great place to see Mount Fuji and relax in an onsen at one of the many guesthouses.

Insider Tip: While in Hakone, be sure to eat the famous black eggs. They have been hard-boiled in the nearby hot springs and are said to lengthen your life by 7 years. We shall see!

  • Five Lakes region: Like the name infers, this region covers 5 lakes, all of which have fabulous views of Mount Fuji. 
  • Fujiyoshida: If you want a view of where Fuji is set against an urban cityscape in a nature-meets-city juxtaposition, this is the nearest town to the mountain and makes a really unique sight. The iconic photo from this city is on Honcho Street.   
Mount Fuji Japan

Best time to see Mount Fuji:

Statistically speaking, you will have the best chance of seeing Mount Fuji between the months of October and February, with the worst chance of visibility being in July. 

That said, our first visit to Japan was in early February (aka a month with one of the best chances of visibility), and it was completely covered in fog during our entire stay. 

Moral of the story: It is never guaranteed that you’ll be able to see this notoriously shy mountain, so be sure to have a few cloudy day activities in mind (and a good attitude!) just in case.

Our thoughts: We think it is particularly photogenic in autumn, with fall foliage all around and with a good chance of seeing the peak covered in a blanket of white after a snow storm.

11. Try a Japanese photo booth

Things to do in Japan Purikura Japanese Photo Booth

Hopping inside a Japanese photo booth, or purikura, is a quick, yet memorable experience. 

You can find photo booths in many arcades, and sometimes simply typing “purikura” into Google Maps will show you any nearby. The best part is this experience takes less than 10 minutes and costs around 400 yen, meaning any traveler can squeeze it into their Japan itinerary, no matter how tight! 

And at the end, you’re left with an inexpensive and ridiculously “Japanese” souvenir that’ll make you smile (or cry laughing!) each time you see it.

12. Wander through a bamboo forest

Arashiyama Bamboo Forest Things to do in Japan

The most famous bamboo forest in Japan is undoubtedly in Arashiyama. Located just outside the center of Kyoto, you’ll feel a world away. The grove of giant, swaying bamboo stalks is beautiful year-round and emanates tranquility. Well, that is if you can experience tranquility amongst a crowd… 

This bamboo forest is stunning, no arguing that, but it can get pretty packed, especially during Japan’s high tourist season. We visited during low season (February) and went early, so we didn’t have too much of an issue with crowds. However, we know this isn’t always the case. We still think it’s worth visiting, as long as your expectations are managed.

Even so, we think it is well worth a visit and will certainly be one of your favorite photo ops in Japan!

Also, there are other, less crowded bamboo forests around the country. Here are just a couple:

  • Kamakura: just a 10-minute bus ride from the train station is the Hokokuji Bamboo Forest. It’s small but beautiful. And while you’re in town, might as well swing by the Great Buddha of Kamakura that dates back to the year 1252. 
  • Nakasendo Trail: there is a portion of this trail where there is a wild bamboo grove. No paths, no crowds, just bamboo!

13. Explore a Japanese castle

Things to do in Japan Osaka Castle

When picturing castles, Europe is usually the first region of the world to come to mind. 

But Japan holds its own, and has some very interesting fortresses for visitors to explore and gain a better understanding of this country’s history.

There are a dozen castles still standing in Japan, but here are some of the most famous (and easily accessible):

  • Osaka – in the city and accessible by the metro, this historic castle played a major role in unifying Japan in the 16th century. 
  • Himeji – if visiting Hiroshima from Osaka, you could stop off in Himeji and explore the beautiful grounds of the UNESCO World Heritage Site Himeji Castle.
  • Kanazawa – located in the center of the city, this castle is adjacent to the famous Kenroku-en, one of three “perfect gardens” of Japan.
  • Matsumoto – Also known as the “Crow Castle” for its black color, this castle is especially beautiful during the cherry blossom season.  

Psst! We have a list of must-see landmarks in Japan that’s sure to give you some inspiration for your itinerary!

14. Dine at a Theme Restaurant (or 2!)

Robot Restaurant Tokyo Japan Things to do in Japan

Theme restaurants and cafes are huge in Japan, and there is such a variety that every type of traveler should be able to find one that appeals to them. 

And while we’d definitely recommend trying out a theme restaurant, just don’t expect the best meal of your time in Japan. Keep in mind that you come not for the food, but for the atmosphere.

Presentation may be on point, but the food itself at most of these establishments is, well, mediocre. We’re just trying to help manage expectations!

Top theme restaurants and cafes in Tokyo

Check out these Tokyo theme restaurants that range from cute and quirky to “what did I just witness?!”. And while you’re at it, we have a whole list of other cool things to do in Tokyo at night!

  • Pokemon Cafe: Pretty much just what it sounds like — Pokemon-themed drinks and food!
  • Flower Cafe: If you’re looking for an experience that is not so showy or cutesy, the Aoyama Flower Market Tea House may be just what you’re looking for. Set inside a flower market, this cafe is undoubtedly beautiful.
  • 2D Cafe: This quirky cafe will make you feel as if you’ve hopped into a drawing. The restaurant’s black and white interior looks just like a cartoon drawing. They specialize in bubble teas and Korean-style shaved ice dessert, which pop against the 2D background!
  • Ninja restaurant: This is a full-blown experience, and one of the only theme restaurants where the food is actually known to be quite good. Dine-in what appears to be an Edo-era village, complete with waterfalls, ponds and the sounds of chirping crickets. And be entertained by ninja performances at your table. With set menus starting at 5500 yen, this experience does not come cheap, but the rave reviews speak for themselves.
  • Vampire Cafe: If creepy is your thing, you might enjoy this restaurant which is characterized by wall-to-wall red velvet, servers in French maid costumes, and blood-inspired drinks and treats.
  • Kagaya: It seems the only theme to this bar/cafe is insanity. Patrons can expect screaming, costumes, and puppets… If you’re looking for an experience that leaves you wondering, “What the hell just happened?!” this might be it.
  • Maid Cafes: This is a popular type of cafe, commonly found in Tokyo’s Akihabara district, which is known for anime. Female servers are dressed as maids in a sort of cosplay atmosphere.
    • The “maid” servers cater to their (mostly) male guests, but also don’t tolerate rude or unwarranted behavior (which can be common). Maid Cafes have a focus on being very cute – think singing songs, taking selfies, and serving latte art.
    • There has been a bit of controversy surrounding maid cafes, with some rumors connecting them to prostitution rings. Other sources swear they are totally innocent. Do your own research and decide if this would be an enjoyable experience for you.

A note on animal cafes: We’d urge you to practice caution and do a bit of research before choosing to go to an animal cafe. We’ve been to both dog and cat cafes, which seemed okay since these animals tend to like attention from people and are quite domestic.

However, we’ve heard pretty bad things about some of the other animal cafes that can be found in Japan, like owl, sheep, hedgehog, fox, etc. Many of these animals aren’t meant to be around people or constantly stimulated. If you really want to go to an animal cafe, cat, dog or rabbit cafes seem to be the best options. 

Related: Read up on our responsible travel tips before your trip to Japan!


15. Take in the history in Hiroshima

Things to do in Japan Atomic Bomb Dome

Hiroshima is well worth a place on your Japan itinerary, especially if you’re a history buff. Visiting the Hiroshima Peace Memorial Museum will teach you more than you ever could learn in history books. 

Tip: If you’re planning on staying in Osaka, you can easily make a day trip from Osaka to Hiroshima to explore the highlights of the city. And it’s even included in your JRail Pass!

As a quick refresher, Hiroshima was bombed by Americans during World War II, making it the first city targeted with a nuclear weapon. Much of the city was destroyed, and while it’s unclear the exact number of direct victims of the atomic bomb, there are estimates that more than 160,000 people died as a result of the impact and the after effects.

Even if you’re not a “museum person”, a visit to the Peace Memorial Museum is a must. You’ll find photos and personal stories from the time of World War II, which makes this tragedy come to life for visitors.

On display are artifacts from the bombing, including clothing that was worn by victims and survivors at the moment of impact. Seeing the shredded fabric with your own eyes, knowing someone was wearing it, makes an impact. 

Things to do in Japan Hiroshima Peace Memorial Park

After visiting the museum, explore the Hiroshima Peace Memorial Park, which has informational plaques, dedications and remnants from the bombing.

As you can imagine, it is heavy stuff. While painful, it is so important for people to see places like this in order to have a better understanding of our world history, and to move forward without repeating the mistakes of our past. 

More things to do in Hiroshima: And on a lighter note, Hiroshima is actually a very cool and modern city with lots more to do. We’ve rounded up all the highlights including visiting the city’s castle and Japanese garden, eating regional cuisine you can only find here, and making a trip to the nearby Miyajima Island in our day trip guide for Hiroshima.

16. Traverse the Japanese Alps

Things to do in Japan Tateyama Kurobe Alpine Route

Europe isn’t the only region with alps. In fact, Japan has its very own alps that are absolutely breathtaking, and somewhat off the beaten path for foreign tourists.

Depending on what time of year you’re visiting Japan, you can expect a very different view: a towering snow wall in early spring and stunning fall foliage in autumn, for example.

We have an entire guide that will help you plan your trip to the Japanese Alps via the Tateyama Kurobe Alpine Route.

17. Eat Sushi at a fish market

Things to do in Japan Eat Sushi at a Fish Market

Sushi enthusiasts and newbies alike should try as much sushi as possible in Japan. And there’s no place to get it more fresh than from the source… aka the fish markets themselves. 

Early each morning at fish markets around the country, fishermen arrive with the catch of the day to be auctioned off. Chefs and suppliers come to bid on the fish before it’s taken away to become yummy, yummy sushi for some lucky people. 

Now if you want to get the freshest of the fresh sushi – literally made just moments after the fish is sold – you’re going to need to get up early. That’s right; sushi for breakfast! (Not as bad of an idea as it sounds!)

Things to do in Japan Eat Sushi At a Fish Market

So where can you find fish markets in Japan? In many coastal towns you’ll find fish markets, but here are some of the most famous and accessible fish markets in the country:

  • Toyosu Fish Market: Opened in 2018 to replace the older Tsukiji Market, visitors can now observe the early morning tuna auctions in this more modern facility (albeit lacking character), or eat at one of the many sushi restaurants inside. 
  • Tsukiji Fish Market: While Tokyo’s oldest and most famous fish market is no longer home to the famous early morning tuna auctions, there are still vendors and fresh fish to be found in this arguably more authentic market. This may not last for long, however, as there are plans to develop this sought-after piece of real estate.
  • Kanazawa Fish Market: One of the most famous fish markets in the country, there are many restaurants inside selling all sorts of dishes.
  • Katsuura Fish Market: If you’ve just completed the Kumano Kodo Trail (see #1 on this list), you’ll likely be staying in or near Katsuura, so be sure to check out their morning fish market, which is known to bring in the most tuna in the entire country. You can observe the tuna auctions weekdays at 7 a.m., and you can get a fresh sushi breakfast in the nearby small indoor market.

Not sure what to order when it comes to sushi? Well… there’s an app for that. Here is a list of the most helpful Japanese travel apps that will improve your trip to Japan.

18. Stay in a Ryokan

Things to do in Japan Stay in a Ryokan Japan

Staying at a ryokan is an experience you can only have in Japan. This type of traditional Japanese inn is characterized by tatami-matted rooms and exceptional hospitality. 

Often times ryokan guests are provided with yukata robes and access to private on-site onsen. Many ryokan also serves elaborate meals, which are usually included in the nightly rate. 

19. Stay in a capsule hotel

Things to do in Japan Capsule Hotel

Spending the night in an enclosed space may sound a little… coffin-y. But, I am here to tell you that it is far less sketchy (and claustrophobic!) than it sounds.

With millions of people and limited space, it makes sense why capsule hotels are such a popular type of accommodation in Japan.

Speaking of popularity, there are tons of options meaning you can choose from the most basic of basic capsule hotels all the way to some pretty plush ones where the price reflects the level of comfort. We chose one that was somewhere in the middle.

It wasn’t as cramped as we were expecting! Each capsule hotel is different, but ours resembled a super scaled down hotel room, complete with a mini desk and television. It wasn’t so much claustrophobic as it was cozy.

We didn’t love the fact that we had to stay apart – I know, I know, we’re obnoxious! – but it was still a fun Japanese experience we’re glad we tried. 

Side Note: We learned that there are some capsule hotels that have “couple capsules”, so you might want to search those out if you don’t wanna spend the night apart from your hunny. No judgment here!

There are capsule hotels around the country, but you’ll find the most options in Tokyo and Osaka. 

20. Walk the Nakasendō Trail

Things to do in Japan Nakasendo Trail

The Nakasendō Trail is an ancient route that spanned more than 330 miles to connect Kyoto and Tokyo and was used in the Edo Period. While modern development has taken over many portions of the trail, there are still a few sections that remain more or less in their original form and can still be walked.

One of the most popular sections is in the Kiso Valley and runs between the small towns of Tsumago and Magome.

This section of the trail is roughly 8 kilometers (5 miles) and is relatively flat. It should take between 2 – 3 hours, depending on how often you stop (and how many photos you take!). 

We’d recommend staying at Magome Chaya, which is a simple ryokan that serves an INCREDIBLE kaiseki dinner.

21. Eat ALL the ramen

Things to do in Japan Eat Ramen

Oh, ramen. Piping hot broth, slightly chewy noodles, a perfectly gooey soft boiled egg, fresh scallions and a depth of flavors that makes you keep going back for more, bite after bite. Forget the instant noodles you feasted on after drunken nights in college. The gourmet version is leaps and bounds more delicious. 

Each ramen shop has its own flavors and specialties, so you’ll want to sample as much as you can while in Japan.

Good to know: At most ramen shops, you’ll buy a ticket from a vending machine and present the ticket to an employee. Ramen shops are considered somewhat “fast food”, and your bowl of hot noodly goodness shouldn’t take long to appear right in front of you.

22. Drive a real life Mario Kart

Go Karting in Tokyo | Image Credit:Emily from TravellersHorizons.com
Go Karting in Tokyo | Image Credit: Emily from TravellersHorizons.com

If you ever wished you could hop into your Nintendo 64 and actually race alongside Mario dressed as Princess Peach (is this anyone else’s fantasy?!), you can do just that in Japan!

Don a costume and get behind the wheel of a very real go-kart which you will drive on the streets of Osaka or Tokyo (this experience is offered in both cities). 

Important Tip: If this experience is a “must” on your Japan trip, be sure to bring an international driver’s license with you. Ben had one but I didn’t and we were unable to do this tour. Booo! I guess we’ll just have to come back to Japan for a third time…

23. Wander through Japanese Gardens

Things to do in Japan Kenrokuen Garden

While you can find Japanese gardens all around the world, the best place to glimpse these immaculate creations is, of course, in Japan!

Japanese Gardens change with the seasons and are beautiful year-round, with springtime blossoms, fall foliage or even a dusting of snow. 

Here are some of the most famous Japanese gardens:

24. Bow at the famous Nara Deer

Nara Deer What to see in Japan

If you want to channel your inner Snow White and get friendly with a deer (or 20!), a stop in the ancient capital of Nara should be on your Japan itinerary. 

Well-known for its ancient temples, and even more famous for the deer who saunter about them, Nara is just a short 45-minute train ride from both Osaka and Kyoto, making it a popular day trip from either city.

Don’t miss this! We’ve created the perfect Nara day trip itinerary, including must-see attractions and hidden gems (plus a free map!).

According to the traditional Shinto religion, the deer in Nara Park are said to be messengers of the gods, and are therefore sacred animals that are allowed to roam freely. And the 1,000-plus deer who call the city and Nara Park home will not flee when they see you.

Nara deer Japan

In fact, it’s much the opposite. They have learned to bow to humans in exchange for food. Yep, you read that right: they will actually bow. And they are everywhere. 

Psst! Before you hop on a train, make sure you read these tips for feeding the Nara deer (including what NOT to do).

While Nara is most known for the resident deer, there’s a lot of historic temples and shrines and some excellent foodie stops.

We’ve been to Nara twice now (in 2019 and 2023), and while we noticed it is much busier on our most recent visit than it was just a few years ago, it is still worth adding to your trip as there aren’t any places in the world quite like it.

25. Experience Kawaii Culture

Things to do in Japan Kawaii Culture Cute Things

Kawaii is the Japanese word for “cute”, and it won’t take long to realize just how big the kawaii culture is. It should come as no surprise that Japan is the birthplace of Hello Kitty and many equally cute characters that have attracted cult followings.

And you don’t have to look far to see examples of how this obsession with cuteness has impacted food, clothing trends, and well, pretty much all aspects of life that can be described as “cute”.

The best place in the country to experience this ubiquitous kawaii culture is in the Harajuku neighborhood of Tokyo. You’ll see young women who are dressed almost as lifelike dolls, and you’ll pass by people holding rainbow cotton candy (aka “Fairy Floss,” which is a much cuter sounding name). Ice cream cones have cute cartoon faces and pigtails are more abundant than in a kindergarten class.

We should warn you, this street gets busy. Like, really busy. But that’s kind of part of the whole experience. So be prepared for a wild and very, very cute time!

26. Eat a Kaiseki meal

Things to do in Japan Eat a Kaiseki Meal

If you like food as much as we do, you won’t want to miss a kaiseki meal during your trip to Japan. This is essentially a large meal with all sorts of small dishes, so you’ll get to try all sorts of things. 

Kaiseki meals are commonly included in higher-end ryokans (traditional Japanese inns), and it is usually a highlight of the stay. Special care is put into the presentation of each small dish, making kaiseki meals especially beautiful to photograph. (Ben always says our cameras get to eat before he does!)

Tip: If you are vegetarian, a great way to try a kaiseki meal is at a Buddhist temple stay (for example, at Koyasan). All food served is strictly Buddhist vegetarian, whereas kaiseki meals often include a lot of meat and fish. This article has more info about traveling in Japan as a vegetarian.

27. Go scuba diving in Japan

Scuba Diving in Japan | Image Credit: Corinne Klein

Have you ever considered scuba diving in Japan?! We hadn’t either… But our friend Corinne has been living and diving in Japan for the past 2 years, and she swears it is a dive location that should be on your radar! 

We asked her to explain what makes diving in Japan so special, and here’s what she had to say: 

“From the tropical waters of Okinawa (21-30C) to the temperate waters along the mainland (11C-26C) and all the way up to the icy waters of the northern island of Hokkaido (3-6C), there’s something for every diver.

The biodiversity of marine creatures is extraordinary, and you will quickly find yourself amongst fields of brilliantly colored soft coral, moray eels poking their heads out to watch you drift by while schools of fish swim all around you.

For macro lovers, there are a plethora of adorable nudibranchs (there’s even a Pikachu one!!), seahorses, and if you’re lucky you might spot the elusive blue-ringed octopus.

On the opposite end of the spectrum, Mikomoto on the Izu peninsula and Yonaguni Island just north of Okinawa, offer drift dives with hundreds of schooling hammerheads.” 

Check out our ultimate guide to diving in Japan for a detailed break down of the best dive sites, and everything you need to know to plan an epic diving trip.

Psst! Don’t leave before you check out our bucket list of best things to do in Okinawa.

28. Witness sumo wrestlers in action

Things to do in Japan Sumo Wrestlers Practice Stable

There aren’t any sports more closely linked to Japan as sumo wrestling. While traveling in Japan, it is a pretty cool experience to see a match in action.

However, professional sumo matches only take place 6 times per year: once during each odd-numbered month. Additionally, they are set in specific locations, so it can be difficult to fit it into your trip.

The professional sumo match schedule is as follows:

  • January: Tokyo
  • March: Osaka
  • May: Tokyo
  • July: Nagoya
  • September: Tokyo
  • November: Fukuoka

If that lines up with your Japan itinerary, try your best to squeeze it in – we’ve heard it’s a pretty cool experience. 

Interesting Fact: Sumo wrestling is not an Olympic Sport, but is recognized by the Olympic Committee, meaning that there is a chance it could be part of the games someday. However, with the 2020 Summer Olympic Games in Tokyo, sumo will most likely be part of the games in some way, Like in the opening ceremonies.

Other sumo experiences in Japan

However, if you are traveling in Japan during an even-numbered month like us (womp womp), you can still have a sumo experience.

Tokyo is home to sumo stables, which is where the wrestlers train and live. And if you’re lucky, you can sit in on one of their morning practices. It is a pretty surreal experience to watch the wrestlers go through their routine, albeit different than seeing a professional match.

Things to do in Japan Sumo Wrestlers Training Stables

I do think it’s important to mention that as an observer, you have to follow a very strict set of rules:

  • No talking
  • No moving 
  • No exiting (if you leave the room, you cannot reenter)
  • No videos*
  • No eating or drinking

*Photographs are fine (without flash), and you will have the opportunity to take pictures with the wrestlers after their practice is over (if they oblige).

They don’t want you to think of it as a tourist experience, because it’s really not about you. The wrestling stable is simply giving you permission to observe their wrestlers. There are a handful of chairs and thin cushions to sit on, and as guests, you will sit there until their practice is over (which can vary day to day).

We had a flight in the afternoon, and we were getting a little nervous towards the end because we weren’t sure exactly how much longer the session would go. 

Good to know: The practice can get long and repetitive. Your legs may hurt from sitting in the same position, and you may get thirsty. Just keep these things in mind, especially if you’re traveling with children. 

So is it worthwhile? For us, it was an experience that was fascinating at first, but got a bit long in the middle. I was relieved when we could get up and walk around at the end, but I was really happy we did it. Make sense? 

How to do it on your own

We’ve heard that it is free to observe morning practices, however, you must call the stable and ask permission in advance (which isn’t always granted), so knowing Japanese is a must.

If you have a Japanese friend or a very friendly hotel staff member, this might be an option. Though a much easier way to arrange this is to book a tour through Magical Trip.

They take care of everything for you and give you some background information about the sumo wrestlers. We were hosted by Magical Trip and we would recommend going through them since it is so simple.

29. Spot a Geisha

Things to do in Japan Geisha Kyoto Japan
Geisha in Kyoto Japan

Translating to “woman of art”, geisha are trained in dance, music, traditional arts, and the very complicated art of communication. They make appearances at dinners in ryotei (traditional restaurants) and ochaya (teahouses) where they entertain guests who pay large sums to be in the presence of these highly skilled women.

But even if you don’t have big bucks to spend on one of these experiences, it is still possible to see a geisha or maiko (geisha’s apprentice) during your trip to Japan.

Good to know: While we’re referring to them as geisha for the purpose of this article, the correct term for these women in the Kyoto region is geiko. (Geisha is the correct term in Tokyo, and is generally more well-known among foreigners.)

Where to see a Geisha

Things to do in Japan Geisha Kyoto Japan

In the 1920’s there were more than 80,000 geisha in Japan. Today there are only 2,000 of these female performers who continue to follow the strict lifestyle, so spotting them is special.

The best place to spot a geisha (outside of seeing them in a paid performance) is to take a stroll around the lantern-lit Pontocho Alley in Kyoto at dusk and you may just be rewarded with a rare sighting of a geisha or maiko.

The evening hours (between 5:30 pm and 6 pm) are when they make their way to one of the many traditional restaurants on this street in the Gion district where they hold performances.  This will be your best chance at seeing their exquisite silk kimonos and painted faces up close.

Other historic neighborhoods in Kyoto where you’ll have a chance of spotting geisha/geiko and maiko:

  • Miyagawacho
  • Gion Higashi
  • Gion Kobu
  • Kamishichiken (near Kitano Tenmangu Shrine)

Have your camera ready, because when you do see a geisha, it will be a fleeting moment as she scurries in wooden sandals to her next appointment. While taking photos of geisha is generally acceptable, be sure you do so in a respectful manner. Don’t get in their way, and keep a reasonable distance. 

30. Explore one of Japan’s preserved historic villages

What to do in Japan Historic Japanese Villages

Japan is often applauded for its modern infrastructure, but the architecture of the past is just as endearing. Okay, let’s be real… way more endearing.

Immerse yourself in one of Japan’s preserved historic villages, and imagine what it would have been like to live there. 

Here are a handful of the most famous preserved historic villages in Japan:

  • Hida Folk Village: Just outside the city center of Takayama, this historic village is pretty easy to get to.
  • Shirakawago: Located between Kanazawa and Takayama, this stunning village is especially picturesque in the wintertime.
  • Gokayama: Situated in Toyama prefecture, this historic village isn’t as famous as Shirakawago or Hida Folk Village, but it still offers historic charm.
  • Oshino-mura: Near Mount Fuji, this makes a nice stop if you are spending time near Japan’s most iconic mountain.

31. Do a temple stay at Koyasan

Things to do in Japan Temple Stay Koyasan

Not far from bustling Osaka lies the tranquil Mount Koya (or Koyasan). Dotted with ancient Buddhist relics, vegetarian eateries, and temples that allow guests to spend the night, Koyasan is a peaceful escape from Japan’s major cities.

If doing a Koyasan “temple stay” is on your Japan bucket list, here are a couple of things that are good to know:

  • Temple stays are more or less a stay at a ryokan (traditional inn), and less a stay with the monks. You will eat a Buddhist vegetarian dinner and breakfast and be able to observe the monks’ morning ritual alongside other guests. Just to give you an idea of what to expect!
  • If you’re looking for a more affordable temple stay (they can get quite expensive), we stayed at Koyasan Zofukuin and would recommend it. Delicious food, beautiful facilities, tranquil garden, friendly staff, good location. 
  • Okunoin Cemetery is incredible. We’d recommend setting a good chunk of time to exploring as it is pretty large. We heard there is a cemetery night tour after we had left, and thought it looked kind of interesting so you might want to check that out. But definitely go during the day too.
  • Have lunch at Bon-on-sha and enjoy their yummy vegetarian food and a cute, artsy atmosphere. They serve a “plate of the day” which has several small bits of different veg dishes (there is a vegan option too). For a bit more money, it comes with a coffee drink and a slice of the cake of the day.

32. Participate in a Japanese tea ceremony

Things to do in Japan Tea Ceremony

Matcha is everywhere in Japan – a popular ice cream flavor, in pastries, and even appearing in KitKat Bars. Yep, it’s true.

While you can just eat ALL the matcha, one way to get a deeper appreciation and understanding for this ubiquitous green powder is to take part in a tea ceremony. 

We didn’t plan on partaking in a tea ceremony at all, but “accidentally” went to two different ceremonies:

Our first tea ceremony experience

As we were wandering around the famous Japanese Gardens in Kanazawa, we stumbled upon a traditional teahouse.

When we saw there was a tea ceremony about to take place, we paid 700 yen to partake. (The less expensive 500 yen set was already sold out).

This ceremony didn’t really have much explanation, but each guest was brought their tea and sweet with a bit of a ceremonial gesture. After it was finished, we were free to explore the teahouse and grounds for a bit.

Things to do in Japan Tea Ceremony and Manju

Budget Tip: If you’re visiting a Japanese Garden, see if there is a ceremony taking place in their teahouse. This is an affordable option if you’re on a budget but want a brief tea ceremony experience.

Our second Japanese tea ceremony

Our second encounter was during our Tokyo Food Tour with Arigato. This was a private ceremony, and we were able to choose our cups from their collection of ceramics that are hundreds of years old.

The gestures were explained and we had a chance to ask questions.

If you’d like to book your own tea ceremony, take a look at Get Your Guide because they have tea ceremonies in multiple cities around Japan. 

33.  Attend a Japanese baseball game 

Things to do in Japan Baseball Game

This all-American sport takes on a life of its own in Japan, and going to a baseball game is a totally different experience than you’d have in the US.

For one, you can bring in your own food and booze. Yep, that’s right!

The drawback for any drinks you bring is you have to open them upon entering the stadium, and the security guards will pour it into a cup for you. So it’s best to just bring one or two, and then purchase another (if you’re so inclined) from the cute and super hard-working beer girls!

Another key difference between baseball games in Japan versus North America is the atmosphere. Games in Japan (especially for popular teams like Tokyo’s Yomiuri Giants!) get wild! 

The atmosphere is more like a high stakes professional hockey game, with chants, yelling, boozing, cheerleaders, and fan sections. 

How to attend a Japanese baseball game 

Things to do in Japan Attend a Japanese Baseball Game

Depending on who is playing, you may need to reserve tickets well in advance. For less popular teams, you’ll be able to buy your tickets at the stadium for a fraction of the cost. 

However, if you want a reserved seat of your own at a popular game, it’s best to make a booking online before your trip (here is the info for booking at the Tokyo Dome).

You can try your luck at getting tickets at 7-Eleven or through your hotel concierge once you arrive in Japan, but in our experience they were all sold out during the time we were there. 

Even if you’re not able to get a seat, fret not! You can still purchase “standing room” tickets on the day of at the stadium. 

Our experience 

We went to a Giants vs. BayStars game (a busy game!), and were able to purchase “standing room” tickets at the stadium even after the game had started.

Admittedly, we didn’t have the best view of the game, but it was fun to walk around the stadium and soak up the atmosphere. Plus, it was a fraction of the price we would have paid by booking through a company. We paid just 1000 yen ($9.13 USD) each for our tickets!

34. Go skiing in Japan

Gala Yuzawa Ski Resort (near Tokyo) // Photo credit: Lena Scheidler fromNagoya Foodie
Gala Yuzawa Ski Resort (near Tokyo) // Photo credit: Lena Scheidler from Nagoya Foodie

If you’re traveling to Japan in the winter, we’d highly recommend going skiing. Japan is known for some of the best powder skiing in the world, and it’s a dream of our to get there for it someday. So if you’re lucky enough to shred some pow, let us know how it goes!

35. Go shopping for Japanese souvenirs

Things to Do in Japan Souvenirs

Shopping districts are plentiful in every Japanese city, packed with clothing stores, cosmetic shops, discount vendors, and souvenir stores. Even if you’re not really into shopping (I’m with you!), chances are you’ll want a memento – or a few – to remind you of Japan.

There are so many beautiful things to buy in Japan that it would be a shame to come home empty-handed. We’ve actually rounded up some of the best things to buy in Japan to help you plan out which souvenirs are worth the space in your suitcase.


36. Sing karaoke

Things to do in Japan Sing Karaoke

Calling all singers (and those who like to pretend they’re singers… aka ME!). Karaoke is a big deal in many parts of Asia, and if you’re into music, you’ll definitely want to experience Japan’s karaoke culture.

Karaoke rooms are rented spaces where you can belt out your favorite tunes in privacy or in the company of friends. Most can be rented by the hour and serve beverages and snacks. 

Psst! If you’d rather not rent a private room, we’ve heard good things about Diamond Bar in Golden Gai. 

37. Cross Shibuya Scramble

Shibuya Crossing Tokyo What to do in Japan

Known as the busiest intersection in the world, the Shibuya crossing is everything I imagined Tokyo to be: Neon lights aglow and people walking in all directions in organized chaos. 

This spot, where five intersections converge is known famously as “the scramble” and should be a must on your Tokyo to-do list. And it doesn’t take long to get here and experience the madness. 

Just watch our quick time-lapse video below so you know what to expect!

View the crossing from above at Shibuya Sky

An alternative to having eyes on the ground is viewing the chaos from above. The Shibuya Sky rooftop observatory is the newest addition to central Tokyo’s lineup of rooftop views. 

At approximately 230 meters (~755 ft) above the intersection, it’s the tallest skyscraper in Shibuya. The open-air observatory offers 360º views of the city and on a clear day, you can even catch a glimpse of Mount Fuji in the distance. 

Shibuya Sky Rooftop Observatory Tokyo Japan
  • Entrance fee: 2000 yen for adults (~$15 USD); 1800 yen if you book online in advance (we’d highly recommend booking in advance because it is sold out almost every day)
  • Hours: 10 a.m. to 10:30 p.m.

Other viewpoints: There’s also a Starbucks that overlooks the madness. Though we will warn you, the Starbucks is something of an attraction itself, and is always crowded. It is even said to be the busiest location of this coffee chain in the world! It is currently closed and is undergoing renovations, so instead, head to the 8th floor rooftop observatory of MAGNET. You must buy a drink (starting at around 500 yen) to enter. 

38. Taste sake

Things to Do in Japan Drink Sake

Chances are you’ve had sake at your favorite Japanese restaurant at home while enthusiastically shouting “kanpai!” Oh, just me?!

Sake is often referred to as “rice wine”, and while that makes some sense – it is made by fermenting rice – technically, it’s more similar to beer than wine. But technicalities aside, sake is a big part of Japanese culture and should definitely be tried during your trip to Japan. 

Our first time trying sake we just, well, drank it. 

But when we finally did a proper sake tasting, we learned that sake can essentially be thought about by using a quadrant with the following scales: Aromatic to Low Aromatic, and Light Flavor to Strong Flavor (see photo below). 

Things to do in Japan Sake Tasting Card

Just like regular ol’ wine from grapes, sake can have complex flavor profiles, and this is perhaps a simplified way of describing those flavors. But I think it’s a good reference for anyone new to sake! 

Oh, and it can be served warm/hot or cold. I just thought sake was sake. I had no clue there were so many varieties.

39. Play Pachinko

Things to do in Japan Play Pachinko

This glammed-up version of pinball is noisy, bright, and crazy popular in Japan! Oh, and confusing. Did I mention it’s confusing?!

Most gambling is illegal in Japan, so instead of winning money from pachinko, you get silver balls that you can use to play more rounds to exchange for prizes, like snack foods, toys, or electronics (if you’re a really big winner!).

You can find pachinko all over Japan, from smoky, small village pachinko shops to large arcades in downtown Osaka. 

We didn’t really understand the hype, but we also didn’t really know what we were doing… Regardless, it’s one of those “Japanese experiences” that you can’t really have anywhere else! 

Pachinko instructions:

  1. Insert money and press play (玉貸).
  2. Turn the round lever, which shoots out small metal balls. The further you turn the handle, the stronger the balls will shoot. Start by just barely turning the lever until you get a feel for it, and keep it turned so balls continue to shoot.
  3. Aim the balls at the gaps in the pegs. Your goal is to make them go into the small hole in the center of the game board. Tip: Many players claim that the top left corner is the best spot to aim for.
  4. When you get the ball into the proper hole, you will be rewarded with a celebratory “ding-ding-ding” and more balls to play with (or cash in for prizes).

40. Wear a Yukata or Kimono

Us wearing Yakata that was provided by our guesthouse.
Us wearing Yakata that was provided by our guesthouse.

If you have an affinity for Japanese culture, you might like the idea of dressing up in a yukata or kimono for a day. 

First off, what exactly is the difference between a yukata and kimono, you ask?

  • Kimono – made from silk, more formal, has two collars, generally heavier 
  • Yukata – typically made from cotton, more casual, lighter weight, worn in the summertime, one collar, more inexpensive to buy as a souvenir

Most ryokans have yukata for guests to wear at nighttime or after soaking in the onsite onsen, so if you’re planning to stay at one of these traditional Japanese inns, you’ll likely have an opportunity to try on a yukata free of charge.

In many of the famous shrines, you’ll see Japanese men and women wearing yukata or kimonos depending on the occasion and time of year. And if you want to join in and wear a kimono or yukata in public, there are many places around the country (especially in Tokyo and Kyoto) where you can rent them. 

There are all different options, from 1-hour indoor sessions that include a photo shoot and tea ceremony to all-day rentals where you can wander around town and keep the yukata to bring home. Depending on your budget and interest, you should be able to find a kimono rental experience that’s right for you.

Here are some resources that explain different rental shop experiences and prices so you can compare:

Wait… Is wearing a kimono as a non-Japanese person considered cultural appropriation? We’re certainly not experts on the intricacies of this issue, but this video dives in and gives some insight on how some Japanese people feel about Westerners wearing their cultural clothing. 

Spoiler: According to the extensive interviewing in this video, it seems that many Japanese people enjoy seeing foreigners taking an interest in and having respect for their traditional clothing. Obviously, this doesn’t speak for everyone, but the video does a really good job of diving into this complex issue.

41. See the cherry blossoms

Many travelers to Japan want to see the famed cherry blossoms. And for good reason — they are breathtakingly beautiful, a photographer’s dream. 

Things to do in Japan See Cherry Blossoms in Japan

If you plan to travel to Japan during the springtime, be sure you read up a bit about Golden Week and that you book your train tickets and accommodations well in advance. This is the most popular and crowded time of year to visit Japan.

But if you think you can stand the crowds, you’ll be rewarded with some of the most stunning displays of sakura and cherry blossoms you’ll find anywhere in the world. 

We have an entire guide to viewing the cherry blossoms in Japan, including when to go and where the best places are. In short, some of the most iconic places to see cherry blossoms in Japan include:

  • Yoshino: Located in Nara prefecture, this mountain town becomes cloaked in pink as more than 1,000 trees bloom to signal the start of spring.
  • Fuji Five Lakes: This region is exactly how it sounds… five lakes that lie near Mount Fuji. They are indeed a stunning backdrop for the cherry blossoms. 
  • Maruyama Park: This urban park in Kyoto is known for its blooms (and crowds!) in the springtime.
  • Himeji Castle: If you want to see cherry blossoms and a beautiful castle at the same time, this is your spot!
  • Ueno Park: This is one of the most popular places to view cherry blossoms in Tokyo.

42. Pay a visit to the Ghibli Museum

  • Entrance fee: 1000 yen for adults (~$7)
  • Hours: 10:00 a.m. to 6:00 p.m., closed on Tuesdays

Showcasing the anime from the famous Studio Ghibli, this museum is one of the best things to do in Japan on a rainy day. 

Known as the Japanese Walt Disney, Hayao Miyazaki is the mastermind behind the art. Visitors to the museum can learn about the process of animation and admire his work displayed in the many interactive exhibits. 

43. Visit a national park

Nikko National Park Japan
Nikko National Park, Japan

While many people picture densely populated cities when they think of Japan, we think the country is really underrated when it comes to nature.

Japan is home to 34 national parks, and they are all free to enter. 

We’ve visited Kamikochi (part of Chubu Sangaku National Park), Nikko National Park, Fuji-Hakone-Izu National Park, and Yoshino-Kumano National Park, and there are so many more on our list!

If you like nature, make it a point to include at least one national park in your Japan itinerary. But be sure to do some research into the logistics because some of them can be a bit difficult to access, especially if you’re not driving a rental car

Read Next: Ultimate Guide to Visiting Kegon Falls in Nikko, Japan

44. Get your thrills at a theme park

Whether you’re an adrenaline junkie, movie buff or big fan of Disney, Japan is home to a diverse array of theme parks, offering immersive experiences for visitors of all ages. 

Tokyo Disneyland

Tokyo Disneyland
Image source: Tokyo Disney Resort

Tokyo Disneyland and Tokyo DisneySea, two unique parks inspired by Disney magic, bring beloved characters to life amid whimsical attractions and enchanting parades. The parks combine iconic attractions such as Cinderella’s Castle and Space Mountain with attractions that are unique to Japan. Plus cutting edge technology creates an immersive experience for visitors of all ages. 

Universal Studios Japan

Universal Studios Japan in Osaka is a dynamic playground where blockbuster movies come to life. The park boasts a lineup of attractions inspired by Hollywood’s biggest hits, including The Wizarding World of Harry Potter and Jurassic Park. 

Beyond the thrill rides and 3D simulations, Universal Studios Japan also has live shows, interactive experiences, and an array of dining options.

Fuji Q Highland

Fuji Q Highland (Japan Guide)
Image source: Japan Guide

Situated at the foot of Mount Fuji, Fuji Q Highland caters to adrenaline junkies with a reputation for heart-pumping rides and stunning views of the iconic peak. In fact, the park is renowned for its record-breaking roller coasters like the spine-tingling Fujiyama and the gravity-defying Takabisha.

In addition to its daring attractions, Fuji-Q Highland features a variety of family-friendly rides, captivating shows, and seasonal events.

45. Attend a festival

Japan hosts a myriad of unique and culturally significant festivals each year that captivate both locals and visitors alike. These festivals offer a glimpse into the country’s heritage, providing an immersive experience for those lucky enough whose travel dates line up. 

One of the most famous is the cherry blossom festivals, or “Hanami,” celebrated nationwide during spring (see #41 on this list). 

Below are a few other major festivals you may want to consider when planning your trip to Japan. 

Sapporo Snow Festival

If you’re visiting Japan in winter, you may want to venture north to check out the Sapporo Snow Festival. 

Held annually in February, the Sapporo Snow Festival transforms the capital of Hokkaido into a winter wonderland. On our first trip to Japan, we missed this festival by just 2 days and were super bummed because it looks so cool!

The festival is renowned for snow and ice sculptures that draw visitors from around the world. These intricate and colossal creations depict everything from replicas of famous landmarks to imaginative characters.

Gion Matsuri 

Gion Matsuri Festival Japan
Image by Kyoto.travel

Held annually in Kyoto in July, Gion Matsuri (the festival of Yasaka Shrine) is one of Japan’s most iconic festivals. 

Dating back to 869, the festival originated as a religious ritual to appease the deities during a series of plagues. Over time, it evolved into a celebration of Kyoto’s local culture, prosperity, and the strength of its communities. 

The highlight of this festival is the Yamaboko Junko parade, featuring elaborate floats adorned with tapestries, lanterns, and traditional artifacts, parading through the historic streets of Kyoto. The stunning display of meticulous craftsmanship draws millions of spectators each year. 

How many days do you need in Japan?

Depending on your intended itinerary, you could spend as little as one week in Japan, like we did on our first trip. 

Ideally, 2-3 weeks will give you enough time to see iconic and lesser-known sights as well as recover from a long travel day and potentially a big time difference

Japan itinerary ideas based on your interests

couple holding hands in Japan

As you can see from this extensive list, Japan is so much more than just big cities like Tokyo. If it’s your first time traveling to the Land of the Rising Sun, we’d definitely recommend a visit to its capital city as well as some of the other more well-known places like Kyoto and Osaka.

But, if you have been-there-done-that, or you have a lot of time to play with, check out our unique Japan itinerary ideas to get some inspiration.

Want the perfect itinerary planned for you? 

If you don’t have a ton of time to spend planning your Japan itinerary (or you just don’t find travel planning fun), we’ve got something you might be interested in… 

We created the ultimate done-for-you Japan itineraries that are packed full of all sorts of tips we’ve gathered from 3 trips to Japan as well as literally hundreds of hours of research (no exaggeration). 

We will have both off-the-beaten path routes as well as a classic itinerary that hits the top attractions (perfect for your first visit to Japan!).

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Click above and we’ll send you our complete 2-week classic Japan itinerary, filled with tips and advice, including the highlights of Tokyo, Mount Fuji, Osaka, Kyoto and more!

If you want to be the first to know when our Hidden Gems itinerary is on sale, get on the waitlist!

Best time to visit Japan

Nara Japan

In short, you’ll have the best chance of comfortable weather and fewer crowds in early spring (March – early April) and in autumn (late October – November)

Truthfully there is no best time to visit Japan as each season has its own unique draws and drawbacks. 

Each season boasts different highlights such as the cherry blossoms blooming in the springtime, Mt Fuji opens for climbing in the summer, the leaves changing colors in the fall and of course ski season in the winter.

The ideal time to visit largely depends on your interests, preferences, and itinerary. We have a full breakdown of each season, plus pros and cons in our guide to the best time to visit Japan.

How many days do you need in Japan?

There’s so much to see and do in Japan that it can be overwhelming trying to decide how long your trip should be. Ideally, 2-3 weeks will give you enough time to see iconic and lesser-known sights as well as recover from a long travel day and potentially a big time difference.

But the ideal duration for your trip depends on several factors, including destinations you want to visit and your travel style. Our guide to how many days to spend in Japan will help you figure out how much time you need based on what you want to do.

How to get around Japan

Riding the trains in Japan with the Japan Rail Pass

The trains and metros in Japan are some of the cleanest and most efficient in the world, and the rail system covers almost the entire country making it a very efficient way to get around. 

However, transportation is one of the biggest expenses to factor into your Japan travel budget

Travel by train in Japan

We have an entire guide to navigating the Japan Rail system and whether or not getting a J Rail Pass is worthwhile for your trip, depending on your itinerary. 

Likewise, if you are just planning to spend your time in Tokyo and trying to figure out how to navigate the metro, you can find that info in our Tokyo article

Renting a car

While we love the ease and efficiency of Japan’s public transportation system, we rented a car during our most recent trip to Japan and we absolutely loved it.

Having our own car was really convenient, especially now that we’re traveling with a toddler. Plus, it gave us the opportunity to get off the beaten path and explore places with very few tourists that would be difficult to visit via public transportation. 

I think we will forevermore be renting cars when we visit Japan, even if just for part of our trip.

Psst! We have a guide to renting a car in Japan (packed with lots of driving tips you won’t want to miss!).

Tips for visiting Japan

What to wear in Japan

A bucket list destination for many, Japan can feel extremely foreign for those visiting from other western countries. We’ve traveled to Japan 3 times now (and counting!) and have gathered some of our top tips to make your visit a bit smoother. 

  • Respect local customs and etiquette. Japanese culture places a high value on manners and etiquette. It’s a good idea to read up on some Japanese manners before your trip so you don’t embarrass yourself or offend someone. 
  • Learn some key phrases, but don’t worry too much about the language barrier. It is always respectful and recommended that you learn a few helpful words or phrases in the country you’re visiting, but we want to point out that it is possible to have a fantastic trip to Japan without having mastered the language.
  • Don’t tip. While it is a common practice in North America, Europe and many other parts of the world, tipping is not part of Japanese culture and can be seen as mildly rude in some instances. 
  • Take your shoes off. When entering guesthouses, homes, holy sites, and some stores, you will need to remove your shoes. This is typically indicated by floor that is different levels — either raised or lowered once you enter.
    • Insider tip: We found Kizik shoes to be great for our trip because you can slide in and out of them easily. It was so handy not to have to lace them up every single time.
  • Carry cash AND credit cards. Many places in Japan accept foreign credit cards with no problem. However, there are still small shops, restaurants, and even guesthouses that only accept cash, so you’ll definitely want to have some Japanese yen on hand.
    • We never use money exchanges to get foreign currency (they take a huge cut!), instead we make it a habit to find an ATM first thing when we land in a country and withdraw the local currency. 
  • Use public transportation. Japan has an efficient and extensive public transportation system, including trains and buses. Consider purchasing a Japan Rail Pass if you plan on traveling between cities to save money. 
  • Stay connected. Whether you need to Google what something is on a menu or get directions, you will most definitely need to connect to the Internet during your trip. We have a complete guide to renting a pocket Wi-Fi as well as how to get an international eSIM — both of which are practical ways to stay connected during your trip. 
  • Download these apps before your trip.

What to pack for traveling to Japan

Minoo Minoh Park Osaka Japan

We know it can be overwhelming packing for a trip to a new destination. That’s why we spent hours creating these super helpful guides full of packing hacks and tips for traveling in Japan that you won’t find anywhere else:

  • Our Japan packing guide lists all the essentials (many of which you might not think about), as well as what you should NOT pack for a trip to Japan.
  • This article on what to wear in Japan will help you create a perfect capsule wardrobe for every season and let you in on some cultural taboos so you can be sure to dress appropriately.
  • With this FREE Japan packing list PDF download, we’ll send checklists straight to your inbox for everything from clothing and toiletries (for both women and men!) to what shoes to pack and extra stuff you may want to have on-hand just in case. Click the image below to get your free copy!
Japan Packing list Opt-In banner

Round up of the best things to do in Japan

Here’s a recap of all the best things to do in Japan so you can see everything in one place.

  1. Kumano Kodo Trail
  2. Onsens
  3. Izakaya hopping
  4. teamLab Borderless Museum
  5. Food tour
  6. Japanese cooking class
  7. Shrines and temples
  8. Jigokudani Monkey Park
  9. Bullet trains
  10. Mount Fuji
  11. Japanese photo booth
  12. Bamboo forest
  13. Japanese castles
  14. Theme restaurants
  15. Hiroshima
  16. Japanese Alps
  17. Fresh sushi
  18. Ryokan
  19. Capsule hotel
  20. Nakasendō Trail
  21. Ramen
  22. Real life Mario Kart
  23. Japanese gardens
  24. Nara Deer
  25. Kawaii Culture 
  26. Kaiseki meal
  27. Scuba diving
  28. Sumo wrestling
  29. Geishas
  30. Japan’s preserved historic villages
  31. Temple stay in Koyasan
  32. Japanese tea ceremony
  33. Japanese baseball game 
  34. Skiing
  35. Japanese souvenirs
  36. Karaoke
  37. Shibuya Crossing
  38. Ssake
  39. Pachinko
  40. Yukata or Kimono
  41. Cherry blossoms
  42. Ghibli Museum
  43. National parks
  44. Theme parks
  45. Cultural festivals

More resources for traveling in Japan

We have TONS of resources on travel in Japan and destinations throughout the country. Check out our Ultimate Japan Travel Guide for all the answers to your most burning questions, or read some of our favorite articles below!

Be sure to download our complete packing list for Japan! It’s packed with good suggestions and insider tips to help plan your Japan trip. And it’s completely FREE, so why not!?

Japan Packing List PDF download | Two Wandering Soles

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Things to Do in Japan
Things to Do in Japan

We want to hear from you!

Which of these epic things to do in Japan is going straight to the top of your bucket list? Are you planning a trip to Japan and still have questions? We’d love to hear from you in the comments below!

Comments (51) on “45 Crazy Fun Things to do in Japan

  1. Priyanka says:

    Japan’s vibrant culture and breathtaking landscapes make it a playground for adventure seekers. From exploring Tokyo’s bustling streets to serene Kyoto temples, your list of ’45 Crazy Fun Things to do in Japan’ is a treasure trove of exciting possibilities! Can’t wait to experience the magic firsthand.

  2. Kev says:

    Very nice blog! A lot of ideas where to go and what to see. Planing our trip to japan, and i think we have to add a few more spots to our list =) Thanks a lot!

  3. Lisa Thompson says:

    Absolutely mesmerized by your ’42 Crazy Fun Things to Do in Japan’ article! It’s evident that you’ve delved deep into the heart of Japan’s vibrant culture and uncovered its most whimsical facets. Some of these activities were totally off my radar, but now they’re firmly on my must-do list for my next Japan escapade. Thank you for this kaleidoscopic journey through one of my favorite destinations!

  4. Tyler says:

    Wow, I am eager to visit Japan when I reach adulthood because, at the age of ten, I have compiled a list of activities spanning three full pages. Much of my itinerary has been sourced from this website, which has been immensely helpful. Thank you and goodbye!

  5. Alex S says:

    This post is so cool! I don’t think I will be going to Japan anytime soon but I must say your guy’s blog make me feel like I’m there just by reading!

  6. Jia says:

    wow! i want to go to japan when i grow up cuz im ten, and i have three entire pages of things i wanna do. most of it is on this website! this helped me out a lot bye!!

  7. Jamie Bartosch says:

    This story was fantastic, full of great and very useful information. Such fun ideas! And so helpful to us as we plan our trip. Thanks so much!

  8. Boston Massachusetts says:

    magnificent issues altogether, you simply gained a emblem new reader. What could you suggest about your submit that you simply made a few days ago? Any sure?

  9. Douglas says:

    Thank you for the “ travel information” – we are thinking of our first trip to Japan – we are looking to spend around 20/25 days in Japan . Unsure if we should take a guided tour or Trust our instincts like we have done in our past travels. Post COVID and now 2 years older and over 70 years of age – we are keen to experience a fun and vibrant culture.
    Fingers crossed , borders and situations will improve in 2022.

  10. relatablyjr@gmail.com says:

    Excellently helpful blog as per the usual. I’m still researching & planning my trip to Japan for next March. Thanks again for being so clear and open with the information!

  11. labanrata1@optusnet.com.au says:

    I’ve been a regular annual visitor to Japan since 1985. All my friends and colleagues asked me and were puzzled for decades (80s/90s) – why on earth would I or anybody visit Japan for a holiday – as it was just not considered the ‘cool destination’ back in the 1980s/90s. But now…. it’s crazy with over tourism in many parts.

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