Top Things to Do in Japan

Table of contents:

Top Things to Do in Japan

Ready to learn more about Top Things to Do in Japan?

When you think of Japan, what images flash through your mind? Perhaps it’s the breathtaking spectacle of cherry blossoms in full bloom, the energetic pulse of Tokyo’s city life, or the peaceful retreats offered by temples nestled in the mountains. Japan stands as a treasure trove of experiences, catering to an array of interests.

From navigating the historic trails that crisscross the country to soaking in the soothing onsen baths, Japan presents an endless list of top-tier attractions. Whether you’re drawn to exploring historical sites, indulging in gastronomic delights, or pursuing outdoor adventures, let’s dive into some of the most engaging and distinctive activities that make Japan a must-visit destination.

For history enthusiasts, the ancient capitals of Kyoto and Nara offer a journey through time with their well-preserved temples, shrines, and traditional gardens. Kyoto’s Kinkaku-ji, the Golden Pavilion, and Nara’s Todai-ji, home to the Great Buddha, stand as testaments to Japan’s rich cultural heritage.

Culinary adventurers will relish exploring Japan’s diverse food scene, from savoring sushi at Tokyo’s Tsukiji Market to discovering the unique flavors of regional cuisines. Meanwhile, thrill-seekers can embrace the challenge of hiking up Mount Fuji or experiencing the adrenaline rush of skiing in Hokkaido.

In addition to these activities, immersing oneself in the tranquil atmosphere of an onsen is a quintessential Japanese experience. These natural hot springs, found throughout the country, offer a serene escape and a glimpse into a cherished Japanese tradition. For a truly immersive experience, visiting an onsen town like Hakone or Beppu can provide not only relaxation but also insight into the local culture and lifestyle.

Japan’s allure is not merely in its individual attractions but in the way these experiences weave together to form a rich, multifaceted tapestry. The country’s ability to harmoniously blend ancient traditions with modern innovation makes every visit a unique adventure. From the historic to the contemporary, the tranquil to the exhilarating, Japan extends an invitation to explore and discover its many wonders.

Hiking the Kumano Kodo Trail

Embarking on the Kumano Kodo Trail offers a thrilling journey through Japan’s breathtaking landscapes. This time-honored pilgrimage route winds through vibrant forests, serene valleys, and charming villages, inviting you to immerse in both Japan’s natural splendor and its profound cultural heritage.

As you navigate the trail, you’ll come across a series of ancient temples, each boasting unique architectural designs and storied pasts. These tranquil sanctuaries provide a space for reflection, allowing you to absorb the spiritual essence of the place.

The trail’s natural hot springs present an ideal retreat for soothing sore muscles after a day’s hike. Engaging in this traditional Japanese practice not only offers physical relief but also connects you with a longstanding cultural ritual.

While the Kumano Kodo Trail is celebrated for its natural wonders, including the majestic views of Mount Fuji and the enchanting sight of cherry blossoms, it’s also a gateway to experiencing Japan’s rich traditions. Engaging in a tea ceremony teaches you the meticulous art of matcha preparation, a practice steeped in history. The bullet train journey is a testament to Japan’s technological innovation, providing a swift and smooth ride across the country. A visit to the Hiroshima Peace Memorial Park offers a somber reflection on history’s lessons, while the chance to witness the Gion Matsuri festival brings you face-to-face with Japan’s vibrant cultural tapestry.

Journeying through the Kumano Kodo Trail is more than a hike; it’s an exploration of self amidst the grandeur of nature and the depth of Japanese culture. So, get your hiking boots ready, pack your essentials, and set off on a remarkable adventure through Japan’s heartland, where every step unfolds a new chapter of discovery.

Soaking in an Onsen

Upon entering the serene realm of an onsen, a wave of calm immediately washes over me. The warm waters not only soothe my aching muscles but also act as a balm for the soul, erasing the hustle and bustle of everyday life. Immersing myself in these healing waters, I’m struck by the depth of cultural richness and the plethora of health advantages this experience offers.

Onsens, natural hot springs found throughout Japan, are a cornerstone of Japanese culture, revered not just for their relaxation qualities but also for their therapeutic benefits. Rich in minerals, the water is believed to alleviate various ailments, from muscle pain to skin conditions, a fact supported by countless generations who’ve sought its healing properties.

Moreover, onsens are more than just a place for physical rejuvenation; they offer a unique opportunity to disconnect, reflect, and immerse oneself in a practice that dates back centuries. The act of bathing in these communal waters, following age-old customs and etiquette, connects one to a tradition that’s deeply interwoven with the Japanese way of life.

The health benefits of onsens aren’t just anecdotal; scientific studies have shown that the minerals in the hot spring water can have tangible effects on the body, including improved circulation, reduced stress, and better sleep quality. For example, a study published in the International Journal of Biometeorology found that regular onsen bathing had a positive effect on cardiovascular health.

In this bustling world, finding a moment of peace and a means to heal both body and mind is invaluable. An onsen visit offers just that—a sanctuary where one can rejuvenate and tap into a rich cultural heritage, making it a profound experience beyond mere relaxation.

Onsen Etiquette

When visiting an onsen, adhering to proper etiquette is crucial to ensure a serene and enjoyable experience for all visitors. Here’s a guide to some key practices you should follow:

  • Prioritize hygiene: Before stepping into the onsen waters, it’s important to wash and rinse your body thoroughly. This step isn’t just about personal cleanliness; it also helps maintain the purity of the onsen water for others. In Japan, communal bathing is a practice steeped in history, and this ritual of cleansing before entering the bath is a sign of respect towards fellow bathers.
  • Embrace nudity: In the world of onsens, the norm is to bathe without any clothes, including swimsuits. This tradition might feel unfamiliar at first, but it’s rooted in the idea of equality and communal harmony. Without the barriers of clothing, everyone shares the same natural experience, promoting a sense of openness and unity with nature.
  • Towel etiquette: Although you shouldn’t bring towels into the onsen itself, they play a crucial role in the onsen experience. Use your towel for drying off after your soak. A common practice is to carry a small ‘modesty towel’ with you, which can be used to discreetly cover yourself as you walk to the bath. However, remember to keep it out of the water, as towels in the onsen can contaminate the pure waters.
  • Respect the quietude: Onsens are places of relaxation and tranquility. It’s essential to keep your voice down and avoid any actions that could disturb the peace, such as splashing water or engaging in loud conversations. This respect for silence and the personal space of others enhances the calming atmosphere and allows everyone to enjoy the therapeutic benefits of the hot springs.

Understanding and following these guidelines not only ensures a respectful and enjoyable experience for you but also for those around you. Onsens offer a unique opportunity to connect with Japanese culture, relax your body, and soothe your mind. By embracing these practices, you contribute to the shared harmony and purity of the onsen, making it a rewarding experience for all.

Benefits of Onsen

Diving into the peaceful practice of onsen etiquette unveils the remarkable benefits that these hot springs offer. Onsen waters are renowned for their stress-relieving properties, providing a sanctuary where the worries of everyday life simply dissolve. This warmth isn’t just comforting; it also brings a plethora of physical advantages.

The minerals in these waters are like a tonic for the skin, enhancing its health and appearance. They’ve the power to ease muscle discomfort, improving flexibility and movement. Moreover, onsen baths boost blood circulation, which is pivotal for maintaining a vibrant state of health.

The act of soaking in an onsen goes beyond physical wellness; it’s a journey into mental and emotional tranquility. This centuries-old Japanese custom offers an escape, a momentary pause from the hustle and bustle of life. Whether you’re taking a break from the urban exploration of Tokyo or Kyoto, or enjoying the hospitality of a ryokan or the unique experience of a capsule hotel, setting aside time for an onsen bath is essential.

Following this immersive experience, sipping green tea in the calm of a Japanese garden further enhances the recuperative effects of the onsen, enveloping you in a state of serenity.

This tradition, supported by both historical significance and contemporary research, underscores the holistic approach to wellness embraced in Japanese culture. Studies, such as those published in reputable medical journals, have shown the positive impact of hot spring baths on both physical and mental health, highlighting the therapeutic qualities of the minerals found in onsen waters. Thus, engaging in this practice isn’t just about enjoying a warm bath but about partaking in a deeply rooted wellness ritual that offers significant health benefits.

Exploring Teamlab PLANETS

Dive into the enchanting world of teamLab PLANETS, a place where digital art transforms into an interactive spectacle, inviting you to become part of its vibrancy. Embark on an unparalleled journey within this unique space, which highlights include:

  • Engaging Art Installations: Be prepared to encounter art installations that interact with you in unexpected ways. Imagine traversing a digital waterfall or meandering through a luminescent field of flowers. Each installation is designed to engage your senses fully, offering a distinct and enveloping experience.
  • Captivating Digital Artistry: Immerse yourself in the spellbinding allure of digital artworks that captivate with their dynamic colors, meticulous details, and alluring animations. These pieces showcase the unparalleled creativity and technological innovation of the teamLab collective, making each visit memorable.
  • Memorable Adventures: teamLab PLANETS creates experiences that whisk you away to fantastical realms. Whether you’re navigating through an ethereal forest or drifting amidst cosmic bodies, each moment is laden with astonishment and marvel.
  • Unrestrained Interaction: This venue breaks away from the conventions of traditional art museums by encouraging interaction with the exhibits. You’re invited to walk, touch, and even recline within the installations, allowing for a deeply personal and immersive encounter with the art. This level of freedom lets you craft your own distinctive journey and bond with the artworks on a profound level.

teamLab PLANETS stands out as an example of how art and technology can merge to create immersive environments that challenge our perceptions and engage our emotions. Its innovative approach to interactive installations not only entertains but also deepens our appreciation for the digital artistry’s potential to transform spaces and experiences.

Going on a Food Tour

Diving into Japan’s culinary landscape opens a world of flavors, where every dish tells a story. We can’t overlook the essential experiences: sampling iconic Japanese dishes and exploring the dynamic local food markets.

Imagine the sensation of enjoying sushi, each piece dissolving effortlessly in your mouth, or the comfort found in a hot bowl of ramen, its rich flavors enveloping your senses. Japan’s culinary offerings are vast, each meal promising an unforgettable experience.

To truly appreciate these flavors, one must wander through the lively markets, a feast for the eyes as much as for the palate, showcasing fresh seafood, vibrant produce, and irresistible street food. Embarking on this food tour, we’re set to explore the depth of authentic Japanese cuisine.

This journey isn’t just about eating; it’s a deep dive into Japan’s culture. The markets, with their array of fresh ingredients and local specialties, provide insight into the country’s culinary traditions and the importance of seasonality in Japanese cooking.

For instance, visiting Tokyo’s famous Tsukiji Outer Market, you’ll find yourself amidst a bustling atmosphere where the freshest fish and seasonal produce are at your fingertips. This experience not only delights the senses but also educates on the meticulous care and respect Japanese culture holds for food.

In sum, exploring Japan through its food is an adventure that goes beyond mere taste. It’s an immersive experience that offers a deeper understanding of the country’s rich culinary heritage and the meticulous artistry behind each dish.

Whether it’s the simplicity of a perfectly made sushi or the complex flavors of a bowl of ramen, the journey through Japan’s food landscape is one that will captivate and satisfy. So, let’s set off on this culinary exploration, ready to embrace the full spectrum of flavors and traditions that Japanese cuisine has to offer.

Must-Try Japanese Dishes

Embarking on a culinary journey in Japan offers an unforgettable experience with a plethora of exquisite dishes that are a must-try for any food enthusiast. Here’s a guide to some of the most celebrated Japanese culinary delights that promise to tantalize your taste buds:

  • Dive into the world of authentic ramen, where each bowl is a symphony of rich, savory broth, perfectly cooked noodles, and a medley of toppings such as succulent pork, soft-boiled eggs, and fresh vegetables. This dish is a testament to the Japanese dedication to flavor and quality.
  • Sushi, a cornerstone of Japanese cuisine, is best enjoyed fresh. Visiting the renowned Tsukiji Fish Market allows you to experience sushi at its finest, with seafood so fresh it practically melts in your mouth. Each piece of sushi is a work of art, reflecting the skill and precision of the sushi chef.
  • Exploring Japanese street food introduces you to the heart of Japan’s food culture. Favorites like takoyaki, balls of batter filled with tender octopus; okonomiyaki, a savory pancake loaded with a variety of ingredients; and yakitori, succulent grilled skewers, offer a taste of the country’s diverse and vibrant culinary landscape.
  • Tempura, featuring seafood and vegetables encased in a light, crispy batter, showcases the Japanese mastery of deep frying. Each bite is a delightful contrast of textures, from the crunchy exterior to the tender interior.

These dishes are more than just food; they’re a journey into the essence of Japanese culture, where each meal is prepared with care and respect for tradition.

Whether it’s the comforting embrace of a bowl of ramen or the refined elegance of sushi, these culinary experiences are an essential part of discovering the rich tapestry of flavors that Japan has to offer.

Exploring Local Food Markets

Venturing into Japan for a culinary adventure naturally involves delving into the heart of its local food markets to experience the true essence of Japanese cuisine. A standout destination for any food enthusiast is Tokyo’s Tsukiji Fish Market. This bustling market offers an array of traditional Japanese street foods, the freshest sushi you could ever taste, and a variety of local delicacies that showcase the depth of Japan’s culinary heritage.

In addition to sampling the delicious offerings, engaging in cooking classes presents a unique opportunity to learn the art of sushi making or the secrets behind other iconic Japanese dishes. These hands-on experiences not only enrich your understanding of Japanese cooking techniques but also deepen your appreciation for the culture and thought that goes into every dish.

Visiting local food markets is more than just a chance to indulge in the freshest ingredients; it’s a window into the daily lives and traditions of the people. Tsukiji, with its lively atmosphere and rich selection, serves as a vibrant example of how food is intertwined with culture in Japan.

Taking a Japanese Cooking Class

Enrolling in a Japanese cooking class offers a fantastic chance to dive into the intricate world of traditional culinary arts under the guidance of an experienced chef. This journey not only opens the door to the deep and flavorful universe of Japanese cuisine but also equips you with the knowledge about its key ingredients and their unique combinations.

Let’s explore four compelling reasons to embark on this culinary adventure:

  1. Mastering Japanese Culinary Techniques: In these classes, you’ll delve into the craftsmanship of sushi preparation, the finesse required for perfect tempura, and much more. It’s not just about following recipes; it’s about understanding the philosophy of balance and aesthetics that define Japanese cuisine. The emphasis on visual appeal and the symphony of flavors are central to creating dishes that are as delightful to the eyes as they’re to the palate.
  2. Engagement and Taste: Unlike the passive experience of dining out, a cooking class is interactive. You’re not just observing; you’re actively participating in the creation of dishes. This hands-on approach culminates in the rewarding experience of tasting your own culinary creations, offering a taste of satisfaction that comes from a job well done.
  3. Bringing Skills Home: Post-class, you’ll be equipped with new culinary skills and recipes to try in your own kitchen. Imagine the joy of sharing authentic Japanese dishes with friends and family, showcasing your ability to recreate the nuanced flavors of Japan at home.
  4. Cultural Insight: More than just a cooking lesson, these classes are a gateway to understanding Japanese culture. They shed light on the significance of certain ingredients, the artful approach to plating, and the deep-rooted tradition of omotenashi, or hospitality, that’s central to Japanese culinary practices.

Visiting Shrines and Temples

Dive into the peaceful and stunning world of Japan’s shrines and temples, where their detailed designs and calm environments captivate visitors. Japan boasts an impressive array of these sacred sites, each telling its own story and holding cultural importance.

For instance, the Fushimi Inari Shrine in Kyoto is unforgettable with its endless rows of bright red torii gates, evoking a deep sense of admiration. Equally compelling is Tokyo’s Senso-ji Temple, the city’s oldest, offering a glimpse into the practice of religious ceremonies and the tradition of making offerings, enhancing your connection to Japan’s spiritual heritage.

These sites have endured through time, including the turmoil of World War II, preserving their historic allure. Whether you’re in search of fortune, a moment to reflect, or eager to witness Japan’s extraordinary landmarks, including shrines and temples in your journey is essential. They’re not just places of worship but are integral to understanding Japan’s rich history and vibrant culture.

Seeing Snow Monkeys at Jigokudani Park

Visiting Jigokudani Park offers a unique opportunity to see snow monkeys soaking in hot springs, a sight that perfectly blends natural beauty with the delightful behavior of these animals. Here’s why you should consider adding this experience to your itinerary:

  • The interaction between the snow monkeys and the snowy environment of Jigokudani Park is heartwarming. Watching these animals play and relax in such a picturesque setting is truly a marvel of nature.
  • For photography enthusiasts, the park provides an unparalleled opportunity to capture the snow monkeys against a backdrop of snow-covered landscapes. These images aren’t only stunning but also incredibly unique, offering a glimpse into the lives of these animals in their natural habitat.
  • Spending time in Jigokudani Park allows for a peaceful connection with nature. Observing the snow monkeys in this serene setting can be a meditative experience, offering visitors a chance to unwind and reflect amidst the tranquility of the natural world.
  • Beyond the park, the area is known for its onsen (hot spring) resorts. After watching the monkeys, visitors can experience the restorative properties of the hot springs themselves, blending adventure with relaxation in this scenic mountain town.

This visit not only offers a chance to witness the fascinating behavior of snow monkeys but also provides a deep dive into the natural and cultural richness of the area. Whether you’re captivated by wildlife, photography, or the simple pleasure of nature, Jigokudani Park is a destination that promises memorable experiences.

Did you like reading about the Top Things to Do in Japan?
Share blog post:

Read the complete travel guide of Japan

Related articles about Japan