From exploring Japanese tradition at heritage sites to indulging in its culinary legacy, the top things to do in Japan will introduce you to the country’s unique charm and character.
Japan is a spectacular destination, with immersive experiences that feel timeless, either steeped in the modern world or representing preserved ancient tradition. Tokyo’s vivacious energy differs from Kyoto’s relaxed pace, but both cities reveal endless connections to contemporary culture, inviting travelers to experience the country’s best activities.
The following information will guide you to what to do in Japan depending on your expectations and how you would like to explore the country.
The ancient world of Japan is seen across daily life, with preserved, antique neighborhoods in historic cities hiding in the shadows of high-rise buildings.
Landscapes speckled with temples, shrines, and decorative artifacts reveal intricate artwork. The local history spans nearly 10,000 years, informing the traditions from Cape Soya to Hateruma. Japan’s heritage captivates and will immerse you in the legends, myths, and stories of the diverse cultures that make up the greater country.
Historical tours abound across Japan, with the richness of the past coming to life in places like Sannai-Maruyama, Yoshinogari, Kyoto, Horyu-ji Temple, Tokyo, and more of the best places to visit in Japan.
Best Places for Ancient History: Sannai-Maruyama • Yoshinogari • Kyoto • Horyu-ji Temple • Tokyo
With fresh, seasonal ingredients focused on local sourcing, Japan is famous for dishes like sushi and ramen, but moves well beyond these to rival culinary powerhouses like France and Italy with surprising diversity and incredible passion.
Whether in a market, at a Michelin-starred restaurant, or hidden cafe, Japan’s gastronomy is world-class. As one of the world’s best food destinations, the variety of climates, topography, and access to the sea supports the diverse ingredients that give rise to dishes like sushi or Kobe beef.
Some of the best places to indulge in Japan’s celebrated cuisine on Japan food tours include Osaka, Tokyo, Kyoto, Kobe, and Yokohama.
Best Places for Food: Osaka • Tokyo • Kyoto • Kobe • Yokohama
Tradition in Japan takes many forms, but staying in a ryokan, or inn, will immerse you in the foundations of Japanese heritage.
The characteristics of a ryokan include tatami mat rooms and spaces decorated with minimalist style, but the true feature of the traditional inn is the surrounding landscape. Many of the customary ryokans offer elaborate meals included with the stay and feature exceptional hospitality characterized by Japanese tradition.
Any stay at a ryokan on a luxury Japan tour offers a peaceful escape from a city's natural bustle. Revealing the history, traditional culture, and natural beauty of the country, your stay is an experience in and of itself.
Best Places for a Ryokan: Tokyo • Lake Biwa • Takayama • Kyoto • Miyajima
A soak in an onsen is a classic experience in Japan that captures an essential part of the country’s heritage.
The hot-spring bath takes many forms, ranging from simple to luxurious, public to private, but always provides a relaxing environment in which to rejuvenate the body and mind. Many towns and resorts revolve around the geothermal activity that heats the springs and creates a relaxing ambiance, supporting the soothing properties of the onsen.
The onsens of Japan offer the best environment for you to relax the body and mind as you immerse yourself in nature, especially on romantic Japan tours for couples, during which a private onsen is a peaceful escape from the bustle.
Best Places for an Onsen: Kusatsu • Hakone • Beppu City • Kurokawa • Noboribetsu
Japan is a great place to witness the culture associated with works crafted by artisan masters. Art takes the shape of artisan crafts throughout the country, embodying the spirit of the past and showcasing preserved traditions that bring history into the present.
Whether with handmade paper or customary recipes handed down through the generations, wooden dolls, ironware, and samurai swords bring to light a sliver of master artisans' impeccable detail.
Beauty is not just a detail, but an aspiration for artwork that lives on as a legacy of aesthetic, heritage, and perspective focused as much on refinement as tradition. You can find more insight into the pursuit of artistic perfection on senior tours of Japan focusing on artisanal traditions.
Best Places for Artisan Tours: Gifu • Takayama • Hiroshima • Kaga • Kyoto
The traditional Japanese geisha is a symbol of elegance and grace, embodying the meaningful expression, “woman of art”.
Trained in dance, music, and customary artistic forms, including the art of communication, a geisha or geiko offers an iconic vision of Japanese heritage. Enjoy unique insight into the treasures of culture, whether in performance or gleaned when walking through the districts.
Whether having a private educational tour, dinner with a geiko, or an evening of dance performances, an informative introduction to the history of geishas is the perfect addition to a 10-day Japan trip passing through Kyoto.
Best Places to Find Geishas: Kyoto • Tokyo • Kanazawa
Sumo wrestling in Japan is not just a sport, but a way of life, with a fast pace, colorful rituals, and fierce competition.
The sport is steeped in the Shinto religion, with elements dating back to the 3rd century AD seen in the customary salt throwing to the drink a wrestler takes before a match. The power and grace of sumo training, matches, and tournaments only reinforce the sport's artistic foundations.
Your experience of sumo wrestling in Japan could include a tournament or a visit to a sumo stable, with 14-day Japan trips providing the freedom to plan for an organized match.
Best Places for Sumo: Tokyo • Osaka • Nagoya • Fukuoka
In Japan, drama, dance, and music combine during a traditional Kabuki performance with roots dating back approximately 400 years to the Edo Period.
Each show brings elaborate costumes with lavish makeup, grand wigs, and exaggerated actions for a memorable form of showmanship, with stylized movements steeped in historical events. The drama of a Kabuki performance is encompassing, from the historic dictate that only allows men to perform the elaborate displays of passion and movement on stage.
Epic tales of love, loss, and political discourse flow from the showmanship as much as the content, best witnessed on a romantic honeymoon in Japan.
Best Places for Kabuki: Tokyo • Kyoto • Fukuoka • Osaka • Nagoya
Food is an essential part of Japanese culture and a cooking class can teach you the art of mastering essential and iconic Japanese dishes.
In Japan’s culinary heritage, a meal goes beyond satiation, as each dish aims for maximum flavor to unleash each ingredient and serves as a vessel to impart specific traditions to future generations. A cooking class in Japan introduces the heritage of cuisine across the country, with a rich connection to locally-grown ingredients.
Japanese cooking classes offer a deep dive into the country's traditions, specific to the prefecture you visit, whether one of the most romantic places in Japan or beyond.
Best Places for Cooking Classes: Osaka • Tokyo • Kyoto • Kobe • Yokohama
Japan is an exceptional destination for hiking, with pristine scenery found outside the megalopolises that will put you in touch with nature.
The countryside offers you well-trodden paths along famous mountainsides, with views of snowcapped peaks and ancient forests hiding sacred shrines. Trails across Japan range from casual day hikes accessed from Tokyo to multi-day treks winding through the alps.
The countryside offers a slice of peace far from the rowdy streets of the cities, where nature takes center stage. Ancient pilgrimage sites, remote villages, and hidden temples can create an unforgettable experience on your preferred hike, whether solo or part of a Japan family trip.
Best Places for Hiking: Iya Valley • Rebun Island • Tonomine Highlands • Mount Fuji • Kumano Kodo
The many enthralling things to do in Japan are made even better when you plan with a local specialist who will provide you with more details about the best time to visit, transportation, and so much more, according to what you would like to experience.