Top 10 Things to Do in Japan

Fuji mountain and Chureito Pagoda with cherry blossoms at sunset, Japan

Fuji mountain and Chureito Pagoda with cherry blossoms at sunset, Japan

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. The following information will guide you to the essential things to do in Japan for any traveler.

1. Experience the Wonder of Historic Japan

UNESCO World Heritage Site, Horyu-ji Temple in Nara, Japan

UNESCO World Heritage Site, Horyu-ji Temple in Nara, Japan

The ancient world of Japan in seen across daily life with historic cities preserved and antique neighborhoods hiding in the shadows of high-rise buildings. Landscapes speckled with temples, shrines, and decorative artifacts reveal intricate artwork. History spans nearly 10,000 years on the archipelago,  informing the traditions from Cape Soya to Hateruma.

Best Places to Visit for Ancient History: Sannai-Maruyama | Yoshinogari | Kyoto | Horyu-ji Temple | Tokyo

Japan’s history captivates and will immerse you in the legends, myth, and stories of the diverse cultures that make greater Japan. Historical tours abound across the country with the richness of the past coming to life in places like Sannai-Maruyama, Yoshinogari, Kyoto, Horyu-ji Temple, and Tokyo.

Best Time to Visit:  April | May | September | October

2. Discover Essential Flavors of Japan

Chef preparing food at restaurant in Tokyo, Japan

Chef preparing food at restaurant in Tokyo, Japan

Japan is not only one of the world’s best places to eat, but also a place to truly experience the cuisine. With fresh, seasonal ingredients focused on local sourcing, Japan is famous for dishes like sushi and ramen but moves well beyond its famous dishes to rival culinary powerhouses like France and Italy with surprising diversity and incredible passion. Whether in a market, at a Michelin-starred restaurant, or a hidden cafe, Japan’s gastronomy is world-class.

Best Places to Visit for Food: Osaka | Tokyo | Kyoto | Kobe | Yokohama

Japan’s food culture takes inspiration from tradition and availability. 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 celebrate cuisine include Osaka, Tokyo, Kyoto, Kobe, Yokohama.

Best Time to Visit: May | June | September | October

3. Experience Traditional Japan

Japanese style accommodation in Hida Takayama.  Photo courtesy Hidatei Hanaougi

Japanese style accommodation in Hida Takayama. Photo courtesy Hidatei Hanaougi

Tradition in Japan takes many forms but staying in a traditional Ryokan 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.

Best Places to Visit for a Ryokan: Tokyo | Lake Biwa | Takayama | Kyoto | Miyajima

Any stay at a Ryokan offers a peaceful escape from the city's natural bustle. Revealing the history, traditional culture, and natural beauty of the country, your stay is an experience in and of itself.  Some of the best locations to consider for your plans include Tokyo, Lake Biwa, Takayama, Kyoto, and Miyajima.

Best Time to Visit: March | April | October | November

4. Soak in Rejuvenating Waters

Japanese osen during autumn

Japanese osen during autumn

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 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.

Best Places to Visit for an Onsen: Kusatsu | Hakone | Beppu City | Kurokawa | Noboribetsu

The onsens of Japan offer the best environment for you to relax the body and mind as you immerse yourself in nature. The volcanic activity supports thousands of hot springs catered around the countryside which reveals the connection of the hot springs with Japanese culture. Some of the best places to indulge in the hot baths include Kusatsu, Hakone, Beppu City, Kurokawa, and Noboribetsu.

Best Time to Visit: December | January | February | March

5. Revel in Artisan Mastercrafts

Gold leaf artisan craftsman in Kanazawa, Japan

Gold leaf artisan craftsman in Kanazawa, Japan

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.

Best Places to Visit for Artisans: Gifu | Takayama | Hiroshima | Kaga | Kyoto

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 in places like Gifu, Takayama, Hiroshima, Kaga, and Kyoto.

Best Time to Visit: All Year

6. Let Elegance Guide You

Geisha walking in the Gion district of Kyoto, Japan

Geisha walking in the Gion district of Kyoto, Japan

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 seen in performance or gleaned when walking through the districts.

Best Places to Visit with a Geisha: Kyoto | Tokyo | Kanazawa

White makeup, ornate hairstyles, and extravagant kimonos may embody the iconic image of a Geisha in Japan, but beyond the elegant exterior is the graceful spirit of the artistic expression they represent. Whether having a private visit, dinner with a Geiko, or an evening of dance performance, some of the best places for a Geisha encounter include Kyoto, Tokyo, and Kanazawa.

Best Time to Visit: April | October

7. Witness Power and Grace

Sumo wrestling in Ryōgoku, Tokyo, Japan

Sumo wrestling in Ryōgoku, Tokyo, Japan

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.

Best Places to Visit for Sumo: Tokyo | Osaka | Nagoya | Fukuoka

Your experience of sumo wrestling in Japan could include a tournament or at a sumo stable.  Wrestlers train at morning practices performing each step of the ritual before showcasing their raw power or graceful tact. Some of Japan's best places to experience sumo wrestling include Tokyo, Osaka, Nagoya, and Fukuoka.

Best Time to Visit: January | March | July | November

8. Uncover the Layers of Heritage

Kabukiza Theater in Tokyo, Japan

Kabukiza Theater in Tokyo, Japan

In Japan, drama, dance, and music combine during a traditional theatrical 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.

Best Places to Visit for Kabuki: Tokyo | Kyoto | Fukuoka | Osaka | Nagoya

The drama of a Kabuki performance is encompassing, from the historic dictate that only allows men to perform to 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 in places like Tokyo, Kyoto, Fukuoka, Osaka, and Nagoya.

Best Time to Visit: December | November | April

9. Indulge in the Prestige of Japanese Cuisine

Local ingredients at Nishiki Market in Kyoto, Japan

Local ingredients at Nishiki Market in Kyoto, Japan

Food is an essential part of Japanese culture. A meal goes beyond satiatio as each dish aims for maximum flavor to embody each ingredient's nature and serves as a vessel to impart specific traditions to future generations. A cooking class in Japan introduces the heritage of cuisine across Japan with a rich connection to locally grown ingredients.

Best Places to Visit for Cooking: Osaka | Tokyo | Kyoto | Kobe | Yokohama

A cooking class in Japan offers a deep dive into the country's heritage and the traditions of a specific prefecture. The country's traditional food is shaped by the climate and topography of each city, and the best places to experience culinary diversity are Osaka, Tokyo, Kyoto, Kobe, and Yokohama.

Best Time to Visit: May | June | September | October

10. Explore the Surprising Nature

View of Kegon Falls and Lake Chuzenji in Nikko, Japan

View of Kegon Falls and Lake Chuzenji in Nikko, Japan

Japan is an exceptional destination for hiking with pristine scenery found outside the megalopolises that will put you in touch with untouched 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.

Best Places to Visit for Hike: Iya Valley | Rebun Island | Tonomine Highlands | Mount Fuji | Kumano Kodo

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 in places like Osaka, Tokyo, Kyoto, Kobe, and Yokohama.

Best Time to Visit: March | April | October | November

More Travel Information & Tips

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 logistics, and so much more, according to your ideal itinerary. Discover our Japan Travel Guide for a look at more helpful tips and information, and when you are to begin your trip planning process call us at 1-888-265-9707 or submit a Trip Request.