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Travel tips

20 amazing things to do in Japan and why you should visit

Dec 16, 2022 by The Go Ahead Tours Team

Put a visit to Japan at the top of your travel bucket list. This trending destination offers everything you could want in a memorable adventure. Whether you dream of seeing Mount Fuji, enjoying the scent of cherry blossoms, or savoring an authentic bowl of ramen in Tokyo, our Japan tours are sure to satisfy all your senses. Start planning your trip with 20 of the best things to do in Japan.


1. Sit down for a traditional tea ceremony

Steeped in centuries of history, the traditional tea ceremony is the embodiment of Japanese hospitality, representing harmony, respect, purity, and tranquility. It’s one of the most authentic things you can participate in when you visit Japan. On our guided tours of Japan, you’ll enjoy this choreographed ritual under the guidance of a tea master in Tokyo. Before the ceremony, you’ll learn about its customs, the meaning of symbolic gestures, and why each utensil is essential to this ancient practice. Then, you’ll sip tea and snack on Japanese sweets.

Related article: Bring travel home: 4 ways to enjoy tea time

2. Speed across Japan on a bullet train

The fastest way to get around Japan is by high-speed bullet trains, known as Shinkansen. With speeds up to 200 MPH and a reputation for being extremely punctual, these trains make getting where you want to go fast and easy. You’ll find that the seats all face forward and have plenty of legroom. Almost all the lines are covered by Japan Rail Pass, allowing unlimited travel for seven, 14, or 21 days. Make sure you get a window seat for an even bigger thrill, especially when traveling between Tokyo and Kyoto. You’ll be rewarded with a great view of Mount Fuji!

Related article: 8 advantages of train travel


3. Discover the majesty of Mount Fuji

Since ancient times, the nearly perfect form and staggering natural beauty of Mount Fuji has attracted everyone from pilgrims to poets. In Japan, climbing to the top of its 12,399-foot peak has been a rite for pilgrims for thousands of years. The mountain is surrounded by important Shinto shrines and was worshipped by devotees of Fujiko, a religion inspired by the peak and the surrounding lakes.

Mount Fuji is one of the best places to visit in Japan and is included on our Highlights of Japan: Tokyo to Kyoto tour

4. Spend a night in a capsule hotel

The capsule, or pod, hotel originated in Japan, where space is at a premium. Popular with traveling Japanese businessmen, the sleeping capsules are available for anyone’s use. Cheaper than a hotel room (about $15-$35 per night), the bed-sized, spotless pods are stacked in hotels designated for either men or women. There’s only room for one, plus a few essentials. You’ll store luggage in a locker and have use of private bathrooms and showers. The cozy capsule hotels are easily found in cities near major transport hubs.

Explore all our our Japan tours

5. Slurp an authentic bowl of ramen

In a country where food is meticulously prepared using tried-and-true techniques, ramen is a culinary rogue. This nuanced noodle dish only took off in Japan about 100 years ago, but has since become an everyday staple (and a popular menu item around the world). While most have eaten pre-packaged ramen at home, there’s no substitute for slurping a bowl in one of Japan’s thousands of restaurants. In Tokyo, where ramen reigns supreme, you can’t go wrong with a bowl at Michelin-starred Nakiryu or the popular Japanese chain, Ichiran.

Related article: Your guide to ramen noodles in Japan


6. Catch cherry blossoms at their peak

Cherry blossom viewing is one of the best things to do in Japan so if you're wondering, “When’s the best time to go to Japan?” schedule your tour for cherry blossom season (late March to mid-April). Expressionistic pink blossoms paint the country with breathtaking beauty. From Kyoto’s Botanical Garden to the lush parks of Tokyo, the aromatic scent and bright pastel hues of cherry blossoms in full bloom will delight your senses. With every splash of pink so picture-perfect, expect every photo you take to be frame-worthy.

Explore our Cherry Blossoms in Japan: Tokyo to Kyoto tour

7. Write a wish on an ema at a Shinto shrine

There are nearly 100,000 Shinto shrines in Japan, a deeply spiritual country. You can tell a Shinto shrine from a Buddhist temple by the large, red torii gate that separates the holy ground from the world. Shrines, in addition to their architectural splendor and beautifully landscaped grounds, play an essential role in everyday Japanese life. In addition to being the site for many festivals, newborns are brought to the shrine and couples hold their wedding ceremonies there. No Japan visit is complete without visiting at least one. While there, you can participate in an ancient tradition by writing a wish or prayer on an ema, a wooden wishing plaque, that you then hang on the shrine.

Of all the places to visit in Japan, don’t miss the Shinto shrines on our Japan: Kyoto, the Japanese Alps & Tokyo


8. Take a traditional Japanese cooking class

Once you’ve had your taste of modern Japanese food, take a deeper dive into its more traditional roots by participating in a cooking class. On our immersive tours of Tokyo, you can join an experienced chef at a local restaurant to learn how to make some Japanese specialties and craft your own authentic meal, including miso soup and gyudon. Then you’ll sit down to enjoy your delicious creation for dinner. It’s one of the best things to do in Japan.

Need tips on what to do in Japan? Enjoy a cooking class in Tokyo on our Japan: Kyoto, the Japanese Alps & Tokyo

9. Step inside Japan’s largest castle

Japan’s best preserved feudal castle (and one of its original 12) rises imposingly from the beautifully landscaped grounds surrounding it. Himeji Castle is also known as White Heron Castle because of its striking white, six-story facade. You’ll catch your first glimpse as you enter through the Otemon Gate and navigate labyrinth-like pathways originally designed to slow down attacking forces. The walk is worth the effort when you reach the top floor and enjoy stunning views of beautiful roofs, defensive walls, and the city below.

Visit Himeji Castle on our Japan: Kyoto, the Japanese Alps & Tokyo


10. Sip sake in a sake town

An ancient ceremonial drink in Japan that’s said to be a gift from the gods, sake comes with its own set of rules. Rule number one is that sake isn’t a shot but a drink to be sipped. Rule number two is never pour your own glass; let the person next to you do that. Then return the favor. Authentic Japanese sake is known as nihonshu, and there’s no better place to enjoy it than in Saijo, one of Japan’s most famous brewing districts. Saijo is also home to Japan’s biggest sake festival, held each year in early October.

Wondering what to do in Japan? Sip sake during your free time on our Japan tours

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11. Relax in one of the thousands of hot springs

Take a break from your travels and experience the restorative power of Japan’s natural onsens, or hot springs. Enjoyed by the Japanese for centuries, there are nearly 30,000 hot spring locations in Japan. The geothermically heated water, rich in beneficial minerals, can reach temperatures of 100 degrees Fahrenheit or more. You should not spend more than 10 minutes in the hot spring before taking a break. You’ll need to get naked and wash before entering. Be warned: Some onsens do not allow tattoos, so it’s best to ask before entering.

Add the hot springs to your list of places to visit in Japan on our Adventure tour


12. Explore the breathtaking Japanese Alps

The Roof of Japan is home to towering peaks, Olympic-class skiing, and some of the most scenic mountain landscapes in the country. The peaks of the Japanese Alps soar up to nearly 10,000 feet and provide the perfect playground for hikers, climbers, skiers, and those searching for picturesque views. On our Japan tours, you’ll visit Kamikochi in Chubu-Sangaku National Park, one of the most beautiful areas in the Alps, and Taisho Pond, a picturesque mountain lake formed by a volcanic eruption. A walk over the Kappabashi suspension bridge rewards with spectacular Alpine views and fantastic photo opportunities.

When planning where to go in Japan, don’t miss the Alps on our Japan: Kyoto, the Japanese Alps & Tokyo

13. Take time for peaceful reflection in Hiroshima

Though a sobering experience, a visit to the first city to be decimated by an atomic bomb can be one of the most memorable and meaningful things to do in Japan. At Peace Memorial Park, the Atomic Bomb Dome marks the exact location where the atomic bomb detonated. On our guided tours of Hiroshima, you’ll meet a legacy successor trained to pass on the stories of the survivors, have a chance to ask questions, and learn about the City of Peace’s mission to create a world without nuclear weapons.

Spend a day in Hiroshima on our Japan tours

14. Be dazzled in the land of Pokémon

Looking for fun things to do in Japan? If you’re into anime or manga (or just curious), Japan is the promised land. Despite beginning in the early 20th century, these unique drawing and animation styles are now celebrated national art forms. Nowhere is that more evident than in Tokyo. For super fans (or otaku), the Akihabara district is the place to be for all things anime. The anime culture is on display everywhere, from gaming centers to memorabilia shops to anime-themed cafes. Pokémon fans can get their fill in Tokyo’s Pokémon centers, while gaming enthusiasts can get their thrills in the J-World Tokyo theme park.

Explore the Akihabara district during your free time on our Highlights of Japan tour


15. Tap into your unconscious mind in Kyoto

Kyoto, two hours by bullet train from Tokyo, served as the capital of Japan for more than 1,000 years and is still considered its spiritual center. This beautiful city, with more than 2,000 temples and shrines, is a must-see destination when visiting Japan. Kyoto is home to the 17th-century Nijo Castle, the glittering Golden Pavilion (one of Japan’s most famous temples), and the country’s finest zen garden at Ryoan-ji Temple. On our Japan tours, you can tap into your unconscious mind during a guided zen meditation session while in Kyoto.

Enter the Golden Pavilion, one of the top things to see in Japan, on our Tokyo tours

16. Discover the secret of Itsukushima Shrine’s floating gate

Still looking for things to see in Japan? Arrive at Itsukushima Shrine at high tide and watch in wonder as the 60-ton, six-pillar torii gate seems to float on the Seto Inland Sea. The deception is only unveiled when the tide recedes, allowing you to walk out to the gate and marvel at its mystery up close. Spoiler alert: The 600-year-old Camphor trees that make up the six pillars are not buried in, but rest on, the seabed. Their tremendous weight allows them to remain upright through changing tides.

Visit the floating gate on our Japan: Kyoto, the Japanese Alps & Tokyo


17. Marvel at the world’s largest bronze Buddha

Reaching nearly 50 feet tall, the bronze Buddha at Todai-ji Temple in Nara is said to be the world’s largest. What’s certain is that Great Buddha Hall, where it resides, has long held the record as the world’s largest wooden structure. A popular thing to do is attempting to squeeze through an opening in one of the temple’s pillars that’s the same size of one of the Great Buddha’s nostrils. Legend has it that you will be granted enlightenment in the next life if you can get through the opening.

Todai-ji Temple is one of the top things to see in Japan. Visit it on our Highlights of Japan: Tokyo to Kyoto

18. Experience the thrill of live sumo wrestling

Sumo is Japan’s national sport and a thrill to watch in person. If you're wondering where to go in Japan to catch the action, attend one of the six Grand Tournaments held each year. Three of those 15-day tournaments are held at Tokyo’s sumo stadium, Ryogoku Kokugikan. The day-long events feature matches (beginning with the lowest-ranked wrestlers and culminating with the grand champions) that can last only seconds. You can buy same-day balcony tickets and watch the action from a safe distance. (Ringside seats can be dangerous when wrestlers are pushed out of the ring.)

Explore all of our Japan tours

19. Stroll Japan’s most famous zen garden

One of Japan’s most iconic landmarks, zen gardens can be found at temples throughout the country. The most famous of them all is at Ryoan-ji Temple in Kyoto. “There are no trees or plants in this garden, only rocks,” said staffer Giulia. “From any point of view, the spectator can’t see all the rocks at once, but 14 at most. Legend says that the viewer will be able to see all its 15 rocks only once they reach enlightenment.”

Visit Ryoan-ji Temple on our Japan: Kyoto, the Japanese Alps & Tokyo


20. Delight your tastebuds in the sushi capital of the world

While there aren’t many spots in the world where you can’t get sushi, Tokyo is where the craze began. There’s no better place to indulge your love for this Japanese staple or try it for the first time. You’ll have no trouble finding sushi in Tokyo; it’s served everywhere, from high-end restaurants to supermarkets to neighborhood sushi bars. If you want cheaper (yet delicious) sushi, try a kaitenzushi restaurant, where a conveyer belt transports plates of sushi past your counter seat. Pick the dish you want off the “sushi train” and enjoy!

Ready to check these off your travel list? Discover our tours to Japan today →

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About the author | The Go Ahead Tours Team
We’re a team of passionate travel experts, dedicated to helping people explore the world. From inspiring stories to tips for an amazing trip, the topics we cover are all about getting you out there and making discoveries.

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