Japan is a popular tourist destination in Asia but it’s not yet as popular in Europe or other places around the world. When we said we were planning a trip to Japan for the first time many of our friends wanted to know why. Well, there are many reasons why Japan should be on your bucket list.
As a city-dweller, you will be able to indulge in the impressive cities and you will be able to marvel at the fantastic skylines. They always made an overwhelming impression on us, especially in the evening!
It is also quite an experience to see how the Japanese manage to bring order to huge crowds in the busy train stations. We can learn something from that in Belgium…
After a while, you will also begin to appreciate Japanese food and the various age-old Japanese traditions. The Japanese manage to pamper themselves a little extra with some small luxury aspects. They really have attention to detail.
Geishas are an excellent example of this. Watching a Geisha performance is a fantastic treat but you don’t need to break the bank to experience the luxury aspects of the Japanese lifestyle.
A kaiseki meal is a feast for both the eyes and the taste-buds and once you’re in Osaka you can indulge in many more finger-licking good Japanese snacks.
We absolutely loved our 3 weeks in Japan and we got to appreciate the friendly Japanese, their superb customer service, their delicious food, and their intriguing culture.
Below are some of the best Japanese experiences that we hope will make you travel to Japan in the near future.
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Having a Japan Rail Pass is often the cheapest way to travel around Japan.
Japan has a lot of good hotels but you can also stay in an Airbnb. If this is the first time you will be staying in an Airbnb, you can enjoy a great discount by signing up through this link.
Check out our ultimate Japan travel guide where you can find all our Japan articles.
If you need help with your Japan trip planning, check out this step by step guide on planning your Japan trip.
Go watching sumo wrestling
Suggested by Matilda from The Travel Sisters.
Watching sumo wrestling is a unique and interesting cultural experience that should be high on any Japan travel bucket list.
Sumo wrestling has a long history that dates back to ancient times with many traditions, rituals, and ceremonies including singing, salt-tossing, and foot-stomping (the actual wrestling part of a sumo match is very brief).
One of the best ways to watch sumo is to attend a professional sumo tournament – they take place six times a year (each lasting fifteen days) in four Japanese cities, including Osaka and Tokyo.
Tickets for grand tournaments go on sale at least a month in advance and you can buy them online.
Your ticket allows you to watch sumo for the whole day but most spectators show up in the afternoon in time to see the higher-ranked wrestlers compete.
If you will not be traveling to Japan while there is a professional tournament, some sumo stables (houses where wrestlers train and live together) allow visits to view their morning practice sessions.
For more information on sumo wrestling, check out our guide to watching sumo wrestling in Japan.
Sample delicious Japanese food
Suggested by Lena from Nagoya foodie
On the top of everyone’s Japan bucketlist should be Japanese food.
While I encourage you to try as much different Japanese food as you can while you are in Japan there is one kind of Japanese food I would like to emphasize here: Nagoya Meshi, the local cuisine only found in Nagoya and the surrounding area.
Nagoya Meshi has different delicious dishes based on unique ingredients only found in the area, such as Aka Miso, a kind of Miso paste much darker and richer in flavor because it has been fermented for a very long time.
This Miso is used for dishes such as Miso Katsu and Miso Nikomi Udon, two dishes I highly recommend you try.
Another dish I love is Hitsumabushi, Nagoya-style freshwater eel, grilled and served in a thick and sweet sauce on rice.
Eating Hitsumabushi is divided into 4 servings each with different spices or other kinds of garnishing to change the flavor, which makes this a unique and very interesting foodie experience.
You can find out more about Hitsumabushi and other Nagoya Meshi by reading my Nagoya Food Guide.
Visit Nara Deer Park
Suggested by Talek Nantes of Travels With Talek
Seeing tame deer wandering around in a park is a unique experience. Usually, these skittish animals do all they can to avoid humans.
In Japan’s Nara Deer Park, there are hundreds of deer strolling, resting and just hanging out.
And they are not shy at all!
The deer of Nara Deer Park will aggressively search for food in your pockets and will follow you around if you feed them. If you buy some cookies to feed them you can see how they will bow for you to ask for food.
Nara can be reached easily from Kyoto or Osaka. This makes for a great day trip.
Nara was once the capital of Japan and has the accompanying cultural history sights that merit such a background. It has beautiful temples, landscaped gardens and one of the world’s largest Buddhas. It also boasts interesting ice cream flavors like sake, seaweed, and peanut.
Nara Deer Park is just a short 10-minute walk from the Nara Train Station which has a great tourist information center with everything you need to get around and enjoy your visit.
Spend the night in an Onsen Town
Suggested by Erin from Never Ending Voyage
Soaking in an onsen (hot spring) is a classic Japanese experience and even better is visiting an onsen town.
These small towns, usually in rural settings, feature many different onsen and are popular destinations for the Japanese for relaxing getaways.
The best way to experience an onsen town is to stay overnight in a ryokan (traditional inn) where you sleep on a futon in a tatami mat room and enjoy delicious multi-course meals served in your room.
Your ryokan may have its own onsen and will usually include a pass so you can visit the other onsens in town.
After putting on the provided yukata (cotton kimono) and geta (wooden sandals), you head out into the streets to hop from one onsen to another and soak in the steaming waters.
You’ll need to be aware of onsen etiquette (you must be completely naked and shower thoroughly before getting in the bath), but once you get over any initial apprehension, it’s a very relaxing experience.
There are many onsen towns in Japan.
We visited Kinosaki Onsen which is just 2.5 hours by train from Kyoto or Osaka and features seven public onsens.
It’s particularly lovely in early April when the cherry blossoms are in bloom along the pretty canals and it’s still cool enough to appreciate the hot spring baths.
Another charming Onsen town is Yudanaka. In Yudanaka you can also visit the snow monkeys. Check out our 3-week Japan itinerary for an example trip including Yudanaka.
Admire the Hakone Shrine in Hakone
Suggested by Sean from Living out Lau
If you are looking for an unforgettable Japan experience, there is a famous shrine located a little more than an hour away from the bustling city of Tokyo.
Hakone Shrine, located on the edge of Lake Ashi in the city of Hakone, is one of the most serene and tranquil places in all of Japan.
Away from the craziness of the city of Tokyo, this place feels like a haven within all the madness.
Tucked away in a dense forest, the serene path that leads to the shrine is filled with lanterns and high trees. The path is quiet, and it immediately feels like you are in a sacred place.
My recommendation is to come at around sunset to get the magnificent views of the torii gate contrasting with lake Ashi. I assure you that it will be one of the highlights of your Japan trip.
The shrine does get very crowded in the morning and a visit is much more pleasant in the afternoon to early evening. In the morning you can dip in the nearby onsen and you can visit some of the other magnificent sights in this region.
Visit teamLab Borderless in Tokyo
Suggested by Kristin from Be my travel muse
The Mori Building Digital Art Museum by teamLab Borderless was one of the highlights of my trip to Tokyo.
Using technology (and, what I believe, magic), artists, programmers, engineers, CG animators, mathematicians, architects, and graphic designers pooled their talent and created more than 50 exhibits with different themes.
The artworks are interactive and constantly changing, one could easily spend hours getting lost in this 10,000 square meters wonderland.
Different from most museums, teamLab Borderless does not give visitors a map, nor are there clear signs in the museum to provide direction.
This allows visitors to wander and explore freely, and even if you do enter the same room more than once, the experience would be different every time.
Some of the most memorable exhibits include the Forest of Resonating Lamps, the most popular exhibit and the only one with a time limit (1 minute) when I visited; the Crystal World, with color-changing light beads hanging down from the ceiling; Flower Forest, which will probably be the first room that you come into.
The walls are filled with (digital) flowers that are blooming, wilting, and sprouting up as you step on and tap on them.
I highly recommend including teamLab Borderless on your list when visiting Tokyo.
Buy your tickets in advance, eat before your visit, and budget plenty of time – I personally spent 4 hours exploring and would have stayed for even longer if I wasn’t so jet-lagged at that time.
Wander around Hiroshima Peace Memorial park
Suggested by Kenny from Knycx Journeying
Hiroshima and Nagasaki are truly unique cities as they are the only two cities in the world (sadly) that have experienced a nuclear weapon attack in human history.
The repercussion was devastating.
I visited both cities in Japan and left their respective memorials with a heavy heart.
They very well detail the tremendous price that people paid from wars. It makes you appreciate and treasure what you have so much more.
It took several years but Hiroshima has been completely rebuilt. The locals look at their tragic past positively with goodwill that such a tragedy will never happen again.
The Hiroshima Peace Memorial Park is a huge space (and a UNESCO World Heritage Site) in the city center and is filled with monuments – the most famous structure in the site is the Atomic Bomb Dome.
It’s an iconic Japanese landmark you shouldn’t miss while you are in Japan.
The building was located in the epicenter of the attack and it was the only structure left standing after the explosion on 6 August 1945.
As you walk through the park you will see the Peace Clock Tower, the Atomic Bomb Memorial Mound, the Children’s Peace Monument, the Rest House, and the Cenotaph of the Atomic Bomb Victims.
The Hiroshima Peace Memorial Museum showcases historic facts and details about the aftermath of the bombing.
Be warned, some of the pictures and stories could be quite heavy to visitors.
We also have a 2-day Hiroshima itinerary with all the details about Hiroshima and nearby Miyajima
Explore Fushimi Inari Shrine
Suggested by Rachel from Adventure and Sunshine
The orange torii gates at Fushimi Inari Shrine are an iconic image of Japan and an essential stop on any Japan itinerary.
Located south of Kyoto, the shrine is an easy day trip by train from Kyoto.
The Shinto shrine, one of the largest in Japan, is a busy and engaging place to visit. Have your fortunes read, make a wish and observe the daily rituals of prayer. There are several shrines in the main complex that are worth a visit, and many seasonal festivals and rituals are conducted here.
Starting just behind the main shrine is the walking path that is the highlight of a visit to Kyoto.
The trail winds its way upwards through the forest to the top of Mount Inari, a holy mountain dedicated to Inari, the god of rice.
The path is lined with brightly painted orange tori gates, densely packed at the start and gradually thinning out the higher you climb.
The gates are a spectacular sight and the trail is an interesting and fun walk, with many small shrines along the way to explore.
Inari’s messenger, the fox, is a common statue to see along the route in various symbolic poses.
There are stalls selling brightly painted fox statues which make a great souvenir of your visit.
All up the trail is about 5km long, with several stops, teahouses, and viewing points across to Kyoto along the way.
It can be steep in parts and very busy, so our top tip is to arrive early to avoid the crowds and the heat in summer.
If you love hiking and want to avoid the large tourist groups, this hike might be something for you. With a small group, you will hike through a secret path into Fushimi Inari while learning more about Fushi Inari’s history and Japanese traditional culture.
Here you can find a complete Kyoto itinerary.
Wander around Arashiyama Bamboo Forest
Suggested by Jessica from Unearth The Voyage.
One of the best places to visit in Japan that should be on any bucket list is Arashiyama.
Arashiyama is a district on the western outskirts of Kyoto and is surrounded by gorgeous mountains.
This little town is a must-visit while in Kyoto as it is full of serene temples, beautiful shrines, a forest full of free-roaming Japanese Macaque monkeys, but most importantly, the famous Arashiyama Bamboo Groves.
The entire town looks like it came out of a fairy tale, around every corner are things to explore and different paths to take that lead to the most quintessential Japanese temples.
As soon as you arrive in Arashiyama we suggest going right away to the Bamboo Grove to try and avoid the other tourists as it can get quite crowded.
Take some time wandering through the dark paths soaking in the gigantic bamboo shoots surrounding you.
We suggest that you also take a hike through the Iwatayama Monkey Park and stop along your hike to observe the monkeys in their natural habitat.
At the top, you can even go inside a cage where you can feed the monkey.
Yep, you are inside the cage this time!
After a long day of sightseeing, soak your feet at an Ashiyu, a public foot bath inside the train station!
You will definitely need it to continue exploring all the other amazing sights Kyoto has to offer.
Sample Awamori in Okinawa
Suggested by Michele from A Taste of Travel.
One of the top things to do on a visit to Japan is sample awamori liquor, a legendary distilled rice alcohol with a history dating back to the 15th century Ryuku Kingdom.
One of the oldest spirits in Japan, and often called “island sake” because it’s distilled in the Ryuku island archipelago in southwestern Japan. It almost disappeared during WWII due to difficulty sourcing the rare koji mold used in its production.
But there’s been a revival of interest in traditional awamori and this growth in popularity means you can often find this once-rare spirit served in trendy bars and nightclubs throughout Japan.
But, for the ultimate bucket list experience, the best place to sample awamori is at its source in Naha, the capital of Okinawa.
Here you can sample a wide selection of awamori – served neat and in fancy cocktails – at the nightclubs on bustling Kokusai-Dori street as well as in fine restaurants.
You can also tour Zuisen Distillery, located near impressive Shuri Castle, a UNESCO World Heritage Site and one of the few distilleries granted a license to produce awamori.
On a tour, you can witness the production facility where rice from Thailand and black koji mold are fermented, then distilled and aged in clay pots to produce kosu, a refined awamori with a smooth taste and remarkable depth of flavor.
It’s even possible to enjoy a tutored tasting of kosu as well as Zuisen Ocean Blue a new product that incorporates pure water sourced from the depths of the ocean into the fermentation process.
Stroll around Asakusa
Suggested by Mar from Once in a Lifetime Journey
A trip to Tokyo would not be complete without visiting its former Red Light District that is packed with some of the most beautiful heritage sites.
Asakusa was a popular entertainment district from the 17th century all the way to World War II when most of the district was destroyed and then later rebuilt.
To get the lay of the land, you should start your journey at the Asakusa Culture Tourist Information Center which has an observation deck. Here you can map your expedition from up high.
Once on the ground, you can enter the main draw of the city, Sensoji Temple, from two gates that are both gorgeous in themselves.
The first is Kaminari Gate which is located nearest to the Information Center.
The gate has four large statues of Shinto and Buddhist deities and an ornate wooden carving of a dragon – Sensoji does mean Golden Dragon Mountain after all.
After walking down Nakamise, a street filled to the brim with stores selling Japanese trinkets, you will get to Hozomon Gate. There is some water to wash your hands that flows out of bronze dragon statues.
You will then come to the main draw Sensoji, a 7th-century Buddhist temple that was rebuilt after being destroyed in WWII. It stands out with its bright red color, but don’t forget to look up at the intricate paintings.
Beyond the temple, there is the Shinto Asakusa Shrine devoted to the founders of Sensoji, some beautiful old stone bridges, and even Kabuki performances.
Chow down on some soba noodles and yakitori and then get your fortune read by the magic sticks.
If you like to learn more about Asakusa’s history and important traditions this cultural walking tour around Asakusa might be something for you. Not only will you learn more about the history and culture of Asakusa, but you will also have the chance to taste Japanese sweets and learn how to make Monjyayaki, a must-try Tokyo dish.
Take a Japanese cooking class
Suggested by Katie from Two Wandering Soles.
Taking a cooking class is one of the best ways to experience another country’s cuisine and culture on a deeper level than you’ll find in restaurants.
And with one of the most-loved cuisines in the world, Japan is no exception.
No matter where your trip to Japan takes you — from small towns to vibrant Tokyo, there are a variety of cooking class options available around the country.
Whether it’s your first time traveling in Japan or your tenth, taking a cooking class should be on your radar.
It’s an opportunity to learn how to cook one of your favorite Japanese meals, and you’ll be able to bring home that recipe and skill — talk about a great souvenir!
Plus, it’s a fun experience and it’ll likely end with one of the best meals of your entire trip to Japan.
Choose what dishes you’d like to make — from a sushi-rolling class to a more in-depth course on traditional Japanese cuisine, there are a variety of experiences to choose from.
We took a Japanese cooking class in Osaka, known as Japan’s kitchen. Read our excellent experience here.
Experience the color doors at The Soho building in Odaiba, Tokyo
Suggested by Jason from Mint Habits.
One of the most memorable experiences I had in Japan was visiting The Soho building in Tokyo.
If you spend as much time on Instagram as I do, you probably have seen a photo of this building at some point.
It’s a mixed-use building that is filled with colorful doors.
The experience inside was incredibly exciting because the building is very big and it’s filled with so much color and character.
The neat thing about the Soho is that it’s not a tourist attraction, rather it’s a real building people live and work in!
That means it’s not overrun with tourists.
I recommend going at night to see the colorful doors with the lights on.
The Soho building is located in Odaiba and is best reached by train (unless you are staying in Odaiba).
You can also take breathtaking photos of the building from the ground looking up.
You’ll likely find yourself spending at least an hour here just marveling at how cool the building is!
There isn’t a cost to see the building (besides your train ticket).
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Suggested by Rhonda from Travel Yes Please.
A great way to experience the spiritual side of Japan is by visiting Koyasan, a sacred mountain in Wakayama Prefecture.
Nestled on the forested mountaintop is a secluded settlement of over 100 temples, providing visitors a glimpse into the traditional lifestyle of a Buddhist monk.
There are many temples in Koyasan that welcome visitors to stay the night.
During an overnight stay at a temple lodging (shukubo), guests can enjoy a vegetarian dinner and breakfast, attend the morning prayer service, and sleep in a traditional Japanese room with sliding doors, futons, and a tatami floor.
Sightseeing highlights in Koyasan include Kongobuji, the head temple of Shingon Buddhism, the Garan temple complex with its two-tiered pagoda, and the ancient Okunoin cemetery, Japan’s largest graveyard.
Koyasan can be visited as a day trip from Osaka, but to truly experience the traditions and spirituality of Koyasan, an overnight stay is best.
Go watching a Kabuki performance
Suggested by Halef and Michael from The Round The World Guys.
Japan has countless ancient arts and traditions, and one thing that you want to add to your Japan bucket list is a Kabuki performance.
Kabuki is a Japanese tradition of performance art that involves singing, dancing and acting.
The most notable elements of a Kabuki performance are the over-the-top costumes and make-up – many people translate the word Kabuki as “the Bizarre Shows”.
Kabuki has been a popular Japanese tradition for hundreds of years, and it has even been portrayed in several classic Japanese paintings from the 1700s. Many of these famous works now hang in the nearby Tokyo Metropolitan Art Museum.
In Tokyo, you can attend a Kabuki show at the famous landmark Kabukiza Tokyo National Theater.
You will need to bring a bento lunch box. lunch is an integral part of the five-hour Kabuki performance. They will provide a half-hour lunch interval when everybody eats.
If you have a sweet tooth, head to the Theater’s food vendor to get traditional Taiyaki sweets – fish-shaped pancakes with a sweetened azuki red bean paste.
You can only get the unique and popular Taiyaki at the National Theater – with two different colors of azuki paste – red and white – the colors of the Japanese flag.
Visit a Karaoke Box
Suggested by Anisa from Two Traveling Texans.
Japan is the birthplace of karaoke, so you must do some karaoke on your trip.
The best place to do this is at one of the karaoke boxes.
It’s a collection of private rooms where you can do karaoke. Inside you can let loose without worrying about what strangers will think. Don’t worry, you don’t need to sing in Japanese. Even in Japan, it is possible to find a wide selection of English songs.
Big Echo and Karaoke Kan are some of the popular chains of karaoke boxes in Tokyo. When you arrive, check-in at the front desk to get a room.
The rooms are rented by the hour and the rate varies depending on the number of people in your group and the place.
Many karaoke places in Japan have multiple floors, so pay attention when they lead you to your room.
Inside the rooms, you can dance and be as loud as you want. Most rooms come with two microphones and some will have musical instruments like a tambourine.
If you have any issues with the karaoke equipment, you can reach the front desk using the phone inside the room.
Drinks and food can be ordered through the phone too.
It’s a guaranteed fun time and you won’t want to leave!
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Visit a themed café
Suggested by Victoria from Bridges and Balloons.
Japan loves all things cute, kitsch and zany, and one of the best ways to experience that is in one of the many themed cafes they have throughout the country.
Some of these are places where the whole cafe/restaurant is devoted to a theme, right down to the food on your plate. Whereas others are just rooms where you can hang out with different animals (and the ‘cafe’ aspect is somewhat tokenistic).
Tokyo is the best place for them, with all sorts of unusual places on offer, including cafes themed on vampires, monsters, Moomin and ninjas.
All of these places are immersive experiences, featuring cute themed foods (there’s even a bonsai tree made entirely of candy at the ninja cafe!)
Japan is also the home of the now-ubiquitous ‘cat cafe’ concept where you can pet cats while enjoying your coffee.
But they’ve taken that one step further and now you can experience all sorts of animal cafe concepts, from hedgehogs to reptiles to baby goats.
Please note that it’s worth thinking about the ethical considerations of some of these animal cafes.
For example, we went to an owl cafe, but in hindsight, I don’t think keeping owls in such a small space is fair.
Taste Takoyaki and Okonomiyaki in Osaka
Suggested by Amber from With Husband in Tow.
When it comes to what to eat in Osaka there are a few key dishes that come to mind. Osaka is called Japan’s kitchen for a reason.
The Dontonburi district is lined with restaurants and food vendors selling a wide range of tasty Japanese treats.
One of the most famous foods in Osaka is Okonomiyaki.
A thick Japanese pancake, and a specialty of Osaka, it can be considered the best food to eat in Osaka.
The pancake batter is mixed with cabbage, tempura bits, and pickled ginger, and cooked on a flat top grill. It is served with okonomiyaki sauce, which is a sweet brown sauce, mayonnaise, dried green seaweed, and dried bonito, or dried tuna flakes.
Takoyaki, or fried octopus balls, are another specialty of Osaka.
This dish is made with a batter similar to okonomiyaki, but the result is a lot smaller. The batter is placed into a specially-shaped takoyaki pan to make the balls. The pan where the batter is ladled in almost looks like a small cupcake pan.
Pieces of octopus are then placed inside the batter and a pointy metal stick is used to turn the balls to ensure they are cooked on all sides.
It’s one of the more unique specialties of the Osaka. It’s even possible to find restaurants where you can make your own takoyaki at the table.
Suggested by Michael from Time travel Turtle.
Not too far from Tokyo is one of Japan’s ancient capitals, Kamakura. It was from here that the country was run from the 12th to the 14th centuries, at a time when samurai warriors became a part of the Japanese culture.
To support the religious and political power of Kamakura, enormous temple complexes were built throughout the city.
Many of them still exist today and visiting them is a highlight.
There’s a reason Kamakura is referred to as the ‘Kyoto of the East’.
It’s easy to do a day trip to Kamakura from Tokyo, although you won’t be able to see everything.
I think the highlights are the famous Big Buddha, the vast Kencho-ji temple complex, and the large Tsurugaoka Hachiman-gu temple in the center of the city.
It’s also worth visiting Hokoku-Ji Temple for the bamboo garden and the charming teahouse.
If you have time, there is much more to see.
There is a push to place Kamakura on the World Heritage List because of the city’s cultural significance.
You only have to explore Kamakura for a day to realize how deep the culture and history goes.
Admire Kinkaku-ji temple
Suggested by Clare from Travels in Peru.
Kinkaku-ji Temple or the Golden Pavilion is located in northern Kyoto and was one of the highlights when I visited Japan.
It is one of the most popular tourist sights in Japan.
It gets its name from the top two floors that are covered in gold leaf, as Kinkaku literally means Temple of the Golden Pavilion.
It was originally built in 1397 as a retirement villa for Ashikaga Yoshimitsu and became a Zen temple after his death in 1408. It has burnt down many times over the years and was last rebuilt in 1955.
It is not possible to go inside the temple though you can walk around it and the most popular shot has to be looking at it from across the pond. On a clear day, you can see a reflection of the temple in the water.
The whole complex is stunning to walk through and the gardens have retained their original design.
I visited on a beautiful day in October but it would also be amazing to see it in autumn when the leaves change color and in winter when there is snow on the ground.
If you are visiting Kyoto then it’s a place you must visit as this is definitely one of the highlights of Japan.
Spend the night in a ryokan
Suggested by James from Travel Collecting.
Staying in a ryokan is an experience you shouldn’t miss when you visit Japan.
Ryokans are traditional Japanese inns and they are a great way to immerse yourself in many aspects of Japanese culture.
At the best ryokans, you are welcomed by a hostess wearing a kimono at the front door, where you will be expected to take your shoes off.
In the ryokan, you will wear slippers and a yukata (a casual kimono-like robe) that will be supplied for you.
The floor of the room is typically made of tatami straw mats, and a futon is laid out on the floor for you before you go to bed, although western-style beds are sometimes available nowadays.
You will often have beautiful views of gardens from your room, which may have sliding paper screen doors.
Dinner and breakfast are usually served in your room, where you will sit on the floor at low tables and be served a traditional kaiseki (Japanese haute cuisine) meal.
A kaiseki meal involves multiple courses with tiny servings of local, seasonal dishes beautifully presented on trays with leaves and edible flowers.
It is a feast for both your eyes and your taste buds.
Most ryokans also have an onsen (hot mineral springs bath), either shared or private. Soaking in hot mineral water is almost a national pastime in Japan and this is a great way to relax and absorb yourself in Japanese culture.
Be sure to shower before entering the hot water.
Ryokans are not cheap, but well worth the splurge, as there is nowhere else you can experience so many delightful aspects of Japanese traditional culture.
Take a Japanese Dance Lesson
Suggested by Alison from Dance Dispatches.
Thanks to Memoirs of a Geisha, maiko, and geiko are one of Japan’s most enduring cultural figures. Since the 18th century, these women have entertained guests while wearing special makeup and ornate clothing. They play games, sing, and dance; and travelers can take a traditional Japanese dance lesson to dabble in the centuries-old art form.
The dance is called Nihon Buyo, and while geisha do perform the dance, so do many other Japanese women.
Many dance classes lend students a kimono for the session.
While donning traditional Japanese clothing to wear at famous Japanese landmarks for travel photos may seem exciting, wearing silk garments as part of a costume to perform a folk dance is a more authentic experience.
The movement is quite slow, so even non-dancers can enjoy learning a short piece of choreography.
Dancing in unison to classical music is almost meditative, and it’s a fun way to interact with Japanese locals.
Going to a foreign dance class can be intimidating, but it certainly makes heartfelt memories.
Try on a kimono
Suggested by Chloe from Chloe’s Travelogue.
Wearing a kimono is one of many unique Japanese experiences that you don’t want to miss while traveling in Japan.
A Kimono is a traditional outfit that the Japanese still wear today for special occasions. Also, the beautiful artwork on the fabric will bring out the fashionista in you.
While purchasing an authentic kimono can cost you a fortune, renting one for a day is easy and affordable.
Kimono rental shops usually provide professional service to help you select and dress the outfit, and style your hair.
Even Japanese women need professional help to wear a kimono, so make sure this service is included in the package.
The rental price can vary, but you can expect to pay for 3,000 – 4,500 yen for a day.
In Tokyo, Asakusa is the best place to rent a kimono. The area is not only dotted with reputable kimono rental shops, but the Sensoji Temple and other Edo-period architecture in this historic neighborhood also make the perfect backdrop for the kimono experience.
Many tourists and even Japanese walk on the streets here wearing kimonos so that you won’t feel awkward.
As kimonos come in various sizes and forms, I recommend researching and booking in advance. Also, if you want to go all out, check if your shop provides add-on services such as professional photography or rickshaw tours.
Suggested by Aaron from Aaron Gone Travelling
According to some of my Japanese friends, when you ask the Japanese where they want to go to for their honeymoon, they always say, “Paris… Rome… Hokkaido!”
Furano is situated in Hokkaido and cleverly veils itself with snow-capped mountains, making it insta-worthy from every angle.
Furano is around 2.5-hour drive away from Sapporo (the capital of Hokkaido island), which makes it perfect for a day trip.
However, an overnight stay in Furano is highly recommended as there simply are so many things to do around the region!
Rent an electric bike to see the town slowly. Once you are slightly out of the town, you will be greeted with a stunning view of Furano with the Tokachi range sitting as a backdrop.
Head to Tomita Farm and enjoy a boundless, unrestricted view of the flowers stretching across the horizon. In summer, you can enjoy the lavender-scented air when the lavenders are in full bloom. Get a lavender ice-cream and an overpriced but melt-in-your-mouth slice of Japanese melon.
Renowned for the quality of milk, you should also visit the cheese factory.
Japanese appreciate cheese in a different way, so it is worth it to see a different take on cheese. It’s heavily represented in desserts so if you love both cheese and desserts – lady luck is on your side!
Do you know that one of the screensavers for MacBook is actually taken from Aoiike (Blue Pond)?
The good news is, it’s around Furano!
Besides Aoiike, there are many more scenic sights like Daisetsu-San, Sounkyo Valley and Biei, just to name a few!
Have dinner in the Kagaya Restaurant in Tokyo
Suggested by Annie from Londoner in Sydney.
After researching a lot about the wackiest things to do in Japan, I found Kagaya Restaurant, also known as ‘Frog is Stranger than Fiction’ based in Tokyo which was hidden deep within the internet.
Whilst the website doesn’t explain too much, I had a feeling we’d be in for a treat.
When we turned up to the tiny restaurant that is big enough just for about 6 tables (make sure you book beforehand), we sat amongst other tourists who were up for an interactive restaurant experience.
The host is also the server and entertainer whilst an older lady stands at the back cooking in the kitchen.
So what makes Kagaya a must-visit? You honestly won’t experience anything else like it in Japan and you’ll finish the evening laughing so much, you’ll be telling all your friends about it.
Expect a menu hidden within school kids notebooks that give you three options; the good, the really good or the great main meal. It’s up to you to decide based upon these options.
You’ll have a teddy bear serve you drinks, a Barbie doll try it on with you and even a frog puppet show during your meal.
It honestly doesn’t get much better than Kagaya Restaurant in Tokyo.
Visit Miyajima Island
Suggested by Sydney from A world In Reach.
A visit to Miyajima Island, known as one of the top three scenic spots in Japan, should not be missed during a trip to Japan.
Miyajima is home to the famous floating Itsukushima Shrine and torii gate. At high tide, the torii gate becomes partially submerged in the water, making it seem as if it is floating.
At low tide, you can walk along the beach up to the torii gate.
If you get hungry while visiting Miyajima, make sure to try some of the island’s famed oysters. Yakigashi No Hiyashi is a great sit-down restaurant; if you’re eating on-the-go, there are tons of oyster stands along the main shopping street.
Thirsty? Grab a beer from the Miyajima Brewery and take it to the shore for views of the torii gate and the island’s resident Sika deer.
Miyajima Island is an easy day trip from Hiroshima.
Take the JR Sanyo Line from Hiroshima Station to Miyajimaguchi, where you will transfer to the ferry bound for Miyajima.
Both the train from Hiroshima Station to Miyajimaguchi and the ferry to Miyajima Island are included in the Japan Rail Pass.
Attend a Miyako Odori performance
Suggested by Keri from Quiet Girl Loud World.
If you are visiting Japan during the month of April, Miyako Odori is the perfect show to attend to celebrate Spring with the rest of Japan.
The performance is done by nationally famous geiko and maiko in Kyoto each year.
The storyline moves through all four seasons, starting with Summer then moving through Autumn, Winter, and ending with Spring.
The show has six acts, each with a unique feel and sound. The singing and music in the background paired with the carefully choreographed dancing transports you to a completely different time.
The production is entirely in Japanese.
You do have the option to purchase an audio guide for an extra fee, but I would recommend going without. The performance is so passionate that you won’t have a problem following along.
Miyako Odori began in 1872 during the Meiji period as a sideshow to a special exhibition that was to be held at the Imperial Palace. This was the first public show done by geiko and maiko. The show has been going strong for 140 years and remains a popular Spring tradition in Japan.
Tickets are around $40 USD for a regular seat and $50 for a premium seat.
I recommend buying your tickets in advance as the seats do fill up. If you want to have a cultural experience in Japan that you will never forget, Miyako Odori is not to be missed in Japan.
For more information about Miyako Odori and to purchase tickets, check out their website.
Go skiing in the Japanese Alps
Suggested by Thea from Zen travelers.
While Japan may not be the first destination that comes to mind for skiing, it is an increasingly popular destination for those looking to hit the slopes with a slightly different flavor.
The Japanese Alps on the main island reach heights of over 3100m and receive heaps of snow that blows in from the Pacific Ocean.
This is known as “Japow” and it is why you must try skiing in the Japanese Alps at least once in your life!
One amazing place to ski in Japan is Nozawa Onsen which is known for its varied terrain, insanely high average snowfalls, and delightful après scene.
The ski hill is named after the quaint, traditional mountain town where it resides which features over 13 different public onsens (hot springs), including one just for your feet!
Perhaps the best part about skiing in Japan is its après scene. After a day of slaying japow, nothing beats sinking into an onsen to warm weary bones and soak away any aches and pains.
Afterward, you can indulge in delicious sake, savory ramen, and traditional oyaki (stuffed buns steamed in hot spring water) for a unique après experience.
Indeed, skiing in the Japanese Alps combines world-class terrain and snow conditions with a side of culture not seen elsewhere.
We hope this selection of Japanese bucket-list experiences got you inspired for your next trip. You can also see them as a web story here. And believe us, this is just a small set of all the unbelievable things that this country has in store.
We were impressed from day 1 and have plans to go back to explore the parts that we haven’t yet found time to explore such as Hokkaido.
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