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Beautiful Japan is a country that is like nowhere else. Known as the ‘land of the rising sun’, there are so many amazing things to see and do. So where do you start? If you’ve been dreaming of a trip to Japan then you’ve come to the right place. From ancient temples to futuristic skyscrapers. Tranquil tea ceremonies to cosplay go-kart rides around Tokyo. Relaxing hot springs to marvelling at Mount Fuji. Japan has so much to offer.
With five main islands (including Honshu, known as the mainland), and a whopping 6,852 islands in total, Japan can seem like a mind field. So we’ve put together 11 of the top things to do, for an amazing and unforgettable experience. Especially if you’re visiting for the first time. And we bet, it won’t be your last!
See sumo wrestlers in action
Sumo is the national sport of Japan, and it’s taken pretty seriously. It’s steeped in tradition, and matches include rituals that date back to its ancient origins. Tournaments happen a few times a year (January, May and September in Tokyo, and Osaka in March) and get booked up pretty quickly, so make sure you book your tickets in advance. Or why not take a tour to a sumo stable in Tokyo or Osaka to see the wrestlers’ morning training session?
Watch a geisha dance
Geisha are one of the most fascinating aspects of Japan. They are highly-skilled women who entertain using traditional arts. With their colourful kimonos, ornate hairstyles and iconic makeup. Watch them perform at one of the annual dances that take place every spring and autumn. The most famous is the Miyako Odori in April.
Miyagawacho is the perfect area to stay in Kyoto for spotting geisha without the crowds of Gion. The 3-star Rinn Miyagawacho Grande is well located. It’s set 0.8 miles from Samurai Kembu Kyoto, 1 miles from Sanjusangen-do Temple and 1.1 miles from Kiyomizu-dera Temple.
Bath in an onsen
Japan’s natural bubbling hot springs, known as onsen, are the ultimate in relaxation. Around 27,000 hot springs are spread across Japan’s 3,000 onsen towns. But the island of Hokkaido, Japan’s second largest island, is where you’ll find the most.
They come in different shapes, sizes and colours, and the colour of the water indicates the dominant minerals present. A red colour means more iron, milky has more sulphur, blue for bicarbonate and so on. Each type is said to have a different therapeutic effect. But beware, you must be completely naked! And they are very, very hot.
Ride a Shinkansen (Bullet Train)
The shinkansen high-speed trains are the fastest way to discover Japan, reaching a speed of 199 mph. The network is extensive and the trains are comfortable, clean, quiet, safe and ALWAYS on time! The Japan Railways (JR) network, which can be accessed by the Japan Rail Pass, practically covers the whole country, with the addition of the new Hokkaido Shinkansen, and the popular Tokaido Shinkansen.
The Japan Rail Pass gives you unlimited access to all Shinkansen bullet trains except the two types of express trains: the Nozomi and the Mizuho, which run on the Tokaido, Sanyo, and Kyushu Shinkansen lines.
Stay in a Buddhist temple
One of the most unusual things to do in Japan is to spend the night in a temple in the sacred mountain town Koya-san, about 90 minutes from Osaka. 1000 year-old Buddhist temple, Shukubo Koya-san Eko-in offers Japanese-style accommodation and a beautiful garden. And early in the morning, you can join the monks for their chanting and fire ceremony. Rooms feature tatami-mat flooring and comfortable futon bedding. Shukubo Temple is close to other ancient Buddhist buildings such as Kongobu-ji Temple, which is a 10-minute walk. The Ichi-no-Hashi entrance to the ancient Okuno-In Temple is a 3-minute walk away.
Brave the Shibuya Crossing
It’s not your average zebra crossing. As the world’s busiest pedestrian crossing, around 2,500 people cross the road every time the lights change, somehow managing to avoid bumping into each other. It’s an icon of the vibrancy and energy that Tokyo is known for and one of the city’s most iconic attractions. It looks best at night when all the neon signs are lit up, so head to one of the neighbouring buildings for a view of the action from above.
Go-Kart around Tokyo
Where else in the world can you dress up as your favourite character and drive go-karts on the real streets of a major city? Choose from Tokyo, Osaka or Kyoto for a truly fun and unique experience. They’ll be plenty of photo opportunities, and you’ll take in lots of famous and spectacular sites. Just make sure you get an international driving permit from your home country before you travel to Japan.
Have a picnic under the cherry blossoms
The fleeting sakura (cherry blossoms) are truly spectacular, and they are everywhere in Japan during spring. It’s a great time of year when locals hit the parks for hanami picnics and eat cherry-blossom themed food. Pick up a bento box and have your own hanami. Kyoto and Tokyo are excellent famous cherry blossom spots.
Make and eat delicious sushi
Food in Japan is an adventure and an art form. Japanese cuisine is universally delicious and beautifully presented, whether you pick up a snack from the local convenience store, or indulge in fine dining.
Sushi is Japan’s most famous dish so, of course, you’ll want to try it in its homeland. But why not try making it too? Practice sushi-making with a professional and enjoy fresh sushi in Tokyo. Become a sushi master through a comprehensive course on sushi history, culture, ingredients, and seasonality in Japan. You’ll learn all about the many different kinds of sushi, and what separates great sushi from the rest. Learn how to make authentic nigiri and eat what you make. Experience how sake and other drinks complement sushi, and try different pairings to refine your palate until you become a sushi connoisseur!
Marvel at Mount Fuji
The iconic Mount Fuji is a top sightseeing spot. The volcano is Japan’s highest mountain at 3776 metres, and it looks even more beautiful when it becomes snow-capped in winter and spring. If you don’t want to battle the crowds for a photo of the holy mountain, why not venture further into the heart of Japan for less touristy views? Whether you prefer the crashing waves of Kumomi Kaigan or the serene waters of Lake Tanukiko, there are endless opportunities to glare at Mount Fuji’s rugged good looks in person.
Situated in Fujikawaguchiko, within 2.3 miles of Lake Kawaguchi and 1.4 miles of Mount Kachi Kachi Ropeway, Fuji Mountain Resort Hotel features accommodation with a restaurant and free WiFi. The property is around 2 miles from Lake Kawaguchi Ohashi Bridge, 2.3 miles from Fujiomuro Sengen Shrine and 3.7 miles from Kawaguchi Asama Shrine.
Head high for city views
Japanese cities are impressive, with their towering skyscrapers and neon signs. For spectacular views, head up Harukas 300 in Osaka which has 360º views from floor to ceiling windows and a cool open-air garden bar.
In Tokyo, enjoy views from the Sky Circus Sunshine 60 Observation Deck in Ikebukuro. The views of the surrounding city from 787 feet (60 floors) in the air are spectacular, and full sensory virtual-reality experiences add an extra dimension to your visit.
With so much more to see and do in Japan, we’re sure you’ll want to go back again and again. Browse Made4Travel to compare the best travel deals and book tours and hotels to suit every budget.
For more inspiration, see also Discover the 4 Main Islands of Japan and What Makes Them Unique