In Japan, there are so many incredible places to visit and experiences to enjoy, so it can be difficult to decide where to go and what to do. In this article, we will use our experience from planning unforgettable vacations to Japan and tell you the best cities to visit and things to do in those locations.
Begin your unforgettable Japanese adventure by visiting the majestic Himeji Castle, before traveling on to Kyoto to experience traditional geisha culture and gain valuable insight into Japan's past.
Cities like Nagoya and Takayama make for ideal stops for those guests interested in understanding samurai culture and staying in ryokans, while the modern wonders of Tokyo provide for the perfect base from which to visit Mt. Fuji.
Since Japan is a large island with regions that vary from each other in terms of geographic splendor, cultural significance, and variety of food, it takes about 15 days to explore the country and really take in all that it has to offer.
1. Walk in the footsteps of Japan's past at Fushimi Inari Shrine, Kyoto
Recommended visiting time: half-day
Kyoto's Fushimi Inari Shrine is an absolute gem for first-time or returning visitors. Dedicated to Inari, the god of rice, Fushimi Inari Shrine is one of the most revered Shinto shrines in all of Japan. It is famous for its thousands of vermilion torii gates, which straddle a network of trails behind its main buildings. The trails lead into the wooded forest of the sacred Mount Inari, which stands at 233 meters and belongs to the shrine grounds.
Walking uphill to the mountaintop, you pass under more than 2,000 bright red torii gates. Walking under a torii, which is a Japanese religious symbol, signifies entering a sacred space. After walking for only a few minutes, you completely forget that you are in one of the largest cities in Japan, as all you can hear is the chirping of birds.
At the shrine itself, you can discover numerous large statues of kitsune, sacred foxes, known to be messengers of the gods. You are also treated to some amazing views of the Kyoto metropolitan area and the surrounding mountains. There is plenty of time for visitors to take pictures (the best time being 10 in the morning, when the sun casts a gentle light without being overly bright), enjoy the scenery, and meditate.
Alisa Liu is a star to work makes Asia Highlights even better
Alisa Liu was my contact person for Asia Highlights. She was remarkably punctual, she was thoughtful, and she handle an emergency on my end, with grace and patience. She recommended great hotels in Tokyo, Kyoto and Osaka Japan that put us in the center of the action. The guides she choose were personable, punctual a knowledgeable about their cities.More
Brent Zadorozny, Oct 2023
Started using Asia Highlights to plan my trip to Japan. Sharon was very helpful, giving me all the information I would need for the tour. I would definitely use Asia Highlights again, when planning another trip to Asia.More
Rachel Nelson, Oct 2023
Our airport pick-up went very smoothly. Our guide, Vivian, on the second day was very nice, very accommodating, took into account our preferences. In Osaka, our trip to the castle was a very long walk with lots of steps to climb and quite honestly wasn’t very interesting. But Dotonburi is a must-see and we enjoyed that very much.Our trip to Hiroshima was very memorable. I highly recommend it. Our guide, Etsuko, was very knowledgeable and kind. The trip to Miyajima island, on the other hand, wasn’t too memorable. Our next city, Kyoto, is a truly wonderful place to visit. All the temples we went to were very interesting and very distinctive from each other (Kinkakuji temple, Nijo castle, Sanjusangendo temple,Kiyumizo temple, Fushimi Inari shrine, Kasuga Taisha shrine, Tojaidi temple). The sake tour was a downer and wouldn’t recommend it.Our guide, Ritsuko, was a darling. She was very knowledgeable too and kind and warm and easy to talk to. Our last tour in Tokyo was a rainy day and Sue, our guide, was able to change our tour to the next day. She was so efficient and so accommodating and so kind and very knowledgeable too.More
Mrs Cristina Hidalgo Loris, Oct 2023
Very good tour of Japan
Very good tour around Japan for 10 days, including Tokyo, Hakone and Kyoto. Excellent guides and experiences. Albee, the tour organiser, was always available to sort out changes to itinerary or extra requests.More
Guy Slimmon, Oct 2023
Everything is good
All of the hotels were wonderful and our guides were super friendly, knowledgeable and flexible. We had a 10 day trip that included multiple cities and lots of different sights, we squeezed in as much as we could, including a 2 day hiking trip to Mt. Fuji (our guide Sun Nan was awesome!). Our guide in Tokyo, Jennifer, was lovely and our guide for 2 days in Kyoto, Dennis, was also super great. We did a food tour in Osaka with Vivian which was nice Sallie Fujimoto-SwunMore
Ideale Tran, Oct 2023
Thank you for the wonderful experience…
Thank you for the wonderful experience we all truely enjoyed. From the beginning (making first contact with Sharon from Asia Highlights) to the end (Saying good bye to our amazing guide Lilly) the experience was top notch. Great communication while preparing the trip and excellent local knowledge of our tour guide. I can highly recommend Asia Highlights and would not hesitate to use them again for our next trip.More
Dany Gruosso, Oct 2023
Vacations in Japan
The guides Jessie and Vivian were very kind and professionals and the drivers as well. In a future vacation we will get in touch with Asia Highlights without a doubt.More
Hilda Andrade, Oct 2023
Experience with Asia Highlights
This was my first time working with a travel agent to plan an international trip and because of the seamless experience I had, I have decided to always work with an agent when booking international trips. Asia Highlights did an amazing job in ensuring we found a trip that worked well for our budget and provided us with special experiences in Japan that exceeded our expectations. From travel logistics in Japan to lodging and activities, we felt taken care of. If I had known that travel agents were this helpful, I would have worked with them in my prior travels. I definitely plan to book my next trip to Asia with this agent.More
Adie Ballantyne, Oct 2023
Jason and Cathy from Asia Highlights…
Jason and Kathy from Asia Highlights did a great job for us. They were very responsive and professional. Hotel choices and attractions made for a wonderful first time trip to Japan.More
Norman and Mary Van Zante, Sep 2023
This was one of the best experiences in…
This was one of the best experiences in Travel that I have ever had... and I have traveled extensively. The reliability of the the driver and guide, the kindness each displayed (different people in different cities same result) and the flexibility to work with my family's requests was outstanding. I now wish for this experience where ever I may travel next!More
Donna Huck, Sep 2023
First and foremost, this review is based strictly on prompt response from Asia Highlights.I was browsing Asia Highlights website on the night of September 17th 2023 and really impressed of the positive reviews. So I decided to send an e-mail for an estimate of a private tour guide in Tokyo Japan for 6 days/7 nights including hotel accommodation for my 90-year-old father and I. I provided as much information as I can what areas of interest we would like to visit. I was really expecting a 72-hour delay response from Asia Highlights given time difference in California and Japan. The following day, I received an e-mail from Kate Long. Impressive! Kate provided a very detailed suggested itinerary with great consideration for my 90-year-old father. I truly appreciated her thoughtfulness! I will definitely reach out to Asia Highlights on our next trip! Thank you Kate!More
F K, Sep 2023
Perfectly planned and organized
Albee at Asia Highlights created a diverse, fun-filled itinerary for our trip. She listened carefully to our interests and made sure that we made the best use of our time in Japan. Our local guides, drivers and vehicles were excellent. Albee was always available to answer all my questions with a lightening fast response time. A very memorable experience and I would definitely book with Asia Highlights again.More
Carol Ann Paget Brown, Sep 2023
Sharon provided great service while…
Sharon provided great service while planning and booking our Japan trip! Unfortunately, we had to cancel due to family medical reasons. Sharon was very understanding of this and helped process the cancellation and refund in a very timely manner. When we are ready to book our trip again, I will certainly be reaching out to Sharon and Asia Highlights!More
Ali Tahir, Sep 2023
I just wanted to tell you how pleased…
I just wanted to tell you how pleased we were planning and coordinating our recent Japan trip with Alisa Liu. Alisa was responsive, answered questions in a timely manner despite our 15 hour time difference, and coordinated a trip for a 6 person multi-generational tour to everyone's satisfaction. (ages7-70!)We were particularly thankful for her help as 2 typhoons bore down on Japan during our stay. She helped us rearrange train and hotel reservations, and was able to get us a refund from a hotel that would not typically offer that. I have referred other friends to her with confidence.More
Berdine Bender, Sep 2023
Not only Albee was great! Each of our guides and drivers were also a joy. Daniel was our first knowledgeable guide who spoke excellent English and was so much fun throughout the day. Jeremy was our guide for the next few days and he also was fun, flexible, and had so many interesting tidbits to share with us throughout the day. Kiko was our guide on the next leg of our journey. She had such a joyful sense of adventure and curiosity that was such a hoot. Vivian was also professional and very aware to what our needs were in the moment. Tian was incredibly flexible and when our plans literally changed when he picked us up, he showed great flexibility and took us to some really fun places at the last minute that were some of our best experiences. And finally Charlie was our last guide and he was so thoughtful and consistently anticipated our needs. By the time we realized we might need something, he would already have it taken care of. All of our guides were so thoughtful and conscious of either making sure we got time to ourselves or of being available right when we needed them. They were each fun and had their own personal flavor that they brought to the experience. We are so grateful for the consideration and flexibility that Asia Highlights showed us consistently and would highly recommend them for anyone interested in visiting Asia. Thank you so much! It was an amazing trip!More
Leah Stine, Aug 2023
Alisa is awesome!
We have been looking to go to Japan for a long time. The food, the culture, and the rich history have always intrigued us. We tried many times to set up pieces of the trip on our own, but couldn’t put together a sensible vacation. Then we found Asia Highlights and Alisa! She helped us tailor a remarkable adventure to Japan! She answered our many questions and shifted our itinerary to maximize our time in each city. I highly recommend Alisa to help you put together the trip of a lifetime. We are looking forward to our journey!More
Mark Linn, Aug 2023
Sharon has been very helpful since the…
Sharon has been very helpful since the beginning coordinating our itinerary in order to accommodate everything we want to see, it been great working with herMore
May, Jul 2023
When I first book I was scared of what…
When I first book I was scared of what to expect, but oh my God! What an amazing experience this has been, from Sharon to all the guides Shawn and Mr. Ho, such amazing people! Their work is excellentMore
Saul Velez, Jul 2023
Albee was very helpful and responsive…
Albee was very helpful and responsive in helping me make plans for their 10 day Japanese tour.More
Bhavini Patel, Jul 2023
Alisa was a perfect tour consultant
Alisa responded to my numerous questions with efficiency and accuracy. She was constantly suggesting options to make the trip more enjoyableMore
Matha Goram, Jul 2023
2. Learn about geisha culture by taking a walk in Kyoto's Gion District
Recommended visiting time: 2-3 hours in the evening
Gion in Kyoto is still a working geisha district and, while geishas aren't as prevalent as they used to be, these icons of a highly ritualized and complex social structure are still alive today in Kyoto's Gion district. Young women enter one of many geisha schools as apprentices (maiko). They take classes in dance, song, music, and tea ceremony performance, before emerging as a fully-fledged geisha (geiko).
While it's possible to meet a geisha by booking a private performance, the high demand for geishas by wealthy families and big businesses to entertain at important occasions has made this a very exclusive affair. Alternatively, you could take a leisurely walk around the district.
During your walk, you will notice geisha schools which have programs of study posted on the wall outside. One can even spot geishas running to and from their appointments, dressed exactly as seen on photographs.
3. Make tea in Uji, the birthplace of Japanese macha tea
Recommended visiting time: half-day
As the tea industry in Japan — and other parts of the world, for that matter — becomes increasingly mechanized, local tea masters try hard to keep old tea-making traditions alive. Uji, the birthplace of Japanese macha, offers the most authentic touch for tea- related experiences for visitors.
Not only can you learn how to make tea, but also learn about the history of tea-making in Uji. You can then stroll along the lovely streets of Uji before stopping for a simple lunch.
Visitors can learn about the different kinds of tools that are used for making tea and the different processes involved in tea ceremonies by entering local workshops that have been in the industry for over a century. Local tea masters share the secret practices with guests, after which guests can make their own cups.
4. Walk over the Shibuya Crossing
Recommended visiting time: half-day
Nothing will make you feel like you've arrived in Tokyo more than seeing the Shibuya Crossing. Right outside Tokyo's Shibuya Station, a network of pedestrian crossings bridge the street corners, each as wide as a road. At the change of the traffic lights, thousands of people pour across the street in a minute of seemingly choreographed chaos, moving to the tune of wacky computer-game-style music, which the surrounding shops play 24 hours a day.
You can then make your way to the pedestrian shopping street of Takeshita, the colorful neighborhood of Harajuku, or the quiet backstreet of Cat Street and feel the passion for fashion and anime that is synonymous with Tokyo.
Snapping up tons of pictures before taking a break at a Cat Cafe (Maid Cafe) for dinner makes for a well-spent day! Cat Cafes are particularly popular, with patrons paying to spend time playing with the animals.
5. Visiting Tokyo's Tsukiji Fish Market
Recommended visiting time: entire morning
The Tsukiji Fish Market is not just the largest wholesale fish and seafood market in the world, but also the largest wholesale food market of any kind. The market supplies some of the highest quality fish to some of the best restaurants in Japan and is, as a result, a major tourist attraction at home and abroad.
High-quality tuna are auctioned off to top restaurants in a dramatic bidding war at 5 in the morning, so you'll have to get there with time to spare if you plan on catching the show. You should note, though, that it can be a little tricky to get into the market that early since it's so busy during the auction.
The freshest possible fish, the quality of which has attracted highly skilled chefs to set up sushi stalls in the market, surrounds you. Visit for breakfast and you can sit alongside locals who have stopped in before work. Ootoro, a fatty cut of tuna that melts in your mouth, is especially popular.
6. Discover the beauty of Mt. Fuji
Recommended visiting time: 1 day
No trip to Japan is complete without a visit to Mt. Fuji. Fuji-san, as the locals lovingly call it, is a powerful symbol of national identity that features throughout Japanese lore. It is not surprising that the nearly perfect shaped volcano has been worshipped as a sacred mountain and has experienced big popularity among artists and common people throughout the centuries.
At Mt. Fuji National Park, you can take one of many forms of transport available to visitors. You can make your way up to Mt. Owakudani by taking the world's second longest cable car, passing over sulfurous fumes, hot springs, and hot rivers in this volcanic area.
You can cross Lake Ashinoko, a lake formed by a volcanic eruption 3,000 years ago, by taking a cruise in a replica pirate ship. We also suggest taking the Hakone Tozan 'switchback train' which zigzags its way through the mountains, giving visitors glorious views of the surrounding valleys.
7. Understand samurai culture in Nagoya
Recommended visiting time: 1 day
If you find yourself in Nagoya, do take the time to visit Kiyosu Castle. Being the birthplace of Oda Nobunaga, Kiyosu Castle was at the heart of the late daimyō's (feudal lord) unification of Japan and boasts an unadulterated samurai life philosophy.
During your visit, it's best to spend the day with a samurai armor maker and learn about his daily life.
You will be given the opportunity to have all your questions about samurais answered by the armor maker, before trying on a samurai outfit yourself.
8. Stay at a ryokan in Takayama
Recommended visiting time: 1 night
A ryokan is a traditional Japanese inn that offers the highest quality of Japanese service. Ryokans are usually family enterprises, and as such they are usually really simple, but that's part of the charm.
You could spend the day in Takayama learning about and enjoying a variety of local foods and sake before you decide to call it a day and head to your ryokan.
Most ryokans usually provide visitors with a sumptuous in-house feast, yukata robes, and simple-yet-elegant tatami-mat rooms. You can take a hot spring bath by using the public onsen bath or charter one of your own. Spending the night at a ryokan is the perfect experience to let your troubles drift away!
9. Climb up the majestic Himeji Castle
Recommended visiting time: half-day
A UNESCO World Heritage Site, Himeji Castle is a must-visit for all travelers to Japan. There are countless castles in Japan, but Himeji Castle is unique due to its military significance centuries ago. Unlike many other castles in Japan (like the Osaka Castle in Osaka), Himeji Castle retains its original magnificence, having not undergone as many renovations. It was also featured in the film, The Last Samurai.
Guests can climb up this five-storied castle and then take a leisurely walk in the attached Kokoen Garden before taking a break for lunch. A cable car ride up to Mt. Shosha to take in the splendid views of a mountaintop temple is also recommended.
As you make your way up the castle, you will see weapon storage chambers, hidden closets used by samurai guards, and suicide quarters used by nobles on the verge of defeat during a battle. Himeji Castle is also a good place for kids to discover secret chambers and closets while also learning something.
It is important to note, that the sheer amount of stairs may make it hard for children under the age of 4 or for people with mobility restrictions to enjoy this site.
10. Hiroshima and Miyajima Island
Recommended visiting time: half-day
Miyajima Island is renowned for its picturesque torii gate that seems to be floating on the lake surface, and for the Itsukushima Shrine which has many buildings built over water. Guests will also be given the opportunity to pay their respects at the Hiroshima Peace Memorial Park, Hiroshima Museum, and the Atomic Bomb Dome.
A boat trip will be needed to get to Miyajima Island. A huge red torii gate, nicknamed 'the floating gate' since its base is surrounded by water when the tide comes in, marks this island. This view of the gate is perhaps one of the most photographed images in Japan. If you take a cable car up to the highest peak on the island, however, you will get an even better view of the gate.
A visit to the many museums in Hiroshima is not only important in order to pay your respects. It's also essential in acquiring an insight into how war-time events have changed the country, and, more encouragingly, how Hiroshima is leading the way in the fight against nuclear weapons.
Experience Japan's unique culture with Asia Highlights
No one knows Japan quite like we do here at Asia Highlights! There's much to see and explore, and our team of specialists will go above and beyond in planning the perfect Japan itinerary for you and your loved ones.
Why Travel with Asia Highlights (98.8% positive customer reviews among 10,000+)
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