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Top Things to Do in Japan

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.

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.

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.

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.

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.

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.

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.

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.

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!

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.

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.

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