Japan has something for everyone; there’s high culture, colourful youth fashion, futuristic technology, ancient customs, frenetic cities, peaceful countryside and a unique blend of tradition and modernity.
We’ve picked our 10 favourite things to see and do in Japan.
Make the most of the inevitable jetlag by getting up early to visit a fish market. Tsukiji market in Tokyo is the biggest and most famous, but you’ll find local markets all over the country. The variety and range of seafood on offer is staggering, and if you are tempted to sample some, the restaurants surrounding the market serve the freshest sushi going.
Hang Out In Harajuku
The Harajuku area of Tokyo is known for its cutting edge fashion boutiques and quirky vintage stores. The main attraction for visitors are the extravagant and over-the-top outfits worn by some of the bolder locals. There’s further great people watching opportunities in nearby Yoyogi Park and Shibuya. Alternatively, check out Kyoto’s Gion district at night to catch a glimpse of trainee geishas doing their rounds.
Climb Mt Fuji
Climbing season for Mount Fuji is between June and August, when the warmer weather makes the route to the top of Mount Fuji fairly straight forward. The path is long and steep and the summit can be below freezing, so take care and pack adequate supplies. However the view from the top is spectacular and well worth the trek.
Stay At A Ryokan
To experience a taste of traditional Japan, try staying at a ryokan for a night. Ryokan are meant to be a home away from home, so often offer hearty evening dinners as well as delicious Japanese style breakfasts. Stay in a Japanese room with tatami mat flooring and a futon bed for the full experience. You can read more about staying in a ryokan here.
Visit an Onsen
Until recently most Japanese homes didn’t have bathrooms, so a visit to the public baths was part of day to day life. Now a visit to a public bath house is a chance to relax and unwind; many modern bath houses feature spas and beauty treatments, as well as tasty refreshments and a variety of bathing pools. Many feature onsens; where the water is drawn from natural hot springs. For more information about visiting an onsen, click here.
Go to a Sumo Match
Sumo is Japan’s national sport, and derives from an ancient Shinto harvest ritual. The modern game is still steeped in history, with players parading around the ring in ceremonial dress before each set of matches. If you can’t get to a tournament when in Japan, you can often arrange to visit the training sessions instead.
Japanese food is almost universally good, and even those on a budget can eat like kings. Try everything from ‘hole in the wall’ style ramen restaurants, street-market sashimi lollipops, iced coffee from a vending machine, or an extravagant kaiseki ryori meal. Read our guide to the must try Japanese foods.
Shrines and Temples
You’ll find Shinto shrines and Buddhist temples throughout Japan, with even the smallest town often having several shrines serving different deities and sects. Temples and shrines have some of Japan’s most iconic architecture and some of the most beautiful views. Check out the floating torii gate at Miyajima, the huge Buddha at Nara or the Golden Temple of Kyoto.
Karaoke in Japan is quite different from the drunken pub caterwauling you might be used to! Karaoke parlours consist of multiple private rooms so it’s an ideal way to pass time with a group of friends; safe in the knowledge you aren’t exposing yourself to full on public humiliation. There are usually several songs in English, and a hotline to reception should you wish to order drinks or snacks.
Japan spent several centuries isolated from the rest of the world which helped it to develop its unique culture. Catch a glimpse of Japan during the Edo period by visiting some of the well preserved villages in the Japanese alps. Takayama is easy to get to, and is also a good starting point for seeing traditional gassho-zukuri thatched houses. The Kiso valley is another area where old wooden housing and inns have been preserved.