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Add just a handful of these 44 experiences to your Japan bucket list and you’ll have a fantastic time in this magical country. Japan is one of those destinations where you can keep on coming back to and there are still enough new activities and places to unravel. It’s a unique country with the perfect blend of history, cultural heritage and modern comfort. As you’ve landed on this page, there is a very big chance you’re currently planning a trip to Japan and you aren’t sure what kind of activities to include in your itinerary. When I was planning on going to Japan, I was overwhelmed with all the fun activities, fantastic destinations and foods I wanted to try.
Luckily for you, I’ve asked fellow travel bloggers what they think you should definitely add to your Japan bucket list. These and my own recommendations led to this article with a list of Japan experiences that you can add to your bucket list! Below you can find 44 activities in Japan that will definitely make your trip memorable. This article also includes several recommendations for tours and hotels to stay in. Have fun!
PLEASE READ: Just a little reminder that you should always be respectful to local people. Be sure to do some research before you go, especially when you’re going to a place with a very different culture than your own, so you’re sure you aren’t offending anyone. One thing that has been brought to my attention is that tourists are increasingly harassing geikos and maikos (qualified and trainee geisha) for selfies and photos; basically acting as paparazzi. Realise that geikos and maikos are people, not a tourist attraction.
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Ultimate Japan Bucket List
1. Dress up as a geisha
Ever since watching the famous film, Memoirs of a Geisha and seeing these elusive entertainer girls in person in Kyoto, we’ve been so fascinated by the the geisha culture and wanted to discover more. One of the best ways to do this is to spend a day dressing up as a geisha. We did this in Tokyo at the Studio Geisha Café.
Every single aspect of the experience is cloaked in tradition. For example, the subtle strips of red were used to subtly titillate men: historically this used to drive Japanese men wild with passion. Also, the distinctive elaborate “shironuri” white make up was initially used to showcase a young beautiful face in the dark candle lit rooms before electricity was invented.
But why are two guys dressing up as geisha? The original geisha were in fact male advisors and entertainers to their daimyo (feudal lords), dating back to the thirteenth century. These advisors were also tea connoisseurs, artists and gifted story tellers. The first female geisha didn’t appear until 1751 but grew so quickly in popularity that they soon outnumbered men.
Written by Stefan and Sebastien of Nomadic Boys. Read their itinerary for 10 days in Japan!
2. Admire Mount Fuji from a perfect viewpoint
Imagine walking in a picturesque town with Mount Fuji as a backdrop. You can’t seem to get your eyes off the painting-like mountain and all you can actually do is just pinch yourself that you’re there! One of the highlights in Japan is definitely a visit to Mount Fuji, so I definitely recommend you to include it on your Japan bucket list.
There are some great viewpoints to admire Mount Fuji, such as the (Instagram) famous Chureito Pagoda or Iyashi no Sato, a former village on the western shores of Lake Saiko. It’s even possible to climb Mount Fuji, if you’re a more adventurous type.
Are you planning on visiting Mount Fuji? Then check out our article about Mount Fuji with lots of useful information such as how to get to Mount Fuji, how to travel around, and our Mount Fuji Day Trip Itinerary.
Tours to Mount Fuji
Scenic bus tour from Tokyo to Mount Fuji
Want to go to Mount Fuji from Tokyo? Then book this scenic bus tour from Tokyo to Mount Fuji, which includes a Japanese-style lunch! Check prices and availability here.
Full-Day tour with a private van to Mount Fuji
If you prefer privacy you can also book a private van and explore Mount Fuji and Hakone. It’s definitely a comfortable way to explore this magical place.
Mount Fuji famous food tour
This tour includes a local guide that shows you the best local shops and restaurants to try the regional specialties. You also get to try a special lunch in an 80 year old restaurants that uses only local ingredients. And you learn how to make ‘Wagashi’ traditional sweets from a confectionary master. Find more information about this tour here.
3. Visit a hot spring anywhere in Japan
When you visit Japan one of the bucket list items you have to do is visiting a hot spring in Japan.
Located in a geothermal active zone, Japan is known for its hot springs and hot spring hotels. There are numerous hot spring pools and hotels you can access in Japan. Some of the hot springs let you to visit by the hour while others are for hotel guests only.
Japan prides itself in its all natural thermal bath and rumour has it that’s why Japanese women have such great skin. These natural hot springs are generally comfortably between the temperature of 25C and 40C. Besides their health and wellness benefits, it is also an experience just to visit a hot spring in Japan.
There are both public bath and private bath in Japan. For the public bath the hot spring is in a giant pool and is generally separately by gender. You have to take off all of your clothes and take a shower before entering the pool and you will be naked with the rest of the women in the hot spring (same for men). It will take some getting used to if you are coming from a different culture.
For the private bath you will most likely find those in resorts and hot spring hotels and will have to pay a premium for a private hot spring. But the private pool provides you with all the privacy and the comfort of being in the hot spring.
No matter which type of hot spring you choose in Japan you will leave feeling relaxed.
Written by Serena of Serena’s Lenses.
4. Experience the Madness of Pikachu Outbreak in Tokyo
Every year in August Pikachus take over Yokahama, Tokyo. Giant Pikachus, tiny Pikachus, dancing Pikachus, Pikachus on stilts, Pikachus with water guns, cuddly Pikachus, Pikachu hats, Pikachu posters… ikachu everywhere! As luck would have it, we happened to be in Tokyo for the final day of the Pikachu Outbreak festival in Yokahama. My boyfriend’s face lit up when he found this out. I knew from that moment that our attendance at the festival was non-negotiable. I wasn’t complaining at all, I was intrigued and thought this would be a great addition to our Japanese adventure.
As soon as you step off the train into Yokahama you are immersed into a world of yellow. It was quite surreal seeing giant Pikachus dancing in pink tutus. The whole atmosphere was fantastic, and the music was very catchy. I did like feeling like a kid again. There were different shows throughout the day culminating with a huge Pikachu carnival parade as the grand finale. There was so much energy and fun in their dancing If you ever happen to come to Japan in the month of August, try to make sure it collides with Pikachu Outbreak, wear something yellow and experience true Pikachu madness!
Written by Anna of My Travel Scrapbook. Read more about the madness of Pikachu Outbreak here.
5. Visit The Robot Restaurant in Tokyo
The Robot Restaurant is without a doubt one of the craziest and most unique attractions in all of Japan. Here awaits a neon-colored display with robots, dancers, ninjas, warriors and literally everything you could think of, and beyond. For 90 minutes, you get the show of a lifetime where robotic machines are fighting each other, dragons are spitting out real fire, ninjas are swinging their swords while the audience is swinging their glowsticks. All this to the beat of some J-POP electro mix and the occasional role-playing from the actors.
The restaurant is located in Shinjuku in Tokyo, and even though it’s a tourist trap, it’s definitely one of the best tourist traps in the world. Tickets cost 8000 yen normally, but you can get discount tickets via third party sellers. As for the actual show, there are no words that can describe what you will experience at the Robot Restaurant. So the best option is to watch a video to get a glimpse of it, or even better make sure to visit the next time you go to Tokyo.
Written by Alexander Waltner of Swedish Nomad. Read more about the Robot Restaurant in Tokyo on his blog.
Tickets for the Robot Restaurant
Thinking of visiting the Robot Restaurant? You can buy tickets here!
6. Visit Hakone volcanic area and eat a black volcano boiled egg
Hakone is a town close to Mount Fuji which is famous for its onsen, beautiful scenery and volcanic activity – the Owakudani volcanic area in particular. To get here you can take a cable car as part of a loop around Hakone’s sights, and this cable car ride takes you right over the volcanic area. If conditions permit, you can stop off here and explore the area a little more. The ground is yellowed with sulphur, and gases seep out from the ground, covering the paths in fumes.
There are several boiling pools and to demonstrate how hot the water is, crates of eggs are lowered into the pools and cooked. The sulphur in the pools turn the eggs a rather unappetising charcoal colour – but I can say that they taste just fine. Eating a blackened egg is said to add 7 years to your life, so it’s worth trying one just in case! Tips: Get a Hakone Free Pass to save money on transport around the area. You should check the status of Owakudani before you travel as it closes if the volcanic gases are too strong.
Written by Emily Cole of Kids and Compass.
7. Enjoy the cherry blossoms during spring season in Japan
Spring is a very popular time to visit Japan. One of the biggest reasons is because during spring it’s the cherry blossom season. Not only tourist enjoy the gorgeous sakura, Japanese locals also enjoy it a lot. There’s even a Japanese word for “flower viewing”: Hanami. Hanami is a Japanese custom where people come together with loved ones and enjoy the beautiful cherry blossoms!
8. Visit a sake brewery and do a sake tasting
Although the traditional Japanese drink of sake is often referred to as ‘rice wine’, the process to make it is actually more similar to beer. That’s why the factories are called sake ‘breweries’. You’ll be able to find sake at almost any restaurant or bar in Japan and it’s worth trying some. But to get the full experience, it’s best to visit one of the breweries. There are about 2000 of them in the country and quite a few will welcome visitors. As well as the larger famous brands, there are small craft breweries that love to show tourists what they offer.
Check in advance and you should be able to get a tour as well as a tasting. The most common types of sake are filtered but you should also taste some unfiltered sake, which will have a milky texture to it. There is a lot of variety in the taste of different sake and the local water supply and rice quality have a big impact on that.
Written by Michael Turtle of the Time Travel Turtle. Read more about sake on his website!
Sake brewery tours
Kyoto sake brewery tour with lunch and walking tour
If you’ve want to visit a sake brewery in Kyoto, you can check out this tour that brings you to Gekkeikan Okura Sake museuma and a small and large sake brewery.
Nagano sake brewery tours with Snow Monkeys
Combine a sake tasting with the world famous Snow Monkeys. This guided tour brings you to the most famous attractions of Nagano City and the local Japanese sake brewery to try various types of sake.
9. Take a Japanese cooking class
No matter where in the world we’re travelling, one of our favourite ways to learn about a country’s cuisine (aside from eating it!) is by taking a cooking class. Not only will you get one of the tastiest meals on your trip, but you’ll also get a deeper look into the country you’re visiting, as food has strong ties to history and culture.
Whether it’s your first time travelling to Japan or you’re returning for the tenth time, taking a cooking class is an experience to add to your itinerary. There are plenty of classes all around the country to choose from, and you can often pick the dishes you want to cook – whether you want a sushi-making class or a deeper look into the rural dishes of Japan.
While in Kyoto, we took a sushi-making class and learned so much more than simply how to make a spicy tuna roll. For the same price we’d pay for a fancy sushi date back home, we got a private 1.5-hour lesson from a local woman. We learned about each ingredient and its ties to the culture. We even learned how to make dashi, a broth that is integral in Japanese cuisine. In addition to having a great experience and a delicious meal, we left with a recipe book and the skills needed to make sushi for our friends and family back at home. There aren’t many souvenirs better than that!
Written by Katie Diederichs from Two Wandering Soles.
10. Play real life Mario Kart in the streets of Japan!
Drive a go-kart on public roads – check. Dress as a Mario Brothers character (or any other cartoon character) while you’re at it – check. Throw banana peels at other drivers – eh, no. That’s still two out of three if you want to live out your Mario Kart fantasies with MariCAR. They have several outlets in Tokyo, each with its own routes, and one each in Kyoto, Osaka and Okinawa. While the go-karts have headlights, indicators and wing mirrors, they still have the snappy acceleration and steering response of their track brethren. Being exposed to the elements only heightens the sensation of speed and the thrill. You’re not on your own but led by a guide who knows where all the great photo opportunities on the route are.
It’s a fun and unique way to see some of the city’s attractions. Even though it’s appeared on the news and blogs everywhere, pedestrians will still stop, point and snap everywhere you go.
Written by Nicholas of Rambling Feet. Read more about Mario Kart in Tokyo on his blog.
11. Go shopping at Harajuku in Tokyo
Are you a real shopaholic? Then you have to include shopping at Harajuku on your Japan bucket list. Harajuku is a cool place in Tokyo with trendy clothes stores, fashion boutiques and various shops. Even if you’re not really into shopping, it’s an exhilarating place where you can experience Japanese most extreme teenage cultures and fashion styles. Also, you can take a cool photo at the Omotesando entrance, which you can also see pictured above.
If you’re visiting Tokyo, this post with more fun activities in Tokyo can be useful for you!
Harajuku Fashion and Culture guided tour
Discover Harajuku, Tokyo’s center of culture and fashion, with this walking tour! You’ll discover Japanese kawaii culture, enjoy a walk along the trendy fashion haven of Takeshita Street and visit the Kawaii Monster Café.
12. Buy all kinds of stuff from a vending machine
Japan is a crazy country to travel to. Capsule hotels, Pachinko gambling spots, the innovative area of Akibahara in Tokyo and so much more that can’t be found anywhere in the world. But one thing that is even more unique to Japan are the endless amounts of vending machines that can be found anywhere in the country.
There are over five million vending machines in the country – five million! And they are not just dispensing refreshing drinks as they would in most other countries. If you plan to spend some time in Japan, make sure to keep some change to buy some random stuff at one of these machines. Some of the craziest things that can actually be bought from them are living puppies, prayer cards, French fries that are fried heated inside the machine, underwear, flowers for your loved ones, and much more. Many restaurants also have one of the machines outside from where you will order your food while the employees inside will only have to prepare the meal – try your luck with the all Japanese inscriptions on the machines and be surprised about the food that you will get.
Written By Mike of 197TravelStamps.com.
13. Enjoy the Kabuki Theater
While Japan has so many ancient arts and traditions, one thing that you should add to your Japan bucket list is to attend the Kabuki performance at the famous Kabukiza Tokyo National Theater.
Kabuki is a Japanese tradition of performance art dating back hundreds of years. It involves singing, dancing, and acting. Some people translate it as “the bizarre shows” – referring to the over the top costumes and make-up. Kabuki 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.
You will need to bring a bento lunch box. Lunch is a part of the five-hour Kabuki performance. They will provide a half-hour lunch interval, when everybody eats. Head out to the food vendor to get traditional Taiyaki sweets – fish-shaped pancakes with 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.
Written by Halef of The Round the World Guys. Read more about the Kabuki Theater on their blog.
14. Wander around Tsukiji Fish Market in Tokyo
Even if you’ve only got one day in Tokyo, don’t miss out on a visit to Tsukiji Fish Market! This bustling market, the largest of its kind in the entire world, is famed for its tuna auction, a boisterous early-morning affair that’s among Japan’s most fascinating cultural forays.
If a 3:00 a.m. wake up to snag one of the limited first-come-first-service tuna auction tickets isn’t among your superpowers, opt instead for a romp through the Tsukiji Inner and Outer Markets at a more reasonable hour. From about 9:00 a.m. onward, you’ll brush side-by-side among vendors selling everything from spiky sea urchins & squid to sushi-chef-approved kitchen knives & utensils. Plug your nose, watch your step, and dig in as one of Tokyo’s most colorful spots surges to life.
Whatever you do, don’t dare leave without stopping in one of the outer market’s food stalls for a ridiculous fresh sushi breakfast that you won’t soon forget!
Written by Ryan from Treksplorer. Read his article if you only have 24 hours in Tokyo!
Tsukiji Market Walking Tour & Rolled Sushi Class
Are you planning on visiting this special market? Check out this Tsuiji Market Walking tour that will let you explore Japanese culinary traditions with a cooking class.
15. Encounter the snow monkeys at Jigokudani
If you enjoy wildlife then seeing the snow monkeys at Jigokudani Snow Monkey Park should be at the top of your Japan bucket list. The snow monkeys are a group of Japanese macaques with red/pink faces famous for soaking in hot springs.
Watching the snow monkeys is a delightful experience – some monkeys groom each other, some hug each other to stay warm, some chase each other and play, and some just enjoy a relaxing soak. The monkeys are not afraid of humans so they will sit or pass by mere inches away from visitors. While the Snow Monkey Park is open all year round, winter is the best time to visit as everything is covered in snow and the cold temperatures mean that the monkeys are more likely to hang out in the hot springs to keep warm.
Written by Matilda of The Travel Sisters. Read more about the snow monkeys on her website.
16. Ride Japan’s bullet train
The above photo was taken at Mount Fuji and this cute train isn’t a bullet train.
Riding the Shinkansen bullet train is a very practical bucket list things to do in Japan! It takes you from A to B and is one of the best ways to travel around Japan. The train system in Japan is known for its speed, punctuality, efficiency and safety. Next to just being practical, it’s also a great way to see more of Japan while looking out of the window!
17. Visit Hiroshima – Site of the World’s First Atomic Bomb
There’s a rather heartbreaking reason why Hiroshima deserves a spot on your Japan bucket list: Hiroshima was the site of the world’s first atomic bomb, which the US detonated over the city in 1945 during World War II. While visiting Hiroshima is definitely a somber experience, it is important to reflect on the horrors of our past and prevent misdeeds of the future.
Hiroshima was largely destroyed by the atomic bomb, and has since been completely rebuilt. Only one hollowed out structure remains from 1945, which is the rather eerie and iconic Atomic Bomb Dome. As well as the A-Bomb Dome, the main Hiroshima memorial site is the nearby Hiroshima Peace Memorial Park. At the park, don’t miss the Hiroshima Peace Memorial Museum (PSA: come prepared with tissues) and the moving Hiroshima Memorial Hall of Remembrance which is dedicated to the 140,000 victims from 1945.
If you don’t have time to stay overnight, you can visit Hiroshima on a day trip from Osaka or Kyoto, and tick off another bucket list experience in the process – riding Japan’s bullet trains! While you could easily spend an entire day at the Hiroshima Peace Memorial Park, it’s also worth exploring the rest of the city. Highlights include visiting majestic Hiroshima Castle and gorging on local food, including the famous Hiroshima style okonomiyaki.
Written by Claire Evans of the Adventurous Flashpacker.
18. Go to Akihabara Electric Town in Tokyo and enjoy otaku
Akihabara in Tokyo is the area around Akihabara Station and is mostly famous its many electronic shops and for being the center of otaku culture, or diehard fan culture. There are many shops devoted to anime and manga and around the streets you’ll find lots of billboards that display anime and manga characters. It’s a cool place to walk around and really indulge in this unique culture.
19. Take a walk at the pedestrian paradise Ginza in Tokyo
Ginza is Tokyo’s most famous shopping, dining and entertainment district. Here you’ll find lots of department stores, restaurant cafes and much more. But what makes this place extra special is the fact that central Chuo Dori Street, located in Ginza, is completely closed for traffic on the weekends. Hence the nickname Pedestrian Paradise!
20. Go for a night walk in Gion and you might encounter a geisha
The Gion district is one of the last existing real geisha districts and one of the best areas in Japan to spot geisha’s. A geisha’s services are mostly reserved for the Japanese elite. If you, as a tourist, like to see a geisha at work you can book some of the shows or tea ceremonies that are specially organised for tourists.
We personally opted for a private guided walking tour in Kyoto. The tour takes you along many popular sights and those streets with the highest chances to spot Geishas. We loved how we could discuss the Japanese habits with Guenda, our guide, and how she could order us some street food to our taste. But what we loved most were the 3 Geisha’s that we spotted during our walk. A great experience for everybody that wants to spot Geisha’s and loves to learn more about the Japanese culture and habits.
Written by Kris and Sylvia of Wapiti Travel. Read more about Gion at Night on their blog.
Please note: Tourists in Japan are increasingly harassing geikos and maikos (qualified and trainee geisha) for selfies and photos, treating them as a real tourist attraction. Please be respectful and don’t bother them. So: don’t touch them, don’t chase them down the street nor take a photo of their face. Check out more things you should know about geishas in Kyoto.
21. Visit the Sapporo Snow Festival
The Sapporo Snow Festival is an annual event taking place in Sapporo, the snowy capital city of Hokkaido in Japan. Where each year, the main site for the festival is found at Odori Park (Ōdōri Station) with around 300 plus ice sculptures scattered through the entire park, including bigger designs with rather fascinating sound-and-light shows. And along the way there will be food stalls and heated tents, along with some bigger attractions, like ‘Outdoor Ice Skating’ and ‘Park Air Jumping Platform’ hosting competitions for freestyle skiers and snowboarders.
However, I will always recommend starting at the Sapporo TV Tower, found at the east end of Odori Park, where the observation deck overlooks the entire park from above (it opens daily from 08:30 to 22:30 and costs around 720 Yen pp). There really are Fantastic views. The Odori Park festival venue is also easily reached by foot from Sapporo station, where the park then follows a circular path, which may be covered in around half a foot of compressed ice. So do be careful.
Written by Allan Wilson of Live Less Ordinary. Read more about the Sapporo Snow Festival on his blog!
22. Go on a night tour at Okunoin Cemetery in Koya-san
The lights from the stone lanterns begin to flicker on at dusk emitting a ghostly yellow light that casts shadows among the moss-covered tombstones. The Buddhist monk gathers his little tour group and leads us deep into Okunoin Cemetery. The most notable features along the stone paths are little statues with red woven hats and aprons. These are the Jizo Bosatsu, stone figurines that represent spiritual beings who strive for the enlightenment of all creatures. The local monks sponsor night tours where they talk about the history of the cemetery itself, the daily lives of the monks and the aspects of the Shingon Buddhism religion they practice. Admission to Okunoin is free.
Night tours can be booked at tourist kiosks around town or online. The tours begin at the entrance to the cemetery and ends at a central mausoleum. You are on your own walking back to the cemetery entrance at night but there is enough light from the stone lanterns to help you find your way.
Written by Talek Nantes of Travels with Talek.
23. See a sumo wrestling tournament
Attending a sumo wrestling tournament in Japan is one of the most unique things you can do – and it’s so much fun I’ve done it three times! Tournaments lasting fifteen days each are held six times per year in various cities around Japan so you can definitely plan your trip to take one in. On my most recent trip to the Kansai area I went to the Osaka sumo tournament for a day with my son and it was another amazing experience.
The best tip is to buy cheap seats but then go early in the day – most people don’t arrive until about 2pm when the top sumo wrestlers start – so you can sneak forward to see the action up close. I’d also suggest you learn about all the rituals of sumo first so that the whole crazy sport makes sense! But be warned – it can be kind of addictive once you start to have sumo favourites!
Written by Amanda Kendle of Not a Ballerina. Read more about a sumo wrestling tournament on her blog!
24. Stay in a capsule hotel
Capsule Hotels are one of those uniquely Japanese experiences that is well worth doing, if not a must do. Plus they are a great way to save money. Capsule Hotels started off as place for salarymen who missed the last train home to crash for the night. Staying at one is quite an experience. The capsules themselves are 2m x 1m x 1m and provide a simple but comfortable place to sleep. On entering you store your shoes and any luggage (which you can access as needed) and are usually given a yakuta (a light cotton kimono) and slippers to wear around inside.
Many capsule hotels will have facilities like a TV room, a sento (Japanese bath house) and dining area where vending machines dispense ramen, beer or whatever. They aim to have whatever you might need for the night so once checked in you don’t need to leave. With a built in light, TV, radio and fan the capsule is big enough to chill out in and surprisingly private and quiet. It’s a sleeping experience like no other!
Written by Sharon Gourlay of Simpler and Smarter.
Book your own capsule hotel!
Capsule hotel in Tokyo
Capsule Hotel Anshin Oyado Shinjuku has a perfect location.
Sauna & Capsule Hotel Hokuo is a sauna, capsule and restaurant in one.
Capsule hotel in Osaka
Capsule&Spa Grand Sauna Shinsaibashi has a perfect location and a sauna.
Capsule hotel in Kyoto
Capsule Hotel Manyudo has a perfect location.
25. Staying overnight in a ryokan
Staying in a ryokan (a traditional Japanese inn) is an absolute must-do experience when you visit Japan. It’s much, much more than just a hotel. It’s a step back in time; a chance to experience traditional Japan first hand.
Ryokans have been around since the early 1800’s and little has changed over the centuries. You will usually be met at the door by the owner in a kimono to welcome you to her establishment. You will take your shoes off and only wear slippers or your socks throughout your stay. Your room will be little more than tatami (rush mats) and a low table with cushions or possibly legless chairs. Yes, you will sit on the floor. It’s here that you will have welcome tea, sit and relax and enjoy the garden views, and enjoy an elaborate, multi-course kaiseki meal. This is Japanese haute cuisine, and one of the highlights of your stay. Course after course of perfectly presented dishes will delight your palate and your eyes.
Most ryokan will have a bath (onsen) with mineral spring water. The very high-end ryokans will have private bathtubs, but most are shared. Wash thoroughly before slipping into scalding hot water and soaking your cares away. While you enjoy a soak or stroll around town in the yukata (a casual cotton robe) that will be provided for you, an attendant will lay out your futon. This is a think mattress laid out directly on the tatami mat floor, where you will sleep the night. In the morning, stack the futon in the corner so your breakfast can be brought to you at the low table.
Written by James Ian from Travel Collecting.
26. Staying overnight in a Buddhist temple
Buddhism is deeply entrenched in Japan’s history and modern culture. One of the best ways to get a deeper connection and sense of respect for Buddhism is to spend time in a monastery, or with a monk. Staying overnight at a temple in Japan is a perfect way to do just that. Taiyoji Temple sits just outside of Tokyo, around 2 hours by train, and is home to a single monk, Asami.
This quiet and peaceful man was once stressed and overworked businessman from Tokyo who quit his busy life and took off into nature. He now gives visitors the chance to spend time with him and learn from his teachings about Buddhism and life in general.
Over the course of a couple of nights, Asami takes you through the basic ideas of Buddhism and how to put them into practice. Meditation and sutra copying are two activities that are used to centre oneself. While they both require a form of concentration, they are therapeutic and relax at the same time.
There’s also a traditional style onsen at Taiyoji Temple, although this one will be clothed. It’s a great way to relax in the warm waters and overlook the quiet and beautiful vista of green hills surrounding Taiyoji Temple.
If you’re looking for the best Buddhist experience just outside of Tokyo, give Taiyoji Temple, and Asami a couple of nights, you will come away with a deeper respect for the faith and principles of the religion.
Written by Ben McLaughlan of Horizon Unknown.
27. Get a traditional bamboo tattoo (irezumi)
Tattoos aren’t very popular in Japan. Being used by the Japanese mafia, it wasn’t something desirable by most of the population. Nowadays, with tattoos becoming more and more popular everywhere in the world, it wouldn’t be so different in Japan. Instead of getting an ordinary machine tattoo, we decided we had to have a traditional irezumi tattoo, hand-poked with a bamboo stick. If you like tattoos, it’s one experience you shouldn’t miss. First of all, it doesn’t hurt. It’s incredibly gentle and quick. Then, the healing process is extremely fast. And lastly, the experience is amazing! It feels like you’ve experienced something secret and underground.
Just be aware that some places, like public pools, onsen (the thermal pools), and even beaches, don’t allow tattoos at all, and some require it to be fully covered, so if you plan to do something like that, better to leave your tattoo for the end of your trip!
Written by Thais Saito. Read more about tattoo ideas on his blog!
28. Have dinner with a Maiko
Having dinner with a Maiko was the highlight of my trip to Japan. Maiko are apprentice Geishas that will one day be Geishas themselves. To dine with a Geisha costs thousands of dollars and dining with a Maiko is a much more affordable experience. Geisha/Maiko are most often seen in Kyoto, our tour included a bento box dinner mostly consisting of seafood and rice. After dinner we were entertained through music and dance by a Maiko. We chose a small tour with another 15 people and it was much more intimate and gave us an opportunity to have a photo with our Maiko after she had finished entertaining us.
I read Memoirs of a Geisha a number of years ago and this piqued my interest in the mysterious life of a Geisha. Maikos start training to become Geishas from 15 year olds. They are required to leave their families and are bonded under a contract to her okiya. The okiya supplies everything she requires to become a Maiko/Geisha. Training is expensive and the debt must be repaid from her future earnings.
Written by Sally Lucas of our 3 kids versus the world. Read more about dinner with a Maiko on her blog.
Book your own dinner with a Maiko
Want to experience dinner with a Maiko too? Book this Maiko & Traditional Performance tour!
29. Trying fugu sashimi at Hakata Izumi, a two-star Michelin restaurant in Fukuoka
If you are looking for a rather unique fine dining establishment consider a course meal at Hakata Izumi, a two-star Michelin restaurant in Fukuoka, Japan known for fugu (or blowfish). This sashimi is far from typical as Fugu is known for being poisonous in some parts! It takes years of practice and strict licensing from the government to even be able to prepare fugu – so rest assured, at Hakata Izumi you are in good hands with Miyatake-san the owner of Hakata Izumi.
To prepare fugu sashimi each piece is sliced razor thin with extreme precision and delicately arranged into a visually appealing flower shape. Because fugu has no fat and all cartilage the texture is slightly chewy and the flavor of the fish bursts after dipping each piece into a homemade ponzu sauce. Hakata Izumi also offers fugu prepared in ways other than sashimi including deep fried which completely changes the flavor and texture, hot pot which is the most subtle of flavors, and even fugu fin inside a warm glass of sake! One thing is for sure, this is a dining experience you’ll never forget.
Written by Kallsy Page of Pages of Travel. Read more about Fukuoka on her blog!
30. Go Scuba Diving in Okinawa
When you think of Japan, the images of clear turquoise blue waters and white powdery sand beaches may not be what initially pops up in your mind. But there is a Japanese paradise, located 640km (400miles) south of the mainland, called Okinawa. One of the main attractions of Okinawa is the clear waters surrounding the chain of 160 islands. I never thought I’d be so blown away the stunning beaches of Okinawa, and certainly not by the quality of scuba diving there!
When I saw the incredible water visibility, I couldn’t resist diving to explore Japan’s underwater world. The visibility was easily 40m, some of the best I had ever seen. If you enjoy beautiful corals and colorful reef fishes, Naha (Okinawa’s capital island) offers some fantastic diving around the Kerama Islands. Mantas are regularly seen around Ishigaki Island, further south of Naha. Then there is Yonaguni Island, where you can dive the mysterious underwater ruins or see hammerhead sharks in the winter season. If you have never considered Okinawa as a travel destination, make sure you add it now!
Written by Mo of Travelust 101. You can read more about Okinawa, a paradise of the Orient, on Travelust 101.
31. Go skiing in Nozawa Onsen
If Japan is not already on your radar as a skiing destination, it should be. Skiing in the Japanese Alps is a unique experience that is not to be missed. Soaring to over 3000m and getting an average of snow depth of 3.5meters (aka Japow!), the terrain, conditions and après are all great. After a day of chasing Japow on the slopes, you’ll be able to warm your bones with some sake and a soak in a traditional hot spring or onsen.
My favourite place to ski in Japan was Nozawa Onsen, because of its varied and scenic terrain, deep snow, and quaint traditional mountain town setting that includes over 13 public onsen, including one just for your feet. There you will be able to both shred and take in Japanese food and culture which are experiences you won’t soon forget!
Written by Thea Wingert of Zen Travellers. Read more about skiing at Nozawa Onsen on her blog!
32. Ride the Shin-Hotaka Ropeway
The Japanese Alps boast some of the country’s most spectacular scenery, and one of the best ways to see it is from the Shin-Hotaka Ropeway – a unique pair of cable cars that rise over 1,000 metres to a viewing platform perched among the peaks.
Shin-Hotaka is the highest and most remote of five onsen (spa) towns in this part of the northern Alps, but it’s easily reached by bus. From Takayama it takes about 1.5 hours, or visit from nearby Hirayu, like we did, and spend the night in an onsen complex.
From the bus stop there’s a short cable car ride up to a visitor centre, restaurants, public baths and a gift shop, and the start of the second ropeway. This double-decker cable car takes you up another 800 metres to the ‘upper station’ – at an altitude of 2,150m – and its observation deck with unbeatable views. Visit in spring if you can, when the mountains are still covered in snow.
Both cable cars run every 30 minutes; keep an eye on the timetable so you’re not stranded at the top with a bus to catch (speaking from experience here). See the ropeway times and prices.
If you’re feeling active, and there’s no snow – usually from late June to September – do also take advantage of the area’s lovely hiking trails. Nearby Kamikochi is another must-see, and you can hike down the mountain from Shin-Hotaka to reach it in about 3 hours.
Written by Lisa of the Rebellious Tourist.
33. Admire the Winter illuminations
Winter illuminations are a wonderful, and often free, activity to enjoy in Japan’s coldest months. They are essentially holiday light displays taken to the extreme. We’re talking millions of LEDs, audio-visual shows, and interactive displays triggered by movement and smartphone apps. One of my favourites is Tokyo Midtown’s Christmas illuminations with its spectacular outer space-themed ‘Starlight Garden.’ It features an impressive 500,000 blue LED lights, a 6m diameter “vision dome” that transforms into various planets, and an audio-visual show that includes rippling wave-like movements and starry night-sky illuminations overhead.
The illuminations season starts before Christmas and extends all the way until Valentine’s Day in February, making them extremely popular date spots. It may be the coldest time of year, but the unique winter illuminations culture in Japan is great motivation to grab your coat and stay out just that little bit later to marvel at the magic of twinkle lights taken to a whole new level.
Written by Jessica of Notes of Nomads. Read about the Christmas lights in Tokyo on her blog!
34. Explore Okunoshima, Japan’s Rabbit Island
One of my favourite places in Japan is Okunoshima, also known as Rabbit Island, a small island in the Inland Sea of Japan, that is known for being home to thousands of cute and cuddly rabbits. Okunoshima can easily be visited as a day trip from Hiroshima or Osaka, and it is worth a visit not just for its ‘kawaii factor’, but also for its dark history. In fact, Okunoshima used to house a poison gas factory, the remnants of which can still be seen today. There’s also a small museum about the poison gas factory and its effects. For this reason, Okunoshima’s existence was secret for decades, and the island wasn’t even on the maps, until the poison gas factory was decommissioned.
The urban legend goes that the bunnies living in Okunoshima nowadays are the descendants of those used for testing during the poison gas factory days, but in fact they were introduced much later, to ‘exorcise’ the island’s past. In any case, I think Okunoshima deserves a spot in a Japan bucket list – it’s worth spending a day walking around, playing with rabbits and learning about the island’s past.
Written by Margherita Ragg of The Crowded Planet. Read more about Okunoshima on her blog!
35. Immerse in art at Benesse Art Site Naoshima
Japan is an enchanting combination of ancient and modern. Case in point, Naoshima and surrounding islands, where ultra-modern art blends seamlessly with timeless landscapes. Once upon a time, there was a group of polluted islands scattered around Japan’s Seto Inland Sea. Then, thanks to an ingenious combination of forward-thinking and uber-wealthy art patrons, the rehabilitation cum groundbreaking development transformed the area into a pilgrimage site for contemporary art lovers.
Benesse Art Site Naoshima is a place to immerse in art outside of the traditional galleries and museums. The manmade objects with strong messages blend with nature outside of constraints of conventional exhibitions. The best way to experience it is to fully immerse in the atmosphere: stay at the Benesse House, eat dinner on-site and tour the museum at night after dinner. There is no way to describe the magic. The sunset over the seascape; the intimate excursion through the contemporary artworks; the sunrise unfolding right outside your window… Those are unforgettable memories you carry with you long after living Naoshima.
Written by Elena Tchijov of Traveling Bytes.
36. Visit a themed café: Kawaii cafés based on cartoon characters
There are plenty of cute, themed cafés to visit in Japan. For instance, visit one of the kawaii cafés based on cute cartoon characters. Pictured above you can see Pompompurin Café in Harakuju. Everything in such a café is in theme, from the interior and the food to the drinks and staff that work there. And trust me, a cute café like this isn’t only meant for kids, it’s also entertaining for adults!
37. Visit a themed café: Maid Café Experience
There are a lot of experiences quite unique to Japan which you won’t find in other parts of the world. One of them is Maid cafes. What is a Maid café? A Maid café is normal café serving food and drinks with the exception that all the staff are dressed up in a maid costume. This type of costume plays into the cosplay/anime culture of Japan and is not supposed to be construed as anything else.
There are several Maid cafes in Tokyo, especially in the Anime centric Akihabara’s Electric Town. Inside the café, you will have one of the most cringey yet fun experiences of your life. Be prepared to sing and make silly actions when your food arrives as instructed by your server. Also, you get to wear fun costumes yourself if you like.
Written by Pari Alva of Traveling Pari. Read more about the Maid Café on her blog.
Explore Akihabara with a personal maid
With this Akihabara tour a personal maid will show you around Tokyo’s center of anime and manga culture. The tour of 2.5 hours includes a guided tour through Akihabara, a lunch and drink at a maid café and learning about Japan’s fan (otaku) culture.
38. Visit a themed café: Order a cup of 3D Latte Art
Tokyo has no shortage of cute and photogenic coffee shops – whether you’re looking for a stylish space, or one with traditional Japanese aesthetic, you are spoilt for choice. A café that particularly stands out and worth visiting in Tokyo is Reissue bringing latte art to a whole new level.
Nestled in an alley in Harajuku, Reissue draws attention of the coffee lovers with its eye-catching 3D coffee art. From cats to pandas, it’s amazing what the barista can do with a cup of coffee. Simply show an image or portrait when you order, and the skillful barista will work his magic. With just milk foam and a little chocolate, he works his magic and transforms a fresh cup of joe to a perfectly Instagrammable art! It is so gorgeous that you don’t want to drink it!
Reissue combines delicious coffee and cute art all in one place. Don’t miss it in Tokyo.
Written by Cat from For Two, Please.
39. Ring in the New Year’s at a temple
Ringing in the New Years at a temple is a must-do experience in Japan! While it’s a totally normal tradition for Japanese people, many might consider this very unique and unexpected. I had a hard time convincing my American friends that we shouldn’t go to a club to celebrate New Years, but instead go to a temple. They didn’t believe me but realized around 11:30 pm that no one was at the clubs, and we rushed to a nearby temple to find thousands of people there.
Everyone gathers at temples all across the country. There are food vendors and many stores to browse around and get good luck charms for the year. There are kids games and activities too. It’s a party at the temples for New Years and it’s something you can’t miss! At midnight, there is a rush of people to go make a prayer at the temple – their first one of the year. If you want to be part of the tradition even more, go eat soba right before visiting the temples – it’s supposed to bring you luck for the following year!
Written by Emily Jenks of Henry and Andrew’s Guide. Read about New Years in Japan with Kids on her blog!
40. Ramen Stadium in Fukuoka
Eating ramen in Japan was a bucket list item for us. So when we spent a month in the country we searched far and wide for the best places to eat it. And when we saw there was a place called Ramen Stadium, we knew we had to visit. We planned our Japan itinerary so we would end in Fukuoka, where we could then take the ferry to Busan, South Korea. We considered spending just a day in the city, but once we saw it was home to Ramen Stadium, we extended our time there. And it was a delicious decision! First of all, Fukuoka is a really cool and interesting city. It has amazing temples and a gorgeous park with an old castle. It’s a bit off the beaten Japan tourist track, but if it works into your itinerary, we’d highly recommend it as a destination even without the added bonus of ramen. But of course, the ramen makes it even more worth it.
Ramen Stadium is the ultimate destination for any ramen lover. Located in the Canal City shopping center, Ramen Stadium is home to eight shops featuring ramen from different places throughout the country. Fukuoka itself is known for a special type of ramen called Hakata-style. It has thinner noodles in an intense, creamy Tonkatsu broth. It was our first bowl of ramen in Ramen Stadium and it was outstanding.
Written by Sarah and Justin of Travel Breathe Repeat.
41. Try famous Takoyaki from Japan
Even street food in Japan is a real culinary experience. One dish you should definitely try is the Yakoyaki and the best Japanese city to do so is the city of origin: Osaka. But of course you can find this snack everywhere in Japan!
Takoyaki are balls of dough with chopped octopus that are cooked in a hot griddle. The cook tops them with lots of delicious Japanese toppings, such as kewpie mayonnaise, Japanese BBQ sauce, green onions and more. Order them from one of the busier stands so you’re sure you’re getting the good stuff and eat them with a set of chopsticks. Enjoy!
Be sure to check out these other Japanese foods that are worth a taste!
42. Cross one of the busiest intersections in the world: Shibuya
Another item for your bucket list in Japan is crossing Shibuya. It is claimed to be the busiest intersection in the world, as 1000 of people can cross at a time, coming from all directions at once. It is pretty exciting to wait for the light to turn green and be part of such a big crowd.
While you’re at it, watch Shibuya crossing from above. All those people look like little ants and it might be even more impressive from a distance! In this post you can find some spots to take good shots from above.
Are you visiting Tokyo soon? Read about the best areas to stay in Tokyo.
43. Eat matcha ice-cream at Osaka Castle Park
First of all, you should try anything that includes matcha while you’re in Japan. I definitely recommend matcha ice-cream, because it’s yummy. Second of all, Osaka Castle is a beautiful place to visit and a perfect place to enjoy a tasty snack. The Osaka Castle Park is worth a visit if you like pretty fairytale-like castles with beautiful mint-coloured details. The castle is completely free to visit and you can get different food (yay, matcha ice cream!) at various stands opposite the castle.
44. Visit the highest building of Japan and enjoy the view
Visit Abeno Haruka, the tallest skyscaper in Japan, and visit the amazing observation deck called the Harukas 300. This observation deck is located on the top three floors, floor 58 to 60, and can be accessed from the 16th floor. Add this amazing place on your bucket list for Japan and be sure to go during sunset.
If you’re staying at the Osaka Marriott Miyako Hotel you get a free ticket to the Harukas 300. This way you can visit it during your stay!
Hopefully this articles has expanded your Japan Bucket List and make your trip to Japan even more memorable!
In need for some more inspiration for your trip to Japan? Why don’t you read our post with the 26 most beautiful places in Japan to include in your itinerary? Or read this post with 30 reasons to visit Japan if you still have to persuade your travel buddy. Be sure to go to our Japan category and check out posts about Osaka, Tokyo, Kyoto and Mount Fuji.