What are the best things to do in Japan? We believe that locals know best, so we asked Japanese locals about their country's "must-dos". Don't miss out! They helped us create this list of 25 must-do things in Japan.
The equivalent of American 99-cent stores, hyaku yen stores are hidden gems located in pretty much every city in Japan. They’re treasure troves for obscure, eccentric, practical, and kawaii (super cute) must-haves, like Hello Kitty dessert forks, porcelain teacups, bubble stickers—all for 100 yen! In other words, hyaku yen stores are great spots to pick up some unique souvenirs. Be on your guard though; one does not simply walk into a 100-yen store and only buy one or two things.
Hanko are Japanese name stamps (and an easy, small gift to fit in your luggage).
Whether you go to an onsen (a public bath) or a ryokan (traditional Japanese inn), no Japanese experience is complete without a long, relaxing soak in your birthday suit. Spots like Izu Amagi Yugashima Onsen are known worldwide for their views of the ocean and mountains, but you can soak in hot springs in the heart of Tokyo too.
See what locals say about their favorite hot springs and what rules you should keep in mind.
Many onsens do not allow tattoos or body piercings.
Japan’s Shinkansen, or “bullet train,” reaches up to 177 miles per hour. It shoots past Japan’s snowy peaks and forested hills, with the Tokaido Shinkansen Line bringing you directly within view of Mount Fuji—something you really have to see for yourself. Traveling the country via train is one of the coolest things to do in Japan!
Locals note that you should buy a Japanese Rail (JR) Pass before your trip—these deeply discounted tickets are for tourists only.
For a clear view of Mount Fuji, sit on the right-hand side of the train if you’re heading to Kyoto or Osaka and on the left-hand side if you’re going to Tokyo.
The sushi in Japan brings a whole new meaning to “take your taste buds on a journey,” and getting that sushi right out of the kitchen on a conveyor belt? Simply magical. Sushi conveyor belts can be found across Japan at kaitenzushi restaurants, and with pay-by-the-plate ordering, you’re bound to leave with a full belly. For you adventurous eaters, locals recommend trying the kani miso sushi, made from crab innards.
Don't miss out on insider tips—work with one of our locals to plan your trip to Japan. Locals tell us conveyor belt sushi is a fun and delicious way to keep to your budget and they can provide more suggestions for great cheap eats.
Turn your world upside-down in the wisteria tunnels of Kitakyushu, where the brilliant purple, pink, and lavender flowers drift lazily from the ceiling. This garden seriously looks like a creation straight from the pages of Alice in Wonderland. Combining Japan’s loves of nature and elegance, the Kawachi Fuji Garden is open for the wisteria season in spring and maple leaf season in autumn.
Locals say to purchase tickets beforehand from a 7-Eleven or FamilyMart (and grab a bento box from 7-Eleven while you're at it). Access more local knowledge by working with a local to build a customized trip.
Here's another must-do for anyone who loves travel—check out the Yesterday in Travel podcast, sponsored by ViaHero. The show covers moments in travel history—like how the 1964 Tokyo Olympics revolutionized travel to Japan:
Locals tell us you’ll find incredible ramen throughout Japan—from remote villages to the heart of Tokyo. They say to keep an eye out for inoshishi (wild boar ramen). Le Midi ramen bar in Takayama is well known for this specialty.
If you're hoping to consume a lot of ramen (a delicious mission we heartily endorse—eating is one of the best things to do in Japan) get tips from a local about where to go. One of our Japanese locals suggests checking out Ramen Alley in Sapporo, especially a place called Teshikaga.
Order a side of gyoza to go with your ramen.
Home to hundreds of bamboo groves and dozens of temples and shrines (built within the bamboo maze to ward off evil), the serene Arashiyama Bamboo Forest is a far cry from the bustle of urban Kyoto. Dozens of feet tall, the bamboo stalks make a calming rustling noise—one so well-loved by locals, it’s on the list of “100 Soundscapes of Japan.” Even with the crowds of tourists, it’s easy to let your mind wander and enjoy this beautiful forest.
Japan is a treasure trove of animation, but Studio Ghibli holds a special place in the Japanese (and the world’s) hall of movie fame. With legendary artist Hayao Miyazaki at the helm, Studio Ghibli’s instant classics like Spirited Away and My Neighbor Totoro give a fantastic insight into Japanese culture. The museum gives you a unique front-row seat to Miyazaki’s endless imagination. One of our Japanese locals called the museum "where Ghibli films come alive."
Known as “Kyoto’s Kitchen” Nishiki Market is a hidden gem where local cooks and restaurants get some of Japan’s best fish and produce, from the ubiquitous tuna and salmon to delicacies like tako tamago, a quail egg wrapped in octopus. Although this Kyoto market is only about as long as two city blocks, the jam-packed stalls offer all the ingredients you could possibly need for perfect washoku (Japanese cuisine). Locals recommend keeping an eye out for Japanese sweets, pickles, dried seafood, and (of course) sushi.
Featuring rooms about the size of the twin bed you slept in as a kid, a Japanese capsule hotel looks like an invention straight out of a sci-fi movie. A great way to save money in big cities like Tokyo, your personal pod has a bed, lights...and yeah, that’s about it. With styles ranging from rustic country bunk beds to compartments with automatic doors, this is a totally unique way to catch some Z’s while traveling Japan on a budget.
With many sumo wrestlers weighing in at over 300 pounds, to say sumos are heavyweights is an understatement. Part of an ancient Shinto ritual to entertain the gods, sumo matches only last seconds at a time but require insane strength and concentration. Japan’s annual sumo tournaments (basho) only happen six times throughout the year, but seeing these incredible athletes in person is 100% worth it!
With around 200,000 festivals (matsuri) taking place year-round, you can have a jam-packed party schedule anywhere and anytime you visit Japan. For a romantic winter evening under hundreds of fireworks and lanterns, don’t miss the enchanting Chichibu Night Festival; or, if summer nights are more your jam, head over to the Aomori Nebuta Matsuri, where hundreds of mythological creatures parade through the streets.
Get insider knowledge about festivals in Japan from the people who know best—locals! One of our locals in Japan recently recommended checking out the Shimokitazawa Curry Festival, which includes more than 100 vendors from throughout Japan.
Since the 700s the domestic deer in Nara have been considered sacred. They wander the park eager to enjoy the deer cookies for sale (the only food that visitors are allowed to feed the deer). Some enjoy being petted and others may even bow to you in exchange for a cookie. But look out - some might be a little over-excited about the cookies and try to nibble your belongings.
On Mikimoto Pearl Island, free diving for pearls is an ancient tradition in Japan, where professional divers (ama uminchu) explore the ocean without scuba or diving gear. Trained from a young age, most ama are women who continue to dive well into their 70s and 80s. On a diving tour in Mikimoto, you can see firsthand the incredible athleticism and determination of the ama, who dive over 80 feet beneath the waves.
If you don’t want to battle the crowds for a photo of Fuji-san without any people in it, why not venture further into the heart of Japan to see less touristy views of the holy mountain? Whether you prefer the crashing waves of Kumomi Kaigan or the serene waters of Lake Tanukiko, there are endless opportunities to gape at Mount Fuji’s ruggedly good looks in person. Best of all, these views are easily accessible from picturesque Shizuoka, one of the best places to visit in Japan.
Check out an unexpected place for an amazing Fuji view: Tokyo City Hall. When the conditions are right, this overlooked (and free) spot offers some amazing mountain views.
With a reputation of near-mythical proportions, rice-based sake has been brewed in Japan for almost 3,000 years, getting closer and closer to perfection in the breweries of Sapporo. With nearly 1,500 sake distilleries in Japan, you'll have your pick of world-famous tastes.
Sapporo is also known for beer! Locals recommend fitting a beer festival into your Sapporo itinerary if you're around in the summer—the Sapporo Craft Beer Forest is held in July, and comes highly recommended by locals. Get more insider tips like this by working with one of our locals to build your trip.
From small streetside shrines to massive temples, Tokyo is packed to the brim with ancient reminders of its spiritual heritage. Encounter local paranormal legends on a guided ghost tour of the city. Or for a truly eerie experience, get some insider info from one of our locals about going to the haunted Aoyama Cemetery during the season of Obon, during which the dead can most easily cross into the realm of the living.
Incredibly surreal, the rocky outcroppings of Mount Osore (AKA “Dread Mountain”) form a maze of holy volcanic springs that bubble yellow and red from high sulfur levels. Only open from May to October, this day trip is perfect for intrepid adventurers looking to go off-the-beaten-path in Japan.
A well-known feature of Shinto shrines across Japan, thousands of small wooden blocks (ema) hang from fences and walls. Visitors from all over the world are welcome to make an offering and write a prayer or wish on an ema, which are seen by the spirits, or kami. With so many incredible things to do in Japan, this is a unique opportunity to reflect on your Japanese adventures (and to wish to come back again soon).
Osaka has fewer shrines than cities like Kyoto or Tokyo. However, you’ll find some beautiful ones on Orange Street.
Hop on a boat to Toyama Bay and join the cephalopod squad! During the day, the mysterious firefly squid (hotaruika) dive deep into the ocean, only resurfacing at night to mate. Glowing an astounding electric blue, the firefly squid appears during hotaruikaseason (from March to June). Take in the sight of the otherworldly blue, then pop over to the Hotaruika Museum to try some firefly squid sushi or candy.
Visiting a Buddhist temple while in Japan is a wonderful addition to your Japanese itinerary. Plus, Japan is home to over 75,000 temples — big and small! — so you'll have a delightful variety of places to choose from. The beautiful Kinkaku-Ji temple in Kyoto is a favorite among our locals.
You can even spend the night in some Buddhist temples. Temple lodgings, or shukubō, usually cost between $50-100 per night. Guests are encouraged to partake in temple activities like prayer and meditation with the monks.
A sacred pilgrimage spot of Shingon Buddhists, visitors to holy Mount Koya enjoy the quietness and solitude of the forest, eventually wandering to Torodo Temple, where a huge mirrored hallway reflects thousands of lanterns. Hundreds of moss-covered shrines and meditating monks are also the starting point of the Kumano Kodo pilgrimage path, one of Japan’s best adventures.
It’s time to relive your childhood fantasies and reenter the world of Pokémon at one of Tokyo’s Pokémon Centers! With super cute Pikachu plushies and rare Pokémon paraphernalia, it’s no small choice to select your Pokémon to carry around your Japanese travels (just in case someone challenges you to a Pokebattle).
The Pokémon Center Tokyo DX & Pokémon Cafe is the only one in Tokyo with an eatery.
If you love snow then you must visit Aomori in the winter! It’s the world’s snowiest city and there are all kinds of delightful winter activities to enjoy including skiing, hiking, and marveling at frozen waterfalls. Warm up at an onsen or on Tsugaru Railways’ stove train. Take a ride on Hakkoda Ropeway for incredible views of thick snow.
Vending machines are ubiquitous in Tokyo, so stop and check some out during your trip. Grab a snack from a machine in Shibuya that only sells bananas, design your own hanko stamp as a souvenir, or just quench your thirst with a new-to-you beverage. There’s a vending machine in Tokyo for just about everything, even a selection of water from different areas of Japan. Ask a local to recommend their favorites.