What to do in Japan
You're going to Japan - woohoo! While you're sure to be impressed with the large cities, stunning views, and friendly people, you might be wondering what activities are a "must do" for your trip.
The best way to plan your trip is to have a local do it for you! Our locals will plan a completely personalized trip, just for you! This plan will be specific to your travel preferences (museum junkie? outdoorsy type? food obsessed?) and packed with insider tips and off the beaten path recommendations.
Below are some of the activities and places Japan is known for. Don't miss these spots on your trip to Japan:
Hit the Slopes
Skiers from across the globe flock to Japan to experience the fresh powder of Japan’s many mountains. Hokkaido, Japan’s (largest) northern island, is famous for its collection of world-class ski resorts.
One of the best parts of skiing in Japan is that many of the mountains are geothermal, and after a long day on the slopes, it is possible to soak in a natural hot spring.
Odds are, the average skier will be impressed with the slopes in Japan, regardless of what ski village they select. The best approach is to find a ski resort within your price range, and stay for as long as you can!
Skiing in Japan can be different than skiing in other parts of the world. There are many risks, including avalanches and “creep crack.” It is important to stay safe and follow the rules.
If you are looking for good advice on different ski resorts from the point of view of a skier, check out this article.
Take a Hike
If you’re not one for skiing, but still love the outdoors, hiking could be a great option while exploring Japan. If you looking for a way to beat the crowds, head into Japan’s stunning natural parks.
Ask a Japanese local if they have a favorite hike close to where you are staying, or a town for destination hiking.
Whether you want to scale a mountain, or just stroll along a trail, Japan has plenty of options for you. If you are tight on time, but still want see some of Japan’s stunning natural vistas, head to Nikko National Park (2 hours from Tokyo), or Hakone (1.5 hours from Tokyo).
Shop Till You Drop
Leave room in your suitcase when you visit Japan! This country is one of the fashion capitals of the globe. Even in tiny towns, you will be sure to find unique boutiques with high quality, fashionable clothing.
In Tokyo, neighborhoods like Ginza and Roppongi are known for their designer stores, and multi-level super shops. Shimokitazawa (also known as Shimokita) is a neighborhood famous for its plethora of independent boutiques.
No matter where you are, you will find no shortage of places to shop in Japan. Ask a Japanese local if they have a favorite street to shop on.
Take a Bite
Many people travel to Japan for the food - and it makes sense why! Japan is an absolute foodie mecca. Visitors will be impressed with everything from the country’s street food, to its plethora of Michelin starred restaurants.
If you are looking for food tips when traveling to Japan, have a Japanese travel planner share their favorite spots! One of our locals, Matt, runs a blog called Super Cheap Japan. Matt is a major foodie, and his love of food is one of the reasons he moved to Japan! He shares his favorite spots through ViaHero, so be sure to match with him before your trip so you can get all the recommendations!
Finally, don’t miss these Japanese specialties:
Matcha soft serve
Okonomiyaki (cabbage pancake)
Shabu-shabu (hot broth cooking)
Robatayaki (grilled skewers)
Watch Sumo Wrestling
It should come as no surprise that sumo wrestling is the national sport of Japan. No trip to Japan would be complete without catching a sumo match, or early morning practice session.
In Tokyo, Ryogoku is where to watch sumo. This area has the highest density of training stables and is home to the sumo stadium. Be sure to read up on sumo etiquette before attending a session.
Sumo wrestling is great way to soak up local Japanese culture!
Stay in a Ryokan
Ryokan are Japanese inns where guests are treated to a traditional Japanese experience.
Travelers in Japan have been staying in Ryokan for hundreds of years, as these inns were popular on the Tokaido Highway, the Edo period road that connected Kyoto and Tokyo.
When staying at a Ryokan, guests will have experiences like wearing slippers and a robe, soaking in an onsen, and appreciating the minimalistic design. There will be little to no furniture and mats on the floor. It is likely that you will sleep on a futon, and enjoy a traditional meal with the other guests.
Party All Night
Next to its stunning mountains and delicious food, there is one thing that Japan is known for - its nightlife!
Party the night away in Japan’s many bars and nightclubs. While the Japanese certainly work hard, they also know how to enjoy themselves. After-work drinks (even just a bottled beer on the subway) are common, and it is very likely that you will see businessmen in suits at most of the bars that you go to.
In Tokyo, Roppongi is a popular party place for foreigners (tourists, expats, etc), and has crazy clubs like the “Robot Club,” where giant dancing robots are part of the entertainment. The Golden Gai is an area where 200 bars are crammed into six tiny streets.
Soak in an Onsen
Many of the stunning mountains in Japan are due to the fact that the country is located over a tectonic hotspot in the Pacific Ocean. This geothermal activity is also to thank for the plethora of natural hot springs, or “onsen,” that can be found scattered throughout Japan.
Soaking in an onsen is an integral part of Japanese culture, and taking a dip in one of these relaxing pools is a must for all visitors to the country. Be sure to practice proper etiquette before entering a spring.
Ski resort towns are fun places to soak, as you can sit in an onsen after spending a day on the slopes. Additionally, many Ryokan have their own onsen. If you are going to pay the money to stay in a Ryokan, make sure it has an onsen before booking.
Hang Out in a Manga Kissa
It will come as no surprise that video games, manga, and anime are another important part of Japanese culture. As you explore the country, you will see everything (literally everything) decorated with beloved anime characters.
To accommodate Japan’s obsession, manga cafes, or “Manga Kissa,” have become popular around the country, especially in large cities like Tokyo or Osaka. Manga Kissa are basically all-night living rooms where guests can pay to hang out. There are TVs, video games, comic books, and computers for use. Depending on how much you pay, you can get a comfortable chair or your own private room. Be sure to stop through one of these unique spaces while in Japan.
Sing at a Karaoke Bar
The word “Karaoke” is Japanese, which should be an indication of how popular this activity is in Japan. Karaoke is the national pastime and is taken very seriously throughout the country. Be prepared to be impressed with how passionate the singers are. Karaoke bars are watering holes for anyone from businessmen to young partiers and tourists.
It will not be hard to find karaoke clubs, but make sure they have English songs before going in and buying a drink. The best way to find a good karaoke spot is to have a Japanese travel planner suggest their favorite karaoke bar!
Visit Art Museums
Art lovers will be thrilled with the collection of national and international art in Japan. There is no shortage of museums in every city, highlighting everything from Japan’s famous wood block printing to impressive street graffiti.
In Tokyo, don't miss the the “Art Triangle,” an art pocket in the city that includes the Mori Art Museum, the National Art Center, and the Suntory Museum of Art. All of these museums are located in Tokyo’s popular Roppongi neighborhood. These spectacular museums are a must see for any modern art fan.
Naoshima Island is another spot to visit. This island is home to many world-class contemporary art museums. There are many installation pieces, outdoor sculptures, and famous paintings by artists like Claude Monet. The Benesse House allows guests the unique opportunity to stay amongst the art on this stunning island.
Finally, if you make it to Hakone, don’t miss the Picasso Museum at the Hakone Open Air Museum. Many people say it was the highlight of their trip.
Sip on Local Whiskey
Whiskey lovers, this one is for you! Japan has become synonymous with good whiskey, and fans of the drink should take advantage of this fact when visiting. Many people claim it is the combination of clean Japanese water, perfect temperatures, and attention to detail that makes Japanese whiskey so delicious.
Be warned - Japanese whiskey is expensive, with prices reaching over $100,000 (yes, that is per bottle).