The Ultimate Bucket List for Japan: 30 + best things to do in Japan

There are many things to do in Japan, whether it’s the epic technicolour streets of Tokyo that have left you curious or the ancient temples and traditions that have captured your appreciation. Japan is a true juxtaposition where old and ultra new have merged together to give you an adventure of complete sensory abundance.

Start your journey wandering through the streets of Kyoto, trek to see Japanese snow monkeys in their natural habitat or hike Japan’s iconic Mount Fuji. This ultimate bucket list is a beautiful blend of authentic Japanese experiences and sites and its modern technology advances that have shaped today’s culture and charm. Here are 30 + best things to do in Japan.


Related: “Ultimate Travel Guide to Vietnam”


The Ultimate Bucket List for Japan: 30 + best things to do in Japan

Where to stay in Japan

Japan has a huge variety of accommodation options that you won’t find anywhere else. It’s not cheap but the country is such a rewarding place to travel that it’s well worth the expense.

If you are on a budget then finding the cheapest Japan accommodation will be a priority, but I recommend spending a bit extra and staying in a ryokan (traditional Japanese inn) at least once. Sleeping on a futon in a tatami mat room is a quintessential Japanese experience and it’d be a shame to miss out.

During our 2 weeks Japan Itinerary we visited Tokyo, Nikko, Kamakura, Kyoto, Osaka and Hiroshima. If you have longer I would also suggest visiting the island of Okinawa.

Be sure to stay in a Ryokan and Capsule Hotel for a real traditional experience. 


Cocktails at New York Bar at Park Hyatt Tokyo

by Julianne M.

Yes, the Park Hyatt Tokyo’s New York Bar will be forever linked to Sofia Coppola’s 2003 film, “Lost in Translation.” The iconic hotel bar may have looked stunning in Coppola’s film, but are the drinks any good? And is it really worth a detour in your precious Tokyo itinerary?

The answer, it turns out, is a resounding yes. New York Bar’s drinks menu covers a lot of ground: there’s a great selection of scotch and Japanese whisky, wines (the list is truly dizzying and odds are you’ll find something to suit your palette), and, of course, cocktails. Beer and other spirits are available too. Be sure to try the Café-Tini, a much better version of the traditional espresso martini.

With those mesmerizing floor-to-ceiling views, we really can’t fault anyone who wants to spend hours in New York Bar listening to live music and taking in the gorgeous Tokyo skyline. So go ahead, pretend you’re Scarlett Johansson sipping on cocktails with Bill Murray. We won’t judge.

Be sure to book in advance to ensure a spot at the window.

The Park Hyatt is located in the Shinjuku neighbourhood of Tokyo. It’s roughly a 12-minute walk from Shinjuku Station.

WHERE: Tokyo
HOW MUCH: Cover charge of around $22.00 USD per person.

Visit Tokyo Disneyland 

by Thais Saito |

What’s a Japan bucket list without a trip to Disneyland! When in Japan, we always stop for a day or two at Tokyo Disney Resorts. The 2 parks are incredible and, whereas Disneyland is a lot like the other Disney parks around the world, Disney Sea is a completely different experience.

Both parks have Disney magic, but they also have Japanese quality and service, which is a huge bonus.  Everything is well organized, the rides are always in perfect condition, and it’s so much fun!  While there, don’t miss the character mochi (Japanese rice balls) and the amazing variety of popcorn flavours!

My favourite rides are Hyperspace Mountain on Disneyland and Toy Story Mania on Disney Sea!

The only 2 problems there are the crowds (it’s always full) and the language barriers because English isn’t widely spoken.

Avoid national holidays and weekends to avoid the absurd crowds, and the peak of summer and winter months due to the extreme weather conditions. Other than that, it’s always great!  One of the best things to do in Japan with kids! 

Get off at Maihama Station on JR (Japan Railway) Keiyo Line / Musashino Line.

WHERE: Tokyo
HOW MUCH: from $45
TICKETS: Disneyland 1 Day Admission Ticket

Japan Bucket List | Disneyland
Japan Bucket List | Disneyland

Explore the Tsukiji Market 

Explore the Tsukiji Market | by Kaylie Lewell |

If you are a foodie visiting the Tsukiji Fish Market in Tokyo should take a solid position on your Japanese bucket list.

For some, it is the early morning Tuna market that appeals but even if you miss the 6 am auction bell the market is still well worth a visit at more refined hours. To view the auction you will need to arrive around 5 am and register for one of the 120 public viewing spots. The market then opens fully to the public at 10 am.

The inner market is a wholesale seafood market and targeted at commercial buyers. The selection of seafood is epic. Crab, whale, many species of fish, sea urchin, abalone, clams, octopus and oysters just some of what is on offer. The smell is quite mild compared to other fish markets around the world. Seafood can be purchased to eat fresh or take home. Eating is not permitted in the market, you can head to the garden lined rooftop to picnic on your sashimi and slurp your oysters.

For a restaurant meal head to the external market. Made up of a framework of tight paths the external market is home to eateries and stalls selling fresh produce, kitchen supplies, chop-sticks, knives and the famous Japanese replica resin food.

The market will move at some point in 2018 so make sure to check the local website when planning your visit.

See the View from Tokyo Skytree

At 634 meters (2,080 ft) tall, Tokyo SkyTree is the tallest tower in the world. It’s also the second tallest free-standing structure in the world. If you’re looking for a place to get a good view of the city, this is the place to go. It has an observatory on the 445th floor complete with a café and often times live performances.

If that view still isn’t good enough, you can head up to the second observatory and get an even better view, one where you don’t have to worry about lights reflecting off the glass. In my opinion, it’s best to go after sunset so you can see the city all lit up at night. However, it still provides a fantastic view during the daytime as well.

Visit Nikko

by Rachel Heller |

Nikko, Japan, about two hours north of Tokyo, is home to a UNESCO-listed collection of Shinto and Buddhist temples, mausoleums and shrines that are stunningly beautiful and remarkably well-preserved. Scattered around an ancient forest, 103 buildings make up the UNESCO site, most dating to the 17th century.

The workmanship is phenomenally skilled; you could lose track of time just inspecting the details on, for example, the recently-renovated Yomeimon Gate in Tosho-gu Shrine. Tosho-go is the mausoleum of Tokugawa Ieyasu, who founded a powerful and long-lasting Shogunate. The famous monkey carvings on the stable building are charming, and look out for the elephant carvings, clearly done by someone who had never seen an elephant. The Rinno-ji shrine nearby is also worth a close look. A Buddhist temple complex, its main “Buddha Hall” is under restoration right now but can still be visited.

Make sure, if you visit, to notice the UNESCO site’s physical setting, connected to Shinto traditions still practiced today. Take a walk among the buildings, but also further into the woods to experience the beauty of the old-growth forest.

Go to a Cat Cafe

by Sylvia Van

Cat cafés originated in Taiwan and are slowly being introduced all over the world but nowhere did they blossom as much as in Japan.  Being a big cat lover, a visit to a cat café was at the very top of our list of things to do in Japan. Hence, one of our first days in Tokyo we immediately went looking for a cat café. Unfortunately, once we were there, it was a bit disappointing. We were pretty excited to say hi to the cats but the same could not be said for the cats themselves.  They walked away uninterested to hide. Only when the owners of the café came in, they went to them to be petted.

You may wonder why do we then recommend this as something you should really do in Japan? Because we would have never guessed that a cat café is more like a cosy living room than a café and because it’s still something typical to Japan.  There’re similar cafés in other countries but nowhere is it part of a tradition like it is in Japan. 

If you’re not a big fan of cats that’s no problem. In Japan, you can also visit owl cafés, hedgehog café, whatever takes your fancy!

Visit Monster Cafe

by Christine Wedberg |

Like you might already know, Tokyo is full of fun and wacky cafés that are worth checking out during your stay. The Kawaii Monster Café is one of them, and there you’ll get an experience you’ll never forget.

Imagine oversized macaroons, unicorn, bunnies, a huge spinning birthday cake and cute rainbow monsters walking around. In addition to this you’ll also meet the Monster Girls; Baby, Dolly, Candy, Nasty & Crazy, who will put up a great and fun show for the whole family!

At this cafe it’s not only the interior that’s colorful, but the food as well. Here you can order crazy dishes, drinks and desserts like Candy Salads, Pastel-Colored Pasta, and an over-the-top ice cream sundae called Colorful Poison Parfait Extreme.

This is a really fun experience in Tokyo if you want to experience the ”Kawaii” culture in the city! The entrance fee is 500 Yen (about 4 USD) and food is extra.

Explore the quirky area of Harajuku

Like you might already know, Tokyo is full of fun and wacky cafés that are worth checking out during your stay. The Kawaii Monster Café is one of them, and there you’ll get an experience you’ll never forget.

Imagine oversized macaroons, unicorn, bunnies, a huge spinning birthday cake and cute rainbow monsters walking around. In addition to this you’ll also meet the Monster Girls; Baby, Dolly, Candy, Nasty & Crazy, who will put up a great and fun show for the whole family!

At this cafe it’s not only the interior that’s colorful, but the food as well. Here you can order crazy dishes, drinks and desserts like Candy Salads, Pastel-Colored Pasta, and an over-the-top ice cream sundae called Colorful Poison Parfait Extreme.

This is a really fun experience in Tokyo if you want to experience the ”Kawaii” culture in the city! The entrance fee is 500 Yen (about 4 USD) and food is extra.

Harajuku | Japan Bucket List
Harajuku | Japan Bucket List
Harajuku | Japan Bucket List
Harajuku | Japan Bucket List


Stroll through Arashiyama Bamboo Forest

by Kayla Manoe

The Arashiyama bamboo grove is a scenic beauty of rich bamboo stalks located in the Arashiyama mountains and just a short train ride away from Kyoto.

A popular tourist destination offering a unique window into the historic heart of Kyoto.  A peaceful and majestic site where the extremely tall stalks sway in the breeze.

Like most of the sites in Japan, this photographers dream will often come with crowds, try visiting first thing in the morning just after sunrise if you want to get photos without any people.

You can also rent a bike to enjoy the beautiful sight of sunlight shining through the bamboo grove, casting soft shadows on the path.

The fastest and easiest way to get to Arashiyama is by train. Take the JR Train from Kyoto Station on the JR Sagano/San-in Line to Saga-Arashiyama Station, from there you can walk for 10 minutes and follow the signs to Arashiyama bamboo grove.

WHERE: Kyoto
SUGGESTED TOURS: Kyoto Arashiyama & Sagano Walking Food Tour, Arashiyama: Bamboo Grove and Temple Tour

Japan Bucket List | The Arashiyama Bamboo Grove
Japan Bucket List | The Arashiyama Bamboo Grove

Visit Fushimi Inari Taisha

A very important Shinto shrine of Kyoto, this maze of torii gates forms a magical tunnel. The trail leads into the wooded forest of the sacred Mount Inari, which stands at 233 meters and belongs to the shrine grounds. This dizzying sequence of bright orange gates is fascinating, immerse yourself in the impressive shrine! We spent a full day exploring ie getting lost.

Fushimi Inari Shrine is located just outside JR Inari Station, the second station from Kyoto Station along the JR Nara Line. Alternatively, you can take a short walk from Fushimi Inari Station.  On your walk you will stumbled upon the shopping street local to Fushimi Inari Shrine, Committee for a Prosperous Inari.  There is a variety of stores selling everything from ritual articles to foods and the best Japanese souvenirs.

Kyoto Travel Guide

Day trip to Nara 

by Kayla Manoe | @kelanabykayla

One of my favourite things to do in Japan! Nara once the capital of from 710 until 784 before it was moved to Kyoto, it represents the roots of Japanese culture. It is rich with history and houses some of the oldest temples, collectively named Nanto Shichi Daiji.

There are so many things to do in Nara, apart from the vast number of temples, the other special feature of Nara is the deer. More than 1200 Sika deer wander through the town and the park. The legends say, that the god Tekemikazuchi arrived in Nara on a white deer to guard the city and since then, the animals have been regarded as heavenly. The deer are roaming freely, very trusting and you can even feed them or capture a selfie with Bambi.

After you have played with the deer head to Mount Wakakusa. The admission fee is 150 Yen where you can then walk to the top for stunning panoramic views of Nara and beyond.

If time permits do more than day trip here. It really was my favourite day and I would have loved to of had a couple of days to explore and hang with the deers! 

You can get to Nara from Kyoto via the JR or Kintetsu line. If you have a JR Rail Pass, I recommend the Miyakoji Kaisoku Express as it only takes 45 minutes.

HOW MUCH: Tours start from $40
SUGGESTED TOURS: Nara Like a Local, Nara Cultural Tour

Japan Bucket List | Nara Deers
Japan Bucket List | Nara Deers

Have Dinner with a Maiko

by Sally Lucas |

Japan had long been top of my bucket list since having Japanese exchange students visit our high school. It took a long time to tick Japan off the list but the wait was more than worth it. At the top of my Japan list was seeing a geisha/maiko (maiko is an apprentice geisha) in Kyoto and I was prepared to pay a good amount of money to make that happen. We did a walking tour of Gion with a local guide and we were lucky enough to see a maiko but that wasn’t enough for me.

I had found a reasonably priced tour online and it included dinner and a show with a maiko, this sounded perfect. I have always been intrigued by the lifestyle of geisha’s after reading Memoirs of a Geisha. The tour included a bento box style dinner, nearly all of which was seafood. After dinner, the maiko came out and performed a few dances and played a musical instrument. She was unbelievably beautiful and I could not take my eyes off her. At the end of the dinner, she stayed for photos and it was magical, just perfect and I am so glad we did it.

I would have loved to have seen a geisha, dinner with a geisha similar to what we did costs into the thousands of dollars. I am keen to return to Japan and I hope one day I will have the opportunity to do this again.

Visit Nijo Castle 

by Leah Smileski |

For as long as I can remember, visiting Japan’s Nijō Castle in Kyoto had been on my Bucket List thanks to Lian Hearn’s Tales of the Otori trilogy. The thought of a floor constructed by hand to make a chirping noise when walked on, intrigued me. Finally walking on its floors and hearing its nightingale call mesmerised me.Nijō Castle is one of the seventeen UNESCO historic monuments of Ancient Kyoto. It is at this very place that the Tokugawa shogunate was both born and concluded with Tokugawa Yoshinobu succeeded the shogunate to the Emperor and Imperial Court in 1868, concluding the era of samurai rule.

The castle itself is divided into three areas, the Honmaru (which is the main circle of defense), the Ninomaru (which is the secondary circle of defense) and a range of gardens that encircle the Honmaru and Ninomaru. Walking through each section can take some time, and you can’t back track, so make sure you have some time up your sleeve

Nijō Castle is a short walk from Nijojo-mae Station along the Tozai Subway Line. Be mindful that the site is closed on Tuesdays in January, July, August and December and fromDecember 26 to January 4 every year.

Visit the Amazing Golden Pavilion (Kinkakuji)

by Kayla Manoe

Kinkakuji is an impressive structure built on top of a large pond and surrounded by a stunning garden. It has burned down numerous times throughout its history including twice during the Onin War, a civil war that destroyed much of Kyoto. The present structure was rebuilt in 1955.

The Pavilion is laced with gold leaf and shimmers magnificently! Despite the crowds, it’s one of the easier places to snap a brilliant photo with no people in it! Kinkakuji can be accessed from Kyoto Station by direct Kyoto City Bus number 101 or 205 in about 40 minutes. We took the Karasuma Subway Line to Kitaoji Station (15 minutes, 260 yen) and walked from there to the entrance.


Osaka Street Food

by Jackie Szeto and Justin Huynh |

You’ll recognize Dotonbori area in Osaka with the crowds of people. Yet the city has its charm with the flashy lights, large mechanical signs and billboards (we can’t forget about the moving crab sign and Glico Man), and endless shopping.

The main attraction is the street food. There are many good eats in Osaka and smell of street food will make you want to try everything. The popular foods include takoyaki (round balls stuffed with octopus), okonomiyaki (shredded cabbage pancake), gyozas (dumplings), giant crab legs, taiyaki (fish shaped pastry and stuffed with red bean or other flavors), mochi/daifuku (soft rice cakes), and ramen (noodle soup).

The street food is reasonable, so you can try as many as you want from various vendors without breaking the bank. If you have a day trip or a few hours in Osaka, Dotonbori is definitely a place to check out.

Visit Osaka Castle

During your time in Osaka, we recommend visiting the Osaka Castle. Arguably one of the country’s most beautifully preserved castles, make no mistake that a visit to Osaka Castle should be on any Japan bucket list. And I don’t just mean taking a few photos from the outside of the castle, but to spend at least half a day exploring the stunning grounds and fantastic museum housed inside!

Boasting a collection of over 10,000 cool artefacts ranging from swords, weaponry, portraits and dioramas of significant battles the museum is dedicated to the city’s changing face throughout the centuries but in particular 17th century when Osaka was a huge trading hub. You’ll be amazed at the amount of time that would have been invested in painting the miniature figurines depicting the Summer War of Osaka.

Quite literally the cherry on the top of a visit is viewing the city from the castle’s panoramic observation deck. Standing proudly at 50 metres high, it’s the perfect vantage point to see the large scale of Osaka.  To continue your cultural tour through the city why not check out the best shrines and temples in Osaka.


Hiroshima Peace Memorial Museum 

by Chantal |

There are many things that should be on your Japan bucket list  but one of the true highlights was the city of Hiroshima and specifically the Hiroshima Peace Memorial Museum. You can take a day trip to Hiromisha from Osaka or Kyoto if time is scarce otherwise I recommend staying 2-3 days so you can visit Miyajima Island.

The Hiroshima Peace Memroial Museum tells you all about the atomic bombing of Hiroshima on August 6, 1945, by the United States during World War II. A visit to this museum takes you back to this horrific day by showing you the personal belongings of the victims, artefacts that were found after the bombing and videos of the emotional stories of survivors.

Visiting the Hiroshima Peace Memorial Museum will leave in you tears but I think it definitely should be on the top of your bucket list for Japan because it’s essential to understand this part of the country’s history and Hiroshima’s important message to eliminate all nuclear weapons around the world.

Itsukushima Shrine, Miyajima 

by Kavita

Often combined with a visit to Hiroshima, this beautiful island is just off the coast of Japan’s mainland, about 20 kilometres to the South West.

Although the island’s official name is Itsukushima, it’s popularly known Miyajima (“island shrine”) in honour of its famous Shinto shrine with ‘floating’ O-torii gate. Built out on the sands, when the tide is in the gate appears to float but when the tide is out, visitors can walk out to touch the gate.

The shrine dates back to the 6th century and, until relatively recently, the entire island was considered sacred, with commoners forbidden from stepping foot ashore. Building the torii and part of the shrine out over the water allowed commoner pilgrims to visit whilst maintaining the island’s purity.

Today, all visitors are welcome on the island, which is reached by a short ferry from the mainland. There is more to explore than the shrine, including Daisho-In, a Shingon Buddhist temple on Mount Misen, a five-storey pagoda, and the tame deer that live on the island. If you can stay overnight, you will be rewarded by a more peaceful experience once the day-trippers leave, and can spend some time on Mount Misen as well the small residential area where Itsukushima Shrine is located.

See a Baseball Game 

by James Davies  |

Baseball is huge in Japan, having been introduced to the country in the late 1800s. Even if you’re not a huge fan of the sport you shouldn’t pass up the opportunity to watch a game if you get the chance.

There are twelve teams in Japan based in several cities across the country, including Tokyo, Osaka, Nagoya, Hiroshima and Sapporo, so getting baseball tickets is relatively easy. Though very similar to the game in the United States, baseball games in Japan are a lot shorter, making it a great night out.

At the stadium there’s an abundance of food to chow down on as the game gets underway, and watching the behaviour of the passionate fans is as much a part of the spectacle as the game itself. Each team’s fans politely take it in turns to roar out chants in support of their team, only doing so when it’s their team’s turn to bat. When it’s not their turn they stand in a respectful silence and let the rival team’s fans chant unopposed. Another highlight comes at the end of the seventh innings, when fans launch thousands of balloons up into the sky.

Experience Autumn Colors

 by Ingrid Truemper |

Japan’s cherry blossoms may steal the headlines, but its fiery fall colour is equally spectacular. Cool, comfortable weather and an abundance of festivals make autumn a great time to visit. Leaf-peeping, known as koyo or momijigari, is a popular pastime for the Japanese. Red maples, Japanese maples (momiji), gingkos, and other deciduous trees blaze with glorious shades of crimson, orange, and yellow.

Autumn colour begins in the northern region of Hokkaido in mid-September and sweeps its way down the country. Best viewing times typically range from mid-October through early December. To time your visit to coincide with peak colour, consult the many fall foliage forecasts online. Peak viewing in each location typically lasts between two to five weeks, making autumn leaves longer-lasting and more reliable than cherry blossoms. Hikers can explore

Japan’s meandering mountain trails to experience the countryside in its full glory. Cities such as Tokyo, Kyoto, and Nara also offer stunning fall colour in temple gardens and city parks.

Skiing at Myoko Kogen 

by Rachel Rodda |

Did you know that the powder snow in Japan is thought to be the driest in the world? When you consider the annual snowfall is more than 10 metres and the fact there are hundreds of resorts peppered throughout the country, you start to get an idea of why skiing in Japan is the ultimate bucket list experience.

The Myoko Kogen ski area is one of the biggest in Japan and receives around 14m of snow per year, with the base often over 4m!  The resort is quieter and more traditional than some other popular areas such as Niseko and Nagano which makes it a great place to take the family or those seeking a more authentic Japanese ski experience.

After hitting the slopes, rest your weary muscles at one of the gorgeous thermal hot spring onsens in the village before heading out to indulge in Japanese specialities such as okonomiyaki, sashimi or a steaming bowl of noodles.

If time permits do more than day trip here. It really was my favourite day and I would have loved to of had a couple of days to explore and hang with the deers! 

You can get to Nara from Kyoto via the JR or Kintetsu line. If you have a JR Rail Pass, I recommend the Miyakoji Kaisoku Express as it only takes 45 minutes.

HOW MUCH: Tours start from $40
SUGGESTED TOURS: Nara Like a Local, Nara Cultural Tour

The Okunoin Cemetery in Koya-san 

 Talek Nantes |

The Okunoin Cemetery in Koya-san, Japan is interesting enough during the day.  But at night this vast necropolis, the final resting place of over 200,000 souls, becomes eerie, mysterious and somehow beautiful. And that is the best time to visit.  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.

The cemetery is lit by stone lanterns that emit a ghostly yellow light every few feet. Flying squirrels and the sounds of night owls add to the ghostly atmosphere. Colourful stone figures dot the cemetery, a silent reminder of the children whose souls they are entrusted with protecting. The figurines, call Jizo Bosatsu, wear knitted hats and aprons to protect them from the elements.

The tour ends at the mausoleum of Kobo Daishi, the monk who founded the temple complex and  Shingon Buddhism. Kobo Daishi is believed to be in deep meditation for centuries and food is lovingly and ritually prepared for him daily.


 Sapporo Snow Festival 

 Sapporo Snow Festival | by Allan Wilson |

The Sapporo Snow Festival is an annual festival that takes place through 7 days in February, in Sapporo, the capital city of Hokkaido. Here the main site would be the city’s central Odori Park, which hosts around 300 plus ice sculptures, often replicating iconic buildings and architecture from around the world.

The light-and-sound show is a favourite amongst the crowds! It is typically geared towards the modern pop culture, like movies and gaming, and similar is found with the smaller ice sculptures that often share the trends and phenomenon of the past year. Dotted throughout the park there are also loads of varying eating and entertainment experiences, including food stalls, beer tents, and even a snowboarding slope. Just plenty to keep you entertained. But the highlight for me would definitely be the observation deck of the Sapporo TV Tower, which shares panoramic birds-eye views over the city and festival park.

Stay in a Ryokan 

Stay in a Ryokan | by Aga Kozmic  |

Ryokan is a traditional style inn, which can be found throughout the country – especially in hot spring resorts. It’s my absolute favourite type of accommodation in Japan and I would like to convince everyone to give it a try at least once.

Let me start with the food. Most ryokan have food (dinner and breakfast) included in the price. Both, or at least the dinner, can be served in your room. They are elaborate and should be considered a form of art. Local, seasonal produce shines in the menu. If you’re staying in a coastal area you’ll get a lot of seafood, inland it will be more about vegetables and meat.

The onsen baths are also a special treat. Some rooms have a smaller private onsen tub but you haven’t stayed at a ryokan until you’ve tried the real deal. Main onsen baths are heaven – they’re large, beautifully designed and often with an outdoor area. They usually can be booked late in the evening for private bathing so even if you have a problem with being naked around strangers, you have no excuse if it’s just you (or you and your partner). The onsen is not only the most relaxing thing but the water also makes your skin silky smooth.

The service, which generally in Japan is of one of the highest standards, is also outstanding. The English speaking staff may be very limited in the more remote locations but google translate exists for occasions like this.

It is pricey – the prices start from ~¥40000/AUD450 (with dinner and breakfast) but it is worth it to splurge on it, even just for one night.

Hike Mount Fuji 

by Sarah Carter |

Mount Fuji is one of THE iconic views of Japan, but you shouldn’t just look at her, you should hike her too!  To hike her, you don’t need to be a super fit mountaineer, you don’t need to visit during hiking season – you can hike areas of Fuji outside season – and that’s what we did – We hiked Fuji in Fall.  And she was glorious.

Outside of the climbing season (you can only hike to the top of Mount Fuji during the official climbing season, which runs from X to X), you can get to Station 6 without support.  Outside of the climbing season, there are no crowds, there are no lines to walk up the mountain, you can get a seat on the local bus and you can get a room for the night locally without re-mortgaging your house.  Plus, if you hike Fuji in Fall you get to see the amazing Japanese fall foliage, which is truly spectacular.

To hike Fuji you’ll need to stay in the local town of Kawaguchiko, from here you can get a local bus to the climbing base, the 5th station.  From here walking is easy, you can take a bus to Station 5 of 8 (8 being the summit) and then walk along the trails up to Station 6.  And the views are spectacular. For adventures, this is one to add to your things to do in Japan list!

Back at the 5th Station, there is an incredible trail down the mountain called the Ochudo Trail, it’s a glorious walk.

See the Snow Monkeys 

by The Travel Sisters |

One of the coolest things to do in Japan is to visit Jigokudani Snow Monkey Park and watch the famous Japanese snow monkeys soaking in a hot spring. The snow monkeys are Japanese macaques famed for their red/pink faces and for hanging out in warm hot springs just inches away from visitors. Watching their snow monkey antics is delightful – some monkeys keep jumping in the springs, some play and chase each other, some cuddle, some groom each other and some just enjoy a soak in the warm water.

Jigokudani Snow Monkey Park is located in the Nagano prefecture of Japan about 3 hours travel time each way from Tokyo so it can be visited as a day trip from Tokyo. Reaching the hot springs where the snow monkeys hang out involves a relatively easy hike on a 1.6 km trail through the beautiful forest. While the park is open year round, winter is the best time to see these cute monkeys as everything is covered in snow making them true “snow monkeys”.

If the Japanese snow monkeys have sparked your interest this ‘Ultimate Guide to Japanese Snow Monkeys‘ will be very helpful!


Visit Matsushima Bay 

by Roanna Keyes |

Matsushima Bay is a gorgeous area along the Pacific coast, of Japan’s Miyagi Prefecture.  The Bay is sprinkled with over 200 hundred islands, most lush with Pine trees. The bay has been celebrated as one of Japan’s three most scenic areas for hundreds of years.

Fukuura Island is one of the largest in the bay.  The island is serene and garden-like, with walking trails interwoven between the pines, leading to various overlooks onto the bay.  Visitors can get to Fukuura Island on a long red pedestrian bridge to experience its tranquil atmosphere. On the other side of the pier is a shorter bridge leading to Oshima Island.  Although much smaller, Oshima was once a retreat for monks, and the meditation caves still remain.

Most other islands in Matsushima are not accessible and are best seen by a boat tour.  Several vendors offer tours of 30 minutes to an hour, departing from Matsushima Pier. Take a longer cruise to see the more remote islands in the bay.  They run around 1,500 yen, which is about 12 dollars, or 10.5 euros. To experience one of Japan’s most stunning landscapes, it is a great deal

Dogo Onsen in Matsuyama 

by Michael Turtle |

Visiting a traditional onsen (hot spring bath) is one of the most Japanese things you do – and they don’t come much more traditional than Dogo Onsen.

This hot spring bath in the city of Matsuyama on Shikoku island has a history of more than 3000 years. Not only is it one of the oldest and most famous onsens in Japan, it’s also a favourite with the country’s Imperial Family. There is a special and private bath that is reserved for the emperor (and his immediate family) if he ever decides to stop by.

Dogo Onsen is housed within a beautiful wooden building and it’s open to locals and tourists. The inside feels a bit like a maze as you go through corridors with paper walls and into a room with tatami mat floors where you can have tea and sweets.

There are a few different baths, separated by gender, that you can choose from. As with most Japanese onsen, you’ll need to go naked and clean yourself thoroughly before getting in the hot water. But taking part in this local tradition is one of the things that makes this such a special experience.

Visit Japan during Hanami

by Clemens Sehi  |

One of my favourite things to do in Japan is visit during the season of cherry blossom. What, for most nations of the world, is only the blossom of a tree, it represents a truly magic season for everyone in Japan. It’s the time of the year, when groups of friends, colleagues or families meet to gather under a cherry tree of their choice and do a “hanami” – a picnic under the cherry tree including sake, snacks and music.

Apart from the individual hanami, there are also many festivals that are happening all over Japan. Some of the major events during “sakura”, which is the Japanese word for cherry blossom, are happening at the Ueno Park in Tokyo, in Arashiyama in Kyoto or at the Nara Park in Nara. However, cherry blossom is actually everywhere in Japan as it kind of wanders from  Southern Japan to the very North. Usually it takes place between March and April.

We had our own hanami experience at the Matsumoto castle, which is closely located to Nagano. When we arrived at the castle, the entire park surrounding it was crowded with people, Japanese and tourists alike, all making music, singing and simply enjoying the shade under the cherry tree while sipping on some sake. Advice: Inform yourself before you head to Japan in order to find some spots and don’t miss out on the night blossom events, during which parks are lit up and market stalls offer Japanese street food.

Venture to Okinawa

by Alex Waltner  |

Okinawa is starting to get more noticed and is becoming one of the coolest things to do in Japan. It has been dubbed the Hawaii of Japan, and for good reason. The nature is lush, the water is turquoise, there are mountains and it used to belong to the U.S. Even Pikachu wears a Hawaiian shirt and you will find the sanshin instrument, which is the Japanese version of a ukulele.

The islands also have a rich culture from the Ryukyu kingdom, and when you’re not enjoying the beautiful nature, you can visit some fascinating castles and other archaeological sites.

Okinawa is also one of the world’s Blue Zones where people have the longest expected lifespan. Scientists aren’t quite sure why this is, but the probability theory is due to their diet and the sea salt with high nutrients and minerals. Fun fact, they even put the salt on ice cream!

Visit Shirakawa-go

by Elaine & David  |

One of the most memorable places we visited during our time in Japan was the UNESCO World Heritage Site of Shirakawa-go. Accessed by bus from Takayama and Kanazawa, visiting Shirakawa-go is like stepping back in time. The village consists of farmhouses with thatched roofs built in the gassho-zukuri architecture style, some of which are over 250 years old.

We loved strolling around the village among the many thatched farmhouses and seeing what life is like in this remote region. In winter the area is covered by a deep blanket of snow and this is one of the best times to visit. Our favourite experience during our time in Shirakawa-gowas the hike to a viewpoint above the village which provides access to one of the iconic images of Japan from its peak. It’s possible to stay overnight in one of the village farmhouses to truly experience what life is like in this remote region.

We highly recommend to anyone visiting Japan to take the time to visit this truly unique place.

Stay in Capsule Hotel

by Mike |

A capsule hotel is an alternative type of hotel that provides sleeping pods instead of proper rooms. The bathrooms and all other facilities are shared. But what is it like to sleep in a capsule hotel?

We tried it and stayed for two nights in a capsule hotel in Tokyo. We thought of it as ticking something of the Japan bucketlist but our experience was amazing and truly Japanese. As we entered the hotel, we had to change into traditional Japanese clothes as no outside clothes are allowed inside. The first floor of the hotel was the wellness area with a hot sauna and a refreshing pool. On the second floor, there were plenty of comfortable armchairs and a TV and massage area. The sleeping pods were on the third and on the fourth floor.

The pods contained a small TV (only Japanese channels), power outlets and a comfortable mattress. Due to the amazing facilities in the hotel, it didn’t feel like the concept was just created to put as many people in a very small space. It was rather the reinvention of space. A normal hotel would have normal rooms over four floors and the capsule hotel had amazing facilities over two floors and smaller rooms in to top two floors. Don’t miss out on this experience while you are in Japan.

Visit Hakone Hot Spring

by Shobha George |

Hakone is a mountain resort area in Japan within the environs of Mt Fuji that is easy to reach from Tokyo.  It’s known for its onsens (traditional Japanese hot spring baths) because of all of the geothermal activity in the region.

Traditional onsens though are segregated by gender and are strictly clothes-free. My children were uncomfortable not wearing bathing suits and so the Kowakien Yunessun onsen was the perfect option for us. This onsen has both a traditional gender-segregated Japanese side and a swimsuits-allowed family friendly area. The family area has some quirky hot springs such as geothermal water with added red wine, coffee or Japanese sake as well as a children’s play area with waterslides and sprinklers.

The traditional area is set in a beautiful Japanese garden overlooking the mountains. It’s a large complex which even has several restaurants, a shopping area and hotel rooms if you want to stay overnight and explore the area further. For example, a short walk away there is a beautiful outdoor modern art galley called the Hakone Open Air Museum.

Travel on the Shinkansen

by Maria & Rui |

The famous Japanese Shinkansen is known around the world as the bullet train due to its unique form and fast speed and is one of the most popular things to do in Japan. We travelled from Tokyo to Nagoya spent the night in Nagoya exploring and then headed to Kyoto.

The network of high-speed railway lines in Japan has expanded over the years, with almost 3000km of lines today. If you are looking for a way to travel around Japan, the Shinkansen really is the way to go! With maximum speeds that can reach 320km per hour, you can travel around Japan even when you have very limited time. Even though prices aren’t exactly affordable, the Japan Rail Pass is a very cost-effective way for tourists to visit the country especially if you are staying 10 days or more.

Travelling on the Shinkansen is not like taking any other train around the world, as some of its characteristics are very telling of the Japanese culture itself. Punctuality is taken to the second, everything is clearly organized, incredibly clean and comfortable. Signs and announcements inside the train are also done in English. The experience is very comfortable, with food and toilets available on every train. The newer trains are also equipped with Wi-Fi.

What are your favourite things to do in Japan? Comment below.


+Kumamoto, Japan…the comeback city fights
+Kyoto Guide, where to stay, what to do, where to eat
+Tokyo Guide, where to stay, what to do, where to eat

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2 thoughts on “The Ultimate Bucket List for Japan: 30 + best things to do in Japan

  1. Wow massive list! I think my favorite thing was really just the experience of being in Japan. Everything is so clean and organized and it’s super easy to get around without having to drive.

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