The island country of Japan is a top bucket list item. The Land of Rising Sun offers plenty of unique and enchanting experiences. Japan has a rich cultural heritage and has some of the magnificent palaces, temples, and shrines. From museums to cultural performances, national parks, adventure activities, vibrant festivals and traditional Japanese cuisine you will never fall short of things to do in Japan.
We asked our travel blogger friends to share their favorite things to do and see in Japan which should be on everyone’s bucket list. Here you go –
Stay in a Japanese Ryokan
A Ryokan is a traditional Japanese inn that is said to have existed since the 8th century A.D. In fact, Nishiyama Onsen Keiunkan, a hot spring hotel is world’s second oldest hotel which dates back to 705 A.D.
These hotels are decorated in a typical style which consists of sliding paper doors, tatami floor mats, common bathing areas or Ofuro, and large common areas where guests can sit and talk. And are located in scenic areas where the doors and windows open up to the views of mountains or sea. Staying in Ryokans is one of the great ways to experience the Japanese culture and devour on healthy and delicious Japanese traditional cuisine.
Some of these Ryokans also offer meditation, Yoga and cooking classes.
Taking Samurai Lessons
Recommended By Kiyoko of FOOTSTEPS OF A DREAMER
One of the things that often comes to mind when thinking of Japan is the legendary samurai, famous for their honor, loyalty, and military prestige. Although the samurai ways were abolished in the late 1800 ‘s in favor of a more western style army, many of their cultural traditions influenced Japan’s culture as a whole and are still practiced today. One such cultural tradition is Kembu, a martial art that combines swordplay with dance.
In Kyoto, you’ll find that the Samurai Kembu Theater not only practices Kembu but also offers “Samurai Lessons” where you can put on the traditional hakama robes and learn the way of the katana and Japanese fan just as the samurai did in the past. There are two different options for lessons: the light lesson (¥7000) and the full lesson (¥9000).
The easiest way to get to the Samurai Kembu Theater is by train. It is located right next to Sanjo Station, making it easily accessible by the Tozai Line and Keihan Main Line. Typically there is only one show and lesson per day. Doors open at 5:00 PM with a demonstration beginning at 5:15 PM and the lesson being conducted immediately after that. During popular times such as cherry blossom season and Christmas, a second demonstration and lesson are held in the morning, with doors opening at 11:15 AM and the lesson beginning at 11:30 AM.
Visiting Nara Deer Park
Recommended By Thais Saito of WORLD TRIP DIARIES
Japan is full of unique experiences, but where else in the world would you be able to interact and feed wild deer? In a park, in the middle of the city? Well, in Nara, you can.
The deer are sacred animals in Japan, and they are roaming around the city in Nara. Even though we did not see it happening, they can get aggressive if they really want food. There are many vendors on the streets and throughout the park selling the biscuit for the deer. They really love it and we had so much fun feeding them! We found that they bite the clothes to ask for more food so wear loose clothing to avoid getting bit like me.
We started by giving the deer the whole biscuit, but when we started running out of it (in less than 5 minutes), we started giving them pieces of it – they accept them just fine. Splurge and feed the deer whole biscuits of giving them crumbs, it’s all up to your personal choice (and safety bearings).
The park is beautiful, full of trees that change colors with the seasons. It’s connecting to many temples, including the giant Buddha statue. Spending the day walking the peaceful and sacred streets is marvelous. They’re beautiful, really, and way less noisy than the temples. It can get quite crowded, so visit early in the morning or later in the afternoon!
The park itself is free to visit, but the biscuits and some of the temples, should you wish to visit them, are paid. To have a full authentic Japanese experience, don’t miss a meal at one of the traditional restaurants in the area. There are many but bear in mind that they close between lunch and dinner!
It’s super easy to get to Nara from either Osaka or Kyoto (30 minutes by regular trains) and since you can see most of it in one day, there’s no need for an overnight stay.
Osaka Museum of Housing and Living
Recommended By Laura Hartley of WHAT’S HOT
Step back in time at Osaka Museum of Housing and Living where they have recreated full-scale streets and buildings from the Edo period in Japan. This is a one of a kind museum in Japan which focuses on Japanese homes and way of life. Any visitor to Japan from the West will appreciate the huge differences between this culture and their own but few will ever get to see inside a real Japanese home.
Although this exhibition space is a blast from the past, you can still appreciate the cultural history that influences Japanese people today. No detail is spared inside this exhibit with dimming lights that come and off so you can experience Osaka during both day and night. You can also visit all kinds of old shops and establishments such as a kimono shop and the town hall. This is not one to miss if you are interested in the history and culture of Japan!
To make the experience really special you can rent a kimono and immerse yourself in past Osaka. This will only cost you 500 Yen making this one of the cheapest kimono renting experiences you can have in Japan so it is definitely something to consider if you are on a budget. As it is so cheap it is a very popular experience but they sell a limited number of tickets per day. If you are hoping to try the kimono experience then I suggest you get to the museum earlier in the day to queue and get a ticket for the kimono experience later on.
Address: Housing Information Center 8F, 6-4-20 Tenjinbashi, Kita-ku, Osaka-shi
Getting there: Hop off at Tenjimbashisuji 6-chome station and it’s a two-minute walk away. It is in an unassuming building and you’ll go up to the tenth floor to start your tour.
Price: 600 Yen for adults, 300 Yen for students (As of 2018)
Getting Involved in a Matsuri
Recommended By Josy of A WALK AND A LARK
Japan has hundreds and hundreds of matsuri festivals, all over the country at all times of the year. Some are huge, with thousands of people eating, dancing, watching fireworks or having a giggle (JNTO has a whole list of those here). However, my favorite matsuri is the smaller versions that you will find in every small town, village or community.
The best place to find local festivals is often through friends (if you know any Japanese people in an area). However, if you don’t know many Japanese people (yet) try prefectural government websites. For example, if you’re visiting Nara, you can find a whole list of them here. It is really fun just to turn up, dress up in a yukata, sample the food and watch the festivities But if you get the chance to join in, do it!
Just to give you an idea of the possibilities, here are a few examples of the fun little festivals I’ve stumbled into:
When I was a student in Osaka, a group of us helped carry a mikoshi (portable shrine) in Ikeda. We dressed up in traditional happi coats, drank plenty of sake and helped carry the mikoshi around town.
I had the most fun ever at a tiny festival in rural Nara. This time my friends and I met the mayor, helped carry the mikoshi, (even when we all fell into a rice paddy at one point!) and finished by attempting to catch mochi, thrown down to festival-goers at the end of the day!
One of my friends performed in the Shishimai (lion dance), also in rural Nara.
If you’re a bloke, you can join the Hadaka Matsuri (naked man festival) in Okayama every February. I’ve had fun watching that one. Don’t worry, everyone wears fundoshi (the pants that sumos wear)
There are plenty of sake festivals! My favorite is probably the one in Saijo, near Hiroshima in October. You won’t get to carry a shrine, but you can taste a whole lot of sake!
If you fancy a giggle, the Honen Matsuri (penis festival) in Aichi is really fun! You line the streets as a procession of phalli are paraded through town. The willy-shaped foods can be pretty fun to discover too!
There are many, many options! It all depends on when and where you’ll be visiting in Japan. But if you can squeeze in a festival (or three) I guarantee you will have a blast!
Recommended By Alex of SWEDISH NOMAD
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 a 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.
Skiing the Japanese Alps
Recommended By Thea of ZEN TRAVELLERS
While Japan may not be the first destination that comes to mind for skiing, it is an increasingly popular destination for those looking to hit the slopes with a slightly different flavor. The Japanese Alps on the main island reach heights of over 3100m and receive heaps of snow (Japow!) that blows in from the Pacific Ocean. While I was skiing at Hakuba in the Nagano Prefecture, for example, the hill received over 40cm of freshly fallen snow overnight which made for some truly wicked skiing.
Another amazing place to ski is Nozawa Onsen for its varied terrain, insanely high average snowfalls, and delightful après scene. The ski hill is named after the quaint, traditional mountain town where it resides which features over 13 different public onsens (hot springs), including one just for your feet! This insanely picturesque town receives so much snow that it’s not uncommon to see people shoveling piles of it off their roofs into the street below, so you need to watch out for heaps of snow falling down on you when you’re walking around. And the snow banks were almost as tall as me!
Perhaps the best part about skiing in Japan is after a day of slaying japow nothing beats sinking into an onsen to warm weary bones and soak away any aches and pains. Afterward, you can indulge in delicious sake, savory ramen, and traditional oyaki (stuffed buns steamed in hot spring water) for a unique après experience. Indeed, skiing in the Japanese Alps combines world-class terrain and snow conditions with a side of culture not seen elsewhere.
Watch a Kabuki Performance
Recommended By Halef and Michael of THE ROUND THE WORLD GUYS
Japan has so many ancient arts and traditions, and one thing that you should add to your Japan bucket list is a Kabuki performance at the famous Kabukiza Tokyo National Theater.
For hundreds of years, traditional Kabuki has been performed on many prominent stages across Japan. Kabuki involves acting, singing and dancing. The actors, who are traditionally male, wear over the top costumes and make-up. For that reason, Kabuki is oftentimes referred to as ‘the bizarre shows’.
Here, a Kabuki show lasts for five hours in the daytime, and traditionally lunch is a part of Kabuki experience. They provide a half-hour lunch intermission when everybody eats. You will need to bring your own bento lunch box!
But if you don’t, no problem. You can always purchase food and drink at the theater’s food vendor. You will need 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.
Stay in a Capsule Hotel
Recommended By Shelley of TRAVEL-STAINED
The first time I saw an image of a capsule hotel (in the movie, Baraka), I wasn’t sure what I was seeing. These quirky accommodations made up of individual sleeping pods stacked one on top of another, are super weird… but let’s face it, also super cool. Each is big enough to let 1 person lie down comfortably for the night, in relative privacy. And I knew I HAD to stay in one eventually.
Pod hotels are a rarity in the western world, but they’ve been a mainstay of Japanese culture for quite some time. Contrary to belief, however, their main purpose is not as a source of budget lodging for backpackers visiting the country. No, mostly they’re used by local businessmen, who’ve either a) worked too late to get home or b) can’t make it home because they’ve had too much to drink. That’s why, traditionally, there have not been that many capsule hotels available for women to stay at.
I found one available to both genders during a long layover in Tokyo, at a Japanese capsule hotel called First Cabin Haneda, It was significantly more affordable than an airport hotel, had comfortable beds, wifi, computers, a lounge, vending machine with snacks, and even a bathing area and hot tub stocked with free Shisheido products to use. The hotel also provided pajamas, toothpaste, towels, slippers and everything you could possibly need for an overnight stay, meaning no digging around in packed bags desperately looking for things, after a long-haul flight.
Keep in mind that capsules are not the quietest places, with people coming and going at all hours of the day and night. I’d suggest bringing earplugs. And while capsule hotels can be found all over the country, most still only allow men to stay in them. Make sure that women are allowed to make a reservation before booking. Those that do accept both genders are strictly segregated because most include open bathing areas. Couple capsules are extremely rare, though this is slowly changing as more and more tourists seek out a night in one to add to their Japan bucket list.
Cherry Blossom in Shinjuku Gyoen Park, Tokyo
Recommended By Kylie Gibbon of OUR OVERSEAS ADVENTURES
Shinjuku Gyoen during cherry blossom season in spring should be high on your bucket list if you’re looking for one of the best places in Tokyo to spot the sakura (blossoms). This beautiful park is at its best during the cherry blossom season when the locals celebrate hanami – the local tradition of picnicking in the park.
The 58-acre park dates back to the 1600’s and is split into three areas – the traditional Japanese style gardens, more formal French gardens and English landscape gardens with huge lawns. There are hundreds of cherry trees in the park, of a dozen different varieties so you get to see a wonderful assortment of the different types of blossoms. It’s a wonderful place to escape the hustle and bustle of Tokyo for a couple of hours.
Do as the locals do and grab a picnic from the wonderful food hall at the nearby Isetan department store, take a blanket and spread out under one of the trees to watch the blossoms blowing in the wind. The people watching element is almost as good as admiring the pretty blossoms!
While you’re at the park, take some time to visit the beautiful Kyu Goryotei (also known as the Taiwan Pavilion), donated by the people of Taiwan for the Showa Emperor’s wedding. Another great spot in spring is the stunning azalea grove, full of perfectly sculpted almost neon colored azaleas that are wonderful to wander around and take some great photos.
Getting to the park is easy as it’s located right by Shinjuku metro station – which is also the largest in the world with over 3.6 million passengers per day! Be careful to choose the correct exit (and not walk one km the wrong way like we did!) which is the “New South Exit” from the JR Shinjuku Station. There’s a small entry charge of 200 yen to visit Shinjuku Gyoen but it’s really worth it. Allow two to three hours to explore the park fully.
Eating Kobe Beef in Kobe
Recommended by Lindsay of THE NEVERENDING WANDERLUST
One of the most memorable experiences from my trips to Japan has to be eating Kobe beef in Kobe. I have always been a fan of a ‘good steak’ but I wasn’t prepared for the culinary experience I encountered.
On my third trip to Japan, my friends and I decided to focus our efforts on Osaka and take a day trip to Kobe. Kobe is only 30-45min (by train) from Shin-Osaka and the train usually costs around 550 yen. Once you reach Kobe, you can head directly to the restaurant or purchase a city loop bus ticket. The city loop bus is a fantastic, cheap way to see the city and the buses are super cute!
My foodie friends did a lot of research before heading to Kobe and decided that Tor Road Steak Aoyama was the perfect mix of affordability and authenticity. This lovely little restaurant offers a lunch special for 51,000 yen and it includes soup, salad, bread or rice, two kinds of beef, and coffee or tea. Upon arriving in Kobe, we immediately took the 10min walk to the restaurant from the train station. We wanted to see if it was possible to get in without a reservation. Although they had no space at the time, they asked us to come back in a couple hours and they would have space for us. We felt very fortunate to get in at all and happily toured the city for until it was time for lunch. The meal we had was nothing short of exquisite and it is a meal I will remember for the rest of my life. I even recall joking that we should forgo the rest of our vacation and spend our money on more Kobe beef. It was that good.
Out of the very few places I’ve visited in Japan; Tokyo, Osaka, Kyoto, and Kobe, the experience I had at Tor Road Steak Aoyama is one of the very best I’ve had. Not only in Japan, but while traveling as well. If you find yourself visiting the Kansai area of Japan, take the time to visit Kobe – you won’t regret it.
Visiting the Okunoshima Island or the Bunny Island
Recommended By Natasha & Cameron of THE WORLD PURSUIT
One of the absolute best things I did with my time in Japan was to visit Okunoshima island, or better known as Bunny Island. Maybe you have heard of it or seen the photos, but pretty much Okunoshima is an island filled with hundreds of bunnies! Visitors can come here and enjoy the rabbit filled island. I came in the middle of February and ended up being the only person on the island, however, in the high season, you will likely find more people.
So how did all these bunnies get to Okunoshima? During WWII, the isolated island served as a top-secret location for a poison gas factory. Sadly, rabbits were used as test subjects for chemical weapons such as tear and mustard gas.
There is no proof now that the bunnies are direct ancestors from their wartime friends, so no one can say for certain why the island still has over 1000 bunnies now. Besides enjoying the bunnies there is also an interesting Poison Gas Museum as well as some ruins from the plants. There is one hotel on the island, but it is fairly basic.
From nearby Hiroshima take a train or a bus to get to JR Tadanoumi Station. You will then need to walk five minutes to the ferry station and hop on the Okunoshima ferry. Once you arrive at the island get excited – there are hundreds of cute bunnies waiting for you. Bring some food to make friends quickly. You can easily stay in Takehara at an Airbnb for easy access to the island.
Cherry Blossom at Yoshino Mountain
Recommended By James of TRAVEL COLLECTING
Imagine standing under an awning of pale flowers, gazing out a mountain painted with a wide streak of pink. Few sights are as magical as Yoshino Mountain, one of the most famous places in Japan to view cherry blossoms. There are over 30,000 cherry trees on the mountain and when the flowers are in full bloom, it is a truly awe-inspiring sight.
Arriving at Yoshino Station on the Kintetsu Railway from Osaka or Kyoto (about an hour and a half on a limited express train), you are immediately surrounded by thousands of pale pink trees. Ascend from this Shimo Senbon (lower) area of the mountain on foot, by ropeway (currently closed) or bus up to Yoshino town, perched on a ridge on the Naka Senbon (middle) area of the mountain. Visit Yoshino’s temples or shrines, enjoy the views of the mountainside swathed in pink, and eat Yoshino’s famous “Kaki-no-ha zushi” (mackerel sushi wrapped in persimmon leaves) at one of the many restaurants here. Or even better, continue up to the Kami Senbon (upper) area where the town ends and have a hanami (cherry blossom viewing party) in a park under the trees. Having a hanami is a national obsession at this time of year, and it is easy to see why. Eating sushi and drinking sake or beer surrounded by puffs of pink flowers is a truly amazing experience.
March-May, the blooming of the sakura (cherry blossom) trees are reported daily on Japanese TV, as the peak blooms spread across the islands. Yoshinoyama’s cherry blossoms typically start opening in late March or early April and reach full bloom around early to mid-April. This coincides with the traditional Hanakueshiki Festival on April 10-12. Mountain priests, pages, monks, demons and warrior servants parade noisily through the streets, creating a colorful spectacle. Don’t go on those days if you want some solitude – it seems as if half of Japan is squashed into the tiny mountain-side town.
The sakura embodies the Japanese soul and spirit – the appreciation of beauty, the shared enjoyment of a hanami and then, as the days progress and the petals fall, the feeling of sadness at the passing of temporary beauty – and there is no better place in Japan to appreciate this.
Explore the Scenic Region of Gokayama
Recommended By Rhonda Krause of TRAVEL YES PLEASE
Gokayama is a scenic region in Toyama Prefecture where visitors can get a glimpse into rural mountain life while sharing in the traditions and local culture that have been preserved for generations.
The World Heritage listed village of Ainokura is the primary place to visit in Gokayama. Here you can see the region’s thatched roof farmhouses, a traditional Japanese style of the building known as gassho-zukuri. These steep-roof houses are especially scenic when surrounded by snow.
Some of the gassho-zukuri houses have been turned into museums where you can learn about local industries during the Edo period. Other houses are used as inns, giving visitors the opportunity to spend the night with a local family and experience a traditional farmhouse stay.
A hands-on way to enjoy the culture and traditions of Gokayama is to try making washi paper, an important craft of Japan. You can choose to make various items, including postcards or hand fans. If you prefer, you can also buy other expertly crafted washi paper souvenirs from shops in the area.
Gokayama can be reached by bus from the popular tourist destinations of Kanazawa and Takayama, as well as Toyama. Once in Gokayama, you can use a local bus to travel between the region’s main villages.
Japanese Snow Monkeys
Recommended By Sylvia of WAPITI TRAVEL
The Japanese Snow Monkeys are unlike anything else we have seen before. Our journeys have taken us to many locations and we have countless cute monkey pics – we just can’t get enough of them – but never before could we witness monkeys taking a hot bath.
We had added Yudanaka to our itinerary after seeing all these lovely picturesque scenes of snow-covered monkeys enjoying their hot pools. In March all snow had melted but our visit was still worthwhile. We spent a half day watching playful monkeys chasing each other and occasionally taking a dip in the pool.
The snow monkeys are actually Japanese macaques. They live up the mountains but started coming down to warm themselves up in the hot pools. The original pool was quite small but nearby residents created a larger pool which attracted more monkeys. Later on, the national park Jigokudani Yaenkoen, commonly known as Snow Monkey Park, was created to protect the monkeys. The snow monkey park is just outside Yudanaka and Shibu onsen where you will find numerous hotels and Ryokans. It’s easy to get to Yudanaka by train and the route is completely covered by your Japan Rail Pass.
The best time to visit the snow monkeys would, of course, be in Winter when they spend the majority of their time in the hot pools to warm up. But as Winter is not the best time to visit other areas in Japan you will be glad to hear that a visit outside of this season is also worthwhile. Each season has its own charms and the monkeys enjoy their time in the park all year round. As it gets warmer they will spend less time in the hot pools though. That’s why you should make sure to get to the park early enough before temperatures start rising.
TIP: From the parking, it’s about a kilometer over a trail through the forest to the entrance of the park. Make sure you wear appropriate footwear. The trail may be covered in snow in the winter and other seasons the trail can be muddy.
Dinner With a Maiko
Recommended by Sally Lucas of OUR 3 KIDS V THE WORLD
Number one on my bucket list for Japan was seeing a Geisha. Geisha sighting is most common in Kyoto where if you are lucky you might see one in the Gion area as they shuffle between engagements. Geisha are Japanese women who study the ancient tradition of art, dance, and singing and are distinctively identified through their traditional costumes and makeup. Geisha are often mistaken for Japanese prostitutes, this is not true, Geisha are highly respected in Japan and the road to becoming a Geisha is a very challenging path for young teens.
Maiko are apprentice Geisha, Maiko in Kyoto commence there training aged 15 years old, they are required to leave their family homes and live in a traditional geisha house called an ‘okiya’. Often their training begins as housemaids in the ‘okiya’. There are a number of stages a Maiko must pass through before becoming a Geisha. Geisha numbers are much fewer, this is likely due to the introduction of western culture.
On our recent visit to Kyoto, I researched the best places to see Geisha. There are a number of walking tours although they do not guarantee a sighting. There are many tours that enable you to visit a Geisha at a tea ceremony, these are extremely expensive. I found a tour through Veltra that offered dinner with a Maiko where you were able to have a photo with the Maiko after the ceremony. I found this to be reasonably priced and perfect for what I wanted to do.
The ceremony included a bento dinner box mostly consisting of seafood, during our meal a Maiko entertained the group with dancing and playing an instrument. I found her to be exquisitely beautiful and impeccably attired. She was very elegant in her movements and I am certain she will one day become a perfect Geisha. This was by far my most treasured traveling experience and one I highly recommend if you are traveling to Kyoto.
A Professional Sumo Wrestling Tournament
Recommended By Matilda of THE TRAVEL SISTERS
Attending a professional sumo wrestling tournament is a must on any Japan bucket list. Sumo wrestling is Japan’s national sport with a very long history dating to ancient times. Watching sumo wrestling is a fun, unique and interesting cultural experience with many rituals and traditions including singing, salt-tossing, foot stomping and ring entering ceremonies.
Professional sumo tournaments lasting fifteen days each take place six times a year in four cities in Japan. The easiest city to see sumo is Tokyo as it hosts 3 tournaments each year (in January, May, and September) and the stadium where the tournaments take place (Ryogoku Kokugikan) is easy to reach by public transportation. Sumo tournaments start and end on a Sunday and last for a total of fifteen days. Each day of the sumo tournament is long: starting in the morning with lower division wrestlers and finishing with the highest ranked wrestlers at the end of the day. You don’t need to devote a whole day to watch a sumo tournament, most spectators show up in mid-afternoon just in time to see the top-ranked wrestlers. However, if you get to the tournament earlier (which is what we did) the stadium is almost empty which makes it easier to take photos and video.
Tickets for the sumo tournaments go on sale more than a month before the first day and you can buy them online. While you might be able to find a few tickets the day of the tournament, it is best to book tickets early as the best seats and most dates are booked weeks in advance. If you are not in Japan during a professional tournament but still want to see sumo, some of the sumo stables (houses where the wrestlers train and live together) in Tokyo allow visitors to come and view a morning practice session.
Visiting the Small Town of Nikko
Recommended by Emily of KIDS AND COMPASS
Nikko is a small town which lies just a couple of hours north of Tokyo. It’s packed full of ancient history and beautiful natural sights, and is definitely worth visiting; a couple of days is ideal but Nikko can also be visited as a day trip from Tokyo if you’re short on time.
Most people visit Nikko to see its famous shrines. Nikko is a World Heritage Site and there are several temple complexes to visit. The best is the Toshugo Shrine where Tokugawa Ieyasu, often called the founder of modern Japan, is buried. The ornate and gilded decoration and carvings on the shrine buildings and gates are unusual in Japan, which is usually much more restrained when it comes to decor. You won’t see anything else like it in Japan!
You should also stroll around nearby Shoyoen garden which is especially beautiful in autumn. Maples and acers set this traditional Japanese garden ablaze with color, and this makes it one of the most beautiful places to see autumn leaves, or Koyo, in Japan.
Other sights in Nikko that you should try to see include the centuries-old vermillion Shinkyo bridge, which is said to be one of the best bridges in Japan; the botanical gardens; and the Tamozawa Imperial Villa which is a great example of a traditional palace with some interesting Western touches.
As well as its history, Nikko is also famous for some nearby natural sights which you can see if you’ve got a couple of days in the area. Near the city center, you can try to find the jizo statues lining the river which protect unborn children or hike in the woods to find waterfalls. Slightly further afield you’ll find the Lake Chuzenji area. Lake Chuzenji is a scenic lake fringed by forests and mountains and you can explore further hiking trails to find more waterfalls and shrines in this area.
Great Torii Gate at Miyajima Island
Recommended By Michelle of INTENTIONAL TRAVELERS
The Great Torii Gate is a well-known shrine in the bay of Miyajima island (also known as Itsukushima). In a matter of hours, you can witness the gate submerged in the bay and later, walk out to touch it when the tide goes out!
Miyajima makes an ideal day trip from Hiroshima to the North or Iwakuni to the South. Arrive at Miyajimaguchi Station by car or JR train, then cross to the island via ferry. This provides a great vantage point of the water-bound Torii monument.
From the ferry terminal, explore the area by foot. You’ll notice a lot of deer, which are incredibly tame and unafraid of people. (Caution: we saw one dear practically jump on top of a little boy to get his lunch!)
You can pay to enter the Itsukushima shrine on the shore, which is a designated National Treasure. Or wander the extensive Daishoin temple grounds, which are free. There are also numerous shops in town featuring traditional crafts and tasty treats.
Continue up Mt. Misen on the Daisho-in trail, a two-mile uphill journey, one stone step after the other. It’s a workout but very rewarding! At the summit, you’ll discover trails to hidden temples, monuments, and an observatory. An alternative to hiking is the paid ropeway/funicular, which you can take round trip or one way.
After several hours exploring Miyajima’s hidden treasures, be sure to return to the Torii Gate to see its transformation in the water before you depart!
Sapporo Beer Festival
Recommended By Bron Leeks of SMITHS HOLIDAY ROAD
On the island of Hokkaido, Japan lies the capital city of Sapporo. Starting in 1959 and for a whole month in Summer the central Odori park becomes home to Japans biggest beer festival. It is 1 kilometer long!
Open from midday to the evening and with over 13,000 seats locals and tourists join together under a huge open beer garden to enjoy the sunshine and the variety of beers. With long tables, people are encouraged to sit together and extend friendships.
Each beer brand like Asahi, Kirin, Suntory Premium Malts and Sapporo host a tent including an extensive food menu to enjoy. Beer is served in towers or kegs being 3L, 6L, and 10L, perfect to share amongst friends.
You can purchase beer and food form the allocated vans and then they are brought to your table. Right by the park is a playground making the whole Summer festival very family friendly.
The Kumano Kodo Pilgrimage
Recommended By Nick of NICK KEMBEL
In the wilds of Wakayama perfection, a mountainous peninsula south of Osaka and Nagoya, there is a sacred pilgrimage that goes back to ancient times. The Kumano Kodo should be on your bucket list if you want to get off the beaten track, explore nature, and embark on a spiritual journey.
For over 1000 years, priests, emperors, and pilgrims have come from across Japan to walk these trails, visiting the region’s famous shrines and purifying themselves in the natural hot springs. Today, you can do the same!
The Routes – The Kumano Kodo is not one but several pilgrimage routes in the region, which are collectively classified as a UNESCO World Heritage Site. The Nakahechi Route is the most popular, traversing the peninsula from west to east. Most trekkers begin near Tanabe and finishing at the Kuman Sanzan, three important Shinto Buddhist shrines. One of them, Kumano Nachi Taisha, overlooks Japan’s highest waterfall.
Many travelers base themselves in Hongu, home of the most important shrine, Kumano Hongu Taisha, as well as the largest torii gate in Japan. Another option is nearby Yunomine, a tiny onsen village with the world’s only UNESCO hot spring, to be enjoyed inside a little hut that only 1-2 people can use at once.
Most travelers spend 2-4 days walking the Nakahechi route, staying in traditional minshuku along the way. Another more difficult trek is the Kohechi Route, which begins at the sacred mountaintop temple town of Koyasan. Koyasan itself should also be on your bucket list! It is one of the best places in Japan to stay in a shukubo (temple lodging) and also features Okunoin, the largest and most important Buddhist cemetery in Japan.
How to Get There – From Osaka, you can catch the train to Tanabe, from where buses run to the start of the Nakahechi Route. If you don’t want to walk the whole trail, you can catch the bus all the way to Hongu or Yunomine, great places to base yourself for visiting the region’s onsens and shrines.
For Koyasan, catch the Nankai Koya line to Gokurakubashi. The train ticket includes a free ride on the cable car up to Koyasan.
Recommended By Bertaut & Alexis of WORLD TRAVEL ADVENTURES
Sensoji is Tokyo’s oldest and most photographed temple and definitely needs to be on your Japan bucket list. This ancient Buddhist temple dedicated to Kannon, the goddess of mercy, was built in 645 but was rebuilt after being destroyed in World War 2. The colorful crimson temple and five-story pagoda will make you feel like you’ve gone back in time as incense wafts through the air and locals practice ancient traditions.
When you visit, you can purchase incense sticks to burn as an offering before praying. Let the smoke waft over your body, which is believed to have healing powers. You can also purchase o-mikuji, which are small pieces of paper that reveal your fortune. Take one of the hexagonal boxes with sticks inside and shake it until a stick with a number on it pokes out. Then find that number on one of the drawers and take a piece of paper from it, which will reveal your fortune or misfortune. Don’t worry- if your fortune sounds more like a curse, just wrap the paper around the fence nearby and your bad fortune will wait there forever.
Sensoji is accessed by passing through Nakamise-Dori, a centuries-old street lined with about 100 shops carrying traditional products, sweets, and snacks. It is a great place to buy souvenirs and is even better for people-watching, as this area is very crowded. Try some of the green tea-flavored treats like ice cream as you peruse the shops.
Sensoji is located in Asakusa and can be easily accessed by subway. Take the Ginza Line to Asakusa Station, then take Exit 1 and walk toward the Kaminarimon Gate (Thunder Gate) which leads to Nakamise-Dori. It’s only about a 5-minute walk from the subway station to the temple, and it’s a very entertaining walk through the crowded shopping street. The temple is free to visit and the main hall is open from 6:30 AM to 5 PM. The grounds are always open so make sure to explore the beautiful gardens surrounding it.
Hiroshima Peace Memorial Museum and Park
Recommended By Emily of HENRY AND ANDREWS GUIDE
The Hiroshima Peace Memorial Museum and Park need to be on everyone’s bucket list when they visit Japan. Yes, it’s a little ways away from Tokyo (about a 5-hour train ride), but it is completely worth it. It will transform the way you think about your life – I am serious! Growing up in Hiroshima, Japan, I learned about the World War II since I was very little, and visited this museum yearly in August (the month the atomic bomb was dropped). The museum is far from political. It provides artifacts, books, images, life-sized wax exhibit, and videos from a factual perspective. It opens your mind up to the importance of peace and makes you realize life is precious.
The Museum is surrounded by the Peace Park, which you will see statutes and other historical sites surrounding the atomic bomb. The flame of peace, which will continue to burn until nuclear weapons are abolished worldwide, shows the commitment of Hiroshima to see its dreams through. Also, one of the most famous sites in Hiroshima, the Atomic Bomb Dome is also there. The dome was located almost directly underneath the explosion, and it is a powerful site to let the reality of what happened in 1945 sink in. When you do visit this park, I highly recommend visiting the Museum first to have a deeper understanding of what the statutes and sites are about.
After coming to this Museum and Park, you will understand why the people in Hiroshima are much more laid back, friendly, and down-to-earth than bigger cities in Japan. Each and every one of us has learned since we were born that there is nothing more important than living in peace and harmony. That’s a feeling and experience everyone should have once in a lifetime – and you will get that at the Hiroshima Peace Memorial Park and Museum.
Catch a Nozomi Shinkansen (Bullet Train)
Recommended By Alyse of THE INVISIBLE TOURIST
Japan is world renown for being leaders in technology – from hotels with robots on reception to cutting-edge gadgets and devices, we all use in daily life. When it comes to transportation, especially rail, the Japanese know how to take it to another level of brilliance. The Shinkansen “bullet train” is not only the fastest train in Asia but in the entire world (after Maglev technology) and is an absolute must to experience.
During my visit to Japan, I made sure I could check a trip on the Nozomi shinkansen off my list. There are four types of Shinkansen in Japan with varying top speeds, the Nozomi being the fastest. The fact that the Nozomi trains are not covered by the popular JR Pass was no bother, as this experience for me was one of those “shut up and take my money” moments. If you have a need for speed, I’m sure you’ll agree!
The boarding process is a pleasant experience in itself as people line up along the platform patiently prior to the train’s arrival, no pushing or shoving. Boarding the shinkansen is like boarding a plane: Check your ticket for your reserved seat number, stow your baggage in a designated area and take your seat in an efficient manner.
Reaching speeds of 300km/h as it raced along the popular route from Tokyo to Kyoto, I was completely awestruck by how fast the scenery shot by outside my window! Quite quickly I realized that the Nozomi shinkansen could actually be likened to a plane flight, although we were speeding along the ground instead of high in the clouds.
If you’re planning on experiencing the shinkansen in Japan, remember to not be an annoying tourist. Like many things in Japan, there is etiquette to follow to ensure you’re mindful and considerate of your fellow passengers. This means no phone calls (yes, really!), playing music on a speaker or talking loudly during your journey. Be sure to add a trip on the Nozomi Shinkansen to your Japan itinerary!
Cocktails at the New York Bar at Park Hyatt Tokyo
Recommended By Julianne of IT’S FIVE O’CLOCK HERE
Yes, the Park Hyatt Tokyo and its 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 absolutely. Located on the 52nd floor of the Park Hyatt Tokyo, actually finding your way to New York Bar is half of the fun. The Park Hyatt Tokyo comprises the top 14 floors of the Shinjuku Park Tower – meaning floors 39 to 52 – and you’ll have to take not one, but two elevator rides up to this swanky bar.
Once you’re in, however, you’re in for a treat. 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 — and the L.I.T. cocktail, one of New York Bar’s in-house creations. Named after Coppola’s film, the L.I.T. cocktail is like a Cosmopolitan with a Japanese twist; the sake and sakura liqueur make this drink delicious.
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. (Pro tip, though: since New York Bar does have a dress code – it’s an elegant, classy place – be sure to dress the part. It’s pretty intuitive: don’t wear sandals, and you’ll be fine!)
Recommended By Ben of HORIZON UNKNOWN
When you mention Japan, most imagine beautiful Buddhist temples, sushi, and busy cities. What I never expected from Japan is an island paradise like Zamami in the Okinawa Islands.
If you want to just relax on the golden sands of the many beaches, there’s nothing wrong with that. But if you’re after a little bit more adventurous activity, this tiny island has much to offer you as well!
Hiking the small island of Zamami gives magical panoramic views, but if you still want more, crossing the bridge to the much smaller Aka Island is also fantastic! Aka Island has a viewpoint that’s your best chances to see migrating whales from December to April.
There’s also plenty of activities to do on the water! Snorkeling Ama Beach in the afternoon has a great chance of seeing grazing turtles! There’s usually more than one, so finding them isn’t hard at all! you can also take a snorkel tour to visit some of the more remote spots around the island.
Zamami is also a great place to try out Stand-up Paddleboarding (SUP) if you haven’t tried it before. The ocean swell is gentle enough to be quite calm and make it easy. There’s also the option to take the sunset option for this tour, which only adds to the beauty looking back onto Zamami Island.
The locals here also have quite a different culture that the rest of Japan. Life here is incredibly laid back and relaxed. Perfect if you want to unwind from the hustle of Japan’s busy cities.
As far as “must see” Japanese destinations, Zamami Island is my recommendation. It may take a little while to get to – taking a ferry from Naha Island is the only way – but it’s well worth the effort and you won’t be disappointed!
Hitachi Seaside Park
Recommended By Jodie Dewberry of ALA JODE
Hitachi Seaside is a large park on Japan’s eastern coast. It’s a beautiful place to spend a day exploring the 190 hectares of natural life, including dunes, forests, and gardens. Alongside the millions of plants that grow there throughout the year, there’s plenty to keep the whole family entertained. From signposted trails and cycling tracks to labyrinths and a Ferris Wheel, you’ll want to make time to explore and get lost in Hitachi Seaside Park.
Hitachi Seaside Park is unique in more ways than one. As well as being a unique attraction in Japan, it has something different to offer at different times of the year. That’s because there are seasonal flowers planted all over Hitachi Seaside Park, meaning its fields change with the seasons. You could see many pictures of Hitachi Seaside Park and no two will look the same – even if they were taken in the same field! Like many things in Japan, it’s an innovative idea that keeps something seasonal (i.e. flowers) a popular attraction all year. Plus, it means you can go back time and time again!
Situated in the Ibaraki Prefecture, Hitachi Seaside Park makes for an easy day trip from Tokyo. The JR Joban line will take you directly to Katsuta station in around 45 minutes. Once you arrive, jump on a bus outside the station and you’ll be right outside the park in around 15 minutes. It’s a completely straight road, so you can’t miss your stop!
If you like nature – or just want a laid back day out of Tokyo – make sure you don’t miss Hitachi Seaside Park. Make sure you pack a camera to capture the beautiful hills you’re about to see but leave the drone at home since they are prohibited. And make sure you don’t step on any of the gardens!
Yamazaki Whisky Distillery Guided Tour
Recommended By Allison Wong of URBANITE DIARY
Yamazaki single malt whiskey, from Suntory, the oldest Japanese whiskey house first distilled made-in-Japan whiskey in 1924, is now regarded as the best whiskey in the world. These days, Japanese whiskey like Yamazaki is winning accolades from around the world, often beating the products from Scotland its makers set out to emulate. Therefore, when we were in Kyoto and Osaka, we took the opportunity to visit the Yamazaki Distillery located between Kyoto and Osaka.
The distillery is easily accessible via train, we took the train from JR Kyoto Station to JR Yamazaki Station (about 15 minutes) and from the station, it was another 10 minutes walk with proper signage along the way so you won’t get lost. You can reserve your spot online for a guided tour of the distillery with a small fee of ¥1,000 or ¥2,000 (approximately US$9-18 as of 2018), which include a tour around the production process in detail from mashing to aging, as well as a free tasting of the component whiskies (not for sale) that makes up Yamazaki Single Malt Whiskey.
This guided tour has limited space on first come first serve basis and will last over 80-100 minutes. Although the tour will be conducted in Japanese they provided an English audio guide for non-Japanese speakers (Chinese and French are also available).
We started in a group of 20 over people and were shown the entire whiskey production process in different stages. It was an amazing and fun experience as we have never been so up close with liquor production before. After a long walk inside the distillery, we were ushered to the whiskey testing hall which we got to taste and sample the Yamazaki Single Malt Whisky. After the tour, we spent quite a bit of time in the Tasting Counter/Open Bar inside the distillery by ordering some of the best whiskey shots in the world (they have over 70 varieties of whiskey). Best of all, the price was really cheap (around ¥500 each shot) for good quality whiskey. In short, this guided tour is highly recommended for people who enjoy a good whiskey and appreciate fine craftsmanship only the Japanese could master.
Recommended By Jessica of NOTES OF NOMADS
Yakushima is one of the most incredible natural wonders in Japan. This subtropical island and World Heritage site south of Kyushu mainland is breathtaking at every turn.
It’s most well-known for its ancient cedar trees, known as ‘Yakusugi,’ which command the forest floor. These giant cedars are thousands of years old and can have a circumference of up to around thirty meters! The oldest tree in Japan, the Jomonsugi, is located 5 hours’ deep into the forest by foot. Upward estimates put its age at 7,200 years old.
One of the best places for ancient cedar viewing is Shiratani Unsui Ravine, which was the inspiration for the Ghibli animation Princess Mononoke. The forest here is so incredibly beautiful and lush, and the carpets of moss along the Kusugawa walking path are not to be missed.
The island is also a place of great significance for the conservation of the endangered green sea and loggerhead turtles. In the entire North Pacific region, loggerhead turtles only lay eggs in Japan. Half of them do so on Yakushima, and 90% of those at Nagatahama Beach on the island’s north-west.
From late April to late September, you have the chance to observe egg laying and hatching at Nagatahama Beach. Please be sure to make a reservation (paid) by calling the Nagata Sea Turtle Liaison Council. If you don’t speak Japanese, simply visit the Tourist Information Center near the ferry port and they can make the reservation for you.
Going through the official reservation process means that the beach remains protected at night and that observation is limited and done in an ethical manner that does not disturb the turtles and their breeding patterns. In fact, since the beach has been protected in this way, the number of sea turtles being born on Yakushima has increased significantly.
Yakushima can be accessed by plane or ferry. There are no direct flights from Tokyo, but you can take a flight to Kagoshima and then either fly or take the ferry from there. You can get from Kagoshima to Yakushima on the high-speed ferry in under 2 hours.
Explore Quiet City of Nagoya and the Nittaiji Temple
Recommended By Amy Braun of AISASAMI
Japan is a magical place that is full of different experiences for the various travelers that visit the country each year. There are so many things to experience for the foodies, the historians, the pop culture geeks, and even for families. This statement holds true in the city I have called home for the past four years: Nagoya.
Nagoya is situated between Osaka and Tokyo and is about a two-hour train ride from Tokyo by the bullet train. The public transportation here is very convenient, reliable, and reasonably priced. Nagoya has many treasures that a tourist should visit, and one of them is close to my apartment.
Nittaiji Temple is a grand Buddhist temple that is located in the Kakuzan area. Intriguing, Kakuozan, derives from the words “Kakuo” Buddha and “Zan/Yama” mountain. Also, Nittaiji comes from “ni” Japan, “Tai” Thailand, and “Ji” temple.
According to the English site for the temple, “Nittaiji is the only temple in Japan that does not belong to any specific sect but represents all the sects.” The temple was built in 1904 under the name “Nissenji.” The temple was built as a part of an agreement with all 19 Buddhist sects in Japan to store holy remains of Buddha, which were given to Japan by Siam. The temple changed its name to its current one in 1939 when Siam changed names to Thailand.
This temple currently serves as a piece of friendship between Taiwan and Japan. Many festivals and special occasions are celebrated in the Kakuozan area throughout the year. Don’t forget to visit Nittaiji on the 21st of each month as the street leading up to the temple is filled with various stalls celebrating the Kobo Daishi Fair or great master fair.
Explore the Nagoya Castle
Recommended By Amy Braun of AISASAMI
The city of Nagoya in the heart of Japan is full of fantastic tourist attractions. But, most importantly, it is full of history and has even influenced Japanese history. One critical historical building is Nagoya Castle or Nagoya-jo. It is also called “Meijo”.
The original castle was built around 1610-1619 on the grounds near Yanagi-no-maru (the precursor to the castle), which was the birthplace for Nobunaga Oda, a prominent figure in Japanese history. According to Wikipedia, “Nagoya Castle was the heart of one of the most important castle towns in Japan, Nagoya-Juku, which was a post station…linking two of five important trade routes, the Tokaido and the Nakasendo” during the Edo period. In the present age, Nagoya Castle is a historical site but also a site for many festivals, including a New Years celebration.
Recently, a replica of the original Honmaru Palace was opened this spring. The original was destroyed, along with the original castle, in air raids during World War II. The replica features fine wooden structures, various paintings on the walls and partitions through the palace that was painted on silk, and “unique castle architecture style.”
When you get hungry or thirsty, be sure to visit “Kinshachi Yokocho” for Nagoya cuisine. This collection of restaurants and food stalls, which are located on the grounds of Nagoya Castle, is split into two areas: the Yoshinao Zone and the Muneharu Zone. National pop idol group Team Syachihoko released a music video and a song promoting this area a couple of months ago.
Nagoya Castle is the place to be whenever you want to experience Nagoya history, local cuisine, or to relax and enjoy your surroundings.
Tateyama Kurobe Alpine Route
Recommended By Anne of PRETRAVELER
If you want to get off the beaten tourist track in Japan then my personal favorite is to visit the Tateyama Kurobe Alpine Route, which is located between the cities of Nagano and Toyama to the north-west of Tokyo. The Tateyama Kurobe Alpine Route is a 90 km/56 mi journey over the ‘Roof of Japan’ using a variety of transportation options with elevation changes of 2400 meters (almost 8000 ft) from bottom to top! You should plan to take at least one full day to make the most of the experience.
The Tateyama Kurobe Alpine Route is open between mid-April and the end of November each year – for the first third of the season, you can have the experience of traveling through massive snow walls, moving through to later in the season where you can take in the glorious fall foliage colors. Highlights of the trip include the Tateyama Ropeway, the awesome Kurobe Dam, and the delights of hiking around Murodo, the highest stopping point along the route.
From Murodo you can get clear views of Mt Tateyama at 3015m/9891ft, and enjoy the varying scenery around the area. An unexpected surprise was the sulfurous hot springs called ‘Hell Valley’ – when we visited you could view over the area but not walk through it due to the presence of toxic gases. But the smell of sulfur was a new experience which was interesting (for a short time anyway…)
We visited as a family experience and our children loved the different transportation options – think electric buses through mountain tunnels, ropeways, and cable cars. The route starts in the town of Shinano-Omachi and finishes in Toyama, and along the way, there are eight scenic stopping points, each with their own viewing and hiking options. There is also accommodation on the top of the mountains so if you prefer a more immersive experience then check out this option.
One thing which we loved was the fact that the route was uncrowded, which was delightful after experiencing the crowds in Tokyo and Kyoto – in fact, there was no other non-Japanese face to be seen the whole time we traveled over the route!
Pikachu Outbreak Festival
Recommended By Anna Liddell of MY TRAVEL SCRAPBOOK
Every year in August Pikachu take over Yokohama, Tokyo. Giant Pikachu, tiny Pikachu, dancing Pikachu, Pikachu on stilts, Pikachu with water guns, cuddly Pikachu, Pikachu hats, Pikachu posters, Pikachu everywhere!
As luck would have it my boyfriend and I happened to be in Tokyo for the final day of the Pikachu Outbreak festival in Yokahama. I had never heard of this crazy festival before, but my boyfriend’s face lit up when he found out we would be in Tokyo during the celebrations. I knew from that moment that our attendance at the festival was non-negotiable. I wasn’t complaining however, 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. There were giant inflatables which ranged from a meter high to several. There were Pikachu posters everywhere and almost all the visitors were wearing yellow. We were handed Pikachu ears ourselves to wear.
Throughout the week there are different shows in several venues in Yokohama. You will be handed an itinerary upon arrival which states the timing and locations of the shows. The shows are giant Pikachu dancing with fellow humans. Our favorite show was the water show. This show was near the harbor and featured Pikachu dancing with water shooting from the stage! Other shows included seeing giant Pikachu dancing in pink tutus and Hawaiian skirts. The whole atmosphere was fantastic, and the music was very catchy. Pikachu Outbreak festival turns Yokohama into a form of Disneyland for a week. Everyone gets to feel like a kid again.
The last day of the festival goes out with a bang. The grand finale is a huge Pikachu carnival parade. There are floats, dancers, performers and hundreds of Pikachu! There were so much energy and fun in their dancing. The music bellows through the air and there are smiles all around.
Add visiting the Pikachu Outbreak Festival to your ultimate Japan Bucket List. Make sure you pack something yellow and experience true Pikachu madness!
The Cup Noodle Museum, Near Osaka
Recommended By Sarah Carter of ASOCIALNOMAD
Instant noodles were invented in Japan, so it seems only fair that you should come here to a museum dedicated to them and their inventor. Momofuku Ando is the genius to put those dried noodles and all their fabulous flavorings into packets. And he did this in 1958! Later in 1971, he invented the cup or pot noodle.
His workshop and factory were here in Ikeda, near Osaka, Japan and that’s where you find the cup noodle museum. The museum is free to enter and you get all the usual history and information about noodles. There’s a time tunnel that you can walk through to check out how the packaging of noodles has changed. There’s a café where you can buy cup noodles and eat them on site.
But the most amazing experience here is the Cup Noodle Factory. You can make your own cup noodle here. For a paltry 300 yen, you design your pot, with pens and crayons. Then you head off to the factory to decide on your flavorings. You even get to turn the handle that puts the dried noodles in the cup.
Your own personal cup noodle is carefully wrapped (by you) in a presentation bag, that you then inflate and take away. Brilliant, you get to eat your souvenir!
Best Views of Mt.Fuji
Recommended By Priya Vin of OUTSIDE SUBURBIA
Rising 3776 meters above sea level, Mount Fuji is Japan’s tallest mountain and its most iconic landmark. On our recent trip to Japan, seeing this mountain a little closer topped our list and we researched the best places to see Mt Fuji.
The Chureito Pagoda is a five-storied pagoda on the mountainside overlooking Fujiyoshida City. The pagoda is one of Fujigoko’s most popular cherry blossom spots where you can get beautiful views of Mount Fuji rising up through a sea of cherry blossoms. Hakone also offers some of the most beautiful views of Mount Fuji.
Of the numerous observation decks in Tokyo, the centrally located Bunkyo Civic Center provides some of the most striking views of Mount Fuji, as the mountain can be seen looming large behind the skyscrapers of the Shinjuku district.
The best views of Mount Fuji can be enjoyed on domestic flights heading from Tokyo’s Haneda Airport to destinations in western Japan when the planes often fly very close to – if not right above – the mountain. Flights from western Japan in the direction of Haneda Airport usually pass further south, but can still provide nice views. Take a flight from Haneda to Osaka to enjoy this view. Mount Fuji can be seen from the Tokaido Shinkansen between Tokyo and Osaka. When coming from Tokyo, the mountain appears on the right side of the train and is best viewed around Shin-Fuji Station, about 40-45 minutes into the journey. Sit on the left if you are coming from Osaka.
Visit Matsumoto and Enjoy Cherry Blossom
Recommended By Clemens Sehi of TRAVELLERS ARCHIVE
We went to Japan during the beautiful season of cherry blossom, which is both, good and bad. On the one hand hotel prices will rise up, tourists will come from all corners of the world and most of the parks will be super packed with people who want to go on a traditional Hanami, which is basically sitting on a blanket under the cherry tree and watching the blossom while sipping on some sake and snacking on some sushi.
On the other hand, it’s a great way to actually get to those places where you usually wouldn’t go, such as Matsumoto Castle, which is just an hour train ride from Nagano and located in a cute city with not so many tourists, but oh so many things to see.
We took the train from Nagano and walked through the city center right into the part, in which the castle is located. We started our tour by walking through the castle before we actually went to the park. By then more and more Japanese groups of friends and families gathered under the cherry trees played some instruments and simply enjoyed the sunny day and the bright colors of the cherry trees.
The castle itself is a stunner too as it is fully wooden and built upon various floors that you reach via wooden stairs. The higher you’ll get the better the view over the surrounding area of Matsumoto will be. End your day with a walk along the historic street named Nawate, in which you not only find some souvenirs but also some snacks to take with you on your journey back to Nagano.
Recommended By Elena Tchijov of TRAVELING BYTES
Its official name is Hakone-Seiroku Mishima Grand Suspension Bridge, but everybody affectionately calls it Mishima Skywalk. Sometimes, one-word description is all you need. If you ever were curious what a skywalk might mean, you have to visit Mishima. The longest pedestrian suspension bridge in Japan is a modern wonder that definitely should be on your list of places to visit in the Land of the Rising Sun.
Hanging over a 70 meters deep ravine, the bridge looks like a contemporary jewel comfortably resting between ancient mountains covered by an emerald green forest. At 400 meters long, it was purposefully built wide enough to accommodate 2 wheelchairs moving in opposite directions. Imagine, seeing three extraordinary Japanese attractions at once: the Skywalk, the longest; Mt. Fuji, the tallest; and Suruga Bay, the deepest.
There is a catch though. Notoriously hot and humid summer weather causes the clouds to gather around upper portions of the mountains. During our visit, Mt. Fuji was fully obscured from views. This mild disappointment hadn’t affected the overall impression of the skywalk. The surface of the bridge is partially built out of metallic mesh so you can see through it all the way down to the ground. Farther you go, further up in the air it feels. Standing over the deepest dip in the ravine, with a bridge slightly vibrating from the movement of people walking on it, and the gusts of wind flapping around is a thrilling experience.
Majority of visitors stay just long enough to snap a picture, walk there-and-back over the bridge, and, as a bonus, take a selfie. They seriously shortchanging themselves. There are a lot more exciting opportunities around. The Sky garden full of seasonal flowers would shelter from whatever capricious weather decided to throw upon you while offering a bit of shopping extravaganza including local souvenirs, fruits and vegetables, and a stand that sells freshly squeezed juices.
Zipline is there for more adventurous souls who, perhaps, want to fly instead of walk. On the farther side of the bridge, there is a Treetop Adventure park and a climbing wall that is fun for both kids and adults. If vertical challenges are not your thing, there are plenty of walking trails in the shade of the beautiful forest. Of course, after all, activities, something to eat would be nice. There are small restaurants and a couple of food stalls on both ends of the bridge.
Getting to the Skywalk is relatively easy. Take a Shinkansen to Mishima Station. From there, you can either use a taxi or ride a bus to Mishima Skybridge. We would recommend the taxi: it’s not that expensive and much quicker.
Sushi Breakfast at Tsukiji Fish Market
Recommended By Shelley of TRAVEL-STAINED
If you’re a serious sushi lover like I am, a trip to Tsukiji Fish Market to eat a sushi breakfast should be at the top of your Tokyo bucket list. It’s the largest, busiest fish market in the entire world, and over 2000 tons of aquatic products pass through its halls each and every day. And it’s where you’ll find the best sushi in the world, at a price that’s easy to swallow.
Tsukiji is divided into an Inner Market and Outer Market. In the Inner Market, wholesale business and an exciting tuna auction are conducted (120 tourists are allowed to watch this per day on a first-come, first serve basis). The Outer Market is geared towards consumers, and there are many retail shops and restaurants located there.
The Outer Market is where to go if it’s the most divine sushi in the world you’re after. And I suggest you go as early as humanly possible. Restaurants open at 5 AM and close around noon or 1 PM, but the most popular ones have lines around the corner starting from much, much earlier.
The best of all the sushi restaurants in Tsujiki is undoubtedly Sushi Dai. It currently ranks as the best restaurant in the whole market, but back in 2014, it was voted the number 3 restaurant in all of Japan, which kinda made it the best sushi joint in the entire world, if you ask me. And it has the lines to prove it.
When we visited way back in 2010, long before it had found fame with western tourists, lines were still insanely long. We showed up at 7:30 AM and waited 3 hours to get one of the 12 coveted counter seats. It was worth it though. It’s the most outstanding sushi I’ve had the world over.
Make sure you order the Omakase, or “Trust the Chef” course to experience the freshest fish of the day. Did I mention you should go early?
*Note that on October 6, 2018, the Inner Market will close and reopen as the Toyosu Market on October 11th. It will become completely inaccessible to tourists after September 29th. Tsukiji’s Outer Market will remain in business throughout the transition.
Visiting a Traditional Onsen
Recommended By Roxanna of GYPSY WITH A DAY JOB
Many of my bucket list items are activities that delve into the unique cultural experiences of a country. There are many such things in Japan, but two that should be on a bucket list are onsen and saki. In Yuzawa, Japan, at Echigo train station, is the CoCoLo Complex, which includes Ponshukan, a museum which combines these two traditions into a unique visitors experience.
Bathing in Onsen, or hot springs baths, is deeply rooted in Japanese culture. Japan lies in a highly volcanic area, resulting in thousands of hot springs. Onsens have long drawn people together for community bathing. There are strict mores and etiquette when using onsen, making bathing with neighbors and friends a comfortable, and often social, event.
Another long-standing custom is the “drink of the gods,” Sake. Commonly referred to as “rice wine,” sake has been brewed in Japan for over two thousand years. Over the centuries, it has become tied to a number of traditions, from New Year’s Day to flowering and harvest festivals to weddings.
At Ponshukan Museum, there are 113 varieties of sake, with guides and informational material to explain the makeup and significance of each variety. Visitors can learn as much as they want, and for 500 Yen, 5 different varieties can be sampled. There is also a sake infused onsen, which is said to leave the skin silky smooth. For any visitor to Niigata Prefecture, Ponshukan offers the experience of two Japanese traditions, in a fun, somewhat quirky way.
Yuzawa offers a number of other great things to do, with world-class skiing and adventure sports, a popular fishing park, and the Otsuki Firefly Park. There are festivals almost year round, including the harvest festival, the snow festival, the flower festival, and the Fuji Rock music festival. The city is also known for being the where the Nobel Prize-winning novel “Snow Country” was written, so there are a museum and other sites where visitors can learn about the area history, and the writing of a classic. But no matter what brings a visitor to Yuzawa, Ponshukan is a must-see stop!
We are sure this post has pushed Japan high on your bucket list. Do you think we are missing a major Japan bucket list item? Let us know in comments.
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