japan

7 best things to do in JAPAN

Japan, a unique land rich with history and cultural heritage, has been one of the top destinations in Asia for years.

Japan is a country where East meets the West, and tradition meets the 21st century. There you’ll find old wooden shrines and traditional shophouses with shiny new high rise buildings towering above them. Japan is also home to some of the trendiest stores in the world, as well as some of the best shopping venues.

Japan has been a developed country for decades. If we look at GDP, Japan is the third-largest country in the world by nominal GDP. And still, Japan is growing even more. As well as its tourism industry which is already booming. 

If you are looking to spend your next vacation in a unique place that has it all, look no further. Japan is the place to go.

But what to do in Japan? For inspiration, check out our list of the 7 best things to do in Japan.

7 best things to do in Japan

1. Visit Kyoto

best things to do in japan

While it’s only the 8th largest city in Japan, it’s definitely one of the most beautiful ones.

Kyoto, a city rich with history and cultural heritage, is attracting millions of foreign tourists every year. And understandably so. The city boasts incredible ancient architecture and unique places of worship.

There are a couple of thousand shrines and temples in the city. The most visited among foreign visitors is Fushimi Inari-taisha Shrine. The shrine consists of the main shrine and many smaller shrines up the mountain. The smaller shrines are reachable by a path lined with thousands of torii (gateways). The shrine is truly outstanding. No wonder that it is also one of the most photographed places in Japan.

Bamboo Forest (or, Arashiyama Bamboo Grove) is another mesmerizing place to visit in Kyoto. It’s a natural forest of bamboo with several pathways for visitors.

When in Kyoto, definitely do not forget to try Kyoto matcha! Because Kyoto is the place where the finest matcha comes from. 

2. Visit Tokyo

Tokyo, the capital of Japan and a significant business center, currently is the largest metropolitan area in the world.

Not only Tokyo is so large, but it’s also a very busy place.

Shibuya, a major commercial and business center, houses the two busiest railway stations in the world, Shinjuku Station and Shibuya Station. Shibuya Crossing, also located in Shibuya area, is considered the busiest intersection in the whole world. Shibuya is a major nightlife area and a perfect place for shopping.

But it’s not only about shopping and business in Tokyo. Set amid the urban jungle and towering skyscrapers, old neighborhoods (or, Shitamachi) lie. The pace is much slower there, and the atmosphere – more relaxed.

Do not miss the Imperial Palace! It’s a park-like area which includes the residence of the Emperor of Japan and a museum.

Tokyo, just like any other large Japanese city, is full of temples and shrines.

Meiji Jingu shrine is one of the most important shrines in Japan. It is a shrine of Japan’s indigenous Shinto faith. These shrines can be easily distinguished from Buddhist shrines. 

3. Enjoy the beauty of sakura trees

There’s even a special name for sakura (cherry) blossom watching – Hanami. It’s a Japanese custom, and now it consists of having a picnic under a sakura tree.

The best time to come for sakura blooming is April, but remember that sakuras are fickle, and can bloom anytime from early to late April. It’s quite tricky predicting when the blossoms will peak. But if you are traveling to Japan in April, chances are that you will see blossoming cherry trees at some point.

However, it is advisable to check bloom calendars and forecasts. They’ll give you some insight on the dates.  

April is a holiday season for Japanese, so book everything well in advance.

4. Take in the beauty of Mt Fuji

With the height of 3776 m, Mount Fuji is Japan’s tallest mountain and the most iconic landmark in the country.

There are several places in the area where the mountain can be seen from.

From Shinkansen, from the Fuji Five Lake Region, and from Hakone, to name a few. On clear days the mountain can be seen even from Tokyo.

5. Explore the UNESCO World Heritage Sites in Nara

Nara was Japan’s first real capital. Now it is one of the most popular places to visit in Japan.

The city is rich with history and culture and has significant temples and architecture that date back to the 8th century. Several ancient temples, shrines, and ruins form “Historic Monuments of Ancient Nara”, a UNESCO World Heritage Site.

Todai-ji temple is of these monuments. Being one of the largest wooden buildings in the world, Todai-ji temple is the highlight in Nara. It is home to the Great Buddha statue, the world’s largest bronze statue of the Buddha Vairocana.

Head to Nara Park to relax and meet deers that roam around freely. Established in 1880, Nara Park is one of the oldest parks in Japan.

According to local folklore, deer from this area were considered sacred. Now they are protected, but visitors are allowed to feed the deer with special “deer crackers” that can be purchased on the spot.

6. Hike the Japanese Alps

One of the gateways to the Japanese Alps is Takayama, a small city tucked away between the mountains of the Japanese Alps. Not far away from the city, you’ll find starting points for some of the best hikes in the Japanese Alps (e.g, Kamikochi).

Takayama is a small city which has retained a traditional charm. Spend some time in the city before heading for the mountains. Explore its traditional inns and shops. 

Take a walking tour to visit the city’s numerous shrines and temples. Do not miss Hida Folk Village which is a collection of old houses typical for the region.

Not too far away from Takayama, you’ll find the Unesco World Heritage Site of Shirakawa. It’s a beautiful traditional village showcasing gasshō-zukuri buildings with thatch-roofs.

7. Experience Japanese tea culture 

One of the best things to do in Japan is to try a traditional tea ceremony.

If you are a tea lover, try it instead of looking for an afternoon tea option!

Good news for matcha lovers – in Japan you can attend a matcha tea ceremony as well!

Japan travel tips

 

  1. Citizens of the EU are not required to obtain a visa if staying in Japan for less than 90 days.
  2. If you plan to travel by rail, buy a Japan Rail Pass. There are 7, 14 and 21 day passes. The prices start at 250 EUR. It’s pricey, but you’ll save a lot of money because if you buy single tickets, it will be much more expensive. Note, that the pass is eligible only for non-Japanese, and you can only buy it overseas!
  3. If you are on a budget, travel by bus. Bus tickets are cheaper than rail tickets, and bus companies offer bus passes which also are cheaper than rail passes. 
  4. If you are traveling during spring, which is a holiday season for the Japanese, book accommodation well in advance.
  5. If you are on a budget, stay in capsule hostels! A capsule is an enclosed bed with your own air conditioning vent, TV, charging sockets, reading light, and a small safe box. It’s a unique experience. Besides, this type of accommodation originated in Japan. 
  6. Japan is an expensive country. A meal at a cafe will cost you at least 10 EUR. To save some money, buy packaged meals (and drinks) at 7-Eleven and at grocery stores. They are significantly cheaper than a regular cafe/restaurant meal. Use the microwaves provided at the stores to heat your meals. Many hostels in Japan also have kitchen facilities. Another way to save money on food is to dine in Japanese fast-food chains. Despite the name, Japanese fast-food restaurants sell decent healthy food.