7 Things to do in Japan
Featured destinations: Japan
Published 22 June 2016
It may lure you in with its promises of sushi, cherry blossoms and karaoke-meets-kimono culture, but once there, Japan will show you so much more. The country of 6800 volcanic island presents a fascinating mix of east meets west and old meets new. Consequently, there’s plenty to explore, even just in Tokyo alone. To help you plan out your itinerary, here are the top things to do in Japan.
An entree at lunch at the Michelin star restaurant L'Effervescence in Tokyo. (Image: Lauren Burvill)
Dine in Tokyo
There are plenty of things to do in Tokyo; shop, sightsee, sing karaoke. If you do just one thing though, make sure it involves a meal. Japan’s capital is home to over over 16,000 restaurants, an amazing nine of which have Michelin stars. For fine dining at an achievable fee, opt for a Michelin starred lunch over the more expensive dinner menu. If your budget doesn’t quite allow it, cheap eats are also plentiful with everything from ramen to tempura and sushi easily found in areas like Shibuya. True sushi lovers though won’t be able to resist heading early to the city’s famed Tsukiji fish market for a very fresh sushi breakfast.
Lauren walking through the Fushimi inari Taisha shrine in Kyoto
Visit temples and shrines in Kyoto
Temples and shrines can be found throughout Japan but to see the most iconic, you’ll need to visit Kyoto. The traditional city is home to over 1,600 Buddhist temples as well as traditional gardens, Shinto shrines and palaces. While there are plenty to choose from, the most popular sites to visit include the golden pavilion known as Kinkaku-ji, the red gates known as Fushimi Inari-taisha and the Buddhist temple Kiyomizu-dera which offers stunning views of the Kyoto.
Inside a baseball bar in Osaka
Enjoy a night out in Osaka
The third largest city after Kyoto and Tokyo, Osaka has a distinctive younger and vibrant flare. While a visit to the age old Osaka Castle should be on your list, you shouldn’t leave the city without indulging in Osaka’s famed street food and nightlife. You’ll find much of the action in the bustling area of Minami. Start your night off sampling the fried street food along Dotonbori before taking one of the side streets to find a bar. Many of the city’s best bars and restaurants are quite hidden, so to find them we recommend hiring the services of a guide for a nightlife tour of the area.
Experience an Onsen in Koyasan
As part of a volcanic landscape, onsens, the Japanese word for hot springs, can be found throughout Japan. One of the best places to enjoy one is when staying in a temple in the traditional temple town of Koyasan, also known as Mount Koya. The town is home to a range of temple lodgings where you’ll sleep on tatami mat bedding, dine on traditional Buddhist vegetarian cuisine and bathe in communal onsens.
Accommodation inside a ryokan
Stay in a ryokan in Matsumoto
For the Japan of kimonos and countryside, we recommend making your way to Matsumoto (a 3.5 hour train ride from Tokyo) to enjoy a stay in a ryokan. Born out of the Edo period, a Ryokan is a traditional style of accommodation featuring tatami mat flooring, traditional beds and communal onsen bathrooms. During your stay you’ll be encouraged to wear the provided yukata (a casual summer kimono) and enjoy in-room dining while sitting on the floor. Most ryokans in Matsumoto are designed for tourists so you can also enjoy more modern additions like private bathrooms and western-style breakfasts. Outside of your ryokan, Matsumoto is a historic city beloved for its beautiful castle, Matsumoto Castle, quaint streets and red bridges.
Visit the Hiroshima Peace Memorial
Often referred to as the Atomic Bomb Dome, the Hiroshima Peach Memorial is a powerful memorial of the 146,000 people who died as a result of the atomic bomb dropped on the city in 1945. The dome is the only structure in the once commercial heart of the city that survived the first atomic bomb. Today the building is a UNESCO World Heritage Site and a haunting reminder of the war.
Climb Mount Fuji
Not for the faint hearted. Even just seeing Mount Fuji is an incredible experience to tick off your list, but if that doesn’t suffice, climbing up the steep slopes of Mount Fuji is possible. Japan’s tallest peak, 3776 metres high, is open to hikers from July to early September, and it’s recommended that even during this time you plan out your hike. The most popular strategy is to allocate two days to the climb, walking to the hut halfway up the mountain then continue walking during the night to make it to the summit in the morning. If you’re not a regularly hiker, we recommend adding a guided climb of Mount Fuji to your itinerary.
Enjoy these experiences and more on our escorted tours of Japan. With the help of a local guide who knows the language and culture, you'll be able to sit back, relax and truly enjoy Japan and its unique culture. For more ideas, talk to one of our dedicated Asia Travel Experts today.
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