From hot spring baths and centuries-old temples to robot restaurants and anime, Japan’s best attractions range from old-world delights to modern experiences. Keep an eye out for local etiquette like purification rituals before entering shrines, and be sure to keep cash on hand.
Top landmarks and attractions in Japan
Nihon newbies might be drawn to these quintessential Japanese experiences:
See Mt. Fuji
Set your eyes on Mt. Fuji, an active volcano and the nation’s tallest peak located southwest of Tokyo. Climb, drive, fly by it or catch a glimpse from afar. Clouds usually hide the mountain during the day but clear for jaw-dropping views during sunrise.
Join locals celebrating spring beneath cherry blossom trees in a tradition called hanami, which translates to “watching blossoms.” Cherry blossoms, the elegant and colorful flower decorating Japan, can be seen from Tokyo to Osaka. But be sure to research the expected timing of blooms in advance, as it varies by region.
Take a dip in mineral-packed water at Japanese onsen, natural hot springs. Traditionally located next to a Japanese inn, these beautiful communal baths are made of cypress wood, marble or granite. Be sure to wash off first in a shower outside the onsen bath — you should be clean before taking a dip.
Learn about the art of animation at Ghibli Museum: everything from exclusive footage and storyboards to giant statues of popular characters. No tickets are sold at the museum, so purchase passes online well in advance. All-day vouchers for adults can be purchased for around 1,000 yen, or less than $10.
Marvel at the five-story, gold-detailed castle built in 1583 by Hideyoshi Toyotomi. It was a stronghold landmark during a secession of Japanese wars, and is credited with helping unify and bring peace to the nation. The surrounding parks provide beautiful views, and guests can even take a boat ride around the moat.
Cheer for the underdog at one of six annual basho (sumo tournaments), or visit a sumobeya, where wrestlers live and train. While watching Japan’s most well-known sport, you can sit on Japanese-style floor cushions or western-style stadium chairs.
To get inspired while planning your itinerary, indulge in a Japanese-themed movie night. Start with Jiro Dreams of Sushi, an award-winning documentary about famous sushi chef Jiro Ono. Next, watch Spirited Away, an anime film produced by Studio Ghibli and the most successful domestic release in Japan’s cinematic history. Top off your movie marathon with Seven Samurai or Tokyo Story for a heart-racing finale.
However you decide to spend your time in Japan, approach each situation with curiosity and respect. Even people who’ve lived there for years still have a lot to learn about its culture.
And to get the most out of your visit to this island nation, plot routes via public transportation in advance.
Frequently asked questions
Yes. Japanese snow monkeys, or Japanese macaque, can be seen at parks throughout Japan. Jigokudani is famous for . But do your research beforehand, because some travelers have questioned the ethics of keeping these wild creatures quarantined off the mountain.
Find karaoke bars, pinball parlors and nightclubs at Shinjuku, a neighborhood in western Tokyo. There, you’ll find the red light district, Kabukicho, as well as the center of Tokyo’s LGBT scene, Shinjuku Ni-chome.
Yes, sort of. In Japan, tattoos are associated with organized crime and are a bit of a taboo. Many public onsen prohibit individuals with tattoos, so folks with body art might want to book a private rotenburo.
Stephanie Yip is the travel editor at Finder and has been writing about travel and lifestyle for over a decade. She has written for a range of travel publications including Thomas Cook Magazine and Showpo. Stephanie has a Bachelor of Communications from the University of Technology Sydney, Australia, and has visited over 50 countries (and counting). She has a passion for sharing her experiences and knowledge of travel and helping consumers stretch their travel cash while on holiday.
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