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Things to do in Japan

Revel at ancient matsuri and natural wonders.

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View of a red Chureito Pagoda and sakura trees with Fuji Mountain background in Japan

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:

mount fuji japan

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.

Book a Mount Fuji tour
japanese woman cherry blossoms

Catch cherry blossoms in bloom

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 cherry blossom tour
onsen hot spring in japan

Luxuriate in a hot spring

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.

Experience a Japanese onsen
studio ghibli museum sculpture

Wander through the Studio Ghibli Museum

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.

Book Studio Ghibli Museum tickets in advance
tea ceremony japan

Experience a traditional tea ceremony

Watch as you’re guided through a Japanese tea ceremony in Kyoto. You’ll learn about the history and utensils used before making the foamy green tea yourself.

Enjoy a traditional tea ceremony
osaka castle japan

Ogle Osaka Castle

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.

Explore Osaka Castle
sumo wrestling match

Watch sumo wrestling

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.

Attend a sumo wrestling match
women visiting fushimi inari shrine japan

Visit the Fushimi Inari Shrine

Pay your respects at this ancient shrine in Kyoto honoring Inari, the Shinto god of rice. Guests can walk through the Romon Gate and make a small offering at the main hall.

Fushimi Inari is perhaps most famous for the thousands of brightly colored torii gates behind the main buildings that lead up into the forest and hills beyond.

Tour the Fushimi Inari Shrine

Before you go…

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.

Deals on activities and experiences in Japan

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Best seasonal events in Japan

Cherry blossom viewing in spring and red maple tree hikes throughout the fall are among the most famous seasonal events in Japan. But if you’re looking for man-made fun, consider swinging by another seasonal celebration:

Spring

  • Takayama Spring Festival. The annual festival of the Hie Shrine is held in mid-April. A dozen floats, called yatai, topped with dancing mechanical dolls parade through Takayama’s old town streets.
  • Sanja Matsuri. Tokyo’s high-spirited, three-day festival in May celebrates the founders of Asakura’s Sensoji Temple. Hundreds of mikoshi, sacred religious shrines housing deities, are marched through the neighborhood to bring Asakaura’s businesses and residents good fortune.

Summer

  • Fuji Rock Festival. The biggest rock festival in Japan features over 200 artists performing pop, rock and electronic tunes. Though originally held at the base of Mt. Fuji, it’s now held at Naeba Ski Resort just north of Tokyo.
  • Gozan no Okuribi (Daimonji Festival). Kyoto’s mountain bonfire display is the grand finale to the Obon festival, where spirits of ancestors are said to visit living relatives. Five fires are lit around the city to usher the souls back to the spirit world. Gozan no Okuribi, roughly translated, means “send-off fire.”

Fall

  • Naha Ohtsunahiki Festival. For a unique spectacle, head to the tug-of-war competition held the second weekend in October. The rope weighs over 27 tons and is nearly five feet thick. Spectators can also enjoy parades, live music and fireworks at Okinawa’s largest festival.
  • Sumo Kyushu Basho. In mid to late November, famous sumo wrestlers compete to reach the highest rank of yokozuna. The 15-day tournament is held in Fukuoka, on the north shore of Japan’s Kyushu Island.

Winter

  • Sapporo Snow Festival. This sculpture festival features ice and snow sculptures throughout the city. Admission is free, though you can pay to join specific activities at the festival.
  • Setsubun Mantoro. Known as the festival of wishes, it takes place in Nara, just east of Osaka. Thousands of lanterns light up Kasuga Taisha Shrine, as locals and tourists alike stroll through the magically lit forest to celebrate the transition from winter to spring.
  • Anime Japan. Japan’s the birthplace of anime, so it makes sense one of the largest anime conventions in the world takes place in Tokyo. Hundreds of film and TV production companies, game developers and toy makers join anime enthusiasts at workshops, seminars and exhibitions. Tickets cost 2,200 yen in advance.

Bottom line

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.

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