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.
Deals on activities and experiences in Japan
Save up to 30% off activities in Kyoto, Japan
Book day tours to temples, cultural tours, cycling tours, cooking classes and more in Kyoto. Most with free cancellation available.
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:
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.
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.”
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.
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.
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.
How likely would you be to recommend finder to a friend or colleague?
Very UnlikelyExtremely Likely
Thank you for your feedback.
Our goal is to create the best possible product, and your thoughts, ideas and suggestions play a major role in helping us identify opportunities to improve.
finder.com is an independent comparison platform and information service that aims to provide you with the tools you need to make better decisions. While we are independent, the offers that appear on this site are from companies from which finder.com receives compensation. We may receive compensation from our partners for placement of their products or services. We may also receive compensation if you click on certain links posted on our site. While compensation arrangements may affect the order, position or placement of product information, it doesn't influence our assessment of those products. Please don't interpret the order in which products appear on our Site as any endorsement or recommendation from us. finder.com compares a wide range of products, providers and services but we don't provide information on all available products, providers or services. Please appreciate that there may be other options available to you than the products, providers or services covered by our service.