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In this guide, I aim to share with you an array of activities that will enrich your journey to the Land of the Rising Sun. Japan, a country that effortlessly marries its rich historical past with cutting-edge innovation, presents various activities that cater to every interest.
Whether it’s basking in the serene beauty of ancient temples, indulging in the culinary delights of sushi and ramen, or immersing yourself in the vibrant energy of cultural festivals, Japan is a destination that promises a treasure trove of discoveries.
Join me as we embark on a journey through Japan, exploring everything from the snow-capped peaks of Hokkaido to the neon-lit streets of Tokyo.
What to do in Japan: 23 Activities to Plan For
This list will navigate you through Japan’s must-visit spots in 2024, ensuring that your trip is filled with memorable experiences and moments of awe.
1. Visit Himeji Castle
Himeji Castle, also known as “White Heron Castle,” is a remarkable example of classic Japanese castle architecture. Renowned for its striking white exterior and intricate defensive design, it is one of Japan’s most preserved original castles.
The castle is particularly breathtaking during the sakura (cherry blossom) season and in autumn when the surrounding foliage creates a stunning contrast against its white walls. A visit here offers a deep dive into Japan’s feudal history and architectural ingenuity.
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2. Explore Nagasaki
Nagasaki is a city that seamlessly blends history, culture, and natural beauty. Known for its picturesque skyline around Nagasaki Bay and the vibrant Dutch-colonial Dejima district, the city is a tapestry of diverse cultural influences.
Visitors can explore its rich history, including significant sites from the atomic bombing, and enjoy its unique Chinatown. Ascending Mt. Inasa provides a panoramic view of the city, making Nagasaki a must-visit for its historical significance and scenic beauty.
3. Hike the Kumano Kodo to Nachi Taisha Shrine
The Kumano Kodo, a network of ancient pilgrimage trails in the Kii Mountains, leads to the sacred Nachi Taisha Shrine. This journey is more than just a hike; it’s a spiritual experience through misty forests and rugged terrain, offering a chance to connect with nature and Japan’s religious traditions.
With its stunning waterfall backdrop, the shrine is an iconic symbol of spiritual and natural harmony, making this hike a fulfilling experience for both body and soul.
4. Attend the Aomori Nebuta Matsuri
The Aomori Nebuta Matsuri is one of the most vibrant and energetic festivals in Japan. This summer festival, held annually in August, features enormous illuminated floats, traditional music, and energetic dance performances.
The festival’s highlight is the parade of mythological figures and historical characters, created in colorful paper over wireframes. It’s a spectacle of sound, light, and joy, reflecting the lively spirit of Aomori and Japanese festival culture.
5. Hike the Senjojiki Cirque Route
Located in Nagano Prefecture near the city of Matsumoto, the Senjojiki Cirque offers a breathtaking hiking experience. This natural cirque, carved by glaciers, showcases Japan’s alpine beauty.
The hiking route provides stunning views of the surrounding mountains and valleys, with lush greenery in summer and vibrant colors in autumn. It’s a refreshing escape into nature, offering outdoor enthusiasts a peaceful yet exhilarating adventure.
6. Relax at Hakone and Yugawara Hot Springs in Tokyo
Experience the ultimate relaxation at Tokyo’s renowned Hakone and Yugawara Hot Springs. Known for their therapeutic qualities, these hot springs offer a serene escape with stunning views of the surrounding landscape.
The baths, both indoor and outdoor, provide a unique opportunity to rejuvenate while soaking in the beauty of Japan’s natural scenery. Perfect for a day of relaxation, these hot springs are a must-visit for anyone seeking a peaceful retreat amidst the bustling city life.
7. Visit Warner Bros. Studio Tour Tokyo – The Making of Harry Potter
For Harry Potter fans, the Warner Bros. Studio Tour in Tokyo is a dream come true. This attraction offers an immersive experience of the world of Harry Potter with exclusive sets and behind-the-scenes secrets.
Visitors can explore iconic locations like the Great Hall and Diagon Alley, and even enjoy a refreshing Butterbeer. The tour is a magical journey, revealing the craftsmanship and magic that went into creating the beloved film series.
8. Discover Chichibu in Saitama
Chichibu, located in the westernmost part of Saitama Prefecture, is a hidden gem with a rich historical and cultural heritage. The area is home to the Chichibu Sanja, three important shrines, and is renowned for the Chichibu Night Festival, a tradition spanning 350 years.
The festival features beautifully adorned floats and a stunning fireworks display. A visit to Chichibu offers a blend of natural beauty and cultural festivities, making it an ideal destination for those looking to explore beyond Tokyo’s urban landscape.
9. Experience Niseko in Hokkaido
Niseko, in Hokkaido, is renowned for its high-quality powder snow, making it a paradise for skiing and snowboarding enthusiasts. The area offers various ski resorts, each providing a unique experience of Japan’s winter wonderland.
Beyond winter sports, Niseko is also known for its beautiful natural scenery, including views of Mount Yotei, and offers activities like river rafting and hot spring baths.
Niseko’s combination of outdoor adventure and scenic beauty makes it a top destination for all seasons.
10. Thrill-seek at Universal Studios Japan
Located in Osaka, Universal Studios Japan is a haven for thrill-seekers and movie enthusiasts. The park features a range of exciting rides and attractions, including the exhilarating Hollywood Dream roller coaster and The Flying Dinosaur, one of the scariest roller coasters in the world.
The park’s recent addition, Super Nintendo World, brings beloved video game characters to life. Universal Studios Japan provides a day full of entertainment and excitement, perfect for families and adventure lovers alike.
11. Ride the Don Quixote Ferris Wheel in Dotonbori, Osaka
The Don Quixote Ferris Wheel in Osaka’s Dotonbori area offers a unique and thrilling experience. This unusual Ferris wheel, built onto the facade of the Don Quixote store, provides riders with an oval-shaped journey up to 77 meters high.
The ride offers spectacular views of the bustling Dotonbori neighborhood, the river, and the city’s skyline, especially stunning at night with the area’s neon lights. It’s a perfect way to see Osaka from a different perspective and enjoy a fun, family-friendly activity.
12. Play Taiko Drums in an Arcade
Dive into the heart of Japan’s vibrant arcade culture by playing Taiko Drums. These large Japanese drum arcade games are not only fun but also a great way to experience a piece of traditional Japanese music in a modern setting.
Found in arcades across Japan, they offer an energetic and interactive way to enjoy music and gaming simultaneously. Whether you’re a seasoned drummer or a first-timer, playing Taiko Drums in an arcade is an exhilarating experience that shouldn’t be missed.
13. Get Lost in the TeamLab Planets Museum
The TeamLab Planets Museum in Tokyo offers a mesmerizing experience with its digital art exhibitions. This museum features interactive and immersive art installations that blend technology, light, sound, and visuals to create otherworldly environments.
It’s an exploration of art and digital technology that encourages visitors to become part of the artwork themselves. A visit here is like stepping into a futuristic world where imagination and reality merge, making it a must-visit for art lovers and families alike.
14. Party at Japan’s Year-Round Festivals
Japan is known for its vibrant and diverse festivals, celebrated throughout the year. From the colorful floats of the Aomori Nebuta Matsuri in summer to the enchanting lights of the Chichibu Night Festival in winter, there’s always a festival to experience.
These festivals offer a glimpse into Japan’s rich cultural traditions, local crafts, and delicious street foods. Attending these festivals is a great way to immerse yourself in the local culture and experience the joyful spirit of Japan.
15. Feed the Deer at Nara Park
Nara Park, located in Nara, Japan, is famous for its free-roaming deer considered sacred in the Shinto religion. Visitors can interact with these friendly deer, feed them special deer cookies, and even observe their polite bowing.
The park itself is a beautiful, expansive area, offering serene walks among natural landscapes and historical landmarks.
Feeding the deer at Nara Park provides a unique opportunity to connect with nature and experience a longstanding tradition in Japanese culture.
16. See Professional Female Divers Hunt for Pearls at Mikimoto Pearl Island
Mikimoto Pearl Island offers a unique opportunity to witness the traditional and remarkable skill of female free-divers, known as ama. These divers, often women, plunge into the ocean without modern equipment to harvest pearls.
Observing their diving technique is not only a testament to their skill and bravery but also a glimpse into a fascinating part of Japanese culture and history.
A visit to Mikimoto Pearl Island is both educational and inspiring, showcasing a tradition that has endured for generations.
17. Chase the Best Views of Mount Fuji
Mount Fuji, Japan’s iconic symbol, offers numerous breathtaking viewpoints. While popular spots like the Fuji Five Lakes are well-known, there are lesser-known yet equally stunning locations to view Fuji-san.
Whether it’s from the serene shores of Lake Tanukiko or the dramatic coastline of Kumomi Kaigan, each viewpoint offers a unique perspective of this majestic mountain.
Exploring these different locations provides not only spectacular views but also a deeper appreciation of Japan’s natural beauty.
18. Enjoy Sushi and Ramen in Tokyo
No visit to Japan is complete without indulging in its famous culinary offerings, particularly sushi and ramen. Tokyo, the heart of Japan’s food scene, offers an array of sushi from high-end sushi bars to casual conveyor belt restaurants. Similarly, ramen, with its rich flavors and variations, is a must-try.
Each bowl reflects a different aspect of Japan’s diverse culinary landscape. Sampling these dishes in Tokyo is not just a meal; it’s an experience of authentic Japanese cuisine.
19. Roll a Boat at Takachiho Gorge in Kyushu
Takachiho Gorge, in the lush green forests of Kyushu, presents a serene boating experience. The gorge, with its towering cliffs and cascading waterfall, is a scene straight out of a Japanese landscape painting.
Renting a boat to gently row along the river offers a peaceful and picturesque way to enjoy the natural beauty of Takachiho. It’s an ideal activity for nature lovers and those seeking a tranquil escape.
20. Soak in a Tokyo Onsen
Experience the traditional Japanese hot spring, or onsen, in Tokyo. These natural hot springs are not just about relaxation but are also a deep-rooted part of Japanese culture.
Many onsens in Tokyo offer a variety of baths, each with unique healing properties. Soaking in an onsen is a perfect way to unwind and rejuvenate after a day of exploring the city.
21. Dine at a Robot Restaurant in Tokyo
Tokyo’s Robot Restaurant offers a dining experience like no other. This high-energy, futuristic show features robots, neon lights, and dazzling performances. It’s a blend of technology, entertainment, and dining that encapsulates the modern and quirky side of Tokyo. Though touristy, it’s an unforgettable spectacle that adds a unique twist to your Tokyo visit.
22. Visit Senso-ji, Tokyo’s Oldest Temple
Senso-ji, located in Asakusa, is Tokyo’s oldest and most significant temple. The temple’s rich history, stunning architecture, and the bustling Nakamise shopping street offer a journey through both the spiritual and historical aspects of Japanese culture.
Exploring Senso-ji is a must-do for those interested in Japan’s ancient traditions and religious practices.
23. Enjoy Nature & Wildlife at Nara Park
Nara Park, with its lush greenery and roaming deer, offers a peaceful retreat into nature. The park’s vast area encompasses beautiful temples and shrines, providing a serene backdrop for wildlife viewing.
Interacting with the tame deer and enjoying the natural beauty of Nara Park makes for a delightful and relaxing experience, perfect for families and nature enthusiasts.
Each of these activities provides a unique and memorable experience, from cultural insights and natural beauty to culinary delights, enriching the journey for travelers visiting Japan in 2024.