From classic, timeless Japanese experiences to new attractions, we’ve put together our 24 recommendations for 2024.
When it comes to dream travel destinations, Japan is near the very top of many people’s lists. If you’re planning a trip to Japan in 2024 then we have put together a special list that we’re calling 24 for 24. Yes, that’s right - 24 of the best things to see, do, and experience in Japan in 2024. Sushi. Sumo. Bullet trains. Onsens. From timeless experiences to brand new attractions, we’ve got it all and, as ever, it’s all possible with the JR Pass for unlimited train travel across Japan on the country’s world-leading domestic rail network.
24 Things To Do 2024 in Japan
For our 24 for 2024 special, we’ve compiled a list of our Top 24 things to see, do, and experience in Japan, from timeless favourites to new attractions. Let’s take a look:
1. See Mt. Fuji
One of the most iconic landmarks and symbols of Japan, Mount Fuji is truly unmissable. It would be like going to Paris and not seeing the Eiffel Tower or missing the Statue of Liberty during a trip to New York. Mt Fuji is one of the most prevalent symbols in Japanese culture, and can be seen throughout the art, literature, and religion of this special nation. Every year, natives and tourists alike flock to witness the beauty of the landscape firsthand. Mt. Fuji, or Fujisan in Japanese, is situated about 135 kilometres Southwest of Tokyo on the island of Honshu. Due to its location between the prefectures of Yamanashi and Shizouka, nearly every side of the mountain offers an impressive view. For travellers looking for the most efficient route, the Kawaguchiko Train Station can be found just outside of the base. Many travellers make use of the Japan Rail Pass in order to minimise their spending, as well as decrease the amount of time taken to actually travel to and from the mountain. The spectacular mountain views aren’t the only attraction either - the area is also home to the beautiful Fuji Five Lakes. The five lakes of the Fuji Five Lakes are Lake Kawaguchi, Lake Yamanaka, Lake Motosu, Lake Saiko and Lake Shoji. For more on this popular destination (and the iconic Mt. Fuji itself) read our Traveller’s Guide to Exploring the Fuji Five Lakes.
2. Take a Scenic Railway Journey
Japan’s trains are arguably the best in the world and are famous for their speed, safety, and efficiency. The country’s rail lines also offer some of the most beautiful, scenic, and spectacular train journeys in the world. As such, there are far too many stunning train journeys in Japan to mention here, but here are a few recommendations. The Wide View Hida Express Train is one of the most scenic train routes in Japan and frequently used to travel to Takayama and the Japanese Alps. The route starts at Nagoya station and follows the Miyagawa river into the Japanese alps. Along the way there are plenty of scenic views from the Japanese countryside to the mountain landscape of the Alps. The route is considered one of the most beautiful in Japan, and certainly worth making on its own. The Sagano Scenic Railway is another famously beautiful rail journey. Situated near Kyoto, it runs from Arashiyama to Kameoka along the banks of the Hozugawa and features an old-fashioned diesel locomotive. It is particularly popular during the autumn season. The Gono Line is home to a famous ‘joyful train’ - the Resort Shirakami train. One of the most beautiful train rides in Japan, the Resort Shirakami train travels between Aomori and Akita, following the scenic coastline of northern Tohoku. The JR Pass can be used on the Resort Shirakami train, all you have to do is sit back and enjoy. The train travels through the Tohoku countryside, giving rise to magnificent panoramas, sunsets and UNESCO designated mountain range of the Shirakami Sanchi (this loosely translates to land of the white mountain gods). All seats on this train are reserved so make a reservation before boarding the train. This line is also home to a famously picturesque train station, Todoroki Station, which has become an attraction in itself. Finally, don’t miss Kurobe Gorge Railway. We’ll have more on the beauty of Kurobe Gorge further below. For more on Japan’s scenic railways read our guides to the Best Rural Train Journeys in Japan and viewing Japan’s Coastlines by Rail.
3. Try authentic Japanese sushi
Food, glorious food! Japan is famous for its food and sushi is arguably the country’s most famous dish. While the country has a huge amount of other culinary delights and regional delicacies to offer, if you happen to adore Sushi then you will be in food heaven in Japan. Sushi is a Japanese dish consisting of lightly vinegared rice topped or filled with other ingredients (fish, meat, vegetables), often wrapped in nori seaweed and served with wasabi and soy sauce. This is a major simplification of course as there are literally hundreds of varieties and combinations. One of the many misconceptions about Sushi is that it is just raw fish. This is actually Sashimi, a type of Sushi which consists of slices of raw fish such as salmon or tuna (and isn’t technically sushi because it does not contain rice).
Read our guide to Japan for Sushi Lovers for a much more comprehensive guide to this delicious meal and recommendations for which restaurants to visit. Of course, there's much more to Japan's amazing cuisine than just sushi so our full recommendation for 2024 would be to try 24 or more authentic Japanese dishes! You'll be trying some of the best food in the world so enjoy!
4. Visit Kiyomizu-Dera, Kyoto
Beautiful temples and shrines can be found across Japan - there are so many in fact that we could easily fill our 24 for 24 list purely with these. It’s certainly hard to pick out just one, but for the purposes of this guide, we’ve gone for Kiyomizu-Dera in Kyoto. Even in Kyoto, a city that is world famous for its temples and shrines, Kiyomizu-Dera is known for being one of the most beautiful and historic sites. The ‘pure water temple’ is especially renowned for its famous and iconic wooden stage which offers breathtaking views over the cultural heart of Japan. If Japan’s temples and shrines have always captured your imagination, you simply can’t miss Kyoto’s ‘pure water temple’ and its breath-taking views.
This ancient Buddhist temple takes its name from the water flowing through the temple complex from Otowa Waterfall. Kiyomizu-dera literally means ‘clear or pure water’’. Located in Higashiyama ward in Kyoto, Kiyomizu-dera dates back more than 1,200 years to the early Heian period and was originally part of the Hosso sect - one of the most ancient schools of Buddhism. Kiyomizu-dera temple complex grew to cover a vast expanse of land in eastern Kyoto, with more than 30 structures built into Mt. Otowa’s beautiful, forested hillside. Read our guide to Visiting Kiyomizu-Dera, Kyoto, for more.
5. Experience the Shibuya Scramble
Famous for being the busiest crossing in the world, the Shibuya Scramble (as it’s known) is a landmark of both Tokyo and Japan, as well as a popular location for movies and media. The highly urban and metropolitan ward of Shibuya is notable for its futuristic look of large mounted TV screens and sky-high neon buildings. The densely populated yet fluid motion of pedestrians and vehicles navigating Shibuya Crossing’s 10 lanes of traffic and five major crosswalks in one intersection, is fed by Shibuya station — one of the world’s busiest train stations.
While visiting Shibuya Crossing can be done at any time of year, the warmer months may hold a greater opportunity to see the variety of urban Tokyo. For more on Shibuya, read our Ultimate Guide to Shibuya, Tokyo.
6. Attend a Sumo Match
Sumo is quintessentially Japanese. Big, bold, steeped in history and tradition, and completely unique. Sumo is so synonymous with Japan, it’s hard to imagine it existing anywhere else and at the same time, it’s also quite a surprising national sport for a country with a reputation for being understated and polite. Sumo wrestling has a proud and ancient history as Japan’s national sport. Carvings of sumo figures have been found that date back as far as the 3rd Century, making the sport well over a thousand years old. However, it wasn’t until the Edo period (1603-1867) that sumo truly became the sport that we recognise today. During this period, a set of rules were created, including 48 legal moves, the elevated circular ring, and stables to train the wrestlers. The opportunity to see two titans collide in the ring is not to be missed. The pre-match rituals alone are an incredible traditional spectacle for fans, particularly international visitors, as well as the unique atmosphere in the arena. There really is no other sport quite like it.
Matches are held in stadiums and take place all day from 8am to 6pm. The main matches, featuring the highest ranked sumo, take place in the afternoon. You can watch some of the lower ranked wrestlers in the morning, but the stadium doesn’t tend to fill up until later in the day. Just make sure you’re seated for the main events, as you won’t want to miss those - the atmosphere in the arena will also be at its peak then. Stadiums sell snacks and drinks and it’s also possible to pre-order special bento boxes to enjoy at the event. Attending one of the six grand sumo tournaments - honbasho - is an amazing way to experience this unique sport. The three honbasho in Tokyo are held at the world famous Ryogoku Kokugikan stadium which can seat up to 13,000 spectators. As a bonus tip, attending a match, you can rent English audio commentary head-sets if you’d like a play-by-play account of the action. Read our guide to Sumo in Japan for a comprehensive guide.
7. Eat Bento on a Japanese train
Unlike most other countries where the food on trains is almost always bad, the special meals on sale at Japanese train stations are so good they’ve become a delicacy in themselves. Pronounced ‘air key ben’, the Japanese word ‘Ekiben’ is a portmanteau of the kanji symbols for ‘train station’ and ‘boxed meal’ i.e. ‘station-bento’. Its name perfectly describes what it is – a lunch box sold at train stations for eating during your rail journey. However, ekiben is far more than that. Ekiben are delicious, fresh, high-quality boxed meals, often using locally sourced ingredients that reflect the local region, which are sold in a huge range of special varieties, from simple, tasty meals to eat on-the-go to elaborate limited editions and regional specialities. They also change with the seasons too and come in a range of containers – from relatively simple and traditional-looking wooden boxes and trays right through to stylish shinkansen-shaped boxes.
While most ekiben are rice-based, almost every Japanese food is available in lunch-box form, from sushi to yakisoba, omelette to wagyu beef. Some even include dessert! Ekiben are sold at train stations across Japan. To find out more read our Guide to Ekiben: The Best Bento Box for Train Journeys.
8. Visit Ghibli Park
If you’re a Studio Ghibli fan then a visit to the studio’s first ever park will undoubtedly be the trip of a lifetime for you and your family. Launched in 2022, Ghibli Park is a theme park with a difference. First of all - it is not a theme park. There are no roller-coasters or traditional funfair rides. Located in Nagakute, Aichi Prefecture, Ghibli Park is much more of an experience - a unique, interactive, magical experience and adventure - like stepping into your favourite animated films. From visiting the life-size home of Satsuki and Mei from My Neighbour Totoro to sitting in a real-life and very soft-looking catbus, to eating food inspired by scenes from the films, such as dining in the yatai from Spirited Away, or sitting on the train next to the iconic No Face from the same film, the list of incredible experiences goes on and on. The park features five areas spread over an impressive 7.1 hectares, each inspired by and bringing to life one of Studio Ghibli’s films. These areas are: The Hill of Youth, Ghibli’s Grand Warehouse, Mononoke’s Village, Valley of Witches and Dondoko Forest. As well as these main areas, Ghibli Park features a wealth of interactive features, playgrounds, cafes and restaurants (with the aforementioned Ghibli themed food and drink), and much more, all inspired by the films. From the beginning, the studio was keen to express that the park is not a typical theme park with rides like Disney or Universal, but more of an experience akin to stepping into another world. If you’re a fan of these award-winning movies then a visit to Ghibli Park is a once in a lifetime experience. Read our recent article on Ghibli Park’s latest attractions for more.
9. Stay in a capsule hotel
Capsule hotels have become synonymous with Japanese culture. They’re quirky and different, innovative and convenient. And can you really go to Japan without trying one? Capsule hotels feel like they’ve been around forever in some ways, at least since the 1950s or 1960s, so you might be surprised to discover that the first capsule hotel didn’t open until 1979 in Osaka. Capsule hotels are hotels where instead of standard rooms, guests have a small, compact capsule, traditionally made from a fibreglass unit and no bigger than a bed (around 1.2 metres across, two metres long and a metre tall). They were designed to save space in Japan’s growing mega cities and were traditionally aimed at lone male travellers or businessmen. They were intended to be practical and convenient (simple places to sleep for a night) rather than luxurious, but over the years they have diversified and evolved. Today, there are many quirky and luxurious versions, from spending the night sleeping between the bookshelves of a bookshop to sleeping in a renovated sleeper train carriage, and many more. Read our guide to Japan’s Capsule Hotels for more.
10. Check out Osaka’s neon nightlife
Bustling, vibrant, and dazzling Osaka is one of Japan's biggest and best cities. Osaka’s neon-lit Dotonbori area is a feast for the senses and one of Japan’s most famous and iconic districts. When you close your eyes and picture Japan, one of the images you might think of first is the neon-lit nightlife in the country’s glamorous metropolises. The sights, the sounds, the smells, the food! Dotonbori – Osaka’s historic entertainment district – is as famous for its neon lights as it is for its food. Dotonbori’s history as an entertainment district goes back hundreds of years to 1612. Today, Dotonbori is still famous for its entertainment as well as its food, nightlife, and more. It’s also just one of Osaka’s super cool urban districts. Shinsekai is a time capsule of old-school Osaka street life, filled with arcade machines, neon lights, quirky shops, hidden bars, delicious street food, and more. This famous district offered a vision of the future back in the early 1900s and now provides a nostalgic blast from the past. Denden Town is the Akihabara of Osaka. Here you’ll find everything related to anime, electronics, gadgets, music and Otaku culture. Part of the Nipponbashi city ward, Denden Town is a great way to experience Japanese Otaku culture (most known for anime, manga and video games), or to shop for electronics and parts. Namba is a popular entertainment and shopping district in the south of Osaka. In many ways, it’s like a microcosm of Osaka itself – a dazzling, sensory experience packed with the fun and excitement of 21st Century Japan as well as plenty of history and culture to be found just under the flashing, neon surface. Namba is also home to Shinsaibashi and Kuromon market, which you’ll find elsewhere on our list. Futuristic and glamorous, Osaka’s Umeda district features some of the city’s most spectacular landmarks and is packed with places to shop, eat and explore. As you can tell, Osaka’s neon cityscape has a lot to offer and definitely deserves its place on our 24 for 24 list! Read our guide to 48 Hours in Osaka for a great introduction to this city.
11. Relax in an Onsen
Lowering your body into a warm onsen is a quintessential Japanese experience. Simply stated, a Japanese onsen refers to a Japanese hot spring. The term sometimes extends out to encompass bathing facilities as well as hotels/inns, traditional ryokan, and spas that are built surrounding the landmark. Besides being a fun activity for the family, onsen have deep ties within Japanese culture. Since Japan is one of the most volcanically active countries, onsen are plentiful. Utilising the Japan Rail Pass can be beneficial and practical for accessing these various locations. Tokyo specifically has a surplus of opportunities to visit genuine and traditional bathhouses. If you are looking to get the full experience of Japan by diving deep into cultural norms, onsen should be included.
Aside from the cultural ties, the geothermally heated springs offer potential benefits such as pain alleviation, clearing up skin, reduced fatigue, and overall stress reduction. The word onsen (温泉) describes both natural hot springs produced by Japan’s geothermal and volcanic foundations and the bathhouses that use them. While the word ‘sento’ technically describes public bathhouses, the term onsen often encompasses the full range of bathing facilities as well as hotels/inns, traditional ryokan, and spas that are built surrounding onsen. Sento on the other hand are not attached to a natural hot spring and simply use hot water, while rotenburo are outdoor onsen. However, the word onsen is often used for all three. If it’s your first time visiting an onsen, you should read our guide to Japan Bathing Etiquette: Everything You Need To Know for a good introduction. Meanwhile for recommendations on where to visit, check out our blog post on The Best Onsen in Tokyo.
12. Monkey Around in Jigokudani
Known as the ‘Paradise of the Monkeys’, the world-famous Jigokudani Monkey Park is located in the Joshinetsu Kogen National Park in Yamanouchi, northern Nagano. It is a large park that is best known for its open-air hot spring bath, which was built for the snow monkeys to bathe in. Each year, millions of people travel to Japan just to see this incredible sight. Jigokudani Monkey Park was established in 1964. The story goes that a local ryokan manager had begun feeding the monkeys a few years earlier and they had gradually become accustomed to people. One day, an apple about to be given to a monkey fell in the onsen and when one of the monkeys jumped in to retrieve it, they enjoyed the warm water so much they decided to stay and bathe and their friends soon followed suit.
Today, the park is particularly popular during the snowy winter months, anytime from December to March in Nagano, but it can be enjoyed all year round. Soaking in the hot springs is a big part of the monkeys’ daily routine and it is believed to have major stress relieving properties (in both monkeys and humans!). As well as the attraction of the main pool, visitors will encounter large numbers of monkeys along the main paths. There is also a visitor information centre on site which provides further insight into the monkeys’ behaviour, habitat, diet and much more. The monkeys are used to human visitors and interaction so they can come quite close. Even the park’s sometimes large crowds (up to 500 visitors-a-day during peak season) don’t faze these confident and fun-loving creatures. You’ll have a great time, just remember not to touch or feed the monkeys. Jigokudani Monkey Park opens at 9am daily and closes at 4pm with extended hours from 8.30a to 5pm seasonally. It’s easy to reach Jigokudani using your JRailPass. If you’re travelling from Tokyo, take the Hokuriku Shinkansen bound for Kanazawa. From Kyoto, take a Hikari train on the JR Tokaido Shinkansen from Kyoto station to Nagoya then switch to the JR Shinano express to Nagano. Once at Nagano, from whichever direction you’ve travelled, you’ll need to take a shuttle bus to the monkey park.
13. Explore Kurobe Gorge
The Northern Japanese Alps offer some of the most spectacular experiences across the whole of the country. With the peaks of Mt. Tateyama and Mt. Akazawadake - known as the Roof of Japan -and its famous snow corridor on one side, and the deep, forested valley of Kurobe Gorge with its sightseeing railway on the other, the Kurobe area in Toyama has two incredible adventures for the price of one. Geographically close, but accessed from completely different directions, these experiences combine to create a once-in-a-lifetime experience.
The Kurobe Gorge has become one of Japan’s most celebrated destinations for lovers of nature, unspoilt forests, and picturesque natural beauty. Divided by the Kurobe River, Kurobe is one of the deepest gorges in Japan. The entrance to the gorge is marked by the famous red Shin Yamabiko Bridge, which is 166 metres long - the longest of the many bridges spanning Kurobe Gorge - and an attraction in its own right. As well as its untouched forests, spectacular and rugged cliffs, and natural volcanic hot springs, Kurobe Gorge is arguably most famous for Kurobe Gorge Railway - a beautifully scenic sightseeing rail journey with some open-sided carriages to appreciate the full splendour of the incredible views. Kurobe Gorge Railway was originally built to help with the construction of Kurobe Dam but has become a major tourist attraction in recent years. The journey runs from April through to November and is famous for offering travellers incredible views of the red, gold, orange, and brown foliage of Kurobe Gorge.
14. Walk the Nakasendo Trail
The beautiful country of Japan is famous for its walking and hiking trails, and there are few more historic than the Nakasendo. This Edo period walking trail connects modern day Tokyo (formerly known as Edo) with Kyoto and includes a wealth of stunning scenery along the way. Nakasendo means ‘Central Mountain Route’ and refers to one of the five routes of the Edo period (1600-1868). It is more than 330 miles long and was one of two trails running from Edo (modern day Tokyo) through the Honshu mountain range and Japanese Alps to Kyoto.
These feudal highways were used by the Shogun as a communications network to help rule the country. Today, this historic trail is made up of contemporary roads and footpaths, but several sections of the original route remain and have been officially named a National Historic Site of Japan. Many of these historic stretches can be explored on foot, and offer visitors the chance to step back in time to the Edo period. The modern day route connects Tokyo and Kyoto and can be traversed in both directions, passing through several prefectures including Saitama, Gunma, Nagano, Gifu, and Shiga. However, when many people refer to walking the Nakasendo trail they are often talking about the historic sections that remain, particularly those in Gifu Prefecture and Nagano Prefecture’s Kiso Valley, where you’ll find charming and picturesque old post towns like Tsumago, Narai, and Magome. Read our full guide to the Nakasendo Trail for more.
15. Try an Izakaya
A great way to explore Japan’s contemporary food and drink culture is by visiting an izakaya. Effectively, a sort of a Japanese gastropub, eating at an izakaya is something every traveller to Japan should do if they have the chance. Even though they are incredibly common in Japan, it can be tough to quickly explain what an izakaya is. Not just a restaurant and not really a bar, food and drink are equally important to the experience of dining at izakayas. What izakayas are though are casual establishments where friends and co-workers go for drinks and food after work, similar to how people in Spain head to tapas bars for their evening meal. That means they have shared food and a lively atmosphere that you might not expect, considering the usually reserved nature of people in Japan. Read our guide to Why You Should Visit an Izakaya in Japan for more on why this is an essential activity.
16. Visit Matsumoto Castle
This striking landmark in the Japanese Alps is one of Japan’s best castles, both in terms of beauty but also in how well it has survived over the centuries. The main parts of the castle date from the end of the 16th century and unlike many Japanese castles, are still made from their original wood. Thanks to its picturesque black exterior, the castle has long been nicknamed “Crow Castle”. Visiting Matsumoto Castle you’ll be able to admire the authentic wooden interior, as well as the view from the sixth floor observation deck. Of course, Japan has many more stunning castles to explore. Read our Top Five Japanese Castles to visit for more recommendations.
17. Experience a traditional Japanese matsuri
From snow festivals to cherry blossom festivals, religious and spiritual festivals to harvest festivals, from music, food and beer festivals to computer games, cosplay and anime – Japan has festivals and celebrations for all of these and more. Basically, if you name it and it’s important or popular in Japan, then they probably have a festival dedicated to it. Festivals, or ‘Matsuri’ as they are known in Japan, take place across the country all year round. Incredibly, there are an estimated 300,000 Matsuri across Japan. One of the reasons there are so many is that almost every shrine, town and village has its own festival. The focal-point of these can vary, from honouring a shrine’s kami (a Shinto deity), to remembering an important historical event, or celebrating a particular season. Traditional Matsuri feature processions and decorated floats known as dashi, yatai, danjiri, and other regional variations. Kami are sometimes carried from their shrines in mikoshi (essentially a portable shrine carried by the procession), and processions are often accompanied by drum and flute music. However, each matsuri is also slightly different, with its own unique personality and characteristics. While some are serene and peaceful, others are colourful, loud and energetic, and feature dancing and singing. Traditional Matsuri are a great way to experience the history and culture of Japan. For recommendations, read our Top 12 Festivals to Experience in Japan.
18. Head North to Hokkaido
Gateway to the North, Hokkaido is Japan’s northernmost island, best known for its unspoiled nature and breathtaking scenery. The landscape of Hokkaido is everchanging by the season, from the snowy landscapes in winter to the mild outdoor temperatures in summer, Hokkaido makes for a fantastic visit year round.
Hokkaido can be reached directly by rail from Tokyo with a one way trip taking roughly four hours using the Hokkaido Shinkansen. The trip is fully covered by the JRailPass. There’s a huge amount to see in Hokkaido so we recommend a five-day itinerary, which includes a wide variety of highlights, including the lively city life of Sapporo, the fish markets of Hakodate, zoological garden of Asahikawa and finally a moment to unwind in the volcanic onsen of Noboribetsu. Read our Hokkaido Five-Day Itinerary Guide for more.
19. Visit Ramen Alley
Sapporo’s famous ramen alley (Ramen Yokocho) first opened in 1951 and is said to be the birthplace of ‘miso ramen’. Located in the Susukino district of the city, it’s also home to more than 17 ramen restaurants and in our humble opinion, it’s a must-visit while in Sapporo. Ramen is one of Japan’s most popular dishes. What is ramen? Well, if you’ve been living under a rock, let us tell you. Ramen is essentially a bowl of noodles and broth. It is a relatively simple dish on the surface, but its apparent simplicity is a serious part of its genius and when prepared by masters, it is a meal full of little subtleties, expertise and incredible depths of flavour. For example, depending on the soup base, choice of noodles, toppings, and sides, ramen can have a huge number of different variations. Naturally, every region and every city has its own ramen specialities and Sapporo is no different. In fact, it might just have the most famous ramen street in the world. Ganso Sapporo Yokochu is regarded by many as the original ‘ramen alley’ and was visited by the late American chef Anthony Bourdain who braved the snow to eat at the famous Aji No Karyu restaurant. You can follow in the legendary chef’s footsteps by visiting 3 Minami 5-Jo Nishi, Chuo, Sapporo 064-0805, Hokkaido. You can read much more about this delicious dish in our Beginners Guide to Ramen.
20. Explore Japan’s National Parks
Japan’s national parks are among the most beautiful and diverse in the world. They are also said to be unique in the way they combine public, private and state-owned land. More importantly there are experiences to see, sights to behold and wonders to discover in the country’s national parks that are entirely unique to Japan. From volcanoes, forests, marshes, beaches, coastlines, underwater marine habitats, onsen (hot springs) and snowy mountains, Japan’s national parks are among the most spectacular in the world. Japan may be commonly associated with its futuristic mega-cities like Tokyo, but the country’s rich culture and heritage, its stunningly beautiful landscape, and it's incredibly diverse geography are an even greater attraction to the millions of international visitors who travel there each year. And the very best of this beauty and diversity can often be found concentrated in Japan’s national parks – the ideal antidote to the big city and the perfect remedy for those in need of an urban detox. If you’re looking to escape back to nature and reconnect with wildlife, fresh air, pure water and greenery, there’s no better place to start. Read our guide to Visiting Japan’s National Parks for an in-depth guide.
21. Stay in a Ryokan
Traditional, Japanese-style hotels called “ryokan” are commonplace across Japan. Ryokan often feature such traditional Japanese staples as shōji and tatami. These are an excellent choice for travellers who want to enjoy a more traditional local experience when visiting Japan. The experience of ryokan is not limited just to the style of the rooms. Ryokan often include amenities such as onsen, offer traditional Japanese meals, and observe Japanese household traditions. However, these will vary depending on the ryokan, which can differ widely both individually and across the country. Read our guide to The Best Ryokan in Japan for everything you need to know.
22. Hit the Slopes in Hakuba
Japan loves winter sports and has a proud history of hosting the Winter Olympic Games. Skiing and snowboarding are hugely popular activities and thanks to Japan’s plentiful snowfall and mountainous landscape, the country is something of a hidden gem for winter sports enthusiasts and ski resort devotees! It’s hard to imagine that one of Japan’s best ski resorts is just three hours from Tokyo, but it’s true. Hakuba Valley - a term used to describe a group of towns, Omachi, Hakuba, and Otari, at the base of the northern Japanese Alps - announced itself to the world as the main event site for the 1998 Winter Olympic Games in Nagano, but it has been famous within Japan for much longer.
With its stunning mountainous peaks, white powder snow, ski slopes, and hot springs, Hakuba Valley is a genuine winter wonderland, making it a No.1 destination for snow sports enthusiasts, but it’s also a beautiful destination in spring, summer, and autumn. In these months, known as the green season, the landscape comes alive and is renowned for its hiking, flowers, and clearwater lakes - it’s perfect for nature lovers. Hakuba is also not just one ski resort, but several - 10 to be exact - with more than 200 slopes. The largest resort is known as Happo-One and boasts a mountain beach with saunas and hot tubs as well as amazing ski slopes spread over 220 hectares. But there are many more to choose from, including Hakuba 47 and Hakuba Goryu, which are linked, Tsugaike Kogen, Iwatake, Yanaba, Cortina, Norikura, and Sun Alpina. It’s said that Tsugaike Kogen is the best slope for beginners and intermediates, while Iwatake is also good for families. Happo-One and Cortina are the more advanced and challenging runs. However, with 10 ski resorts there really is something for everyone and every ability level.
Alongside winter sports, the resorts also offer the aforementioned hot springs and saunas as well as traditional Ryokan - Japanese inns for food and accommodation - hotels, restaurants, bars, annual music festivals, and more. Of course, most people come for the snow and with peaks as high as 3,000 metres, and an estimated snowfall of 11 metres each year, it’s easy to see why Hakuba is so popular for winter sports. Find out more in our comprehensive guide to Hakuba Winter Resort.
23. Travel on a bullet train
As we mentioned above, Japan’s trains are arguably the best in the world and have a proud history. However, it was the 1964 Tokyo Olympics that proved the catalyst for Japan’s revolution in rail travel that would see it become a world-leader in trains with the opening of the Shinkansen – the world’s first high speed train to coincide with the games. This ‘bullet train’ became synonymous with Japan and ushered in a golden age for the country’s trains over the course of the next decade. Today the Shinkansen carries more than 150 million passengers every year. Japan has continued to build on its legacy with new innovations and record-breaking speed, efficiency, and safety achievements year after year. Travelling on a bullet train is an absolutely essential experience while visiting Japan - no train is more famous or iconic in Japan - and even better, you can use your Japan Rail Pass for unlimited journeys if you become hooked! Read our guide to Trainspotting in Japan or our Top 10 Amazing Train Facts for more.
24. View the Cherry Blossom
Last, but definitely not least, is one of Japan’s most famous sights - the cherry blossom. Viewing the sakura (as it’s known in Japan) in the springtime is a hugely popular activity in Japan that also attracts millions of international visitors each year. The sakura are far more than beautiful trees, they represent the transience, fragility and miracle of human life and, as such, a visit to see these unique flowers bloom in their native Japan is likely to be a once-in-a-lifetime experience. Imagine sitting on the grass, in a Japanese garden, looking up at the boughs of countless cherry blossoms as iconic pink-white petals fall faintly around you. This is known as ‘hanami’, which translates as ‘flower viewing’ – the tradition and art of watching and appreciating the sakura (Japanese cherry blossom) when it blooms each spring. Hanami is directly associated with the sakura and involves much more than gazing at the beauty of these iconic trees. It regularly involves picnics, parties and gatherings in parks, gardens, temples and at well-known sakura viewing spots. Cherry blossom season is a time to celebrate and socialise with friends, family, colleagues and visitors from around the world, gathering together under the bough of the cherry blossom tree. You’re likely to hear more than a few cries of ‘kampai’ (cheers) during the day at hanami parties as people bring out bento food, beer and sake, play music, read poetry and dance to celebrate. Bigger venues will often have food and drink stalls too. You may even find yourself being sold special sakura infused products from sakura chu-hai (alcoholic drinks), sakura chocolate, beer, crisps and coffee. There are also traditional foods served at hanami such as the tri-coloured (pink, white and green) ‘dango’ dumpling snack.
Generally speaking, cherry blossom season takes place in March and early April and announces the arrival of Spring in Japan. This is the best time to travel, but the dates can vary significantly by region, with Japan’s southern sub-tropical islands blooming first and the colder northern region considerably later, so it’s definitely best to plan ahead. Remember to check the sakura forecast when booking your trip. It’s essentially like a weather forecast for when to view the cherry blossom! For even more information on this topic, read our guide Japanese Cherry Blossom Festivals: Everything You Need to Know While Travelling for Hanami.
- With two dozen amazing experiences like those above to try while visiting Japan, you’re definitely going to want to share your adventures with family, friends, and followers so make sure you stay connected to the internet with a PocketWifi device for unlimited Wifi on up to five devices during your time in Japan.
- Whether it’s your first time in Japan or your 50th visit, our dedicated Meet and Greet service offers expert advice and support on arrival - it’s like having your very own PA to make your travel arrangements as easy as possible.