Japan is a great destination if you're getting a little older and want a slower paced holiday filled with fascinating, once-in-a-lifetime activities.
Travelling can be a little more challenging as you get older, but Japan’s respect for its elders, wonderful amenities, and focus on slow living, make it perfect for senior travellers. Whether you’re getting a little older yourself or you’re travelling with your parents or an older friend, Japan is a great choice. We’ll explore the reasons why below, our recommendations for activities ideal for senior travellers, and how best to get around with the Japan Rail Pass for unlimited travel on the country’s clean, safe, and efficient domestic rail network. Let’s get started.
Is Japan Suitable For Older Travellers?
Why Japan Is Great For Senior Travellers
- Extremely safe
- Very clean
- Excellent public transport, particularly the country’s domestic rail network. With a Japan Rail Pass you get unlimited travel on the majority of Japan’s train lines
- Modern, state-of-the-art amenities and facilities
- Good for accessibility
- Welcoming and friendly
- Full of history and culture
- Japan has one of the oldest populations in the world and an innate respect for its senior citizens and visitors
This latter point is definitely worth expanding on. Japan is known around the world for the emphasis it places on younger people to honour and respect their senior counterparts - it’s a big part of family life and Japanese culture as a whole. This extends to international visitors who happen to be a little older and is another very important reason why Japan is a great place to visit for senior travellers.
Top 10 Things To Do For Senior Travellers in Japan
1. Visit the temples and shrines of Kyoto
The cultural heart of Japan, Kyoto is famous for its historic temples and shrines and is a great destination for senior travellers. Kyoto has been described as the ‘Japan of your imagination’ and offers a more laid-back experience than Tokyo or Osaka. There’s also a huge amount to see and do in Kyoto from its spiritual temples and shrines to UNESCO World Heritage sites, the famous Gion and Pontocho districts, the Philosopher’s Path, and more. With so much to see and do, it can be hard to know where to start so here are a few recommendations with senior travellers in mind:
Take a walk through the lantern lit alleyways of feudal era Japan with a visit to Higashiyama - one of Kyoto’s best preserved historic districts - a perfect treat for senior travellers who want to enjoy Japan at their own pace. Over the last few decades, Higashiyama district has become particularly famous for the beautiful streets between Kiyomizu-dera temple and Yasaka Shrine, and many of its attractions are now UNESCO World Heritage recognised. It’s also well-known for its traditional shops and restaurants which open at around 9am or 10am each day and close at around 5 or 6pm at night. The one exception is the Hanatoro festival in March (more on this below), when the shops open late and the streets are lit up with beautiful paper lanterns. If you’ve ever been fascinated by the simple beauty of traditional Japanese culture from the feudal period then Higashiyama will provide you with an unforgettable journey back in time.
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 breath-taking views over the cultural heart of Japan. 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’ and was founded in 778 during the early Heian period. Kiyomizu-Dera features more than 30 buildings and structures, but is most famous for its main hall and wooden stage, made from centuries old trees. For everything you need to know about this famous temple in Higashiyama district, read our comprehensive Guide to Visiting Kiyomizu-Dera. Once you’ve explored the temple and its grounds, head out into nearby streets such as Sannenzaka, which is known for its free food samples. Also, look out for local specialities such as Kiyomizu-dera sweets, pickles, black sesame ice cream, and pottery known as ‘Kiyomizu-yaki’. There are also lots of great traditional shops and restaurants in the area. Find out everything you need to know in our guide to Kiyomizu-Dera.
- Gion and Pontocho After Dark
Kyoto is the gently lit canal to Tokyo’s fit-inducing neon—part of its charm for many and one of the reasons it’s such a good fit for senior travellers. As such, once the sun goes down and the monks close the temple gates, many visitors are left wondering what’s next. Well, we have the answer and we’ve even written a blog about it: An Evening Stroll through Pontocho and Gion.
- The Philosopher’s Path
The famous and beautifully picturesque canal path takes its name from being the walking route of Nishida Kitarō, one of the most significant and influential Japanese philosophers. Starting at Nanzenji Temple, the path follows a small canal line with hundreds of cherry blossom trees, and passes a number of temples and shrines including Eikan do Zenrin-ji, Otoya Shrine and Honen-in, before ending around Ginkakuji, the Silver Pavilion. The path is picturesque from beginning to end and especially so during the Sakura season. For more on this famous path read our guide to Walking The Philosopher’s Path while for more tips on visiting during Japan’s world-famous cherry blossom season check out our article on Everything You Need To Know When Travelling for Hanami.
- The Silver Pavilion
The Silver Pavilion (Ginkajuji) is an elegant Zen temple found in the east of Kyoto that is home to some impressive temple buildings and pretty gardens. As we mentioned above, it was originally constructed in 1482 as a retirement villa for the aforementioned Shogun Ashikaga Yoshimasa. Named Ginkakuji, it was modelled after the Golden Pavilion, which was built for the Shogun's grandfather. The two-storey pavilion is officially known as the Kannon Hall and is dedicated to Kannon, the Buddhist goddess of mercy. It has several other temples on the grounds and two beautiful gardens, including the famous ‘Sea of Silver Sand’ garden. The two most common ways to get to the Silver Pavilion are by bus or on foot. The 5, 17 or 100 buses all run from Kyoto Station to the temple, taking around 40 minutes to get there. Another approach though is to take the Kyoto Metro to the Nanzenji Temple and then walk the popular Philosopher Path over to the Silver Pavilion Read our Guide to The Silver Pavilion for much more on this temple.
Kinkakuji, the Golden Pavilion of Kyoto
The Golden Pavilion, known as Kinkaku-ji (金閣寺) in Japanese, is one of the most famous Zen temples in the world, renowned for its two stories covered in gold leaf. Officially named Rokuon-ji, the temple today is one of the most visited attractions in Kyoto and designated as a world heritage site. You can find out more about the history of the famous temple, how to get there and more, in our guide to Kinkakuji, the Golden Pavilion of Kyoto.
2. Try a tea ceremony
A calming, historic, and authentically Japanese experience, a traditional tea ceremony is a great idea for senior travellers. While Japan is a modern and futuristic country in many ways, it is still a nation with enduring and historic traditions that fascinate international visitors. One such custom is the Japanese tea ceremony, a ritualistic activity that is an artform all to itself. Known as the Way of Tea and called sadō, chanoyu or chadō in Japanese, the custom is a ceremonial serving of matcha green tea within a traditional tearoom. Although tea ceremonies are often talked about in broad terms, there are actually many different types that take place. One way ceremonies can differ is their level of formality, which may come as a surprise given how traditional and formal the custom appears to outsiders. The kind of tea ceremony most tourists see is actually the informal type, known as chakai. The more formal alternative, known as chaji, features a full meal, multiple teas and can last as much as four hours! Essentially, the ceremony is a performance where a host serves their guests green tea in a formal manner. The ceremony typically takes place in a traditional room, lined with tatami mats, following a rigid process of steps.
Tourists usually experience chakai ceremonies, which last from 30 minutes to an hour. Traditional ceremonies usually host about 4 or 5 guests, who are each served a teacup of thin green tea. Read our in-depth guide to What It's Like to Take Part in a Japanese Tea Ceremony for more information.
3. Stop and smell the flowers
Japan is famous for its cherry blossom season, but it has many different types of beautiful flowers all year round. Senior travellers may want to visit when it’s slightly quieter as the cherry blossom attracts millions to Japan’s cities each spring. Thankfully, Japan has a number of other flower festivals to enjoy. From pink moss to wisteria, roses to hydrangea, sunflowers to lavender, Japan is famous for its beautiful flowers, and they occupy an important part in Japanese culture. Flower viewing or gazing has become an art form in itself in Japan. The word ‘hanami’ describes flower gazing, and while it is commonly associated with the cherry blossom, it can apply to any flower from the Lavender of Furano Town in the north to the Wisteria and more at Ashikaga Flower Park or the seasonal flowers at Lake Yamanaka Flower Park. For senior travellers, plum blossom season is highly recommended as it’s just as beautiful and tends to be quieter. For more recommendations and information, read our guide to Flower Gazing in Japan.
4. Enjoy the art and culture
Japan’s cities are packed full of art and culture with a wealth of galleries and museums. If you’re already planning a visit to Kyoto because of its qualities for senior travellers, then Kyoto National Museum is well worth a visit. One of Japan’s main art museums, Kyoto National Museum was opened in 1987 and can be found in Higashiyama. It is one of only four national museums in Japan and houses a prestigious permanent collection as well as special exhibitions displayed in an original building from the Meiji Period. Kyoto National Museum is a must-see for senior travellers who happen to be art lovers. The Miho Museum near the city of Kōka in Shiga Prefecture is another excellent destination for senior travellers and a unique place in its own right. At the Miho Museum, you can witness ancient art and antiquities from Japan and across the West inside a world class architectural landmark designed by internationally renowned architect I.M. Pei. Find out more in our guide to The Miho Museum in Shiga.
Naturally, Tokyo and Osaka are also amazing destinations for art lovers with a huge variety of galleries and museums to visit, but for a more unusual destination for senior travellers, how about an art island? Naoshima is one of the many smaller islands that dot the Seto inland sea and lies between Okayama and the main island of Shikoku. Famous for both its modern indoor and outdoor art, sandy beaches, stunning panoramic views and sunny weather. Naoshima Art Island makes for a great place to unwind and take life one step at a time, especially if you have an appreciation for art. The island is home to the iconic Yellow Pumpkin by Yayoi Kusama, which stands out against its backdrop in a stunning manner. Though it is the most well known art piece on Naoshima, it is only the beginning of the collection of open air-sculptures and installations that harmoniously blend with the neighbouring landscape. This includes works by Dan Graham, Shinro Otake and Karel Appel. There’s indoor art too with Benesse Art House and The Lee Ufan Museum, making it an interesting and relaxing escape for older travellers who enjoy art.
5. Immerse yourself in Japan’s history
There is history everywhere you look in Japan, making it a dream destination for senior travellers who are also history lovers. For those interested in the Edo period and samurai (the Japanese history many of us have in our minds), there are a number of interesting destinations possible with the JRailPass. Historical destinations across the country range from merchant districts and geisha districts to post towns, but one of the most popular among tourists are the samurai districts of Japan. These areas were once home to the warriors and many in towns and cities around Japan have fortunately been preserved. Destinations to visit include the Nagamachi district of Kanazawa, the town of Kakunodate in the Akita Prefecture of northern Honshu, Usuki on the east coast of Ōita Prefecture, and the town of Hagi in Yamaguchi Prefecture. For more on this subject, read our Guide to Former Samurai Districts in Japan. Another recommendation for those interested in Japan’s history is The Edo-Tokyo Museum. A visit to this fascinating museum is a brilliant way to learn what life was like living in Tokyo through past centuries. From the Japan medieval era, when Tokyo was called Edo (up to 1869), as well as recent decades. The museum vividly retells and illustrates portraits from different walks of life, from the Samurai in Edo to the post-war salaryman, with more than 800,000 pieces of art and history on display.
Meanwhile, for more contemporary history, how about a trip to Hiroshima? Hiroshima is one of the top destinations of Japan, with a vibrant local culture and wide variety of tourism highlights, and this only gets better for senior travellers who happen to be Japan Rail Pass holders. Hiroshima is unique in that it has a special sightseeing bus, ferry and city rail lines that are all included in the pass - this makes it a super convenient all-in-one transport choice for older travellers.
6. Relax in an onsen
Relaxing in an onsen, solo or with family or friends, is a large part of Japanese society and has numerous benefits including pain alleviation, clearing up skin, and reducing fatigue and stress. Senior travellers will not only be able to find an onsen pretty much wherever you are in Japan, but each region specialises in a different mineral infused spring water, so no two onsen are the same. The word onsen 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.
Since Japan is one of the most volcanically active countries, onsen are plentiful, and there are a huge variety of different types to experience. Within larger cities, onsen are likely to be modern bath houses, but with your JR Pass in hand senior travellers can travel around the country and try everything from traditional to modern, outdoor, indoor, segregated, mixed, cedar, iron, stone or tile spas. There are onsen resort towns where you can lower yourself into warm water surrounded by snowy mountains or lush green forests - bliss - and perfect for older travellers. If you’re new to public bathing and Japanese onsen in particular then our Guide to Japanese Onsen and Bathing Etiquette and for an overview of a specific onsen to visit, read our blog post on Shima Onsen. Shima Onsen is one of the oldest and most popular onsens in Japan and is easily reached from Tokyo, which is helpful for senior travellers.
7. Nara Deer Park
While Japan has a number of famous animal experiences, from the snow monkeys of the Japanese Alps to rabbit and cat islands, the free-roaming deer in Nara are among the most popular and might be the most relaxing for senior travellers. Nara City Park is a massive 660 hectare city park and the location of the famous big Buddha at Todaiji temple, not to forget the countless freely roaming deer. The park is also home to some of Nara’s most prestigious attractions, including Todaiji, Kofukuji, and the Nara National Museum, making it a very interesting place to visit as well as a relaxing one. One of the most customary things to do when visiting Nara Park is to feed the deer that can be found almost everywhere. Specially baked senbei cookies are sold for 200 yen per pack by locals, and the deer absolutely love them. They’re actually so good that they are good for human consumption too. Nara park is a staple on any visit or day trip to Nara and a great spot to spend the afternoon. Visit the exquisite temples and museums, feed the roaming deer, and enjoy a relaxing stroll around the park. The JR Nara station is directly connected with lines going to Kyoto and Osaka, and can be reached within one hour from either city. Coming from Kyoto station, take the JR Nara line bound for Nara (it’s that simple!) from Osaka take the JR Yamatoji line, also bound for Nara! Both options are covered by the JR Pass. From Nara station the park can be reached on foot in about 20 minutes and is a pleasant walk.
8. Bask in the beauty of Nikko
Hidden away in the mountains of the Tochigi Prefecture, Nikko has long been vital as a place of worship for Shinto and Buddhist mountain deities. The city offers visitors the appealing combination of atmospheric shrines, historic ties to the Tokugawa Shogunate and the kind of natural scenery you could happily get lost in for days. For those planning to travel to Nikko with a Japan Rail Pass, you should find the experience quite easy. Nikko is best visited from Tokyo as the trip to get there only takes around 2 hours. First, take the Tohoku Shinkansen to Utsunomiya station, where you then transfer to the local JR Nikko line. The entire route is covered with the JR Pass and is certainly a manageable day trip from Tokyo. Nikko has been described as the perfect balance of nature and spirituality, making it ideal for senior travellers.
9. Take a peaceful getaway to Hakone
If you’re a senior traveller looking for a peaceful getaway and a slower way of life, then Hakone could be for you. A mountainous city in the Fuji-Hakone-Izu National Park just west of Tokyo, Hakone offers a variety of activities, from hot spring resorts, called onsens, to wondrous views of Mt. Fuji. Hakone can be a much-needed break from the city, whether you are staying there for a couple of days or making a day trip. It’s also easily accessible from Tokyo and Kyoto. The most efficient and stress-free way to get there is by train. Using a Japan Rail Pass, tourists can take the shinkansen (bullet train), which will get you there in a little under two hours. Find out more in our The Guide to Hakone Japan: Visiting With the Japan Rail Pass.
10. Discover your spiritual side in Japan
Japan is a deeply spiritual place and if you’re a senior traveller seeking to reconnect with your spiritual side, you couldn’t find a better destination. There are many sacred places across Japan, from the cold and mountainous north to the subtropical southern islands, and thanks to the nation’s fast and efficient rail network (which is the envy of the rest of the world), even the most remote corners of this beautiful country can be reached with relative ease. Shinto and Buddhism are the two main religions in Japan and have existed in relative harmony for more than a thousand years. Shinto is as old as the Japanese culture itself while Buddhism was imported from China (via India) in the 6th Century. One of Japan’s most sacred destinations, Koya-san is a holy mountain in Shikoku and the home and birthplace of Shingon Buddhism, which built its temples on Mt Koya in the 9th Century. The town of Koya-san is a UNESCO World Heritage Site and is also home to Japan’s largest cemetery, the beautiful and atmospheric Onku-in cemetery, where some of the country’s most prestigious people are laid to rest. Koya-san can be visited for the day from Kyoto and Tokyo and you can even book a stay at a monastery in the mountains. Find out more in our Spiritual Tour of Japan.
Senior travellers may want to avoid the hottest temperatures in summer and the coldest in winter for a more palatable experience. Skipping the rainy season may also be advisable to minimise the risk of trips and slips. Japan’s month of water is typically June, but can vary from year to year, while its hottest months are usually July and August. For more information, read our Guide to Japan’s Weather and Seasons: Deciding When to Travel.
We’ve looked at why Japan’s excellent amenities, respect for its elders, focus on slow living, and extensive range of interesting attractions and activities, makes it such a good choice for older travellers. Here are a few bonus recommendations:
- Our Meet and Greet Service is ideal for senior travellers, especially if this is their first time visiting Japan. One of our Japanese travel specialists will meet you in person at the airport, activate the JR Pass, help you reserve train tickets and anything else you may want to do upon arriving in Japan. It’s like having a personal assistant to look after you on arrival.
- Similarly, investing in a PocketWifi device means you can stay connected to family and friends online, check directions, language tips, and more, without worrying about running out of data. Our PocketWifi offers unlimited data, supports up to five devices, and they are easy to pick up on arrival and drop off at the end of your trip.