Japan is without a doubt an exciting place to visit. Japan is a long strip of land made up of islands. We all know about the cherry blossom but this is just one reason to visit Japan. There is a lot more that make me excited to visit this beautiful place. We have put together our 29 reasons to visit Japan. This is a great starting point if this is your first trip to Japan, feel free to add more as your proficiency grows.
1. Namagashi/ Wagashi
Wagashi are traditional Japanese confections. They can be sweet or savory and often served with tea, especially the types mochi rice. Wagashi are typically made from plant-based ingredients mainly rice. Namagashi, in particular, is a beautiful mostly sweet snack widely served at a traditional Japanese Tea Ceremony. It is beautifully designed and handcrafted to represent seasonal and natural motifs.
2. Sake tasting/ Sake brewery tour
If you are a lover of the fermented rice drink you need to visit Fushimi – Kyoto’s Sake District. Sake has been around for ages. It is a Japanese rice wine made by fermenting rice that has been polished to remove the bran. Fushimi is a famous center of sake production just like Kobe and Nada Gogo. The name means underground water. It describes the place perfectly considering the abundance of springs with soft mellow water. And as the locals say for good sake, you need good water. My favorite brewery was Fukuju with the very famous Fukuju Blue Label sake which is actually in Kobe. It is highly recognized by sommeliers from around the world and was served at the banquet dinner at the Nobel Prize award ceremony several years.
3. Sushi eating
Nowadays Sushi is widely spread around the world, but there is nothing like trying fresh sushi in Japan. I am an Asian food lover and have always been interested in trying different types of food. However, I was unaware that the rice used in sushi making was vinegared, usually with some sugar and salt and combined with a variety of ingredients, such as seafood, and vegetables.
4. Sushi making class
Making sushi is another experience that is a special treat that you can enjoy while visiting Japan. Since Airbnb launched their new “Experiences” service enjoying a city to its fullest has become the norm for any travel. We booked a Sushi making experience through Airbnb. It was hosted by a Sushi Bar in Tokyo and it was amazing. Introduction to sushi making was included in the tour. We made 5 kinds of sushi and worked on 2 kinds of hand grips while rolling.
The most famous Japanese beer in my experience and when I talk to friends is Sapporo beer which of course doesn’t need an introduction. However, I think its fair that we try some more brands to get a full palette of tastes.
My top 3 favorites are:
–Kirin Ichiban Shibori– One of Japan’s most acclaimed beers. It has a distinctive bittersweet taste.
–Asahi Super Dry– Amazing beer that accompanies every Japanese dish to perfection.
–Sapporo Yebisu Beer– a little more expensive than the other beers but definitely you pay for quality.
Ramen is a very famous noodle soupy dish. It consists of Chinese-style wheat noodles served in a meat or fish-based broth, often flavored with soy sauce or miso paste, and uses toppings such as sliced pork, dried seaweed, marinated egg and green onions. It is one Japan’s signature dishes. My Favorite type is the MISO Ramen that could be made with different type of miso paste like- charred, red or white miso.
7. Tea Ceremony
When you hear Japan, picturing a perfectly crafted tea ceremony is most likely to happen. It is a cultural activity involving a ceremonial preparation and meticulous presentation of Matcha tea. The first documented evidence of tea in Japan dates to the 9th century when a Buddhist monk took it. Performing the ceremony is an artistic act. It is even specified how and how many time you should wipe the bowl after you are finished. Definitely a fascinating experience.
8. Street style shopping in Harajuku
Harajuku is one of Tokyo’s most famous and vibrant neighborhoods. Shopping here bring trendy and uniquely Japanese together. Takeshita Street is known for its small boutique shops. If you are into fashion and like boutique pieces, this is the place to go. Great for quick snacks too, they are everywhere.
9. High-class shopping in Ginza
Life is Gucci and you love LV? Ginza is the right place for you. It offers everything from the coolest fashionable high-end labels right off the runway to magnificent department stores and small specialty boutiques. Dover Street Market is my favorite here. Featuring about 150 brands under one roof, that’s probably the most efficient choice for your shopping craze.
Kabuki is a classical Japanese dance- drama. Kabuki theater is a vibrant piece of art, featuring elaborate make up worn by some of its performers. Kabuki is sometimes referred to as the art of singing and dancing. It is mainly performed by male actors and female performers are rare. When tickets go on sale make sure you get yours right away. They are sold out in hours almost like a Beyonce concert. In Tokyo you can enjoy Kabuki in the world-wide famous KabukiZa Theater.
11. Sumo wrestling
Sumo wrestling is the National sport of Japan and is a significant part of the Japanese culture. The idea is that a wrestler needs to push his opponent outside of the circular ring. If you are going to Tokyo you can enjoy this wrestling sport at the biggest stadium in the country called Ryogoku Sumo Hall.
12. Tokyo Skytree
Do you love stunning city views from up above? The tallest building in Japan’s capital is the place to be. It is a broadcasting tower, restaurant, and an observation deck. It is 634 meters tall and offers stunning views from Tokyo. It is open from 8am and closes at 10 pm but last entry is at 9 pm. There are two observatories and the first one’s entrance fee is 2060 Yen compared to the second one at 1030 Yen.
13. Sagano Bamboo Forest
In the Western part of Kyoto we can experience this enchanting grove. It is exactly what you could expect from the name and much more. Beautiful sun rays slipping through the green stalks of the Bamboo plant. This place is magical in every aspect and it doesn’t escape the tourist crowds. Best time to visit would be early in the morning or late at night. There is no admission fee to enter the forest and it is open 24/7.
14. Shojin Ryori (Buddhist Monk Vegan/ Vegetarian style of cuisine)
You may have never heard of it. Neither did I before I started exploring for Vegan dining options. Shojin ryori is the traditional dining style of Buddhist monks in Japan. A typical dish is centered around soy products and season vegetables. My Favorite restaurant is the Tenryu-ji in Kyoto. For this place, you will need a reservation for sure.
15. Parks like Shinjuku Gyoen
Shinjuku Gyoen is Tokyo’s largest park, it is located very conveniently next to Shinjuku station. The best time to visit this beautiful park is spring when the Sakura (cherry blossom) is in its full glory. The park features English, French and Japanese gardens. Another great time to visit the park for maximum wow experience is Autumn- from mid-November to mid-December.
16. Mt. Fuji
Mt. Fuji is the highest mountain in Japan. It is located on the Honshu Island close to the city of Fujinomiya. The mountain has become the symbol of Japan with its perfect shape. It has been featured in many paintings. Mt. Fuji is still an active volcano, its last eruption was in 1707. A great way to view the mountain is to visit the Fujisan World Heritage Center. Take a train ride from Tokyo to Fujinomiya city and then switch to another train to Fujisan Center or Take a bus from Tokyo. I generally prefer the train.
17. Shibuya Crossing
Shibuya Crossing is one of the craziest urban phenomena I have witnessed. It is the busiest intersection in the world! Hundreds of people, sometimes over a thousand cross at a time. It is almost like the blood that’s rushing through your veins with every heartbeat. You can get a great view of the crossing while you sip your coffee at the Starbucks on the 2nd floor of the Q- front building. It is definitely an experience you should not miss.
18. Pet coffee Shop like Harry Hedgehog
Okay, I know how this sounds! Crazy! That is what I thought, but it is exactly what you can imagine from the name of the cafe. Enjoy your coffee in the company of a hedgehog… in your hands! Lovely eyes, little hands, and legs, fluffy stomach but tingly back. They are really friendly and you can even buy yours here.
19. Buddhist Temples
Buddhism and Shintoism are the two main religions in Japan. Buddhist temples are considered to be the most important religious buildings in the country. What is very interesting is that they are almost always paired with a Shinto Shrine. Generally speaking, Japanese people do not believe in Buddhism and Shintoism exclusively. They say that they are both important to them, Shintoism is more suitable for birth rituals and Buddhism is more widely used later in life. The temples are beautifully decorated building where monks live. In some temples, you can experience real Buddhist food called Shojin Ryori which is almost always vegetarian or vegan.
20. Shinto Shrines
A Shinto shrine is meant to be a “keeper” or a house of one or more Kami who are the spirits or phenomena worshiped in Shintoism. They are generally stone or wooden gate like structures, painted in red. One of the most beautiful Shrines is in Hiroshima, gently standing in the water. It is called Itsukushima shrine. Definitely worth a visit.
21. Wear Kimono
Kimono is a traditional Japanese garment, which looks like a full-length robe. What we normally are not aware of you haven’t seen one in front of you is how elaborate is the design. The fabric is very often handmade, and sometimes very fine gold or platinum yarns are used for art effect and or for decoration of the fabric. It is normally worn for important festivals or special events like weddings, coming of age ceremonines and graduations. It is a formal style of clothing associated with politeness and good manners. It consists of a few pieces- an undergarment, the kimono itself and an Obi (a cumber-band like a belt, which is a piece of art on its own). To put on a kimono beautifully, especially for ladies, you have to take a course since it is so complicated and it generally takes about an hour to put everything together. You can experience wearing kimono by renting one at the numerous shops that are offering it.
22. Imperial Palace in Tokyo
Located just a short walk from Tokyo Station, the Imperial Palace in Tokyo is the primary residence of Japan’s Imperial family. It is surrounded by massive stone walls. The previous building in that place was Edo Castles (Edo is the former name of Tokyo) which used to be the residence of the Tokugawa shogun who ruled Japan from 1603- 1867. Then the shogunate was overthrown and the country’s capital was moved from Kyoto to Tokyo. The palace was destroyed in WWII but then rebuild with the same design.
23. Edo Museum
Edo-Tokyo Museum opened in 1993 as a space to reflect on the history and culture of Edo-Tokyo and envision the city and life of the future. The building the houses the museum is quite unique and it has been a popular tourist attraction for years. There is a permanent exhibition that a journey through the 400-year history of Edo- Tokyo. There is a 600 Yen fee admission for the permanent exhibition of the museum. It’s open from 9:30 am to 5:30 pm with extended hours on Saturday until 7:30 pm. It is closed on Mondays.
24. Imperial Palace in Kyoto
Commonly known as Kyoto Gosho used to be the residence of Japan’s Imperial Family before the capital was moved from Kyoto to Tokyo. It is located in the middle of the giant Kyoto Imperial Park in the center of the city. The Santo imperial palace is also located in the park. The current palace was build in 1855 after it had burnt down. The palace grounds can now be entered and explored by the general public without joining a guided tour and without any prior arrangements. Admission is free, It is closed on Mondays and open 9 am to 5 pm from April to August and closes at 4 pm October to February.
25. Experience Japanese Traditional arts
Gion Corner in Kyoto is the place to be. Here you can experience seven kinds of traditional Japanese performing arts. Some of the art you can enjoy here are Kyo- Mai Dance performed by Maiko dancers, tea ceremony, flower arrangement, Koto and Kyogen and Bunraku theater. The admission is 3150 Yen and there are performances every day at 6 pm and 7 pm.
26. Yasaka Pagoda
This is a beautiful five-story pagoda in the center of Kyoto. It has become one of Kyoto’s symbols. Many pictures of the little streets full of shops and restaurants and occasionally Maiko and Geiko passing feature the Pagoda in the background. It is located in close proximity to Yasaka Shrine.
27. Japanese Onsen (spa, bath)
An Onsen is a Japanese hot spring and bathing facilities. Japan has thousands of them scattered throughout the islands. One of the best Onsen are located on Kyushu island but if you are in Kyoto- Arima onsen is the best. There are certain rules when it comes to enjoying an onsen like no speedos or bathing suits. Just a birthday suit. Also, no tattoos are allowed, sorry if you have one, cant bathe.
28. Ride bullet train
Shinkansen trains are Japan’s high-speed bullet trains. They can go as fast as 320km/hr which will take you from Tokyo to Kyoto in about 2h30m. The main Shinkansen lines with bullet trains include Tokaido, Sanyo, Tohoku, Joetsu, Nagano and Kyushu. To Travel on the Shinkansen lines you can get a single ticket for your journey or a rail pass. I covered the JR pass for tourists and its benefits in the post below. Riding the train is truly an amazing way to experience the beauty of the country.
29. Cherry blossom front
Known as the Sakura Zensen it represents the advance of the cherry blossoms across Japan from Kyushu in early March all the way to Hokkaido island in the middle of May. The cherry blossom has become a symbol of Japan which makes the season one of the most popular to visit Japan.