Tokyo's Kabukicho entertainment district
Luciano Mortula - LGM / Shutterstock

13 Can't-Miss Experiences in Japan

A vacation will fly by in a county as full of variety, excitement, and cultural riches 
as Japan is. This is particularly true in the nation's major cities, where you'll often feel as though someone is holding down a fast-forward button somewhere. But the must-dos pile up in Japan's rural regions, too. Japan is simply one of those destinations bound to leave travelers feeling happily overwhelmed. To help get you started, here are some of our favorite experiences to add to your list. 

Pictured above: Tokyo's Kabukicho entertainment district

Best things to do in Japan: Shibuya Crossing in Tokyo
f11photo / Shutterstock
Watching Waves of Humanity Surge in Tokyo
The chaotic six-way pedestrian crossing in front of Shibuya Station is a sight to behold. Join the throng or take a seat on the second floor of the Starbucks across the street to watch the scramble from a remove.
Top Japan experiences: Tokyo dining alleyway
VTT Studio / Shutterstock
Grabbing Drinks and Snacks in a Tokyo Izakaya
There’s no better way to get a sense of life in Tokyo than by watching its inhabitants unwind. Watering holes abound, but you'll probably have the most fun in the narrow dining alleyways and tiny izakaya spots in nightlife districts such as Roppongi, where grilled fish and rice balls pair perfectly with beer and sake.
Favorite Japan experiences: hiking Mount Takao
MMpai / Shutterstock
Hiking Mount Takao

Located about an hour west of downtown Tokyo, the quiet, easy-to-hike paths of Mount Takao are a time-tested way for urbanites to get back in touch with nature. Keep your eyes peeled for the mountain goblins of Japanese legend.

Best things to see in Japan: sunrise over Mount Fuji
FocusStocker / Shutterstock
Watching the Sunrise from Mount Fuji

Revered since ancient times, this dormant volcano is one of Japan’s most iconic sights. Climbing all night to catch the sunrise from the summit is something nearly every Japanese citizen aspires to do at least once—and something no visitor who completes the trek will ever forget. 

Best things to see in Japan: snow in a hot spring
onemu / Shutterstock
Soaking with Snow Monkeys in Jigokudani’s Hot Springs

The naturally heated waters in this hidden valley in Nagano Prefecture are heaven on earth for both humans and Japanese macaques, who have bathed here since time immemorial.

Favorite experiences in Japan: Fushimi Inari Shrine in Kyoto
Sean Pavone / Shutterstock
Strolling Japan’s Most Traditional City

Seeing as how Kyoto is home to Kiyomizu-dera temple, Sanjusangendo hall, the Zen gardens of Ryoan-ji temple, Fushimi Inari Shrine (pictured above), and countless other historical sites, the city is what you might call a target-rich environment for those interested in the past—or those interested in accessing their spiritual sides.

Top Japan activities: feeding deer in Nara Park
NH / Shutterstock
Feeding the Deer in Nara Park

Buying a bag of shika-senbei (deer crackers) and making some furry new friends is as much a tradition as visiting nearby Todai-ji, the temple that houses Japan’s largest bronze Buddha effigy.

Can't-miss Japan experiences: trying takoyaki in Osaka
kal1022 / Shutterstock
Snacking on Takoyaki in Osaka’s Namba District

The mayo- and sauce-slathered fried octopus dumplings known as takoyaki are Osaka’s high-carb gift to the world. Pick up a six-pack (or more!) from one of the Namba district’s many street vendors and munch as you take in the glittering nightscape of the city.

Best things to do in Japan: sake in Niigata
Carolyne Parent / Shutterstock
Sipping Sake in Murakami

There is absolutely no better place to try Japan’s national beverage than in the mountains of Niigata Prefecture, famed for both its pure mountain waters and delicious rice—two key ingredients for sake. In Murakami, you can take brewery tours or put together your own tasting at any number of inns, bars, and restaurants serving top-notch sake.  

Best things to see in Japan: Okayama Korakuen garden
OTTO-FOTO / Shutterstock
Going Green in Korakuen Garden
Okayama’s most visited attraction is one of the most impressive gardens in all of Japan. The combination of natural materials arranged according to samurai sensibilities creates a sublime experience. The site is also home to a kyudo (traditional archery) practice ground—if you get lucky, you might just see some young warriors in training.
Things to see in Japan: the Atomic Bomb Dome in Hiroshima
Forbitious / Shutterstock
Contemplating the Genbaku Dome in Hiroshima’s Peace Memorial Park

Given how clean, quiet, and inviting Hiroshima is today, it’s hard to believe that 80,000 people lost their lives in an instant here on a summer morning in 1945. The skeletal ruin of the city’s “A-Bomb Dome,” which survived the blast, supplies silent testimony to the devastation. Visiting this and other memorials as well as the museum in the Peace Park makes for a sobering experience, but it's not to be missed.

Things to see in Japan: Shikoku route pilgrims
Amehime / Shutterstock
Watching Pilgrims Pass on Shikoku

Pilgrims dressed in traditional white clothing are a common sight in Shikoku. They’re on a journey to each of the 88 Buddhist temples that encircle the island. Pictured above is Kiyotaki-ji, holy stop number 35. 

Best things to see in Japan: Naruto whirlpools
10max / Shutterstock
Gazing into the Naruto Whirlpools from on High

The Seto Inland Sea is notorious for riptides and turbulent waters. In the Naruto Strait, huge tidal whirlpools churn at impressive speeds, reaching sizes up to 15m (49 ft.) in width. Behold the mesmerizing vortices from above by taking the enclosed walkway on the Onaruto Bridge.