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
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.