It’s hard to make a list of the best things to do in Japan, because there are just so many cool and fun activities in this country.
Every island in Japan is interesting, but many of the best tourist sights and activities for a first timer are in the cities of Osaka, Kyoto, and Tokyo.
There’s a huge variety of cultural attractions here, both old and new. You can ride a futuristic bullet train through the city and then explore an ancient temple or Samurai castle in the same day.
We’ve visited Japan a bunch of times over the years, but it never gets old. It’s one of our favorite countries in the world to travel.
Read on for some of our top ideas of what to do in Japan!
Where To Stay In Kyoto
Best Things To Do In Japan
1. Visit The Samurai Castles
Japan has lots of castles left over from its medieval period, when Samurai warriors ruled the land. These fortresses are impressive works of art and they can be fascinating to explore.
This is hands down one of the best things to do in Japan, and it’s pretty budget friendly!
2. Wear A Kimono
There are lots of kimono rental shops in Japan where you can try on the country’s famous traditional dress for a day.
My wife rented a kimono in Tokyo and we headed over to the famous Shibuya Crossing — perfect photo spot! We also did a kimono rental in Kyoto, which is loaded with great photo spots because of all the temples and shrines.
If you ask the locals, they aren’t offended at all by foreigners wearing the kimono. It’s a popular tourist activity here, and Japanese people like to see others enjoying their culture.
Book Now: Kimono Rental (Kyoto)
3. Stroll A Landscape Garden
Japanese gardens are famously pristine and photogenic. There are lots of them all over Japan, and they’re great for a relaxing walk.
The gardens are nice year round, but they’re especially scenic when the fall colors start (usually in November). It’s one of our favorite activities in Japan.
The pictures below are from the garden at Tenryu-ji Temple in Kyoto.
4. Join A Tea Ceremony
As you may already know, tea is a big deal in Japan, so it can be a fun cultural experience to join a Japanese tea ceremony!
This is an important traditional ceremony that takes place on a tatami (floor mat), and a lot of preparation goes into it. The tea ceremony is full of artistic detail. For Japanese people, it’s meant to represent purity, tranquility, respect, and harmony.
Even if you’re not really a tea lover, it’s a good dose of Japanese culture and history. Some places also let you rent a kimono to wear as an add-on, making the experience even more immersive and unique.
5. Ride A Bullet Train
It’s always fun to travel by train, and Japan has some of the world’s coolest trains. They’re very efficient, and some of the rural routes can be incredibly scenic.
The futuristic bullet trains in Japan are called ‘shinkansen’ and they’re especially fun to ride since they can go hundreds of kilometers per hour. You can ride these in Kyoto, Osaka, Tokyo, and many other places in Japan.
If you buy a Japan Rail Pass (also known as JR Pass) you can enjoy unlimited rides on JR trains for one, two, or three weeks. This can be a very cost effective way to do long distance train travel in Japan!
Shop Now: Japan Rail Pass
6. See The Landmarks
A lot of the famous landmarks of Japan can be seen in the three popular cities of Osaka, Kyoto, and Tokyo.
Some of the coolest iconic sights include the Arashiyama Bamboo Grove (Kyoto), Todaiji Temple (Nara), and the giant Kamakura Buddha (Tokyo).
Don’t forget natural landmarks like Mount Fuji and Lake Kawaguchi, which are possible to visit on a long day trip from Tokyo!
7. Visit The Temples & Shrines
Japan is full of ancient temples and shrines, and they’re as interesting as they are photogenic.
A lot of the best ones are in the Kyoto area in my opinion, but every island in Japan has unique temples with their own nice designs and history.
Read More: Best Japanese Temples & Shrines
8. See The Koyo (Fall Colors)
It’s hard to beat the autumn season in Japan, when the leaves turn into bright colors of orange, red, pink, and yellow.
The best time to see fall foliage in Japan depends on where you’re going, but for Kyoto and Tokyo it generally peaks in mid to late November. The locals call the fall leaf colors ‘koyo’ and they can be really stunning.
This is one of the best free activities in Japan!
9. See The Sakura (Cherry Blossoms)
If there’s anything more popular than the autumn colors in Japan, it’s the sakura season.
The cherry blossoms are very photogenic and you can see them at a lot of Japan’s famous sights like Himeji Castle, Mount Fuji, and others.
The exact dates for this depend on the year and which part of the country you’re in, but generally the best viewing is in the last week of March. It’s a must do activity!
10. Feed The Deer At Nara Park
The Nara Deer Park is famous for having hundreds of friendly deer you can feed and take pictures with. The semi-wild deer roam around the park freely and interacting with them can be lots of fun.
Also scattered around the 1,600-acre park are a bunch of old temples and shrines from hundreds of years ago, when Nara was the ancient capital of Japan. It’s one of the best things to do in Japan.
You can easily visit the Nara Park on a day trip from Osaka or Kyoto since they’re just a 30-60 minute train ride apart!
Read More: Nara Deer Park
11. Meet The Japanese Snow Monkeys
One of the best winter day trips you can do from Tokyo is to visit the Snow Monkey Park near Nagano.
This is a long day trip if you’re coming from Tokyo, so ideally it’s better to do as a 2 day trip, but you get to hang out with Japanese snow monkeys in the mountains and watch them soak in the natural hot springs!
The monkeys are hilarious to watch, and photo ops are endless. It’s great for kids. There’s a bit of easy hiking required, but the snowy views along the way are one of the best things about the trip.
Read More: Jigokudani Monkey Park
Book Now: Snow Monkeys Day Trip
12. See Mount Fuji
As the highest peak in Japan, Mount Fuji is also one of the country’s most beloved icons. You’ll see it on postcard photos, souvenirs, and artwork all over Japan, and you should see the mountain with your own eyes too!
The Fuji Five Lakes area is spectacular and you can visit it on a day trip from Tokyo. Prime photo spots include the scenic lakes and the Chureito Pagoda, which is a picturesque 5-story red pagoda you can photograph with Mount Fuji in the background.
Long ago, Fuji used to be an active volcano, but it hasn’t erupted for hundreds of years (since 1707). If you enjoy hiking, you can also climb Mount Fuji! The trail is beginner friendly, but also challenging enough to be a good workout.
13. Go Up The Tokyo Skytree
Finished in 2012, the Tokyo Skytree is the tallest structure in Japan, and the tallest tower in the world. With a height of 634 meters (2,080 feet), it’s currently the third tallest structure in the world, after the Merdeka 118 in Malaysia and the Burj Khalifa in Dubai.
You can take an elevator up to the observation decks in the Skytree, where you’ll have amazing panoramic views of Tokyo city from above. If you’re feeling brave, one section even has a glass floor where you can look straight down.
The Tokyo Skytree is open to the public 365 days a year, generally from 10 AM to 9 PM. A night time visit can also be interesting if you want to see the Tokyo city lights after dark. All in all, the Skytree is definitely one of the best things to do in Japan!
Book Now: Tokyo Skytree Tickets
14. Shop For Souvenirs
Of course you can’t leave Japan without doing some souvenir shopping.
There’s the usual assortment of fridge magnets and keychains, or you can bring home an artsy paper fan, ceramic bowl, kimono, or a cool Japanese knife.
The Shinjuku and Shibuya districts in Tokyo are some of the best for shopping, but we also found some great souvenirs in places we didn’t expect it, like the street stalls at Sensoji Temple.
15. Enjoy Japanese Food
Where to begin? Japan is famous for its amazing food. Just eating is a good enough reason to come to this country.
You have to try the Ramen, Sushi, Udon, Yakitori, and everything else Japan is known for. Even the food in 7-Eleven and other convenience stores is top notch. All in all, enjoying the food is one of the best things to do in Japan.
Osaka is generally regarded as the top food city in Japan, and places like Tokyo and Kobe are also world famous for their cuisine. Tokyo has the most Michelin Star restaurants of any city in the world, with more than 200!
16. Try Japanese Snacks
Japanese candy is just as interesting as the food — stuff like Mochi and Daifuku might weird you out at first, but after awhile it really grows on you!
There are also sweet snacks to try, like Pocky and Melon Pan, plus reinvented western snacks like Kit Kat.
Japan is obsessed with Kit Kats, so there are more than 300 unique flavors to be found in the country, including things like peach, cheesecake, sake, and matcha (green tea).
If you fall in love with Japanese snacks, there are subscription services on the internet such as TokyoTreat, where you can have a box of unique Japanese snacks sent to you every month!
17. Wander Dotonbori Street
The Dotonbori district is one of Osaka’s main tourism hotspots, and it really comes alive at night.
This place is loaded with good restaurants, food stalls, bars and cafes, and interesting sights. It’s one of the best things to do in Japan.
We spent many nights at Dotonbori and barely scratched the surface. It’s pretty much a foodie paradise!
18. See The Famous Shibuya Crossing
The Shibuya Crossing in Tokyo is famous as the busiest pedestrian crossing in the world — as many as 3,000 people cross the intersection at a time!
It’s fun to watch the sea of people crossing the street, especially on a weekend. This also happens to be a great area for shopping or eating, so you’ll want to stick around.
Don’t forget to check out the Hachiko dog statue next to the Shibuya Crossing. It commemorates the sad story of a loyal dog that always waited at the train station every day for his owner, Professor Ueno, and continued the daily routine for nine years after his owner passed away. The faithful dog eventually died and was buried with his owner in 1935.
For a birds-eye view of the Shibuya Crossing, head over to the nearby Hikarie skyscraper, where you can take an elevator up to the 16th floor sky lobby and look out over the city from above.
19. Stay In A Traditional Ryokan
A ryokan is a type of traditional Japanese inn with tatami floor mats, sliding doors, and a futon bed on the floor. It’s a classy design that often features an exceptional Japanese breakfast, and onsen hot springs you can enjoy as well.
Ryokan have been a thing in Japan since ancient times (as early as 700 AD!), although nowadays modern style hotels have largely replaced them in the big cities. There is still high demand for onsen, but they tend to be quite a bit more pricey than other hotels in Japan.
20. Take A Cooking Class
Taking a cooking class in Japan can be a fun way to learn how to cook the typical Japanese dishes of a bento box, including sushi, tempura, teriyaki chicken, and miso soup.
GetYourGuide has a bunch of different high-rated cooking classes to choose from, especially in Tokyo and Kyoto. Normally the way these work is that you’ll spend about 3 hours learning how to cook Japanese food, plus you’ll hear a little bit of the cultural background behind each of the dishes as you go.
You can do a private class with a local chef, or join a group class (which is usually cheaper). They provide all of the ingredients, apron, and utensils, and at the end of the cooking class you get to eat the Japanese meal you’ve prepared!
21. Visit The Samurai Museum
No Japan trip would be complete without a visit to the Samurai museum in Tokyo. You can see swords, armor, helmets, guns, and more historical stuff here.
The entrance fee is a little on the high side, but it includes a free guided tour in English, and the exhibits are cool to see. After the tour you can get your photo snapped wearing a Samurai helmet, or you can even wear a full Samurai costume if you want!
Unfortunately this museum has been closed ever since the covid pandemic disrupted travel, but hopefully it will reopen again soon!
Read More: Tokyo Samurai Museum
22. Try Saké
Saké is a popular Japanese alcoholic drink made from fermented rice, with about 15 percent alcohol content. The name is pronounced ‘sah-kee’ or ‘sak-ay’ and you can find it in bars and restaurants all over the Japanese islands!
Saké tasting can be a fun experience, and GetYourGuide has a bunch of different high-rated activities where you can do this, especially in the Kyoto area. Generally they let you sample a bunch of different styles of saké, and then explain some of the history and traditions behind the drink.
To top it off, there are hundreds of historic saké breweries in Japan, so it can be fun to tour a brewery as well and get a sense of what goes into the production of this popular Japanese drink!
Book Now: Kyoto Sake Brewery Tour
More Fun & Cool Things To Do In Japan
Thanks for looking! I hope you enjoyed these ideas of what to do in Japan. There are so many cool and fun things to do in Japan, and we’ve barely scratched the surface here.
Don’t forget to check out my complete Japan Travel Guide for more tips, info, and photos!