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Top 10 Things To Do In Tokyo Japan – Japan is a confused and beautiful country unlike anywhere else. There are so many amazing things to do in Japan that one trip is never enough – it stole our hearts and we can’t stop coming back.
From ancient temples to futuristic skyscrapers, peaceful tea ceremonies to exquisite arcades, soothing hot springs to cosplay go-kart rides, Japan has so much to offer everyone.
Top 10 Things To Do In Tokyo Japan
In this post I’m sharing the best things to do in Japan divided into cultural categories (for unique things you can only do in Japan), fun (for all the weird and futuristic things), food (because the food is extraordinary and you have to eat as much as possible), spiritual (for all the wonderful temples and shrines the goddess) and beautiful (for the amazing natural landscape).
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Even on a short visit to Japan, you can choose several experiences from each category for an unforgettable trip.
These unique things to do in Japan are activities you won’t find elsewhere and are the best ways to experience Japanese culture.
Staying at a ryokan is a must in Japan! This is a Musashiya hotel overlooking Lake Ashi in Hakone
For at least one night of your trip, I highly recommend staying at a ryokan, which is a traditional Japanese inn.
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Tatami mat rooms are elegant and minimalist spaces, usually with only a table and low chairs where you can enjoy green tea upon arrival.
Breakfast and dinner are usually included in the price and served in your room. The epic multi-course meals are the highlight of a ryokan stay and were some of our best meals in Japan.
Ryokans can often cater for vegetarians and vegans, but let them know dietary requirements in advance (you don’t have a choice of dishes).
After dinner, futons will be placed on the floor and can be surprisingly comfortable to sleep on.
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Ryokans range from simple (such as guest houses called minshoku) to ultra-luxurious, sometimes with private baths and views overlooking magnificent Japanese gardens.
We loved our stay at Hotel Musashiya in Hakone (a top place to see Mt.Fuji) where our room and public Japanese bath overlooked Lake Ashi. It’s reasonably priced and friendly, and the food was wonderful.
The classic Japanese experience is a dip in the steaming hot waters of an onsen (hot spring bath) – this is a must for your bucket list in Japan.
Onsens come in many forms – indoor and outdoor, simple and indulgent, small and large. Most are shared, but some ryokans have private baths that you can reserve.
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Onsens can be a challenge for foreigners (they were for us at first!), as you must be completely naked (most are divided by gender).
Be sure to take a good shower before entering the bath. It is worth overcoming your fears as they are such a relaxing experience.
Soaking in an onsen is one of the best activities to do in Japan in winter. In summer, the warm water is less attractive.
These small resort towns are usually in a rural setting and include many different resorts. They are popular destinations for the Japanese for relaxing vacations.
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The best way to experience one is to stay at a ryokan. Some have their own onsen and usually include a ticket to visit the other onsen in the city.
After putting on your yukata (cotton kimono) and geta (wooden sandals), you head out to hop from one onsen to another and relax in the steamy waters.
There are many onsen towns in Japan. We loved Kinosaki Onsen, which is easily accessible from Kyoto and Osaka and is especially beautiful in spring when the canals are lined with cherry blossoms.
We stayed at the friendly ryokan Morizuya which has two small onsens available for private use in the afternoon – perfect for your first time.
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Geishas are one of the most fascinating aspects of Japan, especially if you’ve read Arthur Golden’s popular novel, Memoirs of a Geisha, about these skilled women who entertain through traditional arts.
It’s hard to believe they still exist, but when we spent a month on a traditional street in Miyagawacho in Kyoto (near the better known Gion area), we often saw them in brightly colored kimonos coming out of wooden teahouses.
Instead of chasing geishas on the streets of Gion, I recommend seeing them perform at one of the annual dances held every spring and fall.
The most famous is the Miyako Odori in April, but we actually went to Kyo Odori, which doesn’t attract many foreign guests. This is one of our favorite things to do in Kyoto.
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The performance was spectacular, and it was fascinating to look closely at the flamboyant kimonos, ornate hairstyles and iconic white makeup these graceful women wear.
Another option at any time of the year is to take a night trip to Gion with a local guide to learn about the history of the geisha and maybe encounter one.
Top tip: Miyagaucho is the perfect area to stay in Kyoto for geisha-spotting without the crowds. We rented a studio on Vrbo that is no longer available, but you can search for more vacation rentals in Miyagaucho here. Options include this lovingly restored townhouse and this stunning samurai machiya.
Ukiyo-e prints or Japanese woodblock prints are uniquely Japanese and flourished during the Edo period from the 17th to 19th centuries.
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The prints depict landscapes, ordinary lives of ordinary people and popular kabuki actors, sumo wrestlers and geisha from the world of entertainment or the “floating world”.
You can see ukiyo-e in many cities in Japan. We enjoyed the small Ota Memorial Museum in Harajuku, Tokyo, which has changing exhibitions – we were lucky enough to see Hokusai’s 36 Views of Mount Fuji, including the famous Great Wave off Kanagawa.
Sumo is serious in Japan and the national sport is steeped in tradition. The matches still include rituals that date back to its ancient origins as part of the Shinto religion such as purifying the ring with salt.
You can watch sumo wrestling at one of the sumo tournaments that take place several times a year or take a tour of the sumo stables in Tokyo to see the wrestlers’ morning training.
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I loved the novel Street of a Thousand Blossoms by Gail Tsukiyama, which gave me a greater insight into sumo culture.
Kabuki is a type of traditional Japanese theater that dates back to the Edo period. It includes drama, dance and music and the performers are all men wearing elaborate makeup.
The best place to see a Kabuki performance is the Kabukiza Theater in Ginza, Tokyo (English subtitles available), but you may find performances in other major cities.
Renting a kimono for the day and wandering the historic streets of Gion and Higashiyama is a popular activity in Kyoto among Japanese and foreigners alike.
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There are plenty of shops in and around Gion to rent them (the Yasaka Shrine area is a convenient place to start). Check out this shop for kimono rentals (optional hair styling included).
Another option if you want a more extravagant Maiko outfit is this Maiko Makeover with professional studio photos.
Although the ancient streets of Kyoto are the most common place to rent a kimono, you can find rental shops throughout Japan.
On a cloudy day in Kawaguchiko (when Mt. Fuji didn’t emerge), we stumbled upon the Ichiko Kubota Art Museum on the shores of the lake.
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We didn’t expect much from the Kimono Museum, but Ichiko Kubota’s large kimonos are great works of art and we were blown away.
Kubota has made it his life’s mission to recreate a lost textile dyeing technique from the 16th century and the results are amazing.
His kimonos are full of color and texture and depict nature such as the changes of Mount Fuji throughout the seasons.
This museum doesn’t appear on many things to do in Japan lists, but I think it’s a hidden gem, especially if you also visit the beautiful tea house on site.
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Head to Hiroshima to pay your respects to the victims of the atomic bombing at the moving Hiroshima Peace Memorial Park.
We love train travel in Japan. The network is extensive and the trains are comfortable, clean, quiet, safe and always on time (for a moment!).
Best of all are the Shinkansen or bullet trains that travel at extremely high speeds of up to 320 km/h (199 mph).
They make travel between major cities very fast – Tokyo to Kyoto, a distance of 450 km (280 miles) can be covered in 2 hours and 15 minutes by the fastest Nozumi Shinkansen.
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You can even ride fun bullet trains like the Hello Kitty shinkansen that runs from Osaka to Fukuoka.
Shinkansen are expensive, but the Japan Rail Pass makes them cheaper because you can hop on as many as you like without a reservation.
Karting in Tokyo is at the top of the list of the most fun things to do in Japan! Where else in the world can you dress up as your favorite character and drive a go-kart on the real streets of a big city?
I was scared at first when we drove alongside buses and cars but in the end I had so much fun!
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You used to be able to dress up as Mario characters but Nintendo shut that down. You will still have a variety of costumes to choose from.
Important: Make sure you get an International Driving Permit from your home country before you arrive
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