30 Unmissable Experiences for Your Japan Bucket List

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I left my corporate career of nearly a decade in finance to become a full-time travel blogger. And, guess what? Japan is the country that made me fall in love with travel. 

From my very first trip in 2013, as an unseasoned traveller at the tender age of 21 years old, I fell madly in love with the country, the food, the culture and the experiences. 

It’s kept me coming back over and over. Fast forward to today with five trips under my belt, I like to think I know a thing or two about travelling in Japan. After reflecting on all these wonderful Japan adventures, I’ve prepared this list of the top 30 must-dos and must-sees that are worthy of being on your Japan bucket list. 

These are all things that I’ve done personally, and I think you will love too.

Admire the View of Mt Fuji from the Chureito Pagoda

On my fifth and most recent trip to Japan, I finally got to marvel at this iconic view that has been a symbol of Japan, splashed across postcards and tourist guidebooks across the world. 

It truly felt like a bucket list moment to witness this classic scene of Mt Fuji in the background, perfectly framed by the delicate five-storied Chureito Pagoda. 

Whether you visit as a day trip from Tokyo or spend a few days exploring the delightful Fuji Five Lakes region, make sure to add this one to your Japan bucket list! 

Beautiful view of Chureito Pagoda with Mt Fuji in the background

Wander Through Fushimi Inari’s Thousands of Torii Gates 

On my very first trip to Japan in 2013, we visited this famous shrine which is now considered one of the most iconic attractions in Japan. 

On this first visit, we only made it about halfway up before turning around. So, on our most recent visit in 2023, we were determined to make it all the way up!

I highly recommend continuing past the well-photographed first cluster of torii gates. 

Here, the crowds disperse and you feel a sense of quiet astonishment as you continue to stroll through the large orange torii gates. It’s a very different experience from the busy, tourist-filled section at the start of the trail. 

Astonishing Torii Gates in Fushimi Inari

Witness the Magic of Sakura During Cherry Blossom Season

I’ve visited Japan in winter, autumn and most recently, spring. 

Seeing the cherry blossoms in full bloom in Tokyo was without a doubt one of the most memorable moments in all of my travels. It truly is one of the most magical sights, and a major milestone ticked off my Japan bucket list. 

Charming Cherry Blossoms

Experience Nostalgia at a Pokemon Centre

I can’t help but feel a sense of excitement and child-like joy every time I step foot into a Pokemon Centre and hear the iconic music that I grew up listening to. 

A visit to a Pokemon Centre in Japan is a must for lovers of the iconic world. There are many locations around Japan, some larger and better than others. 

My favourite is the Pokemon Center Mega Tokyo, located in Sunshine City in Ikebukuro, which is one of the largest. 

PS: This is one of the stops on my Tokyo Itinerary if you are following it!

Pokemon Centre in Ikebukoro

Learn from History at the Hiroshima Peace Memorial 

A visit to the Hiroshima War Memorial is an extremely sobering and impactful experience. 

In this modern age, it can be easy to forget about the horrors of the past before our lifetimes. I found the visit to the Peace Memorial a very moving experience, putting scenes I’d only read about in school into reality. 

A ruin in Hiroshima Peace Memorial

Ride a Bullet Train

If you’re following the usual Golden Route first-timer’s itinerary, chances are high that you’ll be catching the Shinkansen bullet train between cities.

One of my favourite things about travelling in Japan is catching the Shinkansen. It’s not just about the train itself (which does look extremely cool with its sleek spaceship-esque design), it’s about the entire experience. 

From arriving at the train station and picking out your eki-bento to enjoy on the train, to the on-the-minute arrival time, to the ride itself marvelling at the Japan countryside flashing by you as you travel at speeds of over 300 km/h – catching the shinkansen is an extremely enjoyable, efficient and easy way to get around Japan. 

I often get asked if people should fly between Tokyo and Osaka, and my advice is to skip the airport and get the Shinkansen instead.

The famous Shinkansen

Marvel at Miyajima Island

Miyajima is a delightful small island to explore a short ferry ride away from Hiroshima. 

The drawcard is the picturesque Torii gate in the water of the bay, but the island is also home to friendly deer that wander the streets and some interesting shrines and hikes. 

Tori gate in the water in Miyajima Island

Stroll through the Bamboo Forest in Arashiyama

The Arashiyama Bamboo Forest is a unique and spectacular sight in Kyoto. 

Understandably, it’s also very popular. While it’s worth a visit at least once (and earlier in the morning, the better), for a smaller but more tranquil experience, check out the small bamboo grove at Shoren-in Temple near Kiyomizu Dera. 

The quiet Bamboo Forest in Arashiyama

Hang Out With the Friendly Deer of Nara

A visit to Nara is a must on any Japan bucket list. 

The experience of strolling through the city and seeing deer wander past is unique and memorable. They are the most abundant near the Todai-ji temple where you can purchase deer crackers to feed the eager creatures. 

Friendly Deer of Nara

Eat All the Oishii (Delicious) Foods

I’m not exaggerating when I say the food is what keeps us coming back to Japan! 

From the rich and satisfying bowls of steaming ramen to the crunchy yet juice karaage, to the custard-filled fish-shaped taiyaki desserts – the food in Japan is unreal. 

Delicious bowl of ramen in Japan

Some specialities you must try (other than those mentioned above) are okonomiyaki, takoyaki and tempura… and don’t forget to try one of the many unusual flavours of Kit Kats!

They also make for a great souvenir to take home!

Assorted flavors of Kitkat

Participate in a Traditional Tea Ceremony

Traditional tea ceremonies are a ritual with deep cultural significance in Japan. Participating in a tea ceremony is a captivating and enriching experience that offers insight into Japanese culture, aesthetics and appreciation. 

The best place to do this traditional experience is Kyoto, like this tea ceremony at Jotokuji Temple. If you don’t make it to a ceremony, at least visit a traditional tea house.

We popped into a little traditional tea store in the picturesque streets of Sannenzaka. 

Traditional tea set in Japan

Explore Traditional Sake Breweries in Takayama 

If you’re a sake lover like me, or just interested in learning and seeing where sake is made, you must visit Takayama and its traditional sake breweries. 

You’ll find numerous breweries lining the river on the historical Sanmachi Street in Takayama’s old town, offering free and paid tastings. 

Read more about planning a visit to Takayama in my dedicated guide.

Barrels of Sake

Discover the Magnificent Castles of Japan

Visiting the magnificently preserved feudal-era castles is a must-do experience while in Japan. It’s also a great way to get a glimpse into the rich history and admire the architectural heritage. 

My favourite castles in Japan that I’ve visited include:

  • Himeji Castle: A worthwhile day trip from Osaka to visit the spectacular Himeji Castle, also known as the White Heron Castle due to its startling white exterior. 
  • Matsumoto Castle: We spent one day in Matsumoto to explore the vivid black Crow Castle with views of the Japan Alps from the top floor. 
  • Osaka Castle: One of Japan’s most iconic landmarks, this inner city castle is surrounded by the dazzling skyscrapers of Osaka. The Castle Gardens are spectacular here, especially during cherry blossom season. 
Magnificent Himeji Castle
Osaka Castle in spring – stunning!

Roam the Traditional Streets of Kyoto

Exploring the traditional streets of Kyoto in the Ninenzaka and Sannenzaka in the Higashiyama area is one of the must-do’s in the city. 

Bustling with souvenir shops, cute little cafes, historic tea houses, traditional craft stores and more. This is a popular area to rent a kimono too! 

Beautiful street of Kyoto

Stay in a Traditional Ryokan

Ryokans are traditional Japanese inns with wooden architecture, tatami mat flooring, sliding paper doors and futon bedding on the floor. 

A ryokan stay is a unique and usually luxurious experience, with a tranquil atmosphere, and warm hospitality and many have onsen hot spring baths. 

Relaxing room in Kyosan Temple Stay

The food is another incredible part of the ryokan experience, with a traditional multi-course “kaiseki” dinner meal included as part of your booking. 

Some of our memorable ryokans have been in Hakone, Atami Onsen and Miyajima Island. There are also some incredible ryokans that offer a view of Mt Fuji in Fuji Five Lakes!

Dinner in a ryokan

Discover the Delights of Tsukiji Fish Market

While you can no longer visit the tuna auction at Tsukiji Fish Market, I still think it’s a worthwhile experience to do in Tokyo. 

Yes, it’s touristy but it’s a unique food market to visit in Japan, I haven’t been to another market quite like it! 

There’s nothing quite like tucking into a seafood donburi bowl with fresh-caught fish or freshly prepared sushi for breakfast at Tsukiji markets. Itadakimasu! 

Fresh sushi served in Tsukiji Fish Market

Admire the Kinkakuji Golden Pavilion 

Without a doubt, the Kinkakuji Golden Temple in Kyoto is ridiculously stunning. 

Even after five trips to Japan, this has been one of the most memorable temples we’ve visited (and we’ve seen a lot!).

It’s one of the best things to see in Kyoto, and maybe even all of Japan. 

Breathtaking Kinkakuji Golden Pavilion

Visit a Cat Cafe

I personally do not support exotic animal cafes, like owl cafes and hedgehog cafes, due to the ethics, loose regulations and questionable practices around the long-term treatment and care of the animals. 

In saying that, many cat cafes seem to provide homes for cats that would otherwise be out on the streets. Cats, at least, are domesticated animals. 

Several cat cafes that I know of and support are Neco Republic and Shelter Cat & vegan cafe “neu”, both in Osaka, which are rescue shelters and cat cafes. 

I recommend you read Google Reviews before visiting a cat cafe, to understand how the cats seem to be treated and looked after, before supporting a business.

A grumpy cat in a Cat Cafe in Osaka

Immerse Yourself in the Japanese Onsen Experience

I LOVE the Japanese onsen hot-spring experience. It’s so relaxing and you feel wonderful afterwards. 

At first, it felt a little bit awkward being naked around strangers, but once you’ve done it you realise it’s only awkward if you make it. 

It’s an experience that has been practised for centuries in Japan, and bathing in the mineral-rich hot spring waters is believed to promote health and well-being. 

An empty onsen bath
Our private onsen in Atami Onsen

Read up on onsen etiquette to know what to expect before your first visit (such as washing and cleaning yourself before getting in the onsen). 

You can visit public bath houses, communal onsens if you stay in a ryokan or even book a ryokan with a private onsen. 

Spend a Night in Temple Lodging Run by Buddhist Monks

Staying in temple lodging in the small town of Koyasan was an unforgettable experience on my most recent trip to Japan. 

Koyasan is the birthplace of Shingon Buddhism in Japan, and today tourists make the journey from Osaka to spend a night or two in temple lodgings run by the monks. The food is vegetarian/vegan, and you can participate in the morning prayer ritual. 

Read more about what to expect from a temple stay in Koyasan.

A quiet cemetery in Koyasan

Be a Ninja for the Day in Kanazawa 

Ninja lovers need to visit Kanazawa. In this coastal city, you’ll find the Myoryuji Ninja Temple and the Ninja Weapon Museum

The Ninja temple features hidden rooms. secret passageways and hidden traps, while at the Ninja Museum, you can see real weapons from the Ninja and Samurai eras. We also had a lot of fun trying our hand at ninja-throwing stars here! 

In Kyoto, you’ll also find a Samurai Ninja Museum, or you can join a samurai class to learn the techniques behind the ancient Japanese warriors.

A samurai armor on display

Watch the World’s Busiest Pedestrian Crossing at Shibuya Scramble 

An estimated over 2 million people per DAY use this crosswalk! Mind-boggling! 

The best spot for watching the mesmerising grid of people cross is from the Starbucks opposite Shibuya Crossing, or head upstairs to watch it from one of the best sunset spots in Tokyo at Shibuya Sky.

The famous Shibuya crossing

Get Your Game On at a Video Arcade 

One of my favourite things to do in Tokyo at night is to visit the mega video game arcade. 

These towering multi-floor entertainment centres have everything from claw machines, classic arcade games, virtual reality games, photo booths and of course, many gachapon machines.  

Video game arcade in Tokyo
An intense game of Pokken in progress!

Savour the Delights of Dotonbori 

Dotonbori is one of the liveliest and busiest streets in downtown Osaka, most well-known for its iconic Glico man billboard and oversized food signs in the shapes of everything from a mechanical crab to larger-than-life gyoza and wall-climbing Octopus. 

Dotonbori has a vast array of street food stalls and restaurants, selling local specialities like takoyaki (octopus balls), okonomiyaki (savoury pancake) and kushikatsu (fried skewers). 

Plan your visit to the food capital of Japan with this fun Osaka itinerary.

Brightly lit Dotonbori Street

Experience JAPOW, the Fluffy Japanese Powder

I was spoiled by having my first-ever skip experience in Japan in 2013.

That quickly followed with three more trips during winter (albeit switching to snowboarding) to experience the Japanese Pow Pow. 

Mt Kenashi marker
At the peak of the mountain in Nozawa Onsen

The snow in Japan is extremely light and fluffy, making it an incredible experience to ski or snowboard down. Japan also usually gets a lot of this delightfully deep, fluffy snow.

I’ve visited Niseko, Hakuba, Myoko Kogen and probably my all-time favourite snow town, Nozawa Onsen.

Snowboarding in Japan

Visit the Picture Perfect Fuji Shibazakura Flower Festival 

When you look at photos from the annual Fuji Shibazakura Festival in Kawaguchiko, it almost doesn’t look real. It was a truly awe-worthy moment seeing this for myself in 2023. 

The flower festival runs from March to April and features the startling pink moss phlox. 

Read all you need to know about seeing this remarkable sight for yourself in this dedicated guide about the Festival

Shibazakura Flower Festival fields

Experience the Magical Theme Parks

Tokyo Disneyland, Tokyo DisneySea and Osaka’s Universal Studios Japan are all incredible and bucket list-worthy attractions in Japan. 

It’s so hard to pick a favourite because they are all truly magical, but after our most recent visit to USJ and its new addition of Super Nintendo World alongside the fantastic Wizarding World of Harry Potter, it’s cemented its spot as my favourite.

Universal Studios Theme Park in Japan

Chill Out with Monkeys at Arashiyama

The Iwatayama Monkey Park is found at the top of Mt Arashiyama, with panoramic views across western Kyoto.

If you want to feed the monkeys fruit, you can for a small fee – but there’s a twist. You might feel like the animal as you head into the cage, where you pass monkey’s snacks through the cage bars. 

Fun Fact: these are snow monkeys, the same type you’ll find bathing in hot springs as the famous Nagano Snow Monkeys. 

Snow monkeys in Arashiyama

Watch a Sumo Tournament 

Watching a sumo tournament is a fascinating experience. 

The tradition is cloaked in rituals, which I didn’t appreciate until sitting cross-legged on the floor in our box while watching on as the brief but intense sumo matches took place. 

Sumo Tournament Standee

The atmosphere was electric, and we made friends with an Obaa-chan (Auntie) sitting in front of us who gave us some of her snacks after cheering on her favourite wrestler! 

Sumo wrestles on a sumo wrestling ring

Visit the Unique and Unusual Shrines & Temples

During our many trips to Japan, we’ve come across some wacky and fun shrines and temples. 

Cute waving cat statues

From the colourful ball shrine at Kyoto’s Yasaka Koshin-do, the fierce lion’s head shrine at Namba Yasaka Jinja to the kawaii lucky cat figurines at Tokyo’s Gotokuji Temple – these are just a few of the more unusual shrines we’ve encountered on our travels. 

fierce lion’s head shrine at Namba Yasaka Jinja

Final Thoughts – Ultimate Japan Bucketliist

That wraps up this epic Japan bucket list! I hope it’s given you some worthwhile bucket list inspirations and some new ideas for things to do and see during your time in Japan. 

Check out my other Japan guides, where I share detailed yet easy-to-follow travel guides that make your Japan adventure planning a breeze! 

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