What to do in Japan? 15 activity ideas
That’s it, you’ve booked your tickets for Japan! But what are the must-do activities there? The things you really shouldn't miss out on? There are many things to see and do and some of them won't fail to surprise you with their originality. After all, this is Japan, the country where everything is possible. Whether you want calm and are looking for relaxation and contemplative activities, or active and looking to have fun, I have selected a variety of different activities for you in order to make your stay even more unforgettable. For instance: visit mystical temples and swim in hot springs, discover the local gastronomy and ancestral traditions, unique activities that cannot be found anywhere else, discover the many possibilities of the Land of the Rising Sun!
CultureSenso-ji templethe oldest Buddhist temple in Tokyo (Asakusa)
Visit ancient temples
It would be a real shame not to stop off in a temple while visiting Japan as they are such an important part of the Japanese culture and landscape. Shrines, pagodas and Buddhist of Shinto temples dedicated to a belief or deity (kami), coexist in harmony on the island. From the most modest to the most majestic, they each have their own history and cultural value. The entrance of a Shinto sanctuary can be identified thanks to it vermilion torii gate, like that of Meiji-Jingu in Yoyogi Park. There are no less than 85,000 of them spread all over Japan. As for Buddhist temples, there are more than 77,000 and are represented by Buddha. The Senso-Ji temple in Asakusa is particularly well guarded. About ten “Giant Buddhas”, called Daibutsu, watch over the places of worship and always fascinate the visitors, the largest of them is in Ushiku in the Ibaraki prefecture.
Attend a Sumo tournament
Sumo wrestlers are emblematic figures of Japanese culture, they are considered as demi-gods and have been the pride of the nation for centuries. In Japanese, they are called “rishiki” (which means “strong man”). Even if this wrestling sport is not as popular among young people as it used to be, it still remains a respected sport. The wrestlers follow an intensive training and a very strict diet composed of chankonabe (a high-calorie stew). They eat 5,000kcal per day ! If you have the opportunity, don't hesitate to attend a tournament. You can attend the training of Sumo apprentices in Takasago-Beya Sumo School. Ready for the show?
CultureMaiko geisha in Gion district
Discover the secrets of Geishas
The Geisha is undoubtedly the most mysterious and secret figure of Japan. Surrounded by myths and fantasies, thousands of artists have represented them in paintings, told their stories in novels, or staged them on screen. Yet, there is still a mysterious aura around these refined and beautiful ladies. In fact, it is extremely rare to encounter geishas in Japan. Not only because there are very few of them today, but also because they don't show themselves to just everyone. Financially speaking, this ancestral and sacred art is not accessible to everyone as it's very expensive. However, you may have the chance to see a maiko (geisha apprentice) during your visit in Kyoto, in the Gion district. Note that every year, in spring and autumn, it is possible to attend a traditional performance at the Pontocho Kaburenjo Theatre.
Wear a traditional kimono
The kimono is a traditional Japanese garment. It is T-shaped with a neat and refined design, often very colourful. It can have geometrical, striped or floral patterns. It is worn with a large “obi” belt, white rising socks “tabi”, and wooden sandals “geta”. This ceremonial costume is mainly worn on special occasions or when visiting a place of worship. It is not uncommon to see Japanese people, young and old, wearing them when they go to the temple to meditate. Why not leave Japan with a great photo of you dressed up in a traditional kimono? There are models for both men, women and even children. It is a very popular activity among tourists, especially in Kyoto.
Learn a traditional Japanese art
Travelling also means learning more about a new culture, a new language, or different disciplines. Like every country, Japan has its own specialities and artistic disciplines. Meet these nimble-fingered masters who will be more than happy to share their knowledge with you. There are varied: Ikebana is a subtle and refined floral art that requires a lot of patience and precision, the tea ceremony is a slow and complex ceremony based on Zen Buddhism. Calligraphy is an ancestral art of writing strongly linked to the history of Japan, not to mention the traditional cooking lessons that will turn you into a true sushi master!
GastronomieSushis in Tsukiji fish market
Eat sushis at the Tsukiji market
Among the multitude of different Japanese dishes, there is one that has been able to cross all borders, of course I’m talking about sushis! Going to Japan without eating sushis is a bit like taking a bath without water. It would be complete nonsense! In order to have the best possible gustatory experience, you must visit the large Tsukiji fish market, where you can be sure to eat high quality and freshly caught products. Choose your fish fillet and watch the chef prepare tasty sushis or sashimis right before your eyes. It is also a great opportunity to try other marine species that are a bit more unusual, but not less tasty, like sea urchins, which are eaten raw.
Taste the best meat in the world
Many have heard about it, but only a few have tasted it. Kobe beef, or tajima-gyu, is known for being the most tender and tasty meat in the world. Its texture is described as soft, its taste as a mix of hazelnut, butter and foie gras. In order to reach such a high quality, Kobe animals are treated like kings, in comfortable stables with fans to avoid being to be too hot, sake and beer massage, classical music, everything to avoid any stress. According to the breeders, a relaxed beef gives a much softer meat, with more fat that it almost melts into your mouth. This exceptional meat can be tasted in one of the 46 labelled establishments in Japan. It costs between 100 and 500 euros per kilo, so expect a steep bill.
Swim in hot springs
There is no greater pleasure than to relax in a hot bath. An onsen is a Japanese thermal bath with water drawn from volcanic rocks. Often located outdoors, it is very pleasant during wintertime. Spring water is very rich in minerals and therefore has therapeutic properties. You can usually eat food that is specific to this type of place, such as eggs cooked directly in the spring water. Most of the time, men and women are separated and bathing suits are rarely allowed, which can be a problem for tourists. Tattoos are also a problem in most places for ethical and historical reasons, so you need to be check beforehand in order to avoid unpleasant surprises.
Spend a night in a luxury ryokan
Ryokans are traditional Japanese inns considered to be the best in the hotel business. For a long time, they were reserved only for the Japanese upper middle class and are still a reflection of Japanese luxury and refinement today. So, expect five-star comfort and service in the purest Japanese tradition. You will be welcomed with a cup of tea and little treats. You will then be asked to put on a light kimono to walk around the ryokan before enjoying an exceptional dinner. Many ryokans have onsens for you to relax and socialize with your neighbours (unless you have a private onsen in your suite). There are more than 80,000 ryokans spread throughout Japan. The most famous (Sumiya, Tawaraya and Hiiragiya) which are unsurprisingly located in Kyoto.
Have a picnic under the blooming cherry trees
The word “Hanami” refers to the “contemplation of cherry trees”. It is used to describe the cherry blossom season, which usually takes places between late March and early April in Tokyo. This time of year is magical as it is short-lived since it only lasts for a few days, after that the cherry trees “die out” again... In Japan, the Hanami is a real institution. Everywhere in store and bakeries, sweet specialities are highlighted for the occasion. The arrival of spring is celebrated with family and friends or as a couple. Everyone gathers in a park to have a picnic in the shade of the large cherry trees with their delicate pink petals. In Tokyo, Ueno Park and Yoyogi Park are very popular places to admire this spectacle. In Kyoto, Maruyama Park is an exceptional spot. It should be noted that in the tropical archipelago of Okinawa, cherry trees begin to bloom in late January.
InsoliteShow in the "Robot Restaurant"
Have drink in a themed cafe
As you know, Japan is full of all kind of eccentricities. Everything that might look out of the ordinary is justified by the fact that you are in Japan, and quirkiness is very common in the Land of the Rising Sun. And it is not a bad thing! Among the must-go to are the popular themed cafes and restaurants. There is something for everyone and for every budget. From the classic dog or cat cafes, to those sheltering owls or hedgehogs, not to mention the Alice in Wonderland restaurant, or the Robot restaurant which offers a show of humanoids and animatronics. Let’s not forget the cafes dedicated to major licenses such as Gundam, One Piece or Hello Kitty. The bravest of you will venture into the Lockup restaurant, which looks like an underground prison. The Japanese imagination is limitless, and it is a real delight!
InsoliteShow in the "Robot Restaurant"
Be pampered in a Maid cafe
Otakus you will love this activity, which consists of being served by a young woman dressed as a maid. Nothing inappropriate or sexual though. Maid cafes are open to everyone, both male and female. What can you do here? Enjoy delicious food and drinks decorated in a “kawaii” way with a maid to take care of you. She will prepare your order and serve it to you with all the cuteness she is capable of, with an adorable (or unbearable, you'll be the judge) choreography. You can, if you wish, ask you maid to sing or dance for you and to take a picture with her (for a fee). You should also expect to be asked to participate, like wearing cute rabbit ears on your head. The culture of maid cafes is widespread in Japan, especially in the Akihabara district, and has a large number of followers, often people who come regularly to visit their favourite maid. A unique experience!
InsoliteCapsule Hotel in Tokyo
Sleep in a capsule hotel
What a unique experience for westerners who are so used to having a lot of space! Imagine yourself, locked in a square cabin, with just enough space to crawl on all fours and lie down. Don't go if you are claustrophobic! The very first capsule hotel opened in 1979 in Osaka. Since then, they have appeared throughout the country, although this concept hasn't met the success expected elsewhere in the world. So, who goes to this kind of noisy and cramped place? Mostly businessmen who missed the last train or had one too many drinks. Formerly they were only accessible to men, however now some are accessible to both men and women, but they still are gender separated. You can find a room for about 2,000 yen, which is a relatively low price compared to regular hotels in Tokyo. Capsule hotels can be a good compromise for travellers staying only for a short period.
InsoliteStylish girls in Harajuku
Dress up in cosplay
Let’s be honest, walking around with an eccentric appearance is not always easy, especially when you can feel people staring at you. In Japan, it is quite the opposite, you will even receive compliments and be asked for photos. Whether you want to wear an original and offbeat look of your own, or dress like your favourite manga character; you will have a huge success! If you do not want to look out of place, go to Harajuku where cosplayers from all over the world meet every weekend. This is an opportunity to let go and let your inner child take over without being afraid of being judged. In Japan, originality is the norm, so don't hesitate!
Have fun like a local
Don't know what to do in Japan? Japanese people know how to have fun and they do it well. So, follow this guide! After a shopping session in Don Kijote, head for a merciless duel in an arcade game room where you can challenge the noisy Taiko No Tatsujin, Dance Dance Revolution or a popular fight game. If you feel confident enough, play pachinko, these slot machines that are very popular among businessmen. To make this day an unforgettable one, put on a costume and strike a pose in a purikura, a Japanese photo booth. If you have enough energy left when the sun sets, go to a karaoke and sing some of the major international hits. Put your shyness aside, Japanese karaoke takes place in a private room, with only your friends to hear your performance. To finish off in style, attend a kawaii J-pop concert in Harajuku or Akihabara.