Looking for an amazing Japan bucket list of all the places to visit and experiences to have in Japan? Keep reading to find them all here.
Japan is a country that will surprise, excite and make you never want to leave. It’s a country with so much to offer to every kind of traveller; from the culture buff to the outdoors adventurer. From the moment I step foot in Japan for the first time, there was always a sense of awe and excitement that accompanied me everywhere. In a culture that’s so different from my own, there is something new to discover at every turn.
Whether you’ve already planned your trip and are looking for more suggestions or if you’re only just starting, this Japan bucket list is for you. These simply are the best things to do in Japan, that you really shouldn’t miss.
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Best Time to Visit Japan
Japan is the perfect destination any time of the year. In spring, you can see the cherry blossoms turn the landscapes pink and in the summer days are at their longest and temperatures at their warmest. It’s also the greenest time of the year.
With the arrival of autumn, the red, orange and yellow leaves add beautiful splashes of colour to Japanese gardens and winter is the perfect time for winter sports and snowy outdoor onsen dips.
The Definitive Japan Bucket List
GAWK AT AND CLIMB MT. FUJI FOR SUNRISE
Mount Fuji is quite easily Japan’s most famous natural sight. The perfect cone-shaped mountain is still an active volcano even though it hasn’t erupted in about three hundred years. It’s Japan’s highest peak, dominating the island of Honshu for miles in every direction.
In each season Mt. Fuji looks different- in the summer with virtually no snow through to winter where you’ll see prominent snow coverage of most of the peak. Luckily to see Mount Fuji, you don’t have to come too close, however, I recommend against that.
One of the best ways to experience the majesty and strength of the peak is to climb it. From July to August it’s possible to climb Mount Fuji using one of the four paths that lead up to the summit, the most popular being the trail that starts in the village of Fujinomiya. If starting from Fujinomiya make sure to also check out Shiraito Falls- a beautiful, wide waterfall located nearby.
Start your climb to the summit of Mt. Fuji at night, arriving at sunrise to the most spectacular views and goraikō (arrival of light) you might lay your eyes on during your trip to Japan. I assure you that is no exaggeration as this is one of the top experiences on any Japan bucket list.
Japan is after all the land of sushi, where sushi honours years of tradition and mastery. In Japan, however, you’re much less likely to find California rolls filled with avocado, cream cheese, salmon and veggies as sushi is an extremely minimal art.
The most common types of sushi are nigiri or very simple cucumber rolls as well as sashimi. Preparing and eat sushi is like a ritual in Japan and eating at a traditional sushi restaurant you’ll sit at the counter and have the sushi chef personally make the sushi for you. It’s an eating experience you simply cannot miss.
Plant-based sushi restaurants do exist even though for obvious reasons the experience isn’t quite as authentic. You can find a number of them on Happy Cow.
Upon visiting Japan I decided to actually go to a traditional non-plant based sushi bar and I simply filled on cucumber rolls and tofu. It was beyond me how delicious such simple sushi was and the experience itself was second to none.
For more on sushi culture and the best sushi master at work I highly recommend watching the documentary Jiro Dreams of Sushi, now available on Netflix.
STAY IN A RYOKAN
Ryokans are traditional Japanese inns that date back to the 8th Century, meaning they might just be the oldest type of lodging in the world. They are normally located in traditional Japanese buildings, sometimes constructed around an inner courtyard or Japanese garden.
Inside the modest room, you’ll find the traditional tatami mat and a low central table around which there will be cushions to sit on. In the cupboard, you’ll find your bed which you’ll have to unroll when you’re ready to turn in for the night.
The price of the stay will almost always include dinner and breakfast of a traditional, locally sourced and seasonal meal and many ryokans pride themselves on the quality of their food. You’ll find amazing ryokans throughout Japan however I’d recommend staying in one in a small town or in the countryside to fully appreciate its peace and kanso.
BATHE IN AN ONSEN
An onsen or Japanese hot spring can be combined with a stay at a ryokan or can be experienced separately in a public onsen. Traditionally onsen are outdoor hot springs but many nowadays are indoors and can be run publicly or privately.
Onsen entrance today is separated by sex and men and women bathe separately as you’re not allowed to wear a swimsuit. The onsen experience can be incredibly relaxing and the hot, healing water does wonders for the aching muscles after days of walking around and exploring.
It’s an experience I’d highly recommend when in Japan. If you do have large, noticeable tattoos you may be denied entry. Some onsen are tattoo-friendly, and some aren’t so it’s worth enquiring before going.
TREK IN THE KAMIKOCHI VALLEY IN THE JAPAN ALPS
A stunning testament to nature, the Japanese Alps are simply beautiful and deserve a few days from Tokyo. The Kamikochi Valley is one of the most famous and popular valleys in the Alps and it’s easy to see why.
There are a number of hikes you can do in the valley- the most popular one being the one that we did which was just a simple path that leads all around the valley floor and follows the Azusa river. You’ll be stunned but the fantastic views, the snow-capped peaks the peaceful, dense forest and the crystal clear, blue water below.
The valley can be visited as a day trip from Matsumoto however I’d definitely recommend staying at least one night in a ryokan in the national park for the full experience.
VIEW TOKYO FROM ABOVE
Japan’s capital and largest city simply goes on and on for miles without ever seeming to end.
It’s a sea of concrete blocks, crisscrossed by tarmac and punctuated by the occasional skyscraper. Tokyo is truly a city like no other and you should definitely give it some time to explore when in Japan.
While doing so it’s a must to take it in from above and if you can both during the day and at night. There are a number of places to see the city from above including the Tokyo Skytree, a free-standing broadcasting tower, Tokyo City Hall, where the entrance is free, so perfect for the budget traveller and the classic Tokyo Tower.
A visit to Tokyo is a must on any Japan bucket list.