Things to do in Japan

Turning Japanese

On nearly all trips to Japan there are ways to learn about the many varied aspects of their culture and heritage. Not just from the tours of temples or hiking of historic trails, but just by immersing yourself in authentic Japanese traditions. You will come away with some of the most stunning photographs from Japan, but it is the memories of watching someone meticulously wrap a gift in fabric, or preparing tea for a ceremony that will stay with you. It feels like everything is a ritual here, and done from the heart. There are many ways you can take part in some of these traditions in Japan, from learning to make sushi from a master, watching a sumo wrestling match, going on a paper making workshop, learning the rules of bowing, sharing a bottle of sake with your hosts, donning a kimono, taking part in a Taiko drumming class, or singing your heart out in a karaoke box. Or just take your time to sit in one of the many stunning parks, with a bento box lunch in hand, and watch the people come and go.

Temple tourism

There are hundreds of Shinto shrines and Buddhist temples across Japan, many of the largest and most visited now also accessible for wheelchair users. In cities such as Tokyo and Kyoto, viewing these ancient structures amid clusters of high rise apartment blocks and gleaming skyscrapers is an incongruous, fascinating spectacle. Some, such as Tokyoís Meiji Shrine and Sensoji Temple, and the Todai-ji Temple in Nara with its wild deer, are among Japanís most iconic landmarks. However there are many smaller places frequented mostly by locals where you can meditate in peace. Another option available on some Japan holiday itineraries is to stay at a Buddhist monastery for a night or two, perhaps joining in monastic routines of prayer and meditation, and sharing their Spartan but tasty vegetarian meals.

Jaunts across Japan

There is so much more to hiking here than Mount Fuji, with mountains covering 70% of the country. The Kumano Kodo trail and Nakasendo trail are top favourites, staying in traditional wooden guesthouses along the way, some of which have been in the same family for generations. The Kumano Kodo Trail is an ancient pilgrimage route through the Kii Mountains, near Kyoto. It takes you through cypress and cedar covered mountains, with three great shrines along the way as well as many smaller shrines, or oji , where pilgrims traditionally rested and prayed along the way. The Nakasendo Trail is an historic byway, used by feudal landlords to travel to and from the greater powers of Edo, now Tokyo. This combination of cultural and natural heritage is what makes Japan so unlike anywhere else really and walking it is the way to go.

Bring an appetite

Japan is heaven for the foodie traveller, no surprises there. From cheap and cheerful ‘salarymen’ restaurants where you select your meal from a vending machine to the myriad sushi stalls of the famous Tsukiji Fish Market, Kobe beef and sake tasting sessions, Osaka street food safaris and countless variations on ramen dishes, you cannot fail to eat well here. For those really interesting in exploring their passion for Japanese cuisine, there are also specialist foodie holidays here that bring it to the fore with cookery lessons, guided visits of sake breweries and market tours. Japanese cuisine places a strong emphasis on fresh, seasonal and local ingredients – fantastic for reducing the carbon footprint of your holiday.

Our top Japan Holiday

Japan small group holiday, Japan unmasked

Japan small group holiday, Japan unmasked

Whistlestop Japan highlights with an expert tour leader

From £2610 to £2940 14 days ex flights
Small group travel:
2022: 28 Feb, 25 Apr, 9 May, 27 Jun, 18 Jul, 22 Aug, 12 Sep, 26 Sep, 10 Oct, 24 Oct, 7 Nov, 21 Nov
Travel Team
If you'd like to chat about Japan or need help finding a holiday to suit you we're very happy to help.
Coming back to work after a trip to Japan was very hard. But having packed my lunch out of a beautiful laquered bento box takes me back, if momentarily, every lunchtime.

Be a child in a sweetshop

Japan has that effect on you. There are beautiful things to buy everywhere, so leave room in your luggage not only for gifts, but for your own home too. If you are a keen chef, you will get top knives at half the price of Europe. Kimonos make the best gifts ever and, of course, the artisan crafts are divine. Such as Edo Kiriko, coloured and engraved glassware, or Hakone Zaiku which is fine woodwork originating in the Hakone area.
You might think you are all clean and correct going into hot baths with a soapy body, but you will get the dirtiest looks. Always rinse before you dip.

Take a bath

Because it is volcanic, Japan is falling down with hot springs, so the tradition of hot baths or onsens has always been here. The communal baths are called sento, and you will also find shared ones called furo in most traditional inns. There are lots of rituals and etiquettes to be respected around bathing, but the most important ones to remember are yes, they are naked, and yes, they are segregated.
Written by Catherine Mack
Photo credits: [Page banner: coniferconifer] [Turning Japanese: City Foodsters] [Temple tourism: David Emrich] [Bring an appetite: Josh Wilburne] [Take a bath: Nishimuraya Kinosaki Onsen]